Thursday, 6 June 2013

Bude to Crackington Haven

Sunday 26th May, 2013

I'd slept in a layby just outside of Crackington Haven. Yesterday evening I'd driven down into the little village to scout out parking and had hoped to spend the night in a car park with a view and where I could leave my van the next day. It wasn't to be as both car parks had 'no overnight parking' signs. The main car park was £5 for all day and was a pay and display with a coins only machine. As I didn't haven't £5 in change this would be no good to me. Slightly up the hill I'd just come down I'd noticed a sign pointing down a rough track saying parking £2 all day. I checked it out and it was basically a field with a couple of picnic tables and an honesty box. It was run by a local charity. I'd much rather give £2 to a local charity than £5 to a commercial enterprise. And I did have £2 in change. And it was an honesty box, not a pay and display, so even if I didn't have £2 in change I could have changed a note during the day and paid before I left.

Crackington Haven is a tiny place nestled in a hollow between hills and cliffs and with a tiny beach, a big pub and a shop. The light as the sun went down was wonderful so I took a couple of photos before heading out to the layby I'd spotted earlier.

I slept really well and this morning was back down in Crackington Haven, parked up, breakfasted and kitted up ready to catch the 9.07 bus to Bude.

Arriving 20 minutes later I wasn't sure what to make of Bude. On the one hand, it was quite pretty with a canal running down to the sea, complete with its own lock. On the other hand, it looked like a tacky tourist trap, with a big fairground covering rather a large proportion of the car park.

I didn't need to linger, so after noting that parking was £5.50 for the day and using the free toilets near the sand dunes leading down to the beach, I headed out. I didn't see any signs for the SW Coast Path but it's not too difficult to follow the sea. I crossed the canal over a little footbridge, took a few photos and walked towards the sea, soon spotting a coastal path signpost.


The path went uphill to a tower viewpoint, then followed the top of the cliffs all the way to Widemouth Bay. This was a busy place, with cafes, a big car park, a surf school, ice cream van and toilets. As it was such a glorious day there were plenty of people about, many of them in wetsuits in the water with surfboards, though there didn't seem to be much surf. 

I crossed the beach and the path headed back up again. I followed the grassy cliff tops for a while before having to detour to the road about 1km before  Wanson Mouth. The cliffs have really crumbled away here, necessitating the detour. At times the road seems to be almost on the cliff edge and I wondered how long until it slips too. The sides of the road were lined with hedgerows in a way typical to this part of the country. Although it was lovely walking between them and seeing so  many wildflowers in bloom, it was a bit frustrating not to be able to see more than the odd glimpse of the sea that I knew was so close. And it was very frustrating to have to walk on a tarmac road. Fortunately there weren't many cars. 

 Finally, after a couple of kms the road turned inland and I was back on a footpath following the cliff top.

 Arriving above Millook, I looked in wonder at the lovely, little bay down below; and I looked in shock at the almost vertical drop to get down to it. My knees hurt just at the thought of it. Fortunately there was a conveniently placed bench, so I sat and ate lunch and gave my knees a pep talk. 

Once I'd made it to the bottom it really was a gorgeous little place, with a few houses including a beach house I wanted to move straight into. It was right on the beach with big windows and a wide, canopied veranda down one side. I wandered round, pondered for a while, and decided against knocking on the door and asking if it was for sale because a) I probably couldn't afford it (make that, I'm SURE I couldn't afford it), and b) it was probably a holiday let and so it wouldn't be the owners at home anyway.

The path zig-zagged up the road from Millook, though it wasn't long before it left the road. I now walked through some lovely woodland, with bluebells and wild garlic and stunted oak trees. This was Dizzard Wood and apparently the many lichens covering the trunks are of national importance. 

The path dipped down several times to cross babbling streams before climbing back up again. One descent was even worse than the one into Millook. Rough steps had been cut into the side, shored up by deeply embedded planks of wood. Some of them were so steep I had to go round them. The ground was shingly and moved underfoot. I spent a long time descending. At the bottom it was over a footbridge and then a stile. All day I've had kissing gates. But after a descent like that, when my knees don't want to work anymore, can they put a kissing gate? No. They put a stile.

I wasn't the only one who'd taken the descent so slowly. A couple were behind me and we stopped to chat at the bottom. They live in Dorset and have walked the final 100 miles of the path. Now they're starting at the beginning and, bit by bit, trying to so the rest.

They were followed down by a woman a bit older than myself, but twice as sprightly. She'd walked the whole path years ago, with her mum driving a back-up vehicle. Now she comes back for odd weekends and just does her favourite bits. And over 630 miles there are a lot of favourite bits. We walked back to Crackington Haven together. There were a few more ups and downs, but none as bad as the one where we'd met, or as bad as the one into Millook.

Once back in Crackington Haven, it was back to my van and a drive to the campsite in Stoke in the Hartland area where I planned to base myself for most of the week.


Tuesday, 4 June 2013

I've got a hole in my walk

I had hoped to walk to Cornwall

The final, last, right in the bottom corner, county in England. Ok, I wasn't going to walk all the way from here, but I was going to walk from North Devon along the coastal path and was quite excited at the thought of walking across that county border. 

But things don't always go to plan

I did walk in North Devon and I did walk in Cornwall, but I didn't actually walk across the border. Over the last couple of years I've walked from Minehead in Somerset to Westward Ho! (yes, the exclamation mark is part of the spelling) in Devon along the South West Coast Path and this year I planned to walk from where I'd left off in Westward Ho! to Crackington Haven in Cornwall. When I crossed the border from Somerset to Devon, it was nice to know I'd got to my second county, but not really a big deal. Maybe because I'd not walked end to end of the Somerset coast and because Devon isn't in the end, sticky out, bottom bit of the country. Walking to Cornwall, however, did seem like a big deal and yet that actual border crossing is the only bit of the walk I didn't get to do. So I now have a gap in my walk which I'll have to fill next year before I carry on from Crackington Haven.

So why the gap? 

Well, the sub-title for this post could be 'My Van Doesn't Like Bank Holidays'. I'd planned to drive down to Devon on the Friday night so I could go to Lundy Island on the Saturday morning, but was way too tired and so just went to bed instead. I drove down on Saturday afternoon, arriving in Crackington Haven just before the sun went down. Because of the dearth of buses on a Sunday in this part of the world, the only bit of my walk I was able to do on a Sunday was the last bit. I wanted to check out the parking situation and find the bus stop before the following morning so wound my way down narrow, bendy lanes. It looked really pretty in the nice evening light and I took the first couple of photos of my trip. However, just before I'd arrived I'd taken a wrong turn and had to do a three point turn. As I turned into the reverse part of the three point there was a horrible metallic scraping noise. If I'd been near railings I'd have assumed I'd scraped the side of my van down them. But there was nothing like that nearby and nothing underneath the van either. Once I straightened up and drove off I realised I had a problem with my steering. It was very, very stiff. I took bends and turns really slowly, putting all my weight into making the steering wheel move and worrying that it might seize up completely on me and I wouldn't get round the bend and would crash into the side instead. I've never hoped to be round the bend so much before!

I parked up for the night 

In a layby on the main road above Crackington Haven that was set back from road, and the next morning slowly drove back down to park for the day. I caught the bus to Bude and walked back. I then had to drive to the campsite in Stoke near Hartland where I was planning to base myself for the rest of the week. I had no idea what was wrong. I'd checked everything I could think of checking, which with my limited mechanical knowledge, is not a lot, but couldn't spot anything obviously wrong. I spoke to the farmer at the campsite about my problem and he recommended a local garage. Of course being bank holiday weekend there was nothing I could do till Tuesday.

On Monday

The weather forecast proved accurate and it was horrendous with rain and wind. I'd already decided not to walk on Monday as I didn't think it would be particularly safe on the coast and anyway, it was a bank holiday and so there were no buses. Instead I'd planned to get out and about in the van and be a tourist. As I didn't want to risk driving anywhere I spent the day in the van catching up on reading.

Tuesday morning 

Dawned bright and beautiful and so I drove the couple of miles to Hartland and found the garage. I had to leave the van with them for a few hours and so wandered off to Hartland Abbey for a poke around. The gardens were lovely, as was the house - it had started out as an abbey but over the years had been turned into a stately home. The people were also lovely and various members of the staff reassured me that the garage I'd taken my van to was the best around and told me if I was going to break down I was lucky it had happened here. The ladies in the café let me use their phone to ring the garage when I couldn't get any mobile reception and the lady who collects tickets gave me a lift back to the garage at the end of the day.

I needed a new steering pump which had to be ordered 

As well as being expensive this meant I also couldn't use my van on Wednesday as it had to go back to the garage to have the pump fitted. So on Wednesday I wandered off to Docton Mill. This mill has been turned into a lovely private home with extensive and gorgeous gardens. The gardens are open to the public and there's a bit of an exhibition on the mill, a turning water-wheel, and a café which won an award for having the best cream teas in 2007. It didn't say why they hadn't won it again since so, in the interests of research, I tried one. It was delicious. If there is a better place that's been scooping the award for the last six years, I'd love to know about it.

On Thursday 

I could finally get out walking again. I walked into Hartland and caught the bus to Clovelly. This touristy, but delightful little village hewn into the rock face, I explored last year. So this year I started my walk straight away and walked back to Hartland Quay and then up the lane to the campsite. It was exhausting but wonderful.

Friday morning

I parked in Clovelly and caught a couple of buses to get me to Westward Ho! to do what should have really been the first part of my walk. For some reason I wasn't expecting the walk back to Clovelly to be that challenging but was I wrong. I had planned to do the only missing bit of my walk on Saturday before driving home, but as this would be the most challenging and longest walk of the trip (over 15 miles of hills, plus almost 3 miles to get from Hartland village to Hartland Quay to even start the walk), I decided this would be too much for me to do after two already full-on days of walking (my knees had swelled that much from all the descents that they seemed to have developed 3 kneecaps each) and the need to do a long drive home straight afterwards.

So I went to Lundy Island instead 

I picked my van up at Clovelly and drove to Ilfracombe where I found a lovely parking bay in Hele overlooking the rocky coastline to spend the night. I hadn't booked but it was no problem to get on the ferry and I had lovely sunny boat ride and a walk round the island. I'm pleased I finally got to Lundy, but it is disappointing to have this glaring gap in my walk. 

Ah well, there's always next year, and I did get to see a couple of places I might not have seen otherwise.