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.