Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Circular Eleven Mile Walk from Trentishoe Down to the Pack Of Cards at Combe Martin

This is not a walk for the faint-hearted, either the literal or the metaphorical kind. Although the outward journey is entirely on the coastal path, it has its downs and ups, from near a thousand feet to five hundred, back to a thousand feet, and then down to sea level. Then you do it all over again on the way home. Your reward is some stunning coastal scenery and a visit to one of the quirkiest pub buildings in the country.
We had set out a week earlier but had been forced to abort our mission when we couldn’t see in front of our faces because of dense fog and drizzle. Our intention had been to park on Trentishoe Down near the Glass Box, a bungalow with distinctive panoramic windows but, even though the house is only a few yards from the road, we never saw it.

Our patience was rewarded with a beautifully sunny autumn day with the air coming from the north, which made for spectacular views over the cliffs and the Bristol Channel. There is no problem finding your way on the coastal path. It is very clearly signed. Climbing down and up the sides of Sherrycombe, however, is a different matter.

The path has none of the zigzags of an alpine pass. It just goes straight down and straight up again. In places you might feel that it would be better to sit down on your bottom and toboggan down. Old and decrepit as we are, we crept with tiny sideways steps down the worst bits. We took a picture of the footbridge at the bottom as an excuse for a pause before tackling the other side. On the descent you tend to say, “I always think it’s worse going down a slope like this than climbing it.” On the ascent you tend to say nothing quite so silly as you are saving your breath to climb the wretched thing. Slowly but surely the path evened out and we reached the summit of Great Hangman, graced by a cairn of near Freudian proportions. Someone called Mike had borrowed some of the stones to trace his name in the grass. Well, he had climbed a thousand feet for the pleasure. The views, not surprisingly are stunning, both east, and then west towards Little Hangman, a grassy knoll on the edge of Combe Martin Bay. Lundy Island was a hazy presence on the horizon. Little Hangman is obviously a popular walk for Combe Martin visitors. There were plenty of people and their dogs climbing it from the footpath out of the village, but very few afterwards pressed on to Great Hangman. The call of Sunday lunch was too strong. From Little Hangman there are grand views across the bay. We ignored the siren call of footpaths leading directly into Combe Martin and clung to the coastal path. The path itself is not particularly rewarding – a graffiti plastered wooden pavilion was obviously popular with the local youth for one purpose or another – but it did deliver us into the village right by the beach. Combe Martin is a delightful spot, and on a warm, sunny day you could almost imagine swimming here - almost. Trapped between the sides of the combe, the village has one long street. Half way along it stands the Pack Of Cards. As one local assured us, “You can’t mistake it,” and you can’t. It was built in 1690 by George Ley to commemorate a major win at the card table. The original building had four floors to represent the four suits in the pack, thirteen rooms for each card in a suit, and fifty two windows and fifty two stairs, all on an area fifty two feet square. It has been extended since. By the early 1800’s it was no longer a private house but an inn called the “King’s Arms. In 1933 the pub officially adopted its colloquial name of “The Pack Of Cards”. The bar has a comfortable lived-in look with some pleasant wood panelling and furniture. One of the two columns which support a moulded ceiling grows out of the middle of a table. There were complimentary dishes of crisps, nuts and cubes of cheese on the counter, and a “Have you enjoyed your walk” from the lady behind the bar. We had two good pints of Courage Directors, not exactly an artisan brew but one worth drinking when you find it on draught. The alternative was Sharp’s Doom Bar. The pub does all the usual baguettes and jacket potatoes at the usual price as well as a Sunday roast.
We crossed the road and by the post office took a lane upwards through the village. Where the houses ended, we came to a T junction. Here we turned right into a farm track and followed it before taking the first left. This track took us up a long steep climb with good views of the bay behind us. Eventually we passed Silver Mines Farm on our right. The remains of Combe Martin’s last working silver mine are a little further with some of its chimney still standing. It was abandoned in 1875. There was a royal silver mine in Combe Martin by 1292, and you will find some of the village’s silver in the Crown Jewels. Without ever being a California or a Nevada, Combe Martin sporadically produced quite a chunk of silver over the centuries.
When we reached a metalled road, we turned left and then right along the driveway to Girt Down Farm. We passed round the edge of the farm and then the track took us through the fields and out on to Girt Down where we met the coastal path again. As we took a breather before turning right towards the truck, watching the odd walker puffing up out of Sherrycombe, a sparrow hawk raced round the corner of a wall.

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