Walking The North Devon Coast Path (While Enjoying A Pint or 2)
Andy Taylor and Laura Joyce (Rugby CAMRA)
A couple of years ago we decided to walk the South West Coast Path. As the path is 630 miles long, we decided to break it into manageable pint size chunks. Spring 2018 we completed the wonderful North Devon section that actually takes in 3 counties, running from the edge of Somerset to just crossing the border into Cornwall.
To arrive at Minehead, the official start of the South West Coast Path, we jumped on the steam train from Bishops Lydeard and enjoyed a bottle of Quantock Brewery Gold ’76, brewed to celebrate 40 years of the West Somerset Railway.
Our first night after an afternoon of walking finished in Porlock where we visited the ‘Top’ Ship Inn and taking advice from the bar staff we sampled the Madrigal Brewery wheat beer Garland, a refreshing fruity beer.
Our second day found us hiking the hilly path to Lynmouth, on tracks bordered by endless banks of glorious wild flowers and wild garlic. This was a hard days walking, so much so that in Lynmouth we bypassed the charms of the Madrigal Brewery shop and headed straight for the Ancient Mariner and our first Exmoor Brewery offering of the trip, and you can’t go wrong with an Exmoor Ale. A quick funicular railway trip took us to The Crown in Lynton for Bath Ales Lunar, another refreshing session beer to accompany a hard-earned dinner.
The next day, again in splendid weather, took us over Great Hangman, the stiffest climb on this stretch of the path. The long decent into Coombe Martin was followed by a welcome pint at the Fo’c’s’le Inn on the harbour. Moorland’s Devonian, following fish and chips, and savouring the sensational sunset within the cove of the harbour made for a perfect evening. Even the locals waxed lyrically as a seal followed a dad and son kayaking through the breakwater.
Day 4 gave us more sensational weather and challenging terrain, particularly the ferocious climb out of Ilfracombe. We finished the day on the epic sands of Woolacombe, where we found the surprisingly excellent Red Barn for food and drink. This modern looking ‘surfer dude’ bar had 4 hand pumps including the excellent Bath Ales Gem and Prophecy. We followed this with a walk on the beach at sunset which is a sight to savour.
The following day was long and hot and tiring and when Laura ends the day with the phrase ‘find me a pint of Thatchers Cider’ we all know it’s been tough!! Dinner and drinks that night in Bideford was in the perfectly fine Wetherspoons Rose Salterne for calorie fuel, where the Windsor & Eton Brewery Windsor Knot hit the spot.
The next day saw us leave the Bristol Channel and face the Atlantic, a very different geology and sea-scape. If you are walking this way you will pass Hawkers Hut. This tiny wooden shack is the National Trust’s smallest building. The Reverend Hawker built the hut in the 19th Century where he sat, smoked his pipe and contemplated the world. He also enjoyed dressing as Mermaid and excommunicated his cat for mousing on a Sunday. Good lad!! A highlight was the Hartland Quay Hotel. Positioned in a seemingly hostile environment, our walk this day paused briefly in a car park full of people who had driven there…I felt slightly like my efforts had been undermined by the combustion engine! The hotel bar, The Wrecker’s Retreat, is decorated with photos and souvenirs of local ship wrecks, of which there have been many. We sank The Dartmoor Brewery Dartmoor Legend overlooking massive seas crashing into black rocks. That night dinner was had at The Kings Arms in Hartland accompanied by lashings of friendly service and encouragement and equally importantly a couple of pints of Forge Brewery Tamar Source. A local community pub that made us feel really welcome as visitors.
Our final day, the walk to Bude, saw us leave Devon and drift into Cornwall. This stretch is widely regarded as the toughest leg of the whole 630-mile path. Share with us our sense of joy at arriving at Bude and finding the superb micro pub The Barrel. Here we were given a wonderfully friendly welcome for our walking efforts with locals immediately sharing their own experiences…a few friendly pats on the back made us feel we had achieved something. ‘What kind of beer do you like’ they shouted on our arrival on the premises, and my own preference for light hoppy beer was satisfied with a pint of Dowr Kammel Brewing Company Compass Point, straight from the barrel. This place is a real gem. Later that night, to our surprise and delight, we stumbled upon a folk music and beer festival in the town. The Falcon Hotel offered wonderful hearty food, great music and among some staple real ale classics we landed upon the award-winning Exeter Brewery Avocet and Teignworthy Reel Ale. These fruity beauties helped conclude a wonderful week.