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  • Writer's pictureJane Smith

Day 15 - Bideford to Barnstaple

I’ve been looking forward to today. It’s familiar territory, and a lovely walk that I’ve done much of before. And apart from some downhill at the beginning it’s almost completely flat!  I started the day by looking for some new socks - my previously wonderful 1000 mile socks have lasted about 100 miles each, and are now in holes. Consequently my feet are suffering a bit, so that needs to be a project for the next day or so to get some replacements.

Because it’s a more undemanding day, I took it slow getting going this morning, and therefore was lucky enough to bump into Brenda and Derick in the lift. They make them very friendly and extremely generous in Guernsey.

A gentle walk from my out of town hotel to Bideford town for coffee. Past a sobering sign marking the names of the last 3 women executed as witches. A couple of days ago I’d been listening to Laura Bates talking on the ever excellent Fortunately podcast about her Everyday Sexism project. I looked up what I could of the story of Temperance, Susannah and Mary, and the combination of theirs and Laura’s made me think about how far we’ve come with misogyny and how very far we still have to go.

I was delighted to see a Devon air ambulance charity shop in Bideford. I thought it might be a good idea to tell them what I was doing. I was comically surprised when I asked the member of staff if it would be ok to have a photo with her and her reply was ‘absolutely not’. Fortunately a volunteer helper was kindly happy to oblige.

After crossing the Bideford bridge I joined the Tarka trail. This is a wonderful amenity for walkers and cyclists running along the old railway line that was decommissioned due to the Beeching report in the 1930s.

It runs through wildlife reserves, through little towns and villages, hugging the river Taw. I’m sure the loss of the railways was felt profoundly in these little communities, but the gain for people like me today is great.

As on the Camel trail, there was lots of opportunity to people watch. More spoilt dogs in different types of carriers. A woman singing full pelt along to the music in her headphones. A couple with head mics and some sort of comms system between them, chatting as they rode their bikes intently. A couple with additional needs riding excellent high tricycles.

And lovely watching the business on the river. Rotting skeletons of boats half submerged in the mud, being absorbed into their environment. Flourishing houseboats with their river bed area planted with flowers, and others looking a bit down on their luck. An impressive mermaid mural on the pier of one of the bridges. And scudding backwards and forwards across the river were a number of little dinghies enjoying the combination of blue skies and a steady breeze. It all went a bit Swallows and Amazons.

At Instow there is a lovely little bit of beach. What an idyllic place to linger with an ice cream and a swim.

And further on, away from the people and away from the path there were water fowl doing their thing. I stood and watched an egret for some time, in its world, undisturbed. It’s a place of remarkable peace.

Lots of very generous people too. Thanks to Mark and Tosie with their dog Joey and also later to Katie and Kev. They are off to do some of the coast path and also are enjoying sharing their experiences online at the end of each day. They were describing a friend of there’s whose currently cycling the End to End whilst praying for the country. He’s doing an eccentric route, going where God calls him. It reminded me of my dental hygienist describing my walk as a pilgrimage. It isn’t in any religious sense, but the feeling of journeying towards something is certainly there.

A lovely interlude at Fremington Quay cafe. I have had many happy times here  with family and friends over the last 15 to 20 years. I was really looking forward to revisiting it for lunch. In the long queue I met Paul, Trev and Al for jovial chat about my walk and their holiday cycling, and they were kind enough to use the Just Giving page too. I observed a young teenage boy looking after his toddler sister with such gentle patience and tenderness. And I was given a very generous donation by Shirley and Paul in memory of their lovely son Ollie Burridge, who tragically died in Tasmania aged only 34. I was very touched at the openness of her conversation with me, and very grateful to hear a little bit about the life Ollie led.  And for her to show me his picture on her phone.

The surprising intimacy of these encounters made me remember the most recent very happy time here, and it rather threw me for a bit. Missing people. But as I was beginning to feel pretty low, the music in the cafe changed to Redbone’s Come and get your Love - one of my goto cheerer uppers. I took it as my cue to move on, put in on my headphones good and loud, and sang along, willing my mood up.

A bit of an aside, but what is it with all these caterpillars? There have been so very many crawling on the coastal path.

Barnstaple is a town I also know well, and it’s where I will have a rest day tomorrow. I’m staying in the very swanky Imperial hotel that adjoins the river. The dress code would mean that I’d probably not be super welcome in the dining room in the classy attire I’ve got in my rucksack. But the staff were lovely and upgraded my room when they heard what I was doing.

The rest of the day was spent on essential tasks such as finding a laundrette and then a lovely hour at the swimming pool of the Imperial’s sister hotel. It meant that I probably walked an extra 4 miles this afternoon, but it was worth it to have clean clothes and the chance to rest my aching muscles in the water. Feeling a bit tired and a bit on my own this evening, I’m definitely up for a rest day tomorrow.


Distance travelled: 12 miles plus an extra 4!

Total ascent: A stonking 170 feet

Calories burned: 1200

Local tipple - a can of rhubarb and ginger gin and tonic in my room

Dinner - picnic in my room courtesy of Marks and Spencer, not feeling like the effort of eating out. I’ll venture out again tomorrow.

Video of the day:

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