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Raindrops kept falling on our heads…….Ashprington (near Totnes) to Dartmouth by Richard Wotton

Navigating the estuary...

Catching up with Laurence again he had left behind the limestone cliffs and big hills of Dorset for the red soil and (even bigger) hills of Devon. Also left behind was the searing sun of our very unusual (fantastic) English summer. The day was wet, wet, wet (we felt it in our fingers and in our toes) and windy. Summer’s normal service in the West Country had resumed. Enough of squinting into the sunshine and slapping on the suntan cream, this was back to what walking around the coast of England and Wales is normally like – on with the waterproof clothing! Laurence’s battle bus provided a safe (dry) haven against the wind and the rain to get togged-up in the morning, and then to slip into something drier at the end of the day. I have a feeling that this was fairly unusual behaviour within the confines of the Dartmouth Park and Ride car park, but no arrests were made!

So onwards and relentlessly west. With Strava switched on (sharp eyed readers will notice various veiled references to previous blogs), an innocent looking little signpost telling us of “The Tidal Route” presented our first decision of the day. Hmmm – shall we shan’t we? No brainer - of course we did; we had our wet weather gear on after all so what could possibly go wrong? We safely negotiated slippery stepping stones across a raging torrent of a River Dart tributary (life on the edge), which no doubt had been completely dry for a couple of months until today. Fortunately the tide was out so our tidal route was passable. I say fortunately with a nervous twitch because we soon found ourselves sharing the thin dry strip at the edge of the river with a herd of huge beasts, instantly recognisable (or so we thought) as cows. You will of course recall references to these most dangerous of creatures in previous blogs. There was a Mexican stand off for a few seconds – eyeball to eyeball – the herd was standing line astern in the relative narrow passage at the edge of the estuary – there was only one way through, and the mighty beasts very definitely had possession of the critical space. And then with a sense of perfect timing that must be innate as such skills cannot be taught, Laurence slipped with a loud thud on one of the many slippery rocks and WOW - STAMPEDE! We must give credit where it’s due, because the beasts turned around and ran away from us with thundering hooves – phew! As they were galloping away we spotted irrefutable evidence (this is a family show) that the beast who had been eyeballing us was not a cow at all – he was very definitely a bull! Miraculously the whole herd disappeared into the bush and was never seen again. But for the next half mile or so we kept an eye out on our right flank, ready to take evasive action, which could only have been into the river (can cows/bulls swim??) in case the charge came……….

Why do hills always look less steep in photos than they are in reality?

The hills were truly monumental, and clearly too big to make it worthwhile for marauding bulls to chase pesky humans. Despite the wind and rain it was still relatively warm, and the hilly terrain made the walking malarkey a “perspirational” experience. Laurence cracked first and took off his waterproof trousers. Fortunately I am very happy to confirm that yes, he did have shorts underneath. Then off came our waterproof jackets. Despite the fact that we subsequently got completely soaked, it was definitely the “best” option. You don’t have to be mad to walk (sic) here but it helps.

For those that have access to Strava, you might notice a circuitous section in the middle of the day’s walk. As it was such a lovely day we decided to put in an extra couple of miles to maximise the experience (3502toendit). Not buying that? OK – we got lost! It must have been a momentary lapse in concentration – we missed a signpost and found that we had shot off for a mile (up a huge hill naturally) in the wrong direction. To add insult to injury we had to walk back down said huge hill to find that most elusive of signposts and regain our intended route.

An extra shimmy in the middle of the walk...

Maybe our unflappable heroes were subliminally unsettled by the earlier beastly experience, or maybe it was the gargoyles encountered in the boonies – or both? Whatever it was, by the time we were back on track and happened upon a hostelry we were more than ready for some suitable sustenance. The two bedraggled figures tucked into a lunch of hearty hot Devon pasties and a huge pot of builders tea – just what the doctor ordered. The pub that we descended upon was exactly what most villages need, for within its walls nestled the post office, a café, a fantastic garden view over the river and of course the public bar. That was pretty special in itself, but this pub also had its own budding Basil Fawlty who seemed to run the place like Fawlty Towers, but without a Sybil or a Manuel. He produced the pasties, made the tea, and dished out acidic advice of how to find the footpath to Dartmouth in a way that the great man himself would have been proud of (names and places withheld to protect the innocent/guilty)!

Ready for this!

Anyway we survived the experience and made our way on up (have I mentioned the hills?), and eventually down into Dartmouth, with views across the Dart estuary including the steam train that runs Paignton – Dartmouth. What a lovely part of the world this is. As we descended down through the steep, narrow streets on the edge of Dartmouth, we both had visions of what it must have been like as a thriving port in days of yore; the goings-on, the noise, the smells, the smuggling……….

Finally splendid cream teas were hunted down, captured and suitably dispatched at the aptly named Sloping Deck tea rooms (is nothing horizontal in Devon?) in Dartmouth. I hope to join Laurence again in Cornwall and I wonder what we’ll find there, apart from more *#$%#* hills, and the cream on top of the jam of course!

Nothing is horizontal in Dartmouth...

Now here’s a thought. Another useful statistic that I think Laurence may consider recording is not only the incredible feat of walking 3500 horizontal miles, but also the vertical profile of the walk. Dorset was hilly, Devon is hillier, Cornwall will be hillier still (I predict), and Wales is still to come! Maybe the walking checklist should include oxygen, although probably beer will be a suitable substitute in this case. Laurence will have scaled and descended many Kilimanjaros (the highest vertical climb on earth) and Everests by next year, and that makes what is already an amazing feat truly Herculean - just thinkin’!

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