Monday, 10 September 2018

South West Coast Path Section 12 Bude to Crackington Haven

Bude Beach

I was assured that this was an easier section than the following one that I had done in reverse. I wasn't sure that was going to be necessarily true with the heatwave that we were having for I find walking in the heat adds an extra dimension of effort. I did have the luxury of a later start though and made the most of it with a leisurely breakfast before heading off to Crackington Haven. It did feel slightly odd not just walking out from my B & B in Bude but I thought it best because of the lack of parking in Bude and also because I didn't want the same fun and games with the buses that I had had yesterday.

The Bude Light

By the time I got back to Bude the heat had already started to build as by now it was mid-morning. I stocked up on refreshments and headed down to Bude Canal. This highly unusual canal is still in water in Bude and there are a number of boats that ply the short length remaining. It has the only lock that accesses the canal directly from the sea in the UK and judging from the number of people milling about it is still quite a popular feature in the town. The original canal reached 35 miles into the hinterland and was unusual in that it used inclined planes rather than flights of locks to negotiate the contours along its length. These are all derelict now but they can be traced and there is some consideration towards restoration.

Bude Canal

Once I had left the canal and the people eating breakfasts aboard a floating cafe I climbed up towards Compass Point, a curious landmark that is octagonal in shape and has compass points on each of the sides. The view from the top was fantastic looking right out across the expansive sandy beach in Bude and the tough sections of coastline back to Hartland Quay. My onward view was less obvious principally because I had some headlands to walk over before I got to Widemouth Bay, approximately 3 miles away. The next headland was at Efford Down which was adorned with a trig point rather than a tower. It had a small additional stone built pillar next to it - the purpose of which I could not determine.

Compass Point

The path over the cliffs to Widemouth Bay was delightful as well as being quite easy going. It limbered me up for the tougher parts of the day which were to come much later. When I got to Upton I was met by the coastal road. Just shy of meeting the road and I passed what professed to be a bookshop, with proceeds going to charity. It looked as if a number of the books on the table had been there for some time judging by their faded look. I wasn't tempted, principally because it meant something else to carry for the day.

Heading Out Of Bude

At Phillips Point I found a nice bench to set myself down on while I had a much needed water break. I had the feeling it was going to be that kind of a day. Having got the public transport part of the day out of the way I wasn't really in a hurry anyway. I sat and watched a kestrel hunting for some time here before I headed over the last of the small hills to reach Lower Longbeak. This headland enabled perhaps the best view of Widemouth Bay and was thronged with people, most of who I suspected had parked at the adjacent car park judging from their footwear.
Widemouth Bay

I made my way down to Widemouth Bay and determined to make the most of this refreshment opportunity even though it was a bit early for lunch. It was mostly because I couldn't be sure I would have another one before I got to Crackington Haven and the onward walk would be a lot harder than the fairly easy section that I have had so far. I stopped at the first place I came to which was a coffee/ ice cream shop and decided I had done enough to warrant an ice-cream. As I consumed it I briefly contemplated walking across to the tide line and walking barefoot across the beach. I decided against it principally because I didn't want to disturb dozens of people laid out enjoying the sunshine. Picking my way through the hoards looked a bit daunting so I proceeded along the back of the beach, which was easier even if less enjoyable.
Widemouth Bay

The path soon climbed away from the beach and a more expected type of walk was to now follow. I walked through a welcome shaded section until reaching a road. I climbed the first hill by means of using the road and soon passed a sign saying that buses were prohibited. Imagine my amusement therefore when a very large 53 seat coach went thundering by. I knew it would be back and it was only a few minutes later. I wasn't sure how it had managed to turn around at the top but to my disappointment it had. Perhaps he did know something I didn't after all. When I got to the top I immediately saw that there was a turning circle easily big enough for the bus. I also saw the most amazing view back towards Widemouth Bay and it was hard to believe that I had already walked so far. I moved on from the parking area onto the path a little further on and decided to stop for an extended period and just enjoy my surroundings. Below the waves crashed against the base of the cliffs and the seagulls cried overhead. I was completely lost in the moment for a few minutes and I felt very happy that I had taken the time to do this. Sometimes I focus too much on the goal rather than enjoying the journey.

Once I had summoned up the energy to carry on I descended almost down to sea level from my lofty spot via some steep steps. This was Millook, a delightful little spot dominated by a small house with a sizeable verandah that looked a bit more New England than England. It was certainly a little place that I would have enjoyed spending some extended time. Instead I had to plod up the hill via the road that I had rejoined. Thankfully it wasn't much further as the path disappeared off to the right towards the top of the hill and plotted a course along the cliff edge once again. This stretch of path was easy going for a bit and most enjoyable for there was a welcome breeze in my face for a while.

The crest of the hill was a long time coming but when it arrived there was a very welcome chair to greet me. I took advantage and as I sat guzzling water I was buzzed by a microlight plane. I imagine his view was even better than mine although it was pretty special up here. My nice path was interrupted soon after by a small valley and I had to drop down into the woods for a short time at Bynorth Cliff. The shade was welcome but the climb back out the valley was less so. I climbed to the top at Dizzard Point to where I reckoned was the highest point of the day. Just after I passed the trig point at the top I bumped into Frank once again, the bearded walker who I had said hello to the previous day. This time we had a much longer conversation and recalled our different experiences walking the coast path. It turned out that he had lived in Lancing - what a small world it is! He was walking the path at a leisurely pace and with all his kit with him he could start and stop more or less where he wanted.

We parted wishing each other luck and I continued along the flat path for a bit thinking that Frank had a bit of a climb to do shortly that I hadn't warned him about. I needn't have worried - the one I encountered was fearsome to say the least! Although it wasn't all the way down to sea level this time the gradient was joint sapping to say the least. Unusually I decided to pause at the bottom. My feet were pretty hot and there was a very welcoming stream that is simply had to dip my toes into. As I sat enjoying the coolness of the water I suddenly caught sight of movement in the fast flowing stream. Upon closer inspection I realised that it was a tadpole and as I looked harder I could see heaps of them! I hoped that the presence of my feet didn't pollute the water too much for them :)

Feeling refreshed I clambered up the other side of the valley very slowly to help conserve my energy a bit. On paper I was getting pretty close to my destination now but of course being the coast path progress wasn't that straightforward. I had another couple of valleys to traverse - the first fairly minor but the next was another beast. It wasn't altogether clear where I needed to cross the valley but I felt for sure I would have to when I saw the terrain ahead. Off in the distance I could also see St Gennys church, which from this angle looked like it was partly built within the hill. My path didn't go immediately across the valley but took me down along a fantastic ridge to Castle Point. For my money this little short stretch was the highlight of the day. I lingered at Castle Point - it really needed a little time to appreciate its beauty. Below me the heather was already coming out - it seemed a bit early but nevertheless it gave the hillside a beautiful purple hue, broken up here and there with little splashes of yellow from newly flowering gorse. This is one of the classic natural colour schemes and has inspired lots of gardeners worldwide.
Castle Point View

I had one last descent and ascent to make - they weren't quite as intense as previous ones thankfully. At the top I could now see Crackington Haven below me - it was a very welcome sight indeed. I also met heaps of walkers coming up to this headland from the beach below. It is clearly a popular spot as my descent was punctuated with lots of stops to allow passage to passersby. When I got to the bottom there was only one place I was headed and that was to the sea to cool off. It was extraordinarily welcome on such a hot day. This was as memorable a section as the onward one that I had done the day before and even though it was four miles shorter it could not be described as particularly easy.
Crackington Haven

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