Sunday, 26 March 2017

Barnstaple to Braunton Burrows (South West Coast Path 94)

The Long Bridge, Barnstaple

Day three of our Coast Path trip and we set off from Barnstaple's handsome Long Bridge in bright sunshine. It may not be as long as Bideford's, but it is older, dating from the 13th century, although since widened.

Immediately we passed a pair of art deco buildings, the one on the right (presumably originally a cinema) was especially impressive.

Further on, at right angles to the river, was this curious structure capped by a statue of Queen Victoria, and now derelict. I haven't been able to discover what it is. To the right is a fine warehouse or grain store.

Continuing along by the river, and still following the Tarka Way as well as the Coast Path, we came upon another former railway station, this one imaginatively turned into a primary school.

Soon afterwards there was another view of the impressive Taw Bridge, which we admired from the other side on the other bank yesterday afternoon.

Soon we had crossed  the road by the bridge and left the town behind. The wide estuary was at low tide again although the river still ran shallowly in a wide arc.

We started to hear and see quite a few birds in this area and were delighted to see a pair of curlews patrolling the shoreline and the shallows.

The first landmark was this fine pub, the Braunton Arms, marked on the map as Strand House.

Here is a further view of the river at low water.

The next section gradually diverged from the river bank and brought us to Chivenor, where all that remained of the railway station was these signals permanently set to go. The station site had been redeveloped as houses.

Now on the left we passed the Royal Marines Chivenor barracks, which seemed to occupy a massive site. We we surprised to see signs on the perimeter wall that security was provided by a private security company. Surely the Marines could handle that? But no doubt it makes sense.

We were no on the outskirts of Braunton and suddenly a new type of environment opened up. This was our first sight of the River Caen, which flows into the Taw.

We followed the right bank of this small river. Off to the right was Braunton Great field. When we drove past it later on we were struck by scattered stone buildings of a very medieval style known as linhays - they made a great sight and I wish we had been able to stop to take some pictures. I now know from Pevsner that the Great is one of the very few remaining fields in the country still farmed on the medieval strip system. The presence of several small waterways gave it something of the character of the Somerset Levels.

There was a diversion in operation and we walked along the top of a sort of dyke with a minor road and a waterway (marked as Drain on the OS map) on our right. It was very flat to right and left.

At one point we spotted a swan's nest on a pile of rushes where a waterway came in from the right. The Braunton Burrows can be seen in the background.

This walkway ended at Crow Beach House and we then followed a stony track up to and into the Burrows. We followed this for almost two miles to reach Sandy Lane car park. It was a bit frustrating to not be able to see the sea or even walk through the dunes as the path was set well back.

I did however see my first Speckled Wood of the year, perhaps a bit earlier than usual.

Distance: 9.0 miles.

Grading: Easy.

Map: Explorer 139 (Bideford, Ilfracombe & Barnstaple )

Rating: four stars. A bit frustrating to not see the sea, and quite a lot of tarmac at first, but some nice elements all the same.

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