Appledore to Clovelly

Note: this walk took place in February and I am very late in writing it. Sorry. Have been massively busy *grovels*. 

I’ve noticed that my SW Coast Path walks have become less of a leisure activity, and more of a gruelling contest against my own soul. I’m sure this wasn’t what I imagined when I dreamed up this whole thing.

To be fair, it’s not the path’s fault; it’s the winter’s. The path remains lovely, if exposed and extremely damp underfoot. I had been hearing about high winds and flooding in the South West for the last couple of weeks, and the effect of this is plain as soon as I leave Appledore. The ground is sodden. Northam Burrows is one great big puddle. A beautiful, crow-blown puddle, but also pretty much impassable. I divert onto the road.

Rounding the corner at Westward Ho! (the only place in the UK with a native exclamation mark, which makes me unaccountably happy!), my heart lifts a little. Granted, I had expected such a grand name to signal a town that was a little less desolate, but the roar of the sea is everwhere, and I glimpse the white-horsed thunder of the waves from between buildings.

Westward Ho! from the South West Coast Path

Shortly after that, the ground begins to roll, and I fall back into my familiar climb-and-descent, spluttering at the effort. Except today, the path is so wet that the slopes are like treadmills, gliding my feet back to their starting-place at each step. My legs quickly become coated in thick, brick-red mud, making my trousers heavy and sticky.

At the top of one hill, I pause to watch a waterfall and then turn to see a descent so steep that I’m certain I won’t ever get down it. The path has other ideas; as I am standing, wondering what to do, I begin to slide spontaneously towards the bottom. I have never been skiing, but I hope it’s more enjoyable than this. My arms windmill about me as I attempt to grab on to anything that will steady me, but all that’s on offer is gorse, brambles and barbed wire. I opt for the lesser of three evils and grasp at the gorse, which means I am picking thorns out of my palms for the next fortnight. Despite this, I still manage to fall on my backside (twice), and land at the bottom in what can only be described as ill humour.


This mood is not improved when I turn the next corner to see a waymarker for my destination, Peppercombe: 5 miles. Due to my habitual crapness at map-reading, I thought the whole walk was 5 miles. Apparently not. I have 5 miles to go, I am mud-caked, and the sun is due to set in roughly an hour.

Muttering under my breath, I press on, clambering down onto a grey-pebbled cove on jelly legs. I am mentally composing letters to The Authorities: the first tackling the idiotic use of barbed wire alongside walking paths; the second bemoaning the sheer bloody-mindedness of a path that has to dip down into every fucking cove when there’s a perfectly good route around the top of the cliffs. Just at the moment, I spot what looks like an exotic seed-pod on the beach, a giant star anise the size of a hand, perhaps washed in from Zanzibar. On closer inspection, it’s a vertebra, washed brown by the sea. I’m delighted. It must surely be from a whale. I slot it into my backpack and press on. I can’t wait to show it to Bert.


There’s miles to go from there – more rise-and-fall, and much more mud. I finally arrive at Peppercombe in near-darkness, and bad-temperedly trudge the extra half-mile onto the road, convinced that H could have driven down to get me. But the gate at the top of the path is locked, and Bert is running along to meet me. I’m too exhausted to speak. I sit in the open boot and strip off my trousers in full view of passing cars. I don’t care. At that moment, nothing feels better than clean leggings and the warm blast of the car heater.


The next day was a little better: 7 miles on to Clovelly through deep, mossy forest. I mostly only glimpsed the sea, and spent a great deal of time traversing fields so saturated that I had to detour along their uppermost edges.


I could have gone further, but I didn’t.  When I reached the car, Bert was asleep in the back. They hadn’t had lunch yet; they were waiting for me, and I was late, as ever. Bert, I knew, was desperate to swim in our holiday camp’s pool, and yet he’d been out all day so that they were able to pick me up. It was Valentine’s Day.

I suddenly had a sickening vision of myself as a demanding child, expecting everyone else to work around me while I walked in remote places, and got muddy, took time to myself, and complained about it. I was wet, and uncomfortable, and tired, and muddy, and lonely, but most of all, I was being indulged. I hated that feeling. I hated the path. I hated my instinct to turn everything into a big, difficult challenge, when we could just as well be having fun together, somewhere warm.

I decided to give up walking for a couple of days, while I worked out what to do next.


I’ll finish the story tomorrow. In the meantime, that vertebra in full:


9 Replies to “Appledore to Clovelly”

  1. That vertabra is amazing!! You poor thing – sounds like a right slog!

    I’ve been pondering a bit on this idea of selfishness lately, though, and I think it’s important to remember that what we often describe as ‘self indulgence’ can also be called self-care…and that’s *not* the same as selfishness! (of course, it might have been the mud and thorns talking in this case…they probably didn’t feel very self-care-y!)

    1. Well yes, I think I have a funny idea of self-care (although not all that odd I guess – it’s all about freedom to move around really). But I suppose the bigger issue – and one that I definitely haven’t solved – is balance. The parenting/work/relationship/friends/self mix seems impossible to get right. There’s no doubt that I need time on my own, and that walking has made me feel far better about the world. But I also want to make Bert happy. It’s impossible, really. And (thank god) I have a husband who does his fair share. I have no idea how people cope without that.

      1. Oh god, I hear you. The mysterious, impossible balance. I honestly have no idea how parents do it (suffice to say that if I had offspring, I would fail miserably if my current efforts at balancing anything more than work/relationship/house are any indication!). I guess what I meant was just an observation that we often describe efforts at trying to find the balance in self-flagellating ways, especially when it involves the bit we are doing for ourselves. It’s hard work to avoid doing it though (ah, look what I’ve done – I’ve only gone and added another bloody thing to our ‘finding balance’ to-do lists! Argh)

          1. Yes, and if they could please also fix my constant feelings of total incompetence, that would be great.

  2. I loved this post! The route looks gorgeous, if tricky.

    Having spent a few years walking the beautifully kept trails in the forest preserve around here (paid for by our property taxes) I find the English footpaths shockingly bad, not to mention occasionally dangerous. But is that part of the experience? I strongly believe the countryside shouldn’t be something we only see from our cars on the way to the superstore. If the paths were better, would more people use them? Is this a good or a bad thing? And why are farmers allowed to plough out paths that run along the edge of fields, and lock gates across bridleways? Why is it so difficult to find the beginnings of footpaths (around Camber you have to go down lanes with “Private-Keep Out” notices everywhere, and even then one path is inaccessible due to nettles). Why aren’t the paths properly marked?

    1. It very much depends on the route – the SWCP for instance is very well waymarked, but the path itself is (deliberately) difficult. I quite like that though – there are other, far easier paths. You’ll like the North Downs Way – mostly well-marked and the path is pretty well-kept. But, yes, there are some paths that are just not really paths at all, which is so frustrating.

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