After arriving back on the mainland after my trip to Lundy, I continued west (considerably faster than I have been writing these updates *ashamed*). I had a day to wander around Bideford and the surrounding area and then I was planning to walk along the coast path to my next stop, a little hostel a couple of miles beyond Hartland Point, where the coast turns a right angle and suddenly runs south toward Cornwall. The Hartland Penisula is a fairly remote little corner of the southwest and I was very much looking forward to spending a day wandering along the cliffs, paths and lanes.
As you’ve probably guessed by now, all did not go according to plan. The first day went very well. I spent a pleasant half an hour wandering around the village of Appledore, where I was staying. I rather fell for Appledore. It’s pretty and probably attracts its fair share of tourists, but there was a subtle quirkiness about the place that appealed to me. Here’s a peep down one of the streets.
From there I went onto Bideford, mooched around the shops, and then caught the bus to Clovelly. I’d been warned by countless people that Clovelly was a bit of a tourist trap, but a must-see nonetheless. I must have been lucky in my timing, because it wasn’t busy at all when I was there, and despite my cynicism as I approached the visitors’ centre, I was rather charmed by the place. It’s a little fishing village which is famous for being very, very steep. In fact, it’s so steep that wheeled vehicles can’t drive down the main street and the locals use crates on sleds to bring in their shopping. In the past donkeys were used, and they are still present in Clovelly, although these days for the tourists. They weren’t at work on the day I was there, though the stables were open.
Here’s the first approach towards the village. The weather had been grey all morning, but it grew steadily brighter as I picked my way down towards sea level and by the time I sat down by the harbour to enjoy my lunch it was a lovely day.
Heading downhill, through the main part of the village. The author Charles Kingsley grew up in Clovelly in the 1830s and there’s a charming little museum which covers both his legacy and a reconstruction of what a fisherman’s cottage would have looked like.
From the bottom, looking back up and trying to muster the energy to climb back to the bus stop.
I didn’t see another soul until I was almost at the top of the village, where I ran into a family who had stopped to exclaim at the slow worms sunning themselves on the wall. Their little girl was in paroxysms of delight over seeing a ‘real snake’ and it was a lovely reminder of how exciting the world is for kids if you can find a way to get them to put their electronic devices down (which I know isn’t easy, but I bet she’ll remember her snake a lot longer than whatever game is currently in fashion).
Back in Appleford, I wandered along the coast, enjoying the last of the light and trying to make some decisions. The afternoon had been getting steadily more grey and blustery and I was worried about the walk I had planned. It was a long hike along one of the most challenging stretches of the coast path, and the wet winter had meant I hadn’t got as many training walks in as I would have liked. On a good day, at full fitness, it would have been an enjoyable but tough day’s walking, but I was beginning to worry. To add to that, the weather was turning, and I’ve done enough coastal walking over the last fifteen years to know that being out alone on strange cliffs when the weather comes in is a very bad idea. Even steady drizzle can make every step a chore, and add in wind, cold, and unfamiliar terrain and you can get into trouble very fast.
I decided to wait until I’d seen a weather forecast before I made a final choice, but when I did get back to the hotel, the BBC was predicting showers all day. Reluctantly, I switched to my back-up plan: get the bus to the village of Hartland, about five miles from the hostel, and walk in along the lanes. In the end, it was the right choice, because the bus windows were awash by the time I got to Hartland. I trudged along what would have been a pretty tangle of paths and lanes and got to the hostel hours before it opened (luckily there was a porch). It was frustrating weather, not awful enough to make me abandon the whole idea and find other accommodation, just steady cold drizzle, the type that soaks through everything and lowers your spirits. This was the only picture I took that day, of the woods just outside Hartland.
I was the only one staying in the little Elmscott Bunkhouse that night. Even the wardens were away, though I was welcomed in by a very jolly neighbour who was looking after the place for them. Once she was gone, I was on my own in the old schoolhouse. I got my stuff into the drying room, and then ensconced myself in the sitting room with the radio and a steady stream of tea. I finished Resistance there, at about 10 o’ clock that night.
The next day, I headed out to try to do a little walking. I had a route planned between three places I knew would do a cup of tea and a scone, all about two or three miles apart. I wasn’t meant to be back in the hostel until five, though I had informal permission to come back early to let the new guests in if the weather was awful. I started out along the cliff tops, aiming for Hartland Quay.
I got about a mile and a half, the first bit without drizzle, but then the wind picked up and the rain came down hard. This is looking down towards Speke’s Mill Mouth, where I gave up and swung inland. I walked enough to be able to tell that this was utterly lovely country, but I didn’t feel safe out there. I’d love to go back, on a less wet and blustery day.
I tottered inland, feeling a complete wuss when I was passed by a couple of excited looking lads toting surfboards, and eventually came out at Docton Mill, which is a lovely little show garden, with a wonderful tea shop. I was welcomed in, and they promptly added more wood to the stove and encouraged me to dry off. The usual conversation followed (I’m a walker, yes, school holidays, yes, a teacher, oh, so’s your daughter, wonderful, you’re so right and I quite agree with you, Michael Gove is a disgrace and endangering our children’s future and therefore needs to be fired), and so I spent a pleasant hour in there, ordering very good tea and an excellent sandwich for my lunch. By the time I was done, the rain had eased off, so I took a tour of the garden, accompanied by a very friendly cat who knotted itself around my ankles every time I paused for a photo.
I then headed back to the hostel, just as the rain began again, and was there in plenty of time to let in the next guest, a drenched and windswept Australian hiker who had almost been blown off the coast path several times that day. She turned out to be really interesting, a retiree who spent several months every year in the UK, walking a different selection of trails each time. When the next guests, a couple who were also keen walkers, turned up by car, having got very lost in the lanes, we had ourselves a very pleasant little evening chatting about the different long-distance trails we’d all hiked. The conviviality of walkers is a wonderful thing, and here it overlapped wonderfully with the kindness of strangers. When the next morning dawned just as wet and windy, and my new Australian friend and I sat glumly contemplating the five mile walk to the bus stop, we were very soon comforted with the hearty offer of, “Chuck your bags in the boot, and we’ll drive you to Hartland!”
So we did, and they did 🙂 I was heading west once more…