A great start to the SW Coast Path. The combination of beautiful scenery, hot weather, some sunshine and meeting other “trail walkers” made it a wonderful, and very different, week.
I have been shocked by the number of people I have met that are walking the SW Coast Path. I think I came across 18 people this week, 8 of them were foreigners and 6 of the foreigners were women walking alone. Most people were only doing part of the path over a few weeks but I had no idea this walk was so popular.
I particularly noticed the change in terrain this week. I have had to try and forget my inbuilt distance/time calculator because this week the miles have been much harder earned. Apparently Exmoor has the highest sea cliffs on mainland Britain – my legs know it!
The Exmoor coastline is incredibly beautiful and quite different with all of the trees on the cliffs. I also noticed that entering Devon seemed to be the dividing line between the brown water of the Bristol Channel and the blue-green Atlantic Ocean.
I started the week walking part of The Coleridge Way. The romantic poets of the early 19th Century (Coleridge, Shelley, Byron and Wordsworth) walked the moors together between Minehead and Combe Martin and there is plenty of their history around the area.
How nice to have a personal delivery of my next set of maps and an excuse to stop for the weekend, particularly as the weather was so good. Sally collected me from Pete’s house in Ilfracombe and we drove to Woolacombe for a relaxing weekend at the seaside.
I don’t know why I was surprised by the large number of people on the wonderful, long, sandy beach and in the sea. There were lots of surfers, even though it was really quite calm. I didn’t see anyone in the water without a wetsuit though – everyone’s soft these days!
Sunday was a bit of a busman’s holiday for me as we ended up walking along the 2 mile length of the beautiful Woolacombe Beach, over the hill to Croyde Bay (even more surfers here) and then around Baggy Point headland on the way back. I walked in my sandals today and it felt like a holiday.
After such a long walk it was bliss to go for a late afternoon swim at Barricane Beach, next to Woolacombe, and then eat a curry on the beach. The beach cafe is run by a Sri Lanken man who makes curries on nice summer evenings and they are very popular. What a great end to a lovely, relaxing weekend.
Another hot day but this one had a clear blue sky and non-stop sunshine. Such a beautiful day to undertake a lovely walk.
Despite my late night I was up early as it was already roasting hot in my tent by 8 am. Before setting off, Andreas made me a nice cup of loose leaf tea in a cafetière; needs must in a campervan.
Bernadette and I walked together today. The guys were completing another stretch and then driving to meet us in Ilfracombe; however, I had other plans so would be separating from the developing group today. I was happy with that because, although I like everyone, I’m not ready to bend my trip to the whims of others. I had felt like a “traveller” the last couple of days and I’m not sure I would want that to be the norm.
The views across Widmouth Head and Water Mouth were incredible; such a stunning landscape.
We laboured up and down the steep hills in the burning sunshine and came down into Hele Bay (pronounced heel). There was a cafe here and we stopped for an ice cream and a coffee. We also had a good chat with the owners and got a tip to head for the Tunnels Beaches in Ilfracombe.
Due to our late start and slow amble on a hot day it was after 3 pm when we crested Hillsborough and stopped to admire the fabulous view across Ilfracombe harbour and town.
St Nicholas Seamen’s Chapel stood prominent atop Lantern Hill on the pier, and Damien Hirst’s statue ‘Verity’ also stood out.
We walked around the quayside and climbed Capstone Hill on the other side of the town for another viewpoint. The rather unusual-looking Landmark Theatre also grabs your attention with its conical design.
Finally we made it to the entrance to the Tunnels Beaches. In 1823 the locals employed Welsh miners to tunnel through the rock to the small, shale coves beyond. They dug 4 tunnels by hand and then built 3 tidal pools below the cliffs (Victorian men and women did not bathe together). The tunnels and the ladies’ pool have been preserved and were open for use.
A swim was just what I needed after a hot, sweaty walk. There were a number of people on the beach but only one person in the sea. It was freezing; I got pins and needles in my feet. But it was wonderful and very refreshing.
After a quick swim we had to leave as Andreas and John arrived to pick up Bernadette and Pete was waiting for me. I said goodbye to the others and walked back to Pete’s house. It had been 9 hot and humid days since my clothes had last seen inside a washing machine and I was so grateful to Pete for letting me wash all my kit.
It was misty again this morning so I delayed my start until after 10 am in the hope that it would burn off. Despite the poor state of the B&B I had slept really well, lulled by the roar of the East Lyn River right outside my bedroom window.
I meandered along the main street through Lynmouth, which didn’t exist until after the flood of August 1952. Before then there was no road, only a wider river. The flood destroyed lots of the town, including the lifeboat station.
Lynmouth is now a popular tourist destination but there was no queue this morning to get the cliff railway up to Lynton. It was the steepest cliff railway in the world when it was built in 1890 and it has been running every year since. It is powered using the potential energy of water from the West Lyn River. This was definitely easier than walking up the cliff!
I was still enveloped in mist as I left Lynton and skirted around the cliff edge. The mist started to clear in patches and I could see the blurt-green sea below; it was a beautiful sight.
I entered the Valley of the Rocks, a dry valley high on the cliff top. The rock formations were stunning, and it was possibly more atmospheric with the mist swirling around. More smiles!
More woodland covering steep cliffs. I was glad of the shade because it was already hot and the sun was burning off the mist. I descended down the steep track to Woody Bay (a bit off the coast path). I wanted to see where I had been on a family holiday aged 13 months, and the rock in the middle of the beach that I had climbed up after escaping from my parents. The tide was in so there was no beach, but I could see the rock and just how peaceful this bay is.
It was a steep climb back up to the path and out of the woods. All of a sudden the sky was bright blue, the sea a milky greeny-blue and the views became more expansive. The walk also got tougher from here.
I caught up with Bernadette, who was walking with 2 English guys: Andreas (definitely not German) and John. We walked together up to Highveer Point and there we met Jarmo and Petra who were stopped for a break. Jarmo was dishing out coffee made with his portable espresso machine!
The next section was a big descent into Heddon’s Mouth Cleave and an extremely steep climb up the other side. We all set off together but went at our own paces. Jarmo and I were so busy chatting when we reached the River Heddon that we missed the turning up the hill and did an extra half a mile to Heddon’s Mouth.
It was extremely hot scrambling up to the top of the cliff again. I worried that I might run out of water and get sunburnt. Still, the views along the cliffs were outstanding and I soon left everyone behind and enjoyed it on my own. I walked over Holdstone Down and had one more big descent (-140m) and tough ascent (+190m) to cross the small stream of Sherrycombe and reach the highest point of the day at Great Hangman on Girt Down. Although it was a bit hazy the 360 degree views were still amazing and not only could I see all along the cliff tops, but I could see right into Exmoor as well.
The path wound down hill to Combe Martin; however, I decided to veer off and climb up Little Hangman just to be sure I wasn’t missing another amazing view. I was glad I did because I did get a great vista across Combe Martin Bay to Widmouth Head.
It was just after 5 pm when I arrived on the edge of Combe Martin. I was tired, hot, hungry and thirsty. Only a small hill to walk to the campsite! It was a lovely site, managed by a couple from Wolverhampton. No sooner had I put my tent up and had a shower than Bernadette arrived and Andreas and John were also here in their motorhome. So it was an evening of chatting and drinking beer and baileys (all the guys had) sat outside the motorhome. Eventually I did manage to drag them all to the nearest pub for some food (we only just made it before they stopped serving). It was a very late night/early morning when I got to bed. It had been a great day though, and a tough walk.
So the rain that had been promised finally arrived. It was pouring down when I awoke, and misty. It was definitely not the sort of weather that inspires one to go walking. I ate a big breakfast and delayed my departure for as long as possible.
Ignoring the heavy rain and lack of visibility I enjoyed the calm and quiet. Porlock Weir was a beautiful little village, even more quaint than Porlock. I could just see along the shingle bank that (almost) bounds in the salt marsh; the breach created by Hurricane Lili in 1996 was visible.
I entered the beautiful old woods on the side of the steep cliff, which I would spend nearly all day walking through. It felt almost prehistoric in the damp, dense wood, carpeted by moss and ferns (no bluebells). I loved it.
St Bueno’s Church, Culbone, is tiny and hidden 400 feet up the cliff in a wooded combe. I counted 2 houses next to it so I’m not sure where the rest of the parishioners come from. Apparently this grade 1 listed building is in the Guinness Book of Records as the smallest complete church in England. It really was tucked away in the woods.
After a morning completely on my own I started to see other people on the path. Just after I crossed the border into Devon I caught up with Tanya from yesterday, and she was walking with Jarmo from Sweden. We walked together for the rest of the day. It was different walking in company, particularly foreign visitors, and I finished my day 2 hours later than I expected, but I enjoyed chatting.
Unexpectedly, the rain eased off and the 3 of us eventually popped out of the woods and were able to get glimpses through the mist of the coast and the sea below. We must have left the influence of the Bristol Channel because the sea was more blue and green than dirty brown. That made me smile. The walk to Foreland Point and over Countisbury Common was more open and exposed more of the Exmoor moorland that I had expected to see.
As we approached Lynmouth our party of 3 swelled to 5. I had spent barely 2 days on the SW Coast Path and already I was at a European walking convention. This was getting weird. We picked up Petra from Switzerland and Bernadette from Austria. All of my companions had come to England (separately) to hike part of the SW Coast Path; an internationally well-known trail route. Petra had done most of it in 2010 and was returning to finish it off by heading to St Ives. I wondered if this was a sign of things to come – a busy path where I constantly bump into others “on the trail”. I wasn’t sure whether I liked that thought. I did like the thought that other women across Europe were happy to come here and walk alone.
We descended into Lynmouth through the mist. The East and West Lyn Rivers meet and run through the middle of this town, which nestles at the base of the surrounding hills. There is a cliff railway to get up the hill to Lynton that I remembered from a childhood holiday visit.
The 5 of us went our separate ways and perhaps I’ll bump into some of them again “on the trail”. I had booked a B&B in the morning when the rain looked set for the day. As it was so late (almost 6 pm) I was glad that I didn’t have to walk out of town to the campsite and pitch my tent.
I ate a very nice, and expensive, fresh fish dinner in the Rising Sun Hotel. What a strange and wonderful day.
The prolonged rain that was promised hadn’t materialised so the air felt even heavier this morning. It was misty, still, hot and very close. Perfect weather for climbing a steep hill!
Expecting it to rain later I decided on another night in a B&B, and Carl from the Old Ship Aground Inn recommended one in Porlock. He even phoned and booked while I ate a very nice breakfast.
This morning I started walking the South West Coast Path. The start point was right by the Quay and yesterday some fellow walkers had taken my photo in front of it. They were walking to Newquay over 2 weeks and were seasoned long distance walkers.
Today I met Tanya from Germany (walking to St Ives) and a man who was just finishing the whole path on his 2nd visit. He was walking for charity and wild camping the whole way; just like Seaside Steve he had lots of tips for getting water. I wondered if this was a sign of things to come and I will bump into lots of people “on the trail”? The people I’ve met so far have asked me lots of questions and, unlike them, I haven’t even thought about walking the SW Coast Path because it hasn’t been my focus. Luckily there’s a website to help with my planning.
Porlock is the first stop listed on the walk planning part of the SW Coast Path website, and it’s only 8 miles from Minehead. A sign of the steepness of the hills in between perhaps? I thought I might as well stop there as Lynmouth seemed too far and besides, the rain must arrive soon.
I set off from Minehead, crossed into the Exmoor National Park, and immediately climbed up North Hill through some lovely woodland. It was steep. The path was over the moorland hill tops to Porlock. It was misty all the way so there were no views.
It did rain a bit and I did put on my waterproof, for about 5 minutes before I realised I was wetter inside than out.
It was a steep walk down to Porlock Bay. The villages of Bossington and Porlock seemed quiet and quaint; I spotted several thatched cottages.
I arrived at Overstream Guest House, in a drizzle, at midday, after 3 hours of leisurely walking. Luckily the owners let me in and fed me tea and homemade cake.
Porlock is nestled at the bottom of Porlock Hill, which has a 25% gradient road out of it. Naturally I walked up part of it and wished I had a bike to give it a go. There were plenty of signs advising caravans to take the woodland toll road instead.
I set off early as rain was forecast and also I had decided not to pay an extra £6.50 for a continental breakfast. Another hot and sticky day.
It was a pleasant cliff top walk past the Northern end of the Quantock Hills.
Just as I was approaching the end of the road from the village of Kilve I saw a tent pitched near the edge of the cliff. Sat with his head poking out was Seaside Steve (this is his trail name). He was walking the “trail” from Brean to Poole, so the whole SW Coast Path plus a bit. He had bad blisters so had decided to rest up for a couple of days near Kilve. Seaside Steve wild camps every night and takes his time walking (he expects to take 100 days to walk <700 miles so that is quite slow going) but he clearly enjoys it. He identified with me as a fellow trail walker, although I didn’t mention that I use campsites, hostels and B&Bs rather than wild camp. He told me about Trail Angels (people who help us on the trail) and Trail Magic (whenever you really need something it often appears). Had I not read Cheryl Strayed’s book, Wild, about walking the Pacific Crest Trail, I might have thought Steve a bit mad but I decided either he’s an experienced trail-walker or he’s read the same book. Anyway, I may not be a proper trail-walker but I have definitely met lots of Trail Angels and been on the receiving end of a bit of Trail Magic. Seaside Steve also provided me with some tips on getting water on the trail (churches and the cistern-end of animal water troughs were his favourites) and a post card of himself that he normally sells to people he meets, but it was free to a fellow trail-walker. He then played me a tune on his homemade didgeridoo. He made a really good sound from a piece of plastic piping that he had carefully painted in Aboriginal colours. What a character; I walked on with a big smile.
At the end of Kilve Pill was a brick chimney with what looked like an iron funnel atop it. This was an oil retort that had been built in 1924 to convert shale to oil; unfortunately it was found to be not commercially viable.
Fortunately the tide was heading out so I was able to take the path around St Audrie’s Bay with only a 10 minute wait for the water to recede far enough for me to get around the rocks.
The cliffs here are the same Blue Lias type as across the water in Glamorgan and make interesting patterns.
Doniford Bay is known for its Jurassic fossils, particularly ammonites, and I saw a few embedded in the rocks.
I was hungry so I thought of food and suddenly I was in front of Doniford Farm Park, which had a tea room. Now that’s Trail Magic! I stopped for afternoon tea, complete with Whortleberry jam.
Watchet was a pleasant little town. I briefly looked in at the Market House Museum, one of 3 museums in the town. Yankee Jack, a sailor and shantyman who wrote many well-known sea shanties, was from Watchet.
Watchet harbour was also the inspiration for Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.
The West Somerset Steam Railway runs through Watchet and along the coast to Minehead. The mineral line was opened in 1857 to transport iron ore mined in the Brendon Hills to Watchet harbour. From there it was shipped to S Wales for smelting in the Ebbw Vale furnaces. Unfortunately the train wasn’t taking passengers today so I had to walk to Minehead. I did see the train as I was struggling along the shingle by Dunster Beach.
The view of Minehead is dominated by the big top style tent at Butlins Holiday Park; however, around the other side of the bay the town seemed quite different. I was staying in a lovely inn on the quayside.
There had been spots of rain all afternoon but nothing much. Heavy rain was still on the forecast for overnight.