A Different Coast to Coast – Devon

I’ve already told the story of the actual walk, but also wanted to wrap up some comments on the planning for the trip and some general thoughts on the walk and route themselves. So here goes…

Firstly, my account of the walk (I’ll add Paul’s in due course when and if he gets around to writing it up), was broken down into 4 stages, corresponding with the main chunks of terrain:

Part Description Days Distance (mi) Ascent (ft)
1 Exmoor 1 – 2 27 4,500
2 Mid Devon 3 – 4 29 4,000
3 Dartmoor 5 – 7 (am) 38 5,400
4 South Devon 8 15 1,700
Totals 7.5 109 15,600

The Plan

Both Paul and I had toyed, separately, with the idea of doing the walk. Paul had even gone so far as attempting it, northbound, a few years ago, but only got to Newbridge (day 3). Me, I was attracted to a trans-Dartmoor walk, although slightly less enthused about the rest of it. I put the idea aside in the favour of Dartmoor-specific walks. Then Paul told me he had some leave to use, and knowing I was on a work break, asked me if I fancied giving the walk a crack. And so we looked at it in earnest. Paul took the lead in breaking the route down into daily distances and proposing accommodation for each night. The original plan was to walk northbound – what would probably be called the “proper” way. The schedule he worked out was, crudely:

1. Plymouth or Wembury to Ivybridge – 15 miles, B&B accommodation
2. Ivybridge to Holne – 15 miles, bunkhouse
3. Holne to Hameldown – 11 miles, wildcamp
4. Hameldown to Drewsteignton – 12 miles, bunkhouse
5. Drewsteignton to Morchard Bishop – 16 miles, pub camp
6. Morchard Bishop to Knowstone – 16 miles, farm camp
7. Knowstone to Withypool – 14 miles, farm camp
8. Withypool to Lynmouth – 19 miles

In the end we decided to reverse this route and do the walk backwards. This was based purely on the logistics of getting to/from Lynmouth – in essence we were concerned we’d miss the last bus from Lynmouth on the last day. By finishing in Plymouth/Wembury we’d have a shorter taxi ride and easier other connections. Or at least that was the idea.

The revised schedule was essentially the reverse of the above, with night 1 stopping short of Withypool and being a wild camp. Everything else stayed the same.

In the end we largely stuck to the schedule, except on Dartmoor, where the non-availability of the Holne bunkhouse caused some last minute tweaking to stopping points – this was easy to do as we simply wild camped at a suitable point on the two nights concerned. Indeed, this walk would probably have been near impossible without wild camping, or start/end of day taxi rides to off-path accommodation. More about that later.

Our actual experience of the walk showed the plan to hold up well, although our distances sort of evened out to between 13-15 miles every day.

I note finally that many people do Chagford to Morchard Bishop in a day. Good luck to them, it feels a little too much.

Travel To/From Trailheads

Our final outward travel plan to Lynmouth was as follows:

  1. Bus 75A from Okehampton to Great Torrington
  2. Bus 5B from Great Torrington to Barnstaple (in the event, bus 75A became bus 5B so we simply stayed on)
  3. Bus 310 from Barnstaple to Lynton (we stupidly missed this by standing at the stand the Google maps travel planner said it would be at, and ended up getting a taxi costing £47).
  4. Walk from Lynton to the start (the taxi obviated the need for this).

Return travel would depend on whether we finished at Wembury or Plymouth. This would be a combination of buses, taxis and trains to either get us up the west side of Dartmoor or by train and bus via Exeter. We didn’t decide on a Plymouth or Wembury finish until we were on the walk. Ultimately, we got a taxi from Wembury back to Ivybridge and then drove home to Okehampton from there. If just using public transport a train could be picked up at Ivybridge or in Plymouth.

Because of my travel down from London, I looked at various options including the night train, alighting at Exeter and getting train/bus to Barnstaple to meet Paul there. Also the same thing with National Express coach (only £8). In the end I simply bit the bullet and travelled down after work on the Friday.

Probably the key takeaway for anyone planning the DC2C is that you will be reliant on infrequent buses to get to/from the start and end, and so it is essential to have some cash as a contingency for a taxi. This itself needs planning as there are limited cash machines on the route.

Accommodation

Night 1 worked out as planned with a wild camp on Exmoor, although the weather and morale was such that Paul was keen to get a room in the pub at Simonsbath. This was scuppered by the pub being closed and the risk of waiting for it to open and running out of day to get to a camp if accommodation proved to be a no-no.

Night 2 in Knowstone was the most stressful. We heard en route that the pub was shut, and didn’t fancy a sunset trudge to the farm for camping. Just as well we didin’t as we would (a) have missed the guy that told us about the B&B and (b) found the farm wasn’t doing camping. We were prepared for a wild camp in the corner of a farmer’s field if necessary, although neither of us really fancied it. In the end we fell on our feet, although I did have to endure watching X-Factor on the telly.

Night 3 in Morchard Bishop worked as planned. Camping in the beer garden was free, although they asked for a donation in the charity jar. Food was ace, pub was good. Highly recommended.

Night 4 in Drewsteignton worked exactly as planned. But we knew it would too.

Night 5 was a wild camp as planned but we walked a little further into the darkness to buy us some room due to night 6 issue.

Night 6 turned out the bunkhouse closed 4 years ago. We camped on the moor instead.

Night 7 was as planned and best of all we were in the room before noon. The place was a little run down though, so much so that it seemed little changed since I last stayed there 20 years ago whilst doing my accountancy exams.

Night 8 was great as by then we were back at Paul’s with beer and a nice curry inside us 🙂

Services

This was our biggest gripe of the trip – many closed pubs, whether it be my old nemesis the Monday lunchtime, the up-itself pub that feels it only needs to open a couple of nights a week to keep the riff-raff out, or the inexplicably closed pub on a weekend. This may not be an issue in some places, but in these particular places there was a definite lack of alternative options. The only reason these didn’t bugger the trip up more was that we were carrying camping gear and the means to camp wild. In my view (and I think Paul shares it) there isn’t enough accommodation on the path.

Was the walk any good ?

Don’t get me wrong, we had a good time. But it did seem like we missed the best bit of Exmoor (although the weather may have had something to do with that too), then spent a couple of days doing a country walk I could have done at home, with another one at the end. The only bit we really enjoyed was Dartmoor, but that was no surprise. But even that doesn’t go over the best part of the moor. I’d probably sum it up by saying we had a good time but I’m not in a hurry to redo the walk.

Concluding Thoughts

The Two Moors Way was recently relaunched (I still don’t get why they did it in autumn rather than spring) and is now being more actively promoted as the Devon Coast to Coast. I think this is a good idea, as a walk that starts at Ivybridge then walks to the north coast always seemed a little odd. But the signage was an odd mixture of Two Moors Way and Coast to Coast. The Erme Plym Trail doesn’t seem to reach the Plym (at least the way we went), and doesn’t spend that much time with the Erme either. Signage is lacking on parts of Dartmoor, and we spent half a day following signage for the Mariner’s Way. We also found a handful of issues with stiles, gates etc but probably not that many for the amount of distance we did overall. I’d probably have the same number of issues on a daywalk in my local area. I guess my main gripe is that if the National Parks and Devon CC are going to promote the walk, it really needs more in the way of services for walkers – it needs more B&Bs, it needs the pubs to be open, and it needs a reliable list of accommodation for those camping. Clearly they will be expecting most people to be doing the walk in the summer months when all of these things are most likely to be available. But there’s no reason why the walk couldn’t really be a year-round thing.

Finally, I must thank Paul (@MoorlandWalker and blog at http://www.moorlandwalks.co.uk/ ) for taking the lead in planning and for being such a good companion for the week we spent walking the route. He has finally written up his version of the tale (phew, they match) and you can find it here.

2 thoughts on “A Different Coast to Coast – Devon

  1. A really interesting read! You might be interested to know that the Two Moors Way Association has been revived and that a new website is in preparation http://www.twomoorsway.org. Plans are afoot for a decent accommodation and facility listing too. I’m giving a talk about it all with Simon Dell 7.30pm Thursday 24 November at the National Park Visitor Centre in Princetown.

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