Monday, 18 June 2012

Instow to Westward Ho!

Tuesday 5th June, 2012

This should have been the last of my walks as Westward Ho! is my final destination for this trip. But due to Bank Holiday bus times it made sense to do this walk today as this was the walk with the most convenient buses.

I awoke to a rainy, misty day so made sure I had my waterproofs packed before heading to Westward Ho! It's only a small place and I soon found the car park opposite the bus stop. The car park was quite expensive though, so I drove a few hundred metres down the road and parked for free on the roadside. It only took five minutes to walk back to the bus stop.

There was a man, a bit older than myself, in the bus shelter pulling on his waterproof trousers. A pint of lager sat on the bench beside him. He said he was based in Clovelly for a few days and walking different parts of the coast path. The stretch from Westward Ho! to Barnstaple was a niggling gap in what he'd already walked and so he wanted to get it done today. As I was getting the bus to Instow and walking back we expected to cross paths part way through the day.

Trousers on, he set off leaving the pint behind. Mustn't have been his. As I was now the only person in the bus shelter I did wonder if any newcomers would think it was mine. A couple of minutes later a well-dressed woman arrived, tutted at the pint and gingerly picking it up, tipped the contents into the gutter and put the plastic glass in the bin. She didn't ask if it was mine.


The bus arrived and then wound it's way round to Instow. Instow is almost directly east of Westward Ho!, but Westward Ho! is on the coast and Instow is across from Appledore on the far side of the River Torridge. Looking at the bigger section on the map, the estuary of the Rivers Taw and Torridge cuts in from the coast in an easterly direction. Saunton Sands lies to the north of the estuary and the long expanse of sands leading down to Westward Ho! stretch to the south. Following the estuary in a roughly easterly direction leads to the River Taw and Barnstaple. Well before Barnstaple though the River Torridge heads south from the estuary. Huddled in the corner of the estuary and the western banks of the Torridge is Appledore. On the opposite bank is Instow. If this all makes no sense whatsoever you'll just have to look at the map.

Instow - looking across to Appledore

I arrived in Instow to a light drizzle; I had my waterproof jacket on, but was resisting putting my waterproof trousers on because I'd knew I'd be too hot and rustly in them. A quick wander round and I'd seen most of the village. I called into a deli/takeaway/grocery shop to buy something for breakfast and lunch. I was a bit spoilt for choice but eventually decided on a cheese, salad and onion chutney baguette for lunch which was made up freshly for me. I bought a 'Jubilee' flapjack with white chocolate topping and a coffee for breakfast. I also found peanut butter Kitkats and so bought a couple. I love anything peanut butter flavoured and had been looking for these ever since I first heard of them a couple of months ago, but this is the first place I've actually seen them for sale. There was nowhere to sit down inside and by this time it was raining really heavily so I didn't fancy sitting on a bench along the seafront. Instead I stood under the awning of the shop and ate my flapjack whilst balancing my coffee on a box of oranges.

Following the River Torridge to Bideford

The rain showed no sign of letting up so, pulling my hood up, I set off into it. Turning right off the main road I picked up the path which followed the banks of the Torridge to Bideford along the former railway line. This part of the path is also the part of the Tarka Trail; a 180 mile trail following the journey of the fictional Tarka the Otter.

This stretch of the path is flat, straight and easy-going. I got a good rhythm going and made good time. I could see the big road bridge crossing the river at Bideford from quite a way back. The river was sandy and didn't look particularly deep. I assumed this was low tide and at other times of day the river looks quite different. If not, I don't see how the ferries to Lundy are able to get from Bideford.

Almost in Bideford

The rain was easing off, or maybe I was just getting used to it. As I came into Bideford the path passed behind buildings and arrived at the former train station. An old train was parked up and had been turned into a cafe. It looked cosy inside and was doing quite a good trade, but I wasn't ready for a break at this point and so turned right to cross the bridge into Bideford. The Tarka Trail at this point, carries straight on. 

Crossing Bideford Long Bridge

I walked along the quay in Bideford and reached a big car park with a park to the side of it. There are two interesting sculptures here: one a statue of Charles Kingsley, local and author of The Water Babies and Westward Ho!; and the other of a carved wooden 'helping hand' supporting a branch of a tree.

Charles Kingsley
'A Helping Hand'

The path hugged the river to the side of the car park before winding round houses and eventually reaching the river again. I then had a long straight stretch before coming to the outskirts of Appledore. Along here I crossed paths with the man from this morning. He was now reassessing his plans and considering stopping at Instow instead of continuing to Barnstaple.

Leaving Bideford and walking towards Appledore

Walking to Appledore

As the path closed in on Appledore it left the river to go round the large shipbuilding yard and followed the main road into Appledore. I sat on the quay and ate my sandwich and then went for a wander round. Appledore has quaint, narrow streets with pretty, coloured buildings. There's a ferry running from here across to Instow but I didn't see it running today. I stopped for a pot of tea in a little teashop that had some good local photographs on the wall. It was crowded and busy as everyone was trying to avoid the rain and so I was quite lucky to get a table.

Quaint colourful streets in Appledore
Leaving the teashop I picked up the path again and walked round the edge of Appledore. I could follow the road west and go straight to Westward Ho! from here, but the path goes north into the sandy, marshy areas of Northam Burrows. There was quite a good road and cars can pay a toll to drive and park here. A few people were out walking their dogs and children, but it was nowhere near as busy as I imagine it would be on a sunny, warm day.

View from Northam Burrows

The rain stopped though there were still very heavy clouds. It was quite pleasant walking here in the stormy light and as I rounded the top of the peninsuala the road petered out and became grassland. I walked as close to the water as I could and tried to take dramatic and atmospheric photos of the estuary and the opposite bank. I sat for a while on a bench just enjoying the dark skies and water.

Brooding skies

I left my seat reluctantly knowing I still had a way to go and wanting to avoid the heavy storm that seemed sure to strike at any moment. The path headed south along the third side of the peninsula and led past the golf course back into Westward Ho! and my car.

NB: Westward Ho! is the only place in the UK spelt with an exclamation mark. The name comes from title of Charles Kinglsey's 1855 novel which was set in Bideford. Entrepreneurs jumped on the bandwagon of the novel's popularity and saw the chance to develop a new seaside resort to meet the desires of the Victorians who enthused about the benefits of seaside holidays. Charles Kingsley is not the only famous writer associated with Westward Ho! Rudyard Kipling also spent several of his early years living here and wrote 'Stalky and Co' about his time at the local college. Of course, Henry Williamson, author of Tarka the Otter, is also connected with this area.

Distance = about 9 miles
Difficulty = easy

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