The South West Coast Path splits into two and I take the lower route, staying among the trees and closer to where I know the sea must be, somewhere on my left. But inside the wood my horizon is limited by trees and ferns. No landmarks to guide me.
I feel totally alone. I’ve not seen a human being for 3 hours. Even my companion flies seem to have disappeared.
I come to a pretty waterfall, one of the many that brings streams flowing across the path. And I find an almost-dry branch, wedged between two rocks, a piece of debris carried down by the water during the 2013 winter storms, I imagine.
Somewhere to sit. At last.
I check the map and have to turn it over – I am now on the other side of OL 9. Below me, somewhere down the slope, must be Glenthorne Beach, Embelle Wood Beach, Yellow Stone. I am still five miles away from Porlock Weir and seem to have been walking for ages.
My trousers are reasonably dry, but when I take off my boots, water drips from my socks. I consider changing them (I always carry a dry pair), but decide it is pointless as the inside of my boots are sopping wet. My feet enjoy the rest. I remove my socks, wiggle my toes and eat my snack slowly – I am determined to make myself sit here for at least 2o minutes.
After my enforced rest, and something to eat, I feel better. I don’t even mind putting my soggy socks back on.
There is something very soothing and hypnotic about the next part of the walk. The woodland seems very old and remote. No sound apart from the dripping of rain, nothing to see but the shine of the path ahead and the green company of trees on either side. A startled squirrel skitters away from me. Birds cry their alarm from the bushes. I make my footsteps as noiseless as I can. I could be an ancient hunter, a vagabond, a poacher, a pirate.
Then I reach as section of the walk where the path has been interrupted by landslips and signs of civilisation appear again. Blocks and bars and “Keep Out” warnings.
There are two or three of these, but diversions have been created and are clearly marked, although each one involves a tiring scramble up and down the slope.
It is something of a shock to emerge from the solitude of the woods and find myself on a track and among a small group of buildings. This is Culbone. And there is a pretty little chapel, set among gardens. I am too tired to go down and explore, but I take some photographs.
[Later I learn that the ‘chapel’ is in fact a parish church and Culbone is an ancient hamlet, catalogued in the Domesday book. Coleridge wrote Kubla Khan near here. Lorna Doone country is close by. No wonder the place is full of echoes of ancient spirits and poetry.]
As I am climbing up out of Culbone, I meet a young woman on the path. She is slim and good looking, dressed in full walking kit and wearing curve-hugging leggings, large back pack, poles. She stops and begs for a sip of water, explaining how she left her water bottles behind at her last rest stop. Her accent is northern European. Maybe Danish, or Swedish.
I have only 25oml left, in a well-worn bottle that stinks of insect repellent. She takes a sip and looks so grateful that I tell her to keep the bottle, knowing I have only a couple of miles to go until I reach Porlock Weir. She asks me how far to the next village. I am unsure, as the path doesn’t go through any villages. Turns out she means Lynmouth.
At least 10 miles, I tell her. She doesn’t understand ‘a mile’. How long will it take her? Will she get there before nightfall? It has taken me five and a half hours, but she looks younger and fitter than me. At three miles an hour, it should take just over three hours and she should get there before it’s too dark.
I don’t want to chat for too long, knowing how far she has to go. But afterwards I worry and wonder if I should have told her to turn back and find somewhere in Porlock. 10 miles is a long way when you are tired and with only 250ml of water. Too late. She’s gone.
This final section of the path seems to take forever – as the last part of the walk often does when mentally I am winding down and anticipating the end of the walk. It becomes a wider track and passes under bridges.
Later I learn the nearby estate was owned by Lord Byron’s daughter, who built bridges over the approach roads to her home so that she could go down to the shore without being observed by tradesmen.
The track ends at a road, where I see a gate and a sign. It’s another toll road and another honesty box. £2 for a shortcut through the estate from Porlock Weir to the A39, saving a long detour by road. But it’s for cars only, cyclists and walkers aren’t allowed.
The gate house is rather a nice, thatched building. I wonder if it is used as a holiday home.
The footpath leaves the road and I walk along the edge of fields and have a view over the harbour at Porlock Weir. As yet, I haven’t seen the place with the tide in, but I presume enough water fills this muddy basin to float the yachts that are moored here.
The South West Coast Path emerges onto the road just by my hotel, Millers at the Anchor. I am “home”.
I don’t normally stay in hotels when I am on my own, preferring a cheap B&B or a local pub. But everywhere else was fully booked, because of the beer festival this weekend. When I arrived yesterday, in glorious sunshine, it was in full swing – with plenty of food and drinking and music.
But staying at the Millers was quite an experience. I thought the name must refer to an ancient mill house, but later I discover it refers to the owner, Mr Martin Miller.
He is fond of antiques and paintings. Oh, and books. There is even a bookcase in the ladies loo.
The hotel is decorated in an eclectic and eccentric style. Very colourful. An odd mix of the classic with the bizarre. Skulls jostle with classical busts.
The place is run, very efficiently by two friendly young people, with eastern European accents. And I very much enjoy my time here. It is like staying in a country mansion.
Yesterday, while the sun was shining, I wondered around Porlock Weir and took photographs of the boats in the narrow channel that leads to the harbour. Sadly, the light this evening is too dull for decent photography, but here is one I took yesterday:
The channel becomes blocked with stones and the harbour is designed with a sluice gate that can be opened – when enough head of water has built up behind it – to help wash the channel clear. I never saw this in action.
Miles walked today = 12
Total miles walked from Kings Lynn = 1,442