An Adventure Of The Non Photographic Kind
As soon as I’d read this book I knew that I wanted to do something similar, to give myself something purposeful to do, to cut myself off almost completely from the goings on of day to day life, and to really give myself time to appreciate what a beautiful world we live in. So, where to walk was the next question. That was burningly obvious, there’s one impressive trail that runs across the whole of Devon called the Two Moors Way going from Ivybridge right across Dartmoor, into mid Devon, then north and over Exmoor before finishing at Lynton and Lynmouth. I'd read about it and heard about through social media and really fancied having a go. So, with the trail sorted the next bit was to do some research so I started googling away and reading up a bit about the walk itself. I also decided to put up a status on social media as I have a number of friends who love to walk and simply asked if they knew anything about it. How hard going was it? What sort of fitness level would you need to be at? How long would it take to do it in? Those sorts of questions. Then up popped my mate Richard Davy, and that’s where it all started to become real! He’d been wanting to walk the Two Moors Way too and was keen to join me if I was going to do it. Great! ‘But…’ he said, ‘how about doing the whole thing from Coast to Coast and starting off at Wembury? Seems silly to miss that bit out as it’s only a small section added on.’ Small? Only an extra 16 miles! Gulp! That made the whole walk a total of 117 miles altogether, and for a moderate walker this seemed like a huge task. What was I doing?! Nah, sod it, why the heck not, might as well bung in the extra and go the whole hog. So there it was, we were doing the Devon Coast to Coast together. Next step, when to do it and to book the time off from work. After a bit of discussion it was decided the best time to do it was the middle of October. Rich being a bit of an adventurer had the South West Coast Path to walk first amongst other amazing things, as you do, and we both agreed that being as it would be in the autumn the weather would be cooler and that it would be lovely to see the colours over the county as we went on our merry way. Now, most ordinary people would stretch the whole thing out over perhaps 10 days or more, giving plenty of time, shorter daily distances etc. Where’s the fun in that though hey! So what did we do? We decided that to make it a good challenge to ourselves we were going to do it in just 7 days…….another gulp! So 117 miles in 7 days it was and with that out of the way we met a couple more times, discussed the route, what we’d need to take, booked our b&b’s up (camping had crossed our mind but we thought that creature comforts might be nice, how glad we were of that decision actually on the walk!) and that was that, we were all ready to set off on the 15th of October!
Although the walk had been described to me as moderate in difficulty, I was quite aware that my fitness levels probably weren’t up to par, so I got straight into several months worth of running and weight training to build up some strength and stamina. In hindsight more walking training would’ve been good too as my muscle recovery day after day wasn’t as good as it could’ve been, however the prep that I did do I have no doubt contributed greatly towards my being able to do this. I walk frequently but I'm no long distance walker and so all of this was a bit new to me! Before I knew it the months had passed and the time had come to walk, further than I’d ever walked before. I was nervous, excited, slightly concerned, all sorts, but determined to complete it for sure. Now I expect that some of you reading this might be thinking…….crikey, she’s going on a bit, people every day do some crazily big things, she's not exactly climbing Everest! And you’re right, I wasn’t, and some people would absolutely breeze through a challenge like this with no effort at all and it would be like they’d gone for a walk in their local park, but for me it was a big undertaking and one that I would never have even contemplated in a previous life (long story). This was MY Everest right at this very moment. In stark comparison though Richard unfortunately was diagnosed with advanced colonic cancer literally a couple of weeks before our start date, and so his Everest was and is rather more considerable than mine! I have nothing but admiration and respect for him for deciding to still do and ultimately complete this walk.
Early in the morning on the 15th of October Richard and I were taken to our starting point at Wembury by my other half Alan where we were also met by Sara and Nigel Hicks. Both Sara and Nigel are amazing people who run the charity OVAID – Orangutan Veternairy Aid which is a zero salary, voluntary run charity dedicated to providing veterinary equipment, medicines and practical veterinary presence and assistance to Orangutan rescue groups and centres in Indonesia and Malaysia. Richard had decided a few weeks before the walk that he would like to fundraise for this great charity (I’ve put the link to his JustGiving page at the end of the blog) and so we had photos holding their banner by the sea before we started. Before we knew it, it was kisses and hugs all round bidding cheerio to everyone and off we set, Ivybridge bound. Our first days walk was really good overall and we were joined by Rich’s cousin Jacki all the way which was rather lovely. When we made it to Ivybridge that day we were tired but felt good and the day was topped off by Al meeting us for dinner where we were staying that evening.
What followed over the next few days can be described in many ways. Here’s a few words for you……difficult, tiring, mentally and physically draining, exciting, sobering, incredible, breathtaking, peaceful, beautiful, quiet, impressive……so many things! Some of the walking was quite nice and easy underfoot allowing us to get a good pace on, however some of it was rather the opposite. Overall the weather throughout the walk was incredible to say the least. We had light winds the whole time, and warm autumnal sunshine for five days out of the seven, although on day two we had fog and on day three relentless rain too. Typically both of these drab days were spent crossing Dartmoor, and sadly we didn’t get to see the amazing views that we’d hoped for. I’d read in books about Dartmoor getting a hold on travellers and not letting them go, whether that be getting lost in the mists, bogs or otherwise and I can totally see why now. Although we didn’t get stuck in any of this, it was mentally draining in a way that I wasn't really expecting. The Dartmoor weather certainly got into my head, and it sucked the enthusiasm and vigour from me. We also sadly came across a sheep that was laying on it’s side on the saturated ground, twitching its legs around, clearly unwell and in distress. Rich tried to help it up but it was too late, the poor thing had gone beyond the point of return and we regretfully had to leave it and move on letting nature take its course, hopefully quickly. It was a sobering reminder of how harsh the Moors can be.
Once off Dartmoor the weather and scenery changed significantly. But whilst I thought that crossing Dartmoor in the lashing rain and fog was hard, equally so was crossed the rolling fields of mid Devon! You know those lovely fields that you see from a distance, that look so lush smooth and green? Well, they’re knobbly, gnarly, tufty gits that twist your ankles from one to the other side in a split second over and over again with the long wet grass weighing down your feet until you feel like you’ve got concrete boots on! Typically this type of terrain was over our longest two days of walking too at over twenty miles each day. Now as much as I love the green fields of Devon I'm not sure that I'd want to distance walk over them again. Mid Devon is however without a doubt some of THE most beautiful countryside that I’ve ever seen, and everywhere looked like something off a chocolate box, so idyllic and magical. There seemed to be at almost every base of a hill a wonderful tucked away little stream with pretty pockets of Oak or Beech woodland surrounding it too. Seeing the mid Devon landscape was definitely a highlight for me, and it’s an area that I’d love to explore more of without a doubt. It was quite magic to look at.
When heading into north Devon and Somerset the hills seemed to get rather more gentle thankfully and our walk out towards Exmoor was much more pleasant. The riverside section just after Tarr Steps proved to be quite a tricky one but the woodland there is just gorgeous. We were also treated to a number of great bird sightings that day, Kingfisher, Dipper, Gooseander, Heron and on that same day I saw my first Fogbow just after we’d set off from the b&b in the morning. Exmoor itself was truly breathtaking. The valleys are so different to those on Dartmoor, much steeper and more angled with beautiful snake like rivers flowing through them. One magical experience that will always stick in my mind though was on leaving Simonsbath on the final day. We’d been setting out most mornings at half past six to give ourselves a good start, and as we were starting to cross some of the peat bogs we looked up to see a big herd of Red Deer on the ridge ahead of us. There were three Stags amongst this herd and they were all silhouetted in the distance against the morning sky (the sun hadn’t quite risen) with those beautiful antlers of theirs outlined so perfectly! I’ve never seen Red Deer in the flesh before, so this was a super exciting moment for me even though they were quite far away. What followed that morning was equally as wonderful, because as we continued on our walk across the moors from all directions you could hear the Red Deer Stags bellowing their rutting calls from across the valleys. That amazing sound that can only come from somewhere deep inside the animal will stay with me forever, and to be able to hear it in its natural environment was so special.
At the end of the final day we took some time at the top of Lynton and Lynmouth just to sit together on a bench and reflect on what we’d achieved and the wonderful experiences we’d had together before meeting friends and family who had kindly come out to meet us down by the sea at the finishing point. And yes, I had a little welling up going on. Fantastic memories were made over this whole week. We had some down moments but were there to support each other and give hugs when needed, and there were some hilarious moments like Rich walking into a hedge of ferns in the dark with only his mobile torch for light, and on another occasion confessing that he’d stood with his hands under a paper towel dispenser thinking it was a dryer and waiting for it to come on! There was also the landlady at The London Inn in Morchard Bishop, brilliant woman, such a character! I must thank her, unbeknown to me, for filling my camelback with soda water instead of still. It nearly exploded under the pressure of the gas haha! We’d crawled through the mud on our hands and knees together in the dark under fallen trees by rivers, climbed over many many stiles, gone through many gates, fields of sheep and cows (Richard was my protector from cows), through woods and forests, up and over countless hills, down into many valleys, over two moorlands, trudged through bogs, saw Kingfishers, Dippers, Foxes, Pheasants, Gooseander, Herons, Buzzards, Kestrels and more, eaten fabulous cooked breakfasts, drunk many cups of tea, and saw very few people and cars which was heavenly.
Devon really is an exceptionally beautiful county and I’m so pleased that I’ve seen so much of its unspoilt areas in this manner. Walking through where you live really is the very best way of getting to know it, and I would recommend doing it to anyone. Most of all I’m so pleased that I got to share this with my good friend Richard, he was fabulous company and we suited each other as walking partners perfectly. Thank you for joining me Rich! It was an adventure that I'll always look back fondly on with a very big smile.
A couple of notes to finish on.....
There is one very precious thing that I have learnt from this experience over everything else, and that is……never EVER decide to carry a box of flapjacks with you on a walk like this! The buggers are heavy and you can’t even give them away!
And thank you to my other half Alan for his help to us both over the duration, plus all of the supportive messages along the way even though he thought I was a bit barmy.
Richard’s JustGiving page for OVAID is www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Richard-Davy3
OVAID also have their own JustGiving page at www.justgiving.com/ovaid
A list of B&B’s we stayed at;
Sportman's Inn at Ivybridge - Basic but good food.
Lowertown Farm at Ponsworthy - Comfortable, needed notice 2 days in advance for packed lunches and quite a late breakfast.
West Ford Farm at Hittisleigh - I really can't recommend this place enough! Stunning, comfy, warm, homely and our host was wonderfully attentive and accommodating. I wouldn't hesitate to stay again or to recommend.
Mitre Inn at Witheridge - Lovely place to stay. Very comfortable with excellent food.
Zeal Farm at Hawkridge - Again at the top of my list. A fabulously comfortable place to stay with lovely helpful hosting.
Exmoor Forest Inn at Simonsbath - Warm, comfortable, good food and a great place to stay.