Me: “Well that hill can fuck right off! Far too big and steep and and and… hilly!”
Also me: “Ugh, fuck my life this is so flat and tedious. God I’m so bored. I wish there was a fucking hill or something.”
We relished having access to a microwave and a toaster this morning and had beans on toast for breakfast. It’s the little things isn’t it? I never have beans on toast at home but if I can’t have something for long enough I crave that shit. Beans on toast with a nice cup of tea and I was ready to start the day, or as ready as you can be to walk twenty-odd fucking miles on flat cycle path.
We were hoping to be walking by 9.30 this morning but the 21A from Barnstaple to Appledore pissed on that bonfire when the 8.40am bus didn’t show up. Well shit. I mean, it’s not the end of the world, we got the 9.10am with no issues, but by the time we’d faffed around with having wees in the socially acceptable place to have a wee, and tracking down a Red Bull, it was well gone 10am by the time we started the trudge out of Appledore. It’d be fine though, we had hours of daylight and we were just walking back to our tent. We didn’t have to think about finding a pitch and all we had on our backs were the bare essentials for the day.
This bit wasn’t actually too unpleasant. It started off through the less nice bits of the town then headed through some woods. The tide was well out and we walked past what looked like some manner of boat graveyard, the rotting hulls of various vessels embedded in the silt. How does this even happen? Are they just damaged in storms then just left? Do people bring their boats here to die? Will they ever be moved? I mean, boats aren’t cheap are they? So weird. And there were loads of boats in various states of decay as we walked along the estuary towards Bideford.
Bideford, it turns out, is pronounced biddy-ford so yeah, I’ve been saying it wrong this whole time. Awkward. We walked aaaall the way up one side of the estuary, crossed a bridge in Bideford, then started heading aaaall the way back down again, and this is where things go to shit for your entire lower body and a large portion of your morale. You pick up a cycle lane which is now also the Tarka Trail, which is apparently a trail visiting places in a novel about an otter. Seriously. Then you’re on the cycle lane for 84 years.
It’s just long. And flat. And long. And tarmac. I was glad of the cushioning in my new shoes, when you’re on concrete or tarmac for long enough it starts feeling like the ground is coming up to meet your feet with every step for that little bit of extra impact. Tarrant ate all of her snacks out of sheer boredom. Plod on. And on. And on. Ugh. Give me the hills between Bude and Hartford over this shit.
You do veer off onto sand dunes for a short while, in case you weren’t miserable enough by this point, but there are a couple of outstanding wrecks you walk past. I do love a ruin or a wreck, they’re often so photogenic. Tarrant waited patiently for me whilst I waved various photographic devices in their vague direction then off we fucked on our way. It didn’t get any more fun. At one point we walked under a bridge and I got excited because it broke up the monotony.
We made it to Barnstaple which is more than half way. We’d walked aaaall the way up the estuary, then we crossed over a busy bridge, took some steps back down, then started the slog aaaall the way back down the other side. It really just does add insult to injury. It’s bad enough that you’ve got to do the trail’s most boring section with no official ferries to cut out the walk around without cheating, but then you have to spend large portions of time looking at where you need to be, then looking at where you literally just were on the opposite bank. Everything about this section really can just fuck right off.
There’s a big Tesco not far off the trail once you finally make it back to Braunton so we popped into it to pick up some booze for later and I sat down to wait for Tarrant. Yeah nah, really shouldn’t have sat down at all. I was flagging a bit but basically doing alright, now everything had seized up reducing my forward movement to a comedy hobble. Well shit.
Only another few miles to go. We had this. We walked past a lot more boats, some were wrecks, some looked lived in complete with garden gates and potted trees and plants. One looked like an alien spacecraft trying to disguise itself as a boat. One was literally on its roof and I’m dying to know what happened there.
One foot in front of the other. Plod on. Plod forever. My knee that was nearly healed before we started today had a lot of opinions on the day’s events. My right foot hated everything right now. I was quite sure I had a couple of blisters forming and I very rarely get blisters but 23 miles later, plus the 1.5 mile hobble from the trail back to the campsite, and my poor feet were in tatters. I’m so glad we were given the heads up on this trail and had a chance to dump the majority of our shit at a campsite. If we’d tried to do this the usual way I’d probably still be in Barnstaple, sobbing into my Nurofen Plus.
I was ravenous when we got back but as soon as I tried to eat I couldn’t coax my stomach into taking anything. Bugger. Apparently this is a thing when you’ve exerted yourself too much, something to do with hormones and your body trying to prioritise healing your poor, battered muscles rather than digesting shit. It’s not the first time this has happened so I guess now I know this is how my body acts so I should try and source some protein shakes if we’re having a big day. I was also freezing bastard cold. I put my down jacket on and snuggled into Tarrant for a nap. I think the bloody Tarka Trail broke me.
Appledore, Devon to Braunton, Devon, England
Stayed at: Secret Spot Camping, Braunton
Useful shit to know…
- The 21C will take you from Saunton Park to Barnstaple, or you can walk into Braunton and take the 21.
- From Barnstaple Bus Station you can take the 21A to Appledore.
- We got singles for £3.20 per bus but in hindsight we should probably have asked for a North Devon Dayrider.
- There are toilets in the car park in Appledore too which also have a drinking water tap outside. More toilets before Bideford in Victoria Park, in the car park in Instow, and in Tesco in Braunton.
- For water refills you pass enough pubs and cafés.
- If you have a chance to dump the majority of your shit at a campsite or hotel and do this section with minimal gear, that alone is worth whatever you pay for your accommodation.