Thursday, 28 June 2012

Ilfracombe to Woolacombe

Saturday 9th June, 2012

My last day.

I had planned to leave in the morning and stop off somewhere along the way home. But as it dawned a gorgeously sunny and warm day, and as I still had what should have been the first part of my walk to do, I couldn't resist sticking around and completing the missing link in my South West Coast Path wander.

It didn't take long to pack up and I was soon on the road to Woolacombe. I wanted to park in Woolacombe and catch the 8.30 bus to Ilfracombe and walk back from there. However, the big car park was closed - it didn't open till 9 o'clock. I drove west along the front to the next car park which was open, but I knew I wouldn't want to walk the extra distance on the way back. The roadside parking was all limited time only and so was of no use. Instead I drove to Mortehoe, a small village about mile to the east of Woolacombe and parked in the small car park there. It was about half the price of the car parks in Woolacombe and meant I got to see the village which I would have otherwise bypassed. It's a quaint place with a few little shops, a pub or two, a church and a museum. I hoped to get back in time to have a look around the museum but in the end was too late.

Morte Point

I bought a croissant for breakfast and walked down a lane at the side of the church to reach the coast path. Morte Point was to my right and Woolacombe to my left. I set off towards Woolacombe musing on the back-to-front-ness of my walk: I was walking the first day's walk on my last day and the last bit of the day's walk first. It might not be ideal but at least I didn't have any annoying niggly bits missed out.

There was a bit of a steep downhill into Woolacombe and I was glad I was getting this over with and not having to do it when my knees were tired and sore at the end of the day's walk. I was in good time for the 9.30 bus which took about half an hour to get to Ilfracombe.

Once in Ilfracombe I bought a sandwich for my lunch and wandered down to the seafront to look for the coast path. I could see where I'd finished walking when I arrived in Ilfracombe last year, but couldn't see where the path continued. After a bit of wandering I got the map out and figured it out properly.

Leaving Ilfracombe
Tunnel Beach

The path left Ilfracombe by winding up through a residential area with regular panoramic views back to Ilfracombe. At one point, peering over the wall, I could see down to one of the tunnel beaches. These beaches are only accessible via a series of tunnels for which there is a charge. The beach I could see looked very nice with a decking area and loungers. It would probably be quite nice to spend a lazy few hours here on a hot day, so maybe I'll check them out properly sometime.

Seven Hills

Walking towards Lee
The path then wound up towards the Seven Hills and zig-zagged quickly to about 140m. I stopped frequently to stare at the view and take photos. Leaving the Seven Hills behind the path followed the coast to join a lane leading into the hamlet of Lee. I got tantalising glimpses of the little shingle bay as I threaded my way down the lane and into Lee itself. I found a bench and sat here for a while chatting to a couple from Dorset. They usually walk the South West Coast in their own area and this was their first time on this part of it. They were very impressed.

A glimpse of Lee Bay

Bull Point Lighthouse
Leaving my bench I climbed steeply up the road out of Lee and onto a path following the rocky coastline. When I reached the gleaming white Bull Point lighthouse I knew I was on the last stretch of walk for his holiday. First I had Morte Point to go though. This juts out on the north side of Morte Bay and shelters Woolacombe Sands. It's along here I'd been told I had a good chance of seeing seals so I walked slowly and spent a lot of time peering at rocks in the sea in case they moved and became seals.


Part way round I spotted my first seal. I watched it for a while bobbing about, disappearing and reappearing some way away. Then a second one appeared. They were lovely to watch, but moved far too fast for me to take a good photo. They seemed to sense when I was about to press the shutter and would duck under the water so I'd either get a picture of empty sea or a picture of a blurred blob.

An elderly man stopped to chat to me and pointed out an oystercatcher nest on the rocks. Both the male and female were around and taking it in turns to sit on the nest.

Morte Point looking towards Woolacombe Sands

Eventually I had to draw myself away and walk the last stretch along the coast before turning inland and heading back to the village of Mortehoe and my van. Turning back I had one last lingering look and one last photo before leaving the coast for this year.

Last look

Back in Mortehoe I treated myself to an ice-cream before starting the long drive back to Manchester.


I'm heading to Wales straight after school tomorrow. I'm meeting friends and we're going to camp at a climbers' hut. The address I have is that it's near some boulders. I think there are a lot of boulders in Snowdonia. I have a grid reference, which I would be fine walking to, but I've never used one to drive to before. Wish me luck!

The weather's not meant to be too great so I'm going to use the weekend as a good opportunity to test out my new Vango.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012


Friday 8th June, 2012

The weather was horrendous today. I heard on the radio that because of the gales and torrential rain, campers all over Devon had packed up and gone home. I had my campsite to myself. My tent has survived far worse storms than this in Shetland and Iceland and I was nice and snug inside it. So snug, I didn't emerge until the afternoon. I had a lazy, relaxing morning reading, writing and playing with my new Kindle.

By mid-afternoon the weather was clearing up a bit and I thought I really should do something. As it was too late to start a walk (and still not the weather for a coastal, cliff-edge walk) I thought I'd drive out and recce some of the places I want to walk next year on my next bit of the coastal path. The man I'd met in the bus shelter in Westward Ho! had said he was staying in Clovelly and that it was nice, so I thought I'd head there, see what it was like, and then decide what to do next.

Turning off the main road towards Clovelly I drove past some chocolate box style thatched cottages and down a narrow lane to a large car park. There were signs up informing me that I couldn't drive into the village and had to go into this car park. A large visitor centre was situated at the back of the car park. I parked up, looked around to see if I had to pay, but it seemed to be a free car park. I made use of the toilets and then wandered into the visitor centre. I had no idea what to expect and was quite surprised when I got inside. There seemed to be a cafe and shop, but to get to them I had to pass by a cashier and stump up £6.50. From what I could make out this £6.50 then entitled me to walk round the village.

I wasn't very impressed with this and wondered if it was like Land's End where if you turn up with a car you pay, but if you're walking it's free. It is on the coastal path after all. As is Clovelly. I was thinking of walking back to the lane and seeing where it took me, when an irate Irish family came towards me through the cashier point. The man said his family had just got their money back as they felt ripped off paying to walk round what turned out to be a village that you could walk round like any other if you didn't enter via the visitor centre. He advised me to just walk along the road. So I did.

The lane emerged at the top of the village and it was only then that I realised how high up I was. The village clings to the cliff side and narrow lanes wind their way down to the bottom. The buildings are very quaint and at some points are joined over the path to make short tunnels. There are numerous holiday cottages, cafes and little shops. One cottage was open to show what it would have been like many years ago when Clovelly was a fishing village rather than a tourist attraction. There are also a couple of tiny one-room chapels that it's possible to go inside.

Clovelly was a childhood home of Charles Kinglsey and he is credited with bringing it to the attention of the outside world. He got the inspiration to write 'The Water Babies' here and later wrote his novel 'Westward Ho!' in which the village is featured. A mock-up of his study can be seen in the small museum.

The whole village seemed so perfect it didn't seem quite real. Flowers were blooming, scents were heady, numerous very strokable cats were strategically placed, paintwork were fresh, windows were crystal clear. Even the weather was beautiful. How do they do that? Everywhere else in Devon is a complete washout, but in Clovelly it's lovely, warm and sunny!

At the bottom of the village is a small harbour, a pub and a pebbly beach with a waterfall. I slowly wound my way down to the bottom, stopping to take lots of photos. Then I slowly wound my way back to the top again, taking even more photos. From what I could see the coast path passes through the top of village and so when I walk here I won't get to see the village unless I made a detour. Because I've seen it now, I won't feel that I'm missing out if I don't get time. Also, I know that there's a car park and a bus service that I could use. I didn't have time to do anything else on my recce, but still felt it had been very worthwhile and I'd enjoyed my few hours in the sun.

The lane to the village
First glimpse of the sea

Nice gardens and cottages

I want a mobile like this
Narrow streets
A cottage as it would have been
Charles Kinglsey in his study
A glimpse of the sea
One of many cats
A long way down, still a long way to go
Sheltered harbour
There's even a waterfall
A pretty front door
Sleepy cat
Here's a link to Clovelly's website.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Barnstaple to Instow

Thursday 7th June, 2012

On Thursday morning I was up and ready very early so I could drive to Bideford and catch the ferry to Lundy for the day. Because of the gales the ferry was cancelled. Even though I'd phoned the night before and on the morning itself, the voicemail message just said to turn up and then they'd let us know if the ferry would be sailing or not. As it wasn't, I was up early with no plans for the day. I decided to walk from Barnstaple to Instow. I should have done this on the same day as my Braunton to Barnstaple walk but had cut it short due to sore knees.

I drove to Barnstaple and parked up at the Leisure Centre. I'd decided to walk to Instow and catch the bus back. Usually I like to leave my car at the end of a walk so I'm not clock-watching, but the bus timetable showed that buses run every 15 mins throughout the day so catching one back shouldn't be a problem.

Leaving the car park I walked through a retail park past a big Tesco Extra and turned towards the train station. Following the road past the station I went through a subway to emerge on the path proper. This path is a former railway track and runs alongside the River Taw in pretty much a straight line all the way to Instow.

It was raining quite heavily but there were still a few people out and about. I was passed by several cyclists as well as a few walkers. There was not much to see along the path (maybe due to the misty rain) and it could have got monotonous, but I was quite enjoying the freshness of it.

River Taw

After about 2½ miles I came to Fremington Quay. This quay was used to load boats with clay that had been transportrd across Devon by train. It was then exported around the world. The former train station is now a cafe. I wasn't in particular need of rest stop but it looked inviting and I had plenty of time. I went in and plonked myself on a comfy sofa after balancing my dripping jacket on my walking poles.

The cafe was quite busy which surprised me until I realised there was a car park at the back of it. The walls were adorned with old black and white photos picturing the former industry. One photo showed a group of white workmen with what seemed to be a black workman at the end of the row. This would probably have been unheard of then. The caption explained that the man was actually covered in coal dust disguising his appearance. In the old black and white photograph it wasn't really possible to tell the difference.

Fremington Station

The station building has a low  lookout tower adjoined to it. I went up to the top but couldn't see much because of the weather. There were information boards on the birdlife that could be seen, but I didn't see much of that either.

After an un-needed, but much enjoyed, cream tea I set off into the rain again. I walked about a mile and a half further before turning off the old railway and into a wilder area known as East Yelland Marsh. This is the area where the rivers Taw and Torridge meet to finish their journey to the sea together. A firm, but narrow path winds through the marsh sticking as close to the river as possible. It passed a jetty that was no longer in use and was being reclaimed by vegetation.

Finally the path led through sand dunes and on to the beach which I then walked along to reach Instow. I found the bus shelter which had been warmed by the sun and had a very comfy bench and waited about 10 minutes for a bus to take me back to Barnstaple.

When I arrived in Barnstaple I walked down to the river but instead of crossing over the main bridge to get back to the car park I walked along the river bank to the bridge further down and crossed here. I still wasn't sure if this was the bridge I should have crossed when I walked here from Braunton and I didn't want to miss out on a bit of the walk.

The walk took me past a park and playing fields and was quite scenic. When I walked back along the other side I walked through trees and then alongside a building site. The views to the other side of the river were lovely though.


Miles walked = 7.5 plus the extra bit in Barnstaple at the end.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Olympic Torch

The Olympic Torch Relay was in Manchester yesterday and just down the road from me in Ashton today. It seemed like the sort of 'on your doorstep' opportunity I shouldn't miss out on and so I took myself down to the route at about 9 o'clock this morning. I wasn't sure how crowded it would be or how long it would take me to park. As it happened there were only a few people about and I got parked in a side street just off the route.

The view through my windscreen

I sat in my van for about an hour reading, dodging the rain, and watching more people arrive. Just after 10am the torch was due to begin its journey from Ashton so I got out and joined the mixed bunch of people at the roadside (a man with a pint and a small child, a woman with a chihuahua tucked down the top of her coat, a lady who had just arrived back from holiday to find her street lined with a welcoming committee).

The crowd increases
These guys had a good view from
their truck

We had a few false alarms when convoys of police cars and bikes trailed down the road, but no torch. Then a few buses and trucks came decorated with marketing slogans for Coca-Cola and Lloyd's TSB, dancing troops on board, and loud music.

Finally the torch bearer appeared at the end of the road surrounded by official cars and trucks. It was quite difficult to see and even more difficult to get a photo. I'd expected to have a clear view of the torch bearer as he walked down the road towards me and as he carried on past me, but in reality it was only a couple of seconds as he was level with me that I could get a clear view.

For some reason the police hadn't closed the road and only stopped the traffic when the torch bearer actually reached the road. The cars in one lane were all stopped where they were and in the lane in which the torch bearing convoy was travelling the cars were only briefly stopped, to give a clear passage to the offical convoy.

And finally ...

Once the torch had gone past it was all over and people quickly moved on. I think it could have been done a lot better but I'm glad I've seen it and for the time the torch was passing the rain held off. Although this is the first time I've seen the torch relay, I have seen the Olympic Flame once before, twenty years ago at the Barcelona Olympics.  Maybe I'll get to see it again in another twenty years?

An afternoon with the Dalai Lama

The Dalai Lama was in Manchester last week for a series of workshops with young people. On Sunday afternoon he held a talk and Q&A session for the general public. The events were held at the MEN Arena which, with a capacity of 21,000, is the largest indoor arena in the EU, beating London's O2 Arena capacity by a 1000. A google search revealed an interesting chart showing that in terms of ticket sales it is far behind the O2, but still comes in second not just in the UK or EU but in the world! Even beating (by a lot) famous venues such as New York's Madison Park Garden. So the Dalai Lama was obviously anticipating quite a turnout!

I'd bought tickets for myself and a friend's daughter. My friend dropped her daughter off and came to wait with her inside the venue. Whilst waiting someone gave her a free ticket that by chance was not too far from where we were sitting.

Peering between heads

The venue was quite full and we sat on specially laid out rows of chairs on the floor area in front of the stage. Although this meant we were relatively close, it was actually quite difficult to get a good view because of eveyone's heads. In the fixed seating areas of the arena each row is higher than the one in front aiding the 'heads blocking the view' problem. We didn't have this advantage, but by manoeuvring by neck I did get to see him. Also to each side of the stage was a large screen showing the stage area.

On the screen at the side of the stage

The Dalai Lama stood and talked for about an hour without notes, and then for a further hour he sat down to take questions which the audience had written down and handed to the ushers. He had an interpreter with him, but rarely needed him and then only to clarify a word or phrase. In both his talk and his answers to the questions he came over as someone with a sense of humour who doesn't take himself too seriously and tries to cut through the hype that has been built around him. For example, when asked what is the best thing we can do to look after the environment, he laughed and said 'use common sense'. He did then develop his answer, but his first response rang truest.

With the seldom used interpreter

He spoke about the importance of mothers and the love they have for their children; told stories from his childhood; and joked about miracle cures and how sometimes things can happen in unexpected ways. After suffering from an itchiness problem on his neck someone prayed for him. Next thing, someone gave him a cream which cured the problem. Was it the prayer that had brought the cream or was it just coincidence? Either way he was happy because he no longer itched. He went on to say that since this happened and he's told this story, he's been given so much cream and ointment he could open a small shop.

Sitting to take questions

The whole talk and Q&A session was in this vein - giggling, joking, and reminding everyone to keep their feet on the ground and not be deceived by new age quackery. From listening to people talking before and after the session, many of them seemed to see the Dalai Lama as someone to be venerated; someone who if they worshipped and put on a giant pedestal, could improve their lives for them. The talk was probably not quite what they wanted to hear. And the Dalai Lama made it very clear that people do have some say in choosing their future and their fortune. Don't sit around dwelling on the negatives, instead concentrate on the positives and making the most out of them.

We all enjoyed his talk and came away thinking he was a very nice, regular guy with a good sense of humour. The sort of person you would love to invite down to the pub for a more informal social chat. Even my friend was very impressed, whereas beforehand she didn't think this would be her cup of tea at all. I'd invited her daughter along as she is currently reading Theology at university and we have some good chats about theology and the different religions and their beliefs, but my friend had said she didn't want a ticket herself. How fortunate she got a freebie!

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

New boots

My trusty walking boots have developed a tiny hole near the sole. I've also had a couple of blisters recently which is unusual and I think it may be because my boots are wearing out on the inside. They've been such faithful friends, travelling with me around the world and supporting me on volcanoes, glaciers and grubby city streets as well as countless times on my local Peak District hills.

I really don't want them to go, but realise the day will soon arrive when I have to retire them. I may use them as plantpots in my yard. With this in mind I have been looking for some new boots. I need boots that are waterproof, sturdy and supportive, but don't cost the earth.

Just before going to Devon I bought myself a pair and took them with me to trial them. I took my old boots as well and alternated between them. The new boots feel like they've been filled with air; I almost bounce along the paths. This is wonderful and I would be completely sold on them, but they feel very stiff. I'm hoping it's just a case of allowing time to soften them. Not too long though.

I took a picture of them on the Braunton to Barnstaple leg of the coast path. I think I'll keep my original picture on the blog though.

Braunton to Barnstaple

Wednesday 6th June, 2012

I had been planning to walk from Braunton to Instow but felt that I had to cut it short as my knees were really sore after the last couple of days' walking. This is often a problem for me and so I'm used to having to re-jig my plans. I decided to walk only as far as Barnstaple and as this is mainly flat it would give my knees a chance to recover.

I parked at the Leisure Centre in Barnstaple (£1.60 for the day) and crossed the river to the town and the bus station. I got the bus to Braunton getting off at the stop where I'd got on on Monday when I caught the bus to Woolacombe. I went back into the lovely deli and bought a spinach pasty for my lunch. I also sat inside with a coffee and a piece of delicious apple cake before starting my walk.

I backtracked along the river and the Tarka Trail to where I'd finished on the Coast Path on Monday. Today the whole walk was inland and I wouldn't get to see the coast at all. It was still a lovely walk though, along the former Brauton to Barnstaple Railway. The path is shared with the Tarka Trail Cycleway and so is very easy to walk along.

I'd only just started walking on the official path when I spotted a a hidden pond to the left. I followed a boardwalk down to it and found this lovely oasis with ducks, swans and coots. They had their young with them and I spent some time trying to get a good photo of the cygnets. A family was stood on the boardwalk throwing bread to them and they were all over the place trying to snap it up. Fun to watch, but not easy to photograph. One of the cygnets seemed to have a leg growing out of its back. I worried that it was deformed but maybe it was just resting it. A search on google reveals several pics of cygnets with a leg like this so hopefully it was just relaxing and practising a bit of swan yoga.

Next the path passed the Chivenor Barracks. These stretch for quite a way and are a base for the Royal Marines. I could see houses, buildings and an assault course through the wire fencing. A seat had been conveniently placed so passersby could stop and watch the Marines training. A few were exercising and running but I didn't get to see them use the assault course.

Moving on from the barracks I came alongside the River Taw which was wide and full of sandbanks, similar to the Torridge yesterday. The weather was much better though and I stopped several times just to sit and enjoy the view.

After 5 miles on this path I reached Barnstaple. I followed the river into town and crossed what I thought was the Long Bridge and the official path bridge. Looking at my map later I realised it might actually have been a bridge a little further up that I should have crossed. I could see the thick dotted green line on the map going as far as this further bridge but was unsure as to whether this was the coast path or the Tarka Trail or both.

I wasn't too worried at missing part of the path as by this time by knees were sore and I was ready to take my boots off and get in my van.