The beginning of the end (almost!) – South West Coast Path
For those who are kindly following this blog I am sorry for not writing anything for months. I hope the following makes up for this as I check my notes and go back to….
Two sunny weeks in May 2018
With 100 miles of walking scheduled by my trusty logistics co-ordinator and partner Tim it was going to be a tough challenge. From charming Clovelly in North Devon (where we finished last September) to mysterious Minehead in Somerset.
Once again it was all new territory for both of us.
So, here is an account of the first of our 9 days of walking. Otherwise know as ‘the flat estuary bits’. Now you may think that these bits were easy but they were surprisingly hard on the feet as we followed The Tarka Trail for the first section.
Graffiti from old railway structure along the way
Day 1 – 11 miles, Westward Ho! to Instow
Bank Holiday Sunday – we parked the car at Instow and took a bus to Westward Ho! Famed for being the only place in the country with an explanation mark it’s a village named after the 1855 book by Charles Kingsley.
Once off the bus we set off in mist, eager to get away from the touristy cafes selling chips, pasties and all things greasy along the sea front. Very soon we were away from that and could only hear a distant clanging of a church bell.
Pebbles and rounded stones sit at the top of the beach.
A golf course on our right (out of shot) had sheep laying on the fairway and golfers looking for lost balls amongst the gorse. It was a curious hazy vision of strangeness. It continued with ponies on the estuary a little further on.
The village of Appledore peaked out of the mist and the sun started to appear too. We decided this would be our coffee/lunch stop. Just the slightest mention of food and drink and our pace quickens.
We reached the town and slowed down to take lots and lots of photos of these colourful houses. As an old fishing village these were probably Fishermans cottages – now several looked to be holiday rentals. Tim wondered where the people parked their cars – check out the double yellow lines….
Along the quayside at Appledore there were several inviting benches and small cafes. We made our bench selection, bought coffee, ate our sandwiches and enjoyed the view across to Instow. Wow, we were on holiday!
Our lunch stop
From here we could see Instow, our destination, looking quite close. To get to it we had to follow the river estuary inland to Bideford, cross a bridge and walk back along the otherside.
Instow – looking quite close
We loved Appledore – it was hard to leave, but leave we did. Initially we followed a road then a footpath and soon had our first views of old boats left abandoned in the mud. Abandoned? Well may be not all of them….
We saw many boats like this along the way
In amongst a wood we heard some moody jazz music and wondered, as it got louder and louder, where it was coming from. We stopped in our tracks when we found out. This was somebody’s home and it looked like the perfect retreat.
The ‘jazz’ boat
We stared like small children. Reluctantly we moved on once the occupier, who had been tending to his plants, spotted us and it was too rude to continue looking.
From here we walked through more trees reaching the outskirts of Bideford. The town has two bridges – a new one (edge of town) and an old one (in the town). We headed for the old one but took photos of the new one which had new houses built right below it.
After this we approached a park where a rugby tournament for youngsters was taking place. My 9 year old nephew was also away from home for a few days taking part in a ‘mini’ rugby tournament in Somerset – coincidence or maybe it’s that time of the year?
Just before crossing the old bridge there was a small sculpture of Tarka the Otter. A book about the life of an otter by Henry Williamson. I’m sorry to say that I’ve not read it but there’s still time!
On the other side of the river we joined the Tarka Trail. A cycle/walking trail of just over 32 miles named after the infamous otter. We found it to be full of families out cycling all enjoying the sunshine and a bit of healthy exercise.
On the Tarka Trail
After marching along for a couple of miles or so we had Instow insight. In the photo below you can just see Appledore (our lunch stop) on the left.
Instow – almost there now
More and more cyclists as we got closer.
Once we reached Instow we felt like we’d missed the start of a party. It was heaving with cyclists.
Cyclists and pub at Instow
We sat on the quay and enjoyed the late afternoon sun before heading back to our rented cottage.
Day 2 – 16 miles – Braunton to Instow
May Bank Holiday, it’s a Monday and we were back in Instow. This time we were waiting for a bus going in the opposite direction so that we could start our walk from Braunton.
Where was our bus? Tim checked his watch (again). We both checked the timetable (again). Where the heck is that bus? Then, out of the mist the bus finally appeared. Phew.
Actually I was surprised it was running at all on a Bank Holiday.
Our journey took us to Braunton via the town of Barnstable. Unexpectedly at Barnstable we were all told to get off and onto another bus. Apparently there was a problem with the ‘late’ bus – ah that’s why it was late……
Braunton is apparently the largest village in England but it looked like a town to me. Very quickly, after getting directions at the Tourist Office, we were on the Tarka Trail (coast path) with the early morning mist disappearing.
At first we were in amongst the trees then the view of the river estuary opened up.
Tim on the Tarka Trail
Today we saw many more boats in the mud. The one in the photo above looked particularly tipsy.
We picked up the pace and marched to Barnstable.
Barnstable, like Bideford, has a slick modern bridge (on the edge of town) and an older bridge (in the town). At the new bridge we paused to consult our map. We had a long chat about whether we should follow the signs over this new bridge or take a route which was suggested on the map. We followed the sign over the new road bridge sharing the pavement with cyclists whizzing past us. Pleased to be on the other side we turned away from the busy road and onto the path alongside the estuary.
More cyclists on this side, some coming straight out of Barnstable, and even a family on roller skates.
A moment without cyclists
Lunchtime. We stopped at a very handy bench with a view back across the estuary and the bridge we’d crossed.
Setting off again we came across a concrete structure that looked like it could have been a shelter for railway workers. Some artistic graffit artists had been at work on each side….let’s call this place ‘no where’.
Running to catch up with Tim after taking photos is quite normal these days! Tim knows how many miles we have to do. Still I am forever taking photos of him walking away!
The next stop was Fremington Quay. The cafe here was doing a roaring trade – obviously a popular stopping place for all the cyclists, roller skaters and us. Wow was it busy.
A busy place on a sunny Bank Holiday in early May
After taking a short rest here we were back onto our sore feet. Our feet don’t usually suffer when we are walking – must be all that flat, hard surface.
Nearing Instow the coastal path turns away from the Tarka Trail so that it runs closer to the estuary. It was nice to get onto a grassy path again. Here there were old structures that looked like derelict piers and more boats left high and dry. As the mist started to reappear there was a certain charm about them.
We passed a family having a barbecue round an open fire, then a cricket pitch, a car park, cafe ‘The Glorious Oyster’ then into Instow itself still busy in the misty sunshine.
At the car we were pleased to take our boots off and change into our crocs.