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  • Writer's pictureJane Smith

Day 17 - Barnstaple to Molland Cross

Today was the hottest forecast so far, so I made as early a start as the hotel breakfast would allow. I’ve had a few twinges in my hip and back over the last couple of days, so I did all the mitigations for that that I could manage and set off a bit gingerly. Before I started this trek I had made my peace with the possibility that there might be days when injury or illness prevent me from walking. I wasn’t convinced that today was one of those, but was keeping an eye on it. In the end, the pain eased after about half an hour, hopefully it’s a short lived niggle.

I took the less scenic but shorter walk out of Barnstaple, enjoying being part of the parents walking their primary aged children to school. One young mum was explaining to her maybe 7 year old about the sign on my back so I stopped to chat to Tilda with her mum and sister. Reminded me of my old life. And I told them about the wonderful video I got yesterday from the Seer Green youth club to go with the sponsorship of a pound for every day that I’m walking. It made my day yesterday.

The route today is a combination of roads and tracks, but the roads are all very small underused ones, which made it easy walking. As I was beginning to feel cocky about it the incline changed and there was a big pull of 600 feet or more. Easier than the coastal path, but the Devonian high hedges meant that there was no corresponding gratification of lovely views apart from the odd glimpse.

I was surprised to see that the Tarka trail is not just confined to the Taw estuary section. In fact, on researching it, I’ve discovered that it is in fact a 180 mile trail that runs in a figure of eight with Barnstaple as its centre. And the lower section is the longest off road cycle path in the UK.

It was a lovely interlude to take the section running through the woods, sunlight periodically breaking through and the cool quiet hugely appreciated.

Coming out into the sunshine was a shock. I walked past the very fancy looking boarding school at West Buckland, and just as I was beginning to feel overheated, the beautiful church of East Buckland was round the corner. I get so much peace and respite by just sitting in these old churches. It’s a combination of the cool, the quiet, but also the feeling of the building being used for so many centuries in moments of importance and peace. I always leave a note thanking them for keeping it open. I know that I’m not their demographic, but I am very grateful to the church wardens for allowing these old buildings to be available to people like me.

The Tarka trail continued following the line of the river Bray. It was not the most prepossessing of starts, with a trailer almost entirely blocking the path, and then later an old fallen tree requiring me to remove my pack and crawl underneath it.

But it was worth it. I got to have my lunch with my feet in the water, in complete tranquillity whilst a few hundred yards away people continued their busy lives on a fast moving A road. This is why I’m doing this walk. It was absolute bliss.

Aside from a few vehicles, I haven’t seen another person since leaving Barnstaple today. It has been hard work because of the heat and a couple of long steep hills, but a very tranquil day otherwise.  Because of setting off early, I arrived at my B and B two hours before the official check in time. Instead of being asked to wait, I was so grateful to be welcomed as an old friend and given repeated glasses of squash - ‘you do look a bit hot love’. The building is surrounded by fields, with the sheep bleating outside my window. A great place to recover from the day whilst waiting for my friends Liz and Janna to arrive.


Distance travelled: 13.5 miles

Total ascent: 2546 feet

Calories burned: 2100

Local tipple: Half of Otter ale

Dinner at the Poltimore Inn (excitingly involving going in a car!!) - very good

Baked camembert to share

Butternut squash crumble with cheesy topping (proud to double cheese!!)

New song of the day

Concorde- Black Country New Road

Not sure what the lyrics mean, but I like the Lou Reed/Bowie sound to his voice. And the variety of instruments in the band are great.

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Love the way your path is a kind of secret one alongside the ‘real life’ of others. Like you’ve dropped out of time and are living in a parallel world. Such a genius idea to get those boots off and your feet reviving in cool streams on hot days. And, HL, you look radiant! In a good way! ‘You do look a bit hot, love!’ 😆 A bit stunned that you can pull out swish clothes from your pack and look like a perfectly normal person at the drop of a hat! impressive feat. Xxx

Jane Smith
Jane Smith

Ah, that’s my secret weapon of having kind friends bring me a change of clothes when they arrive! So excited by a different t shirt! You’re right about dropping out of time - there’s definitely a lot in that. Xx

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