Prologue: London to Combe Martin

Driving to Exeter and the M4 is mercifully jam-free. No stops at the services. Horrendous but brief traffic jams on the M5 in two spots mainly thanks to roadworks. Stop eventually at Sedgemoor and use up half an hour. Arrive successfully in Exeter and struggle to find car park. Town-centre pay and display and not confident of finding the car there when we come back. Little we can do now. Arrive at the station with 20 minutes to spare where there is a huge crowd on the platform waiting for a tiny two-carriage sprinter. Everyone crowds on and Andy falls asleep.

We arrive at Barnstaple for the first of several visits this week. The place will become very familiar. On with rucksacks and a sprint to the bus station where we catch a bus straight away. Bus driver enquires where we are going so we tell him Clovelly. He points out he is only going as far as Combe Martin. Journey is a little nauseous and the bus is full of teenagers discussing their GCSE results. At Ilfracombe a gang of drunken bus drivers get on and cause havoc for a while before wandering off through the traffic.

Fortunately the bed and breakfast is at this end of Combe Martin. We knock on the door and are met with a blank stare because the owner was expecting two men and she really wasn’t sure that we had asked for a double room. We say no, we’re one of each, and she is very relieved. She shows us where to put our rucksacks, mainly by pointing, because she has got a bad case of arthritis in her knee. We are in the attic room, which has a pointed roof and is very nice, and is above the bedrooms of everyone else. Then we are ushered into the living room to have a cup of tea and some home-made scones and to tell our life stories.

After chatting for about half an hour we go upstairs again and pull on our boots. We plan to walk up to the top of Little Hangman. Or, to be more honest, Lisa plans this and Andy, grumbling, tags along. We start from the beach and walk down to the end of the causeway to look at the silver mine and round into the “private” cove at the campsite we used last year. To create maximum atmosphere it has moored in it a small yacht, which ought to have been sailed from the Hook of Holland by smugglers, but has probably instead only come from Ilfracombe. We poke our heads into the mine and watch someone trying to get to the beach from the cliff top who seems determined to break his neck. Even though it is evening and the sun is about to go down there are still plenty of people on the beach. But it is a lovely place without its daytime crowds.

Plans to go to the top of Great Hangman have to be scrapped as wildly impractical. But from the top of the Little Hangman you can see most of the way back to Bossington Hill and a long way down the coast we will be walking. There is a lovely sunset and walkers have started building a cairn to which we add a small stone picked up on the beach. Down the hill we go and back to the bed and breakfast to take our boots off and have a bit of a breather before going out to find some food. We end up getting chips and smuggling them back to the B&B to eat before going to bed.