Off Offa’s Dyke and onwards

  • Day: 31 – Wednesday 14th June
  • Started at: Kington YHA
  • Finished at: Panpunton Farm, Knighton
  • Miles: 14
  • Miles from LE: 382
  • Duration: 9hrs (9:00-18:00)
  • Trig points visited: 0
  • Ales imbibed: ??? it was either quite forgettable or really really good!

On my rest day in Kington I picked up the next batch of maps from the Post Office courtesy of mum & dad and spent much of the day plotting out the route and researching campsites etc. I did manage to head to the high street for a wander and sought out a delicious hot chocolate.

After a slightly disturbed night – someone at the hostel had lost the doorcode and so was banging the door down at 11pm, and then my dorm companion who’d I’d not yet met came in at gone midnight. Ah the joys of hosteling! Though neither of these have ever happened before and I’ve stayed in quite a few hostels, so don’t let this put you off – I think they’re great.

Today was going to be my last day on the Offa’s Dyke Path, I’m going to miss the well trodden paths and copious waymarkers. It took me from Kington (King’s town) to Knighton (Knight’s town) past nearby Presteigne (Preist’s town). It was a warm morning and a stiff climb out of Kington and I was soon walking alongside the actual wall & dyke.

Offa's Dyke marker stone
Offa’s Dyke marker stone

Either side of lunch I met some interesting people. Firstly; Dave, who knew who I was before I’d opened my mouth – it’s funny how news travels along the trail! He is walking JOGLE and set off on 30th April. After I’d picked my jaw up off the floor, I saw he had a very small pack and then I found out he has a support crew – his wife is following along with a camper van the vast majority of the way. We compared notes, Dave gave me one of his JOGLE-based business cards – used to try and boost his fundraising (how organised!) – and then we wished each other well for the rest of our respective trips. After lunch I met a couple who were out with some members of BBC crew who were doing a recce for an episode of ‘Weatherman walking’, in which this couple’s son would feature after he had published a book of his 1,100mile walk around Wales. (As an aside, the book came about after the success of his WordPress blog he kept whilst walking…just saying!)

It was a lovely day’s walking in undulating hills with gentle ups and downs and great views all round.

One of the many views
One of the many views

 

I passed quickly through Knighton and to the campsite on the other side of town. On approaching the campsite was this sign so I obliged, as it was one of the last times I’d cross the border – cheerio Cymru, it’s been a blast!

Crossing the border again!
Crossing the border again!
  • Day: 32 – Thursday 15th June
  • Started at: Panpunton Farm, Knighton
  • Finished at: B&B in Craven Arms
  • Miles: 13
  • Miles from LE: 395
  • Duration: 8.5hrs (9:30-18:00)
  • Trig points visited: close to Stow Hill, 434m – SO317745
  • Ales imbibed: 1x HPA

Left Knighton later than planned due to a brief spell of drizzle at the moment I wanted to pack up, I waited a few minutes for it pass but there was just enough rain to soak everything so I packed up a wet tent – having awoken to a bone dry one!

The morning was dominated by two stiff ups and downs one straight after the other. In between them was a field of half a dozen young bullocks. Experience has taught me that either the Devon and Somerset livestock are on uppers or the Welsh livestock are on downers because around here the cows are much more relaxed.  Given this, I felt able to tackle this small herd and entered the field where they had already begun to migrate from lazing under a tree to gathering around the exact gate I was heading for – typical! I approached with confidence, but not looking to split the herd I headed to one side to encourage them away from the gate. When I got to within a walking pole’s length and they hadn’t shifted I began to jesticulate and shout incoherent farmer type noises. Lo-behold they started to back away, still staring, but moving off enough for me to reach the gate.  Heart pounding and repeatedly glancing over my shoulder caused me to fumble the latch but then all of sudden I was through and they were still on the other side of the gate. Yippee! Phew! I did a celebratory touchdown-esque song and dance and then went on my way. The score is now level: Cows 2 – Lucy 2!

After some food, I came to the village of  Hopton Castle, which actually has the remains of a castle – although never technically a castle but more of a stately home-cum-tower. I love finding unexpected and understated historical sites like this – they definitely add colour to the trip.

Hopton Castle
Hopton Castle

By mid afternoon I was starting to get excited about the prospect of a tearoom which the guidebook purported to be ‘the best tearoom between Land’s End and John O’Groats’. I was dreaming of the cake selection and of propping my feet up for half an hour. I was absolutely devastated when I rounded the corner and the sign read ‘Sorry we are closed’. I could’ve cried! I pulled myself together and carried on to where I found a gateway where I could hang out my tent to dry and ate some sugar snaps. Not quite what I had in mind, but it’ll do!

Tent drying
Tent drying

I took minor roads to Craven Arms and the B&B was a pleasant surprise – I wasn’t expecting much for £35.

Continuing along Offa’s Dyke Path

  • Day: 28 – Saturday 10th June
  • Started at: Monmouth
  • Finished at: Hunters Moon Inn, Llangattock Lingoed
  • Miles: 13.5
  • Miles from LE: 334
  • Duration: 7.75hrs (8:30-16:15)
  • Trig points visited: 0
  • Ales imbibed: 2x ‘Very local ale’: Skirrid bitter

Started the day with a trip to Waitrose for coffee and a croissant for breakfast and to pick up a few supplies – I wanted to buy the whole shop but was fairly restrained. Headed out of Monmouth and the whole day today was going to be on the Offa’s Dyke Path with my destination being Pandy.

It was forest tracks initially and then fields for the rest of the day. Nothing of any note happened for the first half of the day. Not long after my fresh quiche and salad courtesy of Waitrose the cloud rolled in and just kept coming. On the route in the afternoon was the massive White Castle; built to defend Wales in the 12th and 13th centuries. It is mightily impressive but remarkably low-key i.e. no entry fee, cafe, compulsory gift shop or medieval reenactment – just a few information boards. I visited briefly but due to the rain I didn’t hang about.

White Castle
White Castle

Soon after, I met a couple of guys who had almost completed the Offa’s Dyke Path from the north and were fellow campers. It turned out they had stayed where I was headed for, but they were very disparaging and warned me off. Instead they recommended the Hunters Moon Inn in Llangattock Lingoed and they implied that camping was offered (free of charge!). Even if the free camping turned out to be non-existent I thought it would be rude not to stop for a cheeky pint – any excuse for a rest out of the rain. I stumbled in dripping wet and bright red from legging it up a steep hill in a field of cows with calves just moments before. I was greeted by a cacophonous crowd of 8+ local farmers. They were naturally inquisitive and kind at heart but a little intimidating on mass with their accompanying (slightly incoherent) banter. I was soon accepted in and was bought a pint of the tasty local Skirrid ale – named after a local hill. Also, the free camping was not apocryphal and I was offered a spot on the lawn in amongst the picnic benches and umbrellas. They say good things come in threes: free beer, free camping and finally fantastic food. I had (very) local lamb chops and bread and butter pudding – scrummy! Rest assured I gave them a good tip.

Tent pitched in the pub garden
Tent pitched in the pub garden

At 9 I bid goodnight to the staff, the farmers and an American couple; Elizabeth and Steve who were doing a 2-week tour of the Welsh borders, including walking about 80miles of Offa’s Dyke and seemed unperturbed by the wet weather. (Hello if you’re reading, hope you enjoyed the rest of your trip!).

  • Day: 29 – Sunday 11th June
  • Started at: Hunters Moon Inn, Llangattock Lingoed
  • Finished at: Raquety Farm, Hay-on-Wye
  • Miles: 19
  • Miles from LE: 353
  • Duration: 10hrs (7:30-17:30)
  • Trig points visited: Hatterrall Ridge 1, 464m – SO513241, Hatterrall Ridge 2, 552m – SO304278, Hatterrall Ridge 3, 610m – SO281307
  • Ales imbibed: 1x Oracle Ale – Salopian Brewery, 1x Butty Bach

I rose early after a slightly unsettled night and knew that I had a long day ahead of me so off I trotted. It was a dry morning – a relief after the previous dank afternoon/evening – as I headed down to Pandy. From there it was up on to the Hatterrall Ridge – a 10mile ridge at 450-700m, where I would be spending the majority of my day. Despite the climb (probably the biggest single ascent of the trip so far, although not huge), I was really looking forward to being on the high ground for a prolonged period to enjoy the views. The route up turned out to be much gentler than I expected and so I merrily started the march along the top. And it was then that the wind picked up, and kept up all day. It was a strong crosswind from west to east (gusting at 40-50mph was the forecast) and it buffetted me about, in part due to it catching my big pack. Then it threw in the occasional short but heavy shower. The wind was relentless and I was starting to get weary of its persistence – there was no danger, this was a very wide grassy ridge – it was just frustrating. At one point I think I shouted “will you just stop?!”. So it didn’t turn out to be the slightly whimsical and awe inspiring walk I expected, instead, it was a head down and crack on walk but I did my best to take in the  views as they were stunning!

View from Hatterrall Ridge
View from Hatterrall Ridge

(This photo is a bit misleading as you can’t see how quickly those clouds were moving across the sky and there were no grey ones at that point. But it’s a great photo so had to include it!)

Coming down on the sheltered side of the ridge, I thought I would get some peace and quiet, I found a sweet spot where I could finally hear myself think, but it only lasted a couple of minutes. The rain started again but I found a number of companions to chat to for the 3mile descent into Hay-on-Wye which helped pass the time.

Me with each trig point
Me with each trig point

(Looking equally daft in each photo with my hat and hood combo. Did I mention it was windy?! Note to self: no more photos with hat and hood.)

At the campsite the proprietor and I were looking for a spot (with morning sun to dry the dew) within a lovely natural orchard area when we went past a glamping-type wagon. Reading my weary face she said “would you like to stay in there? I’ll give it to you for just a couple of quid extra”. For a moment I thought, I’m a camper not a ‘glamper’. But that thought soon evaporated once I’d seen inside…sold!

My cosy wagon
My cosy wagon

Being Sunday evening, there was nowhere to pick up dinner supplies so I dined in the Three Tuns that evening (recommended) and I bumped into 2 chaps (John and Richard) who I’d met earlier coming off the ridge. John had walked JOGLE (LEJOG the other way round) before he retired and Richard had grown up in East Sussex so we had plenty to chat about. They invited me to dinner but they were meeting friends and I was writing my blog so I politely declined and messily munched my way through a delicious mackerel and anchovy pizza – probably best I didn’t have company!

  • Day: 30 – Monday 12th June
  • Started at: Raquety Farm, Hay-on-Wye
  • Finished at: YHA Kington
  • Miles: 15
  • Miles from LE: 370
  • Duration: 8hrs (9:30-17:30)
  • Trig points visited: Hergest Ridge, 423m – SO256562
  • Ales imbibed: 1x Clogwyn Gold

After a long day and being gifted an extra comfy bed, I couldn’t resist a little lie in! After which I set off in a buoyant mood, quite chatty (to myself – standard), and enjoyed being by the river. The path rose away from the busy A road and river and gifted nice views looking back over yesterday’s walk.

Looking back at Hatterrall Ridge
Looking back at Hatterrall Ridge

The walk was hillier than expected but I just kept going – one foot in front of the other. I think that yesterday’s effort was starting to catch up on me and by lunchtime I was quite foot sore. I knew that the next set of maps were waiting for me at the Post Office in Kington and that it closed at 5:30 so if I wanted to use them in the evening to plan ahead I would have to start getting a move on. However as the afternoon wore on my feet got more sore and I was taking more little breaks to try and relive the pressure, so it was at this point I decided I would stay in Kington an extra night. With the time pressure alleviated I ambled my way through the fields and over Hergest Ridge. Hergest Ridge is a curious place; an area of open moorland with the highest point of 426m (although the trig is at 423m), a small clutch of monkey puzzle trees, a whetstone that is claimed to have ‘wandered’ over from a neighbouring hill and finally the visible indentation of an old racecourse. I’m not sure which of these features inspired Mike Oldfield when he settled on the name for his follow up album to Tubular Bells. Having just listened to the 20minute title track, his inspiration could have had something to do with a substance he took and not just the moor.

Monkey puzzle trees
Monkey puzzle trees

I virtually hobbled into the YHA and was greeted by a lovely couple and first time volunteer wardens. I did some washing, cooked a normal meal(!), ate said meal, went for an evening walk to stretch the legs and went to bed. At about 7pm John and Richard walked in and we compared notes on the day’s walking which they thought had been tough too, so I felt a bit better. Before he left, John suggested we could meet up again in the Peak District and he could put me up for a night in Sheffield should I need it!

One more day on Offa’s Dyke and the last day of section 2!

Day 27

  • Day: 27 – Friday 9th June
  • Started at: Beeches Farm, nr Tidenham Chase
  • Finished at: Monmouth Campsite
  • Miles: 12
  • Miles from LE: 320.5
  • Duration: 7hrs (9:30-16:30)
  • Trig points visited: 0
  • Ales imbibed: 1x Thatchers Gold Cider, 1x HPA

I had a rest day yesterday and mostly spent it tucked up in my tent listening to the rain pounding against the roof, feeling smug that I wasn’t out in it. During the only prolonged dry spell from midday ’til 4 I crossed the river to Tintern to enjoy a scrumptious lunch of; Welsh lamb and mint pie and carrot cake! I also took a peek at the Abbey, but since it’s a ruin I didn’t pay the £6 to get wet if it started raining again. It was very reminiscent of the aimless wander around Tintern back in November on the Rockhopper Annual Dinner trip but with poorer weather – go figure!

Tintern Abbey - in November and in June
Tintern Abbey – in November and in June

 

I reluctantly left the lovely Beeches Farm campsite – if only more campsites were like this one. There wasn’t one particular special feature, just a nicely kept and interesting field with a nice view, clean and tidy facilities and chilled out owners who make you feel welcome. I don’t ask for much, but I’m amazed at the number of sites that fall below my expectations.

My spot at Beeches Farm
My spot at Beeches Farm

Today was spent entirely on the Offa’s Dyke national trail which made wayfinding extremely easy – a relief after traipsing around the Levels last week trying to find rights of way that aren’t maintained. The route was either riverside which was novel or in woodland where in recent days a number of trees have fallen across the paths. I even heard one go down – it was a really loud and slow ripping sound and then crunch.

I got to Lower Redbrook for lunch and there was a perfectly positioned bench on the village green that had my name on it (metaphorically not literally – I think it was in memory of Jim Pearson – thanks Jim!). The sun was shining and so I took the opportunity to spread out various parts of my very wet tent on the grass to dry out – it felt a bit ‘trampy’ and I think I got a couple of looks, but needs must!

About a mile out of Monmouth I met Ian – another LEJOG-er! He’s a man on a mission, he left Land’s End on May 20th(!) and was planning to do the whole jolly lot in 10weeks, I’m pretty certain I’ll never see him again.

The highest point of the day was on top of the Kymin (Wikipedia page) which gave stunning views over the river valley below and the hills beyond.

View from the Kymin
View from the Kymin

 

I walked all day in England but am spending the night in Wales, so it just leaves me to say: hwyl fawr a nos da.

Somerset and South Glos.

  • Day: 21 – Friday 2nd June
  • Started at: Quantock Orchard, Flaxpool
  • Finished at: Fairview Campsite, Bawdrip
  • Miles: 17
  • Miles from LE: 245.5
  • Duration: 10.5hrs (8:30-19:00)
  • Trig points visited: Wills Neck, 386m – ST165351
  • Ales imbibed: 0
On top of Wills Neck
On top of Wills Neck
  • Day: 22 – Saturday 3rd June
  • Started at: Fairview Campsite, Bawdrip
  • Finished at: Castle Farm, Blackford
  • Miles: 10
  • Miles from LE: 255.5
  • Duration: 5hrs (9:00-14:00)
  • Trig points visited: 0
  • Ales imbibed: 1x Butcombe Ale, 1x Doombar
Me in a Sea Harrier Jump Jet - as you do!
Me in a Sea Harrier Jump Jet – as you do!
  • Day: 23 – Sunday 4th June
  • Started at: Castle Farm, Blackford
  • Finished at: Oak Farm, Congresbury
  • Miles: 13.5
  • Miles from LE: 269
  • Duration: 8hrs (8:45-16:45)
  • Trig points visited: 0
  • Ales imbibed: 1x Doombar
A tunnel on the Strawberry Line
A tunnel on the Strawberry Line
  • Day: 24 – Monday 5th June
  • Started at: Oak Farm, Congresbury
  • Finished at: Star Inn, Tickenham
  • Miles: 9.5
  • Miles from LE: 278.5
  • Duration: 4.25hrs (9:00-13:15)
  • Trig points visited: 0
  • Ales imbibed: 1x Butcombe Ale
Looking sad in the rain!
Looking sad in the rain!
  • Day: 25 – Tuesday 6th June
  • Started at: Star Inn, Tickenham
  • Finished at: Travelodge, M48 Severn View Services(!)
  • Miles: 19
  • Miles from LE: 297.5
  • Duration: 10.75hrs (7:15-18:00)
  • Trig points visited: Shirehampton, 67m – ST533774
  • Ales imbibed: 0.5x Wadworth IPA & 1x Pedigree
A jolly folly, nr Henbury
A jolly folly, nr Henbury
  • Day: 26 – Wednesday 7th June
  • Started at: Travelodge, M48 Severn View Services(!)
  • Finished at: Beeches Farm, nr Tidenham Chase
  • Miles: 11
  • Miles from LE: 308.5
  • Duration: 7.5hrs (8:30-16:00)
  • Trig points visited: 0
  • Ales imbibed: 0
Over I go
Over I go

The keen – and not so keen – eyed amongst you may have noticed that this post is scant on commentary and extra photos. I had a power issue (my plug socket broke) and so I was unable to charge anything for a few days, this meant I had to conserve my phone battery and hence blogging fell by the wayside. Even though I had a day off yesterday the thought of trying to catchup was, I admit, a bit daunting and so I’ve decided to leave it at this and start again from today. I can always come back and update it – I have a written diary and so the memories will not be lost.
In summary; Quantocks great, Somerset Levels not so fun, a visit from more lovely people who cheered me up, some nice sun, some nasty rain, many motorways (M5 walkway over the Avon, a couple of footbridges, then M48 walkway over the Severn and Wye), Welsh borders green and pleasant, and 300th mile completed!

Onwards through Devon and over Exmoor

  • Day: 16
  • Started at: Brightlycott Farm, nr Barnstaple
  • Finished at: Twitchen Farm B&B, Challacombe
  • Miles: 9.5
  • Miles from LE: 181.5
  • Duration: 5.5hrs (8:00-13:30)
  • Trig points visited: 0
  • Ales imbibed: 1.5x Exmoor Fox

Overnight there was a considerable thunder and lightening storm which was quite exciting. I think it was the flashes that initially woke me, they lit up the inside of the tent like a searchlight, then the claps started getting louder, then came the downpour. The tent held up no probs – useful to know. I packed up and very wet tent and made my first early start (by my standards) because I had places to go and people to meet. My brother and his family were driving up from South Devon to meet me for lunch in Challacombe so I hot footed it through some woodland to Bratton Fleming.

The weather then rolled in and after a heavy shower the the mist and fog set in. The only way out of Bratton Fleming was along the road so I put on my headtorch, attached a red flashing light to my rucksack and started to dash up the road. The visibility was atrocious and I’m pretty sure I couldn’t be seen, but I kept my ears peeled and jumped into the verge when a car approached. Finally, after a brief diversion (i.e. I got a bit lost) and an argument with a nettle bush in shorts that I didn’t win I made it to the Black Venus Inn and waited for my visitors. When they arrived my soggy morning was all forgotten and suddenly normal life resumed. For just a few hours I was just having lunch with my family in a pub, it was welcome distraction.

Me with Nick, Mary and Isaac
Me with Nick, Mary and Isaac

We waved goodbye and full of steak & ale pie and brownie, I waddled round the corner to my B&B just in time to watch Arsenal win the FA Cup! What a great day but altogether a rather strange day.

  • Day: 17
  • Started at: Twitchen Farm B&B
  • Finished at: Westermill Farm Campsite nr Exford
  • Miles: 12
  • Miles from LE: 193.5
  • Duration: 7.5hrs (9:30-17:00)
  • Trig points visited: 0
  • Ales imbibed: 0 but 1x Stella(!)

Not long after leaving Challacombe the path headed up to Wood Barrow along the Tarka Trail once more and for a short way it forms the Devon Somerset boundary. It is also the watershed; water to the west flowed into the Taw and ended up in the Bristol Channel, water to the east formed the Exe and flowed into the English Channel. So once I turned east I was into Somerset and onto proper moorland. Second county done in a matter of days – 5 I think!

Exmoor
Exmoor

I passed by the muddy puddle that is the source of the Exe and then further along had to make the decent into a deep valley that it has carved.

'Very steep path'
‘Very steep path’

Granted it was steep, but I think if whoever worded this signpost were to walk the South West Coast Path they may reconsider it and mark it as a ‘steep-ish’ path!

The weather, the terrain the views had made for some great walking and the first 10miles flew by. From the ridge I could then see the campsite, full of bank holiday and half term campers, at the bottom of the valley, but there was no direct route so had to do 2 sides of a triangle (1 mile each) to reach it. Those last couple of miles seemed to drag as I was racing the rain that was forecast and it had just started spitting. In the end the rain didn’t materialise but I was rewarded with a donation of a refreshing cold beer.

  • Day: 18
  • Started at: Westermill Farm Campsite nr Exford
  • Finished at: The Rest and Be Thankful Inn, Wheddon Cross
  • Miles: 13.5 (6.5 and 7)
  • Miles from LE: 207
  • Duration: 6.5hrs (9:15-12:15 and 13:00-16:30)
  • Trig points visited: Dunkery Beacon, 519m – SS891415
  • Ales imbibed: 2x Exmoor Ale

I headed straight back up to the ridge and it was another morning of stunning moorland walking. It was humid and the cloud was building but for the moment it was dry and pleasant. Except for finding another tick on my leg, grrr – I wish I could take a pill that would make my blood abhorrent to pesky disease-ridden ticks. Wayfinding is easy on the tops as the pathways are well established and follow the lie of the land, as opposed to lower down where field boundaries and private property get in the way which can be frustrating.

Today was another day of having to be somewhere to meet people, I could get used to having visitors it’s a highlight to look forward to. Also, it’s nice to have a conversation with someone who already knows what I’m doing and therefore why I have a big heavy bag and look knackered! I was due to meet a car full of Rockhoppers (Chris, Clare & Ciara) on their way back from the annual Cornwall trip who decided to detour via Exmoor to see me – I was honoured! I had to make it to the car park below Dunkery Beacon for 12:30, so I trotted on.

They arrived, I ditched my bag in the car (oh the freedom!) and by the time we set off up to Dunkery Beacon the cloud had come over and we couldn’t see a thing. In the usual  ‘hopper-style we resolutely sat at the summit in the mizzle and ate our lunch, and I couldn’t turn down the offers of fresh fruit and veg!

Chris, Clare, Ciara and me at the top of Dunkery Beacon
Chris, Clare, Ciara and me at the top of Dunkery Beacon

The walk was slightly extended by a basic navigational mishap; we were too busy nattering and headed off the summit in the wrong direction, but it meant we enjoyed a pleasant strole through woodland. The cloud eventually cleared and we headed down to Wheddon Cross for refreshments and it was here that we parted company. I was welcomed into the pub and was bought    a pint by a local couple who were in admiration of my efforts.

  • Day: 19
  • Started at: Rest and Be Thankful Inn, Wheddon Cross
  • Finished at: White Horse, Stogumber
  • Miles: 13
  • Miles from LE: 220
  • Duration: 9 hrs (9:00-18:00)
  • Trig points visited: Lype Hill, 423m – SS950370
  • Ales imbibed: 0.5x Exmoor Ale, 1x ‘under the counter’ cider & 1 x Proper Job
The inn
The inn

Having stayed at the Rest and Be Thankful Inn, I awoke, rested and was thankful for the large full English breakfast. It was mostly fields and tracks today, making my way through villages; Kingsbridge, Roadwater, Monksilver and finally into Stogumber my destination for the day (pronounced with the emphasis on ‘gum’, stuh-GUM-ba). More fair weather meant that the high points revealed unexpected views across the Bristol Channel to Wales and over to the Quantocks, where I’d be heading the following day, having coasted across Exmoor.

Me with a horse!
Me with a horse!

The locals at the White Horse were chatty and interested in my adventure – got bought another pint, staying in pubs has its upsides! By the end of the evening I was the talk of the pub, despite the SLAGs (Stogumber Ladies Action Group) hosting a talk in the function room.

  • Day: 20
  • Started at: White Horse, Stogumber
  • Finished at: Quantock Orchard Campsite, Flaxpool
  • Miles: 8.5
  • Miles from LE: 228.5
  • Duration: 4hrs (9:00-13:00)
  • Trig points visited: Black Hill, 358m – ST148381
  • Ales imbibed: 0.5x Knollered cider

Following my 3rd fry up in 4 days (I think I’ll put on weight if I continue at this rate!), I followed the road out of Stogumber and saw a choice of 3 combes up on to the main Quantock ridge; Short (aka steep), Long (aka gruelling) or Paradise (aka escalator?!). I plumped for Pradise Combe but alas there was no escalator so I heaved me and my pack up. It was a pleasant enough combe but Paradise is perhaps overstating it, I wouldn’t all rush there with your Hawaiian shirts and flip flops, you’d be disappointed.

View from Black Hill
View from Black Hill

Once on top there were great views all around and although I could have gone further I opted to head down and camp near a station on the West Somerset Railway line so I could have a rest day the following day and take the steam train to Minehead and explore the village of Dunster and it’s castle.

Day 15

  • Day: 15
  • Started at: Bideford Premier Inn
  • Finished at: Brightlycott Farm, nr Barnstaple
  • Miles: 13.5
  • Miles from LE: 172
  • Duration: 7.75hrs (9:15-17:00)
  • Trig points visited: 0
  • Ales imbibed: Tribute

Today was all about tarmac and mostly flat tarmac too. Bizarrely I was actually fantasising about the knarly ups and downs of the SWCP, I think I miss them! I did enough of them that the total ascent (and descent) adds up to over 8,000m. That’s the equivalent ascent of Everest – although differing atmospheric conditions, but still, Everest? Mental. So I would’ve thought I’d be relieved to get away from them, instead I quite miss the salty air and looking out to my left and pondering as one does when faced with a large body of water. Or is that just me?!

I headed in and then out of Bideford on the pavement, over the bridge and picked up the Tarka Trail and it was this that I followed for the next 9 miles to Barnstaple. Quite a few of you will probably know, but for those that don’t, it’s not so much a ‘trail’ in the trail running sense of the word. It’s predominantly a disused railway that has been tarmacked and broadly follows the route of Tarka the Otter from the novel of the same name. (I should add that one to the reading list, although I’ve not yet finished Poldark and I’m going to be out the other side of Devon in no time). The route is perfect for a gentle cycle, which I do believe I did a mere 19 years ago, not so much fun in baking heat with a heavy backpack.

Relentless Tarka Trail Tarmac
Relentless Tarka Trail Tarmac


Once I’d picked up my next map parcel at Barnstaple – thanks mum and dad! – and sent my used maps home it was off up the considerable hill to the campsite via the road. So the full 13.5mile was on tarmac and I can certainly feel it in my feet, muscles and joints – I will try to avoid many more days like this if I can.

So today was a bit dull but I have now completed ‘Section 1’ of 6 in the guidebook. It’s a bit arbitrary and it’s the shortest section(!) but it’s a good motivational tool – 1 stage done, just rinse and repeat, 5 more times! Maybe I’ll just get though tomorrow first!

Sunset on tonight's campsite
Sunset on tonight’s campsite

Days 10-14: ups and downs and ups and downs

I’m catching up, so I hope you’re sitting comfortably, it’s gonna be a long one, but I’ll try not to bore you!

  • Day: 10
  • Started at: Tintagel YHA
  • Finished at: Mot’s Hole (SX159985)
  • Miles: 13
  • Miles from LE: 116
  • Duration: 10hrs (9:30-19:30)
  • Trig points visited: 0
  • Ales imbibed: 0

I started out later than hoped because the drying room had failed to dry my laundry – grrr – in the end I just put on some damp clothes and left. On the path I was passing and being passed by runners and at Tintagel there was a race gazebo so I enquired as the the race. It turns out that they were doing a) 10mile, b) 40mile or c) 24hr endurance races along the coast path – mental! Just 12 runners entered the 24hr race which involved runnning the same 8 miles and few hundred steps over and over. 18hrs in and only 9 remained with the leading having completed 55miles! Respect!

Tintagel
Tintagel

 

There were a couple of early showers but I cracked on along the South West Coast Path (SWCP). En route at a strategically placed bench I met Wendy English – a lovely and exceedingly fit 81 yr old lady with a backpack(!) who was a career advisor at the University of London, after a quick chat we went on our respective ways and her parting shot was ‘I hope you find the perfect job!’. At Boscastle, it was a bit strange to walk around the corner and see somewhere in the flesh that I remember so vividly from news reports. The flood was 13 years ago now and you would never have known that it had happened. The buildings, bridge and river banks were rebuilt and now look well established.

Boscastle
Boscastle

 

Just as I set off from Boscastle, post coffee, a biscuit and a restock, I bumped into Ronnie and Julie munching on their lunch. So I stopped, had my lunch too and then we set off together towards Crackington Haven skipping out a couple of the ups and downs.    Ronnie and Julie were planning to wild camp and were happy for me to join them, so we pushed on for another couple of miles and found a great little spot called ‘Mot’s Hole’ at SX159985 where we ate, watched the sunset and went to bed.

Wild camp at sunset
Wild camp at sunset
  • Day: 11
  • Started at: Mot’s Hole (SX159985)
  • Finished at: Cerenety Eco Park, nr Bude
  • Miles: 9
  • Miles from LE: 125
  • Duration: 4.5hrs (9:00-13:30)
  • Trig points visited: 2 (SX167989 and SS199058)
  • Ales imbibed: 1.5x Dartmoor IPA
Our camp spot was down in this nook
Our camp spot was down in this nook

 

We packed up and set off at a reasonable time and it was straight up out of our camp spot and onto the cliff tops. We stuck to the SWCP all day. Along the way we spotted a couple of beautiful holidays cottages, this was a particular favourite down in Millook. It might look like much but it’s clearly old and been lovingly restored to a very high specification.

Millook Luxury Beach Hut
Millook Luxury Beach Hut

But at £3,500 for a week we decided not to blow our collective budgets to stay and we set off towards Bude. We passed through Widemouth Bay and up to a couple of trig points.

Ronnie, Julie and me at the second trig of the day
Ronnie, Julie and me at the second trig of the day

 

On the approach to Bude I remembered that a parcel I posted to myself was waiting for me, but it was Sunday so the post office would be closed, d’oh! Ah well, I’d have to wait it out in Bude until the following morning. I said goodbye to Ronnie and Julie again, got some fish and chips and went to the pub to watch the last day of the premier league unfold – unfortunately not in the Gunners’ favour. I camped at an Eco Park so that I could play with the goats, so that I did! There were a pair of kids which I nicknamed Ronnie and Julie 😜.

Goat at Cerenety Park
Goat at Cerenety Park
  • Day: 12
  • Started at: Cerenety Eco Park, nr Bude
  • Finished at: Elmscott YHA
  • Miles: 12
  • Miles from LE: 137
  • Duration: 9.25hrs (9:00-18:15)
  • Trig points visited: 0
  • Ales imbibed: 0

I headed straight to the Post Office, took out a couple of items and posted the rest home – as I hadn’t missed any of it. Hit the SWCP heading past a large GCHQ communications station and then a path closure forced me inland past a nice little tea room, which I couldn’t resist.

The highlight of the day was most definitely crossing the Cornwall/Devon county border at Marsland Mouth.

Devon border post
Devon border post
Celebratory leap - with the backpack on!
Celebratory leap – with the backpack on!

I slogged on for the last few miles to the hostel at Elmscott, the weather and clouds started to close in but lifted again just in time for a nice sunny evening. The two volunteer YHA wardens, Janice and Sue warmly welcomed me into what was an old school and even offered me a glass of wine to have with my dinner!

  • Day: 13
  • Started at: Elmscott YHA
  • Finished at: 383243 nr Peppercombe
  • Miles: 17
  • Miles from LE: 154
  • Duration: 12hrs (9:30-21:30)
  • Trig points visited: 0
  • Ales imbibed: 0

Awoke to a heavy sea fog and it was gusty so as opposed to heading out early as I had intended, I gave it an hour to lift. It didn’t but off I set anyhow. I knew there was a scarcity of accommodation so a wild camp was in the offing and was feeling confident having done the first one with R & J. I took roads and tracks up to Hartland Point from which Lundy is apparently visible…pah! I couldn’t even see the sea at the bottom of the cliff, let alone the lighthouse perched at the end of the promontory or Lundy.

SWCP acorn in the mist and fog
SWCP acorn in the mist and fog

I walked through Brownsham Woods towards Clovelly and enjoyed the change of scenery; for the first time I wasn’t on either the coast path nor a field boundary. I arrived at the top of Clovelly village at just after 5 and as everything would be shutting up at the end of the day I didn’t go down the steep slopes to the harbour and instead pushed on.

View of Clovelly Harbour
View of Clovelly Harbour

The woods continued and continued and continued. The coast path hadn’t be shrouded by trees at all since Lands End – why now? I dislike woods at dusk and really don’t like camping in woods so needed to get out to find a spot. I stopped in the corner of a field and cooked up some dinner then cracked on. I could see from the map that in a couple more miles the trees cleared. I was getting frustrated and it was getting dark, especially in the shade of the trees, it was humid and the little bitey bugs started to come out and, well, bite me! Finally just beyond Peppercombe beach the trees cleared and I found a spot on the path so I pitched up and went to bed. At 17miles it had been my longest day so far and was quite foot tired.

  • Day: 14
  • Started at: 383243 nr Peppercombe
  • Finished at: Bideford Premier Inn
  • Miles: 4.5
  • Miles from LE: 158.5
  • Duration: 4.25hrs (8:15-12:30)
  • Trig points visited: 0
  • Ales imbibed: 1.5x Abbotsham Ale

This was my spot:

Camp site
Camp site

Unfortunately the long grass was a haven for bugs (which I hadn’t considered when I was tired and needed to pitch my tent) and I woke with a tick biting me and more in/around the tent, plus many other weird and wonderful insects. As soon as I set off, just 50meters along the path I passed another tent but they were yet to rise so I passed by quietly and left the inhabitant to their lie in.

It was another foggy and humid morning, the vegetation was waist high and very damp and so my trousers and boots got soggy very quickly. I was breaking through cobwebs all the way along the path which tickled/irritated my arms and face, plus I roused the many bugs as a wafted past the plants (have I mentioned the annoying bugs?!) who I could feel biting me. It was hot work but I had run out of water so was thirsty and I was tired from yesterday’s long effort. Also, I didn’t really know where I was headed, I didn’t have a plan for the next few days. All of these factors combined and led me to have my first meltdown! I shouted expletives at the many bugs and had a little cry. Once I had calmed down, I got a 3G signal and found that there was a Premier Inn in Bideford so I booked in!

Now I had a plan, I was going to stay a couple of nights in order to do some proper laundry, eat some fresh food, get myself and gear clean and dry, and research the next section of the walk; Barnstaple to Knighton. The route to the hotel happened to go via a lovely pub where I inhaled a burger and beer in a beautiful garden and then all was right with the world. Reading about the events in Manchester certainly put my ‘hardship’ into perspective.

Days 8 & 9

  • Day: 8
  • Started at: Mawgan Porth
  • Finished at: Trewistan Farm, nr Rock
  • Miles: 13.5
  • Miles from LE: 88.5
  • Duration: 9hrs (9:30-18:30)
  • Trig points visited: 0
  • Ales imbibed: 0

Another gloriously sunny day on the South West Coast Path…this could be purported to be boring but far from it! Yes, everyday I see pale yellow sand, blue sea with foaming white waves crashing against the brown/black rocks, blue sky with white fluffy clouds and green fields but every cove, each twist and turn and all the ups and downs reveal different views as you go along. Early on in the morning I passed the Bedruthan Steps which are a series of rock formations out in the bay:

Bedruthan StepsBedruthan Steps

Then there are the people. In Porthcothan, just after I had my photo taken by an American lady who was doing a 10day cycling tour of Cornwall with her 3 girlfriends (1 of which was currently laid out by injury and another lost somewhere -I do hope she found her soon) then who should appear from around the corner? Only the couple who I’d heard about who are also walking LEJOG! Now known to me as Ronnie and Julie from Durham. (Hi Ronnie and Julie if you’re reading this, hope all is going well for you both and Ronnie isn’t moaning too much!)

We chatted pretty much all the way to Padstow via a couple of lovely beaches and also our first major inland ‘shortcut’. We headed straight into the middle of Padstow, mouths watering from the discussion about a bakery on the quayside who laid claim to ‘the best pastie in the world’, only to find it closed…so we went round the corner and picked up a reasonably tasty pasty. We then parted ways as Ronnie and Julie are doing this walk ‘properly’ by walking all the way down the Camel estuary to Wadebridge, whereas I had opted to take the ferry to Rock.

Ronnie, Julie and I at Padstow harbour

Ronnie, Julie and I at Padstow harbour

Once in Rock I traipsed across the dunes, all over St Enodoc Golf Course and had an adrenaline fuelled encounter with some cows. It resulted in me having to lob my rucksack over a couple of fences and following over them myself (including getting zapped by an electric fence) but I finally made it up to Trewiston farm which was a very empty campsite, with a dramatic night sky:

Sky over Trewiston FarmSky over Trewiston Farm

  • Day: 9
  • Started at: Trewistan Farm, nr Rock
  • Finished at: Tintagel YHA
  • Miles: 14.5
  • Miles from LE: 103
  • Duration: 8.5hrs (9:00-17:30)
  • Trig points visited: 0
  • Ales imbibed: Trelawny & Harbour Special

Set off and continued on an inland route and made a ‘bee’ line to Porteath Bee Centre to pick up some local honey and honey fudge…mmm yummy. Also went inland from Port Quin towards Port Isaac where I met a guy who walks laps of Cornwall for faith, now that is dedication, that must get very tough! Arrived in Port Isaac to find crowds of people and large amounts of TV crew; it turns out that Port Isaac is Port Wenn in Doc Martin and Martin Clunes himself was there so I got a quick snap and then passed through the crowds to get on my way. Took this as a nod to my little nephew:

Port Isaac!Port Isaac!

Lots of ups and downs all the way to Tintagel YHA which is in a stunning location right on the cliff tops and has been recently refurbished so feels more like a hotel than a hostel (also helped by having a dorm to myself). Unfortunately I didn’t spend a huge amount of time in the hostel because I went out for dinner, in part, to celebrate getting through the 100mile mark!


View from Tintagel YHA – “Where ever I lay my hat, that’s my home”…!

(FYI I’ve just finished walking on day 12, I’m trying to catch up…!)

On the road again…

So after the optimism of my previous post hoping that I would make it the 9miles to Perranporth, well I did, only it was 3days later than planned. It turned out that I wasn’t better and needed to rest, so that I did. In 48hrs I managed to crawl out of my tent to check out an ‘Alternative Skills Fair’ at an Ecologic Park next to the campsite (where I learnt about a Cornish Apple Project) and to the local beach at Porthtowan plus the cafe for some toast when I was getting my appetite back. It was Monday when I got on my way to Perranporth.

  • Day: 6
  • Started at: Porthtowan
  • Finished at: Perranporth
  • Miles: 9
  • Miles from LE: 60
  • Duration: 6hrs (9:15-15:15)
  • Trig points visited: 0
  • Ales imbibed: 0

Set off just after the rain had stopped and the only thing I fancied eating were Tangfastics so that’s what I ate! Got to St Agnes in good time passing one of the many mine shafts that scatter the coastline around here. Very atmospheric and evocative given my current reading material of Poldark – highly recommended, and that’s coming from someone who doesn’t like period fiction/drama.

Mine shaft in the mistMine shaft in the mist

The pub in St Agnes would’ve been awesome if I had felt better, lots of fresh seafood and attached to a brewery, what more can you ask for? Ah well, there’ll be others. Instead, I forced down some lemonade and a few chips and went on my way. Got to Perranporth YHA in the increasingly heavy rain but it wouldn’t open for check-in for a couple of hours so I went and explored Perranporth and one of its pubs. Once I finally got in I immediately fell in love with the hostel. It’s very small but perfectly formed and the format works so well. It’s capacity is about 20ish and it feels very much like a home from home with stunning views to boot (when the cloud lifts!).

View from Perranporth YHA View from Perranporth YHA

Those 9miles took it out of me as I still wasn’t able to fuel myself properly and since the weather forecast was looking poor, I took another day off…! I know I know, if I keep going at this rate I’ll never get to John O’Groats, but I don’t plan on getting gastroenteritis more than once! Rather than slob about in the hostel all day feeling frustrated and lazy, I took a bus over to the county town of Truro and visited the museum and cathedral. In the rain on a midweek lunchtime it wasn’t all that, but I could see that the cobbled streets would be very charming on a busy sunny summer day. The warmth of the hostel and the other people staying there did the trick and when Wenseday came I finally wanted to eat something, so after a cereal bar off I went; ‘On the road again, I just can’t wait to get on the road again…’.

  • Day: 7
  • Started at: Perranporth
  • Finished at: Mawgan Porth
  • Miles: 15
  • Miles from LE: 75
  • Duration: 8.25hrs (9:15-17:30)
  • Trig points visited: 0
  • Ales imbibed: Sharp’s Own

The route began by crossing Perran Sands in the rain and over the dunes towards Holywell. On the beach I met a guy walking the entire SWCP who told me he had just met a couple who were walking LEJOG but that was an hour ago so they were now 2hours ahead. At my pace I wasn’t going to catch them up, ah well, so near and so far from meeting someone else doing what I was doing, perhaps there will be others?

Around the corner, I trimmed off my first corners of the coast path – Kelsey Head and Pentire Point…dun dun duuuur. Well I’m not walking the SWCP so I’m going to trim off as many corners as I want! In doing so I wandered in to a very quaint village called Crantock and found a cafe for I a bite to eat. I got chatting to the lovely owner/chef (Jon) and it turns out he spent his career in the outdoors as a montain guide, had done many solo walks and kayak trips around the Scottish Highlands and Islands, plus he’d heard of the Rockhoppers! Anyhoo, as I came to pay he told me he was enamoured by my story and so my breakfast was on the house! Well I welled up at this sign of generosity, it was such a nice gesture and sent me on my way towards Newquay with a spring in my step. (FYI – it was the Cosy Nook cafe, but don’t all rush at once with tales of long distance hikes, I don’t want the guy to go out of business!). Then I got to Newquay…

Welcome to Newquay Welcome to Newquay!

Perhaps a tad unfair, although this was one of my first encounters as I entered from the west. It was the largest town I’d been though thus far and it was a bit of a shock to the system. The streets seemed packed and there was so much hubbub, it put me in a spin, so I just motored through as fast as I could. This brought me to Watergate Bay, which was an unexpected find, it was absolutely stunning. From the top it appears to be a standard cliff top, but get down on to the beach and there is evidence that the high tide surges right up to the base of the cliffs and cuts away at the rock leaving caves at the bottom of this huge and dramatic cliff face. Standing at the bottom and looking up I felt so tiny and insignificant, it was just awesome. Plus there are streaks of purple running through the rock…I’ve never seen purple rock before. Watergate Bay

Watergate Bay

From here it was just a couple of miles on to Mawgan Porth and my campsite for the night; Magic Cove. When I arrived the owners were out but I had couples coming over to help, almost tripping over themselves to offer me tea, coffee or anything else I might need/want – wow today has been all about generosity and has given me a nice warm glow inside! Well that and the first beer I’ve had in days!

Mawgan Porth

Mawgan Porth

Days 4 & 5

  • Day: 4
  • Started at: Gwithian
  • Finished at: Portreath (Nance Farm YHA)
  • Miles: 9
  • Miles from LE: 46
  • Duration: 5hrs (9:30-14:30)
  • Trig points visited: 1 (SW592435)
  • Ales imbibed: Cornish Buccaneer, Wooden Hand Brewery

I thought I’d have a slightly shorter day today, and spend a night in a hostel, just to mix things up a bit. Headed north from Gwithian and up to Godrevy Point and just around the corner is Mutton Cove but there are no sheep to be found, instead a large seal colony. Unfortunately some other hikers did not see the ‘keep quiet’ signs and promptly scared them all off into the water but I did manage to get the camera and binocs out in time.

Seals at Mutton Cove

Seals at Mutton Cove

From there is was mostly flat across the top of the cliffs. Stumbled upon an unexpected cafe at Hell’s Mouth but far from hellish, I demolished a very tasty cream tea and was off on my way again. When I arrived in Portreath I headed straight to the bakery to pick me up a ‘Hiker’s Lunch’; pastie, doughnut and a drink for £4.50 – bargain and delicious! The sun was blazing and so headed for the beach and was the only person to scurry into the shade. It then occurred to me that it was a Wednesday lunchtime and apart from the pensioners and toddlers, why were there so many people on the beach and not at work…?! It didn’t trouble me for long, instead and I spread my towel and read my book.

Knees on the beach!Knees on the beach!

After picking up some supplies, I headed up through Illogan Woods out of town and up to the YHA – a lovely and very fit elderly couple (70s/80s) let me follow them to the hostel as that was where they were heading. I think the YHA needs to re-brand to ‘Hostel Association’, from my experience there are certainly very few youths in hostels, it’s mis-selling!

To cut a short story even shorter, I then spent the next 36hrs either in bed or near a toilet for I had been afflicted either by something I ate (I’m pretty sure it wasn’t the pastie, more likely my dinner) or a virus.

  • Day: 5
  • Started at: Portreath
  • Finished at: Porthtowan
  • Miles: 5
  • Miles from LE: 51
  • Duration: 2.5hrs (11:30-14:00)
  • Trig points visited: 0
  • Ales imbibed: 0

(I’ve decided not to include days off in my day count…these are walking days, not elapsed days.)

Having not eaten for 24hrs I was feeling a bit sluggish but wanted a change of scenery so ambled along to the next village of Porthtowan. Experienced my first rain of the trip, which didn’t particularly help my mood but the clouds did part long enough for me to pitch my tent, crawl in, cook some soup and then have a nap. I’m hoping to make it the 9miles up to Perranporth tomorrow so that I can stay here: (I have options if I’m still struggling.)

Perranporth YHA

Perranporth YHA