We came down to breakfast the next morning and breakfast was great – filling, with potatoes, one of the better of the trip. It is surprising the importance the quality of your breakfast can gain when you are deprived of things of real importance to worry about. Then it was down into Lee Bay armed with the knowledge we had five climbs and descents in less than three miles and the highest was to nearly 300 feet. The weather this morning was distinctly grey and overcast, not too cold, but with the threat of rain which we dreaded because of the mess it had made of the last leg of this path. The land was grassy and steep but still pleasant to walk on with views out to an iron-grey and very cold-looking sea. The morning’s walking was a real endurance test but we rationed the chocolate carefully and made much better time than we could have hoped before arriving at the Bull Point lighthouse. This area is relatively accessible from roads and car parks and all morning we saw fit families in lycra and expensive boots, dad armed with a tiny rucksack, mum with the dog, bounding across the hills at ridiculous speeds. The lighthouse – flag at half mast for the anniversary of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales – was a big pull too but the crowds thinned out once it was past and we were heading for Morte Point.
The coastline was at its most spectacular so far, more so even than on Exmoor, with exposed rocks twisted into incredible formations and sticking up out of the sea in huge jagged rows like teeth. We kept having to stop and stare at them. We seriously contemplated a diversion down a break-neck path to Whiting Cove and would have taken it had it not been for the rucksacks. We felt we could risk neither taking nor abandoning them. We eventually arrived at Morte Point, where the rocks stick up out the land as well as the sea, and “turned the corner”. Andy, to his delight, met an American who said: “It looks like we’re walking on dinosaur bones, doesn’t it?” This was exactly what it did look like but you don’t often meet someone with the imagination or the nerve to say such a marvellous thing to a complete stranger. It wasn’t even as if he was Bill Bryson. We were planning lunch in Woolacombe, one of the many resorts claiming to be the surfing capital of the south-west, and the walk south from Morte Point went by in anticipation of a good sit down. Once we arrived the crowds were a bit of a shock – after all we go walking to get away from them – and we set about hunting for somewhere to eat. Lisa wanted chips on the beach and then to flee as quickly as possible but then Andy spotted a cafe with a passable vegetarian menu just as the rain started. We sat outside under an awning where the rucksacks would be least bother and were joined at the next table by two men and a woman hailing from Birmingham. They ate Cornish pasties and set about giving a running commentary on everything that happened in loud Brummie accents until one of the party put a leg of his chair off the ledge we were seated on and sprawled on his back in the road to gales of laughter from his mates. Knowing that this could not be bettered we paid up and left.
The weather had got its act together after its brief tantrum and now there was something which could be loosely described as hazy sunshine. We headed uphill and, after a couple of false starts, picked up the path for Croyde Bay. It had entered one of its more surreal phases, running for more than a mile through a car park carved into the hillside, before setting off down the sort of track only accessible to 4×4 vehicles. And still we found someone in a family saloon having a picnic all over the path. The route soon narrowed to a footpath again and we found ourselves above Woolacombe Sand pushing gorse and brambles aside to reach the settlement of Vention and crossing its car park. Then we were walking through farmland on our way out to Baggy Point. We had a puzzling moment when, out of nowhere, a pristine MGF sports car came down a road which was little more than a farm track. Minutes later it went back the other way. We had visited once on a day trip, had been thrilled to see the coast path signs then, and had been looking forward to passing through when we actually walked the path. But the sky was getting worryingly dark . We rejected the idea of waterproofs because Croyde did not seem too far away and ours are generally more uncomfortable than walking in all but the most severe rain. As we walked out on the approach to Baggy Point there were a couple of showers and a couple of horrible moments when it looked like vertigo was going to intervene in our chances of getting safely to our destination. By the time we got right out onto the point a gale was blowing and it was full of driving rain. We were cold, dizzy and finally being forced to admit it was really raining. There is a look-out pole on the peak of the point, so to speak, and one brave soul had climbed up the precarious wooden wedges to stand at the top. Andy was tempted to do the same but did not feel like being blown into the Atlantic. When we had visited Baggy Point before we had taken a lower path which gave a spectacular view of the rocks to be found at its lower edges. But because of the wind, the rain and because vertigo, like car sickness, is infectious, we stuck to the higher ground.
Wet and not a little pissed off, we descended into Croyde – only to find we had an endless walk on pavements around two and a half sides of a triangle to get to the hotel. It really was a hotel, too – the only one of the trip – which we hadn’t been expecting. The high spot of the day for Lisa was a really hot bath after the soaking we had got on the way down and then a couple of hours spent snoozing in bed before dinner. Most of the visitors were youngsters suffering from quite a nasty infectious disease. The symptoms included bleached hair, driving battered VW Microbuses and brandishing surfboards with the dexterity of Eric Sykes in The Plank. There was a reasonable pub restaurant across the road, with a camp surfer dude / Maitre D’ crossbreed in a t-shirt with his name on. It was Ian. “Sit there” he ordered. “But it says this table is reserved” we said. “Every table is reserved for me tonight – isn’t it wonderful?” he replied. The food was highly edible, even mildly exotic, and came in heroic servings, but in the final analysis this pub knew it had a captive audience of townies desperate for sustenance. It was charging accordingly and of course on Bank Holiday Monday the place was packed out. We ate something vaguely Mexican and retired to the hotel and the puzzle of the iron plate on the wall above the bed. It looked old, and completely out of place. Eventually we decided we were in an extension to the original building, and the wall had once been an outside one – the plate, we decided, had told the world the building dated from somewhere in the 17-whatevers – we can’t now remember the year. It was one of those crooked establishments, not a reflection on the owners, but on the geometry of doors and walls and floors that had never heard of Pythagoras or the concept of right angles, spirit levels, or doors that fitted their frames so that the insides of the rooms were hidden from prying eyes in the corridors. We loved it.
We also considered the strange phenomenon of nothing whatsoever going wrong. The few days we had spent previously on the path had been a catalogue of disasters from beginning to end and we had been wondering all along if our plans for this walk would end the same way – on the train home. But no, we were walking a neat five miles each morning, conveniently arriving in a little settlement where we could get a meal, or a nice spot to eat our packed lunches, before walking another five or so miles to arrive at the B&B in the late afternoon. Very odd and, dare we say, taking a fair bit of the excitement out of the whole thing.