A calm start and a tempestuous finish: this section of the South West Coast Path embraces some of its easiest days and what may well be its hardest. There’s an old rail line to start, a ferry alternative across the Torridge (which I used) to the official route through Bideford, and a dune section to Westward Ho! From here, cliffs reassert themselves, spectacularly so south of Hartland Point. There’s some relief around the seaside town of Bude before another tough stage to Boscastle.
6 August 2015: Barnstaple to Appledore (via ferry),seven miles
I took this straightforward section as far as Instow, timing my arrival with the tides so as to catch the penultimate ferry of the day across the Torridge estuary to Appledore. It’s mostly along the former rail line to Bideford, shared with cyclists, who indeed number far more than cyclists on this stretch. The monotony of the level tarmac path is leavened by the estuary views, over towards the barn conversion Barbara and I were sharing for the week, then the airfield at Chivenor. Soon after the former station by the quay at Fremington, there’s a walkers’ coastal alternative, which I eagerly took – it provides great views of Braunton Burrows; remnants of industrial quayside are a surprise, but I was able to walk on the foreshore for the last mile to the ferry.
3 August 2015: (from Bideford, three miles then) Appledore to Westward Ho!, five miles
A few days before, I had walked this short stretch with Barbara. After leaving Bideford, there’s a pleasant wooded stretch through the NT property of Burrough Farm, before a short inland diversion behind the still-thriving Babcock shipyard. My iteration of the SWCP however excludes the Bideford-to-Appledore stretch, courtesy of the ferry I was to take a few days later. Appledore is essentially in two parts – the busy quayside, thronged with trippers, and just beyond, a couple of narrow streets fronted by pastel-shaded terraces; alas, a bit of sun would have helped today. Out of town, Westward Ho! looks almost within reach, but the Path rightly takes the coastline around the nature reserve of Northam Burrows. Dark clouds threatened our arrival in the seaside town but the rain just held off; after I’d worked out exactly where I had started the walk all those years ago, we celebrated with an ice cream.
10 October 2001: Westward Ho! to Buck’s Mills, seven miles
I didn’t start till just after 4, rather late due to a problem not with the trains but the last few miles on the bus. Clearly I would have to get a move on to reach my accommodation before dark – a headtorch having seemed an unimaginable luxury. Overcast too when I set out, so no chance of late lingering rays. It’s a fairly straightforward start, but the path soon starts the familiar succession of ups and downs that would characterise these few days, and after Peppercombe Castle there are a few wooded stretches too. As by now not only night but drizzle was falling fast, I was glad to be using trekking poles for the first time, or else I might have been stumbling down over the roots and stumps to my accommodation at the hamlet of Buck’s Mills.
11 October 2001: Buck’s Mills to Hartland Quay, 14 miles
After a couple of miles the path picks up the Hobby Drive, a toll road which contours above the cliffs and so puts on a bit of extra distance but provides simple walking. It brings you out above Clovelly, not strictly entered by the trail itself, but an aspic village that few would want to miss. I wandered down to the harbour, the steep street uncluttered by tourists on this rather grey out-of-season day. Beyond Clovelly, for the most part the path follows field edges, until the major turn-point of Hartland Point is reached – for the first time, the Cornish coast is in sight, and a generally westerly walk becomes generally southerly. From here, there are a couple of steep up-and-downs before the row of cottages and hotel that form the isolated community at Hartland Quay.
12 October 2001: Hartland Quay to Bude, 14 miles
One of the great stages of the South West Coast Path, a series of continual sharp descents and reascents that add up to a day out on a par with a serious 4000ft mountain day. The sun had come out for me too, so I enjoyed it all the more. There’s a wonderful stretch near the start, the sea out of sight for a while, where you do get the impression of being about to start a hill climb. There’s no habitation on the route either, and with few roads – a short stretch of country lane near South Hole and car parks for some of the tiny beaches – timid walkers might feel a touch exposed. Mind you, the satellite station at Cleave Camp detracts from the reverie a bit. It all ends at Crooklets, effectively a Bude suburb, and I chose one of the hotels at the start of the town itself for my end point.
13 October 2001: circular route from Bude, via Widemouth Bay, seven miles (three on path)
With a bit of time to kill before my bus back to Exeter, I took the interesting circular walk suggested by the National Trail Guide. This took me the simple couple of miles to Widemouth Bay by the trail itself before heading over fields to Helebridge and the course of the former Bude Canal back to the town itself. Just right for a wind-down.
9 March 2013: Widemouth Bay to Boscastle, 13 miles
Another big day: walkers who do Hartland Quay to Boscastle over two days, back to back, would certainly have known they were on a serious trail, with nigh on 9,000ft of ascent in total. I have an aunt and son both in Cornwall, so one (Audrey) dropped me off at the start and the other (Matthew) met me there. In his early twenties, he was far fitter then me, but we started off at a sensible pace. There are no great difficulties to Millook, indeed part of the route is on road, but there’s a sharp climb thereafter, and another at Aller Shoot. In between, Dizzard Wood has dwarf oaks and wild service trees – a pretty spot.
Crackington Haven comes half way, a popular village for surfing and a chance for a quick pub stop. It wasn’t long after that Matthew showed me a clean pair of heels on a short ascent, payback time perhaps for long hours on the South Downs Way when smaller. Near the end, Penally Point is a heartbreaker – from afar, it seems the path would cut it, but nearer, one realises it’s got to be reached, meaning Boscastle is just that little bit further at the end of a long day.
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Forward to Boscastle to Land’s End