We are walking the first seven stages of the Southwest Coast Path and have reached Woolacombe, our next night stop. (See Part 1 for the story of the first 4 days)
The weather forecast for the next leg of our walk predicted heavy rain and 50mph winds, however as we set off, yes it was raining, and yes it was windy but it was not as bad as had been suggested. As we are regularly reminded, there is no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothing!
We followed the path alongside Woolacombe beach towards the wonderfully named Baggy Point and round into Croyde Bay. As we left Woolacombe the route out to the point was hidden in a misty rain shroud. This stayed with us until late morning when the cloud slowly lifted, the rain eventually blew away and the sun slowly appeared. This was accompanied by a very strong breeze. By this time we were approaching the dunes of Braunton Golf Course.
After the Rain had Stopped – 3 Images of the Path to Braunton
The path continued south for a considerable time as we walked along the side of the golf course and passed a military training area sitting on the southern end of the dunes. We walked through a nature reserve and turned north to our destination of Braunton, a bustling busy town, not noted for tourism but a key rest point on the SW Coast Path.
The landscape on this part of our route had changed. Gone were the steep cliff paths with sheer rock below, to be replaced by smooth wide paths meandering through flat open countryside. This was no better illustrated as we left Braunton and picked up this days walk along a disused railway line that had been tarmacced and turned into a shared walking/cycling trail. This route took us initially to Barnstaple following the northern bank of the River Taw estuary.
Left: Leaving our B&B in Braunton; Centre: The Coast Path: Right: Relic of the Old Railway;
Shortly after leaving Braunton we passed the site of the old RAF Base at Chivenor, which is now a Royal Marine Training Depot. It was a Thursday and there was not a great deal of activity, though the ghosts of RAF Fast Jet training still lurked in my mind as we walked alongside the perimeter fence.
At Barnstaple, we crossed the river via the road bridge and headed back along the southern edge of the estuary on the metalled track. Eventually, for some light relief from the monotonous path we turned on to a soft sandy track through East Yelland Marsh, a quiet, deserted nature reserve which led us into Instow, a small fishing village and one I remember again from childhood holidays
A little light relief: An odd concrete structure which had been “decorated” by the handy youth of the area!
Because the walking was so flat, we arrived at our destination in the early afternoon. We enjoyed a rest on a bench with our boots resting on the sea wall. Our peace and quiet, watching the activity on the beach was disturbed by a loud rumble as we were treated to a fly-past by an RAF A400 Atlas transport aircraft, flying over the village and out to sea!
Revived by the short relaxation on the sea wall, we walked to a beach cafe for an afternoon coffee. Our accommodation for the night, was a B&B, an old village farm house about 15 minutes walk from the centre of the village. It was welcoming, and very spacious.
Our last days walking dawned bright and sunny and once again there was the curse of the tarmac path struck as we left Instow and walked south alongside the estuary of the River Torridge to Bideford.
As children, my brother and I loved Bideford. “The Bideford Slider” located in Victoria Park was one of our favourite destinations and as luck would have it our route took us right past the front gates. We had to have a quick look! Wow, so much had changed. The large green metal slide had gone (probably illegal now due to Health and Safety rules) and the park seemed so much smaller than I remember. Well it was nearly 60 years ago! Just outside the park is a small statue dedicated to the memory of the author of “Tarka the Otter”, Henry Williamson. The book tells of the adventures of an otter in and around the Rivers Taw and Torridge giving detailed descriptions of habitat and lifestyle. The book was published in 1927 and has never been out of print.
From Bideford we crossed the River Torridge and followed the path alongside the estuary before following another diversion through woodland eventually dropping down into Appledore, part fishing village, part ship yard, but with little sign of much of either going on. The path paralleled the sea wall and eventually led into the narrow streets, lined with the terraced cottages of Old Appledore.
Not sure what is happening here – a sculpture on the side of a house in Appledore
From here the path curved out on to a tatty beach and then on to a headland around Northam Burrows Country Park. This was the site of the old RAF Northam, a WW2 Radar station, part of the Air Defence network around the UK during the war. Little is left now, save for a number of concrete bases for ariels and masts. It is now part nature reserve and part golf course.
The path went around the headland jutting out into the Torridge Estuary and at this point it continued alongside the golf course. To our right was a large pebble bank and beyond that a vast expanse of beach. We scrambled over the pebble bank on to the beach and walked the last three miles of the route on the sand. This was the beach at Westward Ho! It brought back so many happy memories of my childhood, playing beach cricket, swimming in the sea and watching our dog Spot chase the seagulls! This was my favourite part of this days walk.
As we left the beach and walked up the concrete slipway into the village our senses were assaulted by the bright flashing lights and noise of the Amusement Arcade. We walked on past the inevitable fast food outlets and saw the garish new multi-storey holiday apartments overlooking the beach. By this time, any preconceptions I had of Westward Ho remaining the quaint seaside village of my childhood holidays had been shattered. It was more like a miniature Benidorm than the South West of England! The saying “never go back…” could not have been more true!
However, our lasting memory of Westward Ho! was not the village, but the accommodation we had booked. We discovered after checking in that Bed and Breakfast was in fact, Bed, and pay £10 extra for a proper breakfast, which would be served in your room rather than in the opulent dining room downstairs.. The alternative was two pots of dried porridge provided with the Tea and Coffee sachets. This was the breakfast equivalent of Pot Noodle! We decided not to partake, quickly re-arranged our train times for an earlier departure, and left in a taxi at 8am the following morning. We were returning to Minehead to pick the car up. Breakfast for us was a Coffee and Croissant at Barnstaple railway station!
Our first point to point walk in three years had started very well, with spectacular scenery and some enjoyable but tough walking along the cliff paths. However it had ended on a slightly downbeat note, as the cliff paths and rugged coastline gave way to flat tarmacced cycle paths and river estuary walking, which were much less challenging. Nevertheless we were grateful that after three years we were walking point to point again. We will do more of this trail in the future, it is a wonderful part of the UK, just a long way from where we live!