There sometimes comes a point where things kind of bottom out. The two days out of Plymouth were so utterly, spectacularly soggy that it actually cheered me up no end.
The first day out started just averagely grey and miserable, but quickly turned to heavy rain. Arriving at the waiting point for the tiny ferry to Noss Mayo, I met another coast path hiker, a slightly older lady who was equally cold and wet. Not only was she cold and wet, she was also incredibly cross about everything, from the lack of a bench to sit on, to the weather, to the timing of the tides, to the company that was arranging her B&B accommodation for her. Unfortunately, after the ferryman told me the campsite I was planning to head for in Newton Ferrers was closed, it turned out we were heading in the same direction and planning to eat at the same pub. So I joined her for an early dinner, during which she found even more things to complain about! Luckily she said she preferred to walk on her own, so headed off into the rain before I had finished.
The next obstacle to progress on the path was the tidal estuary of the River Erme, which can only be crossed on foot one hour either side of low tide (4.15am or 4.30pm at the time I was there). About 6 miles beyond this is a ferry across the River Avon, which only runs for one hour in the morning and one hour in the afternoon. I weighed up the options – I could walk on along the coast that evening and make a long diversion inland to a campsite the ferryman told me about, dawdle about most of the following day and cross the Erme at 3.30pm, and catch the ferry the morning after that – or I could grit my teeth, do another 4 hours or so in the rain that evening, wild camp near the estuary, cross at first light, and arrive in time for the morning ferry the next morning. And not run the risk of running into the Cross Hiker Lady again (her B&B was back nearer the pub where we ate, and she was getting a taxi for the 7 mile detour around the estuary). Decision made! I set off into the rain and fog for another 4 hour shift before finding somewhere to pitch my tent for the night.
It has to be said that when my alarm went at 4.20am, it all seemed like a rather masochistic idea. I quickly packed away my soggy tent in the pre-dawn darkness and drizzle, pulling off as many snails as I could find quickly – but it did feel rather lumpy as I rolled it up … 10 minutes walk further on and I was at the estuary. I could just make out the slipway on the other side that I needed to head for – it was half an hour before sunrise, but the fog and drizzle meant it was still pretty dark. So, I took a deep breath, and undid hip belt and chest strap buckles – I had no idea how deep the water would be, and as I learned in New Zealand, if you get swept off your feet in deep water it’s better if you can dump your rucksack quickly! I set off, and was just thinking how tame it was as I crossed the wave-rippled sand, when I came to the main river channel. Dark and fast flowing, I took no chances and headed upstream where it was wider and the flow a bit slower. It came halfway up my shins and I could feel the force of the flow pushing against my legs, but just as I was starting to get worried, it was over, and I was out the other side. Time to empty my boots, wring out my socks and hike on into the fog and rain.
Having got up early to catch the tide at the Erme estuary, I was way too early for the ferry. A fairly miserable 2 hours followed at Bigbury-on-Sea, waiting in the shelter of some public toilets as it hammered down with rain. I hung my tent off a door closer and picked off a dozen more snails. Then, conscience-struck, I picked them up off the tarmac where I’d thrown them and put them into a hedge. I ate some food. Occasionally I would treat myself to a blast of heat from the hot air hand drier in the loos to warm myself up. At last, it was time for the ferry, and I could get on with walking and warm myself up properly.
Things progressed wetly, and come lunchtime I sought refuge in the pub at Outer Hope for a bowl of soup and morale-boosting pint of beer. Looking out at the pouring rain, a lady in the bar who was just doing a few days on the coast path announced it was too much, she was taking the bus forward to Salcombe.
I plodded on, feet increasingly sore from being in soaking wet boots all day. By the time I got to Salcombe, it really was a case of “Blow it, I deserve it” and I booked myself into a bed and breakfast. Hot shower, laundry, space to dry my tent, trip to a pub for homity pie and beer – and a lovely comfortable bed! Bliss!
Even better, when I woke up the sun was shining.
Happy hiker again.