Fisherman’s friends in Port Isaac

Before leaving Bude there’s time to explore its two beaches. I like Bude. It feels like a town with a special character of its own and not just a holiday destination for visitors. It is early. The beach is empty. The lifeguards are setting up and the first dog walkers are out. The first activity on both beaches is from the surfing schools who have done their warm ups and force their way through the surf to begin a day on the water.

Down the coast the view from Widemouth is amazing.

Crackington Haven is a great name. A few people are having tea in the shop which doesn’t stop the surfing school from assembling down by the spray.

Boscastle feels a little bit precious. However it did not back in 2004 when the river flooded and caused havoc and chaos all the way down the valley. Now it feels fresh and sparkling and full of visitors.

Real people do live and work here.

Tintagel Castle was a fortified port between 2/500AD and the place Arthur was said to have been born. Ruins are all that remain but it is enough to appreciate the footprint it makes on the landscape and the extent of the defences of this old castle.

Port Isaac is such a gem. Quaint, atmospheric, historic…a lovely place to explore.

Clovelly, My Precious

The weather takes a downturn, today, with layers of grey gloom hiding the sun. The surfers are out in force across the vast expanse that is Saunton Sands. It has a special atmosphere in the dull drizzle but our wet-suited heroes don’t give a fan – they’re going to get wet anyway. They only come out when noses, feet & hands have turned the colour of unripened blueberries.

Westward Ho! (The exclamation mark is an official part of the town’s name) mixes up together the elements of this north Devon coast. So surfers attack the waves in front of the static caravans and apartments blocks and beach huts that look out from their cliff locations.

Families and school groups explore the craggy rocks pools and wait for the sands to dry out before cavorting around in disorganised games. I love it. Nothing is too precious. Everything just mixes in together and the empty beach shows it has the space for every background and class to do their own thing when the sun comes out to play.

Now Clovelly is precious. First of all you have to pay £7.50 per person entrance fee. The village has been owned by one family for hundreds of years and none of the 250 inhabitants own their own home. In the blurb they call themselves ‘one of the world’s most beautiful villages’.

It is amazing. The steep descent down cobbled streets between old cottages is half a mile or so in length. The old harbour beside the old pub opens up at the bottom. Thankfully there is a Landrover services from the bottom to take you back up to the top for £2.50 – cheap at 10 times the price.

Hartland Quay, like Clovelly, is a port used to take agricultural produce and to bring in heavy goods like lime and coal and manufactured goods. Just one bar and a few fishermans’s homes line the approach to the beach and the quay itself. The coastline is very stark here. Dragons’ tails mingle with crocodiles’ scales to create a coast line doing impressions of sharp, sharks’ teeth cutting out to sea. It really is an angry place on a drizzly day like today.


Surfer-dudes in North Devon

I cross over into England and start today from Weston-super-Mare. Now this resort town has three things, in particular, going for it. The first is the vast stretch of beautiful, soft sand that cries out for sand castles or jogging or picnics. The second is the pier which looks great whatever the light although it is closed between 4 and 10 so can only stand to be admired from a distance. The third are the beach donkeys – sadly they were not there although there was evidence of their presence in the hitching posts, the blowing hay and the neat baskets of poo.

Burnham-on-Sea is a few miles down the coast. Now here must be the UK’s smallest pier, if it even conforms to the definition of a pier. I call it the Thomas the Tank Engine of piers. Compared with its piers around the coast (you see what I did there?) its name pulls well above its weight.

There is not much else in the town, not even a place for a decent espresso. However at the top end of the beach a white-washed watch tower poses historical questions.

Now isn’t this the saddest of images. Some poor child’s bicycle abandoned in the sinking sands of the beach.

So many questions – did they forget it? Did the tide snatch it and return it in some guilty moment? Did they stomp off after a tantrum abandoning it to the elements? We’ll never know.

Hele is one side of a headland.

Ilfracombe is the other side. The harbour is framed by terraces of elegant houses along with working buildings and overlooked by Damian Hirst’s overwhelming statue of Verity.

Lee is my new favourite. A small cove hides a few well maintained houses with names like Shell Cottage, that cluster around a large abandoned hotel which awaits the developer to spoil the character of the place which, at least at the moment, remains isolated, peaceful, harmonious.

Woolacombe and Putsborough are the anchors that tie each end of the world-famous surfing beach to the land. A host of those black leeches wait in the water, horizontal & patient, until thrown into a frenzy by the build up of waves. The call is out that the surf is up and the surfer-dudes are out in full searching as a pack to find the right wave. It is quite a spectacle. Shame about the modern beach huts.

Dunraven Beach and Penarth Pier are highlights of the day

The wonderful thing about this project is that every single day that I have been away, whether it’s Wales or Whitby or Worthing, every day throws up at least one supremely amazing discovery. Today is no exception. I travel eastwards from Porthcawl. The beaches and headlands continue to be awesome and I wonder at their magnificence and beauty. Ogmore-by-Sea provides views over the sands back to Porthcawl itself as well as providing a lowtide backdrop of rolling cliffs, exposed sands and craggy outcrops of rocks.

From the cliffs of Southerndown, the headlands and bays of the coast can be seen rolling away into the distance.

One of the most striking out beaches is just outside the village at Dunraven. Down a long descent on a narrow road the beach opens up before the visitor. It is a rough, stoney beach with the occasional patch of smooth sand, that looks like it as been scraped of all loose material by huge earth-movers, leaving lines of jagged bedrock heading towards the surf. Humanity gets lost amongst its scratchy surfaces. Can you spot the group of 30 or so infants?

Any patches of sand are lost by Llantwit Major where smoothed stones and large pebbles and even rounded boulders fight for position on the beach. Here is an excellent tea room and toilet and a free car park.

At Barry there is a change. The town is on an island which is separated by a headland. On the east side the low tide exposes a classy expanse off smooth, drying sand which has captured the skeletons of old boats but which still remains excellent terrain for walking designer dogs.

On the other side of the headland is the main resort. Here the bay is still soft sand but it receives a daily seeing to. The tracks of raking tractors show where the litter has been picked and gathered. It looks like Ben Hur has run half a chariot race around the beach. The shops on the front are rather tatty and require a bit of a facelift to match the modern redevelopment of paths and promenades that run along and around the low cliffs. If you venture into town a lot of building is going on – both residential and commercial.

My favourite sight of the day can be found amongst the cobbles of Penarth beach. Here stands the rather stubby but so elegant Penarth Pier Pavilion. The light and the colour of the stones provides a wonderful contrast to the fresh, bright paintwork. I love its size and compactness reaching out from the classy town of Penarth that lines the cliffs behind it.

Mumbling about the Gower and Mumbles

Llanelli is today’s first settlement of any real size. Modern development, in the shape of commercial centres and residential housing hues taken place along the waterline. This is a bit confusing when the tide is out as these modern, freshly painted estates line a huge, disappearing expanse of mud & silt. A dim marker out in the far distance shows where a vague line of surf must flop onto the flatland of the shore. A row of vans are parked out there too….why? Shell gatherers?

Once over the bridge, it is a glorious drive through the rolling hills and open moorland of the Gower. Roof down, music on, blue sky above, wild ponies grazing beside the road…life is good. This wonderful landscape is punctuated by the most breath-taking views of lines of estuaries and crescent-staped bays, some of which I go down to and find family-friendly, soft sanded playgrounds backed by the very necessary tea rooms.

The king, or maybe the queen, is the headland at Rhosseli. Wow. It takes your breath away. And half way along a white-washed farmhouse overlooks the whole scene. Someone lives there and wakes every morning to take in this scene. Heaven.

Some of the larger bays along the coast are Port Eynon,


and Caswell

And then we reach the Mumbles at the top end of Langland Bay which stretches around, past Swansea to Port Talbot. Miles of soft, light sand to entice families away from Benidorm & Corfu.

Mumbles is a small resort town with a lot of charm. The pier is its gem. The pier itself, along with its entertainments and cafe, is constructed on a gantry of ironwork attached to the shore. The rest of the structure heads out to sea beside the old lifeboat station, heading towards two newer stations. It all seems the wrong way around but it is very pleasing on the eye.

Around the bay the new buildings of Swansea line the sandy crescent of sand.

Port Talbot is one of those places where the beach is lined with industry and terraced housing. The sand is the same and just as big a draw for families and neighbours.

A surfers beach has been constructed alongside the industrial terminal and I spent time watching the leech-like forms lying stationary in the water waiting for THE right wave to bring them into squiggling action.

Within Tenby’s 13th century walls an artist’s palette waits to be discovered

With a few good days ahead it’s down to South Wales to compete a leg, maybe two, of my coastline project. I head for Manorbier, an ordinary coastal village with a small beach that holds a surprise. Just outside, standing guard above the beach on the low cliffs outside the houses are the amazingly well-preserved ruins of a Norman castle.

Tenby is a walled, fortified, harbour town. It is a real delight with narrow, quirky streets cross-crossing and overlapping an ancient old town centre.

Steps and alleys cut through between brightly painted terraces hiding their old past behind small windows and narrow doors. B&B accommodation, pubs, sandwich bars, fish & chip shops, tourist shops and independent traders share their space yet in May it is calm, peaceful, civilised. Well worth a visit.

Further along the coast, small settlements are home to tourists to varying degrees. Saundersfoot provides proper tourist facilities in terms of tea, beer, ice cream & fish & chips.

At Wisemans Bridge only a pub and garden serves the line of parking along this beach of hard stones.

Amroth has a few refreshment stops.

Pendine, home of the famous Sands, has a collection of places for the speed king & queen to quench their thirst before venturing out on the sandy flats at low tide to try their luck against their clock. This is one of the places Campbell tried to beat the world land-speed record.

I spend the night at Burry Port, once famous for its metal works, copies in particular. Dusk gives the harbour and marina, and the new lifeboat shed, a lovely golden flow which plays havoc with the shadows that stretch out along the flat, sandy beach.