Barnstaple to Minehead, 25 to 30 September 2005
When I walked from Land's End to John O'Groats in 2004, I took a short cut. I spent 10 days walking the South West Coast Path from Land's End to Barnstaple, but from there the coast path heads west - not the way to John O'Groats - so I headed inland across Exmoor.
The next year I decided to walk the part of the coast path I missed, from Barnstaple to Minehead. This is one of the best sections of the coast path - wide sandy beaches, spectacular cliff walking which occasionally pushed my vertigo to its limit and wild moorland all packed into a 4 or 5 day walk.
I started at Barnstaple Long Bridge, where I left the coast path in 2004. From there the path is an easy level trail down the estuary of the River Taw. The mouth of the Taw is a complicated arrangement, and where the path reaches the sea you are only a mile from Appledore, a 23 mile walk by the coast path. At Airy Point the trail turns north for a 3 mile tramp along the expanse of Saunton Sands,then winds round Saunton Down to Croyde, where I stayed in a B&B.
I am told that I spent my first seaside holiday at Croyde, at the age of 6 weeks. The main change hereabouts has been the arrival of the surfers, who mostly hang out in Croyde Bay and Putsborough. Between the two is Baggy Point, which I rounded next morning. Then there was a two mile walk across the sands to Woolacombe and Morte Point beyond.
At Morte Point the scenery changes. Gone are the wide sandy beaches of the west-facing coast, replaced by the cliffs of the north coast, steeper as you go east. The next section past Bull Point and Lee Bay to Ilfracombe is a fine piece of coast walking. After a bite to eat in Ilfracombe, I headed on to Combe Martin, arriving at the Royal Marine in Combe Martin just before dark.
The next day was a tough one. First the steep climb to the Little Hangman and Great Hangman, the highest point on the whole coast path, then a fine cliff walk and descent to sea level at Heddon's Mouth. It was windy, and the cliff path was scary at times, but the views just kept getting better. I stayed that night at the youth hostel in Lynton.
The plan next day was to finish at Minehead, but the weather turned nasty. It was raining steadily as I walked through the woods to Porlock, and worse, it was getting dark: September days are a lot shorter than the June days I had enjoyed before on the coast path. So I called it a day at Bossington.
I stayed that night with my sister, then returned next morning to finish off the path. It was a fine high level walk across Selworthy Beacon to the end at Minehead Harbour.