Against all odds the English weather has been unbelievably hot for weeks on end and we have been doing our very best to get out and explore as much of the North Devon countryside as we possibly can. We haven’t really been to the coast as much as you would expect due to it being a four mile walk to the nearest beach plus we haven’t felt comfortable going. So many people have been locked down with no chance of visiting a local park let alone a beach and we just would not have felt right visiting too often.
However, with recent restrictions eased and everyone allowed to travel as far as they wish we decided to attempt our longest walk yet along the famous South West Coastal Path. Our lovely host Rose gave us a lift bright and early up to the tiny village of Lee which lies between Ilfracombe and Woolacombe (socially distanced of course). Dropping us at Lee Bay Beach we planned to walk down the coastal path to Putsborough Sands and then cut inland back to our digs in Knowle. Around 15 miles with a hot 25 degree day beckoning which is exactly why we went early.
Lee Bay Beach
Heading from Cove car park up the road we took the public footpath towards ‘Damage Barton‘. Great name isn’t it? There are a lot of places called Barton in this neck of the woods which we imagined might have some Old English or Devonish exotic meaning but apparently it just means ‘farm’. Not quite so exciting eh?
Heading past the beautiful Sandy Cove we climbed hundreds of wooden stairs and descended sandy steps on our way to Bull Point. The views in every direction were simply stunning and we hardly saw another person at all as we passed Pensport Rock, Damagehue Rock, Bennett’s Mouth and Bull Point Gut.
Our next focal point was Bull Point Lighthouse, built in 1879 to deter the smugglers and ship-wreckers who terrorised this part of the coast. Fake lights were used to tempt ships onto Bull Point Gut and Damagehue Rock so that the smugglers could raid and steal goods once the craft ran aground.
The most well-known smuggler in these parts was Hannibel Richards. A renowned smuggler and villain in Morwenstow in Cornwall and part of the infamous Cruel Coppinger’s Gang, he moved up to Lee to retire but just couldn’t resist the lure of his old profession. Hiding in a cave at the back of Sandy Cove he had several run-ins with the law but was never caught and died aged 85, buried in Ilfracombe.
Then it was down past Rockham Beach towards Mortehoe before heading right out to Morte Point.
Morte Point on Rockham Bay
This wasn’t the first time in 2020 that we had walked out to Morte Point, we had actually been here just after Christmas when we were housesitting for Jo’s brother but the weather was ever so slightly different. In fact, it had been blowing a gale and absolutely bitter cold! Not quite the same now with blue skies and wall-to-wall sunshine. Perfect.
Wooloacombe to Putsborough Sands
Continuing down the South West Coastal Path into Woolacombe past the fabulously named Grunta Beach, we passed a lot of day-trippers just arriving and getting unpacked ready for a day on the beach. We’d been walking for hours at this point so felt a little smug, along with also feeling a little sweaty. Round past Combesgate Beach and some amazing beachfront properties we passed Barricane Beach as we trotted through Woolacombe.
For about an hour Jo had been desperate to get down to the sea and go for a swim so we headed a little way down Woolacombe Beach, changed into our swimming gear, and headed out into the water. Although we were tired and hot from walking it still felt incredibly cold. Like a complete maniac she just ran shouting into the waves and launched herself right in! Crazy. I took a more measured approach but we both enjoyed a fantastic dip and swim before picnicking down at Grey Rock.
After a fabulous rest, lovely picnic, and the excitement of watching an army of seagulls stealing a nearby couples supplies we headed off to climb the sand dunes and start walking inland.
In front of us a huge sand dune, perhaps 50 or 60 feet high, stood in our way and needed to be conquered. Easier said than done as one step up seemed to result in two steps backwards plus the sand was rather hot on our bare feet. Zig-zagging as we climbed and desperately trying to find steadier footholds we made an enormous deal out of climbing to the top and were completely out of breath as we hit solid ground again. So tough. We just had a small drop down more soft sand before the solid footpath at the bottom.
My first step down onto the shifting sands took me right back to Mediterranean holidays on sunkissed shorelines and impossible-to-walk-on beaches as it felt like stepping into boiling water! Like the brave guy that I am I yelped and decided to start jumping and leaping down the slope like a deranged Billy Elliot until I reached cool grass. Jo wasn’t quite so lucky unfortunately as she planted both feet heavily on the super-hot sand not realising the seriousness of the situation. She’d obviously assumed that I had over-reacted like a massive softie but within seconds felt the burn and just launched herself up in the air and landed sitting down legs in the air! Not funny but funny.
Stuck at the top with burnt soles of her feet and other parts of her anatomy now heating up a decision had to be made. She quickly went for shoes but of course her sore feet didn’t make that a simple operation. She had to move fast as her rear bumpers were starting to overheat now. Standing up on soft sliding sand without touching that sand isn’t straightforward but she made the stand, stumble and leap in a single movement and was soon on the cool grass alongside me collapsed in an overheated mess.
We didn’t look too closely at her feet as still had miles to walk and after coating her red soles with hand-cream, carefully easing on hers socks and shoes, we set off once again.
Who knew getting off the beach could be so traumatic and dangerous?
The long steep climb from Putsborough Sands up to Pickwell was hot and sweaty and not great for my wounder soldier with her sore feet but she took it slowly and obviously didn’t say a word or complain for a second.
Arriving back late-afternoon with aching legs and one hell of a thirst we collapsed together after one of the best hikes we have ever done. A long day but a fabulous one along some of the most picturesque coastline you could ever imagine. What a day!
Wonder if we’ll do it again?