Friday, 7 March 2014

Day 10 - March 5th 2014 - Salcombe to Bantham

It was clear and frosty when I woke this morning. The weather forecast was promising a dry day, exactly what I'd been hoping to hear. Lea drove me to Salcombe where the passenger ferry arrives from East Portlemouth on the opposite side of the estuary. It meant I skipped the crossing, but it made no difference to the distance walked and saved many unnecessary miles driving down narrow country lanes.

Much like yesterday I found myself on narrow roads heading out of a quaint seaside town for the first mile or so. I saw storm damage again at South Sands. The road was closed here and it appeared the old lifeboat house, which houses a water sports business these days, was badly damaged internally. After passing up through Overbeck Gardens I emerged on a rugged rocky stretch of path heading towards and around Sharp Tor. Unlike yesterday there were handrails and low walls between me and the sea on the most dangerous parts of the path, I read later this section of the coast path was constructed in the 19th century.

In this area the path felt very much like Dartmoor by the sea. There were rugged rocky outcrops, the going was hilly, there were even a few ponies grazing close by. It really felt like spring today, wild daffodils were growing, many sheep were accompanied by their lambs and the sun was shining. Perfect.

After Bolt Head the path was fairly easy going, occasional muddy patches the only nuisance as I passed along gently rolling cliff-tops enjoying superb views. After briefly drifting north of the official path in an area where all the signs had been blown away near Ham Stone I made the steep descent down to Soar Mill Cove, a spectacular isolated spot which I had all to myself today. After a short break admiring the cove I made my way up the other side of the valley, this steep section being easily the most energy-sapping climb of the day.

More easy cliff-top walking followed. At Bolberry Down I caught my first views of Burgh Island and many miles of coast in the distance. Visibility wasn't perfect, but I was fairly sure that through the haze I could make out Cornwall for the first time on this journey. After admiring the magnificent view at Bolt Tail I dropped down to Inner Hope, the tide was still a little too high to let me cross the beach so I stuck to the road here.

If it weren't for recent storms the path from Outer Hope to Thurlestone would have been an easy stroll of just a mile or so. Unfortunately the cliffs had crumbled here and two diversions made it much harder work. The first was a relatively minor irritation, passing inland and back through the streets of Outer Hope for a about half a mile to bypass a section no more than 100 yards long.

The second diversion ended up costing me a quite lot of time. Strangely the only signs I saw showing the alternative route were placed well after I'd already passed the diversion. I wondered if signs further back had blown away or been removed by vandals. As a result I came to a dead-end next to a large house at Great Ledge with no option other than to double back a fair distance. As I retraced my steps I was able to warn a couple and their dog who were about to go the same way as me. This diversion was no fun at all. It added quite a lot of distance, the first half of which required walking up a seemingly never-ending farm track that was a quagmire all the way, completely underwater in places. This was by far the boggiest place I'd had to tackle at any stage of this walk so far.

At Thurlestone Sands I was pleased to rejoin the path, my boots absolutely caked in mud. The first thing I saw there was another road lost to the waves. Then I crossed over South Milton Ley on the footbridge. The southern end of this huge reed bed wasn't in the best of shape, it had clearly been under attack from the sea and was covered in debris.

Relatively easy walking took me alongside the golf course at Thurlestone. From the cliff tops I looked down on rocky beaches that appeared to be inaccessible from the land. As I approached the mouth of the River Avon there were great views across to Burgh Island and Bigbury-on-Sea where I knew Lea was waiting. As planned I arrived at low tide in the hope of wading across the Avon. Next to the lifeguards look-out I dropped down onto the sands and went over to take a look at the river. It was immediately clear and no surprise that it was far too deep and fast flowing to consider wading. So near yet so far, I was just yards away from Bigbury. I washed the mud off my boots in the river before turning back

There wasn't enough time left in the day to consider making the 9 mile diversion inland that would allow me to cross the estuary on foot. Had I arrived earlier I might have done it, but I didnt want to risk finishing in the dark. Instead I clambered up onto Bantham Ham and walked on to Bantham Quay where I stopped for the day. The seasonal passenger ferry that crosses the river here doesn't start running until late April. Fortunately we both had mobile signal, a rarity in this area, so I was able to call Lea and tell her where to come and find me.

It had been another thoroughly enjoyable day, again I'd seen wonderful places and fantastic scenery. By the time I'd stopped I was already laughing off the annoying diversions. I'd have preferred to get a few more miles covered if possible, however considering the time of year, the extent of storm damage and muddy conditions underfoot I'm very pleased with the progress I've made over the last two days.

That's it for now. I'll return to the path later this year when I'll continue on from Bantham Quay. Thanks for reading.

Distance Walked Today 14.69 miles (23.64 km)

Walking Time; 4 hours 29 minutes

Average Walking Speed 3.3 mph

Cumulative Distance Walked 216.85 miles (348.99 km)

GPS Track;

Leaving pretty Salcombe on a fine Spring morning
Looking back at Sharp Tor
 Near Bolt Head, the path felt like 'Dartmoor by the Sea' here
Looking down over Soar Mill Cove before making a very steep descent
View from Bolberry Down, I caught my first glimpse of Cornwall in the distance here
Oh no, I come to the dead-end at Great Ledge

The unpleasant diversion route, this muddy farm track seemed to go on forever

Thurlestone Sands, one of several roads lost to the sea in recent storms

Looking across the impassable Avon Estuary to Burgh Island and Bigbury-on-Sea

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Day 9 - March 4th 2014 - Dartmouth to East Portlemouth

At the tail end of the wettest winter since records began I returned to the South West Coast Path wondering what sort of conditions I might find myself facing. South Devon had taken a severe battering from winter storms since I last walked. Perhaps the most famous damage being at Dawlish where the railway line and adjacent coast path, part of my route on Day 7, were still closed for reconstruction a month after being destroyed by a gale.

After crossing The River Dart on the ferry with Lea I set off from pretty Dartmouth. I was on roads as far as Dartmouth Castle before making my way up through the woods, this being the first steep climb of the day. Soon I was approaching Blackstone Point with views to the east and the superb rugged section where I walked back in October. At Blackstone Point I came across the first path closure of the day, though the diversion to Compass Cove along the nearby cliff-top didn't deprive me of the view. Between Compass Cove to Combe Point were spectacular rugged cliffs, I could hear the unmistakable cry of Peregrine Falcons here and stopped for a while on the tip of Combe Point to enjoy the magnificent view.

After Warren Point the path was somewhat disappointing for a few miles, passing inland along lanes and through the village of Stoke Fleming. I briefly rejoined the coast at Blackpool Sands, a pleasant beach, before being taken inland again. There were a couple of seemingly pointless sections through steep muddy fields here. Though they keep you away from the road for a while they take you no nearer the coast and add a fair bit of extra leg work.

Soon after passing through Strete I was pleased to get back down to sea-level at the northern end of Slapton Sands. Despite being completely flat the 2 & 1/2 mile walk to Torcross wasn't as easy as you might expect. Storms had covered the path with course sand on both sides of the road most of the way and it felt similar to walking along a beach. Coming into Torcross I paused to look at the Sherman DD tank that was recovered from the sea in recent years. It's a memorial to the 946 American servicemen who lost their lives in a terrible tragedy here during Exercise Tiger during training for the D-Day landings in 1944, an awful incident that was kept top-secret at the time.

After meeting with Lea for lunch I saw the first major storm damage of the day at Torcross. Despite the protection of a huge concrete sea wall several properties facing the coast were still boarded-up and undergoing repairs. Most of the sand on the beach adjacent to the town at Torcross appeared to have been washed away.

There was more storm damage at nearby Beesands, a road along the beach having been lost to the sea. While I was here the the weather took a turn for the worse. The first of several short sharp showers dropped quite a lot of rain. For the rest of the day conditions would be tricky underfoot. South of Beesands I had my only mishap of the day, I slipped and ended up on my backside in the mud while descending a steep grass slope. Fortunately there were no people around to witness my embarrassment, though several sheep were treated to a 'You've Been Framed' type of moment. I washed off the mud as best I could in one of the many bubbling streams I needed to step over.

A little further down the rugged coast I came across the fascinating site of the ruined village at Hallsands, lost to the sea in the early 20th century after dredging removed it's natural defences. The viewing platform here was excellent, giving a great view of the site and explaining the history in detail. If I lived in the nearby modern settlement of North Hallsands I'd be nervous that history might repeat itself. The 2014 storms have brought fresh cliff falls uncomfortably close to inhabited buildings. Sea defences, a road and a car park have been destroyed.

Apart from mud underfoot it was fairly easy going from here to Start Point where I was amused to see a sign that told me there were 462 miles to go until Minehead. I walked down to take a look at the lighthouse which marks the western end of Lyme Bay, this was a pleasing landmark, it feels like a long time since I left the eastern end at Portland Bill.

The final 9 miles of the day between Start Point and East Portlemouth were spent passing along superb rugged unspoilt coastline, spectacular scenery all the way. The only people I saw in three hours were a lone fisherman on rocks near Start Point and a family exercising dogs on Lannacombe Beach. Though it's hardly a beach at the moment to be honest, storms have stripped away all the sand. Part of this time was spent passing along muddy field edges, at other times I was clambering over exposed rock and small boulders in perilous spots were a slip or a trip could lead to my demise in a rocky cove below. Perhaps my favourite spot was Maceley Cove which was being pounded by the increasingly rough sea. This was just west of Prawle Point the southern-most headland in Devon. With my boots caked in mud and the rocks slippery in the now persistant light rain I went very carefully, mindful that the path was completely deserted and there was absolutely no chance of getting a signal on my mobile phone in this area. I thoroughly enjoy these remote rural stretches, to me they're the very essence of a coast path.

With daylight fading and my legs tiring I made my way down out of the muddy woods onto the road that leads into East Portlemouth past the pretty beach at Mill Bay. After a tough but exhilarating day spent exploring many many wonderful places I'd never seen before I was pleased to meet with Lea who was waiting for me as planned in the narrow lane where the passenger ferry crosses over to Salcombe.

Distance Walked Today 23.49 miles (37.80 km)

Walking Time; 7 hours 21 minutes

Average Walking Speed 3.2 mph

Cumulative Distance Walked 202.16 miles (325.34 km)

GPS Track;

View from Combe Point
Looking back over Blackpool Sands after a steep climb
The Sherman tank at Torcross, memorial to 946 American servicemen lost in Exercise Tiger
Looking back at storm-damaged Torcross and Slapton Sands
Site of Hallsands ruined village, 159 people lived here in 1891, Start Point in the distance
Yay, only 462 miles to go!
Start Point Lighthouse
Approaching Prawle Point, southernmost headland in Devon
Don't look down, the path is not for the faint-hearted in places
Maceley Cove