Walk 73: Sandaway Holiday Park, Combe Martin to the Hunter’s Inn, Heddon Valley – 30th August 2020

‘Hanging on the Hangman’

It would be a lesson well-learnt to know that a night of celebratory drinking is not one best suited to some really tough coastal walking the next day. Really truly not. We knew what lay ahead as we could see it from the caravan park – a giant hill that literally went up then down, resembling a massive Toblerone piece. So why oh why did we do this to ourselves? Bloody idiots.

I had mistakenly thought that the worst was in sight, i.e. that the giant Toblerone was Great Hangman, but no, that was Little Hangman!

I nearly cried. In fact I think I did. Not cool. Not fun. It was such hard work that there was no time for pictures (in fact I have none of this particular walk – so Nancy added the few that she managed to take) or even looking beyond the pounding head and feelings of being violently ill. We at least had enough humour to laugh at our pathetic selves when we realised we had barely done any real distance at all, and just had to accept that a mix of feeling shocking, starting too late (I hate missing the best part of the morning when walking) and seriously strenuous walking meant a shorter walk, and let Matt (as our resident superstar driver for the week) know.

I had been led to believe that we had already conquered the highest point on the SWCP. Twice. The first was Golden Cap in Dorset, which ended up with me with horrific blisters and a foul temper. The second was the aptly named High Cliff in Cornwall, which saw Nancy clinging to the side of a rocky clifftop. Neither were our finest hours. But no, that delight was today and the aptly named Great Hangman. We seemed destined to face off the highest points with less than peak performance, and today was more like trough performance. We laugh now, but we were shamed at the time.

Wild Pear Beach lay at the bottom of Hangman and marked another place on the Tarka Trail to map against our walking read:

At dawn, he was swimming under the sea feet of the Great Hangman; and he followed the trail until sunrise was shimmering down the level sea and filling with aerial gold the clouds over the Welsh hills.

At dusk the shore-rats on Wild Pear Beach, searching the weed-strewn tide line, paused and squealed together when their sharp noses took the musky scent of water weasels. (Williamson, 1927: 141)

The strenuous nature of walk eased significantly once we hit the undulating top, and our mood (and general wellbeing) correspondingly improved.

The top of great Hangman itself was marked by a pile of rocks and surrounded by walkers doing selfies, so we kept out (social) distance and moved on. The light by this point was absolutely stunning and the combined purple heather and what was left of the yellow wild gorse almost seemed to sparkle; at a distance a misleading muddy brown, but up close, a shimmering palette of gold and burgundy.

The other side of Great Hangman was Sherrycombe where, before the descent, a band of crazed sheep dashed out in front of us, looking like they had disappeared off the edge, then a very steep downward hill, one that reminded my knees of just how much I struggle when it goes past a certain cline. We haven’t had ‘real hills’ for a while given the focus last year on heading east (flat as a pancake) and the March walk had been relatively flat. I found Nancy at the bottom of a lovely wooded glade chatting to a wild camper who had sensibly decided to have a rest at the bottom before heading up, though I suspect he was far fitter than either of us! 7 steps at the bottom and then yes, what goes down must indeed rise, and up and away we went, though nothing compared to the Hangman earlier.

It was a hard up from Sherrycombe followed by a long mid cliff path along Holdstone Down until Heddon Valley came into view, abundant in oaks. We followed the long path down through the green with sunlight cutting through the leaves. Our timing was perfect as Matt drove up behind me just as we got to the pub, so it was pint in the sun (well, kill or cure and we’d already done ‘kill’) and home for a very early night!

Miles walked: 7.5

Since the beginning: 939.4

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