Sunday 19th October 2014 (Posted 04/05/15… Only one post behind now!)
Combe Martin to Ilfracombe: Distance 5.3 miles / Ascent 1280 feet
Cumulative: Distance 40.4 Miles / Ascent 10,026 feet (plus “alternative rugged coast path” of Day 1)
It has to be said, a ‘Full English’ breakfast prior to walking, can most definitely be recommended. In reality, however, I guess the financial impact of traveling to and from each leg of this mammoth task, will unfortunately render bed and breakfast a “luxury” and, therefore, limit the number of bacon and egg moments prior to me lacing up my boots. Consequently, this particular occasion was savoured to its maximum.
Jenny’s feet were far from healthy and, although it was clearly a sensible decision, my agreement to plod on alone, leaving Jenny in Combe Martin to have a little meander at a leisurely pace, was a lonely option. Arrangements were made for me to provide a mobile phone tip off on my arrival at Ilfracombe, whereby the lovely Penny from Mellstock House would drive over, accompanied by Jenny, to grab me and transport me back to Combe Martin. Au revoirs were shared between Jenny and I, above Combe Martin cove, and I strode out, intending to see if I could meet the challenge laid down in the South West Coast Path Association handbook and complete the walk in the 2.5 hours indicated.
Racing against the clock gave me a much needed focus. This was the first stretch I was to complete alone and, even though it was only my fourth walk, and one might have thought it was too early for a pattern to have been established, I missed the companionship of my fellow walker.
Looking back, as I left Combe Martin, I was able to photograph Great Hangman and Little Hangman and mentally revisited the walk of the previous day and the difficulties Jenny and I had encountered. The sun shone brightly and the clear skies coloured the sea blue, with waves crashing in a gush of white froth against the rocks. My spirits were lifted, as they always are in the vicnity of the ocean. I was reminded of the beauty of our coast and couldn’t resist, half way along the route, slipping off my boots and photographing them on a bench, overlooking Ilfracombe. This was to be my final walk of 2014, as the shortening of each day would prevent further walks before Spring of 2015, so I thought it only fitting to pay tribute to my trusty boots.
As I approached Hele Bay, the second cup of tea which had accompanied the earlier Full English, began to take its toll and I prayed the public toilets would be unlocked. Nearing the toilets, a moment of panic lodged in my throat, or maybe it was my bladder, as I realised my Girl Guide training and loyalty to the motto “Be Prepared” had resulted in me secreting a £20 note into my back pack “in case of emergencies” but, if a 20p coin was required to access the public lavatories, I was going to find myself anything but “prepared”. As I write this I realise this is the third post to have a “toilet” issue, it seems to be a recurring theme! I was fortunate to find Hele Bay toilets required no coinage, as well as being clean and providing: soap, water and warm air… but made a note to self to carry a selection of coins on my next walk.
Leaving Hele Bay, one climbs the steep zigzagging path, to the summit of Hillsborough. The ‘Full English’ impeded a speedy arrival and the Black Country couple I encountered on their way down, towards Hele Bay, were probably not fooled by my engagement in lengthy conversation, recognising it as an attempt for me to gain my breath before proceeding. The views were most certainly spectacular, with Damian Hirst’s “Verity” creating a huge spectacle of herself. (Googling ‘Verity Ilfracombe’ should provide you with images.) I question why it was felt that Ilfracombe required a 66 foot woman brandishing sword, scales and legal text books… there may be some geographical places on earth where women may find justice to be lacking and, as such, a reminder may well be needed, however, Ilfracombe most certainly does not spring to mind as one of those geographical locations.
As I made my way down the steep meandering slope towards Ilfracombe, the descent towards the town brought the harbour and its surroundings into perspective and I was able to identify familiar aspects. Memories of Ilfracombe trips infiltrated my thoughts, including my youngest son’s fishing trip, and him proudly holding his catch aloft as the boat returned to the harbour. One particular memory, involving my good friend Christine, always brings a smile. In an attempt to escape the endless British drizzzle, accompanied by my three young sons, we had entered yet another shop on the Ilfracombe harbour, only to find it housed hugely expensive items, littering low level shelves. My heart was in my mouth as my sons skimmed past each shelf and, watching them intently, I guided them away from the costly articles and back towards the door. Nearing the doorway, I heard an almighty crash and, on taking a deep gulp, I turned around and discovered, rather than a calamity involving one of my sons, it was in fact the hem of Christine’s raincoat which had caught and dislodged one of the priceless pieces!
As I followed the signs for the coast path, I noticed they guided me away from the harbour but, as this is where I had agreed to meet Penny and Jenny, I made my way towards Verity and the appointed rendezvous, proudly noting I had achieved the fourth leg within the 2.5 hours suggested by the book, even having paused to remove my boots to carry out the official photograph, which now takes pride of place on the front page of my blog.
Whilst I sat on a harbour bench, awaiting the arrival of Penny’s charabanc, Verity cast a glance over her shoulder and scowled. Maybe, with such eagerness to vehemently share her message of justice, strength and equality amongst those who inhabit and visit Ilfracombe, she perceived my little stroll from Combe Martin to Ilfracombe to be one of triviality.
Verity… I think, maybe, you rather miss the point… it is indeed freedom of choice, justice, equality and strength which enabled me to conduct my walk.