South West Coast Path

Adventure in the rain

I like to think of myself as adventurous. It’s probably one of the reasons I love fantasy so much — with its quests and great sweeping landscapes. And it’s definitely what drives me when I travel.

The above photo epitomises adventure for me — I’m sharing for the weekly photo challenge.

Last year my desire for adventure inspired me to tackle a very small section of England’s South-West Coast Path. It’s a walking track that follows the coast around Devon, Cornwall, Dorset and takes weeks to complete in entirety. I figured since I’d be in the region it would be a good opportunity to check out some of that spectacular coastal scenery.

I’ve done a lot of hiking in my time, with and without packs. Trekking in Nepal was fabulous. So I figured a couple of days along the English coast would be a piece of cake. The trail is well marked. You can arrange to have your luggage transferred between bed-and-breakfast accommodation. It sounded a very civilised way to have an adventure.

But of course I upped the difficulty factor by selecting one of the more challenging sections of the path (the more challenging, the more spectacular, right?) and then — as bad luck would have it — chose the rainiest, drabbest, most miserable day of my entire trip to embark on the 18km walk from Westward Ho! to Clovelly.

Drenched on the South-West Coast Path

Drenched on the South-West Coast Path

We got soaked and exhausted. I wrote a full account of the day at the time, so I won’t repeat myself. But suffice to say despite the rain it was a wonderful adventure, and I wouldn’t give it up for anything.

South West Coast Path: Westward Ho! to Clovelly

Many walkers might have sat in the pub for an extra day instead of braving the SW Coast Path in the rain… Or caught the bus instead. But they would have missed out on a unique experience (that might have put my travelling companion off hiking for ever…).

Having delayed our plans for a day already, we were keen to walk the SW Coast Path from Westward Ho! to Clovelly, even though it was raining. We knew we would get wet and bedraggled and possibly miserable; but it wasn’t too cold (~16 deg C) and we were feeling energetic and adventurous. Also, I figured it would be good research for us, both fantasy writers, to experience the whole ‘trek in the rain’ thing.

So off we went. The first half of this 18km trek took us over the cliff tops — and up and down them as well. It was strenuous as expected, but beautiful too. I loved it.

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But we did get very wet. And muddy. This is me about an hour in…

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The path is very well marked with signs bearing the SW Coast Path acorn symbol, or else a simple acorn and accompanying arrow attached to a post.

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After a couple of hours of up and down (into a fierce headwind of rain — rain in the face is so much fun… and our glasses fogged up), the track moves into woodland, which spoilt the view, but did provide a measure of protection from the weather.

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Eventually, slightly more than halfway I think, we arrived at the ‘village’ of Bucks Mills. Though cute, Bucks Mills was very disappointing from an amenities point of view. No refreshments at this time of year, not even a pub/inn. We were really hoping for somewhere out of the weather, where we could sit down and have a hot cup of something (hot toddy?). There was not even a toilet. Pft!

Following Bucks Mills the track got easier through more woodland, still up and down, and less slippery and steep. We still had a few hours to go, though. We skirted meadow and woodland (chasing flocks of pheasants — beautiful birds), until we came out to Hobby Drive, the old coach road, which wound around the last few spurs, eventually (after about 45 mins of weary trudging) bringing us to the top of Clovelly village.

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We still had a 15min trek to our B&B in Higher Clovelly [Tip: Stay in the village if you can — there are only about three options though], and by the time we reached it we were beat. We hadn’t sat down all day. But there is nowhere to eat in Higher Clovelly, so our kind hosts at Fuchia Cottage drove us down again to the top of the village, a little later on.

After that effort, we decided not to trek further along the Coast Path, so instead spent today relaxing in the picturesque village of Clovelly. It has been privately owned for centuries (weird) and is very geared towards tourists. It’s quiet this time of year, which is nice. We made friends with several of the local cats, who are very friendly and like to pose for photographs. This is ‘Beau’, who followed us around for a while.

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Down at the water’s edge, we watched some local fishermen (who I’m convinced are hired as a tourist attraction, because they spent a lot of time explaining what they’re doing and posing for photos) gut ‘fish’ (sharks for the Spanish market), and gained a gorgeous view of the village from the old stone quay.

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It’s been a relaxing day after two days of walking. I think we both needed it! The weather has once again been rather grey and rainy, but we did glimpse the sun a few times. I think perhaps autumn is starting to set in…

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!