Sunday, 8 February 2009

South West Coast Path Day 5 Woolacombe - Braunton

It was another fabulous day today, with more warmth in the sunshine and less wind. I took the bus over to Woolacombe and bought myself some lunch from one of the many shops that serve this small holiday resort. Even this early in the season the place was quite busy with people and I wouldn’t mind betting that in the holiday months it would be quite unbearable.

Woolacombe Bay Ripples
Once I had stocked myself up, I walked out onto the huge sandy beach and had a quick look at the rockpools and the large platform that was stationed at the water’s edge. It wasn’t clear what this was for, although I guessed that it was either a mobile ship repair platform or an oil exploration platform. Either way, it had a ship attached to it, suspended some distance above the beach. After I had had a nose, I pushed on along the beach towards Croyde. The beach is absolutely huge, a surfers paradise and their were many willing to brave the cold waters. I contented myself with looking at the strange patterns and watercourses left behind by the tide. It created a very interesting looking beach, which would not have been obvious from a distance.

Ship Repair Platform
As I approached Baggy Point, the path started climbing up through the dunes at the back of the beach and so I decided that it would be better to leave the beach behind and return to the main path. It was still early although the sun actually had some warmth to it and I found it a bit of a struggle to climb up on the headland. There were some houses at the top that had a magnificent view across Woolacombe beach and Lundy. I lingered for a couple of minutes to imagine living in such a magnificent location, before pushing on to Baggy Point. Unlike the beach below this stretch of the coast path had large numbers of walkers out, with a couple of school/ scout groups in particular shattering the peace. They did not detract from the magnificence of Baggy Point, a spectacular headland that shimmered in the spring sunshine. I took the opportunity of having an early lunch at this point.

Croyde Bay
The path down to Croyde clung to the edge of the cliff and below were some pretty fierce looking rocks that have no doubt claimed a number of hapless boats over the years. The path steadily decended to Croyde Bay, a much smaller version of Woolacombe beach but no less beautiful. As I approached the sandy beach at the bottom, I passed a large whale jaw that had been dragged up on to the cliff top as a curiosity, apparently from some poor creature that had been washed ashore here many years ago.

Former Coastguard Lookout
I took a shortcut across the beach and picked up the path again on the other side of the bay. The path hug the edge of the coast for a bit, with some areas that had been eroded badly forcing diversions which was reminiscent of the Isle of Wight. After a few hundred metres the path swung back towards the coast road and climbed up to a ledge above it, passing an old redundant lighthouse on the way. The path alongside the road was surprisingly pleasant, without too much interruption from the traffic below. It passed through a huge swathe of gorse bushes all resplendent in their bright yellow flowers. As I continued around the coast the massive beach at Braunton, which looked small until you looked at the size of the waves in the distance, which seemed tiny!

TLC Needed
Eventually the path met the road once again and I was faced with a choice, either an unpalatable walk along the road or using an inland alternative. I thought I’d go for the latter, only to find that it was a stiff climb away from the road and up to a ruin at the top, where I had to take a minute as I was very out of breath. Almost immediately on top of the hill I descended down through some farmland that was reminiscent of the Downs. It was not like I was on a coastal walk! However, that brief interlude quickly changed when I met the road once again. I crossed over and entered Braunton Burrows, a huge area of dunes behind the beach. Initially I had to watch out for golf balls flying around Braunton golf course, but that was nothing compared with the next obstacle which apparently was the possibility of unexploded shells at the military firing range at the southern end of the dunes.
Braunton Burrows

The walk itself through this section started out being quite pleasant but about half way I met with a cinder track which made for very monotonous walking for about a mile and a half. I could not see the sea, and the interesting part of the dunes were some distance away. Braunton village looked increasingly far away, especially as the path would not turn in that direction until I met the Taw estuary. I was very relieved when I finally reached the estuary, which meant for a real change of scenery after so many miles of rocky coastline. I lingered for awhile admiring the view across to Westward Ho! and Appledore, which were only about a mile away as the crow flies but another two days walking, to circumnavigate the estuaries of the Rivers Taw and Torridge!
Braunton Sands
By now I was feeling pretty tired, but a very pleasant walk along the riverbank was just what the doctor ordered at this stage of the day. The only sight of any along this stretch was a fairly lonely white house, which would have appealed to someone into birdwatching. As it happed I saw a fairly heartwarming sight myself a few minutes later when I saw my first swallow of the summer! Heartened by this, I decided that when I got to Braunton that I would have an ice cream and luckily there was just time for this before my bus came to take me home at the end of a pretty lengthy and tiring day

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