Saturday, 16 April 2016

Day 27 am - April 11th 2016 - Westward Ho! to Braunton

It was misty and grey when I returned to Westward Ho! this morning. While being far from calm it was a relief to find myself facing far less windy condition than yesterday. I decided to leave town along the shingle bank rather than on the flat land behind which looked marshy and less interesting. Maybe this wasn't my best ever decision, it soon became quite tiring walking on the awkward surface. But I liked having the place to myself and the sound of waves crashing on the pebbles felt somehow therapeutic.

After a mile on pebbles I was pleased to reach the sand dunes and begin my circuit around the Northam Burrows Country Park. It was a pleasant tranquil area. I saw people playing golf. Around the more sheltered side there were horses grazing and sheep with their cute young lambs. On the approach to Appledore I just about made it through the low tide route, passing a brick sea-wall wrecked by storms and ducking under a derelict wooden slipway.

Appledore was a lovely little town. First I saw the Lifeboat Station, then passed down a quiet narrow street lined by terraces of quaint old fisherman's cottages. By chance as I walked along the peaceful waterfront I was surprised to see the passenger ferry arrive from Instow. I knew the ferry existed but didn't expect it to be running this early in the season. I could have jumped aboard and skipped 6 miles of the coast path. However I prefer to only use ferries where there is no viable walking alternative, so didn't take the opportunity of a cheeky short-cut. For the same reason I also skipped ferries that were available to me at Plymouth and Exmouth earlier on my walk.

Heading up the west side of the River Torridge the path joins a road for a while that goes behind shipyards. Some were busy, a lot of men in one were working on a navy ship. Others were derelict and unsightly. Where the path returned to the riverbank I exchanged greetings with a friendly bearded man in wellies who appears to live on a boat there. He was busy gathering driftwood left nearby at high tide. For a while the path passed through woods before dropping down to short section where you can walk on the riverbed if the tide allows. I missed the small exit and ended-up wandering onto soft mud before realising my mistake and retracing my steps. Deep footprints told me that several other walkers had recently made the same muddy mistake as me, some going even further on before turning back.

A polite sign pointing-out the handy foot-print coast path markers welcomes walkers to Bideford. I enjoyed the nice riverside walk into town. One large boat had been turned into a floating café. A bit further on I saw the Lundy ferry, when time allows I intend to return and visit this fascinating island. For some reason there were colourful knitted items tied to all the trees and railings. The only thing I didn't enjoy seeing was a group of scruffy people on benches sipping from cans of super-strong lager. However they weren't being hostile or unruly at this relatively early hour.

I crossed The Torridge on the ancient bridge and found my way to the popular Tarka Trail. As I've now realised is the norm in nautical towns I saw rotten boats in various states of decay languishing in the mudflats. The sunshine was burning through the grey clouds now and the sky turning blue. The Tarka Trail was a pleasant flat walk on a disused railway bed, but my feet let it be known they didn't like the hard surface or the pronounced camber that much.

Soon after passing a high-security MOD jetty I arrived at Instow where I enjoyed walking through the old railway station and seeing the lovely old signal box. Lea was waiting for me on The Esplanade. We ate our lunch while sat on a bench in the sunshine looking across Instow Sands to Appledore on the opposite bank. There were many families out enjoying the fine weather who'd arrived on bicycles, an ice-cream van was doing good business. This is the life.

More flat easy paths and fine weather awaited me all afternoon, so I decided to do something I haven't done on this journey yet; run a section of The South West Coast Path. The muddy boots came off and on went my trainers. I'd walked all morning with a running shirt under my fleece and had been wearing jogging bottoms in readiness. My pack went on ahead to Braunton with Lea in the car so I only needed to carry my camera.

To make sure I could still take in all the sights while running I kept to an easy relaxed pace all the way. After leaving the esplanade I ran through a dune system then onto a somewhat uneven track that passed by some old jetties and more abandoned boats, these ones quite large. To my right was a disused industrial area, not easy on the eye. Then I re-joined the tarmac Tarka Trail where it passes through fields on the approach to Barnstaple. After crossing a covered bridge that was being repaired, making it seem more like a tunnel, I went past the old Fremington Station. It's now some sort of café that is very popular with leisure cyclists. Before reaching the centre of Barnstaple the path crosses The Taw on a modern bridge. I stopped at the highest point to take pictures in both directions.

After dropping down off the bridge the Tarka Trail heads back along the opposite bank of The Taw. Again it was flat easy terrain, perfect for running. There were pleasant river views to my left, a road and countryside to my right. This side was much less busy with cyclists. The path peels inland just before you reach Chivenor Airfield and Barracks, where Gareth Malone formed the Military Wives Choir for a popular BBC documentary series. It looked like a large busy base. I didn't see any aircraft the other side of the razor-wire fences, but I saw a lot of parked military vehicles.

I'd arranged to meet Lea in the car park of a Tesco supermarket just off the Tarka Trail in Braunton. Once again it went like clockwork, we were both in the right place at the right time, aided as usual by researching the location the night before using Google Streetview. After I cooled-down we used the opportunity to do some grocery shopping before moving on to a self-catering lodge just outside Ilfracombe where we'll be spending the next three nights.

Distance Walked/Run Today - 22.96 miles (36.95km)
Cumulative Distance Covered - 602.35 miles (969.39km)
I chose to leave Westward Ho! on this mile-long shingle bank rather than the marshy ground to the right.
Horses and sheep graze on Northam Burrows, a horse appears to have his own island.
Appledore Lifeboat Station
Three crew members, no passengers. The ferry I skipped at Appledore.
The bearded man and his home on the bank of the River Torridge

Oooops, my muddy boots after becoming the latest walker to miss a turn off The River Torridge.
The polite 'Welcome to Bideford' sign and footprints.
Approaching Instow on the Tarka Trail
Walking through the old railway station at Instow, the well-preserved signal box is ahead.
Instow Sands where I met Lea for lunch
My view back down the River Taw as I run across the Taw Bridge
The Tarka Trail on the quieter northern bank of The Taw

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