Barnstaple to Bude

Sept 21 to 26 2009

Day 1 to Carlyn, 53 West Yelland EX31 3HG

I took a train that got me into Barnstaple early afternoon, so a flat 5 mile walk was enough for the first day. Most of the route to Bideford is along the Tarka Trail - the route of the old railway line. It would have been interesting at the speed of a slow passenger train, but at walking pace it got a bit boring, not helped by the fact that the ice cream shop at Fremington Quay was closed. About half way to Yelland, the coast path branches off to the right onto a pleasant path along the estuary. Unfortunately the directions I had to Carlyn were from the Tarka Trail. I could see where I was meant to be going but couldn't get there, and ended up walking almost into Instow and then back along the Trail. I got a very warm welcome from Mr and Mrs Gaglione, and though it was a mile round trip to find somewhere to eat, I enjoyed my stay there.

Day 2 to Mayfield, Avon Lane, Westward Ho! EX39 1LR

This was another generally flat day. The weather was overcast and started to rain slightly towards the end. The first part to Bideford was along the Tarka Trail, then it was across the river and back along its bank or just inland to Appledore. Though never far from housing, it was a very pleasant section. On the road out of Appledore I missed the turning at one point. The guide book mentioned a crossroads but didn't say you had to turn right, and the signpost was for once obscured. However it should have been blindingly obvious that was the way. When I realised I should have left the road some time earlier, I retraced my steps - about half a mile extra. The final section is along the shore around the edge of a golf course. The wind had picked up by this point, and I was beginning to feel quite tired. This concerned me as it was classified as easy, until I realised that at about 14 miles it was the longest day of this trip, so I did have an excuse. Mrs Clegg at Mayfield was very friendly and helpful.

Day 3 to Donkey Shoe Cottage, Clovelly EX39 5TB

This time it rained for virtually the whole day, mainly a persistent drizzle, not too heavy. Fortunately since last year I had purchased a proper rain top, which remained comfortable the whole time. I did something that I wouldn't recommend to others, and won't do again, that is set off without any food at all, just one bottle of water. This was partly because I assumed that on the way out of Westward Ho! I would pass somewhere I could buy a snack, and when there was nowhere obvious I couldn't be bothered to look for anywhere off the route. I suspected, correctly, that I would not pass a shop of any kind on the way, but there were lots of blackberry bushes, a big advantage of walking in September.

This is a pretty strenuous section, but right on the cliff tops much of the way, and the overcast weather added a particular atmosphere. Much of it is along footpaths, until about two and a half miles from Clovelly when you join Hobby Drive, a road through the trees which does rather go on, with little sign that you are getting anywhere. Eventually there is a turn off to the right which takes you along a rather basic path that gets narrow and slippery in places, and brings you out half way down Clovelly High Street. Once again I had been given directions that assumed I was coming in another way. I was told to proceed down the street and it would be on my left. When I reached the bottom I discovered that in fact it was above the place where I had come in, and trekking back up the steep hill was not what I wanted at the end of a long day. Donkey Shoe Cottage was the only place I stayed at that was not in the SWCP book. It was quite basic, but very friendly. In the evening I watched a TV programme about the Munroes, featuring a man who had completed all 284 since he had retired!

Day 4 to the Hartland Quay Hotel EX39 6DU

The weather was very different this day, with the sun shining most of the time. The route starts with a fair amount of climbing. At Mouth Mill I missed the turning and carried on along the track for nearly half a mile before I realised I needed to turn back. As I approached where I had gone wrong, I met two women who had made the same mistake. As you approach Hartland Point, it becomes generally quite flat as you walk along the edge of fields right by the sea. However once you pass Hartland Point, it starts to get tougher with two quite severe descents and then climbs back up. By the time I reached the hotel I was pretty exhausted, though the heat might have had something to do with that.

Day 5 to The Bush Inn, Crosstown EX23 9SR

I approached this section with some trepidation. As I ate my breakfast I was still feeling pretty worn out from the previous day's exertions. The guide book emphasised how tough a stretch it was - 10 occasions between there and Bude where streams cutting through the cliffs meant you had to descend almost to sea level then climb back up again in a very short distance. I was mightily relieved I had not committed myself to doing the whole stretch in one day, and the challenge was going to be, so I thought, to reach my destination before dark.

However once I was on my way, I felt much better, in spite of the fact there was a lengthy climb right from the start to get to cliff level. The first descent/ascent came not long after that, but then it became relatively easy. The next three miles or so were very comfortable, and I started to wonder what all the fuss was about. I was able to admire the beatiful, isolated landscape. The thought struck me that maybe the really tricky bit was between Morwenstow and Bude, in which case I might struggle to catch the bus at 3:30. Then Welcombe Mouth appeared.

The next few miles were switchback. It was just a question of taking it steadily, resting at regular intervals but not for long, and ticking them off one by one. At a particularly isolated point, I came to a gate that had on it a sign giving directions to the Bush Inn, so I knew there wasn't that far to go. This was helpful as there were plenty of signposts telling you where you were, but few giving directions to places off the path. Not long after that, Morwenstow church came into view. The path then went across a field, with a signpost off it directing to Parson Hawker's Hut - well worth a visit to get a feel for the way this man worked. He was a Victorian clergyman who supported distressed sailors and also smugglers in need. After the next stile, the footpath to the left led to Crosstown. The Bush Inn was very hospitable and has a good restaurant. It would not be suitable for light sleepers as the rooms were above the bar. However that was not a problem for me.

Day 6 to Bude

Because I had split a nominal day's walk into two, I had decided to travel straight home from Bude. A mid-afternoon bus to Exeter station would enable me to get home at a reasonable time. I was questioning the wisdom of that, in case I only just made it in time and ended up on a crowded bus in a confined seat still feeling the effects of the walk. In the event I made it in plenty of time, and there was no problem getting a double seat for myself.

The switchback continued for the first part of this leg. And for the first hour and a half, till I reached Coombe, I did not see a single person. Before that (and visible from Coombe) there is a large listening station with great satellite dishes, completely unreferenced in the map and the guide book. I stopped later to talk to a couple and the man explained that some were pointing to a geo-stationary satellite over the equator, while others were presumably pointing towards Iraq and Afghanistan. Being a Saturday, by late morning quite a few walkers had appeared. The terrain got easier as Bude approached, and I arrived about 1:15 not feeling too exhausted. I reckoned I might just have been able to make it from Hartland Quay in one day, but I am glad I did not put it to the test.

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