For this walk I am staying with a group of friends at the Ruda campsite at Croyde Bay. It had been a very wet and overcast morning and we’d retreated to the pub for lunch. As we finished lunch, the rain had stopped and a few of my friends decided to try their hands at surfing. I have been terrible at every sport I have ever tried and am not a strong swimmer so decide to give it a miss. The rest of our group decide to spend the rest of the afternoon in the pub. Whilst this is a tempting proposition I am also keen to get out and go for a walk and know that after a few more pints I probably won’t have the energy. So I agree to meet my friends later either in the pub or back at the campsite.
I begin the walk from the pub and follow the path back down to the beach. This takes on a footpath along the aptly named Sandy Lane. One thing I always seem to forget when visiting Croyde is that the village is actually set a bit back from the coast, around half a mile in fact, rather than being right behind the beach – worth rembering if you are hurrying for a bus. The village is also very picturesque with numerous thatched cottages, so is worth taking the detour off the coast to see.
The sandy path goes through a few fields and then over the dunes to reach the beach itself. Although not sunny, the earlier rain has now cleared and leaves an overcast sky.
Whilst I’m not surfer, the conditions do look good if you don’t mind the fact it’s not that warm, weather wise. Unusually here, the coast path goes through the dunes at the back of the beach, but I take to the beach itself, which is far easier going unless it is high tide. At the end of the beach the sand gives way to low rocks, presumably where the cliffs have eroded over many years. There are now steps up onto the coast path which goes right along the top of these low cliffs along the edge of a few fields. Soon I get the last view of Croyde Bay for the walk today as the path then heads to the B3231.
Here unusually you get closer to the coast on the road than on the coast path, since the coast path now heads parallel to the road, but on the inland side of the road.
Although this road ends at Croyde Bay it carries a surprising amount of traffic, so I can see why the footpath avoids the road as much as possible, although the road is probably much quieter in the winter when the holiday parks and camp sites are closed. This is a great part of the walk though, as the path has gained height and follows through the edge of gorse, now with wonderful views over Saunton Sands.
This is another glorious sandy beach (there are a lot of these in North Devon), which faces west and is therefore known for it’s surfing. Unlike Croyde and Woolacombe, this beach does not have any real town or village around it, instead just a few houses and a hotel which straggle along the B3231. This means the beach is particularly unspoilt and has the largest dunes I have ever seen behind it. I think you could easily get quite lost in those dunes. A small part of the dunes have also been given over to a golf course, Saunton Golf Club. Unlike at Woolacombe there are no cliffs behind the beach, just miles of sand dunes, or so it seems.
Unusually here the coast path splits into two, a higher path which keeps above the road and a lower path that goes almost at sea level. I decide to take the lower path, but somehow manage to miss it and end up walking along the road here. It is busy and lacks a pavement, but it does offer wonderful views.
Soon I am passing the Saunton Sands Hotel. The views from the hotel must be wonderful and must be a lovely sight to greet you of a morning, but the downside is the hotel (and it is not a pretty one), does rather block the view. Soon I am passed the hotel though and just after on the right there is a road down to the car park at the beach. This isn’t the correct route of the coast path, but I follow it down anyway so I can explore this wonderful beach.
Perhaps due to the weather, lack of facilities or limited parking, the beach is very quiet, certainly in comparison with Croyde Bay. Sadly the coast path south of here is disappointing. Rather than walk over the beach or along the top of the dunes, it takes quite an inland route right along the back of the beach and around 1 mile from the low water line, which is not very coastal. The reason for this is the south end of the beach is marked “Danger Area”, as it part of a ministry of defence training area and was used as one of the sights to train for the D-Day landings during World War II. The red diamonds that delimit this area on the map show the only cover the dunes and not the beach itself so it looks like it is possible and safe to keep to the beach, but I am concerned about being cut off by the tide or find I’m wrong and so end up facing a long walk back, so I reluctantly decide to keep to the official route of the coast path along the back of the dunes.
This brings me on a wide track alongside the golf course, briefly crossing part of it, but thankfully no one is playing these holes. As the golf course end the path soon heads through some trees and bushes and then joins a very wide track which heads east to a car park. There is a wide path from the car park which leads over the dunes (through the Danger Area) and to the beach and the presence of a fairly sizeable car park indicates this is quite widely used, so it is a shame the coast path is keeping away from the beach here – I wonder if it would be possible to have two routes, one for when the training area is not in use, which is closer to the coast and another (the existing route), when it is in use?
For a little over a mile ahead the coast path now keeps to this very wide track (more a road) along the back of the beach and dunes. Again there are tempting paths to the right, which most likely take me back to the beach, but I am reluctant to follow them in case they are dead ends. After around a mile I reach the south end of the beach, where the nature of the coast changes. For the last few miles the coast path has been heading south, with the coast facing west. But now I am coming to the mouth of two rivers, the Tor and Torridge which widen to an estuary here. My next few walks along the coast path will be rounding these two rivers. They are the two largest rivers in North Devon, and both merge to flow out to the sea here. This means the rest of the walk is along the estuary rather than the beaches. These estuaries have been an important trade link and as a result the main towns of North Devon, Barnstaple and Bideford are located along their banks, which also means the next few walks will be rather more urban in nature.
At the mouth of the estuary the coast path makes a little diversion to the high tide line, a dead end but perhaps the designer of the path was feeling a little guilty about the lack of coast views on this part of the walk and included this dead-end as a way to rectify that? Whatever the reason, I take this dead end to enjoy a final views of Saunton Sands, although by know it is turning to mud.
I can see a large wooden jetty sticking out into the river on the opposite bank at Yelland and also the town of Appledore across the river.
I now head back inland to re-trace my steps and then continue on the coast path passing another car park beside the estuary on my right. Ahead I come to an unusual feature, Horsey Island. This is a marshy area of land, perhaps re-claimed land that has a drainage channel along it’s back so largely is an island, other than it is joined by a sea wall at either end.
There are sheep grazing on the fields, which are essentially marsh land to the left. Something I have come across on a number of my coastal walks is the deliberate flooding of some of these areas (typically to compensate for the loss of marshes due to development elswhere) and I wonder if this area will also have the same fate.
The path ahead now follows a sea wall, the protection for this marshy land, right along the banks of the river, with the flat fields to my left. At the end of this island the path reaches another smaller river, the River Caen, which flows inland to the town of Braunton, my destination for the day. I take a final look at the view over the River Taw and then turn left to head along the banks of this river.
As I near the town there is a large jetty in the river, so large in fact that it nearly reaches the other bank of the river and I wonder if it was a bridge at some point, but a look at the map suggest not.
The right hand side of the river is the military base of Chivenor, which is a base for both the RAF and Royal Marines, and I suspect the jetty is something to do with that. The track keeps to the edge of the river bank to re-join the “mainland” from Horsey Island although the mainlland is also a low-lying area of marshland, Braunton Marsh. Unusually the track to the left here is a private toll road to Crow Beach house and the car park I passed earlier. The coast path forks right away from this road though along the banks of the river.
An easy walk alongside the river Caen soon brings me to the quay at Vellator where there are numerous boats moored up in the creek.
The coast path keeps parallel to both the river and the road on a narrow strip of land, but soon the path joins the road and I follow this behind an industrial estate, a sure sign I have reached the town of Braunton.
This brings me to a roundabout,a junction with the road and the Tarka Trail, a cycle path which follows the now disused railway line to Barnstaple and is also the route of the South West Coast Path. I go straight on here along Vellator Way to reach the main A361. I turn left and find a bus stop, but at the time of this walk the bus only ran hourly and I have around a 15 minute wait. The traffic is very heavy, with a traffic queue to get through the traffic lights in Braunton, and so I suspect the bus will be late. As I am standing there I hear a car horn and realise it’s my friends who are on their way back from getting supplies in Barnstaple and stop to give me a lift back. A nice bonus at the end of the walk, since I don’t have to wait around for the bus.
It takes a few minutes to reach the traffic lights in Braunton as the traffic is queing, but it gives me the chance to take a look at Braunton. I am amused to see that it has all the sort of shops you’d expect to see at the coast, including a surf shop and beach shops that seem to be trying it’s best to ignore the fact the nearest beach is a couple of miles away! Once we are through the traffic lights at Braunton, the rest of the journey is quick. We head along the coast road to Croyde, so I can enjoy the views of the coast I have just walked from the road, as well as the coast path.
I’ve enjoyed this walk and I am pleased I managed to get in a new walk on the coast path on this short break to Croyde. This is an easy walk, with few hills but also a very pleasant one, particularly between Croyde and Saunton Sands, but the long path through the back of the dunes, rather than the coast, was a bit of a disappointment.
Here is details of the public transport needed for this walk.
Stagecoach Devon route 308 : Barnstaple – Chivenor – Braunton – Saunton Hotel – Croyde – Ruae Holiday Park or Georgeham