A week’s walk along the South West Coast Path, this time with tent.
From a wedding in North Bovey we took the train and bus to see an old friend in the Dorset coastal village of Burton Bradstock, camping at the massive Freshwater site where we were only pitches and consequently the only users of the massive and lovely shower block (powerful jet, temperature control, no timer). That evening there was a heavy cloudburst which filled us with foreboding, but that was the last rain we saw for the week – couldn’t have hoped for better weather. The beach at Freshwater needed restructuring – the waves had driven the imported shingle into a high cliff next to where the Bride emptied itself into the sea, totally obscuring the view and probably making it less effective as an energy-sapping sea defence. In our rain gear we trudged to the top of it and slithered down to the water. The late evening sun and the rain clouds gave everything a sulphurous glow. A large wave promptly soaked our legs and we scrambled back up the shingle and down to the pub where I was obliged to eat chips and salad due to what I came to realise was a general and profound failure of imagination and professional pride across Dorset and Devon when it comes to accommodating vegan tourists*. Matt had a nice-looking pie. We then whispered answers to the evening’s pub quiz to each other
Burton Bradstock to Seaton
The following morning, which was hazy, we picked up the Coast Path and walked west (counter to the book). The spring flowers were bursting out of the chalky soil and the shingle beaches were pristine. Between bank holidays, the coast was practically deserted except for a few dog walkers.
At Charmouth we bought a loaf at the back door of a bakery, some houmous etc from Nisa, and ate that on a bench outside the shut (but not closed) public library. 17 miles with packs was too long for the first day so we stopped in Lyme Regis and got a bus part of the way to Manor Farm, our camp site at Seaton (and once again ours alone). There we encountered a yellow ferret on a lead enjoying the grass, and a jack russell who took too keen an interest in the scruff of its neck, to the point where the ferret turned suddenly, sank its little needle teeth into his nose, and worried at it for a good ten seconds while the terrier made short frantic dashes forwards and backwards yelping in helpless anguish while the puppy at my side, who had experienced similar treatment of the day before, watched closely.
Seaton to Ladram Bay
The next morning the Axe estuary lit up its valley.
We walked on top of Dorset’s white cliffs, descending steeply first to Beer and then Branscombe, and had the first of several chips and salad lunches at the well-appointed cafe in Branscombe mouth.
Sidmouth has a beautiful seafront and the cliffs are shored up with an intriguing but futile-looking jumble of old concrete and older flint cobs. We continued through and spent the night in the enormous holiday park at Ladram Bay, where for the first time we had neighbours, which was nice. For dinner we walked a mile of green lane to the Kings Arms in Otterton where I had a few halfs of lovely golden Yellowhammer by Exeter brewers O’Hanlon, and back on the lane in the dark turning our torch on only when a car approached.
Ladram Bay to Dawlish
The sandstone is so permeable that this stretch of coast has an air of impermanence. The diversity of plant life dwindles compared to the chalk of the previous days and the harder limestone cliffs towards the end of Torbay further along. But there were a great many young rabbits. Budleigh Salterton reminded me of 1970s Ladybird books. At the Esplanade at Exmouth the shingle gave way to sand and since we were wearing our tevas we tried walking in the sea but the sand got into our plasters and flayed our blisters, which was a bit tedious. Another chips and salad lunch at The Point near the marina (clueless about vegans), and onto the ferry across the Ex to Starcross, which against the tide took 20 minutes round a big sandbank. We later heard from the Teign ferryman that the Ex is a confusing river to navigate because of the sand and the currents. Despite the romantic name, Starcross needs some tender loving care. The pubs at Cockwood further along were stupid about catering for a vegan so they didn’t get our dinner money. We camped among the trees in the back garden of Lockwood House, a CCC approved place above the static caravan city of Dawlish Warren, and with our favourite shower block yet – a lovely little site which once again we had to ourselves. We walked to Dawlish that evening for dinner, which took longer than we hoped, but rewarded us with a fine Chinese vegetarian feast at a place on The Lawn I think was called Hoi Shing. When we got out The Brook was lit up and looked very pretty indeed. Having been cautioned against the footpath or the busy main road in the dark, we took a modestly-priced taxi back to our tent.
Dawlish to Torquay
After coffee and flapjack outside a bakery in Dawlish Warren, we headed along the sea wall with Brunel’s exciting railway embankment just to our right, beating high tide into Teignmouth where we caught another smaller ferry across the Teign to the genteel suburb of Shaldon where we continued up through golf links as far as Babbacombe and then cut straight through the suburbs of Torquay to a night of comfort in the Hillcroft B&B close to the centre of Torquay. Torquay seafront is winsome in the evening.
We had an utterly delightful Tex-Mex meal at Jingles and walked back steeply and turgidly but loving the how the lights of Torquay look at night. We watched Newsnight from a very high bed as our pants dried on the window handles, and marvelled at Cameron’s decision to divert so much public money into reopening the search for the (pretty blonde) McGann daughter.
Torbay to Brixham
Not much to say about this one – you walk along the English Riviera through Paignton and it’s pretty built up and low until around Elberry Cove close to the Western end, when the rocks suddenly harden into limestone, the outcrops and stacks begin to take on a savage look, and the walking becomes lonely and strenuous again. We had a good cup of coffee at the top of the glass box that is Shorelines in Paignton, which was memorable for the quiet and the view.
Brixham has the bustle and importance of a working town – there’s fish and pharamceuticals. We arrived early and pitched our tent with a few others in sight at Upton Manor Farm about a mile up the hill. We then walked around Berry Head to see the views and the lighthouse, and arrived back in Brixham for a fairly unremarkable dinner. Brixham is a beautiful place at dusk, tiers of homes with their faces towards the harbour, and at night their lights make it snug.
Then we went to the Crown & Anchor which serves the fishing community. I haven’t had such good cider as Paignton’s in years, and there was rowdy jollity which briefly soured when one of the fish marketers who sounded like he was from Essex shoulder barged another one off his chair and was asked to leave. The next pub was much stranger, every surface festooned with objects from keyrings to chamberpots. There was a small old fat terrier we were warned might ‘turn’, a boring Bay’s bitter, an African Grey on a perch with a shoe underneath which had been pecked to tatters, and a niche behind the bar filled with figures which the publican described as a “nigger’s corner”. Then we walked back up through the town, getting briefly lost around the edges, and to bed.
Brixham to Dartmouth
The last day was perhaps the best. We were warned that the going was very “up and down”. This characteristic of the Coast Path had bamboozled us at first, used as we are to long slogs upwards for hundreds of metres, then a long and windy ridge, or a moor, then a long way back down, then once more before the evening. On the coast path you climb the equivalent, but in 10 or so mini installments a day.
That day was very clear, we bought lunch from the Co-op and set off. There was a lot of activity in the sea, particularly as we rounded Sharkham Point to glimpse the sail boats round the eroded spires of the Mew Stone.
The loudspeakers of the tour boats alleviated the loneliness of the high path. We had lunch in the sun at the edge of a cliff watching cormorants resting and diving. There were some evocative martial defences to sea around the mouth of the Dart, and we headed round into the estuary in woodland populated by huge and ancient coniferous trees to arrive at Kingswear and the ferry across to Dartmouth where we took the number 90 bus to our campsite, Little Cotton Caravan Park, a lovely place over the hill which had some campers in for the weekend. Eschewing the company, we pitched in the far corner.
We walked into town, ate a good veggie chilli at Kendricks and then drank in a genteel harbourside inn called the Royal Castle Hotel drinking strange drinks and writing our postcards. Walking back up the lane I complained about the bright light which was ruining my night vision, only for Matt to identify it as the moon.
Steam locomotive to London
The next morning we packed in record time, ate breakfast from the Co-op on a bench looking out over the Dart, got on the ferry, then connected with the coast line’s steam train staffed by a conductor whose demeanour and kindliness would have more than satisfied the Reverend Audrey (you would never have guessed that in a previous life he was a pharma supplier).
And now I am at home. Going to bed.
*Exceptions are our sole B&B evening, The Hillcroft in Torquay, where I was offered both soya milk and soya yoghurt, Ladram Bay Holiday Park where the waiting staff carefully discussed my breakfast order and the chef bought the hash brown packet out to show me the ingredients and offered to cater for anybody given sufficient notice, and the Kings Arms in nearby Otterton where chef came to ask me what I liked to eat, and knocked up a very fine risotto with no prior notice.