As with my previous few walks I am again walking this part of the coast from Exeter where I lived at the time. As this walk was nearly 14 years ago I didn’t have a digital camera at the time and so was using a cheap film camera. Although I scanned most of the photos I took at the time, I can’t find the scans of these photos. Worse I no longer have a working scanner either so I’ve had to “digitise” these photographs by taking a photograph of print, which, as you can see, hasn’t worked very well and is the cause of the terrible quality of some of the photographs on this post. So I’m going to cheat a bit, because I returned to Woolacombe in July 2005 (so the photos from Woolacombe date from then) and I also subsequently returned in May 2007 and re-walked the part of this walk from Putsborough to Croyde Bay and hence the photos from that part onwards were taken seven years later on a digital camera (which also explains the difference in weather).
This is one of the longest trips, at least in terms of time, I made when I lived in Exeter, as the journey from there requires a walk to the railway station, a train to Barnstaple, a bus from Barnstaple to Ilfracombe and another bus from there to Woolacombe. Thankfully these days one less bus is needed as there is now a direct (albeit not very frequent) bus from Barnstaple to Woolacombe. It is also a shorter walk than I tend to do now, as I didn’t walk so far each day then as I do now.
I walk down to the railway station and take the train from Exeter to Barnstaple, which takes around an hour. From there I walk across the bridge to Barnstaple Bus Station and await the bus from there to Ilfracombe. As all the buses I need to catch today are run by the same company (Red Bus, as it was called at the time), I intend to purchase a day Explorer ticket which will cover all the buses and be cheaper than 3 singles.
I wait at the bus stand that is marked for buses to Ilfracombe but I’m a little confused when an ageing bus turns up that is blue and with the name “Atlantic Blue” on the side of the bus. Since the bus company that is meant to be running the bus is called Red Bus and this is certainly not red, I am not sure if it is the right bus. The driver changes the blind on the front of the bus to show Ilfracombe but I’m still not clear if this is the right bus, so I get on and ask if this is the bus to Ilfracombe. Yes I admit it was a stupid question (I should have asked if this is the Red Bus service), but the driver sarcastically responds “Yes, that’s why it says Ilfracombe on the front” which seems rather unnecessary. I then ask if this is the Red Bus services and he replies, with a hint of irritation “Yes” and I suspect would love to have repied “Yes that’s why it’s red” but realises he can’t! I decide it’s wise not to ask why it says “Atlantic Blue” on it! I purchase the explorer ticket and the bus soon sets of for Ilfracombe. It is a noisy old bus, but it gets me to Ilfracombe on time.
Thankfully at the time Ilfracombe had a bus station (it doesn’t now) so I can easily find where the bus goes to Woolacombe. There is already quite a crowd, which I join. The time the bus is due to leave comes and goes but no bus arrives. Eventually, around 10 minutes late, a yellow mini bus arrives at the stop (bearing the name Red Bus in red on the side) and I am beginning to wonder if this company has any red buses. The driver updates the destination to Woolacombe and we get on. This is a small bus and there is a crowd and as I am one of the last to get on, I have to stand. Thankfully after a few stops a few pensioners get off and I have a seat for the rest of the journey.
The bus stops close to the beach at Woolacombe and I walk down to the beach. It is a lovely day, with clear blue sky and quite warm. Unfortunatly I notice some haze clinging to the cliffs around the bay and hope there is not going to be a sea mist. Thankfully it doesn’t spread. I mentioned it last time but Woolacombe beach is my favourite beach in North Devon, with a wide almost 2 mile stretch of sand, with huge breakers rolling in from the Atlantic. It is beautiful and the sound is also relaxing with the rough seas meaning you can hear the sea right from the back of the beach. Although May it is not a Bank Holiday weekend so the beach is not too crowded.
The official route of the coast path is along the dunes at the back of the beach. But I can see the tide is out and there is plenty of firm sand, so I decide to walk along the beach and in the edge of the water in places. It is wonderfully refreshing. I find that I could walk for miles along beaches like this without getting tired feet. If I have been walking on the coast and have tired feet I also find a quick paddle in the sea soon takes away any aches and refreshes the feet wonderfully well.
Once I’m around half a mile from Woolacombe the crowds have gone and the beach is deserted. This is a long beach and there are car parks at either end (Woolacombe and Putsborough), but with no car parks in the middle the beach becomes very quiet as few are prepared to walk more than 5 minutes or so from their cars. This means I have this part of the beach largely to myself. This is another reason I love this place so much, no matter how busy it is at Woolacombe you only have to walk down the beach and there always seems to be plenty of space. Looking out to sea, I can also make an island out on the horizon, which I later realise is Lundy.
As I near the south end of this long bay I come to the village of Putsborough. Here there are steps up from the beach. The car park means this part of the beach it a little busier although this end of the beach seems to attract largely surfers rather than families, probably because it has fewer facilities.
The steps from the beach bring me up to a road beside the car park and then a caravan park, which has a wonderful view over the beach, which looks like a lovely place to stay. By the caravan park and I can pick up the coast path which now heads west along the delightfully named Baggy Point. As I head west I can look to the right over the sands of Woolacombe Bay that I have just been walking.
The mist has now cleared, but you can still see a bit of a haze hanging over the beach from the spray of the large waves. In the foreground there is a lot of gorse, making for a lovely contrast of the yellow gorse against the blue sky and the sea. Soon I have just the sea to my right and views back to Morte Point and Woolacombe beyond.
Baggy Point sticks out quite a way into the sea, over a mile, so it takes me a while to reach the western end of the headland where I follow the coast and path to turn left and head south once more.
At the end of Baggy Point there is an odd wight post and I’m not clear of it’s purpose, other than a handy resting point for sea gulls! Soon I have rounded the headland and am heading east again.
Ahead I can see the lovely sandy beach of Croyde. Before I get there though I must round some surpsingly rugged and rocky cliffs, where there are some rock climbers. It looks a shear drop to the sea, so I hope they know what they are doing.
Croyde is another place I know well, having visited it a few times before. Like Woolacombe it is blessed with a wonderful sandy beach and is also known for it’s surfing. The beach is smaller than Woolacombe though which means it does get very crowded in the summer. The path crosses a little stream and then becomes a track alongside houses on the left, marking the start of the village of Croyde.
It then joins the road for a little while passing a car park on the left and the large Ruda holiday park, where I stayed on a couple of subsequent visits to the area. The bus departs from here but I have time to walk down onto the beach and sit on the beach for a while before I need to catch the bus. The beach here as slightly coarses sand than at Woolacombe and is backed by dunes, despite the pounding they must take from the Atlantic breakers that roll in here.
It has been another great walk linking my two favourite beaches in North Devon and good weather has been an added bonus. The village in Croyde is around half a mile inland from the beach but also worth exploring with pretty thatched cottages, a couple of pubs and the surf shop and various other beach shops.
From Croyde I took the number 308 bus from outside the Ruda holiday park back to Barnstaple. The bus runs on time and this time the bus is red and cream, so at the last bus of the day has some red on it! This takes around 45 minutes and from there I walk back to the railway station and take the train back to Exeter. It has been a long day but worth it for this wonderful stretch of the coast path.
Here is details of the public transport needed for this walk.
- Filers service 303 (Barnstaple – Braunton – Mortehoe – Woolacombe)
- Filers service 31 (Ilfracombe – Mortehoe – Woolacombe)
- Stagecoach service 308 (Barnstaple – Braunton – Saunton – Croyde – Croyde Bay or Georgham)