England

South West Coast Path: Instow to Westward Ho!

The South West Coast Path is a 630 mile walk around the coast of SW England, from Minehead in Somerset to Poole in Dorset. As soon as I heard about it, when planning my current trip, I resolved to hike a couple of legs. Today the plan was to hike from Westward Ho! in north Devon to the picturesque village of Clovelly. However, we left it too late to arrange our luggage transfer, so we had to delay that a day, leaving a day up our sleeve.

[Tip: In the off season, contact the luggage transfer people before 6:30pm on the day before you want the service, even if it says you have until 7pm…]

With our extra day, we decided this morning to catch a local bus to Instow, the start of the previous leg according to some guidebooks, and walk the 18km back to Westward Ho! in the interests of ‘training’. It is described as an easy leg, and we might as well have been walking as not.

The walk mostly follows the estuary of the River Torridge, down and back, so we had views of our destination for most of the day. We began in the hamlet (not even a village) of Instow — where there is nonetheless coffee — and a pretty view of Appledore.

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The walk from here follows an old rail trail, shared with cyclists — which I dislike intensely. It was long and straight and flat, and I thought there was much to be said for the high-tide ferry between Instow and Appledore.

But then we would have missed Bideford, which is a pretty little port town with all the amenities, including banks. Little was open on a Sunday, but I can recommend historical Cleverdons Restaurant and Tea Rooms for a range of meals, both light and more substantial. We both had soup (choice of several) for just 3.25.

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Bideford marks the turnaround point, and we headed back downriver towards the sea and Appledore. The track here got much more interesting, but I still think the ferry a good option if it’s high tide. Low tide is very interesting, though, as the river estuary is essentially a massive mud flat with beached boats. This is the view back to Instow from near Appledore.

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The village of Appledore was the highlight of this leg. It’s largely 16thC: narrow twisty laneways, old houses with interesting name plates, gorgeousness plus. We had promised ourselves a cream tea, and found the perfect spot in Susie’s Tea Rooms.

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We had been walking for about 2.25h up until this point (1h Instow to Bideford, 1.25h Bideford to Appledore), and judged we had about 1.5h to go from Appledore the long/coastal way to Westward Ho!. As the crow flies, they are quite close, but the coast path takes you out around Northam Burrows Country Park, which feels a little, er, pointless at times. Nonetheless, we ploughed on around the point, and battled a ridiculous headwind on the approach to Westward Ho! along the beach. It took a little longer than expected. We did, however, enjoy this stunning view of Appledore in the late afternoon sun.

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Westward Ho! itself is a new village, filled with holiday accommodation and surfers. Our B&B — Brockenhurst B&B — is very nice and centrally located, right opposite The Village Inn Hotel, where I am currently enjoying a quiet one while I use their WiFi. It’s fine and comfortable, but not in any way historic, which I have come to expect from England. We are staying here a second night, and tomorrow it’s on to Clovelly!

Tintagel – craggy castle on the Cornish coast

Next stop on our Cornish adventure was Tintagel castle – possibly the birthplace of King Arthur, definitely a really cool place to visit. Its vast sprawl atop a rocky promontory, surrounded by stunning views of the wild and rugged coast, way surpassed my expectations.

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One approaches Tintagel down a valley, then around a headland to cross a narrow bridge onto the promontory (which is connected by a causeway). One then climbs up to the remains of the Great Hall and associated buildings, which cling to the edge of the cliff. The ruined stonework is still very impressive and I easily could imagine the Earl holding court here.

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Beyond this stonework, the remains of the castle sprawl across the top of the grassy promontory. The wind is strong, the jackdaws wheel in flight, the waves seethe and crash against the rocks below. I scrambled over just about every inch of the craggy promontory, explored the ‘dark ages’ ruins, stood at what felt like the edge of the world, letting the wind toss my hair all around…

I spent a deal of time stalking a kestrel (identified later), which hovered perfectly still in the roaring wind — amazing. I took a few bad photos of it, before capturing this one, just before leaving the main promontory. In the background is the wild coast, and the south-west coast path…

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We had amazing weather for our visit to Tintagel, including a sudden squall, which rolled in off the sea with rapid ferocity, only to roll on by to leave this rainbow in its wake…

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The above was taken from some ruins on the opposite side of the bridge to the main promontory. I think the garrison was once stationed there.

We spent a fair few hours at Tintagel, and lunched afterwards at a local pub. On our way home we visited the little town of Port Isaac, which was closing down for the day, but was still lovely to wander through.

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Cornwall has certainly proved something of a challenge from an internet connectivity point of view… and we haven’t had wifi in our cottage this week. But I am hoping to post more frequently over the next couple of weeks as I find accommodation with wifi, especially since I have a few days backed up now! The next posts will cover the Penwith Peninsula and our wonderful day on Dartmoor in Devon.

Exploring Bodmin Moor

It’s been a whirlwind few days since arriving in the UK. This week I’m staying in Cornwall with a group of friends from home and we’re having a blast. As all of us are writers bound for the World Fantasy Convention, our interests are very compatible: striking scenery, quaint villages, ancient monuments and ruins, castles, local cuisine…

After a road trip down from London on Saturday — ducking into the Stonehenge carpark for a free view of the monument along the way — we arrived in the town of Bodmin in time for dinner. We decided to take A roads rather than motorway, convinced it would be more scenic, and we certainly enjoyed the drive immensely. England is so very green compared with Australia, and the south-west has stunning landscapes.

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On Sunday (yesterday) we explored the nearby Bodmin Moor. This involved squeezing our little red Toyota Yaris (nicknamed the Thai Bullet for its chile colour) down narrow roads barely the width of a car, our route twisting and turning up and down across the landscape. We are navigating largely via Google Maps on a smart phone, which is proving both effective and challenging, because 3G coverage in this region is negligible. Yet somehow we manage to make it work.

Our first stop on the moor was Colliford Lakes, then Bolventor Church, by which time we conceived a desire for coffee. Turns out Sunday mornings in this part of the world are not ideal for coffee stops (of the kind we had in mind). We drove around for a while and started to get frustrated before we stumbled across the little town of Upton Cross and its Apple Fair. This is one of the many things I love about travelling. The Apple Fair was a local event. They served instant coffee and home made apple cake in the church hall for 50p each — and we fell upon these with gusto. It was lovely to chat to locals and experience such an authentic celebration of local industry.

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But the highlight of the day was to be found near the small town of Minions (where we finally found food, and I enjoyed my first Cornish pasty for this trip). Minions is home to two celebrated sites: the Hurlers, two prehistoric stone circles; and the Cheesewring, a natural pillar of stones carved into an odd shape by erosion.

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The Hurlers (above) are not too far from the town, set into the grass. We trekked across the spongy peat to reach them, beautiful in the sunshine. (We are having fabulous weather so far — a mix of sun and cloud, but not too much rain.)

But then we kept on walking, along with the locals out with their dogs, past the placid cattle, into the depths of the moor and up a rocky crag of granite to view the Cheesewring.

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The view from the top of the hill was spectacular.

Our final stop involved much crafty navigation, but eventually we found Trevethy Quoit, one of Cornwall’s most striking Neolithic burial chambers (says the Lonely Planet Guide). Alas, my camera battery had run out by this time and I don’t have a photo. But it was very cool.

I’m using my iPhone camera on this trip, and although I hadn’t anticipated the battery issue, I’m quite happy with the photos. Nor had I anticipated the lack of 3G coverage, which is why I’m posting a little later than I had planned. (Yes, OK, it might also have something to do with the socialising in the evening… But it’s so nice to travel with friends for a change!)

Today (Monday) we visited Tintagel castle — but that’s for another post…