I met Rosalind and her husband Verney at Bristol Parkway Station. Verney drove us to the start of our walk, across the wide expanse of Braunton Burrows and Saunton Sands.
Braunton Burrows comprises the largest sand dune system in England and has the full complement of relevant plant species, over 400. This area is also home to the extremely rare amber sandbowl snail. As Wikipedia didn’t exist in 1992 we were completely unaware of this interesting fact.
There was a strong following wind as we set off at about 2.30 pm. The cliffs were covered with flowers, gorse, violets, primroses, bluebells, thrift, campion and many more, but the beaches were almost deserted. We were buffeted by the wind as we rounded Baggy Point, and then traversed Woolacombe Down before finding a pleasant B&B in Woolacombe village, with a pub just down the road where we had our evening meal.
The next morning, we managed to consume a plateful of fried bread, sausage, tomato, bacon and eggs before we left. Again, there was a very strong wind which made it necessary to hold on to the rocks going around Morte Point. After that the wind helped rather than hindered. Several different varieties of flower were added to our list, orchids, wild garlic, the ever-cheerful buttercups and daisies and many, many more.
At Lee Bay we stopped for a pasty with a cup of coffee then continued over The Torrs. By two o’clock we were in Ilfracombe. The Landmark Theatre had not yet been built so we were not distracted by Madonna’s Bra. Verity, Damien Hirst’s controversial bronze statue of a pregnant woman wouldn’t appear for another twenty years.
As we had plenty of time we decided to push on to Combe Martin, and although the legs were getting a bit heavy and the knees were giving out, we arrived in fairly good shape. The B&B this time was in a little homely terrace house where we were greeted with tea and cakes. We dined at a nearby pub, then posted the keys from the last B&B which I had found in my pocket back to the owner. We returned for an early night as tomorrow would be a long day.
After an early start we took on the first big challenge, the ascent of Great Hangman, at over 1000ft the highest point of the walk so far. The wind was very strong on the top but at least it was behind us, and very welcome as the sun was quite hot.
After Girt Down the path plunged to the valley bottom, then there was a steep pull up the other side. I was ferociously attacked by hundreds of insects rather like horse flies which were breeding in a grass-covered stone wall. They left Rosalind alone.
There were more steep ascents and descents before we made our way down the zigzags and along the valley floor to Hunter’s Inn, passing a small stream where we bathed our feet. Refreshed, we climbed up onto the cliffs again, taking the lower of the two paths to Woody Bay, filling our water bottles at the waterfall on the way.
The path levelled out as we passed The Valley of the Rocks, a popular tourist destination, and we soon came to the little cliff-top village of Lynton before descending to Lynmouth at the bottom of the hill. Checking to see where the youth hostel was, we weren’t very happy when we realised it was up the hill again, about three miles away! We were far too tired to plod all the way back up, so we found a nice little B&B overlooking the East Lyn.
After the luxury of a hot bath then a meal in the village we walked up the river a little way, coming across some neglected gardens with stepped paths going nowhere along the bank. Our landlord ‘Perc’ told us later that they had belonged to the hamlet of Middleham which had been washed away in the disastrous floods of 1952, when 33 people had died. The locals had each bought a share of the land and restoration work had just begun.
We fell into bed after an eventful day, having covered about 15 miles and climbed over 4000ft.
As we had been making such good progress we decided to take a break. After a look around the village we took the high route up Sparrow’s Walk, continued round to the Cleave then down to Watersmeet, where we drank lots of liquid before climbing up again amongst the golden gorse bushes. The weather was warm enough for there to be some threat of thunder.
Back in Lynmouth we paid homage to Perc’s huge model railway displayed in an empty shop before indulging in a cream tea. Later in the evening we walked along the beach, killing time while waiting for the sun to set. A fox cub was exploring the rocks and we watched it for about half an hour before it made its way up the cliff and into the trees. A cormorant dived into the river and disappeared under the water. The ducks were having a free ride in the fast-flowing current, then flying back to the starting point to have another go. All the tourists had departed; the village was deserted. We walked back to our lodgings along the middle of the road with impunity. Perc showed us the deeds of the land purchase and a collection of photographs and eyewitness accounts of the flood disaster.
It was another lovely day. After Rosalind had retrieved her hat which she had left at the cream tea café we climbed past the bluebell field and the wild garlic to emerge onto Countisbury Hill. A detour to Foreland Point enabled us to see all the way back to Morthoe. The Welsh Coast was clearly visible across the Bristol Channel.
The path traversed the side of the hill through woods, passing banks of rhododendrons which were just coming into flower. I thought that we were further on than we were and at one point we stopped to sunbathe when we really hadn’t the time. Some terriers in a garden yapped for ages as we went past and later we could hear them in the distance again.
Towards Silcombe the path had been diverted because of unstable cliffs and we had a long, hot pull-up in a sheltered combe. After another mile or so we reached the farm where we were going to spend the night. It was run by a very energetic lady who owned her own race-horse and whose main interest was point-to-pointing. Our accommodation was luxurious and very up-market.
In the evening we went for a walk along the lane. An old man who lived in a nearby caravan had planted bright yellow daffodils along the turf walls, a cheering sight. The views were extensive and as the sun set into the sea a full moon was rising opposite. Two cows had a lengthy fight while their calves were copying them, prancing about. I wonder what that was all about. The farm was so neat and tidy, the animals so healthy-looking and clean that the scene could have come from a picture-book.
Next morning, we left quite early and soon came to Culbone Church. With a total length of only 35ft it is the smallest in England and probably dates from pre-Norman times. It can only be reached on foot from the coastal path. There was no electricity and was lit (and heated?) by a blue calor-gas lamp suspended from the ceiling! The engravings on the tombstones were either ‘Red’ or ‘Richards’ with the occasional ‘Red-Richards’.
It was downhill most of the way to Porlock Weir where we bought some provisions for lunch. We crossed Porlock beach, then went into some woods where a young cuckoo was sitting on a gate. The climb onto Bossington Hill was a steep one, but then it was a pleasant amble across the heath with gorse bushes in flower along the cliffs. We had met few walkers along the way, but then Rosalind saw one of her work colleagues coming towards us with husband and dog, so we stopped for a chat.
Reaching our destination in Minehead we tried to phone Verney who was staying with the family in Nether Stowy, but the telephone was out of order. This was back in the dark ages before everyone owned a mobile phone. We had to resort to a taxi.
On their way home, Rosalind and Verney took me as far as Bristol Parkway where I caught my train back to Reading.