Walk #360: Instow to Saunton
Map of the walk
Maps courtesy of Google Maps. Route for indicative purposes only, and may have been plotted after the walk. Please let me have comments on what you think of this new format. For a detailed table of timings for this walk, please see the table file.
I very much enjoyed today's walk, and am exceedingly pleased that I managed to walk for more than twenty miles. The walking was very easy today, with over half of the walk being on cycle tracks running along old railway track beds, and the other half being along flood banks and tracks past huge sand dunes. As a consequence of this, today was the first day in weeks when I have had a day's walk with no real noticeable ascents or descents - today was nearly all flat. For some time I have been slightly concerned that I have been walking at a slower pace, especially when I compare the time it took me to do sixteen miles in (say) Suffolk to the time it has taken me recently. I thought that I could explain this by the fact that the walks for the last couple of months have involved much ascents and descents, but I still had a nagging doubt that I was walking slower than I was earlier in the walk. Fortunately today has disproved this, and I kept up a decent pace (for me), and any slowing down must have been caused by the hills.
I set off early today, as I knew not only that I had a long distance to walk but I also wanted to do some shopping in Barnstaple, which was the first big town that I have walked through for a few days. The plan was for Sam to drive to Braunton and then cycle down the cycle tracks to meet me near Barnstaple. However before I could get to Barnstaple I had to walk six miles into the town, and this was where the only problem of the day reared its head. As I joined the cycle track I read a notice saying that it was closed for resurfacing works along a long stretch from Instow to Fremington Viaduct. There were no real alternatives to the cycle track along this long section and I decided it was best to cope with construction equipment rather than the traffic on the main road. Near the site of the old power station I came across a JCB, and I waited until the driver had seen me and then approached for a chat. He said it was okay to go on, and that there were two lorries and a paving machine further on. I soon reached these, and carefully passed them by walking in the cess for the small section that they were working on. After this I had a lovely walk along fresh tarmac all the way into Barnstaple.
Sam met me just before I reached the town, and I walked as she rode her bike into the town. We then had various things to do for a while - my nephew's birthday is in a few days, so we got him a card and a present, and of course all the walking shops were visited. Barnstaple is a pretty little town, and I enjoyed walking around it, studying some of the architecture on the buildings as I did so. Eventually we left the town and continued on along the cycle track (which is also part of the Tarka Trail as well as the South West Coast Path) to Velator Bridge in Barnstaple, where Sam had parked Mervan. It also proved to be a good place to eat my lunch out of the wind that was quite chilling - I did not want to have to stop outside in the wind if I could possibly avoid it.
The next section southwards from Velator Bridge took me along the flood bank of the River Caen, and it was on this section that the wind was most noticeable. It was strong and gusting, and caused me to walk crab-like during the strongest gusts. I met a couple walking in the opposite direction, and they confessed their gladness that they were walking with the wind rather than against it! Once I had dropped off the flood bank at Pill's Mouth (where the path turns to head westwards to the White House) I was much more protected from the wind, and I could make better progress as far as the car park. As I was walking through the car park (which is unsurfaced) I came across a small campervan that was stuck in the sand. I went over to see if I could help, and I found a woman, her baby and a lovely dog in the van. The front wheels were on firmer ground, but the rear, driving wheels were well bogged down. She was going to call someone to come and pull her out, but I offered to help her. Initially we attempted to rock the van out of the hole, but she was not good enough at using the clutch and gears and stalled the van. I therefore got stubborn and lay down on the sand and kicked a large trench out in front of both of the rear wheels. This worked, and the van drove out of the resultant hole. The lady gave me a few quid for my collection pot as a thank you, and I set off happy at having done a good deed for the day.
I made a slight diversion from the car park along the boardwalk to the beach, before returning and following the path past the sand dunes to the main road in Saunton. This part of the track was probably the hardest walking of the day, as it was very muddy and quite slippy in places. The dunes of Braunton Barrows were very visible to the left, as was a search and rescue helicopter that kept on flying overhead from its base at Chivenor airfield. The dunes are so big (many are thirty metres high) that a church is believed to be submerged under them somewhere in the Barrows! When I finally met Sam at the car park beside Saunton Beach she had been busy. She had needed to fill Mervan up with fresh water, and so she did her normal thing and visited a campsite to ask if she could fill it up. The gent kindly said yes, and also offered us a free spot for the night - his campsite was shut as it was out of season, but he let us stay in his yard and gave us power, which was indeed a kind act. This evening we went into his house and chatted to him for a few hours, and he was a very interesting man and it beat sitting in the van watching television.
The easy sections of walking have now finished, and the rest of the South West Coast Path involves much walking along cliffs. I have walked nearly all of this stretch before, so I know what to expect and am very much looking forward to it. Tomorrow I should get to Ilfracombe on a sixteen-mile day, and from there it is another couple of day to the end of the South West Coast Path. In a way I will be quite sad to see the end of this trail - I have been walking it for such a long time (nearly two months) that in some ways it is hard to remember when I was not walking it! The scenery has been fairly spectacular for most of the way, and has been far better than those long and dreary days along the sea wall in Suffolk and Essex.
This makes a total distance of 20.3 miles, with 587 feet of ascent and 544 feet of descent.
We stayed at a farm in Heanton Punchardon, where the farmer allowed us to stay for free and gave us an electric hook-up, which was exceedingly kind of him.
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And finally, enjoy your walking!
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