The tide is in, covering much of Saunton Sands and the beach is relatively crowded compared to yesterday. I take a few photographs and then head up the slope.
The South West Coast Path runs above the road. And the road runs above the hotel. All I have to do is climb up to it.
I take what seems the most obvious (and the most scenic) route and end up walking along the bottom of the gardens of a row of private houses and come to a dead-end. There might be a way through to the road, but it very overgrown and I can’t see a path. I retrace my steps and check my map. Silly me, I need to keep the hotel building on my left. I set off again.
I walk through the hotel car park, past tennis courts and see a helicopter landing site – with a superb view over the dunes of Braunton Burrows.
After walking along the coast road for a while, I realise I must have missed the path. Another look at my map, and another retrace of my steps, and I find the footpath sign. From here the South West Coast Path runs parallel to the road, and there is another great view right down the length of Saunton Sands and the dune system.
The path leads straight ahead, with gorse bushes on either side, for about a mile. I meet a few groups of families and strollers. The sky is blue, the sun is bright, and I am full of energy.
Further along and I take more photographs. Beyond the dunes the gleam of the River Taw is visible. After three days of estuary walking, during which I ended up very close to where I started, I am finally making some progress.
And in the distance is more land. I take a photograph with my camera on full zoom. The far headland must be Hartland Point. The group of white houses (on the far left of the photo below) is just recognisable as Clovelly.
Later I lay two OS maps out on the floor and use a piece of string to calculate the distance. Hartland Point is nearly 15 miles from here, as the crow flies. But many more miles (53 to be exact) walking distance!
I do get attached to these distant landmarks. Hartland Point has been a waymark for me since Tintagel and my aim point during the many long hard climbs from Boscastle through to Bude and on to Hartland Quay. I feel sad as I round the headland, knowing I will soon lose this familiar companion from my view.
But the sight around the next bend is lovely enough to make me forget about Hartland Point. Croyde Bay. A pretty little beach with blue water and clean sands.
The South West Coast Path comes down off Saunton Down and crosses over the road to run along the rocky shoreline and round into the bay. I walk across the beach.
And stop for a few minutes to watch a surf lesson in progress. The waves don’t look very high today, so perhaps the sand is as good a place as any for the boards!
On the other side of Croyde Bay I come across some impressive old whale bones.
I was looking forward to the walk out to Baggy Point (what a name!). But am disappointed to see it is crowded with people. It is Easter Saturday and I guess a lot of people have a long weekend and are making the most of the glorious weather.
I keep coming across strange, hand-drawn, acorn signs stuck onto trees, bushes, railings and signposts. At least, I assume they are acorn signs because this is the symbol of the national trails and I am on a path that is both the official South West Coast Path and, again, doubles as the Tarka Trail.
Later, my husband tells me they saw notices advertising an Easter Egg hunt around Baggy Point. That explains the mystery. The strange signs weren’t badly drawn acorns, they were eggs! And it also explains why I meet so many families with young children on the path.
Baggy Point is a beautiful outcrop of rock. Unfortunately, it was pretty crowded and a couple had bagged the prime position.
I stand and take a photograph ahead along the shore. The rocks are amazing. Near-vertical folds in the cliffs show how they were forced up – by unimaginable pressure – as the result of some massive tectonic movement many millennia ago.
Views like this make me realise how terribly insignificant we are, and how short our existence is, compared to the ancient, natural forces that mould our incredible planet.
The dangling ropes indicated they have climbed down from the top. Presumably, once down at the bottom, they will have to climb back up again. I wonder which is more terrifying: going down or going up. (When walking on a steep slope, I find going up easier than going down.) My husband used to climb when he was a boy. I couldn’t do it. Just couldn’t. Watching is bad enough.
The cliffs look dramatic, but the walk across the top is easy. And crowded with people.
The view down into Morte Bay and Woolacombe sands is wonderful. It’s a shorter version of Saunton Sands – a mere 2 miles of uninterrupted beach.
I walk down the slope. This end of the beach is called Putsborough Sand, with lots of touring caravans and old VW style vans with surfing equipment stacked on top.
There is a beach-side café at the bottom, where I hope to have lunch. But everybody has the same idea and the queue is very long. It is 2:30pm and I have been walking for four hours – my usual limit before I become too tired to enjoy myself. So I’m determined to have a proper rest.
I buy an ice-cream for lunch and sit on a rock overlooking the beach, where I make myself stay for half an hour, watching families and children running around and climbing the rocks. Dogs are confined to their leads. There is a lot of yapping.
After a good rest, I set off again along the sands. The going is soft – my boots sinking down with every step – and very tiring. So I head for the water’s edge where the sand is firmer.
The sky is clouding over from the south, and the clouds throw interesting shadows on the high ground ahead.
When I get closer to Woolacombe, I find myself walking along a sandbank. The tide is coming in, visibly moving across the sand and I soon realise my sandbank is going to become cut off. It is easy to wade across, but would result in wet boots.
Quickly I make my way up the beach while there is still a dry connection. Turning back, silhouetted against the silvery light, I see some walkers have become stranded. They’re not in any danger. The water is shallow. But they are going to get wet.
It’s a salient reminder of how unforgiving the sea can be if you are caught out on the wrong side of incoming water. There is no stopping the relentless to-and-fro of the tides.
I head up the beach towards Woolacombe.
Woolacombe is a busy seaside resort. None of the pubs or cafes look very appealing. Noisy and crowded. I walk along the coast road for a while and find a Thai curry restaurant. I don’t want a curry, but there is a terrace overlooking the sea and they are happy to serve me a cider and let me come in and out. (‘In’ when the clouds come over and drops of rain fall, ‘out’ when it’s sunny again.)
A great way to end the walk.
Miles walked today = 9 miles
Total distance = 1401