Walking from John O'Groats to Land's End in the winter of 07/08.

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Bratton Fleming to Bideford

One of the many rivers with the name Yeo rises as a series of springs just north of Bratton Fleming, and I followed it all the way to where it enters the Taw estuary near Barnstaple. A sunken lane, shaded by trees, lead down into the little dale. After crossing the shallow waters, I entered the solitude of a wood, moving softly along a flat shelf cut into the steep slope and enclosed by the trees.

As the river grew in strength beneath me, paths through young plantations and rolling grass fields led back to roads and into Chelfham. The wooded dale is becoming more defined here and is dominated by the eight white arches of the largest narrow gauge viaduct in the country. Bridleways marked on the map climb completely out of the valley and then back down again, so a cheeky short cut along forestry tracks let me continue on my riverside walk.

The river began to slow and meander in a widening flood plain, while pleasant ambling took me through various sizes and shapes of woodland, down muddy tracks and eventually into the suburbs of Barnstaple. Here I met the South West Coast Path and followed it alongside the estuary on a disused railway bed. Once again, the loss of the railway network is a blessing for the long distance walker. The miles went quickly past as I stared out across the mudflats to the rolling farmland on the opposite coastline.

My destination seems to be full of workmen who have booked out the cheaper accommodation, so my rest day will be spent gathering strength for the final push while soaking up the luxury of the Royal Bideford. I will be on the coast path most of the way to Land's End, so all that remains is to keep the sea on the right and put one foot in front of the other.

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