Another beautiful day greeted us as we set off to our next stop – Crackington Haven. With a short 10 mile walk, we hoped for an early arrival, allowing us to do some much needed laundry. We zipped along at a pretty fair clip for most of the morning until the rolling green fields gave way to the all too familiar ups and downs.
What we did know about today’s trail was that, at the end of the day, it would lead us to a reunion with our dear friend Ian, whom we met several years ago while walking the Camino de Santiago. He’d booked a room in our Crackington Haven hotel, driven from his Oxford home and met us on the trail, lifting our spirits and escorting us down to where a cold drink and a hot shower awaited.
We hit the trail at 7:30 this morning in anticipation of what our guidebook described as “one of the hardest days of the path.” We left Hartland Quay just as the sun was rising, and set our sights on Bude, 15 miles away.
We continued on, racking up a total of 10 major descents, crossing creeks that flowed into the ocean. For every drop in elevation, the path climbed right back up the other side of the ravine, leaving us huffing and puffing most of the day.
At the end of the day, according to our guidebook, we had conquered 4,500 feet of ascent… and as everyone knows, what goes up, must come down! The math makes my feet hurt. We have never, on any of our treks, experienced such elevation gain and loss in any one day. But we did it today, and now that this day is nearly behind us, we will sleep well, hoping that this was the hardest day for us.
We looked north to Wales for the first week on England’s South West Coast Path, but have turned the corner and the sun is setting into the ocean as I write. I can no longer see Wales, nor any whales, which has been a homonym joke for us. Don’t you wish you were here to share in the fun?
How’s the trail? As varied as any we have walked. Plenty of mud, slippery rocks, and more than 4,000 stairs–so far. Most of the time, it has been dry and steep. We have climbed more than 20,000 feet so far, which means we have descended 20,000 feet. Mont Blanc and Italy had steep parts, but not as consistently steep as this. If you are calculating averages, we had two quite flat days around Barnstaple.
How’s the food? B&Bs offer breakfast menus now, with many choices. Even a continental breakfast tray, delivered to our room when we want an early start. Lunch is a picnic, usually a sandwich, crisps and fruit bought in the morning at a shop. However, we are in a stretch with no stores nearby, so we get box lunches from the hotel. We have learned to carry plenty of snacks. Our evening meals come in pubs and a couple of restaurants, or when there is nothing else near, our hotel. In Woolacombe, we found a place that satisfied our veggie craving. Lots of fish and chips, and last night I had a huge Yorkshire pudding with sausages, chips, and (what else?) peas. We both have tried (and liked) mushy peas.
Surf’s up? Surf shops, surf lessons, and surfers, everywhere. The surf? Not so much.
Americans? None on the trail, so far. Actually, not as many other trekkers as we expected. Mainly brits, others from the continent. Otherwise we go long stretches without having to share the trail. Long stretches are very remote, in fact.
How far? We hope to make it from Minehead to Land’s End, 260 miles. Everyone else we have talked to is doing a day hike, or a few days. So far, no one going to Land’s End, nor the entire 630 miles. We have walked 109 miles so far, or about the length of the Tour du Mont Blanc.
The weather? Tuesday was brilliant, our third such day. Two days of rain, others were overcast, sometimes drippy.
Forest or pasture? We left the forest behind at midday Tuesday and had wide-open views of pastures, farms, cliffs, the ocean. Forest walking is not our cup of tea…climbing on a drippy forest trail is not much fun. The same climb out in the open seems so much easier.
Language? Everyone so far speaks English, making for fun conversations over breakfast, in the pubs, or on the trail. No sign language required.
Laundromats? Are you kidding? We wash, rinse, squeeze in a towel, and hang our moisture-wicking clothes. One B&B host offered to do our laundry, though! Perhaps she was hoping to get rid if the odor.
Speedy? As usual, Sue zips up the hills and I struggle to keep up. But we agree steep uphill is less worrisome than steep downhills, where one slip-up can be disastrous.
No, we’re not heading home just yet. Westward Ho!, our stop for the night, was named for Charles Kingsley, the 19th century author of the novel Westward Ho!. The exclamation point is always included, punctuating the seaside resort town with an expectation of excitement.
We’ve passed many harbors and rivers at low tide, so we were excited to finally see the effects of the high tide. As the tide came in, the River Torridge water levels rose, floating all the boats and creating an idyllic scene…at least until the tide raced out again, leaving boats grounded, waiting for the cycle to begin again.
Today was the last of our easy, flat days for near future. Tomorrow we will again follow the contours of the coastal cliffs. The guidebook warns of steep ups and down. Can’t wait!
Our restful two nights ended in a flurry of anxiety when I discovered an email last night buried in our junk folder. Our reservation for tonight (Saturday), one that had been confirmed last February, had been canceled! Madly searching for an alternative proved fruitless Friday night, everyplace we called was booked. Finally, this morning, after some determination and creative problem solving, we found an alternative and managed to avoid a night on the park bench.
This morning the path led us out of Braunton, upstream alongside the River Taw to Barnstaple where we stopped for tea, then crossed the river, where we turned and followed the same river back downstream to Instow. Not the most inspiring walk, but the sun was shining and we knew we’d have a roof over our heads at the end of the day.
I suggested we grab a bottle of gas station wine and some KFC from the takeout next to our room. I was tired, but while I was showering Reg made other plans. “We’ll have to walk about a mile, he said, but I found a pub that looks like it might be a little better than Kentucky Fried Chicken.”
Sue climbs a flight of the 30,000 stairs on England’s South West Coast Path. No, I did not add a zero. But I am adding as we walk. So far, 2,159 stairs in five days, 64 miles, and 13,200 feet of ascent.