Friday, October 26, 2018

Returning to England to continue hiking on the Southwest Coast Path

 At 630 miles long the South West Coast Path (SWCP) is Britain's longest national trail.  In 2016 I hiked the first 80 miles of the trail from Minehead to Bideford.  I was so impressed by the natural beauty of the countryside and the dramatic coastal scenery in this part of England, that I decided to return and continue hiking from where I left off, this time hiking from Westward Ho! in Devon to Padstow in Cornwall.  When I arrived in England I first went to Redhill to visit with my friend Dot. We did a bit of sightseeing and then went to The Plough pub to try our luck at Quiz Night.  The following day I used my rail pass to travel to Chippenham, where my friend Clive met me and drove me to his home in Luckington.  During my two-day visit we did a lot of exploring: First to Westonbirt House and Gardens.  Westonbirt is an impressive estate which was once the home of the Holford family, including 19th Cent. tital Robert Holford, a collector of fine art and books.  The house is now a private prep school and we were unable to enter because of security reasons, but we spent several hours touring the vast estate and gardens. On the following day Clive and I hiked along the path that follows part of the Sapperton Canal.  Built during 1784-1789 it was a 36 mile long Cotswold Canal that connected the River Severn to the River Thames.  Along its length there were some long tunnels and when it was built it was the longest canal in Great Britain at the time.  Following another path we eventually found a stone making the source of the River Thames.  After having a pint at the Tunnel House pub we drove to the nearby town of Cirencester.  During the 2nd Cent. it was a Roman town called Corinium Dobunnorum, the 2nd largest town in Roman Britain.  There the Romans built a huge amphitheatre capable of holding up to 8,000 people.  No stones remain from what is one of the largest surviving Roman amphitheatres, but one can see the large earthen mounds where the walls once stood.
  Saying goodbye to Clive and the attractive village of Luckington, I got back on the train and went to Exeter St. David, and from there connected to a train going to Barnstaple.  From Barnstaple I took a bus to Westward Ho!, the only town in Great Britain spelled with an exclamation point.  It was in Westward Ho! that I began my hike the following day, hiking 11 miles along the Coast Path to the lovely village of Clovelly, considered by many one of the most picturesque villages in all of England.  I liked Clovelly so much that I spent 3 night there at the New Inn Hotel, exploring the village and the surrounding countryside, including the vast nearby Clovelly Court Estate.  From Clovelly, I continued my hike South, heading towards my final destination, the town of Padstow.  During the next 6 days I spent my nights in hotels or B and B's in attractive towns and villages along the Northern coastline of Devon and Cornwall: Hartland Quay, Bude, Crackington Haven, Boscastle, Port Isaac, and finally Padstow.  If I had done the entire hike as I had intended, I would have hiked about 80 miles, but for two days I encountered really foul weather, with periodic rain squalls and fierce winds that reached up to 65 MPH.  There were times when the wind on top of the headlands almost prevented me from moving forward, and at one point I actually lost my balance and fell down.  My glasses flew off into a gorse bush and I never was able to find them.  Because of several days of terrible weather, on the first day I was unable to hike from Hartland Quay all the 15 miles to Bude, and instead hiked only 8 miles to the wee hamlet of Morwenstow, and from there caught a bus to Bude.  On the second day the weather worsened and the wind was really howling, so instead of hiking from Bude to Crackington Haven, I instead explored some of Bude and then took a bus to Crackington Haven. I could have stayed in my hotel room but I wanted to see isolated St. Genny's Church, so I hiked up to the headlands and braving the fierce winds walked until I finally found the church tucked away in a partially sheltered hollow. On the 3rd day the wicked winds were still blowing strong, but I decided to tough it out and I hiked from Crackington Haven to Boscastle, arriving a bit damp and windblown.  Fighting the winds and rain on that leg of the hike sapped some of my energy, and on the following day, instead of hiking the 13+ miles from Boscastle to Port Isaac, I hiked instead to Trebarwith Strand, and then took a taxi to Port Isaac.  On that leg of the hike I passed through the seaside village of Tintagel, the supposed location of the birthplace and castle of the legendary King Arthur.  The following day, and the last day of the hike, I felt refreshed and recovered enough to hike the last section of my goal, a 12-mile hike from Port Isaac to the lovely town of Padstow.  In spite of the spell of lousy weather, it was a wonderful hike and the coastal scenery in Devon and Cornwall was spectacular and dramatic.  Instead of the 80 miles I had planned, I was able to hike a total of 64 miles.  It proved to be a challenging 64 miles, as there were few level stretches, and instead many coastal valleys (or combs as they are called in England), one after another, that involved steep descents to the bottom of the valley and then steep ascents out of the valley.

Westonbirt House

Stone garden bench at Westonbirt Estate and Gardens

The Italianate Garden at Westonbirt House

Sapperton Canal Tunnel

Stone marking the source of the Thames River

My friend Clive inside the Roman Amphitheatre at Cirencester

The beach at Westward Ho!

Hiking on the SWCP, heading to Clovelly

The Hobby Drive, the SWCP as one approaches Clovelly

The top of High Street in Clovelly, and the New Inn Hotel where I stayed for 3 nights

Clovelly Harbor at low tide

High Street in the lovely village of Clovelly

The street leading to Clovelly Harbor

Clovelly Harbor at high tide

The Angel Wings bench on the SWCP on the Clovelly Court Estate

Detail on the Angel Wings bench

The SWCP near Hartland Point

Ruined tower, originally built as a folly, framing the 14th Cent. St. Nectans Church, with the highest church tower in Devon

The Devon coast South of Hartland Quay

The dramatic coast along the SWCP

The wooden bridge you cross as you leave Devon and enter Cornwall

The coast of Devon, looking back to where I just hiked from

The beach and canal at Bude

St. Genny's Church, near Crackington Haven

Highcliffe, the tallest area of coast in Cornwall

Steps ascending a hillside on the SWCP   [there were 195 steps -- I counted them!]

The attractive harbor at Boscastle

There were many stiles to cross on the path -- this was an unusual stone stile.

The Cornish coast, approaching Tintagel

Are these the castle ruins of the legendary King Arthur in Tintagel?

Tintagel Post Office, dated to 1380, a rare surviving example of a Cornish hall-house

The Cornish coast near Trebarwith Strand

The lovely coastal village of Port Isaac, with "Doc Martin's" house in the middle

Padstow harbotr

The Old Custom House in Padstow, one of the town's premier buildings, where I spent the last night of my hike

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Hiking in Northern Ireland

  In late April 2018 daughter Susan and I traveled to Northern Ireland to do some self-guided long-distance hiking along the Antrim Coast and Devil's Causeway.  This region of coastline is considered to be one of the most dramatic in all of Europe.  Our itinerary was arranged by Macs Adventure, a company I have used in the past.  They booked us into B & B accommodations during our 6-day hike and arranged for a luggage transport service to transport our large backpacks from one place to the next, so that all we needed to carry with us was a small backpack.
  We flew from Madison, WI to Chicago, and from there to Dublin.  At the Dublin airport we got a bus to Belfast.  Once in Belfast we got another bus to Ballymena, where we spent 2 hours before we got another bus to Cushendall, our final destination and where we began our hike.  We spent the next day exploring beautiful Glenariff Forest Park, then finally hiked back to Cushendall.  Glenariff was a lovely place, with forests and many trails, the most dramatic of which was the Waterfalls Trail.  We walked down an elaborate wooden walkway through a valley following the Glenariff River, encountering one waterfall after another.  The following day we hiked to the coastal town of Ballycastle, and the next day we took the ferry from Ballycastle to Rathlin Island, where we hiked to the lighthouse at the West End of the island.  There we saw large offshore rocks and rugged coastal cliffs festooned with many thousands of sea birds -- guillemots, terns, gulls, razorbills, and the bird that draws many tourists to the area -- puffins. The following day we hiked from Ballycastle to Ballintoy.  Before arriving in Ballintoy we walked across the popular Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. On the next day we hiked from Ballintoy along the Causeway Coast Way to the Giant's Causeway.  On this day we saw some dramatic coastal scenery and rock formations. On the final day of  our walk, we hiked from the Devil's Causeway to the lovely coastal town of Portstewart.  Except for one day of fierce winds and cold temperatures, the weather was wonderful and we only got rained on twice during short showers.
  Leaving our B & B in Portstewart we took a bus to Coleraine, and from there got on a train to Dublin, capital of the Republic of Ireland.  Once there we put away our British pounds and started using Euros.  We walked from the bus station to our lodging for 4 nights, the Gresham Hotel on O'Connell Street.  We traveled to Limerick to tour King John's Castle, then continued to Ireland's west coast to see the famous Cliffs of Moher.  We took the hop-on hop-off bus to explore Dublin, we saw a performance at the famous Abbey Theater, and had a tour of Butler's Chocolate Factory, where we got to decorate our own chocolate elephant.  In Dublin I had an opportunity to visit with my second cousin Linda Hawkins and her husband Mike, who accompanied us to the chocolate factory and to Kealy's for a pub lunch afterward, and Susan and I were able to rendezvous with Sister Majella, who joined us for tea at the Gresham.  I taught with Sr. Majella at St. Theresa's College in Ibadan, Nigeria in 1965-66, and it was nice to be able to see her again after so many years.
  Below are some photo's showing some of what we did and saw during our 73 mile hike along the Antrim Coast in Northern Ireland, and our time in Dublin and the Irish Republic.

Beautiful Glenariff Forest Park

Waterfalls Trail at Glenariff Forest Park

Ess-na-Larach waterfall at Glenariff

Stream we passed on the way to Ballycastle

We followed the Moyle Way for much of our hike

The spectacular seabird-covered rocks and cliffs on Rathlin Island

West end of Rathlin Island

Approaching Carrick-a-Rede

Hiking over wet rocks cliffside on the way to wee hamlet of Portbradden

Ruins of Dunseverick Castle

Our brief encounter with rain along the Causeway Coast

Dramatic cliffs and rock formations at the Devil's Causeway

The dramatic Antrim Coast

Dunluce Castle

Portstewart, where we finished our 73 mile hike

Ireland's Cliffs of Moher

Cliffs of Moher

Sister Majella joins Susan and I for tea and scones at the Gresham Hotel, Dublin