Saturday, 7 February 2009

South West Coast Path Day 4 Combe Martin - Woolacombe

Coombe Martin
This was the original day that I was supposed to undertake the previous section and in stark contrast to that day this was beautiful sunshine, possibly the best weather I had all week. This section involved the least amount of travelling since I was based in Ilfracombe for the week. However it did pose a small problem because I was halfway along the route. I decided to solve this problem by splitting the route in two. Because the bus service to Woolacombe wasn’t all that regular, I decided to walk directly from the flat and aim for a particular service around noon and come back for lunch before heading out later to do the other section. However, I shall describe the route as though I undertook the walk in the correct sequence.
View Down To Watermouth Bay

I took the bus out on the short journey to Combe Martin and on arrival left the village straight away, not hanging around to sample the delights of the various tearooms and ice cream shops that seemed a little forlorn at this time of year.
Watermouth Castle

The path mostly followed the road, albeit along old stretches that had been left behind after re-engineering works had straightened it out to a slightly faster standard (all things are relative since I still didn’t manage to drive more than 35mph along this part of the route. Part of the old route had been completely closed off to all traffic including walkers and I had to revert to the pavement alongside the new road for a short stretch up to the top of the hill by Berrynarbour.
Watermouth Bay

At the turning of the old road into Berrynarbour village, I resumed course on the old road for a short while before once again heading out into the fields, which was a short relief. Here I could once again enjoy the rocky coast and this part was teeming with birdlife, both the expected seabirds but also a large flock of crows that were perched in a tree. The path descended to the bottom of the hill and through a very empty campsite. I assume that there is no life here for at least another six weeks or so. I then rejoined the A399 road past Watermouth and unluckily for me the tide was in so I had the rather unenjoyable diversion along the road instead. The castle from this view was a little less than impressive and I certainly didn’t want to linger on this very busy road, which had no pavement. I managed to get past it without having to dodge too many cars and was relieved to rejoin the path above the waterline.
Hillsborough View

I briefly left the line of the road and headed out along the headland that formed one half of Watermouth harbour. Along here I met a woman walking her two dogs that were both very excitable and I was horrified when one bit me on the arm. She offered no apology and I was too shocked to say anything to her (I was really annoyed with myself about my response later). My arm was sore for some time afterwards, but luckily I was compensated by the views across Watermouth harbour, which were magnificent.

Ilfracombe Harbour

As I rounded the headland I was surprised to see someone that I had seen earlier in the day. She looked a little more tired now, but it was obvious to me that she was doing the day’s walk in the opposite direction to me, so I made myself known to her. She was almost done with the hike, although ironically the stretches that she had left to do were the only ones that I had already completed. We wished each other luck and parted company to reach our ultimate destinations that day. Further round the headland and I met with the coastguard cottages and the A399 once again. From here it was a short hop down to the settlement of Hele, technically a separate village but now almost indistinguishable from the rest of Ilfracombe. The path left the A399 at Hele Bay and continued straight up to Hillsborough, the hill that separates Hele from the larger resort of Ilfracombe where I was staying.
Ilfracombe Harbour

The climb to the top of Hillsborough was a bit of a slog, but the views from the top were worth it as the whole of Ilfracombe glowed in the late afternoon sun and Lundy could clearly be seen like a rock in the ocean some miles distant. The descent into Ilfracombe was steep and summed the day up; a rollercoaster! The path continued around the harbour, which was full of boats bobbing up and down on the high tide rather than being stranded on the low tide sands. This was my finish point for the day, but I had of course completed the next part earlier in the day.
Landmark Theatre and Ilfracombe

Leaving for the next section of the hike was a joy since I could complete this section without any onward travelling first. I left the flat and walked around Capstone Point, a section that felt strangely divorced from the rest of Ilfracombe. I then passed the Landmark Theatre, a very oddly designed building that looked like a couple of cooling towers recycled from an erstwhile power station. Out of town I headed, past the Tunnels beach, that was completely obscured from view on the landward side. Ilfracombe has seen better days, with many B & Bs and hotels struggling and others that are now completely derelict. However, its location and character gives it a charm that many other more well-known resorts lack.

Looking Back to Ilfracombe
I left town surprisingly quickly, not troubling the town centre at all and realising that few hotels actually are by the coast itself. This is partly because of the area known as the Seven Hills and Torrs nature reserve, which starts fairly abruptly to the west of the town. The path took a fairly circuitous route over this section and I gained a lot of height quite quickly without making a lot of onward progress.

Lee Beach
It was a day to gladden the heart though, with relatively still conditions and the first signs of a warm sun for perhaps the first time this year. I had to make the most of it though since the weather forecast for tomorrow looked pretty foul. Once past the Torrs the path took a fairly level route and I covered a lot of ground quite quickly. A lighthouse came into view ahead and I knew that I would have to pass this later. After a mile or so of level ground I started descending into the village of Lee. As I got about halfway down I met the lady I was destined to meet again later at Watermouth Harbour. We exchanged pleasantries and I continued down to the very picturesque village of Lee, complete with cove. It was low tide now and many rock pools were exposed. There were a small number of children beachcombing with their parents, but thankfully no crowds just yet.

Rockham Beach
Unlike most of the other days, I passed a number of hikers today going in the opposite direction. There was another hiker just past Lee, a young girl very heavily loaded with a rucksack almost as big as she was. We nodded to each other but I was quite curious about how far she had managed to come so far with such a large pack, why she was alone and how far she was planning to go today. From Lee to Mortehoe the path became like a rollercoaster, up and down small slopes that were not particularly high but quite energy sapping in their steepness and number. The coast got a little wilder along the way, and very rocky in contrast to the bigger slopes I had been used to along the Exmoor coast.

I passed the Bull Nose lighthouse, here to protect shipping from this wild coastline. Shortly after I was joined by a rather loud helicopter that kept circling overhead. I assumed that it was not a drill (and this was confirmed on the news later when it emerged that some children had got stuck on the rocks above during some climbing practice) given the manoeuvres it was making. Eventually I got to Morte Point, the end of this part of the East-West shoreline. I lingered here for a moment and enjoyed the view across to Lundy, now tantalisingly close and the closest I would get on the hike.
Baggy Point
I turned south and headed towards Mortehoe and Woolacombe, the twin villages that overlook the magnificent Woolacmbe Bay and its huge sandy beach. This would be enjoyed on another day as at Woolacombe my task was to find the bus and head back to Ilfracombe for my lunch.

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