Monday, 9 February 2009

South West Coast Path Day 6 Braunton - Bideford

Barnstaple Town Station
It was Good Friday and when I awoke I was very disappointed to see that it was absolutely hurling down with rain, putting the kibosh on possible walking for the day. However, I had seen the weather forecast which suggested that the weather might be more favourable later on so I went out in the car hoping this would be the case. Late morning suggested that it might clear up as the rain disappeared so I followed my hunch and made my way to Braunton. By the time I arrived it was pretty grey but I was confident that it would be a reasonably pleasant afternoon. The problem was that by now it was almost lunchtime and I didn’t much fancy walking to Bideford because of what promised to be a fairly monotonous journey along the old rail lines by the sides of the Taw and Torridge estuaries.

Fremington Quay
Luckily, there was a more interesting alternative, cycling! This part of the coast path is also the Tarka Trail, using the old Ilfracombe and Bideford branch lines from Barnstaple. I decided that despite having to cover twice the distance (as I would have to bring the bike back!), hiring a bike for an afternoon would be a good way to cover this section in the limited time I had available. I picked up the bike just south of the old Braunton station (now sadly demolished) and headed out towards Branstaple. Initially there wasn’t much evidence that it had been a railway line, apart from the odd piece of rail furniture left behind (a signal and a few gradient signs). The ride wasn’t initially very interesting but I soon reached the riverside and the ride down to Barnstaple was delightful. Being Good Friday there were large numbers of other cyclists around and I quickly realised that I had made the right choice.

Instow Station
I got to Barnstaple with seemingly minimum effort and I wondered how I would feel when I had completed the next ten miles to Bideford. Just before the town centre I had to negotiate some detours necessary because of the construction of a new by-pass bridge across the river. The cycle path continued down to the existing bridge and I had to walk across rather than interfere with the flow of traffic. By now the weather was showing signs of not just being pleasant but the clouds were moving too and during the next stretch along to Bideford, I eventually got some full sunshine.

After negotiating the bridge and associated by-pass works on the other side of the river I soon got to Fremington Quay, where I had intended stopping for refreshments. However, it was buzzing with activity which I didn’t much fancy so I pushed on. The ride on to Bideford was relatively quiet, although there was a helicopter from RAF Chivenor that kept buzzing around. Just before Instow the path finally became more railway like, with a short tunnel to negotiate and a couple of signals still in place. The level crossing at Instow has been preserved although it no longer needs to open. The signal box has also been preserved, along with a short stretch of track for the visitor to get a sense of what it looked like when in operation.

Bideford Station
I had a bit of a look round but noticed that there was a large group of cyclists ahead of me and I wanted to pass them so I could use the refreshment facilities at Bideford unhindered. I managed to catch up and pass them just before Bideford and once at that station I amazed myself how quickly I had managed the trip compared to the time it would have taken to walk it. However, I was disappointed to note that no refreshment facilities existed at the otherwise well-preserved station. Some rolling stock had been brought to the station presumably as a preservation project, but the short length of track in place wouldn’t have made it too interesting as a ride I would have thought.

Awaiting Preservation
After a little look around I retraced my steps back to Braunton. The weather by now was quite stunning and had warmed up considerably, which made for quite a difficult ride back as I got very hot and tired. I definitely thought that this was a better way of completing this section of the coast path rather than walking.

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