Once packed, i walked back down to the Church gateway, unfamiliar noises alerted me to life in the bushes nearby. I looked over and the distinctive yellow flashes on the wings of birds grabbed my attention, enough for a better look. The birds had red on their faces. I immediately recognised them as Goldfinches, a type of bird i'd never seen before.
It's only when you see things for the first time, you realise that you'd never actually seen it or them before. Quite an obvious statement i know, but when you expose yourself to so much, your thoughts and senses open up to reveal a set of senses and feelings, often hidden away. Restricted by distractions of life and limited time.
I feels odd that, i've laid in fields and watched young barn owls playing, practicing swooping for their prey. I've had a family of badgers pass me by, within two metres of me, Mum, Dad and four cubs.. They didn't flinch, i was no threat.. High on the Quantock hills just before the Rut kicks off. I sat and watched the bond between stags break down. Fighting, stamping and antler polishing by thrashing the dead bracken. I've even seen the courtship of newts...
Yet despite all that i've seen in the wilds of the UK, i've yet to see a relatively common bird, The Goldfinch..There was loads of them, fluttering in and out of the branches, i can't recall what bush they were on, neither did i stop to take photo's. I said i'd meet Steffan and according to the date stamp on the camera, it was time to do so.
Whilst walking, i could hear the raised voice of a man, as i neared, i saw him facing a bus timetable shouting at it. I worked out from his loud outbursts, he wasn't approving of the time of the next bus, or the lateness of the one he wanted.
I passed the angry man and went to a cafe, the money i got last night will get me a drink and a bit of breakfast, i'm unsure how much though.
I ordered what i could afford, some poached eggs on toast and a mug of tea and turned to sit at a table. Steffan was there and had eaten his already. I'd not arranged to see him so it was a pleasant surprise. He had it appeared a less than perfect night's sleep. Not only did he camp at a windy location, it also happened to be near an area that the local youths like to hang out near. Although they did not bother him in his tent, their noise kept him awake. I shared with him my night as i ate.
Once i'd eaten and drank, i asked the staff to refill my water bottles then we left. A short piece of off road around Capstone point brought us back onto a road , but thankfully only briefly.
We were now back on the Tarka trail, which we joined on the previous day. It gets it's name from the the book of the same name, the trail follows the route that 'Tarka the Otter' took, it's a figure of eight around North Devon, with much of it coastal.
To our right was the sea and the rugged coastline of North Devon. The weather was good after yesterday afternoons rain and it looked to be getting brighter as we walked.
There was many an occasion where Steffan had walked ahead of me, i was doing battle with the camera and landscapes. The rocky shore line, was very photographic, it's greyness against the green of the clifftops. Then where the sea met the land, it was white as the waves crashed against the land.
I noticed how less murky the sea was here, compared to that east of here along the Bristol channel shore line. Further east the sea is almost brown from the constant and powerful tide and the silt it disturbs.
Also the rock that formed the shoreline, is made up of layers of slate, now near vertical due to the forces on nature. These rocks have been 370 million years in the making. This reminded me of my time investigating a fairly unknown cave on the Quantocks.
A few years ago whilst looking over a detailed map of the area, i saw there was a cave on the hills. Me being me and after a few weeks of wondering and wandering in the area, i found the entrance. It was via an old Quarry where i believe copper was once dug for. I was trespassing on farmland, not that ever bothered me to much. The cave entrance was about 3 metres below ground level and dropped more once i went i there. I'd taken a video camera in there and filmed it the best i could with night vision. The thing of interest aside from the bats and the adventure was it's history.
Around 200 years ago a local amateur Scientist named Andrew Crosse. He came to this cave to collect water for his electro-crystallization experiments. On the ceiling of the cave where the Ilfracombe slate bed meets the sandstone bed, from here mineral rich water ran and where it ran down the ceiling a layer of crystals formed, a rare crystal called aragonite . Crosse
He tried to recreate this in his home made lab on the Quantocks in 1836, then on the 26th day of the experiment, he saw what he described as a perfect insect, created from a rock and passing electricity through it. A friend of a friend of Crosses was a certain Mary Shelley, creator of the character, 'Frankenstein'. Whether or not Andrew Crosse influenced this, from his fascination which electricity remains unknown.
Memories like that made me feel good, thought's of my lone exploration of that cave and then with friends, one a claustrophobic, were good times, it's important to look back at the good times when nothing seems good anymore.
I'm in my element when facing the unknown, when things are an adventure, dangerous, risky and perhaps a little naughty. And with these good feelings i was able to loosen the mind a little.
However! When my mind is free to wander it can stray into realms of being a little weird. On this day, weirdness entered my mind, triggered by a natural function of the body. Whether it was a poor diet, something in the water or another thing i needed the loo, desperately. I shuffled down an embankment onto a semi-secluded beach to squat. I'd foolishly taken my pack off, to ease the tricky descent to the chosen toilet and i had no man made loo paper. Many handfuls of grass later and i hoped to have sufficiently wiped clean. I pulled on my clothes and climbed back up to my bag. I reloaded and continued walking. Having done what i had just done, my mind wandered back to similar scenarios like that over the years. One of which i'll share with you.
Now i'm sorry if you're reading this with a frown or other look of disgust, if you are, then erm, to bad. This is the raw tellings of a man in the wilds and when the needs a must, you'll go to all the lengths necessary. And this i mean to tell in all the glory or gory detail, such as it occurred.
Having just experienced usage of natures supplier my mind drifted to that of wiping in the wilds. Since an early age, i've wandered and wiped using a variety of materials, all with differing effects.
As a boy, i'd often be caught short whilst out playing and would go home without underwear. This would end with much questioning from my mother once my stocks had ran out. My pants must of been hanging up in so many bushes or trees back then. As i grew older, i began making use of the greenery around me, leaves, grass, rocks and my personal favourite and one of Eskimos during the mild months, Moss.
On one occasions though things didn't turn out so well. It was just prior to a big mountain bike ride on Dartmoor in the south west, it was winter cold and damp, so i was dressed up inconveniently for outdoors bowel relief. The chance of making it to a public toilet wasn't an option, so i headed into the nearby woods, making sure i was away from all paths. Through the dense undergrowth i rushed, then without to much warning, the urgency to poop increased. I had no more time, against the next tree i stood and began peeling off the layers of winter clothing i had on. In normal situations this would be to simply undo a belt, a button and fly. But not for me today. You see my winter riding kit consists of a pair of bib tights. The best way to describe these, to those not familiar with cycling attire is thus.
Picture some skin tight dungarees worn next to the skin, so under everything else you wear. The only way out of these is to undo the torso lengthed zip on the front and the remove the two shoulder straps.
So struggling to do this in close to freezing conditions, with a straining sphincter wasn't the finest moments of woodland pooping.
Still i managed to hold on to it, i leant my back against the tree and relaxed...aaaaaahhh! Now for the clean up operation. Now without the need to rush things like now, i'd of carefully selected my location. On this day as i looked about the ground for something suitable, a potentially painful realisation entered my mind, and very nearly entered elsewhere.
Of all the places you could chose to go to the loo, under a holly tree isn't the best place, dried holly leaf loo paper is a highly impracticable wiping material. Bare bummed and still crouching i looked for moss, a smooth stick anything suitable, but nothing caught my eye. This meant that i needed to move locations. If anyone has been caught out on a normal toilet and for instance the loo paper had ran out. You'd sort of shuffle to the next cubicle or to the loo roll stores.
This shuffle has a half stooping posture, leg wear is usually half way down your legs restricting movement.
So there i was half naked in a wood consisting mostly of holly trees, almost crouched looking around for a way to get clean. In the end a stick gets used to great effect and i'm able to rejoin the others and go for a ride.
Whilst remembering such experiences, i walk the path with a slight smile, and the odd snigger to myself. Away from the lonely, depressed times, i've done some crazy things in my life, little did i know at this stage, was the craziest yet.
Compared to the previous days walking, the path was easy going today so far, quite flat and fairly straight, just a few dips and steps, nothing too severe. Despite this, Steffan was developing blisters and was beginning to struggle, the next place possible, he needed to get some treatment and new insoles.
As we rounded a rough and rocky headland of Morte Point , we stopped and admired the views. From here North, west and south was sea, east and south east was coastline. As the sea broke up against the ragged shoreline, the rhythmic crashing sound was both soothing to the ear and eyes,almost hypnotic. I could stop here to watch and listen to it all day.
Also the rocks were an interesting thing to look at. The tilted layers of broken limestone, stood up out of the ground. Some like plates stacked for drying, others like teeth. As the sun peaked out through the clouds, the silvery grey slabs of smooth faced rock lit up, whilst their jagged edges gave a dramatic shadow on the ground hidden from the sun.
We were now walking south and after a while the rocks gave way to a gentle grassy slope. Behind us to the north the skies had cleared and made way for a beautiful blue sky. To the south west, moody dark clouds hoovered low and threatening over the distant Woolacombe. Fortunately for us the wind was in our favour and the clouds were blowing away from us.
With all the stunning scenery, i was preoccupied in taking it all in rather than let my mind wander away with bad thoughts. Of course though me being me, occasionally i would grow thoughtful and i'd become a little less happy.
Steffan was struggling and it made me realise that i would suffer from blisters too at some stage. Also i knew my backpack would be causing issues with my back. I was often still having to adjust it on my back. It would twist and lie awkwardly and if i'd not packed it well, i'd have my battery charger sticking in my back. These i needed to just cope with and deal with as they occurred. All part of Manning myself up a bit. If could work through pain, hunger, lack of shelter, loneliness, i could handle the cruelness of society better.
I'd told myself on the very first day to not look back. This however was almost unavoidable as when asked questions about why i was doing this, i'd be honest about it. The further i got from where i'd left, the easier it got to be open about things. I have three children and need to be alive for them, even if i can't be with them, it's better than them hearing ive been found in a tree and they no longer have a father. I was doing this as much for them as myself. Little did i know about the repercussions that my walking away without telling anyone would have on the rest of my life.
So far on the walk, when people asked if i'd told anyone where i was. I said, "yes!" A lie i know, at this stage i didn't want anyone to know where was from or my full name. Should a search ever be done for me, i'd be known as just a mystery walker.
A large sandy beach was now in view, this is a popular surfing spot, but at this time of year, it's just the locals who enjoy the waves. Today though wasn't ideal surfing conditions, not that ever stops them sitting out on their boards just waiting for that one good wave.
We head into town, which is quite busy and we find a Pharmacy, Steffan purchases a blister pack and some new insoles to try. We go outside and sit on the pavement while Steffan cuts and fits his insoles and deals with his blister. We eat more Rye bread, some cheese and an apple each. Then we get under way again.
Along the warren to Baggy point another headland and more stunning rocky features then down to Croyde bay. Here we walk along the beach, which with a heavy pack on, isn't so easy. A river runs out to sea half way along the beach and it's to deep for my non waterproof boots. So i remove them and continue the beach walk bare foot. It's a great feeling walking on soft sand and i must make sure i do as much as possible. It's good i think for the feet.
At the end of the beach a ramp takes us back up onto the cliff so i need to get my boots on again. I sit and wipe them dry with my blanket, making sure i dust of all of the sand. I really don't want that rubbing inside the boots.
Climbing up from the beach, it's a short walk to Saunton sands. There's about 4 miles of sand dunes to walk around to Braunton and Steffan doesn't see the point of walking a featureless path of grassy dunes and water. And because i'd become dependant on him i followed him, regrettably missing out part of the path.
We walked along the road and eventually reached the small town of Braunton where i told Steffan i NEEDED to do my thing. That i felt terrible that he was feeding me and had been for the last few days. I was to go for a wander and try to find a way to earn my meal, perhaps even somewhere to stay. We arranged to meet up again after an hour, even if only to say goodbye.
I only tried a few inns, but my confidence had dropped as well as my energy levels. My whole sales pitch was lacking the happiness it needed. My speech was stuttered, sentences were broken so lacking the flow. This all meant that people weren't willing to listen to what i was offering and either didn't understand me, or didn't trust me. I wandered streets hoping to see someone in their garden. I wanted people to ask me first what i was up to. If they were friendly enough to make conversation with me, perhaps they'd they'd have the time and patience to listen to me and maybe even be able to help me. But nobody did. I walked the streets alone for an hour, then headed back to the centre to see if Steffan was there.
We arrived at the same time and having told him of my efforts, i sensed he did not believe me. Still being the kind hearted man he was, he offered me some fruit and yogurt. I peeled/chopped some Kiwi fruits, plums, apple and orange and mixed them into the yogurt and savoured the wonderful flavours as i ate.
We talked very little and felt this was to be the last moments of our journey together. He told me he'd be heading back to a camp site that we passed earlier, on the road so he could shower and do some laundry. He said we could meet in the morning and continue on together, but his body language told me different and i knew i could see how he really felt. The air temperature was dropping, so it urged us to put on coats and repack. A few kind words from Steffan confirmed for me this was a farewell, though he never said goodbye, the manly hugs, firm handshake and look in his eyes, said enough. I told him i appreciated all his help and support over the last few days, everything he did for me, the food and the company. We then left and went our separate ways.
Mentally this was rejection, though i knew it's something we both needed to do for our separate journeys. Steffan needed to up the miles to reach as far along the coast path as he could. Where as i needed to work on helping people and finding ways to earn the food i ate. Not just to rely on kindness alone. I was alone again, however it was very necessary and all just a negative situation to turn around..
I had to pick myself up and be positive, find away to be happier and somewhere out there, find that person who needed my help or just wanted to help me on my way.
I had no idea where to go next, i felt i'd looked down every avenue, tried every place. In truth i'd barely tried at all. I just walked off in any direction and followed my heart a little. I came across a large pub/restaurant called the 'Agricultural' nick named 'the Aggi". There appeared to be quite a few people in there dining and looked cosy. I calmed myself and entered.
A man immediately greeted me and asked me if i'd like a table for the night. Politely i requested to speak with the owner to which the man told me he was the owner. I offered him my hand to shake and told him my name, we shook hands and he told me his name, "Tony" he responded. I explained to him what i was doing and why, then offered to collect glasses for a cup of coffee. Without hesitation he showed me to a table and asked if a burger and chips would be ok. He wanted nothing in return, saying he was happy to help me.
He went of to make the order and then came back with a cup of coffee for me, with some biscuits. This turn of luck cheered me up immensely and i couldn't thank him enough when ever i saw him as i he hurried about his business. He served me up sumptuous homemade burger, fries with side salad, to which i enjoyed alot. Returning to collect the empty plate, he wished to know more about my walk and a little more about why i was doing it. It turned out he was a member of 'the rotary' a volunteer organisation set up to help underprivileged communities, victims of disasters,etc, around the world. This explained his understanding of my situation and his willingness to help me. I was invited to rest there for the evening, to which i was further grateful for. I sat and wrote my journal, went through the day photos, then got out the spoon to work on. I'd been slowly whittling away at it whilst walking over the last two days and i was happy with it's shape. So now it just needed sanding down.
The ruck sack that had made up the carrier for my larger bag was is i've said my mountain biking bag. In one of pockets i had left a bike tool and a puncture repair kit. In that kit was a small piece of sand paper used for roughing up bike tubes prior to applying a patch. Now it was my spoon sander and i sat working away at making my spoon smoother.
When i saw empty glasses at tables i got up to collect them, i just had to do something i return for what i had received. So for my help, i was given constant top ups of coffee. Guess i couldn't win.
On one such return with glasses, i spotted a book high on a shelf a thriller written by Michael Crichton, it was called 'Prey'. The barman said i could have it, along with an umbrella if i'd like to choose one from the many left out in the entrance hall.
I took the book and sat down to yet another coffee. I'd began people watching and during one of my glances behind me, Tony caught my attention and asked me if i'd like to take some apple pie away with me. "Would i like some Apple Pie? It took no thinking about and a keen, "yes please" got me a slice wrapped up in foil. Breakfast! I thought.
It was now getting late and i was becoming weary from the days walking. I Packed all my things and said a final thank you to Tony and his staff. Tony inquired where i may sleep the night and offered me a tent to borrow. I declined telling him i wanted to make, find of earn shelter. To have a tent would to me feel like an easy option so i left with my pie and book, just to now pick up an umbrella. A green Britvic branded one, seemed to me a good sturdy option. Green is my favourite colour, and if i was to end up sleeping in random places, i should at least blend in a bit.
I retraced my steps back to the centre and near a car park was a library. It had a good sized over hanging roof so i found an area away from the wind to settle for the night. A car pulled up in the car park, stopping nearby, with the engine running and lights on. A group of men walked passed having left a pub, they chatted loudly. The street lights shone bright too. It was all to much and i decided to go in search of somewhere darker and quieter. I'd not unpacked and laid of my bed for the night, so only needed to stand up, throw on the bag and walk. The Tarka line/coast path continued down a dark footpath, so i used my little torch to light the way. I went over a style and walked down the side of a river. I figured i needed to keep near the coast line, which the river would lead me to. Large rotten boats lay abandoned on the river side, i wondered if i should sleep in one of those. Some were listing over and very decayed. Others just looked neglected. I shone the torch at each of the boats, to look for a suitable one. Then a light flashed back as the owner made his presence known to me. Not in a threatening manner, more i guess suspecting i was up to no good in the area. I continued down the path where it turned to a road and the mouth of the river widened. I was now on the wrong side of a very deep wide river and going in the wrong direction.
Getting more and more tired i had to keep going. I couldn't rest till a good place was found. Passing the same old boats, attracting the attention of the person with the torch again, i made my way to the end and found the bridge crossing the river sign posted for the Tarka trail again. I was now heading past the Marine Barracks at RAF Chivenor where i'd once done some construction work. A brief reminisce back to those several weeks of long hours, meals in the NAAFI and the one instance of using a unauthorised nail gun on site. The tool used a small charge, which when fired, shot a fixing through steel or into concrete. This one particular time, we were fixing into steel hanger supports. When fired the loud bang would echo and resonate through the building and someone must of heard it and notified their superiors. First we knew of it was when a group of about twenty armed soldiers, surrounded the building, then entered it. The Sergent asked where the gun was, and who was in charge. It took alot of head scratching to finally work out what caused the alarm. After a demonstration of the tool in action, they were at ease and let us commence with our work.
From here at Chivenor, the RAF search and rescue helicopter flies out. I've always admired the service they and the other rescue services provide. It's ironic that as i walked past this place and their search Helicopter. I'm oblivious to the previous search efforts made possibly by that very craft or ones like it, for me, just a couple days ago!
Once past the Barracks, i search for a shed or barn, just any form of shelter. I'm so tired now. I cross a road and rejoin the old railway line of which alot of the Tarka trail is on. A bridge offers little shelter either. So i keep going, it must be way past midnight now. I'm flagging heavily, with the pace getting so slow.
Ahead of me another bridge can be seen, I'm pretty much ready to settle for it. I saw a path leading up onto the bridge so took a look. On top of the bridge a path led to a circular fence protecting a hole about a metre across and Three deep. A walkway around the perimeter of the fence and a wall around that. I worked out it was a type of kiln, so when down to find the main building.
Back down the bottom I looked around in the dark and notice a small clearing to the side of of the bridge, looking out to the Estuary. The sea is quietly lapping the shore line and i shine my torch around me. Off to the right a stone structure is seen, it has a shallow archway on the side, I take a closer look. The Archway is only about four feet high and curves downwards at the back forming an alcove, at the base of the curve at ground level is a small opening, big enough for a shovel. there's two further of these features on the two other sides of the building. The one facing the sea is the deepest and tallest. On the floor of this one, is some ply board and cardboard, telling me someone else has stayed here. I settle for this as it's dry and fairly protected. I unpack my stuff and lay out the bedding in the order it had been used before. Using the board to create a flat bed, i then proceeded to lay, bin bags, blanket then sleeping bag out upon it. Then i opened the umbrella and used it as a wind breaker. It almost filled the entrance to me lair, which was great. Then i lay down and tried to sleep, but now couldn't, despite being so exhausted. I decided to put on my head torch and take a look at the book, so began reading it. Reading books had a great effect on me whilst trying to sleep and it wasn't long before the close attention on words, sentences and paragraphs forced me to close my eyes. I managed to turn off the light and snuggle down for the remainder of the night. Asleep at last.