We returned to the Coast Path towards the end of June 2019, intending to walk from Barnstaple to Westward Ho! – and potentially beyond.

We had also returned to our customary pattern with a four-night Monday to Friday, schedule.

On the way down on Monday – departing out of Paddington and arriving via the Tarka Line into Barnstaple at 14:35 for a taxi to our Bideford base – we decided that we would also walk on our normal ‘rest day’ with a view to reaching Clovelly.

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This we did, covering Barnstaple to Bideford on Tuesday, Bideford to Westward Ho! on Wednesday and Westward Ho! to Clovelly on Thursday before returning home on Friday.

Our base was Riverbank Cottage, a comfortable house located in the centre of a row of similar older properties. It was situated a few hundred metres to the north of the town centre, virtually next to the Coast Path and close to the Torridge Bridge, built in 1987 as part of the Bideford Bypass.

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The house numbers are eccentric. We were at number 13, but sandwiched between numbers 14 and 18. There was a small courtyard garden and everything we needed, except for a coffee maker of any description.

We bought our food supplies from a large Morrisons Supermarket about 10 minutes’ walk away, having decided to eat breakfast at home for the first few days, then reconnoitred Bideford for suitable pubs and restaurants.

The quality of the public houses was disappointing. The best of the bunch seemed to be the Appledore Inn, but the kitchen was closed on each of the three days we might have eaten there. As is often the case in these parts, many restaurants are also closed on a Monday evening.

We finally plumped for the Belluno Italian Restaurant which supplied a fine pizza and some pleasant wine to wash it down.

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Day one: Barnstaple to Bideford

We made an early start with tea at 06:30, walked to the closest bus stop and, after a lengthy wait, finally boarded a 21A bus into Barnstaple.

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This crossed over Bideford Long Bridge, dating from the Thirteenth Century, and then worked its way up the other side of the Torridge and Taw Estuaries before depositing us on the south side of Barnstaple Long Bridge which is probably even older.

This we crossed, since our previous leg had ended on the other bank, before recrossing and rejoining the Tarka Trail.

We admired the graffiti-covered shelters dating from the railway days and successfully dodged the cyclists while keeping an eye on the abundant birdlife.

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Before too long we were at Fremington Quay. Once a hive of industry – the most important port west of Bristol – it now hosts a Heritage Centre and, more importantly, an excellent café which supplied us with first class coffee and cake.

We sat outside with a variety of dogs and their owners. A small girl cycled by behind her father on one of those ‘tandem’ attachments with its own pedals, but it was too big for her and she fell off shortly afterwards, requiring first aid in the café.

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After admiring the views across the River, towards Chivenor, we returned to the Tarka Trail which took us past marshland until a welcome departure at East Yelland Marsh.

Here the Coast Path follows a route closer to the River, taking in twin jetties and the remains of the East Yelland Power Station, active from the 1950s to the 1980s. From here we could see back across to Braunton Burrows, and reminisced about our passage through some three months earlier.

We were joined for a rest by a couple from Preston who were walking round in the opposite direction. They told us of a planning application for extensive redevelopment of the site which, at the time of writing, is still pending.

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Someone had graffitied another wooden bench, claiming it was inappropriate to site such furniture in a nature reserve (because we need to save the trees). This seemed a little over-idealistic, but I suppose a metal bench would have done as well.

Still running riverward of the Tarka Trail, we followed the path round past abandoned hulks until it joined the beach at Instow. Here we ate our picnic lunch overlooking Appledore on the other bank.

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Some while later we once again rejoined the Tarka Trail at a signal box. This now follows a road all the way back to Bideford. Here we crossed the Long Bridge and worked our way along Bideford Quay, past the base for boat trips out to Lundy.

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We picked up well-earned ice creams and drank coffee aboard the quirky Barge Café before turning off the coast path adjacent to our accommodation.

For dinner we selected the Riverbank Bistro and Bar, located on the other side – East of the River. We had checked earlier that it would be open, even though the website wasn’t functioning.

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Day two: Bideford to Westward Ho!

In homage to our lost ‘rest day’ we made a somewhat later start, joining the Coast Path adjacent to Riverbank Cottage where we had left it the previous afternoon.

The route passes in and out between the houses to the north of Bideford before climbing into a wooded area close to Northam.

There are some handy ‘tank traps’ on this section of the path, presumably to unseat anyone foolish enough to take a mountain bike down the hillside.

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As the path descends to join Windmill Lane there is another large hulk stranded in the mud which appears to be home to several people. We also caught sight of a double decker bus hidden in a courtyard nearby.

Before entering Appledore one has to make a circuit round its Shipyard, which had closed some three months earlier and seemingly still awaits a buyer. We enjoyed the wild orchids blooming close by.

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Appledore itself is curiously two-faced: the approaches are through industrial ugliness surrounding the dockyards, but West Appledore is gentrification personified, with a strong ‘arty’ feel. The two are linked by a ‘front’ – with views across the river to Instow – and a parade of shops behind.

We watched the ferry crossing the channel while sitting on a bench drinking coffee and eating cake purchased from Johns. The artiness was presaged by several trees shaped like pom-poms spaced along the promenade.

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We followed picturesque Irsha Street round between the car park and the lifeboat station, enjoying the artistic endeavours of the residents.

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I was particularly struck by this rather supercilious three-nostrilled lady peering at me from one of the windows.

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On leaving Appledore the path pushes inland to avoid an area of mudflats known as Skern before rounding the extensive Northam Burrows. Here we took our picnic lunch, overlooking Braunton Burrows opposite.

We listened to the sound of wargames floating across the water, mixed with the roar of a quad bike speeding along the far end of Westward Ho! beach to our left.

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We noticed a post marking part of the Devon D-Day Heritage Trail. The associated booklet reveals that:

‘During the war Northam Burrows was a hive of military activity. In the Burrows Visitor Centre you can learn more about the Radar Station located here between 1941 and 1944 and how the beach, pebble ridge and Burrows landscape were an ideal practice ground for testing various experimental vehicles to be used on D-Day.

These included the Hobart Funny Tank as well as some weird inventions such as the Great Panjandrum – a rocket propelled giant “Catherine Wheel” that was designed to destroy concrete defences.’

Behind us several groups made their way round the Royal North Devon golf course, reputedly the oldest in England, dating from 1864. Golf is, nevertheless, a very silly game and all rightminded pedestrians are scornful of those who spend their days spoiling perfectly good walks.

We found new cause for ridicule in a robotic golf caddy which we noticed following one intrepid player up a steep incline.

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The afternoon had grown extremely warm and, by the time we had reached Westward Ho! proper (which is unusual in sitting at one end of its lengthy beach), we were desperate for ice cream.

This we ate on the beach, surrounded by other holidaymakers, before heading out for a paddle to cool our aching feet.

We had a very long wait indeed for a bus back to Bideford. A passer-by bemoaned the ever-decreasing quality of the service, particularly the tendency of the bus company to cancel buses at short notice, especially when they catch each other up en route. Still, the fare was only £1.70!

We had dinner that evening at Mariners Restaurant which was very friendly and laid-back. There are several informative historical snippets on the wall, though my enjoyment was somewhat marred by a comma missing from an adjectival clause!

Day three: Westward Ho! to Clovelly

Incidentally, while we’re on the topic of grammar, Westward Ho! is the only town in the British Isles with an exclamation mark, courtesy of Charles Kingsley’s novel of that name.

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(Apparently Hamilton!, Ohio has had its exclamation mark since only 1986, while Saint- Louis-du-Ha! Ha!, Quebec is the only town in the world with two exclamation marks, though why exactly it has them remains unclear.)

We made another early start, catching the 21 bus to Westward Ho! in time for a 9:00 breakfast. Unfortunately our first choice of café was closed, but we found a reasonable substitute in the Waterfront Inn.

The path out of town is deceptively easy, once again following a former railway. The first half is open to the elements, passing along a series of clifftops, though these are increasingly interspersed with deep combes which quickly sap one’s energy.

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But there is compensating natural beauty, provided (in June anyway) by hosts of butterflies, multitudes of iridescent blue dragonflies and abundant flowers, notably vivid purple foxgloves.

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We stopped for lunch at stony Peppercombe Beach which is owned by the National Trust. Here we caught up with a young German who was taking a walking holiday on the Coast Path.

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Thereafter there is a lengthy  wooded section, taking in Sloo Wood and Worthygate Wood before emerging briefly to descend to the remote village of Bucks Mills. Here we bought drinks and ice creams from a kiosk set in the side of a house and took them with us down to the small beach at the foot of the cove.

On the way down we passed Bucks Mills Cabin, an equally small house and studio formerly shared by lesbian partners, artists Judith Ackland (1892-1971) and Mary Stella Edwards (1893-1989), from 1924 until Ackland’s death.

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After a welcome rest, we ascended the steep path back up the hill and on up into Buck’s Wood and Barton Wood. Eventually the woodland paths merge with the interminable Hobby Drive above Clovelly, mostly built by Napoleonic prisoners of war.

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Finally, after innumerable twists and turns, one begins the descent into the upper part of Clovelly. There is a small cluster of craft shops and galleries before a second descent on steep cobbled streets down to the Harbour.

We passed several homespun sledges, used to transport groceries and other goods up and down the hill.

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The cobbles were particularly painful after such a stiff walk, but we eventually reached the harbourside Red Lion for a well-deserved beer.

While we sat outside, both of us were shat upon by the seagulls above – a lucky omen surely!

Fortunately, there is a back road behind the Hotel and, shortly afterwards, A1 taxis took us swiftly back to Bideford.

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On this, our final evening, we dined at Number Eight, where the food was good but expensive.

We departed the next morning, again courtesy of A1 Taxis, managing a very fine Half Devon breakfast at the Station Master’s Café in Barnstaple before boarding the train back to Exeter.

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TD/TK-S

August 2019

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