Walk, Eat, Repeat: Devon and Cornwall North Coast

I had a warm welcome in Welcombe and a week of walking awaiting, as l entered the old farmhouse in Devon.

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With this beautiful home as a base, and a lovely couple as host, I walked coastal and inland trails over rugged hills and harsh headlands, through blue bell blanketed woodlands and across lush green pastures from Tintagel in Cornwall north to Clovelly in Devon.

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I wasn’t alone; we were a group of eight. I am new to group walking holidays and happily, this one seemed as much about fine dining as it was about walking. Full English breakfasts, packed lunches, delicious cakes with tea and locally sourced gourmet dinners complemented the walking. We averaged 9 or 10 miles (15 km) a day and although we climbed many hills, it is possible that the calories I consumed exceeded those lost. With me, eating is like watching the pig in the python, a quick glance at my feet after dinner and I know the day’s score.

The walks were well chosen and one near Hartland Quay was our first. A sign posted at the Quay recommends a “rumbustious romp through Hartland’s rich heritage”. The walkers in our group were not exactly “rumbustious rompers”, so we failed to deliver the boisterous, unruly romping recommended. Nevertheless, we completed this windy, treeless, gorse lined bit of coastal path. The trail overlooked unforgiving slate, folded to reveal razor-sharp edges to approaching ships. A tiny museum describes the coastline’s rich shipwreck history and the plundering (and I’m sure rumbustious) booty-hunters that followed.

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The group seemed to chat endlessly as they ambled instead of romped. Running out of conversation quickly, I often marched on ahead taking pictures. During one particularly long conversation, I managed to squeeze in a quick surf, while I waited for the group, hoping that it might qualify as rumbustious-ness.

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Looking more closely now though, I see that it’s not me. No chance now of any rollicking behaviour from this group as we all continued along quietly past Speke’s waterfall in a dramatic hanging valley and eventually home for tea.

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Over the course of the week we saw so much on our walks: abandoned slate quarries, remains of mills and lime kilns, quiet manor houses, gnarly treed woodlands, iron age forts, 11th century churches, writers cabins tucked into the hillside and Victorian tea cottages overlooking the sea

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One day we walked to Tintagel Castle in Cornwall, celebrated as the birthplace of the legendary King Arthur. While a popular tourist destination since Victorian times, hard evidence of his existence is slim, so a beer at a nearby pub at the bottom of the valley seemed a better investment than touring the castle.

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Another day, the sheltered little fishing village of Clovelly in Devon was our destination. Another sunny day and another lunch time beer. This had become a routine since the first day and might have something to do with the visible calorie balance sheet imbalance.

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A popular tourist destination beginning in Victorian times, the village of Clovelly is unique in that the village is owned by one man, John Rous. He is a descendent of the Hamlyn family that owned the village, estate and manor house since the 1730s. Clovelly has been owned by only three families since the Norman conquest. All the cottages in the village are kept up and rented by the village owner, but only to those willing to live there year-round. Despite the residence requirement, the narrow pedestrian streets can be overflowing with day tourists in the summer, So like St. Ives, my timing was perfect.

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The pretty coastal village of Port Isaac in Cornwall was the place three of us went on our “free” day, and it was on this day that I saw the doctor. I hadn’t intended to. It happened as we were wandering the town. Gruff Doc Martin was just filming another episode for his TV show.

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He looked up at one point and recognised me despite my attempt to travel anonymously, and so insisted on a photograph and autograph. Although I looked a mess, I obliged.

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Well perhaps it didn’t happen exactly like that. Obviously poetic licence is getting the better of this blog so I’ll end by saying that it was a wonderful week of walking. And now it’s time to move on. Turkey, I’m on my way.

by Anne Neary

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