Day 33 - Friday
I woke up early at 0445am and had a quick but filling breakfast. I then moved all my gear up to the gate area where Buffy could easily pick it up and put into the van. I could not expect her to lug it all by herself and I am not sure if one of the boys would accompany her down for this last trip to the bothy.
At 0730am Buffy arrived and dropped the items into the bothy that I was hoping for - floppy hat, apples and perhaps a spare warm Norwegian shirt. I heard her talking to someone, probably Simon the NT volunteer who normally checks on the cattle at this sort of time.
By 0815am she was gone and I conducted my farewell ceremony. Some of my friends have taught me the power of a modest smoking ceremony when you leave a house/area and another at the other end when you settle into a new place. That makes sense to me: a smoking ceremony (by which I mean some smouldering sage leaves in a dish, with no deliberate inhalation) to signal to the ancestors that you’re leaving and to thank them. Indigenous tribes from around the world particularly the North American Indians and Aboriginal tribes do this.
I will sort of miss the bothy, but not, if you know what I mean! I had cleared the garden of my 'structures' minus the pebble glyph which I kept in place as I think it needed to be there for others when they came to stay. My serpent and heron driftwood sculptures were going home with Buffy I could really see them occupying space at Coombe Dingle.
At 0900am I took in a deep breath and lifted my pack on my back and set off down the hill towards the cliff tops for the last time. As I left the garden area I turned to look at the bothy that had been my home for 5 weeks. Would I ever return in the future I mused? Right, down to the business of walking around 170 miles home.
My first 'leg' of the journey home was to get over both the River Torridge at Bideford and the River Taw at Barnstable. This would be following the coastal path - much of this route I had already walked, although not as far as the towns. I have to say, I found the day really taxing due to the rucksack weight, the weather (hot) and the number of people using the path. It was like a motorway of people, which meant constantly stopping to let others pass as my 'frame' filled the path! I quickly realised that I had now had to forego any of the privacy that I had so enjoyed over the past 5 weeks, and without being rude just to walk as best I could without getting involved in too much talk with others.
I took a short cut from Westward Ho! to Bideford to try and cut down the time it was taking me, but also to escape the crowds. Bideford is probably a beautiful town by the river and sea, but I found it unpleasant with all the Friday shoppers on the streets and seemingly endless traffic on the roads. Crossing the old 'Long Bridge' I saw a plaque on an old building telling me about the last witches in England to be publicly hung, who were from Bideford. This happened in 1682 and one could only imagine the fear that these 3 ladies went through before a cruel death.
Moving onto Barnstable and the heat increased which meant plenty of water stops. Looking for public water taps was a challenge as there appear to be vey few outdoor taps either in towns or villages. This was to blight me throughout the next 6 days. Barnstable was similar to Bideford in that I crossed the River Taw via the 'Long Bridge' and had to walk up what was the old quay from yester year. Interestingly enough, it was from the old quay that 5 ships sailed in 1588 to join Sir Francis Drake in his fight against the Spanish Armada. Of the five, 2 of boats names caught my attention, 'Unicorn' and 'Dragon'!
Onwards and past Chivenor military base which is still an active air station but occupied by the Royal Marines. It was getting late (gone 8pm) as I approached the Woolacombe area, and I headed off inland to escape the walkers and found little wood with a stream close to the village of Ossaborough. I was truly exhausted and very hungry, so I cooked up one of the tagliatelle meals that Buffy had pre-made for me and washed it down with a sweet cup of tea. I had been feeding off nuts and special protein bars that Buffy had given me during the daytime walk, so this was my first proper meal following breakfast all those hours ago.
I was in my little snug pack and sleeping bag as the last vestiges of the light gave way to the dark evening sky. Looking at the map, I reckon I had done close to 27 miles (44 kms) in 12 hours which was a good effort and the kind of mileage I would need to do most days if I was to get to the end point on time.
Day 34 - Saturday
I got woken at around 0230am with the sight of lightening flashes away in the distance at sea, but clearly getting more pronounced so probably coming my way.
An hour later the thunder started and boy, what a noise and light show! It was true test for my waterproof shelter system but absolutely amazing to witness from my vantage point on earth. We are very often inside a building when this natural phenomena occurs, so I counted myself extremely lucky to be outside watching the aerial drama unfold above me. Goodness knows what the animals thought!
Around 0400am the rain started and it was biblical in the amount that fell over such a short period of time! I kept on poking my head with torch out to check the small stream close to me was not rising - otherwise I would be getting very wet! It started to get light and with that the heavy rain turned to fine drizzle, so no impediment to getting away as I wanted to for 0700am.
With my full wet proofs on, I was off again and back onto the coastal path, to be met with a steady trickle of walkers going in both directions. I decided to cut off the corner between Morthoe and Lee and thus avoided Morte Point, which although dramatic and stunning as a coastal viewing spot, I could do without with the rain and plethora of walkers. I passed a sign which said that Morte Point (literally meaning 'death point') was an notorious place for ship wrecks where in the winter of 1852, five ships were wrecked in the space of 3 months! Obviously quite a place, but a visit there for me would have to wait for another day.
By 7pm I had reached Henstridge Woods south of Combe Martin and decided to call it a day and get something warm to eat, with a view to setting off early (perhaps even in the night) tomorrow as the walk and weight had taken its toll on me.
My shoulders and legs are most definitely sore now after two days walking, and I rummage around into my first aid pack to rub on some white tiger balm. Tonight’s culinary feast is Japanese noodles with peanut butter and copious amounts of tea!
Looking at the map I can see I have walked 22 miles (37 kms), so I am happy with that. For sure I aim to leave in the night so I can get across to Barbrook which is south of Lynton on the coast. From Barbrook I will be in range of Exmoor which I am really looking forward to.
My route will basically take me over the whole west to east element of the moor and I intend crossing over the highest point on Exmoor at Dunkerry Beacon. There are also, like Dartmoor, many ancient sites and pathways to walk and discover. Parts of Exmoor have some circles and stone avenues very similar to those I experienced last year on Dartmoor. I was also looking forward to getting away from the sea and onto ground away from cliffs and sea birds - in other words back into the countryside after 5 weeks of living by the sea.
Day 35 - Sunday
I am up very early at 3am and have an early breakfast of special oats from Buffy's made up packs. The wind is slight but from the north which is why it feels cold - I will start my walk with a jacket on as a fine drizzle will soon soak me if I am not wearing wet proofs. And, blow me down, if it wasn't Dartmoor revisited again with the unmistakable 'thump, thump, thump' of a deep bass playing and drums somewhere. A 'rave' was going on somewhere to my north on the coast. At least it wasn't as loud or as scary as last time on Dartmoor!
I got to Barbrook not long after dawn with the sun desperately trying to show itself through the clouds. Through the tiny village, and apart from one dog barking it was deathly silent - of course it was Sunday, and not many people would be up and about at 5am!
Climbing slowly but steadily out of the village I can across a sign which welcomed me to Exmoor National Park. Fantastic! The history of Exmoor is one long story of how people from Mesolithic times to the present have tried in different ways to live on and around the moor. They have traded, travelled, worshipped and buried their dead up here on the moor. A wide range of animals also live on this moor and I was lucky enough to see many of them doing a couple of days walking across it.
I started to follow a little river system called Hoar Oak water and gently found myself on moorland. The place is alive with Exmoor ponies which are native, tough little ponies who are wary of humans and like to herd together. Having gained some high ground at 10am I stopped for a cup of tea and a snack.
On the map, I am indeed at Hoar Oak which once upon a time was a shepherds building high up here on the moor, characterised by a very old oak tree and its off shoot close by. I would like to know how old these oaks were, since there were very few other trees up here, other than blackthorn and hazels following the streams. With buzzards circling in the sky above me, I munched happily on a fruit bar and an apple and noticed three deer on the skyline. They are not big but have a reddish coat and antlers, so I think they are roe deer - a bit different from the fallow deer at Peppercombe who were larger and grey in colour.
Physically, after 2 days walking I felt a little sore but only in the shoulders. My pace had been good so far, with a ‘slowly slowly’ approach going up the hills and a rather more brisk pace on the flat and downhill. It was still a long way to go, but I was heartened and encouraged to be back in a ‘quiet’ place on Exmoor with its remoteness and beauty.