Sunday, 17 April 2016

Day 29 - April 13th 2016 - Ilfracombe to Lynmouth Harbour

Leaving Ilfracombe this morning I met Verity for the first time. She's the controversial 66 foot (20m) tall sculpture that stands over the entrance to the harbour, created by local resident Damien Hirst. When Verity was erected in 2013 I must admit I didn't like her much based on news coverage I saw at the time. Having now seen her with my own eyes I've warmed to her and decided I do like her after all. She does somehow remind me of the Statue of Liberty on a smaller scale. However I'd rather not see her insides, I much prefer the side with skin, and would like her even more had both sides been made that way.
I knew a hilly day lay ahead. My legs were duly tested in the first half mile by a steep climb up to Hillsborough, the site of an Iron Age fort. I was rewarded with great views over Ilfracombe and the harbour from the top. Verity now seemed quite small viewed from high above. As I started my descent I was impressed to see a runner in a charity t-shirt coming up the other way, still going strong as he neared the top. He had enough breath to wish me a good morning. I wondered if he was in training for the London Marathon which was being held 11 days later.
Between Ilfracombe and Watermouth the path briefly re-joins the road several times before dropping down again. It was quite muddy here in places after yesterdays storm. This section was fairly unremarkable until I reached Widmouth Head where Water Mouth looked great viewed in the misty morning light, the tall headlands of Exmoor looming beyond.

I didn't know I'd be passing a castle at Watermouth, so that was a nice surprise, though it didn't look particularly old. I found out later it's not a real castle, a 19th century country house built to resemble one. Opposite the castle the path goes uphill on grass through a caravan park where there were no caravans. I assume it hadn't opened for the season yet. After seeing a nice hotel, re-joining and leaving the road yet again, I dropped down into Combe Martin, the last town I'd be seeing for a while. You don't see much of Combe Martin, a couple of minutes later I was already on my way out passing a sign marked 'Exmoor National Park'.

Ahead of me was a long strenuous climb on grass up to Little Hangman. The official path doesn't go to the very top, but being so close I couldn't resist making the extra effort to go all the way up to the summit. There is a small plateau with a bench, a dramatic spot with amazing 360 degree views. I rested briefly and took in the fantastic vista before continuing my ascent up to Great Hangman.

Between Little Hangman and Great Hangman the gradient is less steep and relatively easy. When I reached the cairn at the top of Great Hangman I stopped to savour being at the highest point on the entire South West Coast Path at 1,043 feet (318 metres), a few feet higher than The Shard in London, currently the tallest building in the European Union. To my surprise I had a good mobile signal. I took a panoramic picture on my iPhone and posted it to social media. Great Hangman is also the highest sea cliff in England, with a cliff face of 800 feet (244m). But the summit is somewhat disappointing, you can't actually see the cliff face at all, it just feels like you're on  the top of a hill that gently slopes away in all directions. I enjoyed being at Little Hangman summit more, one of those special places where you really do feel 'on top of the world'. A much finer place for a set of gallows!
Moving on I soon came to a deep valley named Sherrycombe where there's a very steep descent and climb back out for walkers to tackle going in either direction. The rocky path now went through moorland going around Holdstone Hill for a mile or two before returning to the cliff-tops. A well-equipped walker with a large pack I met going the other way had several questions for me. 'How far is it to Combe Martin?', 'do you think I'll make it that far today?'. I don't think he believed me when I said I'd left Ilfracombe this morning and had made it this far from Poole in 29 days of walking. Just around the corner was the dramatic scree-filled valley of Heddon's Mouth. The path was fairly narrow and tricky underfoot. I loved the great views it's but not the kind of place for those with a fear of heights. I left the path and found my way up the valley to Hunter's Inn where Lea was patiently waiting as always with lunch. We watched the resident peacocks while we were there.
After a short walk down the opposite bank of the river from Hunters Inn I re-joined the South West Coast Path and walked up the other side of the valley to Highveer Point with more wonderful views across Heddon's Mouth and the small beach at the end. The path was high up again, but not too tough. After a while I entered a long stretch of cliff-side woods with limited sea views. I saw a lovely waterfall and several bubbling streams coming down from Exmoor as I made my way through. Above Woody Bay the path joins a road for a while. Then you drop down into some fields, a somewhat pointless exercise because you have to climb back up and re-join the road not much further on.

For a while I'd been able to see what looked like a large country house ahead. It turned out to be Lee Abbey. The road continues on past the abbey, which strangely smelt like a Chinese restaurant as I walked by. Suddenly you find yourself entering The Valley of the Rocks. It's a great place to see, spectacular rock formations either side, dozens of feral mountain goats grazing around you. There weren't many people around, but it does feel somewhat spoiled by the road that goes through the middle complete with roundabout and a car park. The coast path leaves through a gap between the rocks and goes along the side of a high cliff as it heads on towards Lynton. It's a lovely walk with amazing views, the path is wide, safe and easy. I saw goats with their young in scary-looking places on the cliff below.

Coming into Lynton I was high up above Lynmouth Harbour which I could see far below. The path zigs-zags down steeply, crossing over the fascinating cliff-side railway three times. I watched as the carriages went up and down, a clever system powered by water that's been operating continuously since 1890. Lea was waiting on the esplanade where the path emerges next to the station. She'd had a ride on the railway while waiting. There was a fish and shop on the corner that looked rather nice so we decided to buy our supper there. Unfortunately for us it closed at 5-00pm, madness in a holiday resort, we arrived at one minute past, just after they'd locked the door. We drove back to Ilfracombe where opening times are more sensible and ate there instead.

Today had been a truly wonderful day of walking, Exmoor more than lived up to expectations. My legs were somewhat tired having managed around 4,800ft of vertical ascent, but it had been well worth every single step to enjoy the amazing scenery.

Distance Walked Today - 20.48 miles (32.60km)
Cumulative Distance Covered - 646.02 miles (1,039.67km)
Verity as you see her from the coast path, standing proudly over the entrance to Ilfracombe Harbour.
The view of Ilfracombe from Hillsborough
Approaching Water Mouth in the morning mist, the headlands of Exmoor in the background.
The bench at the summit of Little Hangman
Great Hangman, panorama from the cairn at the summit, highest point on the entire South West Coast Path
Scree-filled valley at Heddon's Mouth. The coast path comes just below the horizon, top centre.
The much easier path along the bottom gives beach access only.
Waterfall next to the path near Martinhoe
Entering the Valley of the Rocks
A bench on the cliff-side path
A feral goat and her kid on the cliff
Arriving in Lynton next to the Lynton and Lynmouth Cliff Railway

Verity's better side

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