The walk from Appledore to Bideford continues along a minor road that winds through an industrial area. Through gateways, I see wastelands of wharves, containers, shacks, cabins, skips. Sometimes I even get a glimpse of the water beyond.
I keep checking my map. Surely I must have missed the South West Coast Path. Am I really supposed to walk on this boring road through this industrial area?
Suddenly I see a foot-path sign, pointing to the left, almost overgrown with ivy. What a relief!
I am hungry and cross with myself for not stopping for lunch in Appledore. But I cheer up as I follow the footpath through countryside, across fields, down a track, and through a section of woodland.
The path loops around and I soon find myself back on the shore again. No longer seaside, I am walking up the estuary of the River Torridge. Ahead I see a collection of rusting boats.
None of them look as if they can float, although one looks like it might be in use, possibly as a houseboat. I don’t like to stare for too long in case it is occupied, but I take a quick photograph.
After following the river for a short distance, the footpath heads up a slope and I walk along a tree-lined route, lined with bluebells.
I meet other walkers, including an older couple with a young boy, who I assume is probably their grandson.
“How far is this stupid walk?” says the boy.
The couple grin at me, looking slightly embarrassed.
“He can play football for hours, but finds walking exhausting,” the man says, with a shrug.
But I sympathise with the lad, and remember the way as I used to feel when my mother would drag us out for yet another boring walk as kids. There is a big difference between finding your own pace and rhythm, and being forced to march to someone else’s beat.
After stopping on a bench for a quick snack, I come down out of the trees and am walking by the river again. The tall bridge ahead is a modern road-bridge, taking the A39 over the river.
I see a family walking along the bank, dwarfed by the massive size of the concrete pillars. We don’t properly notice these things when we are travelling in our cars, but from down here, the magnificent scale of the structure is revealed.
Just beyond the bridge, the path turns around the back of a few houses and becomes an alleyway, leading to a road.
A moment later, and I am walking down residential streets in a very ordinary-looking new housing estate.
A sign tells me to follow the footsteps. It takes me a while to spot them. What a good idea and a clever design that incorporates a walking boot print and the acorn marker.
I am on the outskirts of Bideford and soon the path turns back towards the river bank. I pass a skateboard park and start down a long walkway running along the quay.
Bideford does not give the impression of being an active harbour, although there are a few boats tied up. One is being used as a café. This one – black and aubergine – looks a bit more nautical. Maybe even ex-military. I wonder what it is being used for.
There are buildings and bushes to my right and the occasional bench. But these seats are taken up by young men drinking cans of something – either lager or cider. They are dressed in shabby clothes and have tatty rucksacks hanging off skinny shoulders. Are they homeless or just scruffy? Is this their home town, or have they come down to Bideford for a ‘holiday’?
I am nervously uneasy at being forced to walk very close to these groups. Feeling guilty about my suspicious thoughts, I keep my phone out of sight and march briskly, in what I hope looks like a confident manner.
In a small square is a statue of Charles Kingsley, a historian and novelist, famous for The Water Babies and Westward Ho! He spent some of his childhood years in Clovelly and some in the village of Barnack, close to my home town of Stamford.
I can remember enjoying The Water Babies when I was young, but I must confess I haven’t read any of his other works. I decide I should really read Westward Ho!
It is nearly 2:30pm and, deciding it is too late for lunch, I sit and have a cream tea in a café, before walking on to cross over the River Torridge at the old bridge.
Bideford Long Bridge is one of the longest medieval bridges in England and still in use by both traffic and pedestrians.
I stop on the bridge to take a photograph down the estuary. You can see the modern road bridge and the industrial wharf area of Appledore in the distance.
The east shore of the River Torridge has a further collection of decrepit looking boats. The fact they are marooned by the low tide probably makes them look worse than they really are.
On the other side of the bridge, I follow the road for a short distance. You can’t walk along the river bank at this point, because of private housing.
I find signs beside the road pointing to The Tarka Trail, which is also the route of the South West Coast Path. The trail is a popular walking and cycling route, following the line of an old railway track. Soon I am passing back under the A39 road bridge.
The problem with walking old railway routes is that:
- They are flat and straight.
- You can see for miles ahead, which makes for a predictable walk.
- The route is often lined by high banks or high hedges with established vegetation.
- In other words, they are boring.
The monotony of walking is only interrupted by groups of cyclists (often with children pinging their bells while pedalling furiously) and the solitary, grim-faced jogger.
Instow is three miles away. It is a looooong three miles.
As I get closer to the village I come across an old jetty and then a sculpture.
There are also lime kilns dotted around the area.
As I approach Instow, I meet more people: cyclists, joggers and even the occasional group of strollers.
I walk through the remains of an old station. I gather the signal box is a listed building, the first signal box to be listed.
Beyond the signal box, I join the road and turn left to walk along the seafront at Instow. I wait at the first bus stop and catch the number 21 back to Barnstaple.
It is early evening and I stop at a quayside pub (The Watergate) and enjoy a late lunch/early supper of steak and chips. When I leave, the sun is settling low over the River Taw, where some sort of mini-regatta is taking place in the gathering dusk. I can’t resist photographing the Taw Bridge and the sailing boats, against the backdrop of the evening sky.
Miles walked today = 12 miles
Total distance walked = 1371