Friday 10 June 2016 – Westleigh, Devon.
I surprised myself by having a decent sleep in what was the probably the smallest single room I have ever had in a B and B, not that I need a lot of space. A good breakfast was had and I was out the door at 9:00, on a bus soon after and standing at the starting point of three days of walking before 9:30. Yeeha – it has finally arrived.
I am starting the South West Coast Path (SWCP) where I finished last July – at a bus stop!
To be perfectly honest it was not the same bus stop. I was going to start in Braunton, but the path crossed the road next to a bus stop in Chivendor and it just seemed like a good place to start, so start there I did.
I have three days of walking planned, the first two days will take me around the Rivers Taw and Torridge, and I won’t see the coast until the end of day two. The total distance over those two days is about 24 miles. I could probably walk the whole thing in a day, but it would have been a long day and to be honest I am not road fit at the moment and have been suffering from tight legs for weeks. There was no point in taking risks, and anyway I want to be feeling good for day three, a nice hilly walk from Westward Ho! To Clovelly, all on the coast.
Today’s walk is along a section of the SWCP that has merged with the Tarka Trail. The Tarka trail is named after the book ‘Tarka the Otter’, which was published in 1927, and describes the life of an otter living in the rivers Taw and Torridge. The section of the Tarka that I follow over the next day and half is about half tar-seal and half crushed stone. Not the ideal surface for walking with sore legs, but there were areas where I could walk on the grass verge. While not being wild and coastal, it is quite pretty in sections.
In a few hours time I will be walking along that stretch of shore on the other side of the Taw as well…
The path heads back to Barnstable, where I stayed last night and also where I stayed after finishing walking last summer. Rather than walk all the back into town I crossed over the new road bridge for the better view – and it was a bit shorter.
There was a path up to the bridge on the side I started on but none back down on the far side. Rather than walk all the way up to the busy road and then back again, I jumped the fence and cut through the scrub. It seemed to be a popular route, but does not explain why there was not proper access.
Once out of Barnstable there was a long walk along side of some salt marshes, with dozens of little water ways and channels it was something interesting to look at. I expect if I ever came this way again it would all look totally different.
On the other side of the path was farm land.
I arrived at Fremington Quay after a couple of hours of walking and stopped for coffee and cake in the cafe. It was good to sit down. One thing I am not particular good at on my walks is sitting down and resting. I do stop a lot to take photos, but rarely take the time to rest properly, or just enjoy a view or a cup of coffee. I need to practice that more. In truth I need to practice that more all the time, not just while I am walking
As I was packing up my stuff to leave I had a phone call from my son in Australia, Dom. Though the news was not all good, it was great to chat with him for a while as I continued walking. The best thing about the conversation is that it took my thoughts away from work. I had spent the first couple of hours of my walk thinking about it, getting progressively angrier and angrier with myself for wasting my holiday and head space time focusing on the very thing I was trying to get away from. It did not enter my mind again.
I really enjoyed the walk from Fremington to Instow, in parts it was quite post-apocalyptic, old jetties and ruined boats, an old electricity sub-station and rusty relics from the railway. I was alone for a while and it felt like I was the last human alive. I was waiting for ‘walkers’ to find me.
As I was taking photos of the SS Boop, a woman walking her dog ambled by, and I realised the world had not ended in the previous couple of hours.
I stopped for lunch in Instow, it was nice, but pricey. I had earned my lunch and its accompanying pint over the morning, though I did not have much more walking to do. The renovated station house at Instow was a nicer reminder of the the old railway.
Instow is at the confluence of the Rivers Taw and Torridge, I could just see the coast in the distance, past Appledore on the far side. After following the Taw all morning, I was now following the Torridge and will do for most of tomorrow as well.
I was still on the SWCP and the Tarka trail as I headed out of Instow towards Bideford. This part of Devon is famous for its old lime kilns, there are hundreds of old kiln sites up and down the coast and on the edge of some of the estuaries. They were used to make quick-lime from lime stone in the region. There are a few ruins left here and there and I will pass a few of them over the couple of days.
I had booked a B and B in the small village of Westleigh, just south and slightly inland from Instow. As I was walking along the path I could see the road up to the village on the far side of a narrow swampy stream. I had visions of having to walk way way down the path to find a way across the swamp, but fortunately not too far ahead there was a pathway across. Phew.
There was another old fishing boat just up the river so I carried on going so I could take a look at it today, in case it was raining tomorrow. I was talking to a couple of men collecting sea weed from the rocks nearby and they told me the boat just appeared one day six months ago. They had no idea what it is doing there or how long it will remain. A further sign of a stricken fishing industry.
Naturally my B and B was right at the top of the longest hill of the day, it was a farmhouse on the other side of the village to the path I was walking. I have never stayed in a B and B with pillars out the front before.
Last night I stayed in the smallest room ever, and tonight I stayed in the largest. It was also very comfortable. I have been really fortunate with the weather so far, just after I arrived it poured with rain, lying on my bed in my room, I just did not care !
After the rain had passed I walked into the pub in Westleigh for dinner and the hope of being able to watch the opening game of Euro 16, however they did not have a TV in the pub. After eating I took a bottle of beer back to my room and watched the game on my own, it was pretty dire.
I really enjoyed today, once work had left my head and I had the space to think – and literally stop to smell the flowers it was a very relaxing day. My legs feel good after five or so hours of walking and it was just damn good to be outside again!