This was the last day on the coast path, and I have to admit I had mixed feelings about heading inland. On the one hand, I was looking forward to leaving the coast path behind – not having walked a coastal route before I have found it very frustrating to be going up and down and in and out of bays all the time, without any feeling of real progress, and my knees were definitely looking forward to leaving behind the endless steps! On the other hand it is the last coast I will see unless you count a brief glimpse of the Bristol Channel and/or Loch Linnhe, and I will miss walking so close to the sea and having the beautiful views.
The coast path east from Clovelly has a very Victorian civic sort of feel to it: it is a wide track called Hobby Drive, with ornate iron benches set at intervals so you can rest and look out over the bay at the suitably picturesque views, and a massive granite monolith commemorating Mr and Mrs Hamlyn whose donations funded it.
The path is practically flat until you get to Peppercombe and I quickly settled into the morning’s walk, enjoying the glimpses of the sea sparkling in the morning sunshine. The only people I encountered were a couple of blokes playing on a rope swing in the woods just before Bucks Mills; when they saw me they both hastily scrambled off and pretended they were looking for their dog in the bushes and I didn’t have the heart to tell them I had seen them! After more woods, the path emerged into the bright sunlight for some rather docile cliffs – my first glimpse of proper red Devon soil.
At Greencliff, just before Westward Ho!, I left the coast path behind and headed inland towards Abbotsham. The very nice lady in the post office and stores sold me her entire stock of water, two apples and a pasty and I scoffed the lot sitting on a bench just outside. I then headed to Bideford via the rather busy road, passing the Big Sheep (yes, a sheep-themed adventure park) and trying not to get run over by shiny ‘off-road’ vehicles. Bideford is pretty much entirely charmless as far as I can see. From the (superficial) view of someone walking through, it’s not pretty, or richly endowed in amenities, and looks like it could do with a massive regeneration. I stopped for a cup of tea and piece of cake at the Kings Arms just by the bridge, then headed over the bridge to find the Tarka Trail to Barnstaple.
To anyone who has read ‘Tarka the Otter’, the name ‘Tarka Trail’ probably conjures up visions of otters gambolling in babbling streams, overhung by sleepy willow trees, with a backdrop of gentle cows browsing in rich riverside meadows – the odd kingfisher flashing by – that sort of thing. Ditch that – at least from Bideford to Barnstaple the trail is tarmac, unshaded, fringed by nettles, and used mainly by cyclists trying to get somewhere else as fast as possible. It was breathtakingly hot and dusty, and because it is so flat and straight it feels like it is taking a very long time to get anywhere. I caught up with Arran and the kids at Instow, and we went out for dinner at Tommy Jacks, a beach hotel/restaurant near Crooklets beach in Bude (very highly recommended – the food was great, the staff friendly and helpful, and they have several aquariums (aquaria?) inside with different sea environments).
Highlights: The transition from Victorian civic virtue to Bideford birds in short shorts; the Mediterranean effect of orange nasturtiums and red fuschia against whitewashed brick at Bucks Mills; leaving the coast path to begin the next phase of the walk; another unbroken sunny day; not feeling exhausted by the end of the walk.