Bigbury to Salcombe
30,000 steps and one estuary (ferry)
What a contrast!
I wake up and look out of the window to see blue sky and glistening sea, corrugated with rolling breakers.
The first task today is to get the ferry across the Avon to Bantham. There seems to be some uncertainty about the timing of this service, but it looks safe to rely on it operating 10-11, so I’m up and out in time to walk the half mile down to the bank of the Avon, arriving at the appointed spot for ten. There is already a group of adults and children there.
I’m learning that every South Hams river estuary has its own ferry etiquette. I’d read that here you needed to shout “ferry!”, to attract the ferryman. As a reserved Englishman, I wasn’t looking forward to this. But a sign says you just need to wave across the river. One of the people there said they’d already done that.
We wait a while, anxiously scanning the far bank for signs of movement. At last, a flat-fronted motorboat appears from the ranks of moored craft, and edges out into the river. The driver waves. We wave back. He waves some more. The boat heads downstream, conspicuously not heading our way.
“He’s telling us to go down there,” a woman says. Parents gather up their children and we all head off down the beach, trying to anticipate where the ferryman wants us to gather. I’m wondering whether there are too many people, and resigning myself to letting the families go first. They were after all here before me. (But are they walking all the way to Salcombe? I bet not.)
I round a bend in the river, to find the boatman has positioned himself five metres off shore, holding steady against the current. One of the dads is asking him about the price, looking disappointed that the four pounds a head appears to apply to the children. He looks unattracted at the prospect of paying thirty pounds just to cross the river to discover there’s no cafe on the Bantham side.
I call to the ferryman:
“Do we have to wade out to you?”
“No point me coming in until I know if anyone’s getting on.”
“I definitely am.”
With that, he edges in to shore and I scramble aboard. Off we go, just me and the ferryman, watched from the bank by disappointed children.
It’s a breezy morning, but the sun is strong. I realize that I have not prepared for good weather. Luckily, Bantham has a shop and I buy some sun screen and head out onto the coast. The sky is clear, with wisps of cloud. The wind is ridiculously strong – blowing off the sea with enough force to push air back into my throat when I exhale seaward.
Today’s walking turns out to be straightforward. The route to South Milton is easy, along grass-topped cliffs. I briefly intersect again with Holidaymaker Devon, passing a long line of cars outside a car park.
At a nature reserve, I cross an attractive wooden footbridge, and pass a crowded beach.
The distinctive arched rock off the coast at Thurlestone is a constant companion for the next hour as I work my way round the bay.
I briefly think I’ve lost the Path, when I find myself on an inland road, but a sign partly-hidden by bushes nudges me back towards the sea. I settle into a classic Coast Path rhythm, and miles go by without incident. I am soon at Hope Cove, where the beaches are full of families, undaunted by the wind, which chases waves and beach furniture up the beach and laughs at windbreaks.
I sit on the harbour wall with a coffee and grow nostalgic over happy memories of windsurfing here many years ago with friends who I haven’t seen in a long time. More recent memories of the day my son threw up in the car here are less cheery.
It’s too early for lunch, so I press on. But after Hope Cove there are no obvious places to stop for refreshment, so I settle again into a trance-like rhythm and keep going along the cliff tops between Bolt Tail and Bolt Head. The big toe on my left foot checks in with me as I walk, to inform me that it is working on a blister, which it hopes to complete during the afternoon.
I stop on a rocky outcrop high on The Warren, with a fine view inland. I apply a plaster to my burgeoning blister and have lunch – two cereal bars and some water. After a rest, I carry on.
The Path is rough and stony in places, mostly level with the occasional sweat-inducing climb, flanked by gorse bushes and ferns. Inland is a sharp rise and fall of dramatic downs, pierced by odd-shaped rock formations. Out to sea are the usual coastal cliffs tumbling into foaming white water near the shore, and a glorious panorama of sea and sky stretching beyond.
It is – I have to admit – glorious, although I am yet again suffering from third day syndrome, where the scenic beauty becomes commonplace. I know I’ll miss if when I’m back in London, but right now I just keep plodding.
I enter again the walker’s trance that is so common, particularly in the afternoons of these walks. By three, I am rounding Bolt Head, and after a gruelling climb up Sharp Tor, I stop for another rest.
To the north, I have a sumptuous view of the mouth of the Kingsbridge Estuary, with Salcombe clinging to the steep west side.
I’m soon in Salcombe, the end of this leg of my journey. It’s a beautiful evening, with a very high tide flooding the estuary with silver.
I calculate I’ve now walked around 450 miles of the Path since I left Minehead, in April 2016. It’s taking longer than I expected.