Bike exploring in Epping Forest.

Sunday 30 August 2015 – Epping Forest.

I haven’t been out on the bike for a few weeks so I took the opportunity of the extra day off work with this being a long weekend to pop out for a couple of hours of pedalling up to and around Epping Forest. It was a solo ride today so I took the camera along as well, it always gives me an excuse to stop riding and have a rest, not that I really needed one as this was a slow ride.

After a few weeks of not too bad weather there has been a bit of rain over the past week and some of the tracks were really slippery, like someone had poured oil onto an ice rink – with added ruts to keep it interesting. Surprisingly I did not fall off like I usually do in the slippery stuff.

There are many things I love about riding in Epping Forest, and one of those things is getting to Epping Forest. In Auckland I had to drive 40 minutes to the forest, here I ride 40 minutes, and just about all of that time is off road. The small area of Walthamstow Forest is five minutes from home and there are a couple of really good trails in there. I am always finding something new, though this one didn’t seem to go too far.


I just cannot believe there is riding this good in NE London!


Across one of the numerous roads is the narrow stretch of Highams Park and its small boating lake, I don’t think I have ever seen any one in a boat on the lake though. There were lots of dog walkers and families out, so it was a slow and polite pedal around the lake.


I was keen to try something different on this ride, Epping is pretty big and riddled with trails, I am slowly getting familiar with the basic layout of the forest now, and while I still get ‘lost’ on every ride I haven’t resorted to using my phone to find myself for a long time. I was a bit annoyed that the battery died in my Garmin watch as I do like to see where I have been when I get home. I ended up riding up Warren Hill, a change from the single and double track I had been riding on.


I rode up the side of the forest looking for a way to get in to the trees to see if there was any single track in there, I ended up riding up the grass and ducking down to the right at the top and a wide section of track that was really starting to show a bit of early leaf fall. Autumn must be on the way, though it was pretty warm out this morning. I just love the trees in English forests. I was still taking it pretty slow, the track was slippery as heck and stupidly I didn’t have my riding glasses in my bag and there was a lot of loose dirt flying up and hitting my face, on occasion I was riding one handed with the other in front of my eyes. This does not make for high speed runs, even on the downhill sections.


Soon enough this part of the forest ended up at one of the main roads, I think I was crossing Epping New Rd. I haven’t had to life my bike over a fence for ages!


My mission for the day was to find Loughton Camp, the site of an Iron Age fort. There is, of course, nothing left now except the dirt mounds. As this site is from around 500BC, over 2500 years old there is still some speculation as to what it was used for, the most likely being that it was used to protect cattle from other tribes/villages. There are stories that Boadicea used the camp, and that many many years later the highway man, Dick Turpin had a hideout here. It has some interesting history !


The sign says no cycling as this is a listed historical site. A you can see the place is riddled with bike tracks, in fact I rode through it myself as I came from the opposite direction where there was no sign and I didn’t really realise where I was until it was too late. Sorry !!


I can see why people have been riding here, with all those banks and berms, it looks like there would be a bit of fun for those more inclined to jumping than I am. A shame, as a fan of preserving history, as well as a mountain biker, I like to see these place preserved, but accessible. There needs to be a better education plan – and some more signs. It is a lovely part of the forest though.


By complete accident I found my next stop, the tea hut at High Beach. Cup of coffee and a sausage roll. A perfect mid ride refuel and hugely popular with all types of riders – even those weird lycra clad road types.


The ride back towards home was as random as usual, I don’t think I rode on any tracks I have previously ridden on, such a warren of single track around here, just perfect for losing time and place in. I love it how tracks that are so clear just sort of die out in a clearing, and I have to ride around trying to find another track to get out, or make my own way through the trees, proper trail riding.


Soon enough I was back on the familiar trails that lead from the official Epping Forest back to home in Walthamstow. I usually ride on this River Ching (calling this a river requires one to take a massive leap in imagination). The bridge gets ricketier and ricketier each ride.


Over the North Circular and that was pretty much the end of the ride, just a blast down the road to home. I love it that this forest is that close to the city !!


El has been doing up the garden over summer, and there is now a nice new patio area – just where I used to clean the bike. I am not sure what to do now !!


The bike is still dirty….

A day of sun and a day of rain.

Sunday 23 and Monday 24 August 2015 – Lanivet, Cornwall and back to London.

Sunday was supposed to be another rainy day, but for a change when they got it wrong it was in our favour, and it turned out to be a pretty damn good day. We checked out of the hotel after a late breakfast with a plan to drive down the coast to Lands End. I had been there a couple of years ago, but El had not been there before.

I was keen to take the coast road from St Ives as I wanted to see some of the old Cornish tin mines. We made good time into St Ives, which was as expected really busy. We were going to try and find somewhere to stop for lunch – preferably at the Tate, but there was just nowhere to park the car. We still love St Ives though, and there will be more St Ives stories later in the year I hope.

At Carn Galver I found my roadside tin mine, yay !!





We drove down to Lands End and were shocked, stunned and horrified to see that there was a 6 pound fee to get into the car park, it was packed. I illegally backed up the road and drive off in disgust, 6 quid to park a car for an hour is ludicrous. We had a plan B – The Minack Theatre a couple of miles away. Which had a free car park, though we did have to pay 4.50 each to get in. Well worth it though. El had not been here either, so after a coffee and a couple of scones with cream and jam we went for a look around this unique site. The view over Porthcurno – what can you say !!



The Minack Theatre has been in operation since 1932 when Rowena Cade, who lived in Minack House offered her cliff side back yard to the local theatre group to perform Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest. A couple of years later the theatre had taken shape and was in use. Over the next 80 years a load of changes were made to the site and it is pretty near perfect.


Us from El

We were fortunate to be there while a local group were rehearsing a new musical comedy to played at the theatre in the next couple of weeks, so we sat and watched under that nice warm sun for a while. We were not alone.



Over the years there has been a huge amount of productions, both big and small at the theatre, and we are quite keen to come here one and day see one.



Such a lovely spot.


We dragged ourselves away and headed off towards Bodmin Moor, we had booked a night in a 600 year old abbey that is now a guest house. From modern luxury to some really old luxury… The abbey was great, we were not allowed to enter the old tower alone, and as the guest house owner was busy at the time we did not go. This was a real shame as the rain on Monday morning was near torrential so we could not go then either.




We walked into the small town of Lanivet for dinner in the local pub, we had to book a table and had to eat at 6:00 as it is so popular. The food was OK, just pub food, so we were a little disappointed as we had read good reviews. The pub was nice though and we sat outside in the sun for a while before our meal.


After dinner we walked back to the hotel via the small church. There is supposed to be a marker in the church yard that indicates the geometric centre of Cornwall. I am hoping it was this, as it was the only marker in the church yard.


After an early night we had been planning on a couple of short walks in Bodmin Moor, before catching a mid afternoon train back to London. The weather was just foul, pouring with rain. We went to the station and changed our tickets to a much earlier train and drove into Bodmin town. We saw a sign to the historic jail so decided to head there for a coffee for half an hour before returning the car. The jail looked really interesting, and another place to go back to for a visit. I mean interesting in a grim historical way, definitely not in a wow way….


It was a really popular place on such a lousy day.



And that was it, back to Bodmin Parkway station and the train back to London.


Our original plan was to go back on Sunday, but the rail union had announced strikes on Sunday so we changed to Monday. As did everyone else. With last minute changed tickets we did not have reserved seats and the train was jammed, we grabbed unreserved seats where we could, and changed two or three times until we got seats together from just before Exeter, all the way back to Paddington. It was a long trip back. Why are return trips always slower than the trip to the holiday ?

And that was the end of my holidays.  I had a few days off back in London, where I did all the blog posts from the past three weeks. Work tomorrow – Friday 28th. Not looking forward to it really !

A great weekend away, love Cornwall. 

A wee bit of luxury.

Friday 21 and Saturday 22 August 2015 – Mawgan Porth, Cornwall.

El and I booked this trip a while ago, when I first decided to do some walking on the coast path. My plan was to walk to Mawgan Porth and meet El at the very lovely hotel we stayed in for her birthday a couple of years ago. The hotel backs on to the path and I had visions of me walking up through the hotel to reception with my backpack on, 3 weeks worth of facial growth, possibly a bit smelly and asking for a room. Well that didn’t happen.

What did happen is we went together from London to Bodmin in Cornwall in a first class carriage on the train, picked up a hire car and I drove us to the hotel. It was far less strenuous.

We had booked ourselves on the 9:00 am train out of Paddington which meant leaving home really early as there are month long works on the Victoria underground line into Walthamstow and we had to do a rush hour run across London. It actually wasn’t too bad in the end.

Paddington station is famous, for one thing.


It was really nice sitting in first class with plenty of space, gallons of free coffee, a decent sized table, power points and extremely dodgy wifi which allowed me to work on my SWCP walk blog posts as we roll back towards the coast that had so recently defeated me.


The train ride is pretty pleasant, it is reasonably quick and there are some lovely views, especially on the coast between Exeter and Plymouth, a journey I have taken a couple of times in the past. From Plymouth the train passes through Saltash and across the river Tamar on the wonderful Prince Albert Bridge, designed by the engineering genius – Isambard Kingdom Brunel and opened in 1859.



The weather was pretty average when we arrived in Bodmin to pick up the rental car and had not improved 30 minutes later when we pulled in to the Scarlet Hotel in Mawgan Porth. We did not have high expectations about the weather as the forecast for the whole weekend was pretty rank. We had high expectations about the hotel though, and planned on just having a relaxing weekend. The view out of our room over a stormy Mawgan Porth was pretty lovely.


As was the room itself. A bath with a view, I am going to have to test that out.


The rain gave us a moment to nip out and go for a quick walk into the thriving metropolis of Mawgan Porth, all half dozen buildings of it. We walked round the beach and up the headland on the far side to the hotel.




The beach looked lovely under the low clouds, and was still quite popular with the surfers that come to this part of the country.



We bought a bottle of wine at the local shop and headed back up to the room and sat, just inside the door to stare at the rain and the listen to the sea across the deck. We had dinner in the hotel restaurant both nights we were there and they were both superb. Excellent food and wine, including a delicious, light and flavoursome Cornish sparkling wine from Camel Valley.

Saturday morning broke wet and warm and shrouded in low cloud. We had been expected this so were not overly disappointed by it all, though the view out the window was limited.


After breakfast we took a walk around the hotel, the view from the outdoor pool must have been amazing, but I was not willing to get into it to find out. I did take a dip in the indoor pool though.



We both had very indulgent massages, I was of course planning on needing one after three weeks of walking, but I enjoyed it nonetheless, well I you would wouldn’t you.

The rain cleared early afternoon so we walked back down to the beach again, I wanted some more moody beach shots. I have swapped my G16 to shooting in raw mode and man what a difference it makes, huge improvement in image quality.IMG_2294



We had lunch in one of the beach side cafes before heading back up to the room, where I took the opportunity to relax for a while!


The sky soon shut in again and there was no romantic sunset to share our dinner with. We had to have the bubbles again.


It was a lovely couple of days, being spoilt, eating lovely food, washed down with some fantastic wines. A two year treat!

1066 and all that.

Tuesday 18 August 2015 – Battle, East Sussex.

I have been fascinated with the Battle of Hastings since I was a small child. King Harold, William the Conqueror, the Bayeux Tapestry, 1066 and all that stuff. I am pretty sure I have never been to the town of Battle though I am sure I have been to Hastings.

Battle is the actual site of the Battle of Hastings. Hastings, the town is 7 miles away, there is no known reason why it was called the Battle of Hastings, though it has been called that since the Doomsday Book in 1086. In 1066 there was no town of Battle, so I guess it had to be called something !

I was rested and restless after returning from my shortened walking trip along the South West Coast Path. My foot had been giving me grief for a few days, but had pretty much settled by now. I still had two more weeks off work and did not want to spend it all at home, so after consulting my list of things to do I decided to go to Battle for the afternoon and visit Battle Abbey, and the site of the battle itself.

Battle Abbey was built under the order of Pope Alexander II as a penance for the amount of men that died in the conquest of Britain and was dedicated in 1095. The town built up around it over the years. King William had the high alter placed on the spot where King Harold was supposed to have died, though there is nothing left there now apart from this plaque marking the spot.


The abbey was built and added to many times over the years with significant work being carried out in the 13th century. Like so many of these glorious church buildings, Battle Abbey was largely destroyed under the dissolution of the monasteries ordered by King Henry Viii in 1536. A part of the building were turned into a private home and preserved – and now turned into a private school. The abbey church itself is just a hole in the ground. There are still some quite good ruins to explore and it is a very popular tourist site.

I caught the train down from London, the abbey is a ten minute walk from the station.


I arrived just on lunch time, had a quick look at the main entrance and then went and had lunch in a nearby cafe.



Once I had passed through the gate house, paid the entrance fee and was in the grounds the first thing I saw was the signing prohibiting access to the school. My first thoughts were not the most benevolent as I thought that this would just be an expensive mistake and I would not be able to see or touch anything old and ruiny. There is nothing else to see from here either. So I was pretty gutted.


However….. I did not realise how big the site was and once round the back of the school, a big smile appeared on my face as the ruiny bits came in to view. Naturally I did not write any notes as I went. Lesson learned, again.


The first places to explore were the old store houses under the walls.



This is where the battle took place, looking down from the ridge where King Harold had his army to where William the Conqueror had his.


The largest remains, outside of the school are of the dorter, the dormitory of the monastery. Cool !


And the bottom end of the toilets, the reredorter.


There is an old ice house and dairy that remain from when the abbey was a private house before coming a school during the second world war.


The crypt is all that remains from the 13th century church, and I particularly liked that there was still some detail left in the stone, faint and fading, but still there.




The steps to the outer wall look like they have been well used over time.


The site is home to re-enactments and storytelling and there were things on for the family while I was there.


The back of the school is in the background, a shame it cannot be explored too.


The basement of the dorter is where the novices had their rooms. The vaulted ceilings were amazing, considering this has been built on a slope.





There were some mysterious stairs – that went nowhere, but I had to go look anyway. I love to poke my nose into all the places I can when visiting ruins, on occasion I find things that few other people get to see.


I then took a walk around the battlefield, trying to imagine what it was like just under a thousand years ago when between 10 and 20 thousand men did battle with each other, ending in the Norman conquest of England and the death of the Saxon King.


Last but not least I visited the small but interesting museum in the gatehouse, I of course had to visit the loos.



The gatehouse itself was interesting, I was fascinated by the detail in the walls, the small carved faces and the doorways as much as I was by the large gatehouse itself.




And that was that. Battle Abbey was done… Very interesting and nicely done, for a change I will say “good job English Heritage” !

There are many stories of what happened to the body of King Harold, one story has it that William ordered his body to be tossed into the sea, another has it that he was buried in an unmarked grave on the top of the cliff and the last has it that he was taken back to the church he founded at Waltham Abbey and buried there. I like the last one best as I have seen the grave marker.

There is a good Wiki entry on the Battle of Hastings, worth a read to find out more about this significant event in our history.

A day in Plymouth.

Wednesday 12 and Thursday 13 August 2015, Plymouth, Devon – Walthamstow, London.

I had another lousy sleep. My right hip started to seize up in the night, and I ‘awoke’ to a bit of pain on the outside of my hip. My room in the guest house was on the 3th floor, in what would have been the attic before conversion. There was a really steep stair down to the main landing and then a couple of flights down to the breakfast room. Walking both up and down the stairs was agonising. I rang El after breakfast to discuss things, I hate being a quitter, but it was the right thing to do and I wanted to have her blessing as well, which she gave of course. So I quit walking Sad smile

El is in Edinburgh until tomorrow so as I didn’t bring house keys with me I decided to stay for one more day and after some faffing and searching on the interweb decided on spending the night in Plymouth. I booked another guest house, which was again cheaper than the campground in Woolacombe !

It was at this point I discovered that my shoes were pretty stuffed, I have had them for a while – I did my 50th birthday 50km run (also on the SWCP) in them almost three years ago, though I didn’t think I had completed too many off-road miles since. I didn’t think enough to check them before I left anyway. A shame as they were so comfy.

The 20 minute walk to Barnstaple station cemented my decision to stop. It was a very painful walk, there was no way I would have been able to do tough coastal sections like this.


I arrived in Plymouth just after 1:00 and there was another painful 20 minute walk to my guest house. I was exhausted when I arrived, lack of sleep over the last week and lots of walking, left me completely drained. I had a brief lie down before heading out to find some lunch as I was starving as well Smile

Plymouth is another really old town, it is a port town and the first pilgrims to the US left from here in 1620. As a significant naval port it was heavily bombed during the second world war, so a lot of the city centre has been designed and built in that delightful post war concrete Stalinist style. Luckily the harbour remains lovely and there is still a very small old town to explore.

My guest house was not far from the Hoe so that was my first choice of place to visit, nice views out over the harbour. I spotted a tapas bar down below and decided that was what I wanted for dinner. Which meant I could have pizza for lunch. Though I could not find somewhere to have pizza…


Smeaton’s Tower is a lighthouse from 1739 and is the central point on the big Hoe park area, it was surrounded by lots of families eating lunch and playing ball, very nice. I always like to see parks being used.



Below the park is a big old outdoor pool, I am kinda liking Plymouth.


I wandered around for ages trying to find pizza, my hip hurt and my foot was hurting and I was hungry and getting grumpy…. it was turning into less of case of trying to find pizza and more of a case of trying to find somewhere I wanted to eat. I finally found The Barbican area – I should have gone there first as it is one of the big tourist areas and full of bars and restaurants. I still could not find pizza so settled for chicken and chips in one of the waterfront bars. It was remarkably disappointing – the food, not the waterfront….



The Barbican is next to the old town, so I took a very quick walk through there, it is tiny so a quick walk is all that is achievable!


I somehow missed the Mayflower steps, I think because someone was parked in front of the sign, but I did see this plaque commemorating the sailing of the Tory, one of the first ships that sailed off to far away New Zealand to start the colony there in 1839. I loved the fact that the lighthouse was 100 years older than the start of the colonisation of New Zealand.


With my hip and foot getting more and more painful I decided to hobble my way back to my lodgings, along the waterfront and passed the Royal Citadel – which I don’t think is open to the public, though it looks big and forty and probably quite interesting.




After a bit of a lie down, and possibly a bit of a doze I headed out again for more food, but with some wine this time. I left early as I suspected the tapas would get quite full later in the evening. I took a detour past the lighthouse to try and get a couple of silhouette type shots, I was hoping to get the sun coming through the windows at the top, but left it slightly too late to do so.


I got a nice outside seat at the tapas bar, overlooking the harbour and the sun setting on the day, lovely. The food was great – I ate more than I should Smile The wine was also really nice, I had a very light rose to go with the food and it was perfect, a great combination.


As it was still early I walked back to the hotel via the supermarket and bought a small bar of chocolate and a small bottle of rioja and slobbed in bed reading and finishing my wine and chockie.

Plymouth was OK, for a city that has sooooo much history I would liked to have been able to find it more easily, or maybe so much of the history is wrapped up in the navy that it is all behind barbed wire ?

I woke up Thursday morning quite stiff, I knew I would seize up one day so I was not surprised at all. Worst though was the pain in my foot, sharp shooting pains with every step. I get this every now and then, and it is always related to walking distance in the wrong shoes. It sort of confirmed my thoughts that my old Salomon trainers were knackered.

It was hurling it down with rain so I accepted the final humiliation and got a cab to the station for the journey back to London.


That was it. Trip over. I walked less than I wanted to, enjoyed most of the walking, enjoyed the evenings less. Still keen to do it, still keen to do it and camp on the way. As I said a few posts back, I learned a few lessons on the way, so next time will be better.

My foot was still sending shooting pains up leg four days later, so the right decision was made!

SWCP Walk day 6, Woolacombe to Saunton.

Tuesday 11 August 2015, Barnstaple, Devon.

I was surprised to get off to sleep reasonably quickly, sort of anyway, but I was awoken at 3:00 by a small sick child, coughing and crying, crying and coughing for a good hour. I did sympathise a bit, but really could have done with the sleep. Earplugs only blocked half of it. My penance for some prior life sins is to be a light sleep who is easily distracted by noise. At least it was not cold !!

My original plan was to cheat a bit around here, walk to Braunton and then catch a bus to Westward Ho!, skipping the entire section along the River Taw. I have been here before and it is flat, and a bit dull and a lot of it is on the road and through towns. I would then walk from Westward Ho! back on the coast proper. This morning I decided to vary this a bit further and stay the night in Barnstaple. I want to send some stuff back to London, lighten my load by a kilo or so, plus I realised I only had map and guide as far as Bude and no idea beyond. Even though Bude is three days walking away, Barnstaple is the last decent size town so it seemed like a good idea, so I booked a room in a cheap hotel, which was only slightly more than this camp site.

I was up at 8:00, breakfasted, packed and on my way in under an hour. My knee is really sore this morning and I also appear to have a slight blister forming on the top of one of my toes. Volterol on the knee and band aid on the toe. Sorted.

The official path follows the beach along the back of the sand dunes, rising and falling with them. I thought stuff that and walked along the beach. It is a lovely beach and very quiet at this time of day. It is still not easy easy walking, at least it is flat !



Though that did not last that long, and it was soon back up on to some, admittedly, quite low hills as the path meandered around Baggy Point. The camping ground I saw from the Woolacombe end of the beach is a caravan park, so I am glad I did not make my way here last night in the hope of a smaller and quieter place to stay.


I don’t think I took the official SWCP path across the point as I ended up pretty much in the middle of the point rather than on the edge, with my knee still sore I decided to not head off in search of the proper path, but carried on going along the one I was on. I did find this old standing stone. Apparently there are four standing stones on the point and no-one knows what they were for. They just are, always have been, and hopefully always will be.


I was soon down on Croyde Beach, this is a bit more my sort of place than Woolacombe, a bit more proper surfy and outdoorsy. I sort of liked Croyde for the few minutes I passed through from Baggy Point down to the beach. I picked up a coffee and stopped to do some running repairs on the band aid on my toe – and to shake all the sand out of my shoes to prevent any further damage.


There was another small climb up out of Croyde Beach and on to the headland at Downend .


There are lots of little gates and styles on the path, most of them are OK. This one was not too bad, but some are so tight that I could not fit through with the pack on my back, which was a bit frustrating. Most come with a nice combination of stinging nettles and thorn bushes, and the best ones have a nice unavoidable puddle in the middle as well!


The view down over Saunton Beach, to the River Taw way off in the distance.


At the bottom of the hill and on the road in Saunton I decided to stop for the day. My knee was still a little sore – my left knee, which is unusual. If it had been pain in my right knee I would have just gone on as it always gives me grief – though there not a twinge from it on any of the days of walking. There was miles of flat walking to Braunton which was where I was going to stop, so as I was right next to a bus stop and the next bus was 7 minutes away I caught it.


That effectively, was the end of my walking. My plan to do 16 days ended after 4 ½.

I caught the bus in to Barnstaple and dumped my pack at the guest house I was staying in, I took all my dirty clothes and a shopping list and went in to town. I got everything done, except find a book on the path from Bude. Laundry, lunch, posted a box load of stuff back home, a good administrative afternoon. Wasted really.

I made the mistake of checking out the weather forecast while lounging in my room waiting for tea time. A bad mistake as the forecast was pretty awful for the next week, showers tomorrow and then thunder storms over the weekend. This put me in a bit of a slump. I was a bit sore, I was a bit lonely and the weather was not looking bright. I went off in search of solace, or wine. Whatever you want to call it. I found a nice quiet bar, had a few drinks (not too many) and some really excellent food , which perked my spirits up.

It was still early when I made my way back to my lodgings, I walked along the path alongside the River Taw and its lovely medieval long bridge.



I liked Barnstaple, it had a pretty good feel to it, I liked that it was not pretentious and showy, it is what it is, a working rural town, but with some interesting stuff. I liked that it had an old closed cinema, just like the one at home in Walthamstow. I hope it gets reopened one day.



I decided to see how I felt in the morning, if my knee was still playing up after breakfast and a gentle walk then I would quit and head back to London, tail between my legs. I was not overly happy with that decision as it was a big dent in my pride, but it seemed to the right thing to do.

SWCP Walk day 5, Combe Martin to Woolacombe.

Monday 10 August 2015 – Woolacombe, Devon.

14.5 Miles.

Bad start to the day…. I slept OK, which was good, what was not so good was I left the window open all night and my pack was underneath it. Normally this would be OK, but it rained quite hard, and it rained quite hard through the window as well. Things got wet, but fortunately only a little. I picked the pack of the floor and wiped it down and put it on the spare bed in the room while I had a shower and breakfast downstairs. It was still raining so I was not in any sort of rush to start walking.


When I finally decided to get organised to get going, rain or no rain, I found the back of my pack was soaked, the duvet on the bed was soaked, and worse of all – the mattress was soaked. Bollocks !! I thought there must have been water in my stove
from the rain falling in it last night and I just didn’t notice it when I tossed my pack on the bed.. I made a very sheepish approach to the guest house owners and humbly apologised for my stupidity. It was embarrassing and stupid and fortunately they were good about it.

The rain was forecasted to stop at 11:00 so when it had ease to a mere drizzle about 10:30 I left the guest house, and soon was on my way out of Combe Martin. As is usual with these small beach communities when you leave town the first thing you do is walk up a hill. This time on the road side, so feeling good after a days rest I managed to crack on quite quickly. Watermouth Bay is about 30 minutes walk from Combe Martin and as I approached I realised I still had the key to the guest house room in my pocket. What a numbty, this morning was turning in to a disaster. I walked on wondering what to do and decided I would make it to the campground and see if I could easily organise a taxi to take the key back. Fortunately I could, though it was not cheap. Better than losing an hour, and more walking in the rain. The view back through the clouds and rain was worth it though.


There is a fake castle at Watermouth Bay, it looks good, but is a theme park. I didn’t stop.


It was about now I went to have a drink of water from my Camelbak bladder and discovered it was empty. This now fully explains the amount of water that had leaked into my pack and on to the bed. About 1.5 litres worth…. Damn. I am counting this as the third bad thing, so as bad things come in threes – that was it for the day. Whew. I did have a small bottle of water as spare, so emptied that in to the bladder and hoped it was me not tightening the lid properly and not that I had a leak. 


My first stop of the day was at Hele Beach. I needed to get rid of my rain coat as it had stopped raining and was getting to warm, I also needed a few minutes to compose myself as well after the messy start to the day. There was also a sea front cafe selling coffee, cake and water, which was the best thing. The family group were leaving just as I was arriving, so it was good to catch up with them and see how they were travelling.


I caught up and passed them at the top of the big climb out to Beacon Point, over looking Helle and more importantly Ilfracombe where I was planning on stopping for lunch. The clouds had really started to clear by now and it was looking to be a stunning day, with some lovely walking ahead.



Except for these bloody steps…


In the main I liked Ilfracombe, for a really busy holiday town it had a good vibe, normally I hate the busyness of these sorts of places but in this case I didn’t. It is definitely different, how many towns have a giant statue of a pregnant woman. Damien Hurst’s Verity dominates the skyline over the waterfront. I suspect it was a controversial addition to an old fishing town. The changing face of this part of the UK.



As I walked into Ilfracombe I saw a sign advising me to follow the footsteps on the ground for the coast path, unlike a sign, and uselessly they don’t indicate any direction change.


I stopped for lunch in a good local cafe, both the basic coffee and a bacon and egg sandwich went down a treat, I then wandered around trying to find the coast path.


Obviously it went near the coast so I just sort of walked in that direction, eventually coming across some footpath feet quite randomly so I knew I was heading the right way. Up hill of course.


Close to the edge of town I found another sign telling me to follow the feet, and on the other side of the road a different sign telling me to follow the more traditional acorn. Confusing ? not at all…. My one and only complaint about the coast path is the lack of signage in and around the towns. I have mentioned it before in posts so wont labour on it here.



Much as I liked Ilfracombe, It was nice to be back on the cliff tops, the day was turning into a stunner and the views up and down the coast were the same – stunning.



I enjoyed the cliff walk immensely, but all good things come to an end and the trail dropped down into Lee Bay where there was a large and abandoned hotel. It is a small bay and does not have the monster golden sand beaches that are the feature just down the coast, I wonder if the hotel ever had its glory days ?



There was a lot more ascending and descending over the next wee while, none of it particularly high, but some of it was quite steep.


The walk from Bull Point Lighthouse along the cliffs to Morte Point was one of the highlights of a day with lots of highlights, after the dodgy start of course.



Morte Point had some amazing rock formations and would be another place to come back and explore one day, but the day was getting late, mainly due to the late start, so I continued on to Woolacombe which I could now see, as it was my home for the night.




Just before I reached town I caught up with Sandra again, we stopped and had a discussion about where to stay the night. There is one campsite in Woolacombe and apparently it is a bit of a walk inland. We talked about the virtues of walking another couple of miles – up that glorious beach to a campground we could see right at the end.


Some local advise suggested it was caravans only, so I decided I would walk to the Woolacombe Sands Holiday Park, about 20 minutes walking – all up hill.


I rocked into the campsite about 6:30pm and asked for a single tent, one person site and was advised they had a 2 person minimum and it was 18.50 per person. So for my one tent it would be 37 pounds… Yep 30 f**king 7 pounds for one night for one person. I paid less than this for a room in a B and B – with a cooked breakfast! Back in Lynton I paid 6.50 for a lovely spot by a river. Not this hell hole of shouty families, cheap lager, pokie machines and fat dogs. I should, I really should have told them to stick it and walked off to free camp somewhere, but I was tired and hot and wanted to sit down. So I caved. Like they knew I would, the bastards.

I put my tent up and had a shower – I was expecting gold plate and endless hot water – I was disappointed. Sandra had arrived while I was in the shower and was unamused as I was about the cost. We were offered a ride into town with a young couple who were camping between us, but we declined as I needed to charge my phone and my camera, so I ended up eating a poor burger and drinking lager in the campground bar and being tortured by the kids entertainment, the dance off and who is the loudest, the boys or the girls competition. I am sure it was fantastic if you were 10 or the parent of a 10 year old. I am neither so I hated every second of it. I left as soon as I had enough charge…


I was hoping for a sunset over Lundy Island, but it didn’t happen, almost, but not quite.


I bought earplugs, a bottle of beer and retired to my tent to read, write up my notes from the day and listen to some loud nasty punk rock to calm myself down for sleep.

It was a mixed day, started and ended not as good as the bits in between deserved. Loved the walking, and my Camelbak was not leaking either, so it must have been me ! My notebook didn’t tell me how my body felt after the walking, so I am assuming I was feeling good.

SWCP Walk day 4. Combe Martin rest day.

Sunday 09 August 2015 – Combe Martin, Devon.

No walking today, no official path walking today anyway. I did walk, but only to the pub – but just to watch the football. Honest.

I decided to take a day’s rest, no point in rushing into these things. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to walk as far as Mawgan Porth in time to meet El so there was no point in over stretching myself early.

I also didn’t fancy a night in a big noisy campground like the one at Watermouth Bay, which was a correct decision, I discovered, when I walked past it the next day.

I didn’t do too much after breakfast, I didn’t sleep particularly well, better than last night though, so I rested this morning and read my book for a while. I felt OK though, which was good. My shoulders did not hurt at all, which was even better.

I left the hotel at 12:00 and had lunch in a nearby cafe before having a small look around the very small waterfront of Combe Martin. It was forecast to be a damp day – another reason for not walking, and the forecasters got it pretty right, as it rained in the evening. The sun never did break through, so the beach was quiet all day.


Combe Martin supposedly has the longest high street in the UK and the only pub showing the football was right at the far end of it. Away from the waterfront, the town is basically the high street. I did get a couple of miles of walking done. A good leg loosener.


On the way to the footie pub, I passed the Pack of Cards hotel. The legend is that in 1690 George Ley won a significant amount of money playing cards and had this house built to commemorate his victory. It has 4 floors, 13 rooms per floor, 52 windows and 53 stairs and was designed to look like a house made of cards. What a neat story. I love reading these things.


This was the highlight of the day. My football team Arsenal, lost at home to West Ham on the opening day of the season. A season that I thought was going to go really well. Gutted!

I moped back down to the guest house and read some more before having a far healthier pasta meal for tea with nothing to drink. This was followed by a great Skype call with El, God bless wifi!

Back on the trail tomorrow!

SWCP Walk day 3, Lynton to Combe Martin

Saturday 08 August 2015 – Combe Martin, Devon.

13.5 miles.

Another cold, cold night, even worse than Thursday. I was freezing, and I had more clothes on, including a beanie! I also resolved to buy some earplugs when I next had the opportunity as two couples nearby decided that last night was a good night to sit outside and drink until 2 am. Rude pricks! With the cold and the noise I don’t think I drifted off until 6:00. I was up at 8:00, cooked and ate breakfast – warm food was great – packed up and out the door into some lovely warm sun for 9:00. It takes me an hour from horizontal to walking off, though I am sure I can do it more quickly if I really tried.

The Swiss woman, whose name I discovered is Sandra, and the family group, arrived in the campground after me last night, and I said a sprightly hello before leaving. I see all of them again over the next couple of days.

I stopped in Lynton to buy some sausage sandwiches and a coffee to drink from the only open cafe, there is nowhere to stop for lunch on this long leg so taking food was essential. I am carrying a few emergency rations that I can cook if for some reason I have to stop somewhere. I also picked up a couple of bananas as I started to get some very slight hints of cramp yesterday and the potassium in bananas helps to keep it at bay. Like a lot of other towns on the path that I have visited, getting out and back on the path is confusing and sometimes frustrating. It was not too bad here, but I did take one wrong turn before finding the right path.


Just outside of Lynmouth is the wonderful Valley of the Rocks. I would like to come back and explore here one day, as it is quite interesting and totally different to anything else on this section of the coast. The path is also quite narrow here, having mild vertigo and a large pack I took this slower than some, and didn’t look up and down and around as much as I should. I did, however, take a few photos.



And I did spot a couple of goats as well.



Sadly the walk out the other side of the valley is on the road, though this did allow me to make some really good time as I got up to a cracking pace. I caught up Sandra walking out of the valley and we walked together for half an hour before she had to beg off as my pace was too fast. I wanted to keep going, so we bade farewell for the morning and I sped off into the distance.


Not sure what this is for or why it is where it is, but good to see New Zealand referenced on the path…



I stopped for a snack bar and to admire the view and spent a few minutes talking to a couple of blokes (Rob and Rich) from London who are also walking the path, but like the Dutch Ladies they are having their bags carried and are staying in guest houses.


This is another lovely section of Exmoor forest which also includes Hollow Brook Falls, one of Britain’s tallest waterfalls, though sadly the 200 metre drop is over a 400 metre distance so it is not quite like Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe and Zambia ! it is still nice though.



Out of the forest, the view back along the coast is wonderful, just before dropping into Heddon Mouth. There was some quite tricky walking here and I am glad I had my poles. The path was quite narrow and where it was right on the cliff edge I was a wee bit nervous. I think if I did not have the pack on I would have run these sections with no worries at all. Well, maybe a small worry Smile


The Hunters Inn is in Heddon Mouth, but about half a mile up the valley from the bridge, I met Rob and Rich, who decided to go there for lunch, but as I had food and was not keen to add any more miles I declined to join them and carried on going.


The walk out was tough! The steepest section on the path so far, I was passed by a young couple on an afternoon walk, he was wearing jandals (flip-flops) on the rough and steep terrain. I thought he was mad ! The kindly took a picture of me from the top of the climb.


I love the view back over the path I had walked down into Heddon Mouth.


Though the view forward was less lovely… OK, it was lovely, but it also looked challenging!


There was a long section of wonderful rolling cliff top walking from here, I stopped for lunch on the cliff tops and just sat and admired the view for a while, and tried to snap a photo of a hunting kite.


The moors are really nice here, wild and scrubby and colourful, though ahead was the big climb of the day, the highest coastal cliff in the UK, Great Hangman, at 318 metres. I knew I had to drop down a way, only to walk back up it again. I pulled my pack on tighter, drank some water and carried on going.



I saw the most unusual thing here, and stupidly I did not sneak a photo. I was stopped as I walking by an English gent, who was heading to Hunters Inn for lunch. He was dressed semi-formally – better than I do for work – and he was pushing a bike.  Not a mountain bike either.  he was going to ride back to Combe Martin on the road.  I have no idea how he got the bike down the hill.  It was such a surreal experience.

I soon arrived in Great Hangman park, and prepared to drop down into the valley.


Over the other side I could see the path climbing out. It looked steep, but not as steep as the path down. I was really glad it was dry as it would have been quite slippery on the clay and grass path down to the river in the valley.


I stopped for a drink in the valley and a chat to a nice English couple who were out for a couple of days walking. We were joined by a German woman who I had said hello to a couple of times over the course of the day as we occasionally passed each other. I stupidly forgot their names.

The climb out of the valley was brutal, after a tiring day carrying a pack. I was shuffling up the steep section, leaning on my poles as I went, and it was some relief to get to the flatter section towards the top, and even more of a relief to get to the top. There were some more walkers there when I arrived and one of them took a photo of me on the top of the cairn as I mimicked their more youthful celebrations.


My destination for the night, Combe Martin, is down there, in that bay somewhere and just under another hour’s walking. It was quite a tough walk, going down hill can be harder than walking up, especially if you are carrying a heavy load.


I arrived in Combe Martin just after 4:00, which really surprised me, it was way quicker than I expected after yesterday’s slow walk. Maybe the time I spent walking quickly on the easy sections made up for it. El had booked me into a guest house and luckily it was right next to the path. The owners welcomed me with a cup of coffee and a piece of cake – wonderful…

I was knackered with really sore shoulders and a good rub down with some Volterol after a hot shower was just what they needed. I took a bit of a rest, had loads of water to drink and in the early evening I ventured out to one of the local pubs to look for food. I have the day off tomorrow so was quite happy to have a beer or two to go with an unhealthy burger and fries. I was craving the salty chips. I obviously chose a good walking pub to go to as I was soon joined by the English couple and the German woman I met today and the Dutch Ladies popped in later on as well. It was a great evening of chatting and sharing some of the joys of three or four days of walking this wonderful coast path.

I did wobble my way back to my guest house room about 11:00 pm. It was a tough day, not as tough as I expected it to be, but it was great to end it with some good company over some nice food and a glass of merlot.

SWCP Walk day 2, Porlock to Lynton

Friday 07 August 2015 – Lynton, Devon.

14 miles.

It was not a good night’s sleep. I expected that, but hoped for otherwise as I was physically tired from the walking. I was really surprised with how cold it was in the early hours. I was freezing. Colder than I had been when I camped out much later in the year. I knew I should have bought a new sleeping bag!

It was a clear night, which led to the cold temperature as well as quite a hefty morning dew on the ground. I learnt my first lesson of choosing a tent spot. Always look for somewhere that gets the early morning sun so the ground and the tent dry off as quickly as possible. I had chosen a good spot, but my neighbours moved their van in the night and created a  long shadow right across my tent.

I was up at 7:00 and had my first camping breakfast. I had brought with me some packaged oats that just need boiling water added. My stove is really just a water boiler – a really fast water boiler. Two minutes, water boiled for oats and coffee, and not too bad a breakie either.

When I finally got out of the tent and vertical I found I was a bit stiff, but otherwise fine, walking up to the supermarket to buy some sandwiches for lunch was enough to shake out the stiffness, and by the time I stripped my camp site down, loaded up my pack and headed off I was feeling OK with the world. The sun was warm, the day just starting and I had about 14 miles of stunning coast to walk.

Leaving the campground I immediately (probably) took the wrong, and longer path down to Porlock beach. A narrow band, nicely hedged off from the road.


The path goes through the inland side of a marsh area that comes and goes over the centuries with a skeleton forest that is significantly old, the remains date back 5000 years. Cool !




The final section before the small village of Porlock Weir was along the top of the stony beach and was quite tough to walk on, after yesterday’s small wobble on an uneven rock I took extra precautions walking across the stones.


Porlock Weir is tiny and cute and also has the last coffee stop before my destination at the end of the day – Lynmouth. So I made use of the facilities and had a final coffee before finally setting off on the trail at 10:00, with 12.5 miles to go. The book says it is moderate to strenuous…



The walk out of Porlock Weir is quite nice, up a hill, but quite nice. Once out of town there is another nice long section of shaded woodland, I did not realise there was so much tree cover on this early section, I expected the moors to be far more open, but apparently Exmoor has one of the largest coastal forest sections of any park in the UK. It is really nice forest – and I was also glad of the shade.



The lovely old toll gate at Worthy Toll collects a small fee for cars wishing to use the private road, built in the 1840s to provide an option for travellers to avoid the steep Porlock Hill road. The gate for walkers passing by is free Smile


Ashley Combe house has long been pulled down after being in ruins for many years. The grand house was built for Ada Lovelace (look her up, she is very interesting, especially if you are interested in computing) by her husband and included a series of tunnels linking the tradesman entrances to the house so that they and their guests could look out over the magnificent gardens without having to see the servants and tradesmen. A few of the tunnels remain and are part of the coast path, it looks like some of them must have been quite long.


Culborne Church was the next stop, for a long drink of water and a nut bar, as well a look around. I did not linger here too long as there was an incredible amount of flies, an unwelcome feature of most of the rest of the day. I caught up with the Dutch ladies here and as I was leaving the family group I saw last night were arriving. It is good to know there are people on the path – just in case !

There is an unproven story that suggests the steeple on Culborne Church may have come from the missing section of the steeple at Porlock Church


Culborne Church is the smallest parish church in the UK, it has a capacity of 30 and still has weekly services. To access it you have to make the hour long walk from Porlock or risk driving down what is essentially a four wheel drive track. There has been a church here for many many years – in fact it is one of only a handful of buildings mentioned in the Doomsday Book which was written in 1086, so as well as being old it must have been quite significant. It was a shame about the flies as it was a really nice place to relax.



The walk out of Culborne was all up hill, up hill, up hill and more up hill. It started off through some nice woodland which was great.


Finally breaking out into a long rolling hilly section through farmland, which was probably the worst section of all the walking I did. It was just a bit dull, long sections down narrow roads with high hedges and walls on either side. Frankly, it was just boring. There was also a very large and unavoidable mud hole full of cowshit to cross so I also ended up with wet and smelly shoes, socks and feet.


I did see some sheep – and some deer.



Once I was back under the forest canopy there were plenty of little waterfalls and streams for me to stick my feet, it did not fix the wet socks and shoes, but it did mean I got to clean the mud and cow shit off. Thankfully.IMG_2000

Somewhere in this section I passed from the county of Somerset in to Devon.

This section had lots of short and sometimes steep ascents and descents so I finally got to break my walking poles out and use them, I think they made a difference on some of the climbs. I tried to stop for lunch at the top of one of the climbs, but as soon as I stopped moving I was inundated with flies. I ate a sandwich on the move, which didn’t give me the rest I wanted, but it did fill my tummy and provide a bit of energy for more walking.


The 19th century stone cross near Sisters Fountain.



Just past the hogs head topped gateposts to Woodland Lodge I found a patch of sun on the grass and stopped to eat my sandwiches and change the wet socks for dry ones. My feet feel OK, but any precautions that can be taken to prevent blisters should be taken.



There was still a fair bit of walking to go before I got my first view of today’s final destination – Lynmouth and Lynton, way in the distance.


On the way I passed another, very tame, Exmoor pony and her foal, who seemed to not like the very bright sun too much !


By this stage I was quite close (or so I thought) to Lynmouth and there were a number of day walkers and families out and about on the cliff tops. Just past the St John the Baptist church of Countisbury, I saw there was a large car park and a pub – which probably explains the number of people…


From here it was pretty much down hill all the way, and I mean that in the positive sense too ! Looking back I just see the path rolling along the edge of the horizon. Stunning !


The good news was I was soon in the nice, but very busy town of Lynmouth. The bad news was the campground was in Lynton, at the top of the hill – a big hill, a soul destroyingly big hill !


I didn’t take the funicular – that would be admitting defeat. I walked another 45 minutes, getting lost and then a bit grumpy, before I found the lovely little campsite.


After checking in – and paying my 6.50 (note this for a later post, I sense a rant coming in a few days) for me and my tent, I picked up two beers and an ice cream from the shop before flopping unceremoniously onto the ground next to the stream that flowed past the campsite.


I was knackered – this was a much harder day than yesterday!

Once I had my tent assembled and myself and my clothes washed I decided to go to the pub next door for tea. There was no cell phone reception in the campsite and the pub had wifi. Except it didn’t, it was broken. I was really thrown by this, bizarrely thrown, I must have been tired. I knew this was likely to be the case on the path, but knowing it may happen and it actually happening are two different things ! I had told El I would let her know each day when I arrived at my destination and finding I couldn’t easily do it was frustrating. I decided to have a really early dinner and then walk back into town with the hope of getting reception there. Luckily as I sat eating my very average Thai noodles a bar of mobile reception appeared and I managed to get a couple of messages away. Relieved, I am not sure I wanted to walk any further today. I did manage to get El to find me a guest house in Combe Martin for me to stay in tomorrow night.  I am going to have a rest day on Sunday – nothing to do with it being the first Arsenal game of the season on the telly, honest…

After eating I went back to the campsite and had a bit of a play with some long exposure photos in the stream.


After that it was bed time, I was quite tired. It had been a much longer and harder day than yesterday. But apart from the wee moment when I had no reception I had another good day.

Tomorrow is supposed to be really tough, Gulp !!