Day 066: Braunton to Ilfracombe
Distance: 24.34 miles
Ascent: 4846 feet
Weather: Sunny, Very Brief Rain
Accommodation: David Garcia's Flat, Ilfracombe
Strangely for the first time on the walk I got serious cramp in my left calve yesterday evening. It started as I was about to go to bed and after three separate incidents lasted almost 20 minutes. I was unbelievably still aching from it when I woke up this morning. I do not know what I did differently yesterday that triggered this but to be careful I had more water today, had some electrolyte drink, and stretched out the calve more.
So, I set of from Braunton, a village that I was told by more than one person was the biggest village in the country. This is a stat a bit like the weather last week ‘the lowest maximum March daytime temperature’, which is quite underwhelming and a strange stat. In fact on googling it isn’t even the biggest village with several contenders beating it. It is though a nice village with plenty of amenities and the places up on the hill have a great view. Fortunately the weather report had changed from yesterday as well and was now meant to be primarily dry.
I re-joined the Tarka Trail which as per yesterday started flat and headed along the River Caen on a flood embankment. The coast path is meant to follow another embankment around Horsey Island though when I got there this part was closed and it was clear why, as a 20m or so section had been completely washed away. The diversion just followed the toll road which was a fairly similar distance along the inland edge of Horsey Island.
At the mouth of the River Raw the path begins heading North, where I thought the going may get tough as though flat it appeared to be through dunes on the map. In fact, though the path went through dunes it was on a gravel track and then dirt track all the way through the dunes, passed the military area and through the golf course all the way to Saunton. The path raised up just before Saunton and the view back across the top of the dunes was stunning. Also, in Saunton (a tiny place) was probably the biggest hotel I had seen on the whole coast path, almost art deco in design. This presumably caters for the more elderly clientele from the looks of it and the car park was even full on a midweek winters day. Even more bizarrely it had two tesla superchargers, but I suppose given the remoteness and size of the hotel it makes sense to invest especially given the gradual increase in electric cars.
The path then follows the cliff around the point and down to Croyde Sand which I was able to walk across. Then I hit National Trust central, I find it interesting given how much the National Trust own down here (I would hazard a guess at more than 30% of the entire SWCP coastline), that they pick little pockets to make more touristy and accessible given how beautiful all of it is. Baggy Point just after Croyde is a case in point, with a NT tearoom, large carparks (charging £4 even at this time of year), NT signs everywhere and then a specifically well managed path with no mud and few trip hazards up to the point. I suppose it is more commercially sensible to focus on a few specific points, and who can blame them considering how much it must cost to keep some of their more isolated areas around the SWCP open.
I rounded Baggy point, and had so far been lucky with the weather with it being sunny though a few rain pockets had narrowly missed me and a large one again missed me here by only a few hundred meters just before I got to Woolacombe Sands. I was able to walk along the entire 2 mile length of the beach, and the sand was the perfect walking texture making this stretch easy and I had my lunch in Woolacombe.
From Woolacombe the path begins to head much more up and down with several steeper sections but not so steep that you couldn’t focus on the scenery. I found the scenery on this stretch to be some of the best I had seen on the whole walk, with great rock headlands, cliffs, green fields and even a lighthouse at Bull Point thrown in. I finally got caught out by the rain here though it wasn’t that heavy. The path heads down to a beautiful quaint village at Lee, before heading over the hills and via a series of seemingly never-ending switchbacks heads down to Ilfracombe.
At the end of the harbour stands Verity, a 20 meter high Damien Hirst bronze sculpture of a pregnant woman. Cut away on one side to reveal muscle, bone and even the unborn foetus. In many ways grotesque but I absolutely loved it and with the addition of scales, sword and legal books at her feet stands for truth. This is obviously a controversial sculpture but undeniably brings more tourists and drags them all the way to the end of the harbour.
David Garcia had kindly offered me a room in Ilfracombe and cooked me a lovely/massive thai green chicken curry. It has been a while since I was in my tent (about 10 days) and I hope I haven't gone soft when i come to using it again tomorrow. I strangely miss the tent which I have become fond of, though would never turn offers of accommodation down because firstly I will have a lot of camping this year anyway, secondly it often comes with a hot meal which would be healthier than i would probably make in the tent, thirdly allows me to meet/chat to interesting people in evening and finally it is easier.
Todays walk was one I really enjoyed, with a great variety of walking from sea embankments, to dune walking, to beach walking, to cliff walking and several interesting villages/towns thrown in. The hills start with vengeance again tomorrow.