Day 067: Ilfracombe to Countisbury
Distance: 21.98 miles
Ascent: 9997 feet
Weather: Overcast Morning, Heavy Rain All Afternoon
Accommodation: Wild camp Butter Hill
It took me a while to actually get on the go today and I left about 8 o’clock. The first part out of Ilfracombe had a cruel twist taking me right down to a little cove before heading straight back up a steep set of stairs before my body had time to warm up.
I reached Hele Bay very quickly which was flanked by a cabin park. But unlike the static caravan parks I have slagged of before, these were designed more like cabins with each one individually landscaped. These are probably much more expensive and unlike a static caravan park are rented out weekly rather than individuals owning them. I am not saying they are stunning but much better looking than the static caravan parks.
Between Hele and Combe Martin I came across some serious path maintenance. I often think about all the work that has gone into every step and every path and here it was clear to see the effort that goes into keeping the path functioning. New stair treads had been staked in and they were adding more gravel and compacting it to the standard path. The only issue for me was that the treads had been staked but not yet properly backfilled, so had to gently balance on each bit of wood on the way down. I thanked the two guys as I went passed.
I reached Coombe Martin where the evening before during admin I had found a village bakery though was not sure whether it would be open. But I decided to walk the few hundred meters inland to see anyway. As I arrived it looked closed, but just then the blinds opened as did the shop and I was so happy. It was a perfect old school bakery, and everything was good value. I got a large slice of bread pudding, Chelsea bun & a tea to eat then, and a lovely sandwich and couple of cakes for later and the whole lot came to not much more than £5, absolutely perfect and tasty.
Properly refuelled I began the long climb up and out of Coombe Martin, starting the ascent of the highest point of the entire south west coast path. This part was stunning and I was soon surrounded by heathland with a very lonely looking track, that fortunately was not overly steep though was constantly rising. I passed Little Hangman and the path had already got me in a stranglehold and it was not long till I reached the top of Great Hangman at 318m above sea level. By memory this is the first peak that I have passed with a cairn atop it and I clambered up to take a quick video, before quickly heading on as though I had kept dry so far it was clear the rain was fast approaching.
There was an extremely quick descent down to Sherrycombe, before unsurprisingly an even steeper ascent. Once the path had plateaued out, though not flat, it gradually undulated all the way round to Heddon Valley, with the part around East Cleave really scenic on a very narrow path winding around the headland.
It began to rain as I was descending Heddon Valley, steadily getting harder so I decided to head into the Hunters Inn a remote pub only 5 minutes away to get changed into my full waterproofs and ensure backpack fully covered. I cannot deny that a small amount of food may also have been eaten, leaving my bakery lunch to be eaten for dinner instead.
The rain was now heavy and would not let up for the rest of the day. The path climbed back out of the valley, and after rounding several small headlands I was at Lee Abbey, an incredibly imposing building nestled up a hill. The path followed the road through this point which strangely had a toll and it soon reached The Valley of Rocks. I was in complete awe, even with the rain pouring down and I cannot really explain why. The terrain was bizarre, a steep sided dry (no river) valley, which ran sort of parallel to the coast and with a sort of flat plateau running through the middle of it. It felt completely alien to anything else I have experienced in the UK, and if you are ever in the area do walk or drive along this remote very narrow road as it is incredible.
Not far before Lynton the path leaves the road and flanks round to the coast side of the cliff and to my surprise the cliff path was tarmacked a first for me and there were some really intrepid and unbelievably cute goats as work, I assume helping clear the rhododendrons that were prevalent in other parts of this area.
I reached the remote villages of Lynton and Lynmouth with their funicular cliff railway, and myriad of holiday accommodation but still very quaint. This was where my proposed finish location was scheduled but as I was already a bit damp and it was still pissing it down, I thought why not walk further. In fact tomorrow is a very hard day and I am aiming to meet someone in Porlock at lunchtime so it made sense to push on whilst I had plenty of daylight even though it was raining heavily. I continued on for 2 miles climbing what must be the second highest point on the SWCP at just shy of 300m.
On Butter Hill with the rain still pouring down and the wind now strong I found a little old quarry which felt perfect for pitching in. I got the tent up as quickly as possible trying to keep everything as dry as possible. A few items are a little damp from today though have hung these above me in the tent so hopefully be a bit dry by the morning, though all my main things have been kept dry so there should be no issues tomorrow. It feels weirdly good to be back in the tent now I am snug, though may not have sounded so positive when I was putting it up in the pouring rain.
I’m going to say it, the most scenic day of the walk so far and if the weather hadn’t been so terrible this afternoon, may well have been a favourite. Regardless it was still an enjoyable and successful day.
NB - No photos after Heddon Valley due to rain.