A long way round - but worth it. Approx. 270 miles.

According to the International Hydrographical Organisation the Bristol channel is bounded by Hartland point to the South and Govan point to the North but we will finish at Swansea. A couple of reasons, firstly there is a lot to see after Swansea and secondly the scenery changes dramatically after this point. It provides a natural full stop to this section.

It is certainly a section of contrasts, from the pristine sand beaches of the North Devon coast to the tidal mudflats of the Severn estuary, from the bleak and windswept isolation of Hartland to the intensely populated and industrialised inner shores of avonmouth, Cardiff and Port Talbot.

This section is almost twice the length in distance of the preceding section but arguably with less to see and admire, unless you really do have a passion for decaying industrial wastelands, nuclear power plants and steaming factory chimneys.

 

Just a few miles east of Hartland and the Heritage port of Clovelly is reached. Cars are prohibited along its narrow cobbled main street,  instead in common with the rest of the chocolate-box touristy image that is painted of the place only donkeys are allowed down.  I just moved on. I do enough of sitting on my own ass without sitting on someone elses.

 

 

Chocolate box Clovelly. A library pic, Albert was so incensed that they would let donkeys down but not him that he refused to even take me to the car park.

The next few miles are pretty mundane until, approaching the towns of Bideford and Barnstaple the seaside village of Westward ho! is reached, the only place name in England that ends in an an exclamation mark. It is named after Charles Kingsley's novel of the same name, starting out as a cluster of holiday cottages bordering the broad expanse of flat, sandy beach.

It still is a cluster of holiday cottages, and cheap-looking hotels. I'm sure someone likes it.  To me the terraces of holiday chalets look like an open prison.  

Only my opinion and I am sure that Some might disagree with that.

They might argue that it is more like a high security prison Blink

Stalag Westward Ho!

Passing through Westward Ho! it becomes urban jungle, best bypass Bideford and Barnstaple although apparently the pannier market in Barnstaple is worth shopping in. As Albert did not need a set of panniers we carried on.

The coastline north of the River Taw now heads back westwards to the sea and begins to get interesting. Past the small town of Braunton and saunton sands is reached, a landscape of grassy sand dunes and a wide sandy beach either side of the Taw estuary. A solitary and unique place to walk through.

Saunton sands, looking south to the Taw estuary.

Heading north again the coastal road winds through the narrow streets of croyde, and then on to the coastal resort of woolacombe. This is a glorious place. Croyde with it's narrow streets, and the bay of the same name bounded to the north by the dramatic headland of baggy point, and then the other side of the headland the small resort of Woolacombe, its fabulous beach of golden sand placed in a superb setting of high hiils and moor leading steeply down to it. 

For me this is one of the finest bays in the country, only difficulty of access preventing it from being more widely inhabited.

Looking north to Baggy point, an empty car park, unknown in summer.

Now the road climbs steeply over Mortehoe point and to Ilfracombe. Anyone doing this route on this road need not be in a hurry. Even though shown as a two lane road between Croyde and Ilfracombe it is in reality twenty miles of tortuous single road with lots of passing places, except in summer when the passing places become car parks.

Ilfracombe was a pleasant surprise. 20 years ago when I walked the coast path I was glad to get out of the place, it looked tired, drab and decayed. Now it sparkles. Rejuvenation has happened. If you don't want beaches but do want a bustling holiday resort with pleasant theatres, nice boat trips, beautiful gardens and interesting winding streets this place can grow on you.

The buildings of the jubilee theatre is interesting.  They can either look terribly modern and arty, or, as they did to me, a cluster of miniature power plant cooling towers.  Still, I'm an historian, not an architect. 

 

Ilfracombe, from the road heading east. The cooling towers in the centre just behind the harbour is the jubilee theatre.

Now heading East along the the south shore of the Bristol Channel it gets really interesting. The road climbs steeply out of Ilfracombe, drops steeply into Combe Martin, climbs steeply out again before dropping precipitously into the twin town and harbour of Lynton and Lynmouth. Glorious scenery, dramatic combes, the highest cliffs in mainland Britain and Lynmouth another place devastated by sudden and terrible flash floods. 

52 years to the day before the flash floods that devastated Boscastle and Crackington Haven a deluge fell on the high tableland of Exmoor. The ground was saturated from two weeks of heavy rain, the run off swelled the two rivers that meet at watersmeet above Lynton, the east lyn and the west lyn. The resulting torrent smashed through Lynmouth causing great devastation and taking 33 lives.

It is a beautiful place, but sometimes it can be a savage beauty.

The road now climbs steeply out of Lynmouth up Countisbury Hill and on to the high moor of Exmoor. This is glorious country. Truly wonderful.

 

Exmoor coastline. The steep climb out of Lynton. My artistic rush of blood to the head as I clambered up a grassy slope to take this photo was only tempered by a nagging doubt that I had put the handbrake on.

The glorious scenery continues unabated until Porlock, infamous for its steep hill of the same name.   

With the climb out of Lynmouth and the drop into Porlock bear in mind the men of Lynmouth and Louisa the lifeboat in 1899. A story too long to recount here but a heroic story of a ship in danger, Watchet lifeboat trapped in harbour by a storm, only the Lynmouth lifeboat can save and that cannot be launched from Lynmouth because of flooding and storm damage.  The Answer? Haul the ten ton louisa by carriage, ropes and manpower up Countisbury and down Porlock hills to launch from the sheltered Porlock harbour. An amazing feat of courage, grit and determination.

After Porlock the coastal town of Minehead is reached and it all changes. 

Urbanisation takes over. First is a collection of small villages, past the picturesque little harbour of Watchet, then the muddy fossil beach at Kilve, before the town of Bridgwater is reached. 

 

The beach at Kilve, famous for it's fossils. I used to live at Kilve with my Sister Jo.. Some would unkindly say that I was one of the fossils. The beautiful golden retriever in the foreground is Sybil, our gorgeous doggie that passed away in venerable old age a few months before this page was written.

The best thing about Bridgwater is the M5 that bypasses it. It also bypasses Burnham on Sea, and sometimes at low tide that sea is miles away, miles of mud flats away. It bypasses Weston super Mare, the victorian and edwardian resort now a dormer town of Bristol and boasting one of the finest collections of industrial estates to be found anywhere. It bypasses avonmouth docks, the petrochemical plants stretching to the severn bridge, before being left to join the M4 crossing the Severn estuary, then keeping on the M4 into Wales it is best to  bypass Newport and carry on to to Cardiff.

Cardiff Bay from the Penarth end of the barrage

Cardiff is a city and not a coastal resort but cardiff bay is part of the coast and a lovely part at that. Once a grubby, run-down extension of Cardiff docks it is now a bustling, lively, beautifully restored area of history, museums, cafes and smart restaurants. Definitely worth stopping for.

For the energetic, there is a circular 6.2 mile cycle / walk / jog /run route around the bay which on a good day would be quite pleasant. I got there complete with running shoes packed in Albert but it was not a good day. A cold blustery wind and grey sky.  I decided to give it a miss and do a bit of food shopping in the Tesco megastore almost next door to the barrage. Just as I reached the bread and rolls section so the grey sky outside fell down, a continuous sheet of water poured from the heavens. 

The Promenade at Barry Island. Faded glory.

A few miles along the coast is the town of Barry with its attached resort centre of Barry Island.

Once famous for it's theme-park type rides it now has a very dated and decayed feel to it. Best just keep moving on and next along the coast is Ogmore by sea, a quaint, tidy and quiet resort, or rest home.

 

After Ogmore by sea is Porthcawl. A very tidy and very low key resort, lovely roundabouts with lots of flowers, lovely gardens with lots of flowers, a very nice promenade bounded by .....   you've got it, a great place for a botanical society night out or a florists convention but not a lot more going on, unless you are a golfer: then you are spoilt for choice. There are loads of them. Behind every sand dune there seems to lurk a golf course, including the Royal Porthcawl golf club.. 

 

Ogmore by sea looking West towards Porthcawl

Mumbles looking back towards Swansea Bay.

Goodbye Swansea and the Bristol Channel.

After Porthcawl it is back to the M4 and a swift bypass of industrialised South Glamorgan,  unless you really do want to gaze at the Bridgend engine plant or stand amazed and exhilerated at the bewildering selection of heavy engineering plants at Port Talbot. 

I chose the M4 getting off at the sign that said Swansea and the Gower. Journeys end for this section and a wonderful new section to look forward to.

 

Hello Mumbles head and the Gower

Heading South now, towards the gower penisular, the road hugs Swansea bay.  After Swansea is Mumbles. A most pleasant suburban part of greater Swansea, a broad promenade stretching towards Mumbles head and pier in the distance with a pleasant beach skirting Swansea bay.

Forwards Albert! Onwards, towards the Gower penisular and the Prembroke coast

 

 

Next section:  Gower and Pembroke