Nearly 7 hours of strenuous walking on Saturday, in what was the last of the Exmoor sections, walk #3 was our toughest section yet. We were rejoined by LN with the addition of her husband CW, and of course with them, our four-legged walker Woody.
- Start: Lymouth, North Devon
- Finish: Combe Martin, North Devon
- Mileage: 13.7m
- Guide book timing: 7 hrs
- Actual timing: 6hrs 50mins (no-one understands how we made this happen)
- Grading: Strenuous
- Weather: 12C cloudy and windy
- Walkers: me, R, JC, LN, CW, Woody.
This walk was, without doubt, strenuous. Yet, oddly, it was only strenuous when it was strenuous, if that makes sense? The ups were harsh and the downs were steep and hard on the knees. There was a lot of flat and some gentle gradients in between. I kept my position at the back for the majority of the day – the unfittest of the walkers, with a “slow and steady” motto!
Walking for this long, and driving from Exeter meant a bleary-eyed early start: leaving Exeter at 07:00 to get to Combe Martin for 08:30. The sun was shining when we arrived, and although there was a chill in the air, we were positive about the day ahead. The threat of Storm Freya on her way and the window of ok-ish weather today meant we had to crack on with no time to lose. It was a 30 minute drive back to the start point, then boots on, map ready and we set off heading towards to the Cliff Railway: the intention being to start our long day with a jolly little ride up the cliff.
Alas, we were an hour too early for the cliff railway to take us up, (first time for everything!) so our first ascent was a tough zigzagged, slippery path, albeit with lovely views stretching back the way we came on our previous walk. There were also delightful poems printed on lamp posts, allowing you to catch your breath and enjoy some poetry.
Once leaving Lynton, you follow a tarmac path towards Valley of the Rocks. This was the first moment to suggest not looking down too much, to your right. The drop was steep and there would be nothing much to stop you heading straight for the big blue…
From Valley of the Rocks, we followed the road, past the toll house and onwards to Woody bay. The walk here seemed surprisingly unchallenging, as we sauntered along a road, with helpful signposts before entering the woods a mile or so later.
Once out of Woody Bay, we met the coast and for the next few miles the path stretched ahead of us, each summit or curve revealing a more breath-taking view than the previous until we came to edge of Heddon’s Mouth, where the long, slow descent and the view of the opposite side of the valley offered us an idea of the intense climb that was to come!
On reaching the summit, at which point I hoped we had met the highest point, we were blasted with strong wind and yet more climbs, hair-raising drops and a narrow, relentless path. This part of the walk does actually come with a warning to be careful on windy days, which had given me pause to consider re-scheduling this walk for a calmer day. As we rounded East Cleave, we were all starting to feel hungry but the elements were not on our side and the perfectly placed bench with shelter, views and room for us all did not appear. Our experience so far has led us to think that these plentiful benches and idyllic spots have the mysterious power of disappearing when you need them…
Holdstone Down provided a change as we left the sheer drops and wandered along a path that seemed to be carved through the middle of the foliage, making our way to Great Hangman. This was where we would find the highest point on the SWCP, which, considering the pain it caused my lungs to get there, it was a little underwhelming! I had hoped there would be a plaque or something for the quintessential photo of a point that we would only find once…
Past this point we began our final descent. Combe Martin was peeping through the gaps in the land and we knew we only had to go down. However, 10 miles into a walk that had several grueling climbs, we were starting to fade a little. R’s hamstring was playing up, CN’s knee was gone, JC and I needed a wee and Combe Martin seemed to take ages to get closer. Getting close to Little Hangman was a little hairy to say the least. The wind picked up ten-fold, as predicted. The rain was imminent. Limbs were sore. We stopped making conversation. All thoughts were on keeping upright and getting to the end unscathed. I started thinking about what beer was on tap and whether a cream tea would be available. I’d put my map away in anticipation of the ending being in sight and resisted the temptation to check the distance. This was our longest walk yet, and we were (well, I know I was) feeling it!
We sloped into the carpark where we learned that we have less than 600 miles to go. A man and his dog congratulated us when we said where we’d come from. Weak legs (a bad knee, a pulled hamstring and wobbly knees from the down down downs) and muddy boots got into to car to drive the short distance to Pack O Cards for a well-earned pint. (I sense we will be earning a lot of pints over the the next 600 miles).
Learnings from walk #3
- Just because everyone you meet isn’t going the same way as you, doesn’t mean you are going the wrong way.
- Breathe. Take it slow. Hills hurt, but they come to an end and the views are spectacular.
- Still can’t get my layers right! Insulated trousers are fabulous, but the base-layer/microfleece/rainproof jacket isn’t working for me: Far too hot during exertion!
- A flask of tea drank whilst still hot is a wonderful booster!
- Public transport, although available, doesn’t seem to exist on Sundays at this time of year!
- NOW is the time to walk! Street parking is often free and carparks have cheaper rates in the off-season!
- Despite its “strenuous” label, the walk was doable – we all survived (some better than others!) and though tough at times, perfectly doable! Glad we could have a lie-in the next day!
Thank yous and mentions
Thank you to R for driving us all that way and to LN and CW for car ferrying!
Pack O Cards, High Street, Combe Martin sorted us out for a round of drinks (Thanks CN!) and didn;t mind muddy boots or tired dogs.
My Just Giving page is doing well – £40 raised so far!
The Charity Bit…
If you have enjoyed following this walk, looking at the photos or have learned something you didn’t know, then perhaps you could give a small donation to my Just Giving Page here https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/grace-langridgeswcpchallenge
Or take a moment to read up on the Anthony Nolan charity to find out more about what they do. https://www.anthonynolan.org/