Distance Walked: 375km/1071km
Distance covered this section: 94km
- May 7 – Braunton to Croyde (16km)
- May 8 – Croyde to Woolacombe (12km) then bus in the rain
- May 9 – Ilfracombe to Combe Martin (9km)
- May 10 – Combe Martin to Lynton (23km)
- May 11 – Lynton to Porlock (19km)
- May 12 – Porlock to Minehead (15km)
In Barnstable, Jan from Herton Farm B&B did our smelly washing for us while we put our feet up. We had asked if we could do some hand washing and hang it on the line but Jan was determined that if we didn’t mind she would ‘like to do it properly’! We suspect she even ironed our walking shorts!
Fully refreshed we took the bus a little way to Braunton and headed through sand dunes (a UNESCO biosphere reserve) onto Saunton Beach. It was eerie on the beach as thick sea mist brought visability down to about 10 metres, at times. After about an hour or so we expected to be close to the end of the beach. The fog cleared momentarily and an enormous hotel loomed down on us from a cliff directly ahead. Out of the mist emerged valiant Brits ‘enjoying’ the long weekend. Goodness knows how they could tell ‘surfs up’ as they could barely see the surf from the beach.
Our destination that day was another very pretty village of Croyde but now slate rooves were giving way to thatch.
Tuesday we returned to low cliff tops between Croyde and Woolacombe in overcast weather. At Woolacombe we surprised volunteers at a charity fund raiser with our larger scale purchase of their home made cakes and tea. (No slices though – this is not Australia after all.) As we munched, rain started to set in and Elaine invoked the akabar clause whereby if one of the party calls akabar the days walking can be abandoned leading to this….
Unfortunately it was probably the wrong call as the weather soon cleared up again leading to feelings of regret! Still we had crossed the 1000km mark somewhere on Woolacombe beach before we caught the bus. Walking that beach from Cape Reinga does seem a long time ago now.
Ilfracombe has been a small fishing and navel harbour since Tudor times but was much developed by the Victorians (not the VB drinking, AFL watching type – the colonising, industrialist type) as a holiday destination for the middle classes. The harbour is bound in by steep cliffs and so the town has its back to the Ocean. While the grand Victorian terraces remain, it seems to have lost some of it former glory and in this ‘off season’ period was a bit gloomy.
On Wednesday we had a short hop over to Combe Martin which uncharacteristically involved a bit of road walking. On our way over we saw a couple of interesting things and rewarded ourselves with a cream tea on arrival.
We stayed at a yoga retreat that evening run by Katherine who was very welcoming, made us an excellent vegan meal and shared her enthusiasm for the local area including its great significance to the druids.
It rained overnight, but it was fine the next day for the big walk over to Lynton which took us back to high cliffs and dramatic scenery. This part of the walk had been talked up as very taxing but the path was well made so the ups and downs were pretty manageable. The cairn on the top of Great Hangman (the highest point on the South West Coastal Path) suggested there have been walkers along this way for millennia….. or possibly even longer!!
It was difficult to catch as a picture, but at one point high above the Heddon Valley the Beech and Oak woodlands far below formed a patchwork with each tree a pin cushion of green, subtlety different to the next. Very lovely and would be stunning even more in Autumn.
We had a quick cup of tea at Heddon Bridge but as 5 women were trying to seat themselves and their 7 dogs inside the pub we elected to sit outside! Had we mentioned that dogs are very welcome everywhere in Devon and Cornwall including the Gents loos which caught Dave by surprise on one occasion!
This area passes through Exmoor, a moorland National Park, but there wasn’t anything very moorish about this bit of it. Just looked like sheep country to us. In the afternoon we skirted the valley of the rocks (Druids and all) and arrived in Lynton, our destination for the day.
Lynton, and it’s sister village Lynmouth located down below, seem to have become something of a walkers Mecca with 3 long distance paths converging here. It was nice to be among other walkers.
While Cornwall had Bronze Age, IronAge and Medieval history all over it, Devon seems to primarily reflect those industrious Victorians. We were pretty sure most of the path on the penultimate day of this trail was following an old coach road from the local big house at Glenthorne, past the Sisters Fountain (natural Spring) on the Devon-Somerset border. The path consequently contoured beautifully through pretty woodlands with occasional views across the Bristol Channel to Wales.
That night as the forecast rain came on we dined at the oldest pub in England, so they told us. The Ship Inn, in the very pretty village of Porlock, was built in 1290 although locals and visitors have been drinking at an Inn on this site from before that date.
It’s difficult to imagine but the Ship Inn and Porlock itself were once on the shore but now sit a kilometre back from the sea across salt marshes. Global warming must be on their minds but Gill from the Seaview B&B also had walkers on her mind, providing blister repair kits in every bedroom!
The final day of our walk brought us to Minehead and the end (or beginning) of the trail. We were met by Elaine’s sister and brother in law who came to cheer us over the line.
It had been a thoroughly enjoyable walk over 25 days. At over 630 miles (over 1000km) in total, we had covered just over one third of the South West Coastal Path but the Northern coast had provided varied scenery, really beautiful villages and towns, and enough ups and downs to be a challenge. The weather had been kind, and so had the Cornish, Devonshire and Somerset people.
We are resting the feet for a week or so now before we head to the next part of Se Peth Lang – the Cotswold Way.
Looking forward to some more wandering very soon.