Saturday, May 21, 2011

First rest day -- Clovelly

Well, first offical rest day. And very nice it was. Some email, some Internet surfing, some reading, a walk through Clovelly, and of course the fresh set of hikers arrived! Fed them well, sent them off to bed early, and we'll see how they perform tomorrow on the way to Hartland Quay.

Stage 8 -- Appledore to Clovelly

Still some wind and clouds, but no rain, a fair amount of sun, warmer, and a beautiful hike.

We took the bus from Appledore to Westward Ho! (a somewhat tacky 19th Century marketing village -- built to capitalize on the popularity of Charles Kingsley's novel of the same name) because the walk there would have been flat and relatively uninteresting and there were 6 hours to hike afterwards anyway.

The day started off quite windy and cool -- as one wild-haired chap scudding towards us said, "It's a bit breezier than I thought it would be!" Lidia did her frog imitation, bundling up in a fluorescent green wind-stopper fleece, hood up to keep out the wind, and we marched resolutely westwards. But after half an hour or so the wind slowed, the sun came out, and it became a lovely day-- Lidia's best day so far, she says.

Me, I'm English: as long as it isn't raining, I'm fine. Oh, I prefer sun and warmth with no wind, but I'm not really bothered unless it is raining. So I've been enjoying every day, even when it drizzled (because, of course, drizzle doesn't count as rain :-). It also helps that I'm not a fair-weather hiker -- something I found out on the H2H. Most people are fair-weather hikers -- nothing wrong with that -- but I'm not.

All the above detail because, based on emails I've been receiving from some of you, I've been leaving the impression that we have been suffering due to the weather. Well, at least for me that's inaccurate, although clearly others have not been as sanguine.

Back to the hike. A fair amount of up and down, into and out of wooded valleys, as well as long stretches through ancient woodland (big old twisted oaks and beeches and ash with lichen and moss and ivy and ferns growing on them), lots of green tunnel hiking (with high hedges on both sides) but still plenty of views of the huge bay -- during the day we could see back to Foreland Point (which we went round on Day 5), and forewards to Hartland Point (which we will go round on Day 10).

We only went through one village (and for that matter only passed one other house) before Clovelly -- a lovely little hamlet called Buck's Mill, tucked away in a deep cut wooded valley.

And around a quarter to five we arrived at Clovelly, reputed to be the most beautiful in Devon... and as far as I can see, deservedly so. We walked down the 30% incline of the cobbled main street, enjoying the views of one lovely stone house and miniature well-kept garden after the other. Lidia, having forgotten the description in my document (and people ask me why I don't write more! Most people don't read what I write and those who do don't remember it!) was both surprised and delighted.

Our hotel, the Red Lion, on the rocky foreshore next to the miniature harbor at the bottom of the village, is charming, our room (and shower) excellent, dinner was hearty and well-prepared, and after a walk along the pier in the dusk, watching fisherman setting up for an all night vigil, we retired and went to sleep well pleased with the day.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Day 7 -- Braunton to Appledore

Not a hiking day either, but at least it wasn't supposed to be one. Beautiful day -- sun and a few clouds -- would have been great for hiking, but was good for sightseeing too, which was what Lidia and I did.

Chris left at the crack of dawn to catch a flight back to Ireland from Exeter airport. Lidia and I took a taxi via Barnstaple, where we dropped off Franz and Ingrid at the train station for the first stage of their journey back to Germany. We continued on to the Rosemoor Royal Horticultural Society gardens, which were very nice, but two weeks later (when the roses will be in full bloom) will be spectacular. Found a few plants and trees we want to add to the Bavarian and Provence gardens, though, so that was good. Saw my first Dawn Redwood -- living fossil from China, discovered in the 1950s in a few remote valleys after previously only being known from the fossil record, and, remarkably, from fossils north of the Arctic Circle. Also saw a shattered stump of a Cedar of Lebanon that was apparently flindered by a lightning strike two weeks ago. Sic transit....

After a couple of hours wandering about the 68 acres of gardens, we walked up to Great Torrington for a quick bite of lunch. Seemed like a nice place (I particularly liked The Haggis and the Mole Bookshop), but quiet... like everywhere else today, probably because it is mid-week and not summer. From there with the bus to Bideford -- a nice little town but everything seemed to be closed -- and finally on to Appledore (ditto).

We wanted to eat at a highly recommended restaurant called 9 The Quay... but it had gone out of business. My second choice, Benson's, was shut because the cook was ill. So we had fish and chips instead and watched the tide come in. Which is, by the way, VERY impressive around here. When the tide is out there are huge expanses of mud flats and sand banks with stranded boats scattered here and there. When it comes in the water level rises about an inch a minute (necessary when you have 8-12 meter tides), changing the view everytime you turn around. Fascinating to watch.

Also fascinating to watch the few people around act as if it were summer, despite the temperature being about 15C (60F). There was an ice cream truck, which was suprising enough, but there was also a line in front of it, which was borderline insane. And light summer dresses, flip-flops, shorts, and people sitting at tables outside. I guess I used to be like that when I was a kid in England... but now I walk around in a sweater and long pants and hug the radiator when I get back to the hotel room (after turning it on, of course -- not something that occurs to English proprietors apparently :-).

Day 6 -- Mortehoe to Braunton

Really fast. By taxi. Sigh.

Well, it is sort of understandable. We woke up to driving drizzle (is that possible?) -- standing outside was like flying through a cloud, only without the comforting embrace of an aeroplane. The weather forecast said it might clear up later, but no-one was inclined to put too much faith in that. And the hike was a pretty flat 28+km... through a couple of small towns (Woolacombe and Croyde Bay) and with a long trudge through dunes to finish off. Not that inspiring given the weather.

So we all piled into a taxi and 20 minutes later we were in the George Hotel in Braunton, sipping scrumpy (cider) or Guinness, checking email, playing games, while outside the weather slowly improved. Come mid-afternoon the sun did indeed show its face, so Christine went off for a walk to the dunes, Franz & Ingrid & Lidia walked around town, and I did email. In the evening we passed up award winning fish & chips in favor of the superb Thai food served in our hotel. Perhaps the best I've ever had... which is saying something, since I've had some great Thai food before.

Perhaps not the best way to spend a hiking day, but not the worst either. I still need fresh hikers though :-).

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Interim Thoughts

Some things I meant to write yesterday but forgot.

When planning and thinking about this hike I tried to compare it with Alpine hikes I/we have done before and suggested that the key difference was likely to be the absence of a big daily goal or achievement such as a peak or a pass. That has definitely proven to be true... and although many small ascents and descents are physically easier, I find, they are for some people psychologically more difficult. For them, I think, the ups seem pointless... because they don't add up to something like a peak or a pass. Instead height gained and lost becomes like distance... just something that you do on your way to the end of the day. Only the ascents are more strenuous than distance... and are thus resented more.

Another thing I left out was the weather. I've talked about the wind, but I didn't talk about the drizzle / fog that we had yesterday and, looking out of the window, today. Classic English weather... at least classic for me having grown up in Newcastle in the north east of England where my memories are that it was like this three days out of five. You don't really get wet, just damp, so it's much better than rain, but it is much worse than sun. Coming around Morte Point yesterday late afternoon it was heavier so that my hair and clothes started to drip, but usually it just makes you damp. Great for moss, less good for visibility and morale.

No Internet in the B&B last night, and minimal phone reception... which is why this post and the last are appearing (I hope just) one day late.

Bipolar B&B by the way -- Victoria House in Mortehoe. Our bedrooms and the common room/lounge are elegant, neat, clean, and spacious... top notch. The private areas of the house, however, based upon what we have been able to see through windows and partially opened doors, are incredibly messy: they look like a bomb has hit them. Very surprising.

Off to breakfast... more later after, perhaps, today's hike. "Perhaps" because I haven't yet seen the state -- physical and psychological -- of the troops... it may be that today's hike will be either truncated or (horrors!) even called off !!!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Day 5 -- Berrynarbor to Mortehoe

I need a fresh set of hikers! All four of them took a taxi from Lee Bay after lunch instead of walking the remaining distance to Mortehoe. Oh, they claimed to have reasons -- Franz and Ingrid knee problems, Lidia hating the wind again, and Christine, most creatively, said that she had been dreaming about work and needed to spend an afternoon working in order to stop the dreams -- but after all the explaining and excusing was done, the fact remains that only yours truly finished the hike.

We had had a suprisingly good meal the night before in The Olde Globe Inn in Berrynarbor, followed by an early night, so I was expecting great things of the troops today. But the weather didn't cooperate (light drizzle and once again windy), and by Ilfracombe (around midday) they were starting to lose focus, and as we walked down into Lee Bay it was clear that they were done.

We had a nice lunch in the 14th Century Grampus Inn, and then I left them to their taxi and walked the remaining few miles alone. Glad I did, because it was a great walk -- up and down coastal bluffs, on well laid paths or across close-cropped sward, past impressive rocks and cliffs and a working 800,000 candlepower lighthouse at Bull Point, to the aptly named Morte Point -- said to be the place that God made last and the Devil will take first.

It's about as raw and rough as that description suggests, with a current flowing past its tip so strong that standing waves were forming for 100 meters out from the shore. With the wind driving waves across the current to break on the point, and various reefs off-shore, it isn't surprising that several ships a year used to be wrecked here before the Bull Point lighthouse was built.

And now I'm showered, clean, toasty warm... and I need fresh hikers!


Monday, May 16, 2011

Day 4 -- Martinshoe to Berrynarbor

Tired today... maybe this 6 days in a row to begin the hike wasn't such a good idea (knew you'd like that, Sally). Actually, I think the real problem is the wind -- it is pretty draining to have 60+kmh wind gusts in your face (or at best from the side) for much of the day. Lidia hates it, and so again broke off the hike early -- about halfway through. This time Ingrid joined her, while Franz, Christine and I soldiered on. No rain though, thank goodness.

But I'm getting ahead of myself... dinner yesterday evening was a merry affair with two friends of ours from London joining us. They have a place on Exmoor and he was there for a 100 mile charitable horse ride he was/will be doing today and tomorrow, so they were able to drop by. Dinner was gastronomically good too.

The hike took about the time expected, was beautiful even if windy, and took us up to the highest point on the trip -- 315m on the encouragingly named Great Hangman hill. The B&B this evening seems adequate, but suffers in comparison with the wonderful place we stayed at last night -- The Old Rectory in Martinhoe (Dad -- tell Gunther and Myra that the owners say hi).

Dinner solid, clothes wash negotiated and completed, blog done, going to bed now... a longer day ahead tomorrow.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Day 3 -- Lynton to Martinhoe

We set off, as has become our wont, at around 10AM, but headed east instead of further west along the coast. 18 years ago Lidia and I went for a lovely walk up a valley that comes down to Lynmouth, and I thought it would be fun to try to repeat it... and it was.

We first climbed up above the valley, going along the Tarka trail with lovely views over the surrounding countryside, then dropped down to the National Trust property at idyllic Watersmeet (where we had superb cakes as a lunch-ersatz), before returning to Lynmouth, arriving around 1PM.

Franz, perhaps channelling his inner Russell or Sally (who between them purchased 5 new pairs of boots while on the H2H), thereupon bought a new pair of hiking shoes (his orthotic inserts had been slipping in his other pair), and then we took the Cliff Railway up to Lynton (a neat piece of Victorian engineering -- it has two cabins attached by a cable, and runs by filling the tank of the upper cabin with water, then letting enough out of the tank of the lower cabin so that the weight differential pulls the lower up as the upper drops). It has been running without any external energy input since 1890... quite brilliant.

From Lynton it was a pleasant (although once again windy) walk along the coast to Martinhoe, where we are spending the night in an elegant B&B called "The Old Rectory".

And, in case anyone is wondering, thus far everyone has been getting along wonderfully... no loss of faith in the tour guide, as far as I can tell, at all!

The full story of Day 2

After a delightful dinner at the Piggy in the Middle restaurant -- notable for, aside from its good food, very creative ironmongery on the walls, including an adjustable dog carrier with muzzle at one end, corkscrew at the other -- we didn't really need (although very much enjoyed) a massive and nigh-on perfect breakfast at our B&B.

That perhaps, plus visits to the post-office, and butcher (to buy a massive cornish pasty for lunch), plus Lidia's upset stomach, led to our getting a somewhat slow start... and a slow continuation as well. According to the guidebook, it should take about 5.5 hours from Porlock Weir to Lynton... it took us about 6.5 hours with another hour from Porlock to Porlock Weir and perhaps an hour of breaks and stops along the way. And then we had to climb up the 150m from Lynmouth to Lynton because the cliff-railway closed at 6PM and we only got there at 6:30.

So it was a long day, and a tiring one too since we had an at times gusty, at times pretty powerful headwind all day. Lidia doesn't like wind at the best of times, and feeling somewhat under the weather anyway, she finally threw in the towel at Countisbury, about 45 mins before the end (going into the pub there to order a taxi and have a beer while waiting for it :-).

Just prior to that we had come down to the Foreland Point Lighthouse, only to discover that the path back to the Coast Path was steep, exposed, next to a pretty steep cliff, across and under scree, and all told pretty "interesting". Ingrid's comment upon seeing the path was, roughly translated, "We aren't going up there, are we?"... but of course we were. She concentrated on Christine's feet (she has vertigo) and did fine.

We were all pretty tired after the hike. Watching us going up after dinner you would have thought you were looking at a bunch of octogenarians! But we all recovered well enough by this morning.

Day 2 -- Porlock to Lynton

Just a quick note for now because breakfast starts in 5 minutes. I didn't get around to posting last night because, due to various factors to be elucidated in a later post, we didn't arrive at the hotel until 6:45PM, and upon arriving were told that we had to be down for dinner by 7:15... which didn't leave much time for blogging. Then I almost fell asleep three times at dinner, and did fall asleep within 5 minutes of getting back to our room afterwards. And more later!

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