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December 8, 2005

Ilfracombe to Woolacombe

After Scotland I flew down to Bristol, spent an evening with Chris and Berit, then Simon appeared in the morning and we headed off to continue walking some more of the South West Coast Path.

We parked in Ilfracombe and, after a visit to the overstaffed but deserted tourist office housed in an odd building known as Madonna's Tits (due to it's twin pointed roofs), we headed off into the unknown. Simon had provisioned well for the walk by packing some 8.6% lager, which we opened half-way up the first hill, helping to bring a jovial mood to the hike but possibly not helping us walk any faster.

Shortly afterwards, walking through a field, Simon shouted, "Mine! Mine!" and sprinted ahead. Surprised to discover that landowners had begun mining their fields to deter walkers, all was made clear when Simon brandished a new Tilly hat (value £47) which had just been lying in the field waiting for him. It was even a perfect fit and he was so overjoyed by his find that he was smiling for the rest of the week thinking of his terrific luck.

We walked on through the village of Lee, which we had considered calling our destination, but fuelled on by the Special Brew we chose to head on up the steep cliffs and on towards Woolacombe. Partly because we'd made a late start in the day, and possibly due to the beer drinking, dusk was quickly moving in but all we had to do, we reasoned, was follow the path along the cliff edge avoiding the sheer drop into the Atlantic until it took us right into the town of Woolacombe. This soon proved to be more difficult than we had imagined, and we spent the last hour of the walk stumbling blindly around through undergrowth and into the town dump, looking for the long lost Coastal Path.

Finally, we made it into the glaring streetlights of Woolacombe with even enough time to rest our weary legs in the pub and have a pint before catching the last bus back to where the van was parked.

December 11, 2005

Croyde to Barnstable

We spent the night overlooking Woolacombe Sands, risking a £50 parking fine if we were caught, and with torrential rain hammering down on the van roof. It looked as if the next day was going to be wet as well, but undeterred, we drove into Barnstable and hunted down a cafe where we had a lovely fried breakfast before heading off by bus to our starting point for the day in Croyde (leaving the Woolacombe Sands section for a summer's day).

It was pissing down as we sat on the bus, making the scenery look miserable, but as we stepped off in Croyde, the rain went off and we began walking. As usual, we hardly passed anyone at all on the path - especially now that it was winter, and soon we arrived on the huge beach of Saunton Sands. Here, we chose to walk the fundamentalist route down the beach, rather than the shorter 'official' route somewhat inland, though we would later regret this decision somewhat. Saunton Sands really is a beautiful area, though it's privately owned and covered in signs warning and informing you not to attempt to do anything even mildly interesting or you'll be fined. Riding a kite buggy warrants a £2000 fine, and even partial nudity seems equally frowned upon. Simon and I, therefore, kept all of our clothes on.

Lovely as it seems, there comes a time, however, when walking down an empty sand beach, with an unchanging perspective, your feet sinking in with every step, finally becomes boring. Saunton Sands seemed to go on forever. When finally we rounded the point, Barnstaple, our target for the day, was still far out of sight.

The path now embarked on a huge detour all the way around the inlet to Velator, which seemed to have a thriving liveaboard community, and even a few people living in old buses by the road. By this time, however, it was beginning to get dark, and it felt as if we'd spent hours following the coast, making hardly any headway at all to Barnstaple. The route was tarmac all the way from now on, making our last hours of walking incredible dull and uninteresting. The day's walk was described in the guidebook as easy, but the slow lack of progress and flat landscape made it seem much harder than the cliff route we'd done the day before. By the time we got into Barnstable it was dark and it felt like it had been a tough slog of a day, though incredibly the rain had stayed off.

March 25, 2006

Constantine Bay to Newquay

Simon and I set off from the wonderfully named Booby's Bay (or Constantine Bay) late on a Saturday afternoon, and after walking next to the sandy shore for a while, climbed high up onto the cliffs. As it was the weekend and we'd been walking for over twenty minutes, we felt we deserved a beer break, and sat on a bench, drinking and looking down the stunning, rugged coastline. It was an easy walk to Portcothan Bay, where we'd left the other car, and, as we were both starving by this time, decided that a visit to Rick Stein's fish and chip shop in Padstow was required.

As usual, the fish and chips were amazing - really the best fish and chips I've had anywhere. With a wide selection of different fish, it's somewhere between a regular fish and chip shop and a fish restaurant - you can either get a takeaway from the counter, or pay a couple of pounds more and have table service. We decided to splash out, and sat down to a lovely meal and a couple of pints.

After a night of stealth camping in the van right down by the beach at Constantine Bay, we woke to a wonderful view across the sands before driving back to Porthcothan to continue the walk. It was still early when we began walking, with a cold wind blowing behind us as we made our way around the cove and up the cliffs. Again, the views were stunning as we were high up, looking out across the sea.

Stumbling up the steep hill to the National Trust land of Carnewas, we found a gem of a tearoom there inside an old cottage. After waiting in the cold for a while, they opened up early to let us in, serving fantastic bacon sandwiches, and lovely home-made cake that was the highlight of my day.

We continued along the cliff-top path with full stomachs, passing people kite-surfing below is in Watergate Bay, and I felt it was one of the most enjoyable parts of the path we'd walked so far. Finally, we reached the run-down suburbs of Newquay, but thanks to Simon following the guidebook, we realised that as it was low tide, we could go down to the beach at Lusty Glaze, and follow it around the cliff bottom, avoiding going through Newquay itself.

After so much lovely walking in the countryside, we realised just how much we dislike Newquay, and this was compounded when we returned to the car we'd parked there to find that someone had attacked both of it's wing mirrors.