18. South West Coast Path (North Devon)

187. Bideford to Barnstaple

Tuesday 14th January 2020

After Storm Brendan yesterday I decided to make an early start and left the hotel just after dawn (sounds dramatic but dawn was not until after 8am at this time of year).

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Bideford from East-the-Water on a dull morning (GR458267)

From the Royal Hotel took the A386 towards Instow over the bridge over the old railway which is now the Tarka Trail. Just before a road junction (GR460270) turned left on to the Tarka Trail. It looked like it should have been able to get onto it earlier at a housing estate before the railway bridge but big notices said not.

Being the old railway line the Tarka Trail here a is flat and very even asphalt path. It was a bit of a drab morning really, dark and overcast, but at least it was not raining or windy both of which were forecast in good measure for about 3pm this afternoon – hence the early start.

Either side of the Tarka Trail is covered with small trees and bushes until it opens out on the estuary side as the Torridge Bridge is approached. Somehow people have managed to graffiti the central piers of the road bridge which are right in the middle of the river (GR460279).

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Torridge Raod Bridge (GR460280)

Across the river the wooded route between the Appledore Shipyard and the Torridge Bridge, which I found quite difficult yesterday, looks quite innocuous from here. Three boats were moored up here and I don’t think were abandoned though they didn’t look very seaworthy. At least one of them was a houseboat.

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Houseboat (?) before Instow (GR465286)

The path swings round a promontory (GR469292) where there was a marker post giving distances of 2 miles to Bideford and 7 to Barnstaple. Soon reached a working pier (GR469293) opposite the Appledore shipyard from where both Appledore and Instow are clearly visible.

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Appledore (GR470294)
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Instow (GR470294)

The path again became enclosed by bushes and trees on approaching Instow. The first thing that was encountered on entering was the station platform that has been preserved along with the old signal box (GR474300).

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Instow railweat platform (GR473300)
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Preserved signal box at Instow (GR473300)

At the signal box turned left along the road and passed the attractive looking Quay Inn but unfortunately it was a little too early for a drink.

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Quat Inn Instow (GR473302)

When the road eventually curved away from the beach behind the sand dunes there was plenty of evidence of yesterday’s storm with sand all over the road.

The official South West Coast Path goes over the dunes and keeps quite close to the water’s edge but I returned to the the railway line – the Tarka Trail. The Tarka Trail might be boring but I suspected that the alternative route might be quite wet and muddy. The road actually went over the Tarka Trail so had to return to the car park and beach café to join the trail (GR474309).

The Tarka Trail now went across an area of flat marshland (Instow Barton Marsh) with the Taw Estuary out of view a long way over to the left and some rough fields on the right. A long curve to the right led to the site of the old Yelland Power Station (GR483322) where fragments of the railway lines are still in place at the road crossing.

There now followed a walk along a completely straight section of about 2½ kilometres across the flat marshes of East Yelland and Home Farm Marsh.

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The Tarka Trail heads for infinity (I wasn’t going to go quickly anyway) (GR487324)

After a long slog reached the bridge at Fremington Rock (GR514331) and had a snack by a memorial to a fisherman drowned the spot before continuing over the bridge.

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Estuary at Fremington Bridge and memorial to John “Dinger” Bell a fisherman who drowned here in 1986 (GR514332)
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Fremington Bridge (GR514332)

Just over the bridge was another preserved railway station (Fremington) which is now a café but I did not go in.

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Fremington railway station (GR516334)

Around the next bend  the Barnstaple ‘new’ bridge can be seen. Barnstaple Western Bypass Bridge is newer than the Torridge Bridge at Bideford having been built twenty years later and opened in 2007.

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Barnstaple Western Bypass Bridge through the murk (GR547328)

These two bridges look very similar and one or other seems to be constantly coming into view over four days of walking contributing to the feeling of not making much progress around the coast.

Halfway along the straight section of the Tarka Trail there was a rather crude shelter which was good respite from the wind and heavy rain that had arrived a little early. Another walker commented about being masochistic to be out walking in this sort of weather but everyone except myself had the excuse/reason of walking their dog. Mind you none of the dogs seemed particularly happy to be there.

At last there were some turns in the path as it reached and went under the road bridge (GR552327) to the car park at Asda.

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Barnstaple riverside from Long Bridge (GR558329)
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Barnstaple riverside from Long Bridge (GR558329)

Soon reached the old bridge (Long Bridge) and headed for the Golden Lion (GR559330). Not a very inspiring pub so after a single pint walked on a couple of hundred yards to the bus station and the faithful 21 bus back to my hotel in Bideford.

Days from Chepstow   187

Miles today   10.0

Miles from Chepstow   2235.1

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