Thursday, 3 May 2012

Bude to Parson's Cross

We had held a council of war the previous evening. Frank had heard from his taxi driver that the SWCP between Bude and Hartland Quay was a real killer: seven major combes before one had even reached half way, and more after that. Given the challenges of the stretch to Bude this did not appeal!

The weather was a further disincentive to stick to the SWCP. Consistent rain was threatened for the whole day, and was falling as we had breakfast – and that would make the Coast Path even worse. The final clincher was that I remembered that my goal was to get to John O’Groats in two years, and not religiously to follow any particular route.

Bude, v iewed from the Atlantic House Hotel
So a visit to W H Smith provided pencils, an eraser, a highlighter, and to the Mountain Warehouse next door a new and more waterproof anorak. A route was plotted from Bude to what we estimated as the midpoint between Bude and Bideford – a small town in the middle of nowhere called Bradworthy. We set off at a few minutes before 11:00.

Our mapreading skills were soon put to the test – and found lacking. There were two footpaths shown across the North Cornwall Golf Courses shown on the map. The start of the one we should have taken appeared to go through the local Co-op, so we mistakenly took the other one. This finished up in a housing estate, and it took some time, and more effective map-reading, to get back on track. It was then a series of muddy footpaths to get to the point where our course got on to the next OS map, covering the top end of Cornwall and the upper Tamar valley into Devon.  This involved muddy walking down tunnel-like paths of wild garlic and nettles before the country opened up somewhat before we reached the point where we had to cross the A39 – the main road to Bideford, The plan then was to climb up through Budge Farm to a footpath which apparently crossed the Ivyleaf golf course.

There we were met by an elderly lady who offered to help. She was pretty sure that there was an access point to a footpath at the top of the field, but would check with her son, who appeared just then as if on cue. She had obviously failed to pass on the gene for good manners: he was gruff and unpleasant. No, we could not go that way; no, there was no access to a footpath whatever the map said; besides, his neighbour over the hill had shown other walkers on a “ministry map” that there was no footpath anyway. His mother had, she said, lived there for 50 years, but wasn’t prepared either to say that there was a path, or to argue with her son. So after meeting the rudest man in Cornwall it was back down to the A39, and a mile-long detour with an extra 100m of climbing.

Soon after rejoining the A39 at the top of the track past the golf course we came across a farm shop. Frank had a “10 out of 10” local pasty, but acknowledged that it was 10 out of 10 only as a pasty, and that pasties as a class of food rated only 5 out of 10, if that. A mile later it was Kilkhampton and a ginger beer shandy and nuts for me – much more satisfactory.

 Country residents jostling for our attention
After lunch there was the only substantial length of footpath for the whole day. Muddy, of course, and once again we lost our way. Waymarking footpaths seems optional in this part of the world.  So we found ourselves in a field full of young cattle, all of whom started following us like the pied piper of Hamelin. We only escaped them by climbing over electric fences (for which walking poles are very useful) and making off with some alacrity. They were merely curious, I’m sure, but 60 or 70 beasts with the nearest but inches away can be somewhat unnerving.

After this it was only a mile or so to the bottom of the Tamar Valley, where we crossed into Devon. This was only the second county on the walk: thus far it had all been in Cornwall. I thought of this only a couple of hundred metres later – and 20 metres higher – and realised that I should have taken a photo. But going back felt a step too far.

Me, and our destination for the day - with exciting locxal options
The remainder of the afternoon was spent on minor roads, first to Bradworthy, and then for a couple of miles beyond to Parson’s Cross, little more than a house and a signpost, where the “Gnome Reserve” was the only significant destination indicated. Here we had arranged to be picked up by taxi to take us to the Hartland Quay Hotel, where I had arranged for us to stay when the plan was to follow the SWCP throughout. I found most of our cross country trip rather disappointing from the scenery point of view, and the taxi trip didn’t improve matters, as I could only look downwards from an elevated seat.

Hartland Quay itself is spectacular. There’s a long drop down from the nearest village, Stoke, and fantastic rock formations everywhere around the hotel. But it’s easy to see that it’s very demanding walking, so we were pleased to have made the inland diversion.

Joy of joy – my excellent room featured a bath! Frank was less fortunate, as he had only a shower, so I let him have first turn in my bath. (This may seem generous, but meant that I wasn’t time-limited, so there was some self-interest in my offer!) Whisky, before and after the bath, and a meal of pate and excellent moules.

Rain at first, but then just overcast. Some drizzle towards the end of the day, but not enough to require waterproofs. 28.6km. 600m ascent, r07m descent. Easy – but muddy, impossible to avoid roads, and navigation sometimes difficult.

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