Minehead to Barnstaple Sept 22 2008

This first section was a bit more ambitious than I originally intended, but the main governing factor was where I could find convenient accommodation.

Day 1 to Lower House Farm, Bossington TA24 8HF

I planned a short first walk, as I was not able to get to Minehead before 2:30pm. After a gentle start there is some stiff climbing, but once you reach the moor it is comparatively flat before a steady descent into Bossington. There is a "rugged alternative" which looks to have some severe ascents and descents, which I avoided. Lower House Farm is a small, very homely establishment, but you have to walk into Porlock to find any eating places, so the 3 mile round trip rather nullified the benefits of the shortened walk.

Day 2 to South View, 23 Lee Road, Lynton EX35 6BP

I found this the toughest day of the week. The route from Bossington to Porlock along the shore is not taxing, but the next stretch to Culbone was quite a grind. A heartfelt prayer was said in the unusual and tiny church, as I had just seen the sign that said still 11 miles to Lynmouth. It got better after that, and it was very pleasant being among the trees for long stretches. Fortunately the route is well marked, as it is not at all obvious, being some way from the coast most of the time. Just before Sisters Fountain there is a particularly long climb. My way to approach these is head down concentrating on one pace at a time, and I almost missed the sign telling me to leave the path to the right.

As you approach Lynmouth the trees clear and it seems very isolated until you come round a headland and you see Lynmouth and Lynton above it. You now follow the coast on a clear path that I would not fancy in a strong wind for while the drop is not sheer, if you left the path it would be a major job to get back onto it.

For most of the walk I had in the back of my mind that I could use the Cliff Railway to get up to Lynton. However once the two towns came in sight, it did not seem too much of a climb compared with what I had done already. So I was prepared for the walk, which was lucky as I didn't arrive in Lynmouth till after 6:00, which is when the railway closes. I was pretty exhausted when I arrived at South View, but Mr Roper helped me take my rucksack off and even carried it up to my room.

Day 3 to Blair Lodge, Moony Meadow, Coombe Martin EX34 0DG

I approached this section with some trepidation after my exertions of the previous day. According to the book, this was "strenuous" while yesterday's had been "moderate". And the statistics showed it was the equivalent of walking from Malmesbury to Swindon and going up and down Ben Nevis on the way. In fact I was quite prepared for the possibility of arriving in Coombe Martin after dark. I decided again to avoid any suggested detours.

This time the path went along the coastline for a large part of the route and involved frequent ascents and descents. There was one major drop down into Heddon's Mouth with another climb back out of it. On the way up I stopped and looked at the map, and realised that I was already about half way there. This was a psychological boost as I had persuaded myself that I had not really gone that far. I felt a lot better after that and the next miles passed quite quickly. Just after a sign saying 3 miles to Combe Martin, there was a long quite steep downhill bit that I was not at all comfortable with. But at the bottom it was an idyllic setting in the trees with the stream flowing past from which I was able to refill my water bottle.

Now there was the climb to the Great Hangman, which was not particularly severe. From the top you can see the path ahead which looks as though it goes over the Little Hangman. However when you reach it there is a turn off just before the final ascent. Nevertheless I felt I might as well climb it, and you get a very good view from there. So I was set up for the final descent into Combe Martin, arriving at Blair Lodge by 5:00. It is a very friendly establishment that caters particularly for walkers.

Day 4 to The Orchards, Lee EX34 8LW

This was certainly an easier day. There is a potential problem at Watermouth where the path can be covered at high tide, and immediately after the rocks would be liable to be very slippery. However in this direction you can tell when about to leave the road if it is likely to be an issue, and if it is do the next stretch on the main road. Fortunately it was low tide when I arrived. The path is not too difficult until the last stretch before Ilfracombe around Beacon Point. I spent a little while in Ilfracombe, going up to St Nicholas' Chapel, and visiting a shop nearby that was making fudge.

The path to Lee Bay was open and pleasant and not too taxing. Lee is an attractive village that seems to have a fair amount of life. Fortunately I was told to look out for a red house and easily found the Orchards, an unusual and interesting house, at the bottom of the road into the village.

Day 5 to Combas Farm, Putsborough EX33 1PH

The next section, as I was warned more than once, started with a steep ascent followed by a descent almost back to sea level, repeated twice more. The trickiest bit I found was the second descent as there had been a heavy dew and the sun had not yet caught this slope, so it was quite slippery. Once round Morte Point it is a relatively easy trek into Woolacombe, where I found internet access and a cashpoint.

The book offered a choice for the next section between walking through the dunes, on the beach or along the Marine Drive. I started on the beach and made my way into the dunes, finding the path which eventually climbed some way above the beach. If I had stayed on the beach I would have cut off a significant section and missed a few views. I was now within a mile or so of Combas Farm, but chose to walk around Baggy Point now as it seemed that when I got into Croyde I would still be only a mile away. This section is not too taxing and affords some fine views in both directions. I took an unnecessarily long time to reach Combas Farm, as I did not realise it was on a path between Putsborough village and Croyde. Part of the confusion was caused by The Manor House pub being at the Croyde end and Putsborough Manor being at the other end. The path can be found by turning left after the pub (which is on St Mary's Road). Instead I walked into Putsborough and back towards the farm which is well signposted from there. This was an extremely friendly place with the guests encouraged to mix, all facilities being in the main lounge.

Day 6 to Cresta Guest House, Sticklepath Hill, Barnstaple

This was certainly the flattest section, and whereas on other days the final destination only came into sight towards the very end of the day, this time it was visible the previous afternoon. However it was one of the toughest days, being 15 miles in length, a hot sun and little shade, and maybe the accumulation of the walking and the weight of my backpack was catching up with me. There was also the psychological factor of being able to see where I was going but not seeming to be getting nearer, or the path then turning off in the wrong direction.

The first section to Saunton Sands is quite easy. I then chose to walk along the 3 mile beach, when it might have been more interesting to have taken the alternative path before crossing the main road by the Saunton Sands Hotel and ending up in Braunton Burrows. I have happy memories of the Hotel from when I was helping to organise a Veterans' Cross Country International in 1999 which Peter Brend, owner of the Hotel, was generously sponsoring. It was not always easy to find hard sand on the beach to walk on, and I was slightly worried about reaching the end and not finding the way off and having to retrace my steps. The exit was not that obvious. Just after a groyne and a small collapsed building there was a sign post but the actual signs were no longer in place. Follow the path through the dune, and the wooden catwalk comes into view. Once you leave the Burrows the path follows the shore line for some way and then disconcertingly heads inland along an estuary. Eventually on the edge of Braunton you join the old railway track, which is also a cycle path. There is then a long trek into Barnstaple. I had problems initially finding the Cresta, since to reach Sticklepath Hill you have to cross a roundabout where the ring road joins the road out of town. I eventually realised you had to take a footpath heading for the station, as what seemed like the path to take you onto the right side of the road ended up taking you away. Cresta was a very friendly and comfortable place.

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