Monday, 5 June 2017

Bude to Duckpool (South West Coast Path 84)

View of Bude on a nice sunny day

The weather forecast for today's short stage of the Coast Path was pretty dire and we set out from Bude under heavy grey skies, hence the picture above from when we were last here. We started from the famous sea lock and walked across the sand towards the Bude Sea Pool.

It was created in the 1930s as a semi-natural pool, measuring 91m long by 45m wide, fitted under the curve of the cliffs. There were a few brave souls in there this morning, although three out of four of them were wearing wet suits.

We climbed the steps at the back and enjoyed the view back towards the Storm Tower on the opposite cliff.

We soon climbed up to Maer Down and the start of the long run of cliff, broken only by a series of narrow river valleys which extends all the way to Hartland Quay. The tide was out revealing small patches of sand interspersed with large areas of rock. The first headland in the photo is Menachurch Point.

The next section undulates along the grassy cliff top with the same sand and rock combination on the beach. It is beginning to look as though we might be spared the forecast rain.

As we continued along here we saw activity just in front of the two pointed rocks. Two people in red were moving flags on the beach. What were they up to?

As we got closer we realised that they were lifeguards who were demarcating a narrow safe area on the beach at Sandy Mouth. This photo shows the twisting route of the small stream as it makes its way to the sea.

There was a decent climb up from Sandy Mouth and then we were high enough to get our first proper view of the GCHQ operation on the plateau above Steeple Point.

Soon there was another sharp descent and ascent.

And this led to the final slippery descent down to the car park at Duckpool.

Conditions: Grey, with a constant threat of rain. I left my camera behind and used my iPhone for today's pictures.

Distance: 3.7 miles.

Map: Explorer 126 (Clovelly & Hartland)

Grading: Severe. 

Rating: four stars.

Sunday, 4 June 2017

Morwenstow to Hartland Quay (South West Coast Path 86)

Henna Cliff

We set out from Morwenstow completing the detour route we encountered yesterday. This meant that we didn't get to see the celebrated Hawker's Hut. (Robert Stephen Hawker, 1803-1875, was the local clergyman, and also an antiquarian and poet. The hut in which he spent many hours writing poems and smoking opium, is mainly of timber construction and is partially built into the hillside with a turf roof. It was originally built from driftwood and timber retrieved from shipwrecks.

When we reached the coast, our first challenge appeared: Henna Cliff, which first required a descent to sea level to Morwenna's Well – a stream in fact, no sign of a well as such. This was followed by a climb to about 140m.

On the way up there was a nice view back to Higher Sharpnose Point, one of the highlights of yesterday's short section.

At the top there was another fine view backwards.

And the coast as far as Hartland Quay and the Hartland lighthouse stretched out ahead.

After a brief section along the cliff top we descended to the curiously named Westcott Wattle 

and climbed the grassy Yeolmouth Cliff. This provided us with a sight of the interesting, but unimaginatively named Gull Rock.

We descended again to Litter Mouth – we now realised that wherever you see the word "mouth" on the map in this part of the world, it denotes the mouth of a river, or more likely a small stream, and you face a descent and immediate ascent. The steps up were quite hard work. At the top we had a fine view of the adjacent Marsland Mouth and Welcombe Mouth.

 Marsland Mouth was especially complicated with the stream following a winding course through deeply indented ground. We were surprised to see a substantial house at the back of the cove.

The climb up was very steep, but did reveal our first butterfly of the day, a Painted Lady. Near the top was Ronald Duncan's hut, a sort of modern version of Parson Hawker. Duncan was , according to an information sheet on the wall a "poet, playwright, journalist, farmer and lover".

There was no respite at the top, simply an immediate descent to Welcome Mouth. This marked the boundary between Cornwall and Devon. 

As we began the ascent out of Welcombe Mouth we took great heart from a sign post telling us that it was now only 4 miles to Hartland Quay. We knew really that it couldn't be right and it actually turned out to be 5.5 miles. This is not the first time a sign post has been wildly inaccurate - how does it come about?

My reading of the map suggested that we would now follow the cliff top for a a good while and this turned out to be right. We started to see more butterflies: Large Skipper, Meadow Brown (the first of the year), Common Blue, another Painted Lady. 

After Emburey Beacon, the terrain began to change and the view ahead showed fields.

At Nabor Point there was a dramatic view of the coast ahead.

But soon we were routed away from the coast and along a road for a short while before again heading back to it along field edge paths. We continued along the cliff top until at Longpeak the path continued inland away from the coast along an inviting valley.

 Here we saw Large and Small Whites and some Green Hairstreaks. This valley met another valley where we turned left towards the lovely Spekes Mill Mouth.

This inevitably triggered another climb after which we passed inalnd of St Catherine's Point with its dramatic triangular rock thrusting up into the sky.

Shortly afterwards Hartland Quay hove into view.

This, finally, was the dramatic view of the coast ahead seen from the Wreckers pub at Hartland Quay. 

Conditions: cloudy at first, later bright and sunny.

Distance: 8.0 miles.

Map: Explorer 126 (Clovelly & Hartland).

Grading: Severe. 

Rating: five stars.

Saturday, 3 June 2017

Duckpool to Morwenstow (South West Coast Path 85)

Duckpool Beach and Combe Valley

We have arrived in Cornwall with a plan for three days walking, but immediately had to modify it because we couldn't find a taxi to meet us at the end of the walk we planned. We are staying at the excellent Bush Inn and Morwenstow and fortunately the owner there was able to find us a taxi back to Duckpool.

We set out from there to walk to Morwenstow and climbed the hill to Steeple Point, enjoying a fine view back along the coast of Bude Bay to Bude (we will do this section on Monday before we go home).

At the top of the climb there was a helpful waymark indicating we should turn right rather than throw ourselves over the cliff top. The waymarking on the Coast Path is generally very good, but this one was perhaps superfluous.

The rocky coast stretched ahead …

 … and after a short climb there was an even better back along Combe Valley.

For a while we would mainly walk along the cliff top. And soon we would have our first view of what is marked on the OS map as "Radio Station", but seems to be widely acknowledge as GCHQ Bude.  We emerged onto a grassy plateau and could see the various structures more clearly.

Our taxi driver told us that the round one was covered in Kevlar, one of the functions of which was to prevent interested parties knowing which way the radar dish inside was facing. He said had he learned this on an annual open day.

I was delighted to spot my fourth Painted Lady of the year on this grassy area, but as ever it didn't hang around long enough to be photographed. We were starting to see a few Common Blues and Small Heaths and a few instances of this as-yet unidentified caterpillar.

At Stanbury Mouth we had a sharp descent to sea level and a great view inland.

On the other side, there was a very steep climb, but a great view back at the top over Stanbury and Rane beaches.

Soon there was more excitement with Green Hairstreak number 2 of the year. 

We would also see several Speckled Woods and a lone Small Copper and Large Skipper (the first of the year). Soon afterwards we reached the back of Higher Sharpnose Point. 

The view of the point looking directly out to sea was rather wonderful.

At the back was a semi-ruined hut, presumably once used by the Coastguard. Off to the right was the next high cliff, unnamed on the map, which had clearly suffered some recent rock falls.

We had already been told by some very pleasant local walkers we met that the path was blocked ahead and when we descended to Tidna Shute we weren't surprised to find that here was the blockage point: the cliffs were now regarded as unstable and a diversion inland to Morwenstow was required. We headed inland along the path of the tiny River Tidna, initially in open county and then in woodland. After about half a mile a steep path to the left brought us to the edge of Morwenstow and the pub.

Conditions: Grey at first, becoming bright and sunny.

Distance: 3.5 miles.

Map: Explorer 126 (Clovelly & Hartland)

Grading: Severe. 

Rating: five stars.

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Llandegfedd Reservoir

View of the reservoir from the south

Ange's cousin Ruth and husband Jon have taken us on several excellent walks in the area around Usk, and this was the latest. Llandegfedd Reservoir was formed by damming and then flooding a river valley and was opened in 1966. It covers an area of 434 acres (1.76 km2) and is managed by Welsh Water's leisure and conservation company – Hamdden. It is run as a country park and offers boating, canoeing, windsurfing, fishing and nature conservancy. And of course walking - we followed the circular Reservoir trail.

We set out from the large car park which is near the bottom of the reservoir and crossed the large dam, from which the picture above was taken. The water was very still, hence the lovely cloud reflections.

At the end of the dam we turned off to the left to climb into woodland. Just before that I took this pic of the outlet from the reservoir.

We turned right at the top of the hill and followed the contour passing some trees that were trying to cope with growing on the hillside.

We emerged into a grassy meadow which offered our first good views of the end of the lake.

At the end of the field we made a short detour to a bird hide. Not much going on, but we did see a Grebe and a couple of Shags. Resuming the path we found that the reservoir had a hitherto invisible arm going off to the east. We could also see some fish pens which were attracting interest from the Shags.

We continued clockwise in a wide arc some way away from the lake itself and came to a magnificent sunken lane which the trees were projecting out into. The striated rock underneath was also clearly visible.

This led to a lane and great views to some of the well-known local mountains. Jon did carefully trell me the name of the peak on the left, but I confess I have forgotten.

Soon we climbed into a splendid beech wood, Twyn y Cryn.

Emerging from this we headed towards Yew Tree Farm with its fine large wooden house.

Emerging from this, we passed the point where water from the River Usk enters the reservoir and entered an area of wonderful flower meadows. Scattered among them were two species of orchid, identified as ... Common Spotted ...

... and Southern Marsh.

These gave way to grassy track by the east edge of the lake, with nice views across to those mountains again.

There was however one more flower meadow and Jon encouraged me to try to get a pic of a single orchid in focus among all the other plants. It was a great idea and this was my best effort.

We paused for refreshments at the visitor centre and returned to the car park.

Conditions: a lovely sunny day.

Distance: 6.25 miles.

Map: Explorer 152 (Newport & Pontypool).

Rating: four stars. Lovely walk, interesting and varied.