Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Day 28 -- Withypool to Lynmouth -- Wed May 29th

Short take: muckiful! Which translates as mucky but beautiful.

Excellent dinner last night in the Royal Oak, and an excellent stay in the King's Farm B&B. I have taken a little flak at times from some of the more particular members of our hiking group with respect to the quality of the accommodations... some were heard to say, perhaps 30 or 40 times, that more spa-like accommodation could have been booked. But I don't think I'll hear any complaints about last night.

Two days ago the weather for Weds (today) was forecast to be moderate rain all day. Yesterday they said light rain. Today the forecast called for sun and cloud but no rain (and indeed it was so). I no longer believe that forecasts in Devon and Cornwall for anything other than the current day have any validity whatsoever... they are to be read for entertainment value, nothing more.

Russell, poor fella, once again did not hike. One of his feet is hurting too much. Our resident medical team (two ER docs and an intensive care nurse) were unsure of the cause... a stress fracture or inflamed tendons or pulled ligaments were some of the theories. But regardless of the cause, he felt that walking was out of the question. Marcus, pointing out that he was primarily here to see his friends, and only secondarily to hike, decided to take the day off too and spend it with Russell. So the hikers today were only Sally, Rochelle, and I.

We walked out of Withypool under sun and clouds, climbed up to and crossed a section of Exmoor, descended back to the River Barle, now running between grassy hillsides, and walked along it for the rest of the morning. Lovely. In the afternoon we did more or less the same thing, although the moor crossing was greyer, longer and boggier.

At some point I noticed that I was getting significantly more dirty than Rochelle and Sally... a fact which I attributed (and attribute) to my greater expertise and familiarity with moorland walking.


There followed a descent into a lovely combe, along which we walked for awhile, before climbing once more onto a last northwards stretch of the moors. This, like most of the hiking today, was pretty mucky... it apparently rained a reasonable amount between the end of our hike yesterday and the start today, so we were squishing stuff underfoot most of the time. Hence the short take description of muckiful (the alternate portmanteau seeming a little uncouth :-).

Once more we descended into a beautiful river valley, this time of the Lyn River, and in dappled sunshine went down to one of the more enchanting spots in Devon: Watersmeet, where the East and West branches of the Lyn River come together. There we had tea, and then walked the last half hour into the beautiful village of Lynmouth (which produced exclamations of pleasure, immediately followed by criticisms that I had not planned a free day here). Sigh.

I'm pleased to report that I feel ing reat shape... no aches and pains at all, despite having hiked the last 8 days straight. We'll have dinner in our 14th Century Inn, and then tomorrow return to London. The CMT is over... but will not soon be forgotten. A lovely day and a lovely month.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Tarr Steps

Day 27 -- Knowstone to Withypool -- Tue May 28th

Short take: lovely hike over moors and along the River Barle... and we beat the rain again!

I woke up this morning feeling completely recovered from the exertions of two days ago, despite walking yesterday, which is encouraging, since I have a hike in Appenzell planned for July with a number of 8+ hour days and it is good to know that I seem fit enough to handle them. While on a long hike like this the outside world is sort of put on hold, both because one is always doing something... hiking, showering, eating, sightseeing, talking or playing games, packing, unpacking, and sleeping... but also because one can't do much about anything else anyway. However, today is our second to last hike, and that is perhaps why my thoughts are turning to the future.

I've very much enjoyed this hike... in every respect, from my fellow hikers to the people we have met, the countryside we have hiked through, the villages, churches, gardens, and stately homes we have visited, and the places at which we've stayed and eaten. But it will be good to be home. I often say to people that one of the great things about hiking is that it makes you appreciate everything else so much more... whether it be food, being in bed, taking a warm shower, sitting down, or going home.

But today was still a hiking day, so hike we did... and very nice it was, particularly in the afternoon when we walked for an hour and a half along a lovely stretch of the River Barle from the Tarr Steps to Withypool (the village where we are staying for the night). The Tarr Steps are especially interesting: an ancient clapper bridge across the river, made of great slabs of stone supported on boulders through which the river flows. Its age is unknown but might go back as far as the Bronze Age.

There was just a little drizzle for a bit as we walked along the riverside, but not enough to bother putting one's rainjacket on. However, 30 minutes after we arrived, around 3PM, heavier rain started to fall... just like yesterday. Overall we have been immensely fortunate with the weather... I think that there has only been one day where we hiked the whole day in rain, and otherwise there have just been a few showers during hikes. It hasn't been exceptionally sunny (although I have quite a strong tan on face, arms, and lower legs), nor very hot, and there were a few very windy days, but it is rain that makes or breaks a hiking trip and in that respect we have been lucky.

We'll have dinner in the local pub tonight, and tomorrow walk the rest of the way to Lynmouth and the end of the hike.

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Monday, May 27, 2013

Entrance to Neolithic fort on the moors


Devon countryside

The start of the Devon C2C

Day 26 -- Thelbridge Cross to Knowstone -- Mon May 27th

Short take: still tired, a short hike, and we beat the rain.

Not much to report today. Went down to breakfast about 9 (they started late on account of it being a bank holiday) and heard that the weather forecast was for rain starting mid-afternoon. Since the hike was supposed to be a short one (about 3.75 hours), we decided to set off after breakfast to try to beat the rain.

This we did, and were successful -- we arrived around 2 and the rain started at 3. Gathering clouds, cool, and a long stretch along a road were about all I retained from today's hike. I was still feeling tired from yesterday so I just put my head down and walked. The others talked some, but overall it seemed as if most were content just to walk. Perhaps we'll play some games in the afternoon before having dinner here at our B&B (another ancient farmhouse) and, no doubt, it will be an early bed time once again.

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Day 25 -- Mill End Hotel (Drewsteignton) to Thelbridge Cross -- Sun May 26th

Short take: 35km is 35km even in fine weather and through gentle rolling countryside.

Dinner last night was delicious... up to the general level of quality of the Mill End Hotel. But there is an old saying that you get what you pay for... and pay for what you get. The first phrase is clear, but the second may need elucidation. My original plan was to spend the night in either the inn or the B&B next door in Drewsteignton. This would have made yesterday's hike an hour and a half longer... and today's hike shorter by the same amount. Sure, the luxury of the Mill End Hotel was a pleasure, but the difference between an 8 hour hike and a 9.5 hour hike is dramatic... and today we paid for that luxury.

First, though, we said goodbye to Oliver, who joined us in Ivybridge, and entertained us in many ways. For one thing, he's a gifted conversationalist... able to take almost any subject and spin a skein of observations and ideas at times hilarious, at times deep and thought-provoking. For another, he has taken to walking around in those new "shoes" that look like monkey feet, with separate sheathes for each toe. He even walked for a few hours across the moor and up and down tracks and lanes yesterday wearing them... without ill effect, he reported... but the rest of us remain amused but unconverted.

Only Rochelle and Marcus and I hiked today. Although Russell felt fitter after his day off, he thought, quite rightly, that it would be unwise to come back and attempt such a long hike, so he took a second free day... and Sally stayed with him. She had been building a case for taking a day off for a few days, letting slip various comments about how her feet were hurting a little, and her boots perhaps too stiff in the sole... but this is Sally we are talking about: if she had wanted to hike, she would have done so. No, I think that what was really going on was that she wanted to take a rest day, and since, unaccountably, none had been planned, she chose the most sensible day to do so (and rightly so!).

It is one of the mysteries of the CMT that despite having a duration of 28 days, not a single rest day was planned. It is hard to know what was going through the head of the planner when he was "planning". Was he perhaps thinking that days spent visiting gardens and stately homes were the same thing as rest days (but in that case, why no rest day during the 8 day crossing of Devon, where no visits were planned?)? Was he trying to "save" days (but if so, for what purpose... and at what terrible cost?)? Or was he just on crack? We may never know. But whatever the reason was, it was clearly a situation in which the sheep needed to rise up and make their own plans... and that is what Sally did.

So, as said, only three sheep set out this morning at the not-quite-crack-of-dawn time of just past 9AM. The first part of the hike was a delightful trail through a gorge along the Teign, followed by a steep climb to the village of Drewsteignton. There we were fortunate enough to find a little shop open on a Sunday morning, and we stocked up on chocolate bars and bananas (thereby obviating the need to make a side-trip later for lunch). And then on we marched, and marched, and marched.

There were no great ascents or descents, but lots of lesser ones. Most of the time we walked along footpaths or across fields, but there were a couple of stretches along roads. During one of them, around noon, a car pulls up beside us... it is Russell and Sally, catching a lift with the luggage. Does anyone want to join them? Nope. It is too early... if they had driven by four hours later, they might well have had three takers.

We stopped about 2PM for a light lunch on a grassy slope with a lovely view of a manor and classic Devon countryside, took off our boots, and sat for a while in the sun. It was a beautiful day -- a mixture of sun and clouds, little or no wind, but not too warm: perfect for hiking. And sitting. But sitting and a long hike don't mix. We were already stiff when we stood up after 20 minutes, our feet protested when we forced them back into our boots, and we suffered for a while until we loosened up. So we decided not to stop again.

The afternoon wore on, and, as often happens on such days, resentment began to build. Legs get tired, feet start to hurt, and thoughts inevitably turn to blaming the evil one responsible. At one point I stopped with an urgent need to water plants, telling the other two that they should go left in the next field and not take the obvious path that cut across the center. This advice was based on trail indicators nailed to a post... but as it turned out, they and thus also I were wrong.

A minute later I came out of the bushes and saw that they were working their way around the edge of the field... and that therefore the path through the middle was the right one. So I took it, albeit with a feeling of guilt. But making them wait while I imposed upon myself the same error that I had just imposed upon them didn't seem right either. "Arrgh!! I could kill you right now!!", said Rochelle, having not appreciated slogging through knee-high grass. Followed a little later by, "Did you do that on purpose?" I wasn't particularly offended... I knew what it was... just mid-afternoon resentment. No one is left unmoved by a really long hike. Some people get quiet, others lose faith, and some get angry.

Around 5:45PM, when we had already been on the trails for over eight and a half hours, we came to a gate with a sign on it saying "Bull in Field". Not what you want to see at that time of day. It wasn't entirely clear how we should go around the field, and we were tired, so we pinned our hopes on the sign either being out of date or the bull being out of sight and crossed the field regardless. We were fortunate: there was no sign of the bull.

Towards 6:30PM, footsore and bone-tired (at least, that was my state... I'm nor sure if the same applied for the other two, one of whom is a marathoner, and the other of whom seems to have received the nickname Sparky for his irrepressible reserves of energy), we arrived at our inn. I was in bed by 9PM. 35km is, I think, the second longest hike we have done in England (only a memorable day on the C2C exceeded it... if I remember correctly, that day we did 38km). We had paid dearly for our Mill End stay....

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