Encounters with war games

SWCoastPathIt’s half-term holiday here in Devon, and as the weather is so beautiful, my colleague and friend, Lorna, and I decided to meet up for a walk along a part of the South West Coast Path which happens to be right on our doorsteps. This marked path runs right around the coast of SouthWest England for 630 miles from Minehead in Somerset to Poole Harbour in Dorset and is a popular destination for walkers on everything from a day’s stroll or week’s walking holiday to their life’s work.

In 2012 Mal Law ran the entire path in 16 days, 9 hours and 57 minutes. An averagely fit walker should complete it in about eight weeks. Most people take their time and walk a section of the path at a time, completing it over the duration of several years. It takes you alongside some of the most breathtaking scenery the UK coast has to offer, through protected landscapes and areas of special scientific interest and outstanding natural beauty. In my opinion the cliffs of North Devon and Cornwall are amongst the most beautiful coastal features in the world.

NDevonLorna set off from Woolacombe and I joined her in Croyde for the next leg. We fortified ourselves with Marmite sandwiches and tea at Down End, Croyde, then set off. Large chunks of the cliff here have collapsed into the sea following the supremely heavy rain we’ve had recently, and we were interested to see the construction of what seems to be an “underground” house being built into the hill at Oyster Falls. I will have to keep an eye on that. Climbing up and over the headland the vision of Saunton Sands stretched out before us – miles of pale sand and sparkling ocean. It was hard to believe this was February.

It was disappointing to see that the wonderful driftwood sculpture I came across last summer (see my blog post here) had succumbed to the recent Spring Tides and was now on it’s side, disshevelled, and resembling nothing more interesting than a bonfire waiting to be lit. coastal path 011By way of recompense, however, half a dozen Royal Marines in full combat gear suddenly came charging out of the sand dunes on dune buggies, roared up the beach and started doing some tight manoevres in the sand which was quite surprising but entertaining. Only one guy managed to tip his vehicle over on a tight bend (which was also quite entertaining).

Although Braunton Burrows is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, bizarrely the army is allowed to use the area, drive all kinds of vehicles through the dunes and use it as a combat training ground. To be fair, in all the years I’ve been walking there, I’ve only come across them 3 or 4 times, but when they are there they certainly make their presence known.

After a long 3 mile saunter along the sands we left the beach and headed over the dunes (Burrows) towards Braunton. The SW Coast Path actually avoids Saunton Sands and instead trails through the Burrows; we had made a slight detour to experience the cooling sea breeze. Just before leaving the Burrows we encountered more army guys with their camp, guns and surveillance equipment and bunches of grass on their helmets. It felt quite surreal to be walking along with our sunglasses and water bottles through a bunch of guys in the midst of their war games – I didn’t really know where to direct my gaze and at one point found myself looking straight down the barrel of a gun (hopefully loaded with blanks!)

Now we were on the home straight and could see Braunton nestling into the hills before us, we both started to feel our feet and joints complaining. Lorna walked for 15 miles; I think I walked 9 and am certainly feeling it now!  click on pic to view large ….


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