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Exmoor & North Devon Coast Path (South-West Coast Path Part 1)

Exmoor & North Devon Coast Path (South-West Coast Path Part 1)

Excerpt:
Practical information for the walker


Contents | Introduction | About the South West Coast Path | Practical information for the walker | Itineraries | Using this guide | Sample route guide: Minehead to Porlock Weir


Practical information for the walker


Route finding

For most of its length the coast path is well signposted. At confusing junctions the route is usually indicated by a finger-post sign with ‘coast path’ written on it. At other points, where there could be some confusion, there are wooden waymark posts with an acorn symbol and a yellow arrow to indicate which direction you should head. The waymarking is the responsibility of the local authorities along the trail who have a duty to maintain the path. Generally they do a good job but occasionally you will come across sections of the trail where waymarking is ambiguous, or even non-existent, but with the detailed trail maps and directions in this book and the fact that you always have the sea to one side it would be hard to get really lost.



Using GPS with this book

Given the above, modern Wainwrights may scoff while more open-minded walkers will accept that GPS technology can be an inexpensive, well-established if non-essential navigational aid. In no time at all a GPS receiver with a clear view of the sky will establish your position and altitude in a variety of formats, including the British OS grid system, to within a few metres.
    The maps in the route guide include numbered waypoints; these correlate to the list on pp204-5, which gives the latitude/longitude position in a decimal minute format as well as a description. Where the path is vague, or there are several options, you will find more waypoints. You can download the complete list of these waypoints for free as a GPS-readable file (that doesn’t include the text descriptions) from the Trailblazer website: : www.trailblazer-guides.com (click on GPS waypoints).
    It’s also possible to buy state-of-the-art digital mapping to import into your GPS unit, assuming that you have sufficient memory capacity, but it’s not the most reliable way of navigating and the small screen on your pocket-sized unit will invariably fail to put places into context or give you the ‘big picture’.
    Bear in mind that the vast majority of people who tackle this Path do so perfectly well without a GPS unit. Instead of rushing out to invest in one, consider putting the money towards good-quality waterproofs or footwear instead.

ACCOMMODATION

The route guide (Part 4) lists a fairly comprehensive selection of places to stay along the length of the trail. You have two main options: camping or using B&Bs and hotels. There is, perhaps, a third option too, that of staying in hostels, though there aren’t many on this stretch of the coast path and sometimes they are too far from the path to be a realistic alternative. Few people stick to just one of these options the whole way, preferring, for example, to camp most of the time but spend every third night in a guesthouse, or perhaps use hostels where possible but splash out on a B&B every once in a while.
    Note that when booking accommodation that is far from the path, remember to ask if a pick-up and drop-off service is available (usually only B&Bs provide this service); at the end of a tiring day it’s nice to know a lift is available to take you to your accommodation rather than having to traipse another two or three miles off the path to get to your bed for the night. (This is particularly true at the end of this section of the SWCP, around Hartland Point, where there are only a few B&Bs and they are usually a fair walk from the path – and the walking is arduous enough as it is around this peninsula.)
    The facilities’ table on pp32-3 provides a quick snapshot of what type of accommodation is available in each of the towns and villages along the way, while the tables on p29 and p30 provide some suggested itineraries.

Camping
There are campsites all the way along the South-West Coast Path. That said, few people choose to camp every night. You’re almost bound to get at least one night where the rain falls relentlessly, soaking equipment and sapping morale, and it is then that most campers opt to spend the next night drying out in a hostel or B&B. There are, however, many advantages with camping. It’s more economical, for a start, with many campsites charging somewhere around £5 (though we have found places that charge £26!).
    Campsites vary; some are just a quiet corner of a farmer’s field, while others are full-blown caravan sites with a few spaces put aside for tents; since their main customers are families on their annual holidays, backpackers are often low  on their list of priorities. Showers are usually available, normally for a small fee. Note that none of the YHA hostels on the path accepts campers. Note, too, that wild camping (ie not in a regular campsite) is not allowed.
    Camping is not an easy option; the route is wearying enough without carrying your accommodation around with you. Should you decide to camp, therefore, we advise you to look into employing the baggage-carrying company mentioned on pp26-7, though this does, of course, mean that it will cost more and that you will lose a certain amount of freedom as you have to tell the company, at least a day before, of your next destination – and stick to it – so that you and your bag can be reunited every evening.
    Rates for camping vary from site to site but for backpackers many charge for two people in a small tent although some charge per pitch and per person.

Hostels
The Exmoor and North Devon Coast Path is not well served by YHA hostels, with only three in total at Minehead, Westward Ho!, and Elmscott, near Hartland Quay, and even then the Minehead one is too far from the path to be of much use and the other two are part of the Enterprise Scheme so are privately owned. There are, however, good independent hostels at Minehead, Ilfracombe (which has two), Croyde and Bude.
    If you haven’t visited a youth hostel recently because the words ‘youth’ and ‘hostel’ still conjure up images of cold, crowded dorms, uncomfortable beds and lousy food all overseen by little-Hitler staff who take a sadistic pleasure in treating you like schoolchildren, we advise you to take a second look. These days, each hostel comes equipped with a whole range of facilities from drying rooms to televisions and fully equipped kitchens for guests to use. Many also have a shop selling emergency groceries, snacks and souvenirs and some offer internet access and/or wi-fi. They are also good places to meet fellow walkers, swap stories and compare blisters.
    Weighed against these advantages is the fact that beds are still arranged in dormitories with up to seven beds in a room, thereby increasing your chances of sharing the night with a heavy snorer. The curfew (usually 11pm) is annoying too. A couple of the hostels also suffer from a shortfall in adequate washing facilities, with only one or two showers to be shared between 15 or 20 people. Nor is it really feasible to stay in hostels every night, for there are large swathes where hostels don’t exist.
    If you are travelling in April/May or September, at the beginning or end of the walking season, you may find many closed for two or three days per week, or entirely taken over by school groups, leaving walkers shut out. Contact the YHA or the relevant hostel to find out the exact opening dates. Finally, the cost of staying in a hostel (around £16-18pp for members, plus an additional £3pp per night for non members), once breakfast has been added on, is in most instances not that much cheaper than staying in a B&B.

Booking a hostel  Despite the name, anyone of any age can join the YHA. This can be done at any hostel or by contacting the Youth Hostels Association of England and Wales (YHA; % 0800-0191 700 or % 01629-592700, : www .yha.org.uk). The cost of a year’s membership is currently £15.95 (£9.95 for anyone under 26). Having secured your membership, YHA hostels are easy to book, either online or by phone. The hostels also offer a booking service and will reserve a bed at the next stop on the path for you.

Bed and breakfast accommodation
Bed and Breakfasts (B&Bs) are a great British institution and many of those along the South-West Coast Path are absolutely charming. Nearly all of the B&Bs on this route have either en suite rooms or rooms with private facilities; only a few have rooms with shared facilities.
    The rooms usually contain either a double bed (known as a double room), or two single beds (known as a twin room). Family rooms are for three or more people; they usually contain a double bed and a single bed or a bunk bed but occasionally there are three or four single beds.
    Note that in winter some B&Bs close; for those that stay open, make sure that beforehand they will have their heating in your room turned on!
    An evening meal (usually £15-20) is often provided at the more remote or bigger places, at least if you book in advance. (Note that if you have any dietary requirements – eg if you’re vegetarian, or need a gluten-free meal, you must tell the B&B owner beforehand.) Alternatively, if you want to eat out, there’s nearly always a pub or restaurant nearby or, if it’s far, the B&B owner may give you a lift to and from the nearest place with food.
    The difference between a B&B and a guesthouse is minimal, though some of the better guesthouses are more like hotels, offering evening meals and a lounge for guests. Pubs and inns also offer bed and breakfast accommodation and prices are generally no more than in a regular B&B.
    Hotels usually do cost more than B&Bs, however, and some might be a little incensed by a bunch of smelly walkers turning up and treading mud into their carpet. Most on the South-West Coast Path, however, are used to seeing walkers and welcome them warmly.

Rates 

Proprietors quote their tariffs either on a per person (pp) basis or per room, assuming two people are sharing; rates are also sometimes given for single occupancy of a room where there are no single rooms.
    Accommodation in this guide starts at around £21pp for the most basic B&Bs rising to around £50pp for the most luxurious places. Most charge around £25-35pp. Prices in hotels start at around £35pp; however, sometimes rates are for the room only and breakfast is additional. Solo walkers should take note: single rooms are not so easy to find and you will often end up occupying a double/ twin room and are likely to have to pay a single occupancy supplement (£5-15).
    Some places have their own website and offer online/email booking but for the majority you will need to phone. Most places ask for a deposit (about 50%) which is generally non-refundable if you cancel at short notice. Some places may charge 100% if the booking is for one night only; they may also charge a single-night supplement or require a stay of at least two nights. Always let the owner know as soon as possible if you have to cancel your booking so they can offer the bed to someone else.
    Larger places take credit or debit cards. Most smaller B&Bs accept only cheques by post or payments by bank transfer for the deposit; the balance can be settled with cash or a cheque.

Exmoor & North Devon Coast Path (South-West Coast Path Part 1)

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