Hello to LEJoG Day 14… Goodbye South West Coast Path

Day 14 pre-amble

Keeping it simple with the title. This walk started a few yards from the western end of Bideford Long Bridge and finished at the eastern end of Barnstaple Long Bridge. The latter, over the River Taw, takes the main image. The former, over the River Torridge, is pictured below:

Bideford Long Bridge, South West Coast Path, LEJoG Day 14

Bideford Long Bridge, from the Riverside car park, near the bus stop

(taken on return to car, after walk)

LEJoG Day 14 (Saturday 7 April 2018)

Bideford to Barnstaple (10 miles)

Cumulative: 179 miles

Facts: Time on walk: 2 hours 45 minutes. Average speed: 3.64 mph (fastest day so far). Weather: Bright start to day but drizzly by start of walk, with rain becoming heavier and unrelenting after Yelland. But hey: a hard surface, so no mud.

Practicalities: Quick drive (15 minutes) from Barnstaple to Bideford after breakfast. Back at the Riverside long stay car park by 9:15, but stayed in the car listening to Danny Baker’s Saturday morning show on Radio 5. Took a now-rare chance to catch the Sausage Sandwich Game, which used to be essential pre-Body Pump listening until the class was moved from 10am to 9:45am.

The walk

Start: Bus stop, Bideford Quay, 10:20am. End: Far side Barnstaple Long Bridge, 1:10pm.

As you can see from the picture, with my bus stop on the right, you almost immediately cross the Bideford Long Bridge. One of the longest medieval bridges in England, you can read more information on it here. Once on the eastern side of the Torridge, the South West Coast Path joins the Tarka Trail. It runs parallel with the road (B3233) all the way to Instow (2½ miles). I missed the first ingress from road to path, and walked on the pavement for about ½ mile. For part of this section there is no pavement on the left hand side, and the next ingress is on the left, so I almost missed that one as well. All of which is to say: worth doing your best Shaw Taylor (RIP) and keeping ’em peeled.

There is little of note en route to Instow, other than passing under the A39 flyover and observing the new (1987) Torridge Bridge. Indeed, apart from the bridges which give this post its title, there is not much that’s particularly scenic about the entire walk. Certainly not compared to the thirteen days preceding it. We’ll come to that in my valediction to the SWCP.

Instow, where the River Torridge meets the Taw Estuary, is pleasant to look at and walk through. The SWCP used to run via the sand, but the path has since been moved inland. Upon leaving Instow the coast path heads away from the B3233 and closer to the River Taw. As you will see from this elevation profile, the route is almost completely flat. It was now raining heavily enough to use my hood, and I followed a more direct footpath which strikes through fields roughly midway between the road and the Taw. Zooming in on this map should illustrate the difference between the paths. In any case they diverge for only a couple of miles or so and re-convene just after Yelland. The convergence is at the point where the map shows mobile caterer ‘Bake and Brew’.

You’re now on what is basically a Roman road (actually a former railway bed), stretching absolutely dead straight all the way to the footbridge at Fremington.  The bridge crosses Fremington Pill, a small inlet of the River Taw, to arrive at Fremington Quay. On a nicer day I might have stopped at its highly praised cafe. The last quarter of this ten-miler is another beeline, this time for the A361/A3125 roundabout on the outskirts of Barnstaple. A quick swing to the left so you can walk under the A361, and then you pass Asda on the way to the crossing of Barnstaple Long Bridge. Which is where, in this case, we came in. The far side is the ideal place to end the stage, as you have a choice to head north on the SWCP/Tarka Trail or south via the TT.

The South West Coast Path in retrospect

A month later I went south, and so this is where I said my goodbyes to the South West Coast Path.

Of the three blogs and one book I’ve mentioned in the Pre-Amble, only Mark Moxon’s blog heads inland from Land’s End. I am in no position to compare, of course, but I will say this. If I were asked by 100 potential LEJoGgers whether they should take the South West Coast Path or choose an inland route, I would not hesitate to give every one the same advice. This is a clearly marked National Trail, the route finding is done for you, the scenery is glorious, and you might never get the chance to walk it again. Yes, as you may have gathered, it’s hard work in many places. But the same goes for mountains. If you’re serious enough to be considering it, you’ll already know that the walk is its own reward.

And yes, Joni Mitchell was right: you will miss it when it’s gone. Nothing against the fine counties of Somerset or Herefordshire. But there were times on Days 19, 20 and 27 especially when I regretted becoming so blasé about the Cornwall and Devon coast.

After the walk

Walked back to the Rolle Quay Inn, showered and changed, caught the bus back to Bideford to pick up my car. Before leaving I wandered the town centre looking for a good restaurant, but found most places closed. Ended up indulging in teenage nostalgia at Pizza Hut. Hmmm, not to be recommended really. Reality does not match up to memory. Back in the hotel, listened to Man Utd come back from 2-0 down at half-time to beat Man City 3-2 at the Etihad.

Sunday practicalities: checked out and drove home.

Postscript: My Listening Pleasure

Only the Kermode and Mayo podcast today. Turned out this was the last one I listened to before unsubscribing. I much preferred it as a lean 1 hour 45 minute show. Too often lately it had been more than 2 hours. All the padding seemed to be listeners’ letters, catchphrases and oft-repeated anecdotes.

Picture of Barnstaple Long Bridge, from commons.wikimedia.org

Next: Day 15 (5 May 2018) in which cramp strikes while “I’ve even been out walking”, and “what once was pleasure now’s pain…”

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