21. Bideford to Westward Ho!

April 2000

This walk ends at a town with an explanation mark in it’s name, I hope it lives up to expectations. As with the previous walk I am travelling from Exeter where I was living at the time. As this was some time ago I am also using a film camera, hence the poor quality and limited number of photos here. I walk down to Exeter St Davids station for the train to Barnstaple. This is running on time and gets me to Barnstaple around an hour later. From there I walk over the towns bridge to the bus station near the bridge (as it was at the time). I soon reach the bus station and the bus service to Bideford, run by First Red Bus at the time (Stagecoach these days). This service is frequent which is good so I don’t have to wait long.

The same bus continues to Westward Ho!, the end of my walk which is useful. I consider buying a return to Westward Ho! and getting off in Barnstaple but decide (probably incorrectly) it is probably cheaper to buy a return to Bideford and a single from Westward Ho! back to Bideford. So I do this and we are soon on our way to Bideford. The weather forecast has been sunshine and showers for today (well, it is April). I am hoping to see more of the sunshine and less of the showers. The weather so far has been grey and overcast, but shortly after leaving Barnstaple, the heavens open. I hope this doesn’t keep up for long. We pass through East-the-Water, which I remember from my previous walk and cross the bridge into Bideford, where I get off. It is still raining, but the rain has eased.

Bideford

Bideford

The walk is initially on the main road (the A386) but soon this turns to the left and I continue along a tarmac path alongside a car park. Soon this passes a recreation ground and park area on the left and then the council offices on the right. The council building is none too attractive, but I note they have bagged themselves one of the best views in town! Thankfully by now the rain has stopped and the weather is brightening up. From here the path goes through a modern housing estate. I don’t like these areas, the path always seems to be badly signed and the roads all look the same. I am concerned about getting lost since there are numerous little streets off to the sides, but I find the signage is OK and I soon leave the housing estate and continue to the impressive Torridge bridge which carries the A39. This goes high above me, far higher than I had expected. Although not a steep hill there is a bit of a slope on the path here and all the rain earlier has turned it into a bit of a stream, with water flowing along the path, so I try (without much success) to keep my feet dry.

Once under the bridge, it is back to road walking through an older housing area with some large houses. I can soon turn right though and get back to the rivers edge. By now the sun is out and the tide is in, making for a lovely view over the estuary to the marshlands on the opposite bank. As I near the last of the houses in Bideford the path turns left back away from the river briefly to go behind some houses and then comes back round to the river. Soon the path is on the edge of fields as I leave Bideford behind and am back in open countryside.

This doesn’t last long as I again join a track to go behind a house that fronts directly onto the river. From here there is a marshy area and the path is on  raised wall as I can see the large Appledore Shipyard ahead of me. At the time this was under threat and often featured on the local news, as it was a large employer in the area. Thankfully the plant was saved and continues to operate today. I wondered if I might see some of the boats but in reality it is all inside the large building and the path has to make it’s way around the back of this complex. The main building is, as you might expect, very large. Soon the path emerges onto the road, Wooda Road. I was hoping there would be a pavement but there isn’t and although the road is not busy, there is still a fair bit of traffic, which makes this part of the walk less pleasant. It also goes though a light industrial area, which is not very pretty. Soon though the industry ends and the houses begins.

Pleased to reach Appledore I stop and enjoy the lovely views over the river back to Instow where I was a few weeks previously.

Instow from Appledore

Instow from Appledore

I pass an old lock on the right which looks disused now but I wonder if it was once associated with the shipyard? Here I turn right on Marine Parade a pleasant street lined with attractive houses on one side and the river on the other. I turn left with the road and soon reach the ferry slipway where the ferry crosses to Instow. Past this I come to a huge car park behind the beach at West Appledore. The beach is a mixture of sand and mud and I can’t help but think there are better beaches near here and I wonder if the car park ever fills?

The Taw and Torridge Estuary from Appledore

The Taw and Torridge Estuary from Appledore

After the car park houses now block the view of the river on the right although this does not last long and I have a brief glimps of the river again as they end, but this is short lived as there are more houses ahead. I’m heading west briefly here before the path and coast turns to the south again briefly. Soon the houses on my right end and I pass the lifeboat station, with it’s long slipway jutting into the river presumably so the boat can be launched at low tide too. The path now goes along the back of a few gardens that mark the last of the houses of Appledore. Soon the path leaves the river bank and heads down onto the rivers edge itself passing what I suspect is the remains of the old lifeboat station. I am not sure if this part of the path would be accessible at high tide but thankfully for me at least, the tide has gone out enough to get round without any problem. This joins a road ahead, although in this case it is a private toll road leading out to Northam Burrows Country Park although I don’t remember this being in use at the time (although I see online that the toll only applies in summer which would explain it).

This leads out to a little spit of land known as Northam Burrows. I remember this from a past family holiday when we stayed nearby. This is a low lying area of common land with a small area of heath and some grazing land as well as a golf course. It is essentially a sand spit that has grassed over. The path follows the road for a while until the road reaches a car park and the path continues ahead. The well walked path continues ahead to the sandy beach and dunes at the northern end of the spit, overlooking the dunes. From here I can see to Saunton Sands and Croyde on the other side of the estuary.

Saunton Sands and Croyde from Notrham Burrows

Saunton Sands and Croyde from Notrham Burrows

There are pebbles at the high tide mark and a mixture of sand and mud further out. It is windy here and I continue along the coast path soon rounding the corner to face west once again.

The pebble and sand beach at Northam Burrows

The pebble and sand beach at Northam Burrows

I am now round the two large estuaries of North Devon, the Taw and Torridge and back to the open seas once more. This means the coast here is exposed to the full force of the Atlantic and so there are large waves once more. It is great to be back at the sea after several largely estuary walks. Heading south along the coast I can here and smell the sea and hear the gulls overhead, whilst there is hardly a person about. Wonderful!

Deserted beach at Westward Ho!

Deserted beach at Westward Ho!

I soon come across an unusual feature. The fragile low-lying land here has somehow survived the force of the Atlantic and the reason is a ridge of pebbles that forms here. This takes away most of the seas powers and stops the land behind from flooding. Unlike many this is a natural feature, replenished by the sea presumably washing rocks and pebbles from further round the coast. It is I think a little like a smaller version of Chesil Beach, although I’m not sure if the stones get smaller along the beach here as they do at Chesil Beach. I remember visting the visitor centre a few years before and hearing of the importance of this pebble ridge in protecting the area.

The beach at Westward Ho! The pebble ridge can be seen to the left.

The beach at Westward Ho! The pebble ridge can be seen to the left.

By the visitor centre the ridge truly becomes a ridge, with sand on both sides. This makes beach access a little awakard and at high tide there is little but pebbles. At low tide though, as it now is, it reveals a glorious expanse of sand with the large Atlantic breakers beyond, a lovely sight. Although the coast path keeps to the land behind the ridge I head down onto the beach and walk south along the hard sands until I reach the town of Westward Ho!

Westward Ho!

Westward Ho!

The towns main claim to fame is as the only town in the UK with an explanation mark in it’s name. The town got it’s unusual name after the novel Westward Ho! by Charles Kingsley which was set in nearby Bideford. This largely kick-started the development of a town of the same name to bring tourists to the area. Much of Westward Ho! is still dedicated to this, with numerous holiday parks and chalet parks along the sea front here. It is one of those towns that is very quiet in the winter but I suspect very different in the summer and reminds me a little of Brean but on a smaller scale. At the south end of the bay the coast now becomes rocky. As I reach the town I head onto the promenade. There is a tidal swimming pool on the rocks here, which I remember when I visited the town a few years before. I remember my parents being worried about swimming in it, as you couldn’t see the bottom.

Westward Ho!

Westward Ho!

To the south I can see a hill behind the houses, an indicating that the next walk will not be so flat, now that I have passed the two river estuaries of North Devon.

The rocky foreshore and tidal swimming pool at Westward Ho!

The rocky foreshore and tidal swimming pool at Westward Ho!

This has been a walk of great variety, from the town of Bideford to the estuaries and saltmarsh, to the large dune system and pebble ridge at Westward Ho!, this is an enjoyable walk with a lot to see. There don’t seem to be much in the way of facilities in Westward Ho! but I soon find the bus terminus point and can see the bus is already there. I am not sure when it goes so walk quickly in the hope I will reach the bus before it goes.

I make the bus before it goes and as I already have a return ticket from Barnstaple to Bideford I show it to the driver and say that I want to go to Barnstaple and so I need to buy for a single from Westward Ho! to Bideford. He raises an eyebrow and takes the ticket off me with the comment “Let me have a look at that”. He looks at it, hands it back to me and asks “Well how did you get out here then?”. He obviously thinks I am working some kind of fiddle and I explain I walked along the coast path. He tuts loudly. I am rather taken aback at his attitude as I can’t see what the problem is , I have a valid return ticket which I have not used and I’ve asked for a single to Bideford to make up the difference. I begin to wish I’d just asked for a single to Bideford, as I doubt he’d notice if I didn’t get off there anyway. I suppose could get off and straight back on the bus in Bideford, if it makes him happy! After a long sigh he says “Oh alright then” and issues me a ticket – the bus drivers of North Devon don’t seem to be especially friendly! This service is now operated by Stagecoach rather than First. I hope the customer service has improved.

We soon set off though and this bus takes me right back through to Barnstaple, which is handy. From here I walk back over the bridge back to the railway station and have an un-eventful journey from there back to Exeter. I am glad the weather was kind to me in the end and I got to see this coast in bright sunshine, which certainly added to the enjoyment.

Here is details of the public transport needed for this walk.

Stagecoach Devon 21 : Ilfracombe – Braunton – Barnstaple – Fremington – Instow – East-the-Water – Bideford – Northam – Westward Ho!

Here are the complete set of photographs from this walk : Main Link | Deatails | Slideshow

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