Sunday 20th September 2020
Did the usual thing and left home at about 5.20 and drove down to Velator Quay near Braunton arriving at about 9.15 to park in the free car park next to the River Caen (GR485354). This is the trip that had been delayed from April time because of the coronavirus pandemic. Ironically just this weekend it looks like there is a resurgence so this might be the last opportunity for a while.
Boats at Velator (GR485353)
Set off along the raised bank next to the river on a very pleasant sunny day, a bit windy and about 15 degrees. Very flat around here with distant views quite a long way off to the left across the river past Barnstaple and towards Exmoor. Appledore is straight ahead across the estuary of the Rivers Taw and Torridge and half right in front the sand dunes of Braunton Burrows can be seen across Braunton Marsh.
The official path goes around the eastern edge of Horsey Island but is diverted along the line of the Boundary Drain (GR481344). All that remains of Horsey Island is a submerged ruined building and hedge line, the flooding caused about a year ago due to poor maintenance of dykes according to a taxi driver I used at the end of the day. A good gravel path runs to the west of the former Horsey Island to reach the White House at a cattle grid on a lane that has followed the river bank from Velator (GR470331).
Horsey Island is an island no more (GR480343)
At this point the lane becomes a dusty but very wide track and at the first opportunity I went up into a car park looking for a path along the dunes. Couldn’t see anything in the way of a path so I returned to the road where there was indeed a footpath sign. The track finished here and a footpath signposted as the coast path led into Broadsands. This is supposedly a military training area but there was no sign of any activity past or present and the area consisted of low grass-covered sand dunes which are the southern extent of Braunton Burrows. Lots of confusing footpath signs at The Neck (GR465326) here I but took a path that soon became a wide stony track heading north. The map is a little confusing because it looks like the path should be alongside sand on the Taw and Torridge estuary. In fact off to the left it is sand only in a sense of it being the sand dunes of Braunton Burrows covered in vegetation with the estuary a long way away.
The track, which is obviously used by vehicles, has large stones making up its surface which makes it quite hard work to walk on. There are frequent ladder stiles off to the left into the sand dunes which could be an alternative route but could well have their own problems. A third alternative would have been to go west rather than north from The Neck, past the southern end of the sand dunes and onto the Saunton Sands for a three-mile beach walk to Saunton (as preferred by Ruth Livingstone) I’m not sure I made the right choice as it was a bit of a trudge really to Sandy Lane car park (GR463950) but the really good news was that you can get a cup of tea there. The car park is remarkably cheap at £2 with which you get a free cup of tea or coffee, so I got a £2 cup of tea with no car. Worth every penny as the growing heat of the day had made me very thirsty. On reflection the free tea and cheap car park was probably a good marketing ploy as most cars arrived with 2 or 4 people and only the first tea was free.
On leaving the car park followed the mass of people going down to the Saunton Sands which is a long way away and the sea itself over two kilometres away at low tide. The path led into the Burrows, and contrary to what might be expected it was, at least initially, a woodland walk.
Path through Braunton Burrows (GR464363)
At a gate turned right as everyone else carried on towards the sea carrying surf boards, deckchairs etc. The path was enclosed on both sides by hedges, but eventually the path opened out and Saunton could be seen with the large white Saunton Sands Hotel very prominent. Eventually crossed the golf course to reach a path which runs actually through the Burrows themselves but in a flat area towards Saunton that was now less than a mile away.
Reached Saunton (GR458376) and turned left on the very busy narrow road. Passed St Annes Chapel (GR457377) which is an attractive little church opposite the entrance to Saunton Golf Club which the South West Coast Path crossed earlier.
St Annes Chapel (GR457377)
There are good views here back across Braunton Burrows, from the very busy, narrow and dangerous road but fortunately after a few hundred yards a path goes off to the left (GR454377).
Braunton Burrows (GR450376)
Saunton Sands (GR448377)
The path joins a road that leads down to the car park at Saunton Sands (GR447377) which was very busy with wet-suited surfers. Navigation in this area was a little difficult but just at the end of the car park and after the busy café turned right up a footpath towards the hotel. The path climbed up to the hotel and on reaching it doubled back to go round the perimeter of the hotel to reach the main road again (GR448378).
Saunton Sands Hotel (GR446377)
From the map it looks as though the coast path follows the road but fortunately the car parking attendant at the hotel pointed out the proper route which involved crossing the main road and taking the un-signposted path through a gate. After a few yards turned left to climb up a slope and suddenly fatigue hit me so I sat down on the grass by the side of the path for a rest and some lunch. This was the first of several occasions during the day when passing walkers asked if I was ‘all right’, not as a form of greeting but as a concerned enquiry into my health. Kind of them really but a little disconcerting. After the initial climb the path levelled out onto Saunton Down and contoured around the hill above the very busy road overlooking the vast expanse of Saunton Sands and Braunton Burrows. Hartland Point can be seen in the distance from here although it is a good way round the estuaries from here (about 60 miles the way I have come).
Back along Saunton Sands (GR446377)
Croyde Bay (GR433383)
The path eventually dropped down to the road near Chesil Cliff House (GR433384). Needed to turn back up the road to the house and leave the road to drop down some steps beside the house that is being re-built. Pretty fantastic location and also an interesting looking house with round towers and plenty of glass. I later learnt that this was an old lighthouse (should have been obvious from the tower shape). It has appeared on Kevin McCloud’s Grand Designs TV programme and again according to my all-knowing taxi driver has bankrupted the owner at least once.
Chesil Cliff House (GR432383)
Had a good rest at Chesil Cliff including a bit of a sleep on the grass obstructing the path a little but never mind. Some kind thoughtful people came over to make sure that I was not dead or dying.
Across Croyde Bay to Baggy Point (GR432383)
The path dropped down and crossed over Croyde Beach which was extremely busy as this might be the last good weekend of the year so everyone was here. At the end of the beach climbed up to the road (GR436396) and turned left on the way out towards Baggy Point. The road climbed gently to start with and then became a track. Had another cup of tea in Croyde trying to keep my liquid levels up.
Baggy Point (GR420406)
The path out to Baggy Point is a good quality path and gently rising although I was getting knackered and finding it hard. Reached Baggy Point (GR420406) where somehow a couple were down at sea level on the rocks when there is no obvious way down.
Rocks at Baggy Point (GR420406)
I must have been looking pretty awful as several people again asked me if I was OK when sitting or lying down exhausted – very kind of them but the path is also known as Samaritans Way at this point.
From Baggy Point there was a steep climb away from the Point and then it became a grassy clifftop walk alongside Morte Bay with Woolacombe visible and Putsborough becoming visible.
Woolacombe Sand (GR444406)
Came off the cliff path at the start of the extensive Woolacombe Sand (GR447406) and instead of going down to the car park at Putsborough Sand walked up to the road and called a taxi to take me back to Velator Quay. (GR448406). Collected the car and drove to the Sandpiper Inn in Ilfracombe.
It had turned really hot and humid during the day and so I was suffering even though I drank several bottles of water. I think I must stop doing this early morning drive followed by a day’s walking – in any case the drive is getting shorter so there is less need for an early start.
Days from Chepstow 189
Miles today 12.9
Miles from Chepstow 2253.9