If only it was summer! The South West Coast Path crosses the River Erme near its mouth. At low tide the water, apparently, is less than knee deep and you simply wade across. Having read the accounts of people who have done it, this is an exhilarating experience.
But this is a November and we have had one of the wettest years on record. The water is freezing cold and the river level is high. Wading is out of the question. I am going to have to walk up the river to the nearest bridge.
I have to confess I quite enjoy walking along the roads at this point. I see plenty of evidence of recent flooding and feel very sorry for the locals who have endured such a terrible year.
Devon’s roads are set low, with high banks and overhanging trees. I rarely see the sky. When I do, it is blue. The sun is shining. How lovely it would be to walk along the coast in the sunshine – but, sadly, that doesn’t happen today. When I do manage to get a view over the high banks, in the distance I can see the higher ground of Dartmoor.
It would be nice to be able to walk up the bank of the river itself. According to my map, there are tracks through the woodland on either side of the river. But I can’t walk through the trees. It’s all private property.
And here is the reason – the Flete Estate. Shame on you. Why don’t you open up your riverside to serious walkers? You would find us a polite and considerate bunch.
Through the trees I see this magnificent house.
Unable to follow a scenic route, I continue along the road and all goes well until I join the busy A379. There are no pavements. I have no choice, because I need to cross the bridge over the Erme, and so I am forced to walk along the edge of this A road. It is a most unpleasant experience, with cars and lorries hurtling past.
Just beyond the bridge I walk past the grand entrance to the Flete Estate, much of which seems to have been turned into holiday accommodation. Still following the busy road, I am relieved to find the bridleway that strikes off to the left and takes me back in southwest direction towards the village of Holbeton.
After the road walking, this is a lovely experience. The ground is stony underfoot (I was worrying about mud, but there was no need to worry) and covered in a soft layer of fallen leaves. The trees arch overhead. There are peaceful fields on either side. I meet nobody else.
According to the map, the path crosses a stream. I was worrying about this – would I become bogged down in mud? But there is a little bridge over the stream and the path is fine. Just beyond the stream, the way goes through a tunnel under a bridge. There is evidence of flooding here, with debris from uprooted bushes and trees lining the route, but the path itself is dry and I meet no obstructions.
I find myself on a farmer’s track and soon I am back on the roads and in the village of Holbeton. Here I am meeting my husband for lunch.
I wait on the village green, outside a closed, sad-looking pub, by the church, and wait for my husband to arrive. He has parked the car at the car park at Stoke Beach, where I plan to end the walk today. He is bringing a packed lunch and we are going to walk back to the car together.
But where is he? I text him and he says he is walking as quickly as he can.
The sun has disappeared behind clouds by the time he arrives and I’m feeling chilly. It is late and I am worrying about the daylight hours left. I am glad to see him, however, and gratefully eat the lunch he has brought.
After eating, we set off along the road, heading for the village of Mothecombe. We follow a very narrow track and end up puffing and panting up an extremely steep hill. I’m not sure I would want to drive up here in a car. Luckily, we meet no vehicles on the way.
At Mothecombe, finally, I am back at the mouth of the River Erme.
It has taken me four hours to end up a few hundred yards from where I started. If only I could have waded across! But it is great to be back at the water’s edge. The light is lovely and the views are stunning.
The next part of the walk is wonderful. We walk through trees and, apart from my usual worries about time, I really enjoy this section of the walk. My husband is much fitter than me, but even he finds the ups and downs tiring.
“We’ll be at Stoke Beach in an hour,” he says, with great confidence. But I know that is far too optimistic.
The first beach we come across is Mothecombe Beach. Earlier on, signs had told us that this was a private beach, only open to the public on Wednesdays and weekends. Today is a Tuesday. But we are on a public footpath and no English beach (with a few rare exceptions) is private property – as long as you are below the high-tide mark.
Mothecombe Beach is a wonderful expanse of soft sand, and has great views across the Erme Estuary. I can see where I walked yesterday, down to Wonwell Beach, in the golden sunlight of yesterday afternoon.
After the beach, we walk along high ground, up and down, following the contours of the coast. Looking back along the shoreline, I can see Beacon Point, Burgh Island beyond, and the distant promontory of Bolt Tail. It seems a very long time ago since I was walking down off Bolt Tail and into the villages of Inner and Outer Hope.
We can see Stoke Beach ahead. It is already well past 3pm, and I am worrying about the hours of sunlight left today. We hurry along. The light seems to be fading already. It is too dull for photography. Grey clouds are building up in the west. Stoke Beach never seems to get much nearer.
At one point, the path heads up a very steep field. The way ahead is barred by two obstructions. Firstly, by a field of bullocks (I don’t like cattle of any sort, and I definitely dislike bullocks). The second obstruction is an electric fence. At this point, I spend some time consulting my map. But the path definitely leads up this field. In the end, we crawl under the electric fence and walk rapidly past the watching bullocks. As the slope becomes precipitous, I am reassured by the thought that even an enraged bull would have difficulty charging up this steep slope.
At the top, we have no time to rest. The light is growing very dim and the first few drops of rain begin to fall. If we had tried to climb this grassy slope much later, I am not sure we would have made it in the rain – the ground would have become too slippery.
Onwards. The wind is blowing from the west and the rain is right in our faces. I pull my hood down. This is pretty miserable. The ground becomes wetter. Luckily we are walking along a track now. Stoke is in sight. Instead of walking around the coast, via Stoke Point, to the public car park, I suggest to my husband that we stick to the road. This will be safer. It is not only very wet, but the sun is about to set.
After this initial shock, my husband says, “Well, this car park doesn’t look very familiar.” I work out he has parked the car somewhere else, in a car park that is a mile or so further down the road. I can’t tell how far exactly, because it is off the edge of my OS map.
He is dispatched to find it – on his own – while I sit on a rock in the empty car park and shiver as I watch the sun set behind the roll of grey clouds on the horizon. Luckily it has stopped raining. Half an hour later, my husband returns – with the car. It is very dark now. He will never be allowed to forget this mistake!
Miles walked = 12
Low points = the bullocks, the rain, the ‘stolen’ car.
High points = beautiful Mothecombe Beach.