5495 miles already walked

Scrambling Along the Atlantic Coast

In the week I left North Devon and crossed into Cornwall I’ve seen dramatic cliffs, had rain, strong winds, savage gradients and some sunshine thrown at me.  All the while I’ve mused over which comes first - jam or cream?  I’m now deep into cream tea country and contrary to something I read on a Devon flag, as a Devonshire Lass I was taught jam first!

Leaving Bideford behind me, I walked down the river Torridge banks to reach an eerily quiet Appledore.  Earlier this year the town’s heart stopped beating when Babcock International announced the closure of its shipyard which has been at the heart of Appledore since 1855.   Vessels of all shapes and sizes have been constructed here over the years, including a recent key role in building sections for the nation’s two new aircraft carriers.  There was a sad feel about the place – maybe because it was raining.

Afterwards I rounded Northam Burrows and passed the Royal North Devon Golf Club, where another errant golf ball joined my ever-increasing collection: I’m beginning to think I might take up golf when I finish the Victory Walk!  Named after Charles Kingsley’s novel, Westward Ho! with its mix of architecture, came and went with little to report.

Thereafter, I regularly gained (and lost) height as I made my way towards Clovelly, climbing up and down hills, with the path leading me through thick woodland. This was the start of some extremely demanding days ahead.  Eventually I stepped on to a track known as Hobby Drive, reputedly built over an eighteen-year period to provide employment.  The Drive contoured through woods, and soon the unique village of Clovelly became visible below.

Recognising that this privately-owned village is a major tourist trap, I chose to visit early next morning.  The village was beginning to stir as I walked down the deserted steep cobbled street amongst whitewashed cottages and tea shops.  Hikers were beginning to emerge from their overnight B & B stops, and the harbour, once famed for its herring fishing fleet, was almost deserted.  I climbed back up the hill and had left before trippers started to arrive.

Although much of the route away from Clovelly took me through ancient woodland, there were times, after yet another blistering ascent, when I emerged to see fabulous views up and down the coast - it made my heart-pumping efforts worthwhile. 

Gradually, I eased towards Hartland Point, where the Bristol Channel ends and the Atlantic Ocean starts.  The lighthouse there is now in private ownership following Trinity House’s decision to place a modern LED beacon in front of the original lighthouse. I understand the lighthouse was sold with its own helipad.  Seeing how the lighthouse is perched on cliffs, and its access road has suffered various landslips, I think another route of escape makes good sense!

Erosion was also apparent when I reached Hartland Quay, with regular notices warning people to keep away from cliff edges.  Those jagged, high cliffs with their intricate rock formations are both fascinating and eye-catching.  Strong and blustery winds, sometimes accompanied by a squally shower, made for some tough walking from Hartland Quay to Bude.  While my knees creaked down into yet another valley, I saw a welcome sign – Cornwall/Kernow. At last, I’d crossed the border into the most westerly county of England. I’d been warned that this 15-miler would be ‘no walk in the park’, where combined ascents and descents would be 4,500 feet and the highest point reached 515 feet.  Afterwards, I understood why many walkers cover this section over two days, not one.  When I left Bude on the following day, even worse waited to taunt and confront me! 

Bude was alive with surfers and shops selling everything from pasties to windbreaks.  Away from the Beach Brigade I discovered Bude’s canal with its old sea lock: one of the last working locks of its kind in Britain. Built in 1823, the canal used to run 35 miles inland to Launceston; lime-rich sand was transported inland for farmers to use as fertiliser - returning tub-boats took oats and slate to waiting vessels in Bude harbour.  Today, only 2 miles of waterway remain and are used by pleasure craft, canoes and rowing boats.

Leaving Bude to pass Widemouth Bay, another surfers’ paradise, was simple before the arduous task of savage climbs and descents to Crackington Haven began.  Underfoot, sections of the path had eroded, while loose stones and shale required careful, steady steps.  Crackington backs onto a small beach towered over by unstable cliffs, but its beach café provided me with a much-needed refuelling stop.

From here to Boscastle I was provided with some extremely majestic (but exhausting!) scenery, including going over Cornwall’s highest cliff – unpretentiously called High Cliff – all 731 feet of it. I counted every one of them as I crawled up! It was along this stretch of coast that Thomas Hardy, a former architect turned novelist and poet, courted his future bride Emma Gifford. Often associated with heartrending characters struggling with their passions, Hardy’s book ‘A Pair of Blue Eyes’ was based on his courtship with Emma.

I walked into picturesque Boscastle in the early evening, where a steep sided valley leads down to the harbour.  I recalled watching the scenes of devastation in 2004 when the village was almost destroyed by a massive surge of flood water cascading down the valley above.  On the peaceful sunny evening when I passed through, this seemed unimaginable. That night we parked the Victory Van on the local vicar’s drive – Heather began life as a radar plotter in the ‘Wrens’ and was subsequently commissioned as an officer.  Later ordained, she now has responsibility for five local churches and works harder than ever.

The week concluded when I reached Tintagel, only to find the Castle closed because a new footbridge is being built.  And what about the cream tea scone dilemma?  As a cream tea scone is always cut in two, I treat each half to a different rule. On one it’s jam first; on the other it’s cream first. Simple!

See Photo Album No 78 - Scrambling Along the Atlantic Coast