SWCP Day 5. Barnstaple to Westward Ho!

Today’s distance walked – approx 31 kms (19 miles).
Ascent – approx 171m (561 ft).

I woke early after a fantastic sleep in my lovely bed at The Old Vicarage b&b. After a superb breakfast I packed up and got ready to leave. To my horror, there was water dripping out the bottom of my pack. I quickly pulled everything out and found water in the bottom of my pack but absolutely no sign whatsoever of a leak in my Camelbak bladder. I sloshed it around, turned it upside down, shook it, squeezed it, and still couldn’t find a leak. I dried everything off and repacked. I got my pack on and same again, more water 🙁 so I made all the same checks – nothing. I repeated the entire process a third time before emptying some of the water out of the bladder.. grrrr.. but all good.

The long, straight railway trail out of Barnstaple

The long, straight railway trail out of Barnstaple

I set off at 9.30am. The route out of Barnstaple started with numerous Kms along the Tarka Trail tarmac cycle path, this time on the South bank of the river. It was long and straight (following the route of an old railway line). A few Kms out of Barnstaple I passed the restored and very pretty railway station building at Fremington.

River Taw looking over to Braunton Burrows

River Taw looking over to Braunton Burrows

I turned off to the riverside at East Yelland marsh and headed out around the estuary. I was buffeted by the strong headwind, and it was a little bit chilly today. There had been a hint of drizzle, but luckily it came to nothing. The view on the estuary was superb. The tide was out and the colours of the estuary were black, blue and white – of the estuary mud, the river channel and golden sands on the other side of the river where I walked yesterday.

Part-ship abandoned on the estuary

Part-ship abandoned on the estuary

The coast path led around to the river Torridge, and as the tide was out I had to walk a good distance to cross the bridge at Bideford (17kms, 10 miles from Barnstaple).
The trail led around to the gorgeous little village of Instow. From there it became tarmac again into Bideford, which was a little bit tedious and made my feet hurt.

Bideford looked really nice, and it smelled really nice too. As soon as I crossed the bridge I got a lovely whiff of (hot) chips and vinegar. The village and waterfront looked lovely, but I didn’t look around. Instead, I ate my lunch (peanut butter wrap and an apple) on a sunny park bench. From Bideford the trail, now on the opposite bank was a bit more interesting through some woodlands, down to the river and up through some urban areas.

I soon arrived in Appledore (great name!) which has lots of beautiful tiny cottages, and a lovely outlook over the wide estuary over to Instow. There was an exciting event happening in Appledore, and most residents and all tourists in the village were at the seafront to see it.

Car stuck in the estuary at Appledore

Car stuck in the estuary at Appledore

The event was the removal of a vehicle from out in the estuary mud, by some Royal Marines from the base I walked past yesterday. The vehicle had apparently been driven there a week ago by someone who thought they would try to drive across the estuary. The tide has submerged it many times since.
I bought an ice-cream and got a good position on the promenade. It was slow going… with a large JCB vehicle slowly winching it in, and a designated ‘driver’ handling the steering from within the vehicle. A huge round of applause went up when they pulled out up the boat ramp!
I continued my stroll through Appledore down a very old part of town and a narrow street with cute houses with names like cockle cottage, crab quay, rose ridge cottages, puffins and rockpools. There were two great looking pubs as I exited the village, but I didn’t have an excuse to visit one, so I carried on.

From Northam Burrows to Braunton Burrows

From Northam Burrows to Braunton Burrows

Next it was on to Northam Burrows Country Park, a site of natural beauty and interest. I started off on the marshes, then rounded the headland directly opposite Saunton Sands and Braunton Burrows (where I came in to this huge estuary yesterday morning). I could hear the roar of the waves on the coast before I could see them. The tide was still half way out, but the waves were enormous! I walked on top of the huge sand dunes and got a great view of the coast, the golf course behind the dunes, and the estuary I just walked from.
I walked into Westward Ho! and realised how tired I was. My host Bryan from the Old Vicarage had told me about a good wild camping spot outside of the village – so I topped up my water, and hurried on through. Westward Ho! Was pretty touristy from the little I saw of it, and hardly anything of the original buildings on the seafront remained. There were some awful blocks of holiday apartments and numerous eateries and bars.

A few cool things to mention: The first being that Rudyard Kipling spent some time here, and along the seafront on the path is part of his poem “If”, which I love.

Beach huts at Westward Ho!
Beach huts at Westward Ho!

Second cool thing was immediately above the poem were some original, wooden brightly painted beach huts. Third, and opposite 1 & 2 was the 120 year old ‘rock pool’ – a sea water swimming pool built into the rock, and only visible at low tide. The tide was now coming in, and the waves were washing over the edge to the delight of the single family gutsy enough to brave it in today temperatures.

Tidal swimming pool in Westward Ho!
Tidal swimming pool in Westward Ho!

On my way out of town I passed the ‘famous’ Seafield carpark, the most famous car park in Britain. I was stumped so I asked Google, and it turns out a local businessman bought the carpark off the Council a few years ago and had made it free for people to park there 🙂 Legend.

Onwards from Westward Ho!
Onwards from Westward Ho!

I carried on a couple of Kms to the place Bryan recommended I wild camp fire the night. I spotted it immediately, right next to the trail in full view of anyone who comes along. I cooked and ate dinner, and managed to wait until 7.30pm before putting up the tent. It got pretty chilly with a really strong wind, so I put on my jumper and waterproofs. At the time of writing (9pm) there are still plenty of people trail running, dog walking and promenading.
The site is in between two hills with farmland to the back and just above a magnificent deeply-shelved beach with huge pebbles/boulders rounded by the pummelling of the enormous waves crashing into the beach. The roar of the waves and rocks being dragged by the backwash is mesmerising!

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