Saturday, May 25, 2013

Day 23 -- Widecombe in the Moor to the Mill End Hotel (Drewsteignton) -- Sat May 25th

Short take: a gorgeous day, a gorgeous walk.

Dinner last night in the Rugglestone Inn was a disappointment. Not because the food was bad (it was actually quite good), but rather because I just wasn't hungry enough. 3.5 hours of hiking after a full English breakfast is not enough to work up an appetite for dinner, even if one eats next to nothing during the day. Of course, the deep fried Brie I had as an appetizer before the Beef and Stilton pie may have had something to do with my being unable to finish the latter or even contemplate dessert. Who was it who said that his only regret was that he had but one stomach to sacrifice for his dinner?

At breakfast this morning Russell announced that due to an overly long catalogue of aches and pains, he would be taking today off, so we were five who set out at around 9:30 (after a full English breakfast :-).

We hiked up out of Widecombe onto the open moor, rapidly climbing to over 520m, which is high for the moors. The weather was cool with a little wind and quite a few clouds at first, but soon the wind died down, the clouds thinned out, the air warmed up, and the hike turned into an unalloyed pleasure.

We walked for a while along a ridge, passing ancient barrows and tors, then descended to a neolithic village (I think), whose large ruined ring of cyclopaean walls bore testament to a powerful tribe. Then we climbed up what seemed to be contemporary stairs made of massive pieces of granite to a nearby tor... probably a religious site, we thought... from which there were superb views in all directions.

From there more moor walking until we came down and out into the lovely valley of the RIver Teign. Devon farmland walking at its best, from the low end (a farmyard through which we walked that looked as if it was an advertisement for poor husbandry, in which two quintessentially porcine individuals were lazing... which perhaps shouldn't be too surprising as they were pigs), to the high rent district of grand houses and estates as we descended towards the evidently affluent village of Chagford.

And lastly, around 3:30, after a gentle walk through fields and woodland along the Teign, we arrived at our spa-quality accommodation for the night, where we found a rather satisfied looking Russell. All pretty idyllic, really.

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Day 23 -- Holne to Widecombe in the Moor -- Fri May 24th

Short take: the shorter option is taken because it was at least as windy as yesterday.

In the plan for today I prepared two options: the 6 hour one involved more walking over the high moors and a descent to and ascent from Dartmeet (where the Eastern and Western branches of the River Dart, well, meet), which is supposed to be very beautiful and also has an excellent tea-room. The 3.5 hour option took us along the Two Moors Way more directly to Widecombe.

The weather forecast was for strong wind and showers, worsening in the afternoon... so the shorter option it was.

Breakfast was excellent, and our hostess friendly, humourous, and informative, so there was no real hurry to leave. We wandered off around 10AM and stopped after 3 minutes to look at the Holne church, with its 14thC carved wooden rood screen. I found most interesting the intricately carved wooden knots with a pronounced Celtic feel that one rarely sees in any but the oldest churches.

Then we walked along lanes and footpaths to the beautiful River Dart, one of the, as I explained to the others, holy places in the pantheon of English fishing. I remember as a kid reading in angling magazines and books about fly-fishing for trout on the Dart... and looking today at the deep pools, fast-moving races, little waterfalls over rock ledges, and boulders with swirls behind which trout love to hide was definitely a Proustian moment.

Then it was up and onto the moors where the waiting winds assaulted us. It is colder today than yesterday, and we were all glad that our big moor crossing was behind us. Down again into a hamlet with the un-Dartmoorian name of Ponsonby, then up over another arm of the moor and down into the totally aptly named Widecombe in the Moor, surrounded by high moorland with many ancient granite tors.

A short and light lunch in the village pub, then we went off to our B&B, which is in a 15thC farmhouse that was probably built before Colombus sailed the ocean blue. We'll play a few games this afternoon then have dinner in the Rugglestone Inn down the road, which was recently included in a list of the 10 most unspoiled pubs in England.

We are all fine (although Oliver is finding that increasing age, overwork, undersleep, and a lack of exercise are not the best preparation for a long hike :-), in good spirits, and looking forward to the next few days (um, with the possible exception of the 9.5 hour hike on Sunday :-).

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Friday, May 24, 2013

Day 22 -- Ivybridge to Holne -- Thu May 23rd

Short take: in which Dartmoor is crossed and bogs are encountered for the first time.

Russ, and everyone else, was fine this morning, so at 9:30 (our customary starting time) we started off. A short time later we came out onto the moor... and the wind. Today was a windy day. Not perhaps quite as windy as the day to Mevagissey, but windy enough, and this time the wind was in our faces. Pretty quickly we all changed into rain jackets (as windbreakers), put our hoods up, heads down, and marched. There wasn't too much talking... too windy.

Route-finding was, for much of the day, not difficult, because we had sun and clouds and most of the day was spent going along the path of an old railway line. But around the halfway point we came down a slope, crossed a little river and came across our first bogs. In short order Russell and Oliver and I were sunk in up to the tops of our boots, Sally was up to mid-calf, and Rochelle managed to find a spot where she sank over knee-deep... and said that she didn't feel as if she had touched bottom. Good, well, not clean, more like dirty, fun.

After getting out of the bogs the route-finding got a little more difficult, but we were never really unsure of where we were. The Two Moors Way, unlike the Erme-Plym path, which we were on yesterday, is a little more old-school as regards way-marking: rather than making sure that you don't get lost by giving you helpful indications anywhere that you might make a mistake, it tends rather to confirm to you that you have gotten to where you were supposed to get to... and then goes silent until the next confirmation point. But I have good maps, so no worries. In fact we came out of the moors exactly where we were supposed to, and perhaps an hour later we were in Holne.

Our B&B here is very nice and cosy -- we were greeted by hot tea, scones, clotted cream, and strawberry jam... which more than made up for the fact that we had to shower sequentially because the water pressure was too low to handle more than one person showering at a time. Russ and Sally and Marcus and Rochelle are currently horizontal, and Oliver has fallen asleep sitting up on a sofa... the hike may not have been too long or strenuous, but the constant strong wind really takes it out of you. I just might go and snooze a bit myself!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Quick Russell update

As of last night when we all went up to bed after 11PM he seems more or less back to normal. Dehydration, nothing to eat all day, and 800mg of ibuprofen on an empty stomach, led to nausea and a subsequent "vagal" reaction, which resulted in fainting. That's the considered opinion in these parts!

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Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Day 21 -- Wembury to Ivybridge -- Wed May 22nd

Short take: a surprisingly nice hike through farmland and woods, along lanes and over fields.

Down to five... Russ, Sally, Rochelle, Marcus, and me... apparently the moors are a little intimidating :-). Thomas and Suzi left yesterday, but Oliver will join us this afternoon in Ivybridge.

We took a taxi to Wembury, which is on the coast about 10k east of Plymouth, to start the Devon Coast to Coast hike (made up of the Erme-Plym hike and then the Two Moors Way). When I was planning the trip I thought of this as a connecting day -- necessary in order to do a coast to coast, but it was unclear if it would be a nice hike. Well, it was. The trail was really well laid out, minimizing road walking while going through an area that is fairly densely populated, while nevertheless hitting the major villages and towns along the way so as to give lunch / refreshment options. We enjoyed it. It was supposed to be 6.5 hours and we did it in about 5.75, so we were moving but not racing. Sun and clouds. A nice day.

Arrived in Ivybridge, checked in to our inn, took a shower, Oliver turned up, we met down in the bar, Russ, Sally, & Marcus played a game of darts, Russ got up, said he was feeling nauseous, started walking out of the room, and fainted. Perhaps hypoglycaemia (no lunch, perhaps a little dehydrated, and then a beer)? Well, we have two ER docs (although Russ is one of them), and an intensive care nurse with us... so he get the best of care and diagnosis. He came to almost immediately and is now up in his room recovering. More as our reporter finds it out!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Cotehele House

Day 20 -- Free day in Plymouth -- Tue May 21st

Short take: another nice free day... but the moors are calling!

Russ and Sally and Marcus again choosing the urban pleasures of Plymouth (although in their defense I feel compelled to add that the visiting plan for the day necessitated having breakfast at 7:30AM, which was clearly totally unreasonable :-), and Suzi and Thomas and Fernando and Jacqui renting a car (although we were to meet them later at Cotehele House), Rochelle and I went off by train to the village of Calstock, from which we walked along a pleasant path next to the River Tamar to Cotohele.

Pronounced Coteel (and not Co-teh-heely as I had thought and had been saying for many months :-), Cotehele is perhaps the least altered Tudor mansion in the country. It was one of the homes of the Dukes of Mount Edgecumbe, but, since they had another wonderful place on the outskirts of Plymouth, they left Cotehele basically empty (although full of the original furniture) for a few hundred years. Sort of like what someone I know is doing with a place in Lincoln, MA.


It's a lovely house, outside and in, with many staircases and levels and big and little rooms and interior courtyards and much original furniture and artifacts. The gardens are less interesting, but we have been blessed with a surfeit of superb gardens over the past three weeks, so I'm not complaining.

Afterwards we took a taxi over to Buckland Abbey, a converted Cistercian Abbey, first owned by Sir Richard Grenville (he of swashbuckling, glass-chewing (and swallowing) and heroic death fame), who later sold it to Sir Francis Drake. It's an odd building because large parts of it were shoe-horned into the existing Abbey church, with bits added on here and there. A bit of a hodge-podge, to be honest, and not aided by the choice of the National Trust to dedicate much of it to Sir Francis Drake hagiography. Not a must-see.

Another taxi ride (this time with a Romanian driver) back to Plymouth, this blog, and, shortly, dinner (last night's in the Barbican Kitchen was, by the way, excellent), and then bed. Tomorrow we walk from the coast to the moors!

Colour combinations

Cedar with Fernando the giant

Best picnic spot in England?

Door to St Germans church

Day 18 -- Free day in Plymouth -- Mon May 20th

Short take: the perfect free day is accomplished... Port Eliot is a wonderful place to visit.

Some of us had errands to run in the morning, others of us walked around town, and the hard core played several games. I suspect that you can all guess to which group I belonged.

After a wonderful morning, we (Thomas and Suzi, their friends, Rochelle, and I) walked through Plymouth to the railway station and caught a train to the village of St. Germans (unexpectedly named after a French saint :-). Upon arrival we first looked at the 13thC church, which had an unusual double-naved design, although one can tell from internal and external evidence that it used to be a single-naved church with a lower side aisle. Lovely wood-framed barrel roofs and a heavily eroded but still impressive Norman concentric-arched main doorway.

Afterwards we walked a little further to the stately home and grounds of Port Eliot, which claims to be the longest inhabited building in England. Prior to its acquisition by the present Earl's family after Henry VIII's dissolution of the monasteries, it had already been in use as a priory for over 400 years, and the current house has elements of the priory still incorporated into its structure. In one of the cellars there is apparently a tile floor that has been dated back to around 350AD, although there is no claim that the house to which it belonged has any other relationship to the current structure.

The present Earl and his wife, who still live in the place, are delightfully eccentric... in what other stately home would one see paintings by Reynolds competing for wall space with surf boards? And where else would you see a motorcycle (a Harley, of course) standing in the corner of one room? And then there's the circular music room, with a fascinating and hilarious semi-Dali semi-caricatural mural by a local artist stretching the entire way around the music room's wall that has to be seen to be appreciated.

The only reason the house is open to visitors (and that only for the minimum 100 days per year, in the afternoons from 2-6PM), is that otherwise the large collection of Reynold's paintings (given to the state in lieu of inheritance taxes) would have to go to a museum and the Earl didn't want that. And I have to say, thanks to both the state and to the family for enabling the current situation, because the visit was a delight.

Afterwards we wandered out into the garden, in a direction that had been indicated to us by one of the helpful "stewards" scattered around the place. She said that if we walked along a certain path we'd come to a point that the Daily Telegraph (or some other such reputable paper) had described as "possibly the best picnicking spot in England". We were a little sceptical... until we came around a corner and saw what at first glance seemed to be a painting. And at second, and third, and fifth glance. I'll post photos... but at low-res they won't do it justice. Wow.

And then there was the Atlas Cedar (or maybe of Lebanon... I'm not sure) that was so immense that it made other big trees we have seen feel small. And the maze of pathways through azaleas, camellias, rhododendrons, and so on. Or the carpets of white-flowered ramps (aka wild garlic, or Bärlauch for you Germans) and bluebells in the woods. Or the color combinations and juxtapositions.... Even better when the sun came out for a while.

I mean, even the tea-rooms were a delight with comfy chairs, immense and tasty cakes, and a charming server. We spent four hours total at Port Eliot and could easily have spent eight. A place to go back to, and what a nice day.

Day 18 -- Portwrinkle to Plymouth -- Sun May 19th

Short take: nice walk to finish off the South West Coast Path for this year.

Dinner last night at the Finnygook Inn was excellent, for all the usual reasons (quality of food, portion size, service), but also for an unusual one: the waitresses seemed to have been hired from the famous actress doubles pool. There was a Mira Sorvino, a Minnie Driver complete with accent, and at least one more whose name escapes me. No famous actor look-alikes for Suzi, Rochelle, and Sally... but life isn't always fair ;-).

The hike itself was slightly anticlimactic after the wonderful days before. There were a few nice parts, but several longer stretches along roads, most of which were unexpected. In one case we had to detour around a Ministry of Defense site that was conducting a live fire exercise, in a couple of others the problem was landslips that had wiped out portions of the Coast Path. There were a lot of unusually heavy rainstorms in this part of Cornwall this past winter, and the result was big landslides. The weather, too, was so-so: cloudy with a few showers.

A longer term thought: I'll have to check the maps more carefully, but after a quick glance it seems to me as if the ratio of unspoiled nature to built up areas starts to decline after Plymouth, so it is possible that this is the last big hike along the SWCP. I don't know anywhere else in the UK that offers such a combination of landscape and culture, nor outside of the UK that combines those two with excellent hiking trails, so at this point I don't know what the next non-Alpine hiking trip might be. I'm open to suggestions!

We arrived at Cremyll, from where a small ferry to Plymouth departs, after about 6 hours of hiking... pretty much as planned. The walk through Plymouth after the ferry crossing was uninteresting, but our B&B seems nice and the owners have been welcoming. We also met up with a German/Colombian Canadian couple, relatives/friends of Suzi and Thomas (complicated, I know, but I'm not to blame!), with whom S&T will be travelling for the next several days after they leave us. And then we all went out to dinner to a good Japanese restaurant not far away. Fun!