The farm track grows narrower and comes over a rise. The sea is ahead. Now I have a choice: (a) go down and walk along the shingly beach, or (b) stick to the footpath over the top of the cliffs.
I decide to opt for the route that’s easiest on my feet, and best for enjoying the views, and so I choose the cliffs.
This is gentle, rolling countryside, and turns out to be the most beautiful part of the day. The sun is strong and the wind has dropped. I meet nobody, apart from several hundred sheep.
The first little dip is marked on my map with an unattractive name, Bog Hole. The field I’m walking over is strangely furrowed. And there appears to be a sunken path running along the bottom of the slope.
I often come across places like this, where the previous history of the farmland seems imprinted on the landscape, a frozen memory.
To my right, across the fields, are the magnificent mountains of Cumbria. What a glorious view! Sometimes I wish I’d chosen a walking challenge that involved more hills, but then I look at the clouds gathering over the peaks – and the snow on the mountain to the far right of the photo below – and I’m glad I’m walking the sunny coast!
The cliffs here are formed from red sandstone, and their soft surfaces show plenty of evidence of erosion. In places, my path is reduced to a narrow strip, and I must tread carefully between the steep drop and the boundary of the farmer’s fence.
I keep checking back over my right shoulder. Black Combe is shrinking, but still looks impressive with its coat of russet and honey coloured bracken. This smallest mountain (or largest hill, if you prefer) has been a constant companion through many days of walking. Soon I’ll be leaving it behind and feel, once again, the tug of sadness whenever a familiar landmark begins to fade from view.
I reach a section where a series of landslips have carried my path away completely, so the route is diverted down off the cliffs and along the shore for a short distance.
Here, instead of shingle, is soft sand with its surface rutted by the tracks of enormous tyres. It looks as if the farmer has been affected by the landslip too, and has been forced to drive his tractors across the beach.
I follow the tracks and I’m soon back on the cliffs, although ‘cliffs’ is probably too grand a word for this low-lying land.
It’s 20 minutes to three. The sun is already low in the sky, and creating dramatic lighting effects across the countryside, like, for example, this white farm against the dark cloud and peaks behind.
My path has taken me down almost to sea level again. A rather smelly mere lies to my left and beyond that is a shingle bank – another mini version of Chesil beach. This feature is not marked on the map, and so I suspect this area of the coast is in a state of flux.
I’m hemmed in between a little river to my right and the fenced off mere to my left, and the strip of land I’m walking along becomes progressively narrower. My map warns me of marshland ahead. My path seems barely used, and I begin to worry about finding a way through.
But I needn’t have worried, because I come across a wonderful sight – a bridge.
It looks fairly new. Obviously designed for walkers. I’m always amazed and delighted to discover that the local authority has taken the trouble – and expense – to build a proper bridge.
On the other side of the bridge is a welcoming committee… cows!
Well, bullocks, to be exact. Luckily, they seem even more frightened of me than I am of them, and go charging off up the field in a state of great panic, before climbing up over the cliffs and into another field.
I check my map. Should I follow the cattle up onto the high ground too? But the footpath appears to stick to the lower ground, following the edge of the river, so I carry on down the field…
… and come to a gate. It’s tied up with knotted string, although there is a rickety stile nearby. Someone has stuck a notice to the gate. Except the wording has faded into oblivion. What does it say? Is it a warning?
I was spooked by the unexpected encounter with cattle. Now I’m spooked by the invisible writing on the sign. And, l look ahead. The path gets narrower and narrower and then seems to disappear. Does it simply swing round the corner? Or does it vanish?
In normal circumstances I would go and investigate, because the worst that could happen would be I was forced to turn back. BUT. The sun is getting low. I’m running out of daylight. I’ve arranged to meet my husband in an hour and still have – I check my map – 2.5 miles to go. And my phone has lost its signal.
I decide to follow the cattle up onto the high ground and then strike off across the fields. This seems a reasonable plan, but involves trespassing and fence climbing.
The sun disappears behind a low bank of cloud in the west, and the countryside becomes ominously gloomy. It’s a very deserted area. The farm ahead is – I check my map again – called Broadwater Farm, I think. Just before that, I should be able to join a permissive footpath. Onwards.
Across more fences. And then, doubling back a little, I try to pick up my original footpath where it comes up towards a house, possibly another farm, called Selker on my map. There are no official signs, but the farmer has made one himself.
My OS map shows the official public footpath passes through the yard right in front of the house, but I follow a more inviting track, which seems less intrusive, and provides the only road access to the house.
On the track, I stop to check my map again. I’m looking across Selker Bay. The permissive footpath runs along the top of the low cliffs ahead. But the fields on top are separated by fences, and there are obvious signs of recent erosion to the cliff edge. Maybe the path has crumbled away? I’m not convinced I can get through.
Or, to be more accurate, I convince myself I can’t get through.
So I climb down to the beach, which is narrow and made of rough shingle. And stop for a moment to take some photographs of the magnificent sky scape…
… before setting off to follow the shoreline around the bay. The sun keeps doing it’s best to reappear from under the clouds and, when it does, it lights up the red sandstone of the cliffs and makes them glow.
The shingle is rough going – slippery and constantly shifting underfoot. I only have a couple of miles to cover, but must pick my way slowly.
My phone signal reappears and I send my husband a text message. I’m running late!
I round the curve of Selker Bay and reach Tarn Point and Tarn Bay. Although the shore has slipped into shadow, the Cumbrian mountains ahead are lit up by the rays of the sinking sun.
Out to sea is an island. I’ve been watching it all afternoon, but it’s only been a faint blue suggestion of land on the horizon. Now I can see its outline quite distinctly, pale and mysterious, beneath the golden clouds to the west.
I stumble on around the shoreline of Tarn Bay. The mountains lose their glow and turn purple. The tall tower ahead marks the edge of the Eskmeals firing range and the beginning of the ‘Danger Zone’. Along the shore road are a row of parked cars. My husband will be there, waiting patiently for me.
The place I’m heading for has no definite name on my map, but a nearby house is called Stubb Place, so my husband and I have been calling it Stubb’s Corner. It’s the first public road access to the coast for over 10 miles. In fact, there’s no other access to the shore between here and Silecroft, apart from private farm tracks.
For the first time since I rejoined the coast this afternoon, I see people out walking. Dog walkers.
My husband is patiently waiting for me and takes my photograph in the gloomy light. I don’t think the picture is going to turn out but, thanks to the miracle technology of modern cameras, it looks like it’s still the middle of the day. Almost.
This has been an interesting and challenging walk, with difficult conditions due to wind and shingle, and a path that seemed less than clear. The inland diversion was frustrating. On the positive side, the isolation of this section of the coast provided a wonderful adventure, and the sunlit landscape has been magnificent.
Walked today = 13.5 miles
Total distance so far around coast= 2,912 miles