Thursday, 22 December 2016

The Devon Coast to Coast Revisited

Day 5: Coast to Coast sign
Coast to Coast sign
The Devon Coast to Coast / Two Moors Way is a 117 mile long distance trail that I had first attempted way back in 2009. On that occasion it was a south to north affair that ended mid morning of day three, down by the River Dart at New Bridge. The rain had finally took its toll on my morale and with the prospect of a long day to Chagford and no let up in the inclement weather, I took pity on myself and gave up.

Bailing so early had troubled me for seven years, so with some holiday to use up, I figured it was time to take another crack at it. This time around I thought a bit of company might provide motivational support, so I raised the subject with Matthew King and when he said yes, the plan escalated quickly for an October start.

For logistical purposes, Matthew and I decided to begin in Lynmouth and southbound the route. Transport options away from Wembury were more practical and to have Dartmoor beckoning on the horizon would be a great incentive through the "doldrums" between the moors.

At the Start with Paul #sh #twomoorsway #DevonC2C
At the start - photo by Matthew King

Day One: Lynmouth to Cow Castle


Getting to Lynmouth wasn't without its issues; a missed bus connection saw us getting a taxi from Barnstaple, but on the plus side we were dropped off in Lynmouth and spared the walk down from Lynton to the start.

As we set off from the harbour, the rain began. It was to dip in and out for most of the day and would prove to have a huge impact on my enjoyment for the forthcoming days.

Day 1: Lynmouth
Lynmouth

The first thing that strikes you, in Lynmouth, is the lack of signage for the track. We had left the guide book at home and so took some time to find the understated marker stone that signals the trail head.

Day 1: Start of the Two Moors Way - official
Start of the Two Moors Way

Leaving Lynmouth, there is no breaking you in gently, it is straight into a stiff ascent out of the town on a muddy switchback path through pretty woodland that clings to the steep banks of Lyn Cleave. It is a challenging introduction to the trail, but we took comfort that it was likely tougher to be descending this at the end!

Day 1: Track above the Lyn
Track above the Lyn

The sun emerged and we stopped at Hillsford Bridge for a cuppa but the return of the rain prompted us to get moving again pretty quickly. All was going well. We made it to the open moor and climbed up onto Cheriton Ridge in changeable conditions, then dropped down for a rest beside Hoaroak Water.

The river was in spate and, had we been in possession of the guide book, we would have known to take the alternative high route rather than ford the river. With the aid of a Duke of Edinburgh Award group, who had been tailing us for the past couple of miles, we all waded across, our lower limbs getting a good drenching. My boots were to remain soaked for the rest of the journey.

We had another crossing a few hundred metres up the valley, not fast flowing, but still above the gaiter line. Then we ascended a muddy stretch to the source of the River Exe, and our highest point on Exmoor.

Day 1: Exe Head
Exe Head

Matthew was faring well, but, this early, I had concerns with my footwear. My boots were compromised, they clearly weren't up for the task, and the skin on my feet was beginning to fold. I had aspirations of making it to the pub at Simonsbath where I could dry out in front of a roaring fire and fuel up on a delicious meal. Whereas Matthew was keen to wild camp, I would have gladly taken a bed for the night and they could have named their price!

When we finally made it to the Exmoor Forest Inn, about 4:30 pm, it was closed. We sheltered in the tiny porch, as the rain returned, pondering if we wait for it to open or push on. We had scheduled for a pit stop here, a decent feed before finding a spot to wild camp but we couldn't afford the extended delay. Being a reluctant camper, the prospect of squeezing myself and all my wet gear into a cramped space for the night was the last thing I wanted. Thoughts briefly returned to 2009.

My wallow in self pity was fleeting; we had to get at least as far as the planned location of Cow Castle before the light had gone.

Out of Simonsbath, we joined the banks of the River Barle, eventually finding a flattish place just passed Cow Castle an hour later. As soon as we had pitched, the rain descended, and so began a night of incarceration. I tended to my sodden feet with their creased soles as best I could in the limited space, a tad concerned that the sores across the knuckles of my toes were beginning to bleed. Then, I forced down an uninspiring ration of some bland freeze dried meal I have immediately forgotten the name of, before settling down for the night. Well, at least I was toasty beneath my quilt.

Day 2: Cow Castle camp
Cow Castle Camp

Day Two: Cow Castle to Knowstone


Morning couldn't come soon enough to release me from my sarcophagus. Treated to a low mist in the valley and the promise of some fine sunshine, we faced the day with renewed optimism. It was a soggy, but pleasant walk, to Withypool.

Day 2: Autumnal cobwebs
Autumnal cobwebs
Day 2: River Barle below, looking up Sheridan Water
River Barle below,looking up Sheridan Water

Heading for Withypool #sh #twomoorsway #DevonC2C
Heading for Withypool - photo by Matthew King

Reaching Withypool early, the pub was, naturally, shut. We opted for the alternative route avoiding the river and Tarr Steps. It was highly probable that the waters would be high after the rain yesterday and we needed a respite from the wet. This decision proved fortuitous in that it took us passed Withypool Tea Rooms. We made the most of this little gem, taking an extended break, feasting on a pasty and a cup of tea.

Day 2: New Bridge, Withypool
New Bridge, Withypool

When we left the village, walking up the road along the edge of Withypool Hill, all was good with the world. The enthusiasm was tested across a succession of fields, collectively known as Parsonage Down, where the main crop appeared to be mud.

Day 2: Mud on Parsonage Down
Mud on Parsonage Down
We pushed on for the village of Hawkridge, but it offered little comfort in the way of a cafe, pub or shop. As we crossed over Dane's Brook we had reached a significant point, leaving Somerset for glorious Devon!

Day 2: Leaving that other county.
Devon border at Dane's Brook
We left the road shortly after, up onto West Anstey Common, where we struggled to ascertain the path. Topping out at 356 metres, just before the boundary of Exmoor National Park, we were treated to our first view of Dartmoor, dark on the horizon.  In two days, we would be "home"!

Dartmoor comes into (distant) view #sh #twomoorsway #DevonC2C
Dartmoor comes into (distant) view - photo by Matthew King
Crossing more fields, treading more roads, we passed through Yeo Mill with the tempting option of accommodation at Partridge Arms Farm. Not for us, though, as we had more miles to get under our belt and thoughts had turned to the pub at Knowstone.

As we approached Owlaborough Moor, on a bridleway beside a wild boar farm, we saw some folk sat around a fire drinking and listening to music. The proprietor, keen for some revenue, was quick to inform us that the pub in Knowstone was closed tonight and this was the only place we could camp. Neither of us were too keen on the idea, so we ploughed on hoping the news was just a ruse to get us to overnight there.


Another closed pub - Knowstone #sh #twomoorsway #DevonC2C
Another closed pub! Photo by Matthew King
We came into Knowstone and The Masons Arms pub was indeed shut! Once again, our plan of a meal before camping had been scuppered. That said, the menu did look very expensive and not the type of feed that would satisfy a hungry backpacker! I do loathe these pretentious pubs that open when they feel like it.

We now had to think about pitching for the night, but we didn't have anywhere definite to camp; I had taken some details from The Backpackers Club Farm Pitch Directory, but these options were proving to be extremely unreliable and out of date! The nearest proposed farm was a mile away in the wrong direction, it would be dark when we arrived and we had no guarantee of a welcome.

Nightfall creeping, we arranged to get a taxi to the London Inn in Morchard Bishop and return the next morning. As we sat waiting, in the dimming light, a passing local mentioned a bed and breakfast the other end of the village. Fortunately, our data signal was good enough to Google a phone number and get a room for the night. 

Day 2: No muddy boots at the shut Masons Arms, Knowstone.
No Muddy Boots

The hot shower and comfortable bed at Rosemary Cottage Bed and Breakfast gave me time to rethink my strategy for completing the walk. I decided to lighten my load and ditch some of my gear. I had packed as if I was striking out on the Bibbulmun, when I had no need for this excess of provisions. I left it all with the owner, Tiffany, and would return the following week to pick it up.

Day Three: Knowstone to Morchard Bishop


A good breakfast inside us, we headed off for Morchard Bishop. We were now into what I call "The Doldrums"; a two day trudge of 29 miles through the farmland between Exmoor and Dartmoor. Whilst it has some charming tree lined lanes that make for a lovely countryside walk, they are overshadowed by plenty of tiresome sections where you are forced up, down, and around the perimeters of uninteresting fields and untidy farms.

Day 3: Leafy Lanes
Leafy Lanes

Witheridge proved our best place to stop for lunch. Of course, the pub was shut, but the town has alternatives to stock up on food, and we plonked ourselves down on a bench in front of the church, with a hot coffee from the local store.

The afternoon route was no more inspiring than the morning. I find the best way to tackle this monotonous walking is to have tick points over shorter distances. To pass each one gives a psychological boost.

Day 3: Sweetcorn
Sweetcorn

There was the odd highlight; The church at Washford Pyne was pretty. We took a rest here so I could air my feet; a practice I tried to do at every opportunity and it was helping.

Day 3: Church at Washford Pyne
Church at Washford Pyne
Day 3: Ever get the feeling you're being watched?
Ever get the feeling you're being watched?

More fields followed. Close to Morchard Bishop, we encountered a locked gate that was being kept by a herd of cows on the other side. After a little deliberation Matthew climbed over and the beasts made way for me to join him. A bit of a talking point, but, in all seriousness, the landowner had no business blocking a right of way, especially on a signposted trail as prominent as this!

Day 3: Cow standoff
Cow standoff

Over Beech Hill, through Morchard Wood, we came out into a field where we could see our destination. The church tower at Morchard Bishop was a welcome sight, as was the prospect of a night in the London Inn. Despite the dreary bits, I found the first day between the moors was better than I had hoped.

Day 3: Morchard Bishop
Morchard Bishop
Day 3: Church at Morchard Bishop
Church at Morchard Bishop

The London Inn, for me, was the best pub along the trail. For a start, it was open, which always helps, though when we arrived we did have a worry for half an hour before the doors were unlocked!

The owners allow camping in the small beer garden, for a charitable donation. The meals in the pub are excellent and huge and the welcome was a warm one. They didn't even object to us drying some of our clothes in front of the fire!

Day 3: Camp at the London Inn, Morchard Bishop
Camp at the London Inn


Day Four: Morchard Bishop to Drewsteington


Today was my toughest leg. Whilst Dartmoor made appearances all day, my poor feet still weren't sitting well within my boots. I had long sections where each step was painful and I trailed behind Matthew for most of the day. I was conscious, as was he, that this section might be my undoing.

Day 4: Dartmoor getting closer
Dartmoor getting closer
Day 4: Clannaborough Barton
Clannaborough Barton

Day 4: I think this is the way out of Clannaborough Barton
I think this is the way out of Clannaborough Barton

The day had little to recommend it as a standalone walk; the Two Moors Way has little choice but to follow the scant rights of way that exist here. The majority of footpaths and bridleways serve to shepherd you through areas that the landowners, begrudgingly, are forced to let you pass. The whole section from Morchard Bishop to Drewsteington lacks any amenities that offer a break for refreshment and it is one long slog.

Day 4: Paschoe
Paschoe
Soon after Parkeham Farm, I had to halt. Making use of a brick wall in front of a house, I sat myself down to check my feet. They were at their worst and at this point I considered calling time on my attempt.

But with the prospect of refreshing my feet in the River Troney, a short distance further, I donned my boots again and we went on. The river wasn't suitably accessible, so we continued uphill to a grass island within the junction of the road, where we rested beneath a fine oak.

Day 4: Oak
Oak
Feet aired again, another readjustment of my footwear eased the problem. We now had a long section of road to walk, albeit flat, along a ridge passed Binneford Cross, to Hittisleigh. We caught the odd glimpse of Cosdon Hill and this served to be a motivation.

Day 4: Binneford Cross
Binneford Cross
In true keeping with the day, I was disappointed with Hittisleigh; no amenities apparent in the little hamlet. Not counting our meagre rations, Drewsteignton, at days end, would be our only source of sustenance.

Day 4: Horses
Horses

There came next, a couple of undulations to conquer before we reached the A30. Never before have I been so glad to see this artery of the south-west!

Day 4: A30 - a sight for sore feet!
A30 - a sight for sore feet!

Once across, we left the road down to Winscombe Farm and stepped into Dartmoor National Park. Up Winscombe Lane, we scaled our last hill of the day, along the road and into Drewsteington.

Day 4: Drewe Arms
Drewe Arms, Drewsteington

It may have been the culmination of a long hard day, but I was smitten with Drewsteington! We booked into the bunkhouse of the Drewe Arms Inn, showered, then stepped into the bar for a couple of well deserved pints and an excellent meal! Two days on Dartmoor beckoned!


Day Five: Drewsteignton to Hameldown


The spring in my step was noticeable today. The feet had calmed, reassurance of knowing the terrain was a huge boost, and it was a turning point in that I now knew, barring injury, I would be able to finish.

Day 5: Sharptor (Castle Drogo)
Sharptor (Castle Drogo)

We left Drewsteington, heading south down a lane, then up and over some fields on Piddledown Common, to the Teign Valley. This is a spectacular gorge. The good path contours you high above the river, yet below Castle Drogo. We visited Sharptor (Castle Drogo) and Hunters Tor, before dropping down to the Teign.

Day 5: The River Teign
The River Teign

The walk along the bank of the river, known as "The Fisherman's Path" is charming, the day was such a contrast from the previous. We were enjoying this relatively short leg so much we decided to make a diversion into Chagford for lunch. We left the official route at Rushford Mill, taking the road into the town, in search of a meal. We ended up at the The Three Crowns, where we lingered for an hour or so.

Time to move on, we walked out of the town, rejoining the Two Moors Way at Chagford Bridge. Along narrow lanes, we passed Puggiestone, down to Leigh Bridge, where the North and South Teign converge.

Day 5: Where North and South Teign meet
Where north and south Teign meet

Up an old drovers track to Teigncombe Farm, we joined the Mariners Way. An ancient route between the ports of Bideford and Dartmouth, only a small section on Dartmoor is signposted.

Across the South Teign, we walked through Yardworthy. Here we were dismayed that all the signs and instructions of which path to keep led you straight to an electric fence! Such a friendly landowner!

Day 5: Chagford Common
Chagford Common

Up onto Chagford Common, it felt good to be stepping out into open moor again. We visited Hurston Ridge Stone Row enroute to the Warren House Inn for our evening meal before going in search of a place to wild camp.

Day 5: Hurston Ridge Stone Row
Hurston Ridge Stone Row

Enjoying a pint with our jumbo sausage and chips, we decided to check into our next intended accommodation tomorrow night.

Here, I had a valuable lesson in not trusting everything you see on an Ordnance Survey map, and definitely not on the internet! We had intended to stay at a camping barn, in Holne, clearly marked on the map. I had also seen plenty of reviews of the barn on the internet, even managing to get a phone number for the place, but when Matthew rang to see if there was space, he was told that it was now a holiday let! Time to improvise!

We hatched a cunning plan of adjusting the distances on the days into Ivybridge, to give me the opportunity to retrieve my car from home before the leg to the sea. This would solve our problems at the end of the journey. We finished our food then headed out into the dusk, with our head torches ready for a walk into the night.

Day 5: Bennett's Cross
Bennetts Cross

Passed Bennett's Cross, we enjoyed the last of the suns rays over the Hameldown Ridge, although a chill easterly was picking up. When we had reached Two Barrows, we stopped to pitch by the wall. Sadly, the sheltered side was a little waterlogged and so we had to endure a night with our tents being rattled by the gale.

Day 5: hiking late up on Hameldown
Hiking up late on Hameldown


Day Six: Hameldown to Crossways


Day 6: Wildcamp on Hameldown
Wildcamp on Hameldown

Slept much better than expected, given the battering the tent took! Morning came, our extra distance yesterday had paid off. We could now easily get to a camping spot the other side of the River Avon which would allow a short walk into Ivybridge the next day. We were off early, stretching our legs along the remainder of the Hameldown Ridge, before heading to Rowden Tor, where we stopped to have a breakfast brew.

Day 6: Drywells Cross
Drywell's Cross

We returned to the official route at Drywell's Cross, and had a lovely walk along the West Webburn to Ponsworthy.

Day 6: West Webburn River
West Webburn River

Up onto Sherberton Common, the sunshine made for a lovely day. We passed forbidden Bel Tor, taking Dr. Blackall's Drive high above the River Dart. We had a scout around for Aish Tor (it still doesn't exist) before we moved on to the fine Leigh Tor, sat right beside the Two Moors Way before you descend to Deeper Marsh and cross the Dart at New Bridge.

Day 6: Mel Tor
Mel Tor

Day 6: Leigh Tor
Leigh Tor

Day 6: New Bridge
New Bridge
Day 6: The River Dart
The River Dart

We had a coffee / ice cream break in the car park beside the bridge. This was the place where I had ended my 2009 attempt, so, technically, I had done the whole route now. I figured I might as well continue to Wembury, just to keep Matthew company!

We considered a pub lunch at Holne, but when we reached it we found the Church House Inn had shut down. A real shame as I remember it from my walk in 2009 as being a lovely establishment.

Day 6: The Church House Inn, Holne
The Church House Inn, Holne (another shut pub!)

The Community Shop and Tea Room, however, were well and truly open and we stopped for late lunch, early afternoon tea, rather than risk the pub in Scoriton being closed! It seemed a shame to leave, but we still had a way to go, especially as I intended us to get as close to Ivybridge as possible before the sun set.

We passed through the last village, Scoriton, and up the long lane to Chalk Ford and the open moor.

Day 6: Woodland near Chalk Ford
Woodland near Chalk Ford

Up the side of Puper's Hill, without actually going to the summit, we went over Hickaton Hill and down to Huntingdon's Cross where the Western Wella Brook meets the River Avon.

Day 6: Ascending Pupers Hill
Ascending Pupers Hill
Day 6: Huntingdon Cross
Huntingdon Cross

The Wella required a spot of rock hopping, but we crossed the Avon at the clapper bridge, my objective for the day. It was now a matter of seeing how much further we could progress.

Playing in the Avon #sh #twomoorsway
Playing in the Avon. photo by Matthew King.

Day 6: Clapper Bridge over the River Avon
Clapper Bridge across the Avon

At the Two Moors Way marker stone we joined the old tramway that ran from Ivybridge to the Red Lake China Clay Works. Good news was that we were now on the level, and there would be no more noticeable ascent until after Ivybridge!

Day 6: Two Moors Way marker stone near Crossways
Two Moors Way marker stone near Crossways

Day 6: changing light near Quickbeam Hill
changing light near Quickbeam Hill

We made it round to the west side of Quickbeam Hill, before we stepped off the path to camp. We had done well today, tomorrow would be a doddle!

Day 6: Wildcamp below Crossways
Wildcamp below Crossways


Day Seven: Crossways to Ivybridge


The mizzle had joined us before dawn and stayed but with such a short distance to traverse, it hardly mattered as we would be in our hotel before noon.

The miserable weather seemed to increase our pace and this seemed to infuriate my feet, who had ceased their whining since Drewsteington.

Day 7: Marching the track to Ivybridge
Marching the track to Ivybridge

Day 7: Moors Way marker stone to Ivybridge
Moors Way marker stone to Ivybridge

Day 7: Two Moors Way stone at Ivybridge
Two Moors Way stone at Ivybridge
With the leg complete, we had the good fortune that the The Sportsmans Inn allowed us to check in early, so we were able to shower and change into dry clothes.

I then left Matthew at the hotel, to retrieve my car. A bus to Totnes, a train to Exeter St. Davids, and another bus to my home in Okehampton. A necessary inconvenience if we were to ease the problems getting home once we had finished.

Day Eight: Ivybridge to Wembury


A good breakfast had, we packed everything not required for a day walk into the back of the car. Our plan was to leave the car at the Sportsmans Inn, and return by taxi from Wembury. Simple.

Day 8: River Erme
River Erme

The route out of Ivybridge follows the River Erme, and the coast to Coast makes use of the Erme-Plym Trail. It's a fifteen mile walk to the coast on this route, and a little infuriating. The Erme Plym goes from Ivybridge to the outskirts of Plymouth, with a spur dropping to Wembury, so its need to take a right of way towards Plymouth diverts you in the wrong direction. As pleasant as Wembury is, if reaching the coast is the objective, then I can't help but feel there is a route down to Bigbury-on-Sea that could be a better alternative to the official. One day, I'll take a look.

Day 8: a familiar herd
A familiar herd

Leaving the Erme at Sequers Bridge, we pushed on passed Flete, bound for Yealmpton. This, on paper, looked closer than in reality and by the time we reached it, the local cafe was shutting! We grabbed some snacks from the local store and had lunch outside.

Old bridge near Flete #sh #DevonCoast2Coast #ErmePlymTrail
Old bridge near Flete

Then, inexplicably, the route heads north-west, via Gorlofen, arching to Brixton. Once there, the path leaves the road, heading north-west again, on a one kilometre loop before rejoining the road some five hundred metres further on. Nonsensical!

The trail finally starts to bend towards the coast as you reach the mud banks of Cofflete Creek.


Day 8: Cofflete Creek
Cofflete Creek

A kilometre or two further we were treated to our "Field of the Trail"; high praise given the many we had to cross.

Day 8: Field of the journey!
Field of the Trail!

At Hollacombe Hill, we approached the The Odd Wheel Pub in Wembury, where we planned to have a celebratory pint later. But the coast was still a couple of kilometres away and the trail diverted again, at first in the wrong direction, across more arable land. It eventually dropped into a small valley cut by a stream making for the sea. The beach was in sight!

Day 8: Meeting the sea
Meeting the sea
Day 8: Meeting the sea
Meeting the sea

Day 8: Wembury and Journey's End
Wembury and Journey's End
Reaching the end of a long distance walk can be an awkward and anticlimactic affair. Inside there is a sense of achievement and pride. Outside, how do you convey how you are feeling? Hug? Stoically shake hands? Snap a selfie beside a sign post with a forced grin? We decided to wander down to the water's edge to dip our boots. This marked our journey's end.

Or did it? We still had a couple of kilometres to walk up the road to the The Odd Wheel! For me, the pint of Jail Ale in the beer garden was the fitting way to mark the end.

Official End of Walk Pint #sh #DevonCoast2Coast #ErmePlymTrail
Cheers! Photo by Matthew King
I will leave the final thoughts of the trip to Matthew. I can't argue with anything he has said on the Devon Coast to Coast. He has summed it spot on! To read it, visit his blog post at https://hillplodder.com/2016/11/06/a-different-coast-to-coast-devon/.

Thanks Matthew for your excellent company!


Finally, the route: