South West Coast Path, Part II

Active & Adventurous - The Aging Adventurer

The Aging Adventurer Reports on Her South West Coast Path Hike in England

Part II

SW Coastal TrailLeaving the Ash Farm, we feel rested and eager to move on. By 11 o'clock the fog has lifted and by 3:30 the sun is shining. The wind is extremely strong; it almost blows us off the narrow paths. We eat lunch on the beach sitting on boulders watching the waves roll in. A hot cup of tea warms us. Eight hours later we arrive at Lynmouth, a small fishing village wedged between high cliffs.

At Lynmouth we grab supper in a pub, call the least expensive B&B in nearby Lynton to make reservations for the night. We are soon knocking on the door at a very unassuming house on the main road and are welcomed by an elderly couple, who are busily working a puzzle. It turns out they only advertise in the SW coastal book and cater mainly to hikers. Their price is only 18 pounds, which is very inexpensive compared to most B&Bs. Our hosts are friendly and we chat with them before going to bed. The wife offers to do our wash; the husband lets us check our e-mail on his computer.

We stay two nights as we want to hike up to the Watersmeet House, a 19th century fishing lodge, now a National Trust Shop and Tea House. It is a beautiful walk through a wooded area adjacent to the fast-moving East Lyn River.

At the top where it connects with the Hoar Oak River, we sit down and enjoy an English tea complete with clotted cream, strawberry jam and scones.

swcoastaltrail1We also plan to ride the famous Cliff Railroad, described as a "unique Victorian water-powered lift." It consists of two passenger cars connected by cables that travel up and down a perpendicular cliff connecting the towns of Lynmouth and Lynton. The ride up to Lynton takes only three minutes. It is more than a bit scary if you look down! After returning we have some free time to explore the seashore and the town. I sit on a bench and write my first postcards. At home that evening our hosts have carefully folded our laundry and laid it on our beds.

The next day we head towards Combe Martin, which is 13 miles away. The morning is cold; we bundle up in coats, hats and mittens. The distance between villages is often more miles than we care to walk. Guidebook time estimates are based on a three-miles-an-hour walking pace. We carry a 20 lb pack and average two miles an hour, with luck; we often stop to take in the scenery and explore; sometimes we light up our small backpacking stove and enjoy a cup of tea. Halfway to Combe Martin there is an Inn and a B&B. I am thinking that will be the place to stop for the night.

swcoastaltrail1cToday my camera is clicking away capturing pictures of sheep. Some are black. Some are white with black legs and facial marks. Some have curled horns; others have straight horns. At Woody Bay I see signs to the beach and we diverge there for lunch. This slows us down but since we may only go seven miles today it doesn't matter. I climb over the wall and sit on top of the cliff watching the pounding sea while I munch on my apple and cheese. After lunch I climb over slippery boulders, tossed every which way, to finally touch the water. It feels surprisingly warm.

SW Coastal TrailWe get to Hunters Inn, the halfway point, around 3:30––call the B&B that is just up the hill, and the farmer's wife arranges to pick us up after supper at the Inn. It turns out she is a weaver and has a small shop where she sells her creations. The Inn is being worked on and is quite fancy; right now in off-season it is informal. We are able to sit on couches in the main room with a terrific view of the gardens; we order wine and make ourselves comfortable until suppertime–– writing in our journals, reading and scribbling postcards. They don't seem to mind two scraggly backpackers hanging out. Several English people engage us in conversation. They are full of questions, and fascinated that two older women have come all the way from America to hike their SW Coastal Path.

SW Coastal TrailThe next day dawns bright and sunny, and we head for Combe Martin. The hike is all along the coast with continuous views of the roiling seas. The tide is out, exposing long lines of jagged black rocks. The cliffs and clouds are shadowed in the sea. Sheep are on one side of us; the brown and yellow bracken reach towards the sea on our other side. The climbs are tough. In England they tend to put steps on the vertical hills. I counted 97 steps going up one hill. They are steep and challenging; my legs grow tired from stretching long distances. Between the hills we walk on beautiful green grassy paths.

SW Coastal TrailAfter climbing over one of the gates into a field of sheep, we encounter a dog rounding up the sheep; he darts back and forth, relentlessly moving them forward. A farmer on a four-wheel cart blows his whistle and the dog races to the rear at breakneck speed gathering up the slackers. As he comes flying towards them they move on. The sheep pass through a narrow gate into the next field; then are guided into yet another pasture by the sprinting dog. We watch in amazement at this incredible performance.

At Combe Martin we catch a bus to Lifracombe, where we will stay at a hostel. The hostel is private and run by some rustic-looking characters. The mirror is off the wall in the bathroom, and our bedroom smells of marijuana smoke. However, they have a computer we can use, are located close to the trail, and near a good pub for supper. The hostel price is only 14.50 pounds–– the cheapest fare of our whole trip. In the morning we make ourselves breakfast in the hostel kitchen––2 eggs, juice and crumpets–– and are on our way.

SW Coastal TrailHalfway to Woolacombe, our next destination, we stop at an outdoor restaurant in the small village of Lee and order hot soup. We face another day of multiple steps to climb over steep hills. I counted 117 steps going down. The hills are sharp but not long. We cross over at least five hills. We pass through numerous pastures of grazing sheep. Most of the day we have great views of the rocks and the sea, even catching sight of a baby seal laying on a rock outcropping with its parent carousing nearby.

At Woolacombe the beach is crowded with surfers. Some of them are school-age children learning to surf. We learn that October is a month where the waves are bigger and surfers flock here. The Rock Hotel where we stay is one of our more expensive evenings at 39 pounds; it caters to surfers. Our breakfast is accompanied by a muted video of the history of surfing. On the walls are painted scenes of sandy beaches and surfers. In the corner is a jukebox filled with tunes I'd never heard of, but my younger hiking buddy has; for free you can punch a tune and listen to it over breakfast.


Part III, To Be Continued

Back to Part I


EmilyMtKatadhinEmily Kimball makes her dreams happen. After retiring from a career in Parks and Recreation she rode her loaded touring bike 4,700 miles across America, and hiked the entire Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine.  Now approaching 80, she continues an active life of biking, hiking, backpacking, tennis and water sports––though at a slower pace.

Emily is also a writer and speaker. Her recent book, Appalachian Trail Stories and Other Adventures: Living Your Dreams at 60 and Beyond, describes many of her exploits. It can be ordered from her web site In her professional speaking business, Make It Happen! Emily relates life lessons learned from her adventures in powerful presentations on Risk Taking, Creative Aging and Making Dreams Happen. She can be reached at or 804-358-4959.


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