The End to End trail guide does the coast path stretch from Bude to Clovelly in one go, which makes for a long and very demanding walk involving lots of steep up and downs and a lot of steps. I had already walked Hartland Point and some of the bits south of there on previous holidays, and my right knee in particular was very keen not to do any more steps (or certainly a 23 mile day full of them), so I started the day a little worried about what lay ahead. I covered the 3 miles or so from Widemouth Bay to Bude in just under an hour, but the very few steps I encountered were painful, and when I got to Bude I decided to pick up an Explorer map (I’ve been using Landranger ones for the coast path to save space) and try and find an inland route, rejoining the coast path at Clovelly. I had to wait until 10 for the tourist information centre to open, but spent my time usefully buying an excellent pasty and some homemade cake for lunch from the tiny post office opposite (very friendly staff and the pasty was one of the best I have had). I sat in the sunshine by the canal and planned my route over a cup of coffee.
My improvised route started very well, with a long gentle climb away from the coast path just north of Bude, on a wide cart track through fields of green wheat.
There was nobody else around and I was lucky enough to see a hare, startled by my approach, sitting upright and then bounding away across the field. As the path climbed and headed inland, I could see the coast path over to the west, with tiny figures toiling up the first switchbacks, and I felt happy I had decided to skip the coastal route for a day or two. As the GCHQ listening station north of Bude loomed in the distance, my route headed inland to Stowe (the ruins of a medieval farmhouse, now a National Trust property with an informative leaflet available in a box for walkers) and a lovely walk through the woodlands beyond.
It’s not possible to cross the headland without doing some road walking, due to lack of footpaths or bridleways going in the right direction, but the roads were extremely quiet and the only traffic I passed was the occasional tractor. Just as I was beginning to congratulate myself on my swift progress, however, I ran into problems round Eastham and Woolley, a village so small that according to Arran it doesn’t exist on our satnav. I managed to miss a footpath (I think because it was in the middle of a farm and not signposted, and I am always reluctant to just wander through farm buildings), with the result that I spent nearly two hours having to retrace my steps to avoid walking on the very busy A39. At around 4pm, I was contemplating a long walk through a very wild grassy field when Arran telephoned and suggested that I cut the day short so that we could have a birthday barbecue for my sister, who was staying with us over the weekend. I gratefully agreed, and we had an excellent evening watching the sunset with huge amounts of roasted meat, fresh asparagus, lots of red wine and healthy slices of birthday cake (“I’ll walk it all off, honest”).
The following morning I retraced my steps and tried an alternative route via roads and bridleways and made much better progress, arriving in Hartland just before lunch full of anticipation for a cold pint and meal in the village pub. Sadly, I had forgotten that it was Sunday, and the only place open was the village shop. Visions of cool pints fading, I sat on a dilapidated bench on the side of the high street and had a horrible sausage roll and some crisps, before heading north towards Clovelly. Parts of the walk went through a nature reserve, with nobody else about for miles around, and later on there were some lovely ‘green lane’ tracks – I was very much reminded of Robert Macfarlane’s book ‘The Old Ways’ and what he says about walking as lived history. It’s almost impossible when walking some parts of this trail not to think about all the generations of people who have used the tracks before you.
The afternoon involved a lot of walking on roads and stony tracks, and I had very sore feet by the time I joined the bridleway that runs to Clovelly from Brownsham. It was a nice walk, being mainly a gentle descent through woods on a wide stony path. I somehow missed a connecting path and ended up reaching the coastal path at the sea’s edge at Mills Mouth, but I was feeling very satisfied at the day’s progress and glad to have a sea breeze again. After a short steep climb, the path followed the clifftop through woods to Clovelly, with only occasional glimpses of the sea, but it was very pleasant to be in the shade after the hot and dusty road walking earlier that day.
I made it to Clovelly in good time and climbed up through the visitor’s centre to meet Arran and the kids in the car park. It being Father’s Day, I looked for a suitable present for Arran but was foiled by the unbelievable quantity of tat in the Clovelly visitor centre gift shop, so opted for some fudge for him instead.
The inland route from Widemouth Bay to Clovelly could definitely have been done in a day, as it is much shorter and less strenuous than the coastal path, but not with a late start, getting lost, and party commitments! Don’t expect any footpath to be signposted, clear, or accessible, though – I am finding that many are overgrown and/or very hard to navigate!
Highlights: Starting the day with an excellent coffee with the sunshine sparkling on the canal at Bude; the clean lines of green wheat growing in an almost chalk-white field; seeing a hare for the first time; the cool shade and running water in the woods; the metallic click of my trekking pole and the baking heat on deserted roads; a sense of achievement at having reached the opposite coast; the Angel Wings shelter just before Clovelly.