I stay the night in Porlock Weir. Hubby has gone home and I find it is surprisingly difficult to get from Porlock to Lynmouth by public transport. Only 3 buses a day cross this stretch of Exmoor.
It begins raining as I wait for the exceedingly-rare no. 300 bus. Exmoor is grey, watery and bleak. The bus makes only three stops on the way over the moors. But the sun is shining by the time we reach Lynmouth. Hoorah!
I take plenty of photos. Lynmouth must be even prettier when the tide comes in.
My walk today extends across the edge of my OS Map (OL9) and the map, unusually, continues on the opposite side of the same sheet of paper. This means I can’t place the two maps side by side, and it’s hard for me to visualise the route. But I know it is a long walk back to Porlock Weir and there are very limited opportunities to leave the path.
Dark clouds are gathering as I look along the shore from Lynmouth towards Foreland Point and take more photographs. I know I am deliberately procrastinating because I feel nervous about the walk – and the weather.
But it’s still dry and I’m wasting time. Come on!
I follow the South West Coast Path out of Lynmouth. A fellow walker, staying at the same hotel, warned me this part of the walk was hard, a mile of unrelenting uphill walking to the top of Countisbury. (She was planning to walk the opposite way, from Porlock Weir and into Lynmouth. I wonder if I will meet her on the way?)
Before I get very far, the rain comes pelting down. This isn’t the usual English drizzle, more like a tropical rainstorm. I shelter under a solitary tree and consider my options. I could turn back to Lynmouth now. Or I could continue up the exposed slope and catch the second no. 300 bus of the day. It stops at the pub at the top of Countisbury hill at 2:35 pm. It is 12:30 now and I could enjoy a long, leisurely lunch in the dry.
But, by the time I get to the top of the hill, the rain has eased. It is dry enough to risk a photograph, looking back down Countisbury to Lynmouth.
I decide to carry on. There is another point in 5 miles time, at a place called County Gate, where the no. 300 bus stops again. If I want to, I could leave the footpath and catch the last bus of the day from there.
As I head out to Foreland Point the rain tumbles down. The path is exposed and slippery. I decide not to risk going right around the tip of the point, near the lighthouse, as I planned. Instead, I keep to the official South West Coast Path, and stumble down a steep, bracken-covered slope into a narrow valley and end up on… a road? A definite road. Narrow, no cars, but covered in tarmac. There isn’t supposed to be a road here? I experience one of those weird moments of disorientation – when what my eyes tell me does not coincide with what the map tells me.
But I decide to walk up the road, as there is nowhere else to go. Later I realise the road must be the ‘track’ marked on my map and leading to the lighthouse.
Further along, the tarmac bends sharply to the right, heading inland. But a grassy track heads off to the left. Is this the SW coast path? It is unsignposted, but I take a risk and follow it.
And soon I am walking along a lovely path along a wooded slope. This is more like it. The rain lessens and I take a photograph.
During this first section of the walk, I meet a number of fellow walkers. A couple have walked all the way from Porlock this morning. Another lady is out for a walk to try to get fit after a skiing accident. She lives somewhere near Desolation Point (what a name!).
After the first mile, I meet nobody else.
The rain continues falling. Sometimes, in the shelter of the trees, I can pull my camera out and risk a photograph. The rest of the time it’s just me and the trees and the pit-pat of falling drops.
And did I mention the flies? Where do they come from? The surround me in a crowd and follow me continuously, not creating much of a nuisance unless I stop, when they dive-bomb my face. I use up all my insect lotion. It doesn’t seem to deter them.
I knew the walk today would be long. 12 miles and ‘challenging’, according to the official South West Coast Path site, while the distance calculator on the ever-helpful South West Coast Path’s Association reckoner tells me it is 12.3 miles and ‘moderate’. And with no convenient lunch pubs, I promised myself two decent breaks along the way. But it is too wet to sit down. Even where the path is free of dripping undergrowth, there are no benches or seats. I have to eat my snacks standing up.
But it is lovely. Some of the woods seems amazingly old, while others have the younger looks of pine plantations.
The only sign of human habitation after Countisbury is a pair of old gateposts and a couple of cottages.
And a strange cross in a damp hollow. What is it here for? There are no inscriptions. Is it some kind of war memorial?
[Later I learn this is the Sisters’ Fountain, an ancient spring. If I’d walked around the other side, I might have seen the Victorian-built aperture and the water flowing out.]
I ignore signs that point up towards County Gate. It is 3pm and I would have to wait 2 hours before the last no. 300 bus of the day turns up. I have no idea if there is a café open or any sort of shelter. County Gate could just be an empty car park. In any case, my legs and boots are already soaking wet, and I might as well carry on.
The map changes over and I am now on the reverse side. Half-way mark! The paths around here are easier – wider and better defined. Forestry tracks.
But I am starving hungry… I need to find a place to sit down and eat.
[Later I realise that somewhere on this section of the walk, I cross over from Devon into Somerset. There are no markers to tell me this, and I continue onwards, thinking I am still in Devon.]