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In March 2019, some six months after the last foreshortened leg, I judged myself healthy enough to resume our journey round the South-West Coast Path.

This expedition spanned Friday to Tuesday rather than our more customary Monday to Friday routine.

We took the usual route down, though this time arriving at Exeter St Davids on the Woking service. Our B-Line Taxi charged us £28 for the trip from Barnstaple to our base in Croyde, a village set behind a small bay of the same name a few miles south of Woolacombe.

On this occasion we stayed at the Salt Cabin, a small but comfortable self-contained property on Stentaway Lane, next to the owner’s home. There were sea views from the decking at the rear, over the rooftops stretching down to the Bay.

We paid £490 for a four-night stay, plus a refundable security deposit of £100.

The Devon cream tea supplied on arrival was an unexpected bonus!

Arriving at around 16:00, we unpacked before an orientation walk around the village, to pinpoint all the available cafes, pubs and restaurants.

For dinner that evening we chose Hobbs Bistro, where I tucked in to Soup, Pork Belly and Affogato. It was friendly, relaxed and busy.
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Day One: Ilfracombe to Croyde Bay

The following morning – Saturday – we took breakfast at The Stores which was largely patronised by a young surfing fraternity (bobble hats de rigueur). The coffee was particularly good, however.

A local company, Saunton Taxis, ferried us over to Ilfracombe where we began our walk at around 11:00. I thought with some sadness of my father, whose death had coincided with our previous visit, but my mood lifted as we got under way.

There had been times during the previous six months when I had seriously doubted whether I would be able to continue with this project.

The early sections of the route weren’t too busy despite it being the weekend. As we climbed through the outskirts of Ilfracombe we looked down once more on the Tunnels Beaches we had visited last time round.
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Soon we were ascending the path through the Seven Hills, admiring the view back to Ilfracombe before joining the old coast road to Lee, now not much more than a footpath.

Like others before us, we were largely underwhelmed by the The Blue Mushroom, named on the Ordnance Survey map, which turns out to be a small feature in someone’s front garden.
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Lee Bay was incredibly beautiful however. We stopped in front of the decrepit Lee Bay Hotel – now perhaps the squat with the best view in England – and admired the view out to sea.
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The latest plan to redevelop the Hotel site was rejected shortly after our visit.

We had no time to stop at the nearby Grampus Inn which looked to be a mistake.
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Instead we walked on past the delightfully named Wrinkle Wood and Damage Hue Cliff, out to the Bull Point Lighthouse, which looks disappointingly like several bungalows with a small light added as an afterthought.
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We rounded Morte Point after a further mile or so, revealing spectacular views of the next stretch of coastline, featuring the marked contrast of superb cliffs and the vast, flat expanse of Woolacombe Beach.
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On the approach to Woolacombe itself the path appears to divert up a small valley heading inland, rather than along the road festooned with seafront apartments. But eventually one drops down to the car park at the northern end of the beach.

Here we took our own small diversion to the shops to buy some ice cream before heading into the dunes behind the beach. We were surprised to be sharing these with a herd of Red Devon cows.
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Climbing up from the dunes towards Vention we spotted a pair of young weasels gambolling in the early evening sun. And, as we headed along the cliffs out to Baggy Point, we also encountered a stoned and shirtless man accompanied by two dogs.

From the top of the climbing pole at Baggy Point I had a wonderful view across Barnstaple Bay towards Hartland Point. We were reminded that we faced an extended estuary experience, into and out of Barnstaple, before returning to the coastline.
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The walk back down to Croyde Bay was surprisingly quick and we called it a day midway along, by the toilets and coffee shop, before diverting inland back to our accommodation.

After a much-needed shower, we enjoyed drinks in the garden of The Thatch, where we chatted to a couple with two cockapoos – I was astonished to learn that the second had cost them a cool £1,200 as a puppy.

On the way home we picked up Sri Lankan jackfruit curry from Tambapanni, located in a van parked outside The Stores, tasty, filling and extremely good value at £10 apiece.

This stretch of the coast path was my favourite to date, varied and extremely beautiful in places. The area around Lee Bay was particularly stunning.
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Rest Day

There was little we hadn’t seen in the vicinity of Croyde so, on our ‘rest day’ (Mothering Sunday), we climbed back into our walking shoes and, after breakfast in The Stores and a short spell on the beach, headed inland.

We climbed an impossibly steep hill close to Putsborough, then via Pickwell to Georgeham and back via Darracott to Croyde, taking in Long Lane with its eerie MoD installations.

At Georgeham we enjoyed a late Sunday lunch at the King’s Arms, having first admired St George’s Church and Henry Williamson’s house. We just made it back by sunset (the clocks had gone forward the night before).
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Day Two: Croyde Bay to Barnstaple

We walked out from Croyde Bay on a fine morning with a blue sky above, past the old coastguard station and an apparently unfinished luxury property adjacent to it.

The route then follows the road round to the bulky Saunton Sands Hotel before offering two options, a low road through the houses or a high path over the hillside behind. We opted for the latter.
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Subsequently it passes through the dunes skirting Braunton Burrows (an army playground) and Saunton Golf Course.

We had occasion to hurdle a small adder sunning itself on the path before stopping for a coffee break at a shack (putatively ‘Brambles’) in the car park. Here we chatted to the owners and sheltered from the heat.

The next few miles skirt the extensive army training area. The fenced track runs between that and fields inland. It is long, white, stony and almost completely without interest until a marvellous view of the Taw and Torridge Estuaries at the end, for which a brief diversion is required.
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Just round the corner a coast path diversion is in place (we were told it had been for at least two years) preventing access to the route alongside the estuary mudflats.

Instead one follows the boundary drain landward of Horsey Island before joining the Tarka Trail a mile or two before Braunton.
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We made a diversion for lunch in Braunton, taken at the Riverside, before retracing our steps to rejoin the Tarka Trail. This now follows the route of the former Barnstaple to Ilfracombe Railway for five miles into Barnstaple.

After passing the marine barracks at Chivenor, now apparently saved from closure, the only interest is watching the teeming birdlife while avoiding mad cyclists careering along the path.

We ended our walk, rather footsore after fifteen miles, at the Fifteenth Century Long Bridge in the centre of Barnstaple. We had arrived too late for most of the coffee shops, but finally found succour at the local outlet of Boston Tea Party where I enjoyed a very fine date and walnut cake.
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We ordered a taxi to take us back to Croyde where we took dinner in The Thatch before retiring for the night. Tuesday morning saw us packed and breakfasted in time for Saunton Taxis, who reunited us with the 10:43 departure from Barnstaple Station.

Our journey home was comparatively uneventful.

TD/TK-S
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