For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move. ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON

Friday, 24 September 2010

In Which Our Hero Struggles Valiantly With Bruised Toes And Blisters, But Finally Makes It Across The Marsh To An Unprepossessing Seaside Resort

On the fifth day of my trek along the South West Coast Path, I walked 25 miles from Croyde to Bideford. This was too much. Even though the stretch was unusually flat and relatively easy for a change, I was still carrying full camping gear. Also my toes were being crushed in untested boots. I swapped the boots for lightweight walking sandals, which provided some relief at first - but at the end of the day I had a blister on each foot. Now I know this sounds as if the day was hell, but it wasn't, for I was passing through a landscape of uncommon beauty...

Braunton Burrows is the largest area of sand dunes you'll find in Britain, and it's so ecologically important that, not only is it a National Nature Reserve, but it was also the UK's first UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. I'd been there before on family holidays when young. Places like this had given me some of my first exciting glimpses into the natural world. And now here I was again, 45 years later, entering the reserve - and loving it even more! (In a way, this walk is like joining the dots, connecting up all the isolated coastal places I'd visited as a kid, or with my own children, in one continuous, linear journey.)

An amazing 400 plant species have been recorded here, including some quite specialised varieties such as pyramidal orchid, southern marsh orchid and bog pimpernel. I myself was delighted to see common centaury, evening primrose, purple loostrife and viper's bugloss. On the bugloss, burnet moths (distinctive with their red spots) were feeding, and gatekeeper butterflies fluttered limply on the brambles. There were leaf beetles on the willows, and crusty lichens and fragrant herbs - particularly wild thyme - underfoot. There are rare amphibians here too, not to mention the rather less rare rabbits - which crop the grass so heavily that most of the flowers appear in strangely stunted forms. I took a short-cut behind the dunes across the flat, eerily haunting Braunton Marsh, an area of tussocky, uncultivated grassland, intersected by drainage ditches and grazed by cattle...



Beyond the marsh, I followed the muddy sandbanks of the river Caen to Velator, on the outskirts of Braunton village...


... then joined the Tarka Trail (a popular walking and cycling route along a former railway trackbed) by the river Taw. I eavesdropped on this noisy gathering of Canada geese, though what they were squabbling about I could not decide...



... then crossed the river, and made my way along its southern shore, where sheep safely grazed, and redshanks and oystercatchers piped and whistled...


I spent the night in a splendidly old-fashioned little guest house in Bideford, and, the next day, sent home all my camping gear and my rogue boots. I would buy some more comfortable footwear at the earliest opportunity. Meanwhile I limped slowly onward to Westward Ho! - a faded, down-at-heel, surfing resort of such grey gloom and despondency, I vowed I would never return...

6 comments:

Mister Roy said...

I'm enjoying following this walk. We often stay on part of the SWC and I have walked a few miles - would love to do longer stretched but 25m with full pack in new boots! - good grief

am said...

The Westward Ho! area looks a lot like Aberdeen, Washington, Kurt Cobain's hometown. Grey gloom and despondency.

I wonder where Canada Geese come from originally. England? Have I asked that before?

A flock of them passed overhead this morning just as the sun was rising. Some winter here. Others migrate south. I never saw one until I moved north from California.

Wonderful photo of the swan!

George said...

An interesting day in your journey, Robert, but twenty-five miles with camping gear is really pushing it. I'm surprised you didn't just burn your boots at the end of the day. The day was clearly worth it, however. Braunton Burrows sounds like — and appears to be — a very lovely place.

In your next post, I trust you will tell your fellow walkers how you managed your feet after shipping your boots home. Light sandals surely didn't transport you for the next 400 miles.

A great and interesting post. Thanks.

pilgrimpace said...

Thanks Robert - am remembering my own bad feet from time to time! Thanks also for the recommendation of the poetry collection in the last post.

I'm enjoying following this vicariously - when the time comes, I'll share my story of walk-stopping injury near Zennor

Andy

The Solitary Walker said...

Thanks Roy! I think I'll refrain from writing some pious sentence with the words ''rain', 'pain', 'gain' and 'insane' in it. Just to say, I did get things sorted in the end!

Am - I think Canada geese are native to N. America and were 'introduced' over here. To be honest, they're very common in the UK now, and lots of the ones you see are half-tame, urban parkland birds. Though, of course, the genuinely wild ones are something else...

'Burn your boots', George, reminded me of the pilgrim custom -in Finisterra, the true and endmost end of the Spanish Camino - of burning your clothes on the beach, as a ritual and symbolic act of spiritual renewal...

Andy - that stretch between St Ives and Pendeen via Zennor is one of the most challenging sections of the trial/trail! Nearly came to grief there myself a couple of times. Needless to say, it was raining, which didn't help at all when negotiating all those slippery rocks...

Tramp said...

SW
Still chasing you. I'll get you one of these days.
I'm sure I caught sight of you in Westward Ho but you were off like a shot.
...Tramp