After the pseudo-honeymoon of the first hundred miles the second hundred have been relatively smooth. The first four miles of the third hundred are a different story. Anyway, so this phase has taken me from the coast into the heartland of Cornwall and Devon where I have spent a lot of time walking the back roads that have seen very little traffic for hundreds of years. The hills are still there, repetitive, undulating and often v-shaped to accommodate the proliferation of small streams and rivers that beat a path to both coasts fed by the higher ground of places such as Bodmin Moor, Dartmoor & Exmoor. You are, in fact, never very far from the sea which can add to any frustration as you feel that little progress is actually being made and so I take great solace in the ticking off of miles and their completion as quickly and directly as possible. Additionally, it has proved, unsurprisingly, much easier to navigate via these roads than facing the challenges of many of the smaller footpaths with their deviations and obstacles planted for disausion. There have been the added challenges of dodging oncoming vehicles oblivious to the pedestrian’s right of way, particularly when a road has looked small on the map but has turned into an highway because it is a cut-through known to the locals. For the most part drivers have been courteous although I do think that if bicycles can have a road-traffic warning sign then so should hikers; after all there is one for pedestrians, children, the elderly…
So, what places have I visited? Bodmin, Liskeard, Callington, Tavistock, Lydford, Okehampton, North Tawton, Crediton and Tiverton. Of all of them Tavistock had the most allure with a variety of shops and eateries but also a very different architecture, apparently lent by the Tavistock stone, but reminding me of Scotland, particularly Aberdeen. During this time I managed to stay in one pub, two campsites, a Youth Hostel and in someone’s home through Air B&B. The latter proved particularly helpful because the host, Sammy, managed to repair my tent, the zip of which I had broken three nights previously and had resulted in a wet night’s sleep. To say I was overjoyed would be an understatement, let alone lucky, enhanced as it was by a delicious dinner that she shared. I also had my first brush with Glamping when I stayed at Woodovis Park, a beautiful campsite about 5 or 6 miles outside Tavistock. The accommodation consisted of quaint wooden chalet shaped like the prow of a ship set perpendicular into the ground. Inside was a fold down bed, as in a caravan, a heater, electric point and television. What a change after the tent, most notably having space around me to repack the bag. Outside was a veranda on which I could cook. Prices are pretty good but I had also had a complimentary upgrade and made the most of facilities which also included an indoor swimming pool, jacuzzi and infra-red sauna. It was a good opportunity to ease some aching muscles, not least a calf that was beginning to give me problems. It was a fantastic break as I took only my second day off to make sure I got the most out of the relative luxury. Upon leaving the owner, Dorothy, had very kindly baked me some shortbread feet. They would prove very tasty at a later date. The staff could not have been friendlier and my abiding memory will be of their constant smiles. In Tavistock I was lucky enough to meet up with the MD of one of my sponsors, Absolute 360. Their infra-red baselayers, socks and supports have been fantastic and an essential part of my reaching the 200-mile mark. Umberto proved to be a wonderful guy who bought me lunch and then showed me around Tavistock and Dartmoor, helping me to plan the future route. His passion was infectious and we managed to talk about many interesting subjects – he also interviewed me for a blog he was writing. It was with some melancholy that we parted company as I returned to the challenge at hand and the relative isolation. However, it didn’t take long before I was back on track and, so far, I have enjoyed my own company for long periods each day.
Lydford and Okehampton both proved good stops, the latter in the YHA at Bracken Tor. Having initially gone to the wrong Youth Hostel I was lucky enough to have them transport my bag to the right one while I went back to Lydford to walk the 10 miles along the Granite Way. This is a gentle, easy walk and a great way to see Dartmoor from a safe distance. The day before had been less so but the opportunity to walk the Moor, even carrying an injury, was well worth the excursion. Bracken Tor, despite its location on, as the name might suggest, a hill was a good stop, well fed as I was by Nick who was very accommodating about breakfast times. The two day stop also allowed me to walk to North Tawton, something of an uninspiring town, despite Ted Hughes’ having living there for many years. The Copper Key did introduce me to a local beer, the name of which I can’t remember (not due to the drink I might add) and I had a chance to walk a few miles of the Tarka Trail, obviously named after the Henry Williamson otter. I only hope that the other sections of the Trail are more invigorating than this one, the ambience perhaps disturbed by the location of a large and aesthetically unpleasing factory that turned out to be making cheese. Using the bus services to my advantage I then managed to leave my bag in Crediton before returning to complete the North Tawton to Crediton route the following day. This too-ing and fro-ing on the bus to move the exceedingly heavy backpack has freed me up to walk longer distances and realise the ultimate goal of the challenge – finishing! Having reached Crediton, Tiverton was my next port of call but I couldn’t find any accommodation or campsite that would work. Luckily, an old school friend managed to fix me up with one of her friends to stay over near Exeter for the night. Between Crediton and Tiverton I developed a significant pain in my right foot that later would be diagnosed as a stress fracture. Still, I finished the section and Steph picked me up from Exeter bus station. She had emigrated to Australia and was back visiting family, not least because her mother was turning 80. I was instantly accepted into the group and having been fed spent several hours through into the morning chatting with Steph and Catrin whilst consuming ‘some’ Prosecco. Earlier I had been on hand to photograph one friend, Lance, who was having all his hair shaved for charity. All of this group were vibrant and interesting and it was a pleasure to meet them and now consider them friends.
The scenery has been stunning from the rolling hills and beautiful fields of colour to the deep, ancient trackways with their hedgerows and abundance of wild flowers: Bluebells, Red Campion, wild garlic and Primroses to name but a few. With them come beautiful and varying smells from sweet perfume, strong and invigorating to a subtle scent borne on the breeze. The numerous streams and brooks with their songs have also proved delightful distractions although partnered by their steep-sided valleys. This really is a beautiful country with a long history embodied in its landscape and perpetuated, particularly in this region, by the relative isolation and continuing farming practices, themselves as old as these hills.
Now sitting back in Durham writing this I look forward to the bones mending and being back on the trail.