We are determined to set off early today.
I eat two cereal bars for breakfast, and just as I’m about to wash down my customary handful of pills to complete the meal, I realise that I’ve screwed up. Instead of two types of blood pressure tablet and one antacid, I’ve just packed three packets of blood pressure pills. This is stupid. It is also why I have tummy ache and am burping at almost comical intervals.
I resent this little parade of pills in the morning. I never took so much as a vitamin before I had Bert. Now, I find myself returning to my GP every four months to check my raging blood pressure, and my stomach valve, apparently, is stretched out of shape. I am aggrieved at these incursions into my otherwise robust health; but I also realise that I would be an idiot to ignore them. I feel more aged by the little pile of blister packs by the toaster than I ever have by the lines around my eyes or the gentle sagging of my jaw.
In any case, it’s not like I can do much about my antacids being a five hour drive away. I make a mental note to perhaps seek out some Gaviscon in Ilfracombe and we set off. Beccy, thankfully, is amused by my constant belching. I congratulate myself for having the sort of friends who stick with you through digestive distress.
The sky is blue and the sun is low over the sea. It is clear that we finally left Exmoor behind just west of Combe Martin, and that the coast is in the process of remodelling itself into something new. We walk down a narrow alley that stops abruptly, and then along a main road. We get stung by high nettles on narrow paths and slip on mud. There are beautiful views in places – the natural harbour at Small Mouth, complete with a lone, white boat, makes us stand and stare – but somehow this is a frustrating walk; not steep, just uncomfortable and too close to civilisation.
By the time we round the corner to Hele Bay, I’m tired and irritable. Beccy (who is far fitter than me) wants to push on through to Ilfracombe, but I’m bilious and sore-throated, and pathetically hungry. We stop at the Snacking Kraken, where I’m delighted to find a cream tea on offer.
‘Tea or coffee?’ asks the woman behind the counter.
‘What sort of heathen has coffee with scones?’ I ask.
‘Actually,’ she says with a twinkle, ‘quite a few people go for cider.’ This is what I love about Devon. You can walk into most places, caked in mud and probably not smelling all that good, and nevertheless people will still treat you like a human being.
They also turn out a bloody good scone. We sit and eat for a while, watching a group of young women walkers stop to buy ice lollies and use the beachside loos. Perhaps walking is all the rage these days; they certainly look more glamorous than us, with their pristine walking gear, festival-y head-wraps and a set of poles apiece. ‘Even we weren’t lame enough to go on walking holidays when we were that age,’ says Beccy, and we allow ourselves a fleeting moment of self-delusion that we were once at all cool.
Actually, I tried very hard to be cool when I was their age. It was a game of diminishing returns. I still hold grudges against certain people from that era, who pointed out that I was obsessed with the obscure. That they were entirely right is not the point; it was rude of them to notice. In actual fact, I remain averse to liking the same things as other people. It is simply not in my nature to get all matchy-matchy with the rest of humanity.
When we set off again, I do not feel refreshed. I’m dog-tired, and the scone has done terrible things to my digestion. I feel at though it’s trying to crawl back out of my gullet. My sense of grievance is not helped by the hulking great hill we have to climb, when there is clearly a road that just cuts around it. I am heartily sick of this sort of bloody-minded zig-zagging. We haul ourselves upwards for a seeming age, and then trot down the other side into Ilfracombe.
Our respective husbands and children are here. We plod through the town, and I wonder if we will spot them. We have planned to press on to Lee or even Woolacombe; that would get me to the final 10 miles that would mean 25 miles’ progress this weekend (not counting the grudge-match to Lynmouth). But my legs are heavy, and my chest is burning from the indigestion. Somewhere in this town, my little boy is playing, and I suddenly want to be part of it. We pass Damien Hirst’s flayed, pregnant ‘Verity’, a vulgar tribute to motherhood who looms above the harbour, and it somehow makes me crave the softness and chaos of actual mothering even more.
‘I think I’m going to give up,’ I say. ‘We can carry on, but it won’t be pleasant.’
‘Are you sure?’ says Beccy.
‘Yeah,’ I say, and, to demonstrate my exhaustion, immediately stumble out in front of a car and nearly get myself run over. I text H, and he directs me to Ilfracombe Tunnels Beaches, where we find the children playing with fishing rods made of pampas grass. We follow the Victorian tunnel down to the lovely, secluded sea bathing pool, where I take off my boots and soak my aching feet.
‘I need to work out how to stop getting so tired,’ I say. ‘This is the second time I’ve just run out of energy.’
‘It’s just fitness,’ says Beccy. ‘You’ll get there.’
Probably, I think. But I have no idea how.