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  • Writer's pictureJane Smith

Day 12 Bude to Hartland Quay

Another rubbish night, but this time nothing to do with anxiety. That seems to have receded a bit, thank goodness, with the aid of some grounding thinking, my mindfulness app and lots of chats with the people I love. This time my sleeping was disturbed by the plumbing. Booking a single room can mean that you are put in the less salubrious part of the institution, normally on the top floor. I have nothing against this B and B - they were incredibly kind to get up early this morning to make sure there was some breakfast for me. But the water tank appears to have been placed directly behind my pillow. So every time any one in the large house was getting clean, there was a loud squeak and then the rushing of the tank refilling. And they got clean a lot. All through the night.

I am not an early morning person, as all my friends would attest. But there is something special about being up and out whilst a lot of the world are still in bed. Apart from a couple of dog walkers, a few people on their way to work and the odd surfer, it was just me. The light was beautiful, pale, blue and with anticipation of a hot day to come. The GCHQ listening area seem to be looking down rather benignly on the little town, waiting for the day.

As I’ve described on previous entries, this is the day I’ve been scared of. Everyone had said it’s the most demanding of an already very tough path. I was enormously glad of leaving a lot of the contents of my rucksack behind, so that I could fill it up with water and food. But much of the anxiety had gone this morning, replaced with a stoic determination.

They weren’t wrong though. After a gentle start, the inclines really started to kick in. Once you’ve got over the concentration needed for the descent, you’re immediately faced with a brutal climb. The only consolation is that the descents are slow, allowing the CV system to return to normal. Someone I met a couple of days ago was saying that the disadvantage of cycling the End to End is that the downhills are so quick that you seem to be always doing uphills.

Approaching Duckpool I met a girl who’d been out running. She told me that she chickened out of doing the path ahead of me because she didn’t like heights. Coupling this with this with my landlady last night saying someone had a panic attack on this stretch, I was a little concerned. I considered bailing and walking on the road even though it would have made it an even longer journey. But instead I decided I was brave enough. It was fine. It was definitely sheer. But walking steadily, trying not to look at the drop to my left it was okay.

Pulling away from Duckpool, everything becomes much wilder. I got very close to the GCHQ listening area. I wondered if they were listening in to my swearing at the hills. But mostly it was about the animals. Lots of rabbits. Some brave and watching me, but most of them skittering away with their white flashes. Lots of birds flying up - I wish I knew more about birds. And a fox. He stood motionless on the path watching me until I got really quite close. And then he sauntered away.

The morning was certainly tough. I had done three or four serious ascents before what I would normally call breakfast time. But the peace, the colours and the sense of calm isolation has made it a very special couple of hours.

I took proper breaks every hour or so, eating bananas and another squashed sandwich. During one of these breaks I got a call from my lovely B and B landlady to say that a mystery parcel had been delivered for me, and she explained how she’d organised to get it sent to Hartland for me. She was then extremely kind and encouraging, and suggested that I take a proper break at the only place that sells refreshment on the walk today. I decided to take her advice. So although it involved adding maybe a mile to the total walk, I ducked off the path to go to the Old Rectory tea room. It opened about half an hour after I arrived. I spent the time lying on the grass in the shade escaping the sun. The lunch was great, and I felt properly refreshed and ready to start the next, harder section of the walk.

As I set off from lunch, the weather changed. Instead of utterly clear blue skies, the sea mist rolled in over the cliffs, sometimes sitting solidly, sometimes swirling around me as I walked. It reduced the temperature dramatically. This was obviously very helpful for keeping going, but the joy of the views was removed.

It was good to meet Sue and Jim, who live down the road from me in Slough. They kindly sponsored me, and were reassuring about the rest of the path.

Coming down to Yeol Mouth was nasty, all the sorts of shale and slippy descents that I hate. A couple of times my feet started to slide, and I was rescued by my fantastic poles. So many times I’d have gone over if it wasn’t for them. I feel at times that I am morphing into a quadruped, they give me stability and if I feel the slightest twinge in either leg I can take the strain off it by taking more weight on the poles. A couple watched me descending with my combination of extreme caution and then panicky sliding. They told me that they’d thought it was safer to wait till I’d got to the bottom before I started. I think they feared I’d take them out as I started an uncontrollable slide.

I wish the photos properly show just how horribly steep some of these hills are. Following the ski slope descent I then had a climb of 200 steps. I counted them as I ascended as a motivation. Not necessarily fun, but much better than shale.

I lost the path at one point, and took a shortcut route that obviously many others had taken down to the path I’d spotted below me. It corresponded to my map so I continued with confidence, even though it seemed to be running very close to the edge of the cliff. Then I arrived at a fence blocking my way, and the new path beyond it. The bit I’d been on had been shut due to being dangerous because of coastal erosion. Gulp.

And on and on it went. Up and down, over and over. I kept looking at the map, hoping I’d missed a bit and I was nearly at Welcombe, which is where the path eases off. But no such luck. I was sweating so much it was flying off my hair on to the path - a scary sight. I took a happy break chatting to Sophie and Adeel with their dog Shelka. Young, fit, cheerfully carrying their camping equipment. Most impressive. Sophie described me as hard core. And Adeel thinks the 103 days of my walk is a lucky number. I thought they were both great.

Another thing that was great at Welcombe mouth was that I left Cornwall behind and entered Devon. It felt like a big step. Or a lot of them.

As the slog continued, a hut to rest in was enormously welcome. The hut was built Looking after me which is seven by Ronald Duncan, a poet who was based in Welcombe, who used to walk there every day to write. After his death his daughter Bryony saved the hut for others to use. I sat for a good twenty minutes just trying to regain some equilibrium. As I was emerging from my exhausted state, helped by the end of my thermos of tea and the now very squashed sandwich, I was joined by Eileen, Gill and Serena with whom I swapped stories and we grumbled about the steps and the stiles and even the stepping stones over rivers all being made by men for men’s legs.

As I approached the final major incline I met a Californian couple who were making quite heavy weather of the slope. The woman seemed held together with physio tape.She asked me if it got any harder. As I was about to say yes - she told me not to tell her…. I hope they made it to their destination ok.

And it carried on for miles. But with the sea mist down I couldn’t see anything except the path ahead of me. It was never dangerous, there was always some visibility, but the gratification of the views had gone and instead it was just the act of walking. One foot in front of the other, mile after mile. My feet were tired, and I was feeling very drained. It made me think about how grateful I was that I’d not had the full sun and hot weather that had been forecast this afternoon. And also how glad I was that I got some of my pack taken. It made me wonder if I’d have managed if neither of those things had happened. But I then thought that actually probably I would. It would have been very hard and taken hours longer, but I probably would have got there in the end. What this process is showing me is that I do have grit. I put my head down and I just keep going.

The end of the day brought the joy of my lovely friend and sister in law Magda arriving. She’d made an epic journey from London to spend the weekend with me. It’s going to be lovely sharing the walking with her tomorrow and Sunday. And the mist lifted as she arrived, we made the most of it as the forecast isn’t great for tomorrow.


Distance travelled: 16.5 miles

Total ascent: 3,900 feet

Calories burned: 3080

Local tipple: half of Legend bitter

Dinner at the Hartland Quay hotel - tasty

Vegetarian curry with rice and naan

Bakewell tart and custard. First evening pudding for ages, delicious!

New song of the day

Roosevelt featuring Nile Rogers - Passion

Not really for me, I don‘t feel there’s much interest in the melodic line. Or maybe I was just too tired!

Video of the day:

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