The first part of today was fucking lovely albeit a little cow infested. There was plenty of flat that you could get a pace up on insomuch as various injuries would permit, and the hills were the perfect level of hilly. Not too steep, steps designed for actual humans rather than beings consisting entirely of legs, and not too many of them. Yes, aside from a couple of bovine interludes this morning was most enjoyable.
We swung into Ilfracombe to pick up some stuff to cook on our brand new cookset and treated ourself to a nice sit down and a Red Bull. See, this is why it takes us so bloody long to get anywhere, we’d walked a whopping four miles before we decided we deserved a rest. A lovely old Israeli woman shuffled past and had a chat with us about what we were doing, then she warned us to keep covered from the sun and not to accept lifts from strangers. Aw. Trail mum. What a darling.
It seems there’s a very cute side of Ilfracombe with a gorgeous church against the backdrop of the utterly stunning hills. It doesn’t even look British, it looks like the kind of view you’d travel hundreds of miles to see because Instagram demands it. Then you turn around and there are two concrete monstrosities that looked like squat cooling towers. What the fuck?! It’s a theatre apparently, known locally as Madonna’s Bra, but seriously, how did that get approved? Did they have no eyes?
The hill out of Ilfracombe looked painful but it wasn’t actually too bad. The day was a scorcher but we had loads of shady sections to walk through so we didn’t fucking melt. Again, the hills were the perfect amount of incline, we just plodded on in a daydream. Easy walking. We stopped for lunch on a conveniently placed bench and gazed out over the Bristol Channel as we assembled our ham, cheese and salad wraps because we’re healthy now.
We’re pretty sure that was Wales across the water. The bit on the left could easily be Rhossili and there were two little lumps that could be Worms Head. That means we were looking at a whole huge bastard stretch of coastline that we weren’t actually going to walk and that hadn’t happened in a long, long time.
Shit started getting a bit tougher as we walked towards Combe Martin but we knew it would, we’d been given a heads up. I’m not going to lie, we were definitely stalling leaving the village on account of the fact we could see the fucking hills in our future and not a single muscle in my body was happy about it. We found vegan ice cream for Tarrant so we decided we couldn’t possibly pass up that chance. Oh and maybe we should pop to this shop for a Coke. Ooh look, a toilet, best see if I can squeeze a tactical wee out hey.
We were just delaying the inevitable. As soon as you leave Combe Martin you’re in the Exmoor National Park which is all scrublandy and ferny and hilly. Emphasis on the hilly. Great Hangman is apparently the highest point on the South West Coast Path but before that you have to climb up Little Hangman which is emotional. Fuck me, we’ve not done a hill like that for a few days! When you stop to gulp water and try not to die though, that eyehole fodder is worth the damage you’re doing to your poor knees.
Great Hangman isn’t much further but it’s a gentler incline. It’s a bit of an anti-climax but don’t say that to its face. It’s not bad for a short while after that until you suddenly find yourself at the top of a hill facing an utterly brutal climb back up the other side and it didn’t even have the decency to be a zig-zag. Well, shit. Let’s get this over with then. The trail down wasn’t too awful, all lovely and winding. And you know what? Yeah it was steep but the climb up didn’t ruin us either. Check us out, being all fit and shit.
We figured finding a spot to camp would be a bit of a challenge this evening but it turned out to be way harder than we anticipated. The best spot was taken up by five alpacas and I do fucking love alpacas, they’re one of my favourite animals, but they started to approach us rapidly and I had no idea what for. Food? Pets? To use our faces as spittoon target practice? Who fucking knew? We noped out of that field.
The trail hugged the coast with livestock to the right and bracken sweeping steeply down to the left. We checked out a headland where the Tarka Trail fucked off on its own little mission but there was nowhere suitable. Then the path became a little sliver of fuck all with a whole load of certain death to the left, and fuck fuck fuck! I didn’t like this at all. We picked our way around the headland very slowly, I just focused on Tarrant’s heels. Seriously Coast Path, I thought we were done with this shit!
As we rounded a corner it opened up enough to slot a two human tent but only just, and it was on the cusp of acceptable slopiness. It was the furthest we’d been from the edge for what felt like hours (it was 15 minutes) so we took it. We were slightly in the way, we had to pile stones up around the pegs so anyone walking past would notice them and not trip up over them, but no-one came past. To be fair we’d seen, like, two people along this stretch anyway.
Tarrant cooked dinner on our new cookset, it was wonderful and very much worth carting a jar of pesto around all day. We even caught the fiery skyball fucking off before bed. I tried not to think about the trail ahead. It was pretty much like this all the way down into the valley, and I could see it heading up the other side. It was going to be an emotional morning.
Bull Point, Devon to Trentishoe, Devon, England
Stayed at: Wild camp by the path on the headland
Useful shit to know…
- Toilets are at Lee, Ilfracombe (but off the trail in a car park near the Co-op, and also by the pier), Hele, and Combe Martin.
- You pass plenty of businesses to fill up your water, or there are two streams you can get to. One is in the valley after Bull Point, one is after Great Hangman in the valley before the big bastard hill.