Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone?
Another musical welcome… to LEJoG Day 13
Day 13 pre-amble
I think most people know this song, so I will assume a passing familiarity with the lyrics. If you do need a refresher, the link is there. No-one, to the best of my knowledge, is about to pave over the South West Coast Path and put up what would need to be one humongous parking lot. Nor are there moves afoot to put all the trees in a tree museum and charge you $1.50 (or £1.13ish at the time of writing) just to see them.
No, I’m just speaking personally here. For after twelve and three quarter days dominated by cliffs to a greater or lesser extent, if and when you follow Andy Robinson and decide to head inland at Kipling Tors there are suddenly no more. For good. There’s a brief coastal encore at Minehead, but Day 17 is largely flat. What climbs there are take you through wooded hills rather than over cliff tops. And unless you count the Severn River Crossing, or create a route that takes you to a beach near Edinburgh, you don’t see the coast again until journey’s end.
So after twelve days of light-hearted complaining about all of those knee-juddering descents and lung-busting ascents, I can’t help but feel pangs of regret. Perhaps you’ll feel the same. Maybe you’ll wonder whether you should have enjoyed it more while it lasted. Will you be asking yourself whether you really made the most of your time on Britain’s longest and toughest National Trail?
My verdict on that little conundrum will follow tomorrow. In the meantime…
LEJoG Day 13 (Friday 6 April 2018)
Clovelly to Bideford (14½ miles)
Cumulative: 169 miles
Facts: Time on walk: 5 hours. Average speed: 2.90 mph. Weather: Cloudy, intermittent rain. Guess what – still muddy.
Practicalities: Late start today, due to all the necessary practicalities. First, it was time to check out of the Edgcumbe and say goodbye to Bude. This is what it looked like on the morning of my departure:
Clovelly and Bideford, and all the bits in between, certainly weren’t that bright. Check-out was 9:50 and I drove to Bideford with the Scissor Sisters debut album on my car MP3 player. Parked in the Riverbank long stay car park at 10:45 and caught the bus from Bideford Quay, about ¼ mile south, back to Clovelly Visitor Centre. The bus ride was 45 minutes. Most of this week’s bus rides in Cornwall and Devon, by the way, cost around £4 – £6.
Start: Clovelly Visitor Centre, 12:25pm. End: Bus stop, Bideford Quay, 5:40pm.
Arguably the most straightforward start to any stage so far: a good three miles walking the Hobby Drive. This is a wide, tree-lined avenue closed to motorised traffic and you should make swift progress. There are a few very gentle hills but nothing to be at all concerned about. Eventually the Drive will head for the A39 and you branch left towards the cliffs again. Heading through fields, passing the Bideford Bay Holiday Park, you enter a wood and descend fairly steeply to the small village of Buck’s Mills.
This is where the first rain of the day came for me. Fortunately you are not exposed to the weather on this section of the route, as most of it is in woodland, with some brief stretches in open fields. Leaving Buck’s Mills, you have a reasonably testing climb to one of those fields. Then you follow the path through woods pretty much all the way to Peppercombe. There are occasional views of Bideford Bay through the trees, but you’ll see less of the coast on the first half of this walk than on any previous day.
Peppercombe follows another steep woodland descent. You don’t go all the way to the beach – click the National Trust link above to see if you fancy the little diversion. Instead there’s a large gate across the road, and the first extended open field for several miles. This soon descends to sea level. There’s a strange interlude where you walk along the pebbles for a couple of hundred yards before clambering back to the higher level path.
And then… that last glimpse of proper South West Coast Path cliff walking. A climb to Higher Rowden, where I made my only stop for food. For those checking times and distances, it was 3:15 and slightly less than two thirds of the way through the walk. This is followed by a sharp descent and then the scaling of Westacott, Cockington and Green Cliffs. As Robinson will tell you, these are not as dramatic as the cliffs of North Cornwall, although the red sandstone certainly distinguishes them from the stark greys of, say, Day 11. However, they’re challenging enough when you have ten miles of largely level walking in your legs.
When the undulations are over, you’re left with a flat half mile or so towards Westward Ho! (see header image). And now Big Yellow Taxi Syndrome starts to kick in.
Below is Robinson’s inland route for Bideford, which I followed precisely. It’s easy to find the shortcut. Kipling Tors is clearly marked on a signpost immediately before the path up the slope.
The reasoning behind this is similar to those of Day 6: shaving off unnecessary miles. As with Padstow to Rock (Day 7), there’s also an official ferry alternative from Appledore to Instow. You will remember that 50FootHead does not allow ferries.
Of this inland route there is little to add. Some of the walking in step 1 is on a road without either verge or pavement. The first field in step 2 was full of sheep when I passed through. Unlike our bovine chums, sheep tend to run away from rather than intimidate walkers. Today was no exception. The second field was waterlogged. Regarding step 3, the overgrown path had now become literally impassable within yards. Escape into the field to the right was almost immediate. You will probably need some patience waiting to cross into the road that forks right off the A386: this is a busy and awkward junction. I’d also watch out for the mini-roundabout on a hill and a bend at the end of Northam Road. The ‘swcp’ sign at the end of step 3 is more or less exactly where my bus stop was situated.
After the walk
Drove to Barnstaple to check in at my new accommodation for the next two nights: the Rolle Quay Inn. An unpretentious pub with a decent-sized room, good parking outside, and convenient for the town centre. After showering etc, I wandered through that town centre looking for dining opportunities. Given that Barnstaple is the main town of North Devon, and it was a Friday night, I was surprised to find it deathly quiet. Settled for chicken Caesar salad and tiramisu at Pizza Express on High Street. Whatever designs I had on a ‘night out’ were abandoned.
Postscript: My Listening Pleasure
By now the ancient iPod (2006) had run out of battery and would not recharge from the mains, so I was listening only to what I had on my phone. Today it would have been this podcast and some more Body Pump stuff.
Picture (6 April 2018) shows a view to Westward Ho! from near Kipling Tors, the turning point at which all of the cliffs are now literally behind you.
Next: Day 14 (7 April 2018)… in which we say a fond farewell to the South West Coast Path.