Braunton to Barnstaple – 12,000 steps
I am reunited with the Path in the morning, but it’s not the same.
I leave my B&B on the outskirts of Braunton, and pick up a muddy minor path downhill that soon brings me to the route of the disused railway line that takes the Coast Path into Barnstaple.
The Path is paved, and shared with cyclists. It follows the former Barnstaple to Ilfracombe railway, along the side of the River Taw estuary. The line opened in 1874, and once had direct trains to London carrying large numbers of holiday makers to North Devon. The line closed in 1970. There is now not even a direct train from Barnstaple to London, let alone the coastal towns beyond. The line is now both the Tarka Trail and the South West Coast Path at this point.
I see no otters and the view is dull. The morning is mostly sunny and the walking is easy, without any hills or significant obstacles. There is even a handy cafe after a mile, for a coffee stop.
But I miss the sea and the cliffs and the solitude.
The walk feels as if it is over long before the Path veers over the river on the busy A361 road bridge, and I walk on into Barnstaple. Maybe we’ll get together again, someday, but that feels a long way off.
I’m sure Barnstaple has it’s charms, but I resent being immediately re-immersed in the world of Costa, Tesco and Halfords as I search for the railway station in a retail park. After five days pretty much on my own, I can feel my emotional gears grinding as I have to adjust to busy roads, crowded footpaths. I have covered sixty miles of steep climbs and descents, but half a mile of urban pavement now feels too tiring.
I cross the River Taw on the old stone bridge. The tide is out, with the river consequently low. This enables me to count eight shopping trolleys on the river bed, and one bicycle.
From Barnstaple I take a train to Exeter and there pick up another train to Paddington. On the journey back to London I try to think of my favourite moments of the past few days, but I find the memories are already blurring and mixing up.
It starts to rain as we approach Reading. By four-thirty I am walking into the tube station, commuters tutting as they trip on the trailing strap of my rucksack.
I wonder how the Path is getting on without me. We’ll meet again, I know we will.