SOUTH WEST COAST PATH NATIONAL TRAIL
Stage 50: Appledore to Barnstaple
Tuesday, July 07, 2015
This stage of the South West Coast Path is a rarity, for two reasons -- the day's walk is almost completely flat, with the highest point being only 21 metres above sea level, and none of the walk is actually on the coast. Instead, this is a riverside walk, following first the Torridge and then the Taw to take the path around the broad estuary where the two rivers join and flow into the Bristol Channel.
I rejoined the route by the slipway at the northern end of Appledore's promenade, from which there are views across the Torridge towards the village of Instow (picture 1), through which I would be passing later in the day.
The Coast Path follows the length of the promenade upstream, with a variety of interesting small shops lining the opposite side of the narrow but rather busy street. At the end of the promenade the path is forced to turn right alongside the high stone wall of the Richmond Dry Dock before turning sharp left onto New Quay Street, which is followed past some fairly decrepit looking riverside industrial buildings. At a junction the route continues ahead on Hubbastone Road with fields to the right and more industrial buildings to the left. This in turn becomes Wooda Road and swings away from the riverfront, which is occupied ahead by the Appledore Shipyard. The shipyard's customers include the Royal Navy, and a newly completed naval vessel was moored nearby.
About 300 metres along Wooda Road, a signpost on the left points the way through a small patch of woodland and along the edge of a field to reach Budna Lane. Twenty metres down the lane is a gap in a stone wall where the route turns onto an enclosed path leading around the corner of the shipyard and back to the edge of the river. The path follows a short stretch of the bank, where several rusty old ships were beached in the mud, including one that appeared to have a Dalek standing guard on its bridge (picture 2).
Finally leaving Appledore behind, the Coast Path joins a pleasant trail through a long but narrow strip of woodland separating the river from the fields of the National Trust's Burrough Farm (picture 3). Nearing the end of the woods, the path joins a driveway and then a lane leading down to the riverbank at Cleave Quay on the edge of the large town of Bideford (the name apparently derives from "by-the-ford").
Dominating the view upstream (picture 4) is the Torridge Bridge, which carries the busy A39 over the river. The route follows the lane to its end just before the bridge, then crosses a small patch of shingle riverbank to find an enclosed path between stone and wooden walls. This leads to another lane, which passes under the bridge and up to a small roundabout where a Coast Path signpost points between some new houses and onto a tarmac path atop a flood wall.
At the end of the flood wall the path briefly joins Riverside Court before continuing ahead past the Torridge District Council building and onto a tarmac path passing by a riverside skate park. Bearing left across a small carpark the route returns to the riverbank and soon joins the Landivisiau Walk (picture 5), named after the French town that Bideford is twinned with. The Landivisiau Walk skirts around the pleasant Victoria Park, which is worth the short diversion from the Coast Path to see the monument in the centre of the park where a number of cannon captured from the Spanish Armada in 1588 are displayed (picture 6).
At the end of the Walk, the Coast Path follows Bideford Quay past the town centre and up to the medieval Long Bridge (picture 7), originally built of wood in 1286, encased in stone in 1474 and widened several times since 1793. By the end of the bridge stands the Bideford Town Hall (picture 8). a relative newcomer of 1850.
Across the bridge lies a part of Bideford known as East-the-Water (picture 9), itself quite a substantial settlement. From the end of the bridge the Coast Path crosses the B3233 to find a flight of steps climbing up to the old Bideford Railway Station (picture 10). The station was built in 1872 as a stop on the branch line from Barnstaple to Okehampton on the northern edge of Dartmoor. The line closed to passengers in 1965 and closed to all traffic in 1982, when the tracks were removed, leaving the station marooned and in the care of a local railway preservation society.
In 1992, much of the trackbed of the old line became part of the Tarka Trail long distance walking and cycling path and is shared with the South West Coast Path for most of the walk to Barnstaple. The Coast Path follows the tarmacked trackbed between the old platforms and northwards through greenery and under several bridges (picture 11) to the edge of town where the course of the old railway rejoins the riverbank below farmers' fields.
The path by the river parallels the B3233 for an hour's easy walking to Instow, but the views across the river to the earlier part of the walk do much to distract from the noise of the passing traffic. Nearing Instow, there are good views of the Appledore Shipyard (picture 12).
Upon reaching the edge of Instow, the path heads around behind some interesting old stone lime kilns and a boatyard to reach the platform of the old Instow Station. From the far end of the platform the Coast Path offers a choice of routes through Instow. An alternative route continues along the old railway, while the slightly longer main route bears left to follow Marine Parade along the waterfront.
I chose the latter option, which soon passes a small pier that marks the start of a wide sandy beach, at least at low tide. When I stopped to buy an ice-cream at a beachside kiosk, a loud clap of thunder drew my attention to the fact that the weather was rapidly changing as a sudden storm blew in (picture 14). Fortunately, by the time I had finished my ice-cream and started to move again the storm had all but passed by, almost as suddenly as it had arrived.
When the road begins to curve away behind grassy sand dunes, the Coast Path goes through a gap in a low stone wall and follows a sandy path along the back of the wall for about 60 metres to join a private road towards the North Devon Cricket Ground, where a match was in progress.
There are two possible routes around the cricket ground, a low-tide route along the shore and a high-tide route that passes to the landward side of the attractive thatched pavilion (picture 15) and along a track by the north-eastern edge of the field. With the tide falling but still fairly high, it soon became obvious that I needed to choose the latter.
Reaching a parking area at the end of the track, the path bears right onto a grassy floodbank that skirts along the edge of the Instow Barton Marsh (picture 16) and the East Yelland Marsh. Somewhere along here the path stops heading downstream by the River Torridge and starts heading upstream by the River Taw. The two-kilometre stretch of path around the marshes is not as attractive as it may sound at first -- the marshes are occupied by various industrial facilities including a large sewage works and an electrical substation. It is therefore something of a relief when the Coast Path finally reaches a junction with the Tarka Trail and turns left to follow the old railway towards Barnstaple once more.
The next stretch of the path runs along the railway embankment with Isley Marsh on the left (picture 17) and farms on the right. Isley Marsh eventually gives way to Home Farm Marsh, itself a patchwork of marshland and farmland. As I approached the far end of Home Farm Marsh, another sudden rain shower passed over, lasting just long enough to make me stop to pull on my waterproofs, which I found myself packing away again barely five minutes later as the sun returned.
Around three kilometres after rejoining the Tarka Trail, the path crosses an old railway bridge over the mouth of Fremington Creek (picture 18) to reach a large grassy picnic area at Fremington Quay. Local clay was exported from here to Europe throughout much of the 19th and 20th centuries before the quay was redeveloped as a recreation area. Beside the old quay is former Fremington Station (picture 19), now home to a restaurant and the Fremington Quay Heritage Centre.
Beyond the quay, the path along the old railway is enclosed on both sides by trees for a while before emerging alongside a sheep-grazed marsh (picture 20) with the town of Barnstaple growing gradually larger ahead as the path parallels the River Taw over the next four kilometres.
Approaching the edge of Barnstaple, the marshes end and the path runs beside the river for a few hundred metres before the path angles away from the water to reach a junction of paths beside the busy approach road of the A361 Taw Bridge, completed in 2007 to allow traffic to bypass the Barnstaple town centre.
I had some confusion about the correct route here. Both guidebooks I have read show the official route of the Coast Path going ahead through an underpass and continuing into the town, while a new-looking signpost at the junction only shows the route going across the bridge, which the guidebooks show as an alternative route.
Since I was staying in Barnstaple, I chose to stick with the guidebooks and headed under the A361 and alongside the A3125 to the old medieval bridge over the River Taw (picture 21). This bridge is called Long Bridge just like the one in Bideford and has a similar history, having been built in 1280, damaged during the Civil War and widened several times in the 19th and 20th centuries. From the far end of the bridge, the Coast Path turns left along the quay, passing a small park to reach a paved square in front of the collonaded Queen Anne's Walk (picture 22), and the end of this stage of the walk with 22.9 kilometres of the Coast Path covered since Appledore.
The apparent decision to change the official route to bypass Barnstaple seems a bit strange to me. There are plenty of worthwhile sights in Barnstaple and cutting the town out of the route entirely saves only a kilometre of walking (and actually doesn't save any walking if one is ending a day's walk in the town). Furthermore, the change replaces the walk across the Long Bridge and along the northern bank of the river with a comparatively unpleasant and quite boring trudge beside the noisy traffic that thunders across the bridge. For completeness I retraced my steps from Queen Anne's Walk and followed the route across the bridge, but it wasn't really worth the effort.
Wandering off south-east from the town centre I had a much more satisfying time exploring around Rock Park (picture 23) and the Penrose Almshouses (picture 24), built in 1627, before finally retiring to my accommodation for the evening.