The Final Fling of the Southwest Coast Path across the hills to the Finish Line in Minehead. Out of Porlock Weir this morning under splendid, bright skies, another stark contrast to the morning previous. A superb change in scenery as we traversed the Sparkhayes Marsh. Bird life a-twittering; interesting snag formations; a damp, but worthy path across infront of Porlock inland and to the village of Bossington; more friendly equines.
From there we hiked a pleasant wooden section before heading up a long, grassy climb to Hurlstone Point and Hurlstone Combe. Joined the Rugged Coast Path option from there to climb a few more times and pass through gorse-lined, clifftops paths eastwards to Minehead.
Our final stretch took us along the seafront to the ‘map & hands’ sculpture that delineates the finish, or start, depending on one’s journey, of the Path. The etching on the tarmac has faded somewhat over the past decade and a half.
The obligatory summary: a total of 623 miles over 46 days. A guestimate of approximately 100 of those miles running. Included a cumulative climb of about 110,000 ft / 34,000 m / 21 miles up. That seems ridiculous, but it appears to be the case. All those ascents, both short and shallow, plus long and steep, apparently add up over that distance and this terrain.
Over twenty miles covered at relative pace on relatively flat terrain today. The route a hard swing inland east and back out west via the Taw Estuary, the paved Tarka Trail (named after the fictional otter), and then north via Braunton Burrows and Saunton Sands.
After all of the cliff walking and running, climbs, and descents of late, today presented a pleasant shift in challenge, views, and aspect. The grassy sea bank and extensive sand dunes of Braunton Burrows were impressive, but just a precursor for the outstanding and humbling experience of running along the massive, empty expanse of the low-tide beach of Saunton Sands. Several miles running into a blasting headwind in a unique and compelling peopleless, flat open space. Invigorating stuff. Who knew such space and solitude existed in southern Ingerlund?
The views back at the northern end were superb. Thence to Croyde Bay and a night at the excellent Thatch.
Yesterday saw us visit the National Seal Sanctuary in the oddly-named village of Gweek (named after the Cornish word gwig, meaning forest village). The Sanctuary does good work saving pinnipeds and other mammals in need of help and veterinary care. A few proper characters among the grey seals and southern sealions in particular there.
Walking took us along the Helford River, an idyllic stretch of water that runs a fair way inland. Thence along the coast to the next inlet, the Gillan Creek, crossed via a little outboard ferry boat driven by a friendly local ferryman.
Weather was mixed and showering, the story of our meteorological life recently. John’s Stone at Porthallow did not helps us especially. The official Midway Marker of the Coast Path marked our 300 or so miles thus far.
On to Coverack via a very moist stretch of beachside trail. Met by a very docile bull browsing pathside.
Today saw us take on the Lizard. Carly befriended good-looking bovines en route. Called into the Black Head coastwatch hut. More particularly muddy, dangerously-slippery, poorly-maintained trails to Cadgwith where Ally and John awaited us at the Cadgwith Cove pub as a very welcomed break.
Then to Lizard Point, the most southerly point of mainland England, past the Marconi hut, site of the first long-distance radio transmission in 1901; the lighthouse complex; the tourist-busy Point itself; and precipitous, dramatic cliffs beyond. Thankfully the substrate was comparatively arid on the west-facing side of the peninsula, although the wind speeds were on the blasty side. Glorious and huge cliffs along the Lizard west, with crashing aquamarine surf below.
Made it inland to the village of Mullion, 19.5 miles down for the day. Met goats.
A taxing, but thankfully dry, walk southwest from Portloe, past the Gull Island referred to below re. the 1914 wreck, and then around Nare Head, to make another big turn right. Grazing horses along the way on the National Trust lands. Then around the Roseland Heritage coast bay via Carne and Pendower Beaches on milder trails, dipping down to the sandy waterfront every now and then.
A pause in the village of Portscatho.
Then to a chilly, breeze-blown St. Mawes for a damp and choppy ferry ride over the Falmouth.
Thirty-one miles covered on the pins today plus yesterday. Weather challenging: the norm of late. Yesterday we left Fowey, running many of the 11 miles to Charlestown as the terrain allowed. A constant soaking drizzle and landward gusts kept us cool and vista-free for the most part. The red and white stripes of the Daymark loomed out of the mists at some point on the way to Polkerris and Par. Got wind blasted on the beach of the latter before winding around the local china clay works. (Too grim weatherwise to snap photos for most of the morning.)
Rain sporadically eased up in the afternoon south of Charlestown and through Trenarren and Pentewan. The light in the intermittent sunny spells lit the coast luverlie en route. Very sock-damp by the time Mevagissey came into view, mind.
This morning we left the harbour of Mevagissey and wandered over to the village of Gorran Haven, called into their tiny village church, and spent a few minutes sipping overpriced, underflavoured hot drinks by the harbour. Then a slow climb out in increasing windspeeds to the end of Dodman Point, marked with a fat, stone cross. The gusts after turning right and northward were something else, but once again we were treated to superb views when the showers temporarily buggered off. Pleasing aquatic light diffraction around there too due to the intermittent precipitation.
Swinging westward again, we passed through Caerhays and the castle, stopping briefly out of the breeze at the Estate’s stone lookout. Thence to Portholland and its sweep of flat, low-tide sand. A fairly arduous, muddy, winding route took us to our destination for the day, Portloe, nestled between the cliffs. Dinner at the Ship. Portloe B&B landlord just regaled a tale of a 1914 shipwreck off of the coast here, the Hera. He has an original hand-written account of the doctor who was on the scene that night. The wreck is still commemorated by both locals and foreign-born families of both survivors and those drowned. Gull rock was the chunk of land that sunk her (seen in the distance looking like a fin in the penultimate shot below). The very small number of survivors clung to the last and sinking feet of mast sticking out of the water, rescued by the Falmouth Life Boat (rowed in those days).
A weather-schitzo day of glory-be sunshine punctuated with sudden, violent rain showers, often simultaneously to the walkers’ confusion. Headed west of Seaton to Looe, both East and West. Spied a pleasing memorial to a local seal on the way out of town.
Then on to Talland Bay and Polperro providing a pleasing contrast of Cornish villages, beaches, and fishing coves.
Finally, a long and rugged stretch of challenging Path, periodically very damp, but with rewarding vistas both down to the aquamarine surf, and east and west to ways trodden and soon to tread. Arriving in Polruan for a peecedownupon ferry ride over to Fowey.
Another Scattered Showered Day. Into Cornwall for the first time via the Cremyll Ferry and a damp, speedy walk through Mount Edgcombe Park to the conjoined-twin villages of Kingsand and Cawsand, where the original Devon-Cornwall border famously used to run directly through someone’s house. Hence, presumably, a resident could have cooked breakfast in one county and eaten it in the other. Then the rolling climb out to Rame Head and its lonely abandoned chapel perched atop. Conservationally grazing horses were met.
From there a masculine right-hander to turn westward via the verdant green of Whitsand Bay, thence through a stretch of overgrown trail that stung and spiked the shins with nettles and thistles summat rotten, before dropping down onto Tregantle Beach. In temporarily clearing skies, an excellent two-mile-plus walk over the hard sand directly adjacent to the crashing surf. Taking a gamble that there would be an obvious way out on the western end, ended up scramble-climbing over sharp, barnacle-encrusted rocks and leaping over mid-level rock pools, before finding a partially-used, steep set of steps cut into the cliff. Lucky, in other words. Then up and along to the left-out-in-the-rain-too-long village of Portwrinkle and a few miles further west through Downderry, and finally to the Cornish Seaton.
The move into our one SW Coast Path Big City, Plymouth, via a gentle rocky coastal route east from Heybrook Bay this morning. A varied day of hiking through countryside, suburban streets, industrial neighbourhoods, and urban areas under fickle skies that couldn’t decide what to do in terms of delivering weather. Wound around the River Plynn, yacht marinas, and other waterbodies, many abandoned boat corpses included.
We stopped by the Mayflower marker, sister to the Rock in the Other Plymouth, MA; swung by the Eddystone Lighthouse, Smeaton’s Tower, now grounded on Plymouth Hoe; and happened to catch the innovative poppy sculpture at the WWI & II War Memorial, the former currently doing the rounds on the road between various towns and cities in the UK.
Place names and signs seem to be deliberately rude here in Plymouth, or is it me?
Some creative and visually interesting Path signs using various locally-sourced materials appeared throughout the route in Plymouth n’all:
Our morning started with a quick stroll to the banks of the River Erme and a dip into the cool estuarine waters to ford the river from east to west. In the interest of making the next river crossing ferry further along the coast in time, we took a slight gamble crossing earlier than generally advised time ahead of low tide, but were endampened only up to the knees at the deepest channel.
From Mothercombe to Noss Mayo, we had a 9-mile dash of sorts to ensure the little local ferry across the next estuary, the River Yealm, was still running for the day. A few grassy ups and downs, grand views, as ever, along the rocky coastline, disturbing a few partridges as we went (these local fowl tend to explode very suddenly as one passes out of concealed nooks of hedgerows or undergrowth, all squark and feather slap).
Took our time from then on with the time pressure off via Wembury Beach, a scone stop, and onto Heybrook Bay, where we currently reside in a guest house last furnished and painted pre-WWII; a landlady who must be mid-90s, the towels, curtains, carpets and house pet of the same vintage from the look of it. Pleasant Path- and ocean-side setting, mind.
Somewhat of a precipitation-enshortened day found us in the clearing mists on Burgh Island, a tidal lump of rock reached from Bigbury-on-Sea nearby either by a wide sandy causeway or, at high tide, its famous sea tractor. We imbibed at the Pilchard, a low-ceilinged, dimly-lit local dating from the 13th century.
Walking northwest took us through hardworked ascents and descents with periodic stunning views punctuated with sweeping sea mists that obscured said vistas. Meant for some interesting, but fleeting, lighting showing off the granite cliffs and sandy coves. Arymer in particular.
Turning a corner northwards inland, the Path took us to the mouth of the River Erme which we plan to ford tomorrow, tides permitting. More sandy beaches and frolicking hounds on the banks of the estuary.
Today was thankfully a much less freezing-rain-filled day, albeit with a modicum of hiking through ground-level cloud. We left Torcross and its long, pebby beach, and after passing through Beesands and next to the ruins of Hallsands, a village famed primarily for falling into the sea, climbed along the increasingly-rugged Start Point with its sexy lighthouse at its tip.
From that hard right turn, we headed west again through a series of coves, fun scrambled granite outcrops, and up and down sea-facing slops towards another fat turn right, this time to head north up towards Portlemouth where a tiny ferry took us over to Salcombe under gloomy, moody skies.
And we edge ever closer to the actual Doom Bar with every pint of it.
Completely forken soaked and frozen by the horizontal precipitation and evil, whipping winds on the clifftops south of Brixham today. Didn’t even pause to rest, eat, drink or snap images, uncomfortable as it was. Our path took us past what is surely stunning, rugged scenery, but tough to appreciate when one’s drenched to the hide. Had to dodge a few NT grazing equines sheltering on a relatively windless slope; passed by two equally-soaked hikers heading north; saw three or four hardy English surfers below; and spotted a solitary seal riding the swell – that was about it for other life out there on the way to Kingswear today. Passed the fascinating Brownstone Battery remnants near Froward Point (we sheltered briefly in the Searchlight pod listed) – more WWII infrastructure that highlights the importance of this French-facing coast in the not-to-distant.
The payoff is the immediate faith-in-existence-reaffirmation of a warm shower, a dry view of the ocean outside a window, a quick walk to the local (Start Bay Inn, in this case), a pint of Tribute, hearty fodder, and a dash back through the continuing murkiness and drizzle of the Torcross seafront to rest limbs.
Our third ferry of the trip was a small, narrow affair over the River Teign to Shaldon this morning. It claims to be the oldest passenger ferry still running in Britain, tracing itself back to at least 1296. On foot on the other side we had decent climbs to look back over Teignmouth and towards Torbay. Then more fun transportation as we hitched ride on the Oddocombe Cliff Railway that scoots up and down the incline: relatively modern, dated from a mere 1926.
Lunch at Babbacombe with views across the bay. Thence to Torquay via its touristic throng, new, snazzy footbridge, and the London Eye clone, and then through a somewhat more greyed, sagging-looking Paignton. Our 19+ mile day ended with turning the corner east at the bottom of the big sweep towards Brixham, spying the Dartmouth steam train coming around the corner before Churston.
A visit to the otter sanctuary in Buckfastleigh on the edge of Dartmoor, Devon. Sammy, the large British river otter who was rescued including being hand-fed and nursed at home by keeper Tim) after suffering from the after effects of being caught up in an oil spill (apparently has a long tradition of throwing a ‘tantrum’ when he realises that the day’s peanut treat ration has been exhausted.
We got to interact up close and personal with rescued and rehabilitated Asian, Canadian and British river otters, including hand feeding with peanuts, raw hamburger, and whole and filleted fish. River otters all have surprisingly contrasting personality traits: some shy, some show offs, some gentle and sweet, some headbutters. Top mammals.
Another long, varied day. Drenched a few times by southwestern showers. Almost 22 miles in total on the weary feet.
Started early in glorious bright and cool up and over the red sandstone cliffs around Sidmouth, then down to, around, and over the River Otter into Budleigh Salterton for brunch. (Sadly no Mr. Figgis’ Fudgery spotted.) A long gradual decent through the older chunks of the Jurassic Coast to Exmouth and our second ferry of the trip over to Starcross, dodging the sandbanks, and then to meet Angela and Bob (thanks for the beverages & lift!) in the Atmospheric Railway.
A few way-marking and route-finding issues from there through Dawlish Warren and Dawlish. Bovines with attitude around here n’all.
Thence to the long seawall into Teignmouth, which announces itself subtlely coming from the northeast …