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.

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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 !

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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I did see some sheep – and some deer.

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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.

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The 19th century stone cross near Sisters Fountain.

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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.

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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.

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

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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…

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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 !

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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 !

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 !!

SWCP Walk day 1, Minehead to Porlock.

Thursday 06 August 2015 – Porlock, Somerset.

It has finally arrived ! The day I start walking, so yep, naturally it is raining.

I had a good English breakfast in the hotel after a restless night. Loads of sausages, bacon, eggs and beans, some good protein and energy and a whole pile of food sitting in my belly to use up the extra energy consumed. It tasted good though Smile

I hung around the hotel lobby in a state of nervous tension, jumping up to look out the window every 30 seconds to see if the rain had stopped. It was still drizzling at 9:30 but I thought ‘sod it’, donned my raincoat and pack and headed out the door. I was off !

My first stop was 100 metres away at the bottom of the hill at the ‘Hands statue’. A large bronze by Owen Cunningham and installed in 2001. I stopped for the obligatory photo, luckily there were two Dutch women who were starting a week’s walking and one of them kindly took my photo for me. I meet these two ladies a few times over the next three days.

I am the only person I see wearing shorts…

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I guess I go this way.

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The weather was still failing to inspire though.

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After a few minutes of walking to the edge of town I was finally out and in the countryside with seven miles to go to my first night of camping in Porlock. I am planning on following a commonly recognised route of walking between towns with campsites and other facilities. Today’s walk is supposed to take just under four hours. I will then be able to assess how my walking speed relates to those in the guidebook I am using. (The Trailblazer series). The acorn is the symbol of the SWCP and I will see an awful lot of them, which is a good thing.

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The rain stopped soon after I hit the trail proper and just before I started up North Hill, the first climb on the path. It got quite steep in parts and was not all smooth wide graded track – honest.

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By the time I got to the top I was pouring sweat through my jacket and stopped to take it off. I also needed to make an adjustment to my pack as it was riding a bit too low and restricting my hip movement a bit. It should be riding on my hips anyway, at least it is easily adjustable. I was knackered already !!

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The forest is really lovely here, it is totally different to NZ forest, being a lot more open and lighter with a clear break between the trees and underlying scrub. I really like it and I particularly  like the big fern areas.

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Finally I am at the top, and the day is clearing up nicely as well.

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The walk across the cliff tops, on the edge of Exmoor national park is lovely, rolling coastal path, it is warm and humid and there is a constant warm head wind as well. Strong enough that I noticed the gusts when they hit me and my pack. I see plenty of wildlife, Exmoor ponies, cows and even a very hairy bug on the trail – I do not see any other people. Love it.

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The moorland is wonderful, there are patches of farm land, but this early section of walking is through what I call proper moorland, grasses and wild flowers abound, it is wild and beautiful and exactly what I wanted to see when I decided to do the walk.

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I stopped for a rest and a snack bar on a bench up above the beach near Porlock. Reading my notebook it says ‘I am aching all over…’ My body is not used to the hills and not used to carrying any sort of weight. I note that I am expecting to be sore in the morning – and tomorrow is a seven hour walk!

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Back on the trail I am soon round the last headland and overlooking the town of Porlock, and down the coast to where I will be walking tomorrow – those headlands just keep on going!

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The track down the hill in to Bossington was just screaming to be ridden down, not technical by any means at all, just fast, gloriously fast. Sadly, I was just walking and not riding a mountain bike.

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At some point after this I managed to do two stupid things, I suppose it was good to get them out of the way nice and early. Firstly I didn’t pay any attention to the map and ended up on the wrong path. This was not disastrous as I didn’t go too far wrong, just ended up with a bit more road walking than I would have liked. Secondly, and another failure to pay attention, this time it could have been worse as I turned my ankle on a rock. It was a brief flash of pain, and a brief flash of ‘oh shit’ went through my mind, but luckily it walked off fairly quickly. I would have been gutted to have hurt myself before the end of day one. My left ankle is a wee bit dodgy, it is weak and turns easily. I know this, I should have taken care. Or maybe I should have bought boots?

There was no crisis either way and I made my way into Bossington to look for the small cafe there so I could stop for lunch. I had a cheese and onion toastie and a chocolate shake and they were both really really nice. I felt like I had earned them too.20150806_124206

Bossington was cute, I like a cute English village and the coast path passes through many many of them as it winds its way through Somerset, Devon, Cornwall and Dorset. I suspect I will take lots of photos.

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Not far too to Porlock now, I lump the pack back on to my back and head off up the hill from Bossington to Porlock, I am not sure if I take the correct path, but end up where I want to be so no complaints. Except – why are campsites always up a hill ?

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I arrive at SparkHayes campsite early in the afternoon and get my tent up under nice sunny skies. The campsite is large and quite quiet, this makes me happy. I put my tent up near a wall to try and break some of the wind, with moderate success.

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It was then time to break out the new stove and make my first cup of coffee on it. Very exciting, so exciting I took a picture so you too can share in the thrill!

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That was the end of day one of walking. It took me 3 hours 50 to do the 4 hour walk. I think me and the guide book will get on just fine. Especially if I actually read and follow the map.

I had dinner in the Lorna Doone hotel. I stayed there when I visited Porlock in 2012, and remembered that the food was nice. They also had a decent sauvignon blanc as well. I had a couple of glasses with dinner before making my way back to my tent, settling in for the first time and reading until it was dark. I met the Dutch ladies again in the restaurant, though they are having their bags ported a long the coast and are staying in guest houses. A solo walker along with a family group of walkers arrived in the campground while I was out. I will see them a few a times over the next few days too.

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Day one went well, really well. I am thoroughly enjoying myself.

I was originally planning on taking my small laptop on the walk so I could edit photos and write posts as I went. This was a stupid idea really, and I wisely tossed that one out a while back and bought a small notebook instead. I made lots of notes as I went. It was the right thing to do.