Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Appledore to Buck's Mills - Walking the South West Coast Path

This morning we rode the bus back to Appledore to resume the walk. All that sitting down makes one terribly hungry so the first thing we did was make for the Hockings van on the quayside. Hockings make the best ice-cream. Dave Hocking started making ice-cream in 1936, starting with a converted 1928 Morris Cowley and remains a family business. They don't sell to shops, only out of their vans and a rarely pass a chance if I see one. 'Can I have two Hockies with choccies please,' said Mick to the woman in the van.
'Small or large?' she replied.
Mick was delighted. 'You knew what I meant!' he said. 'Have you been asked for that before?'
'No, I just guessed,' she said, handing him two 99's. (Why they are called 99s nobody really knows)

Hockies with choccies please
Beach at Northam Burrows
After we had enjoyed our ice-cream we set off around the back of Appledore to walk around the outskirts of Northam Burrows, an attractive combination of beach, dune and marsh designated a SSSI. Just yards away on the other side of the river was Saunton Sands beach which we had walked across  some 30 miles back, having wound our way around winding river estuaries ever since.

On the burrows is Royal North Devon, England's oldest links golf course, founded in 1864. Unfortunately the gold course is gradually slipping into the sea and the club has been required by Natural England to stop 'potwalloping', replacing displaced pebbles by hand and let nature take its course. This, understandably, has not best pleased club members who may soon find they have rather fewer greens to play on than previously. We sat for a while on a handy bench and watched a quartet of players take their shots. One of them drove the ball right onto the green and we gave him a round of applause. 'Shame it's the wrong green!' one of the others called to us.
Mick fancies himself as a bit of a golfer and he gave me a running commentary on their game. 'They need to fade the ball because of the wind,' he was saying.
I looked at him. 'What are you on about? Fade it to what?'
'Never mind,' he said pityingly. 'You wouldn't understand. Golf isn't your thing.'
He was right there.

We headed on into Westward Ho!, famous as being the only place name in Britain which ends in a punctuation mark, because the village was named after Kingsley's book, published in1855 and an instant bestseller. Before this there was nothing here but a farmhouse, but spotting a business opportunity, a group of developers built a hotel and a series of villas here in the 1860s, and named the complex Westward Ho! Subsequent development continued to retain the name and it is now a sizeable resort. Some of the development has evidently been very recent, with large glass fronted apartment blocks flanking the road. I have never been here before so am unable to compare Westward Ho! now to how it was, say 30 years ago, but I hear it's changed. It was an odd mixture of tackiness and swankiness, with down-at-heel amusement arcades juxtaposed with fancy new restaurants. Mick dubbed it Westward Oh No! which may have been unfair but not much. Still, at least  it has not suffered the fate of towns farther south in Mid-Devon where the council are disposing of punctuation in street names altogether. Well, well - there really is an organisation known as the Apostrophe Protection Society. Brilliant. 

Aside from stocking up with extra provisions at the Co-op we didn't tarry long but headed out the opposite side along the trackbed of the old Bideford to Appledore Railway. The line first opened in 1901 and was initially popular. However the line was never connected to the main network on the other side of the river at Bideford and it proved an expensive failure, running for less than 20 years before it was closed and dismantled. The path was easy for the first mile or so to Cornborough Cliff and, as usual, within five minutes of leaving anywhere accessible by car, the place was pretty much deserted.

The track changed to footpath as the view opened up to reveal the sweeping coastline of Bideford Bay as it curves round to Hartland Point, pale-grey pebble beaches abutting rich red cliffs draped in a mantle of short emerald grass. We were not in a hurry and we sat for some time enjoying the view before tackling the series of hills that swept along before us. They were not too violent and we made good progress despite the backpacks.

On one small beach beside an unofficial campsite there stood a hammock, suspended between two pieces of driftwood. I sat in it gingerly, it stayed firm. Lying down, it was surprisingly comfortable, I could easily have slept there for hours. Mick, though, was having none of it and chivvied me to get up.

We needed to decide on a place to stop. Mick was keen on getting to Clovelly, in view farther along the coast, nestled into the hillside. I shook my head. 'I think that's too far,' I said. 'What about the campsite at Buck's Mills?'
Mick looked at the map. 'But we won't get to a pub!' he wailed.
'Nope,' I said sternly. 'We won't always be able to get to a pub Mick. you just have to accept that.'
After a little sulking Mick agreed with my plan. The campsite was a mile or so inland so when we reached the little hamlet of Buck's Mills we started up the road.

Signs pointed us through a wood and up a steep climb. Mick started to flag, complaining he couldn't face another hill. Not going on to Clovelly had clearly been the right decision. The campsite at Steart Farm was beautifully kept and practically empty. It was gone eight o'clock now and we rang the bell. A woman appeared from behind us and welcomed us to the site. Within half an hour we had pitched the tent, crawled in and gone fast asleep. 'I'm too tired to drink a pint anyway,' said Mick seconds before he fell into a deep sleep.

Distance: 12 miles
Total Distance: 93 miles
Accommodation ranking 7/10
Accommodation cost £6.00 each

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