Today was my first day of walking. I'd intended to start yesterday by walking the first leg of my planned stretch of the coastal path - Ilfracombe to Woolacombe. Ilfracombe was where I got to last year and so it made sense to start from there this time. However, it was so rainy and misty that I spent the day in Lynton and Lynmouth instead just being a tourist. I didn't want to walk along the coast and miss out on seeing the wonderful views. It would have been so frustrating knowing they were there but not being able to see them.
Today the weather was much better and it would have been quite nice to walk along the coast. But yesterday I'd picked up a North Devon bus routes timetable booklet in the Exmoor tourist info portakabin in the Lynmouth car park and realised if I jigged my days around a bit I could make much better use of the bus services. Monday and Tuesday were not good days for buses as they were both bank holidays. If I'd left my car in Woolacombe and got the bus to Ilfracombe to start my walk I would have had to change buses and wait for an hour at a junction in the middle of nowhere. Saving this walk for later in the week would mean I could get a direct bus and the journey would only take about 20 minutes.
So instead I started by walking part 2 first. I drove to Braunton and parked on the road just down from the main crossroads. Right by the bus stop was a shop by the name of 'Made in Devon'. I would have assumed it was some kind of craft shop but the smell of baking and coffee enticed me inside and I realised it was much more than this. What a wonderful place. The front part was a bakery, cafe, deli, ice-cream parlour selling local Devon produce. Long tables and benches ran the length of this part of the shop. At the back there were lots of locally made crafts, jars of chutney, chocolates and so on for sale. I bought lunch and breakfast to take away and had a quick cup of coffee inside which I drank whilst looking around. I only had 15 minutes before the bus was due which would take me to Woolacombe, but I was back outside in plenty of time for it.
As the bus rounded the hill above Woolacombe a stunning vista of glittering sea, long sandy beach, houses clutching to the hillside and a massive traffic jam greeted me. By the now the day was really hotting up and as it was a bank holiday EVERYONE seemed to have decided that Woolacombe was the place to be. It took a while for the bus to make its way down the hill to the stop at the bottom just by the car park and beach. What had seemed like a nice quaint place from the top of the hill, looked a bit tacky from the bottom and I didn't want to linger. A quick look around was enough and I set of west along the road running at the top of the beach towards Putsborough Sands. The beach is about 2 miles long and popular with surfers as well as families.
The path led along a quiet lane with several laybys in which many small campervans were parked. As the laybys overlooked a much quieter part of the beach I could understand why so many people chose to park here.
|Looking back towards Woolacombe|
|Looking fowards towards Baggy Point|
From Putsborough Sands the path turned right and up. I was now walking on grass along the top of Napps Cliff and climbing steadily towars Baggy Point. Baggy Point is National Trust land and this part of the SWCP follows the same route as the Tarka Trail (the long-distance trail named after book 'Tarka the Otter'). Looking back I got great views of the beach all the way back to Woolacombe.
From Baggy Point I got quite clear views towards Lundy as well as views westwards along the North Devon coast. Walking back along the southern side of this small peninsula led me fairly quickly towards Croyde Bay. The path becomes the main street leading through Croyde and passes the remains of a whale skull that had been washed up on shore in 1915. It looked like rock, but tapping it I could tell it was bone. Shortly after this was a National Trust cafe with a lovely tea garden. I didn't stop as I wasn't particularly hungry or thirsty, though if I hadn't been conscious of the fifteen miles I had to cover today, I probably would have stopped anyway as it looked so inviting.
|Remains of a whale that was washed ashore in 1915|
Continuing down the main street of Croyde most of the properties I passed seemed to be holiday cottages. As the road became a bit busier the path rose above it, through a gate, to become completely separate. Through a gate at the other end I turned right to head down to the beach and the sand dunes.
|Croyde from a distance|
The beach here is much smaller than Woolacombe beach, but seemed to have just as many people crammed on to it. There was no real room to walk without feeling that I was intruding on people’s personal space. Multi-generational families were laid out over every inch of the beach baking themselves an unflattering shade of puce. The sea was just as crowded with surfers and boogie boarders. I felt hemmed in and out of place and wanted to get away quickly. On a quieter day it would probably be quite nice here.
|Sand dunes at Croyde|
I couldn’t find the path at first, but then spotted a small sign pointing behind a hut and up into the sand dunes. The dunes rose up and down with no clear way through them. Children were playing in hollows sliding up and down having great fun. It can’t have been that good for the conservation of the dunes but there were no signs asking people to stay off them and the coast path sign actually pointed straight through the middle of them. It was hard going on my legs and particularly my knees clambering up and down the sand but eventually I could see where I needed to be. I couldn’t get there though, as there was a bit of a stream leading on to the beach blocking my way. I had to backtrack a bit but then found my way onto the far side, joined the beach and, narrowly avoiding stepping on picnic blankets, made my towards steps which I climbed back up to the road.
Following the path along the top of a grassy cliff, Saunton Sands soon came into sight. The path rejoins the road here and backtracks a little way. Crossing the road I climbed above it on the opposite side and followed a rather overgrown path parallel to the lengthy beach. I was high enough and in enough overgrowth to be unaware of the road for the majority of the time. The path then dips down, back across the road and leads into the Saunton Sands Hotel car park. Passing through this and winding down around the hotel grounds leads to the beach car park. I got lost in this car park as there were no signs. After doing a tour of the car park I asked someone at the entrance and was pointed in the direction of the road. There was quite a bit of traffic and so it wasn’t too pleasant to walk along and I was glad when the path turned onto Saunton golf club and crossed the edge of the green.
Braunton is not too far from here, but the path heads south past Braunton, then east and north to form a big 'U' before finally reaching the outskirts of the town. Tempting as it was to cut straight into town (my knees were getting very tired by this time), I stuck with the path and was glad I did. The path follows an easy path behind the dunes that separate it from Saunton Sands. Part of the dune area is a military practice zone and is fenced off and labelled as a 'danger area' on the map.
When the path turned east it became wider before turning north on to a narrow strip of overgrown path along the bank of the river Caen. There were a few boats on the river including one speedboat towing a child behind on a giant tyre. A lone cyclist passed me but I was the only walker here.
Eventually I was deposited on a main road on the edge of Braunton. I could have continued following the coast path by almost doubling back on myself and going past the sewage works, but my walk was done for today. Instead I followed the Tarka Trail along the narrowing Caen back into the centre of Braunton and my van.
Moderate, mostly flat with the most strenuous bit being the sand dunes