142(b) Braunton Burrows and Saunton Sands

I look back along the route I’ve just walked, back up the sandy banks of the  River Taw, where a lone man is walking his dog. In the distance, around the bend of the river, is Barnstaple.

looking up estuary, River Taw, Horsey Island, Ruth's coast walk

And then I look ahead to the curving beach and decide to take a short cut across the flat, wet sand. This turns out to be a mistake.  towards The Neck, Braunton Burrows, Ruth walking the coast in Devon

I end up bogged down in soft mud and pick my way, with care, back to the shore. The official South West Coast Path follows the edge of the dunes, before turning north and across the vegetated dunes of Braunton Burrows, towards Saunton. But I want to head out along the spit, to wherever the sand leads me.

There is a wrecked hull on this shore too. People are taking photographs of it. Looking at the sand piling up around it, I wonder how long it will take before it is completely buried.

 more wrecked boats, The Neck, Braunton, Ruth walking the South West Coast Path

Not all the boats are wrecks. There are some moored here that look as though they are in regular use. I wonder if the owners have to pay any fees to leave them here.

boats, The Neck, Braunton, Ruth's coast walking

The yellow helicopter from Chivenor has been flying around. I have been aware of its distant buzzing for some time, but now it roars past, almost overhead.  RAF rescue painted on the side. I wonder if they are out on a genuine rescue mission, or just patrolling the coast as part of a routine exercise.

RAF helicoptor, Ruth on her coastal walk, Saunton Sands

I walk to the end of the spit, where there is a beacon light perched on a pile of rocks. Across the water is Instow and Appledore. Now, at last, I make sense of the map. This area is coloured yellow/orange, as a beach. I had mistakenly thought it would be submerged, but it is actually above the high tide line and forms a permanent curve of sand dunes, called ‘The Neck’. The tip, where the beacon sits, is Crow Point.

Less than half a mile of estuary separates Crow Point from the South West Coast Path on the other side of the estuary. I can clearly see the old jetty with the wrecked ship, where I walked yesterday. It looks deceptively near.

 jetty with ruined boats, Instow Barton Marsh, Ruth Livingstone

I remember walking around estuaries in Essex, and ending up only a few hundred yards from where I’d been standing many days previously. So much walking, so little progress.

Having reached the farthest southern point of Saunton Sands, I begin walking northwards, up the beach. The sunshine and nearby car park make this an attractive place for visitors, and I pass walkers and families out for a day on the beach.

I come to an area where wooden posts stick out of the sand and form lines marching down the beach. This must be all that remains of ‘The Groynes’, as marked on my map.

 Groynes, Saunton Sands, SWCP, Ruth's coast walk

A young man has strung a tightrope across between several of the posts and is practising his wire walking. I watch him for a while. There are other people around, but nobody takes any notice. In America, I imagine he would have drawn a crowd. But this is England and we tend to ignore eccentric behaviour.

 wire walking, on Saunton sands, Ruth's coast walk

An off-shoot of the official South West Coast Path (SWCP) comes down to the beach at this point. But, looking at the dunes, I can see no evidence of well-worn path. In any case, I plan to walk to Saunton along the flat sands. A section farther north of here is marked in red as a ‘Danger Area’, but it is possible to pass below the high tide mark – and I see no signs of army activity today.

The beach stretches into the distance. Almost empty.

Saunton Sands, Ruth walking the coast of Devon

The shore curves gently, and it is some time before I see Saunton ahead. It looks a long way away. The sand is soft and unspoiled, rippled by the waves, and difficult to walk across because it is very soft in places.

 Saunton Sands, Ruth walking around the coastline of the UK

I stay as far away from the dunes as I can and walk close to the sea. The waves are gentle and muffled by the soft sand. It is very quiet  and my ears become tuned to the slightest noise. A thundering sound behind me makes me turn, only to see a small piece of dried seaweed tumbling along as the wind blows it across the ridges of sand.

It is a long way to Saunton. Three miles of walking across a flat surface, with only the occasional glimpse of people in the distance, make it difficult for my brain to get an idea of how far I have come and how far I have yet to go.

 Saunton, at the end of the sands, Ruth Livingstone

Finally I draw closer to Saunton. The long white building perched above the sea looks like a hotel. The insects on the beach turn out to be people.

approaching Saunton, Ruth, Coastal Walker

To me, this section of the beach seems crowded, but in reality it is amazingly empty.

 looking back along Saunton Sands, Ruth Livingstone

The sea is far out. A long walk across the sand. And with only the merest hint of waves. But it is marked as a surfing beach on my map and there are families heading out, optimistically, with their boards.

 surfers on Saunton Beach, Ruth's coast walking

It is two hours since I set off from Crow Point and past 4pm.  I am feeling hungry and thirsty and am disappointed to see no sign of a café on the beach. But a few yards up the road, and I find the ‘Sands on the Beach’ café. It is rather pricey, but the food is excellent and they don’t seem perturbed when I leave sandy footprints across their carpet. After a wonderful meal, I phone my husband to let him know I’ve reached Saunton, and head up the access road to meet the car.

As I climb up the road, I get a wonderful view of the Braunton Burrows. It is an immense area of vegetated dune, the largest in England. And I can trace the path of the official SWCP and see people walking along it.

Braunton Burrows, South West Coast Path, Ruth's coastal walk

Part of me always regrets the path not taken. I wonder what it would have been like to walk through the dunes. What weird plants and animals I might have seen. But I have experienced the most amazing few hours of beach walking, and I wouldn’t have wanted to miss that either.

There is a walker I know on twitter (@GaryHolpin) who walked the whole distance of the South West Coast Path, and then turned around and began walking it all again. I understand the urge to do that.


Miles walked today: 9 miles
Miles since walk began = 1,392


About Ruth Livingstone

Walker, writer, photographer, blogger, doctor, woman, etc.
This entry was posted in 09 Devon and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to 142(b) Braunton Burrows and Saunton Sands

  1. It looks a stunning bit of coastline. Strange how beach walking varies, some being perfect, usually where the sea has recently washed, and some downright tiresome.

    The photos are great and cropped to advantage. I have a friend who is a semi professional photographer and he doesn’t believe in cropping – he sees part of the skill in being able to frame a picture properly in the first place. Me, I need all the help I can get.

    Presumably you do your posts from home on the computer?

    • Hi and yes, it was a stunning piece of coast.
      I almost agree with your photographer friend, and I remember the days before digital when you had to make every exposure as perfect as you could. I crop so that I can easily fit the images on the page, using the elongated horizontal (or letterbox) style wherever possible. I also crop to highlight those features I want to talk about. (I take so many photographs, I’m spoilt for choice and I could write a book about each and every walk…)
      I have tried doing posts while away, using my iPad or my laptop and whatever dodgy internet connection I can find. I really admire the fact that you manage to do write-ups on the go. But I prefer the comfort and reliability of my big PC at home and my stable broadband connection! So I write up a notebook journal after each walk, and do my blogging when I get home.

      • I now only use my iPad and iPhone for maps with the added advantage of GPS showing your current position all the time – that works from satellite and is therefore not dependant on phone signal. I have the whole country on both with OS 1:50000 using Memory Map and I post from the iPad using an app. called Blogpress which works fairly well for text only posts, but if you include any photos you need a full 3G signal, also, if you try Blogpress always “save as local draft” first before asking it to send your post to the blog, then if it doesn’t go you can still get back to the original and try again. I’m off to Bellingham with the caravan on tuesday for 12 days.

  2. I’m glad you managed to extricate youreslf from the soft mud and pick your way back to shore, the mud around those estuaries is lethal (and people frequently have to be recscued). Still, it would be one way to get a closer look at the big yellow helicopter.

    Also, are you trying to catch me up? I’d better go faster… 😛

  3. mariekeates says:

    Beach walking can be hard work if the sand is soft and I’ve been there with almost getting stuck in mud too. I’m not sure I’d like three whole miles on sand so well done to you for doing it. 🙂

  4. paul sennett says:

    The Beach and the Burrows are amazing…. felt like the area south of Bordeaux in France near Arcachon.. The tide was miles out when we did this.. truly a peaceful place. One surprise was how hard under foot the sand was… so easy to walk on….
    I was nervous of a very long soft sand slog

    • It is amazing, isn’t it. I’ve just walked along Rhossili Beach, deemed to be one of the best in the world. But I think Saunton Sands comes close to being the best in Britain. There is something very Zen-like about beach walking – miles of sand and nothing else.

  5. Karen White says:

    The beach does look amazing. I will be interested to get to your Rhossili Beach post, it has to be one of the most special places I’ve ever been to.

  6. Pingback: 189. Braunton to Putsborough – Albion Ambulations

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