Pretty much spent the day getting from Lynton to Christchurch in the most roundabout way possible. Although actually, it could have been even more roundabout if we’d listened to the ticket guy on the first train. Luckily, we didn’t. But still, we got on the wrong train and had to backtrack although the good news is, we picked up some train tips along the way. Most important one? Ask the conductors for the best way to get someplace.
Eventually, we arrived to a downpour in Christchurch and walked from the station to the High Street anyway as what’s one more day of getting wet? We’re here to visit our SWCP walking partner, Susanne, who unfortunately couldn’t make it hiking this year.
We walked around most of the day, taking pics of all the things you only see in these ancient English towns.
Holy Mother of God. We knew the weather was supposed to be horrid, due to some hurricane somewhere out at sea, but we’d heard the warnings all week and so far the weather hadn’t lived up to the hype. Today it did. As of 9am (Sunday), we had no idea what we were doing. Weather forecast was scary, but there are no buses to anywhere on Sunday so...what to do?
At the back of our minds we were thinking that we most certainly wanted to work in the roast dinner at the Blue Ball Inn. Most certainly.
So after discussing various options with Jane (B&B owner) who suggested we scrap walking today because of the forecast, and another couple eating breakfast next to us, who agreed with Jane, we decide to walk anyway because A.) they all admit they are fair weather walkers, which skews their opinion some what, and B.) there’s not much else to do here and C.) we are so close to finishing up this section.
Listen to the wind:
There are no buses to the paths we need to walk in this area, so we have to rely on taxis and bumming rides from kind strangers. Today we did both. This morning (Saturday) we took a taxi to Holdstone Down and walked the 9 miles back. Andy, the taxi driver, knows the path well and suggested this drop off point. Turns out Andy is an extreme cyclist who bikes the coast path with a group of other extremists at top speed at night, with only their bike lamps to keep them from careening over the cliff. Andy explained that they often have to carry their bikes up and down the rough spots, casually mentioning that they RUN while carrying the bikes so as to keep their heart rates up.
Makes our 30-minute-mile huffing and puffing using walking poles seem downright geriatric.
Finally! We are at the start of the trail! This is a 9-mile walk mostly flat across the top, with huge hike up and painfully slow hike back down. Fantastic views; we’ve never walked in this environment. Sheep and scary cows that look like buffalo, a wicked wind that was with us all day, and clouds that threatened but kindly skirted around us.
My knees needed some time off so we walked the three miles we needed to close up the gap in this part of Devon.
After that, we mooched around Bideford, then mooched around Barnstaple, then picked up dinner at Marks & Spencer and headed back to the Vicarage by 7pm.
By the end of today, we have closed up the gaps and finished the 52-mile trek from Ilfracombe to Clovelly *loud cheers*
Tonight (Wednesday) is our last night at the Vicarage and as of now—breakfast time—we don’t know where we’re going next. My sister Janine, who plans her trips a solid year in advance, would be horrified.
Probably we should be making some plans.
Our original idea was to stay in Hartland and walk Hartland Quay, but we’ve decided against it this trip as it’s the most strenuous stretch of the 630-mile path and there are no buses if the old knees give up the ghost. Luckily we didn’t book Hartland.
So. Plan B. After talking to some guests at breakfast we decide on hitting the “start” of the South West Coast Path, which is, surprisingly, where most people start. Not us, though: we somehow got ourselves into this piecemeal way of walking the path, where we walk all different sections depending on whim or the wind or which way the buses go. Actually, there was a method, which I can easily explain, but it was obviously not very well thought out.
We book a B&B in Porlock, planning to walk Minehead to Porlock and then hopefully Porlock to Lynton/Lynmouth, and then if the stars are with us, from there to Ilfracombe. It works on paper. Probably we won’t make it and will have to come back here yet again because that’s how the “piecemeal” plan works.
The exclamation mark is genuinely part of the name Westward Ho! Supposedly, it’s the only town in the UK with an exclamation mark, although surely it’s the only town in world?
About half of this 10-mile walk was through wooded areas, where we could hear the sea but couldn’t see it, though the views from the cliffs were spectacular. We knew we had to go around the last headland, which was always JUST there ahead of us, but we had no idea how many times the path went down to the coast then back up then back down. Thanks to Fitbit, we now know that there are 134 flights to be climbed on this path, although it sure feels like more.
From Westward Ho! we catch a bus to Instow, where we stop at the pub frequented by locals and their dogs, gulp down a strong drink each, and devour a huge plate of steamed veggies and a small plate of fish & chips. On the bus back to Barnstable I ponder what to do first at our B&B: eat the delightful confectionary that will be waiting for us or soak in an epson salt bath. I go back and forth over the 15-minute bus ride because this is no small decision; both are hugely important to me. In the end I eat the treat while waiting for the bath to fill, which seems the most efficient use of time and I am nothing if not efficient.
This hike about did us in. I miscalculated the distance from Woolacombe to Morthoe, thinking it was 1.5 miles when it was actually 5 miles or so because we had to walk around the headline and enter Morthoe from the other side of the village because that’s where we left off walking last time. By day’s end we did 16 miles and were totally wiped out. But we did it; we closed off a missing section! (Click photos to see text.)