Day 62 Bishops Tawton to Abbotsham – Wednesday 13 July

Distance 18.07 miles , cumulative 1,120.35 miles, time 8 hrs 50 mins, walking time 5 hrs 25 mins, pace 3.3 mph, camped Westacott Farm
Our first full day back in Devon. We followed the Tarka Trail into Bideford along the Torridge Estuary. We started the day by dropping into Barnstaple and finding the footbridge we were going to use to cross the River Taw was closed for refurbishment so we were diverted up to the road bridge. From here the Tarka Trail follows an old railway so is very flat and has some long straight and exposed stretches which can catch the wind. 

We passed the Royal Marines Amphibious Trials and Training Squadron base just before entering Instow.

By mid morning we had reached Instow and we were met by Bideford resident and long time friend Tony E, who as always was outstanding company. He fed and watered us and handed over some supplies we had left with him over 9 weeks ago, in particular the maps for our final section of the walk. It was good to see him, catch up on some news, talk about the walk and share camping experiences.

Before we knew it over an hour had passed and we got back on the trail crossing the old bridge into Bideford, where we did some shopping and had another feed, at Wetherspoons – sorry Ryan. 

We left the Tarka Trail climbing out of Bideford to our campsite (with views out to Lundy Island) for the evening near Abbotsham. Tomorrow we get on to our much loved South West Coast Path (although the Tarka Trail we were on today constitutes a section of the SWCP) which will pretty much take us to Land’s End in 10 days time. We are both wondering where the past 9 weeks has gone, it seems to have flown by. 

The weather was glorious all day, the walking was easier and a little shorter, given some of the epic distances we have covered over the past few days and meeting up with Tony made for a great day. 

Day 61 Exford to Bishops Tawton – Tuesday 12 July

Distance 30.57 miles, cumulative 1,102.28 miles, time 9 hrs 45 mins, walking time 8 hrs 55 mins, pace 3.4 mph, camped Whitmoor Farm.
We decided to leave the Macmillan Way yesterday as we found it a little overgrown and hard to follow so we switched to the Coleridge Way which was a more direct route. Today we followed the Two Moors Way and the Tarka Trail footpath. 

We saw a herd of deer on Exmoor, the first deer we had seen since the Pennines. 

We left Somerset and looked back at a ‘Welcome to Somerset’ sign. The first sign we saw in Devon was the usual warm Devon welcome (see picture) but we knew we had left Somerset as a 4G phone signal instantly appeared. 

We passed the Poltimore Arms pub (not the one near Exeter) which claims to be the most ‘off grid’ pub in the uk as it is beyond mains electricity, gas and water. We had tea and a bite as we listened to the diesel generator. Steve was annoyed with himself (which made two people annoyed with him as generally there is usually one other already annoyed with him) as he forgot to take a photo of the pub. Photos were in short supply due to the rain and poor visibility so we would like to come back to the area in the summer. Although summer did arrive at the campsite about the same time we did.

Day 60 Williton to Exford – Monday 11 July

Distance 27.31 miles, cumulative 1,071.71 miles, time 9 hrs 40 mins, walking time 8 hrs 30 mins, pace 3.2 mph, camped Westermill Farm
Thanks to Paul, Jane and Buzz for their excellent hospitality. Paul even washed our socks, which is above and beyond the call of duty. After a very large and lovely breakfast we got going and we were escorted to the town boundary by Jane and Buzz, presumably to ensure we did leave together with our socks. 

Shortly after leaving Williton we joined the Coleridge Way which we followed from Roadwater to Wheddon Cross. Named after the poet Samuel Coleridge the whole path runs for 51 miles from Netherstowey to Lynton. It goes through the Quantocks, Brendan Hills and Exmoor National Park. We would recommend the Coleridge Way and would like to return to do the whole route. 

It was a fine, breezy day with a few spots of rain. 

We left the Quantocks and climbed onto Exmoor skirting Dunkery Beacon before dropping down to the campsite near Exford. The campsite was 2.5 miles from the nearest pub so we cooked up at the tent. 

Day 59 Bridgwater to Williton – Sunday 10 July

Distance 26.75 miles, cumulative 1,044.4 miles, time 10 hrs, walking time 8 hrs 49 mins, pace 3.1 mph, B&B Arden Cottage
We were relieved to escape Bridgwater in one piece after witnessing what passes for Saturday night entertainment in those parts.

We picked our way through to North Petherton and we crossed the M5 for the final time. Steve saw the motorway sign indicating 39 miles to Exeter, the closest we get to home on the route. Lynn dragged him on kicking and screaming. 

Our route to Barnstaple now broadly follows the Macmillan Way West. Initially it was a bit of an obstacle course with fallen trees and funniest of all was a Mexican stand off with a family of cattle. Led by a very determined looking bull, keen to be all macho in front of his girls and children, they steadfastly refused to move off the path which was in a gulley with the fence on one side and a high bank on the other. Not fancying our chances in a fair fight, we detoured up the bank and the bull settled back down for it’s Sunday kip. We did not take any photos in case the bull thought we were going for our gun.

We entered the Quantock Hills at Broomfield, which had a lovely village green and church where we stopped and had some of Mary’s ginger nuts. It was good to get out onto open moorland and climb some hills after the Somerset Levels. We had our first views of the ‘proper seaside’ since day six when we left the Scottish East Coast near Brora. 

We enjoyed panoramic views towards Exmoor, Minehead and over the Severn Estuary including the Hinckley Point power stations.

After a few solitary days on the trail it was refreshing to see plenty of other walkers, mountain bikers and horse riders.

We ticked off another steam railway when we crossed the West Somerset Railway. It is the longest standard gauge independent heritage railway in the UK at 20.5 miles running between Taunton and Minehead operating heritage steam and diesel engines. It has been used a lot for films and TV including: A Hard Days Night, The Belstone Fox, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, Casualty and The Flockton Flyer, which Lynn had fun trying to pronounce after her customary few pints this evening (Dartmoor girls only drink pints). 

We finished the day off with a fine Sunday roast before enjoying our last night in a comfy bed before Penzance. 

Day 58 Congresbury to Bridgwater – Saturday 9 July

Distance 28.34 miles, cumulative 1,017.65 miles, time 11 hrs 05 mins, walking time 9 hrs 5 mins, pace 3.1 mph, Camped Follet’s Farm
We started the day on the Strawberry Line cycle way which is named after Cheddar’s ‘famous’ strawberries – although nowhere near as famous as the cheese. The original GWR railway closed in 1965 and used to carry strawberries, dairy produce and stone.

We walked through Thatchers Cider apple orchards – not ready to pick yet.

The line passed through a tunnel and eventually reached Axbridge, a pretty little town which most people will bypass as they travel to Bristol Airport.

We skirted Cheddar Reservoir and got into the heart of the Somerset Levels where we clocked up 1,000 miles and celebrated with our first proper selfie, but when we looked at the photo we had been photo bombed by a horse.

We criss crossed the Levels on paths, disused railways, tracks and minor roads, some of which were very straight and very long.

The day was humid and the wind warm. It stayed dry and after another fairly long day we crossed the M5 via a footbridge and reached Bridgwater.

We added a few miles to our original plan today to leave ourselves with a shorter day tomorrow as we start to cross Exmoor.

Ryan will be pleased. We went into Bridgwater and walked into what we thought was a Wetherspoons but it was a copy cat, a very convincing one – The Cornhill, one of the Stonegate companies pubs.

Day 57 Gordano to Congresbury – Friday 8 July

Distance 16.5 miles, cumulative 989.31 miles, time 7 hrs 30 mins, walking time 6 hrs 5 mins, pace 2.8 mph, Camped Oak Farm Touring Park
A wet start to the day, which soon improved and fortunately we had both recovered from yesterday’s epic march. Our route for the next few days is a bespoke route to link us up with the Macmillan Way West footpath over Exmoor and into Barnstaple from where we join familiar territory on the South West Coastal Footpath. 

We left Gordano and followed some less well used footpaths towards Cadbury Camp an ancient fort site with views down to Clevedon and Portishead. Some of the route we followed used the way marked footpaths of the ‘Gordano Round’ circular walk. We were surprised by the sight of two white rhinos grazing in a field, which we did not think were indigenous to Avon, but it transpired we were passing the ‘rear’ perimeter of Noah’s Ark Zoo at Moat House a popular tourist attraction. We followed Cadbury Camp Lane, a private road passing some very pricey real estate before dropping down on to the Somerset levels. 

Steve got excited when he thought he saw Llamas but they turned out to be Alpacas. although he was quite smitten with one of them.

The final few miles to Congresbury was along a disused railway, now a cycle way and footpath, called the Strawberry Line which will also take us towards Cheddar tomorrow. 

We spent the late afternoon in the sunshine watching the planes overhead on the flight path from Bristol airport. 

Day 56 Slimbridge to Gordano – Thursday 7 July

Distance 33.46 miles, cumulative 972.81 miles, time 12 hrs 25 mins, walking time 11 hrs, pace 3 mph, Accommodation – Days Inn.
Our longest day so far, due to some extra-ordinary bad planning by Steve, but we made an early start to complete a difficult section. We crossed the M48, M4, M49, M5 and the M5 Avon Bridge. We also passed both River Severn motorway bridges. The M48 is crossed by a footpath which runs over the toll booths and the path goes under the M4. The day finished by walking over the M5 Avon Bridge to reach Gordano Services.

The route again followed the Severn Way until we reached Avonmouth where we picked up national cycle network route 41.

We followed the Canal to Sharpness which is very much a working dock facility. We passed the ship graveyard at Purton where ships at the end of their working lives were deliberately grounded against the estuary side of the canal to protect the canal bank. The path followed the bank of the Severn Estuary and we had our first brief glimpse of the Severn Road Bridge at 8.30am. We next saw it two and half hours later when we could pick out lorries crossing looking like Dinky toys. We crossed it at 1.50pm when they looked a little larger as we peered down on them from on top of the toll booths. The Severn bridge was opened in 1966, which makes it the same age as Lynn. It requires constant maintenance. 

The route was surprisingly rural until Avonmouth even as we passed the two decommissioned nuclear power stations at Oldbury and Berkeley. 

Avonmouth was a hive of construction activity and haulage traffic, fortunately the cycle route kept us away from the worst of it. 

Shortly after we joined the cycle route we met a couple cycling who stopped to ask us about the cycle route which at that point was unclear due to roadworks. They were travelling north doing LEJOG on day 5 and heading for Chepstow. We wished each other well. They were the first end to enders we had met for over a week.

After such a long day it was a bonus to find the room had a bath, which set us up nicely for a KFC bargain bucket. Tomorrow is a shorter day!

Congratulations to David and Chris who have completed their ‘LEJOG’ walk. We passed them near Falkirk. 

Day 55 Gloucester to Slimbridge – Wednesday 6 July

Distance 13.31 miles, cumulative 939.38 miles, time 5 hrs, walking time 4 hrs 15 mins, pace 3.1 mph, Camped Tudor Caravan Park.
After yesterday’s frustrations with the footpath, today was much easier as we chose to follow the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal towpath from Gloucester Docks to Slimbridge. The Sharpness Canal runs alongside the tidal River Severn and cuts out a long and dangerous bend in the River. It was once the broadest and deepest canal in the world. At 16.5 miles in length we will walk its entire length when we finish the final few miles tomorrow morning. So today was an easy day of walking in bright sunshine watching all the activity on the canal which included a Chinese rowing team. 

Up in the air we watched what looked like one of the new military transport planes, an Airbus A400M Atlas, going round and round being followed by a small plane which we assumed to be photographing it. RAF Brize Norton is not far away if you are flying or it might have come from RAF Fairford which is hosting the Royal International Air Tattoo this weekend. 

After an early finish we chilled at the very smart and tranquil campsite which just happens to have a pub at it’s entrance which hopefully will be showing the Wales v Portugal game. 

 

Day 54 Tewkesbury to Gloucester – Tuesday 5 July

Distance 14.64 miles, cumulative 926.07 miles, time 6 hrs, walking time 5 hrs 15 mins, pace 2.8 mph, B&B The New Inn Hotel.
Tewkesbury showed few signs of the floods it had suffered but there was plenty of construction activity improving the flood defences. Tewkesbury is a medieval town and was preparing for it’s medieval week of celebrations. All the shops and many houses were displaying medieval banners. We ate at the Wetherspoons last night.

The paths had been improving in Worcestershire but as we entered Gloucestershire the footpaths became hard going. We finished the day covered in nettle rash and scratches and we were both a little teasy by the time we reached Gloucester. We had negotiated broken stiles, barbed wire, electric fences, overgrown paths and fallen trees. The route along the Severn Way from the north into Gloucester leaves a very poor impression of the City. The saving grace for the day was the glorious sunny weather.

Once in the City things improve and the recently renovated and developed docks provide leisure facilities and a shopping complex. We had a lunch in a city centre Wetherspoons ‘The Regal’ built in an old cinema and an afternoon coffee in the dockside Wetherspoons ‘The Lord High Constable of England’. We should point out that other pubs are available. Our friend Ryan gets quite touchy about this probably as he works for Heavitree Brewery, an Exeter based company which no longer brews beer but has many pubs in the South West. 

So just for Ryan we do like Heavitree Brewery’s excellent pubs especially the Passage House Inn at Topsham.

We are staying in a lovely old hotel in the centre of Gloucester which was the first Berni Inn to open and the last to close. They still serve a good steak. It was also the place were the unfortunate Lady Jane Grey was proclaimed Queen in 1553. She was Queen for only nine days. We will not repeat the story here but it did not end well for her.

 

Day 53 Holt Fleet to Tewkesbury – Monday 4 July

Distance 26.02 miles, cumulative 911.43 miles, time 10 hrs 40 mins, walking time 8 hrs 45 mins, pace 3 mph, camped The Abbey Caravan Park.
The previous evening we had been joined at the Red Lion in Holt by Steve’s Dad, sister Sarah and the family of Steve’s mother’s cousin, Michael. I hope you have got that. So a special thanks to Michael, Mary, Helen, Ian and Annie it was lovely to see you and a special thanks to Mary for bringing a packet of ginger nuts. 

We made an early start for what would be our longest day so far. Once again we were following the Severn Valley Way past angling pegs, static caravan parks and moored motor cruisers. 

Our first stop was at Worcester which as we entered along the footpath proudly proclaimed it was a city. Worcester indeed looked splendid in the sharp early morning sunshine. The racecourse looked ready for the off, the Cathedral looked magnificent and even the prow of the Kings School boathouse jutted proudly out toward the river. The river was linked to the Worcester and Birmingham Canal, via a lock and we saw a few working vessels in addition to pleasure craft. 

A constant presence during the day on our right was the Malvern Hills which are conspicuous by virtue of the surrounding area being so flat. 

We stopped at a riverside cafe for a quick tea and resumed our progress towards Upton on Severn another pretty village with an accommodating tea shop. 

Whilst the going today was flat, many of the fields we walk through can be quite tricky underfoot and a high knee lift is required to avoid tripping in the long grass. It felt at times like the Monty Python Ministry of Silly Walks.

The most bizarre sight was an abandoned wheel chair in middle of a field. We searched the area for a body but found no trace. Steve thought about using it for his rucksack but instead found a suitable recovery truck instead.

The A38 had been close by most of the day and we crossed it and at one point walked along a short section. We passed under the M50 and reached Tewkesbury a little weary. The Caravan Club site is right by the Abbey near the centre of town and was a welcoming site. 

Talking of welcomes, today was typical in that we received a warm welcome everywhere and several offers of help. Walking past one static caravan on a site near Upton on Severn the couple on the veranda asked if we needed water. We didn’t, but the obligatory chat and exchanging of life stories followed. When we arrived at the campsite and had pitched our tent. we started to set the gas stove up and immediately the couple opposite in a caravan offered us boiling water from their kettle. Offers and help, such as these has been typical. 

We passed the 900 mile mark today but we did not over do the celebrations as we are saving ourselves for the big thousand.