The Gold Coast of Devon on the first weekend of July
Just like most Fridays over the last couple of months, after finishing up in the office in the afternoon it was time to pack up the van and hit the A303 for another trip to North Devon to hopefully enjoy a bit of surfing with friends. Although all week the forecasts had been indicating very little in the way of good surf with strong onshore winds, it wasn't until late in the week that there was a hint of those winds dying down for Sunday, worth taking a punt. Besides, what would I do at home?!
The area north of the River Taw has been like a second home for the last few years. Saunton Sands was the first place I tried to surf and even now, after surf trips to Fuerteventura and Portugal, still my favourite spot when the conditions are right, although during the summer weekends, very busy. Fortunately, having visited a fair few times now, the area still has some nice surprises and there are so many ways to get away from the crowds in summer.
On this occasion I was meeting up with friends who also have a T4, another 1.9td 800 Special which, according to the chassis number, rolled off the factory line in Poland just a hundred or so after mine. The plan was to meet up at the campsite in time to watch Wales vs Belgium in the Euro 2016 Quarter-final, although this didn't quite go to plan. Earlier in the day I picked up a fuel filter from my local car shop and as I just about had time before heading off I attempted to fit it, only to find it would not go into the designated hole. With time running out I had to put the old one back in. Problem is, half way down the A303 the van started to lose power, I could barely get above 50mph but it wasn't difficult to realise the problem was with the fuel filter. Thankfully Halfords in Taunton was still open and they had the correct filter in stock. A quick fitting in the car park and I was on the road again.
I was now on the M5 but realising I wasn't going to make it for kick-off so was ready to listen via BBC Sport App on my iPhone. On arriving at Tiverton I came up against the next delay. The A361 was closed for resurfacing, forcing me on a diversion through the middle of Devon. Great scenery but not what I had hoped for. It also didn't help the BBC Sport App as I had hardly any signal until South Molten.
Finally, 4 hours 10 minutes from home (normally around 2 hours 40 mins), I was arriving at Easewell Farm campsite, near Mortehoe. As campsites go, having tried most in the area, I would have to recommend it here. Despite the fact I never use any of their facilities, and they have a lot, the site itself is great. I have always stayed in 'E' field which has a lot of level areas despite it being really hilly, the views are great from the higher areas. My van has two leisure batteries so for a weekend's stay I do not need an electric hook-up. The only problem is from July and throughout the summer, the prices do go up considerably.
My friends, Matthias and Sam had only just arrived too, caught up in the same diversion I had encountered. We were now into the second half of the football, Matthias was just rigging up the laptop to watch the remainder on screen with a nice cold beer, what a great game it was, well done Wales on that one.
Despite us finding a fairly sheltered part of the campsite, the wind was blowing a hooley on the Friday night, too strong to sit outside on this occasion. Knowing the wind was going to cancel any chance of some good surf in the morning, a few drinks were on the cards, no problem getting to sleep on this occasion.
Waking up on Saturday was a little disorientating. Every now and again, as on this occasion, I wake up in the van and wonder where the hell I am and taking a few seconds to realise what's going on. Then, when my alcohol fogged mind catches up, it feels great to know I'm staying away.
There still looked liked some hope for surf on Sunday but for now, the wind was still fairly strong. It had dropped off a bit from the day before but we'd decided it would be a good opportunity to keep active and get in a good walk. At first, the plan was to walk to Woolacombe and to the top of Potter's Hill but that turned out to just be part of it. Easewell Farm's location is just on the northern edge of the west facing Atlantic coast and right next to it is Morte Point which we've known from previous visits is a great place to walk and see the seals. Despite being summer and with the sun actually shining, the wind was biting so it was a little difficult to know what to wear, fortunately a T-shirt, shorts and a hoody was sufficient. And of course, appropriate footwear, instead I opted for my Vans.
The views as you walk around Morte Point are really something else, since my first visit to this area I have never been disappointed from what can be seen. On approaching the coast we released from the white horses out afar and the lumpy mess on the coastline that we were right not to take the surfboards out. Following the coastpath around the point eventually meets the road between Mortihoe and Woolacombe, it's then just a short walk down into the village of Woolacombe. Time to get something for lunch and an ice cream before moving on to Potter's Hill. Out of the wind, the sun was really warm, the whole coastline just lights up on a sunny day, hence being named the Gold Coast.
Potter's Hill is just south of Woolacombe, it's only a short walk up from the busy crowds of Woolacombe and when you arrive you feel like you're in a different place altogether, the views are astounding and on this occasion we were the only people there. Once we had taken in the views and placed our own stones on the rock pile, the suggestion came of walking on towards Putsborough, it was still early afternoon and the only other plan we had for the day was to stop off at the pub on the way back to watch the Germany/Italy game in the evening.
The walk up across Woolacombe Down continues to astound, with great views out and beyond the headland between Putsborough and Croyde. The sky was still very blue and the wind was really blowing at over 500 ft above sea-level. We stopped off to watch the launch of a handglider launch which was good to see, rather than the usual running down a hill and taking to the air, it had to be held down by three others, then when released it just took a vertical climb towards the sky. It was interesting speaking to those who had launched the glider, as with any sport there are so many things to learn, some of what we were told about it I'm sure only scraped the surface. Good that they're having fun, but that's not a sport for me, I prefer to be on the ground, or water.
Moving on, we eventually dropped down the hills and onto Putsborough Sands, it was nearly high tide and the beach was quite busy. Although we couldn't be sure what had happened, we had the unfortunate sight of medics seeing to an individual on the beach as we arrived, possibly a surfer, later to be taken by the HM Coastguard helicopter.
At this point, we were all ready for a coffee, the beach shop at Putsbourough gave us a chance to get out of the wind and begin to feel a little normal again. Sat drinking a coffee, there were a few surfers who had no doubt realised or adhered to Eyeball's advice that Putsbourough could be the best spot for the day. Possibly true, as by this point the waves had began to form more in the way of lines rather than the lumpy mess we had seen earlier. We were still happy with our choice not to go in today though, the fight against the ocean would have just wrecked us for the next day.
Walking back to Woolacombe via the beach was a great deal easier than over Woolacombe Down. Sam's idea for a beach clean resulted in quite a collection of plastic and this was only a small part of what was there, sad to think what that will all do to marine life.
Once in Woolacombe it was time to eat again, Fish and Chips of course, the staple diet of any weekender at the seaside. Timing couldn't have been better, we arrived just ahead of a huge group of lads, probably down here on a stag do. Timing continued to work to our favour when we arrived at Captain Jacks to watch the football, there was nobody there when we arrived so we got a table right in front of the large screen, moments later the place was full. Time then to relax with what was planned to be a couple of pints but thanks to extra time and penalties we made it to our third. Having walked enough for one day, we got a taxi back to the campsite, was only £5.80, so well worth it. Timing for this was spot on too, we walked out the pub and the taxi was parked up outside.
It was now getting late, so considering we would be surfing the next morning when the winds were forecast to be at their lightest, we had a cup of tea and called it a night. The wind had already died down so things were looking hopeful in the morning.
Sunday morning, first thing I do is check the webcams on the Magic Seaweed App, result! The sea had cleared up overnight and the wind had dropped to almost nothing. After packing up the vans, which was fairly quick on this occasion as it was too windy to put much outside, we took off in the vans. We had not yet decided where we were going to surf today, Saunton would be busy, as would be Woolacombe, we know of a few other spots without the crowds but our journey didn't actually last too long. Just as we dropped down from Mortihoe we looked out across Combesgate Beach and it was looking great. I've never surfed at Combesgate before, probably the only place on this part of the coast I haven't. The tide was ebbing and not far of low tide so was the perfect chance to try it out. At high tide the water just crashes up to the rocks. Parking was easy here, there is plenty alongside the road and with it not yet mid morning, plenty of spaces available and the parking charges are less than some of the car parks in the area.
Once in our wetsuits and boards waxed, we were down the steps and into the water. No matter how much I stretch and warm up, those first few waves are always the worst but once losened up, the fun begins. It wasn't a very big day, no more than 2-3ft on the odd set, but this is how I like it. We ended up surfing for 3 hours, great fun but at the end of it I was done! If I had stayed at home and seen the webcams I reckon I would have cried. We got back to the vans just as the tickets were about to expire, feeling exceptionally hungry and ready for Sunday lunch.
Often when visiting Woolacombe I will take a route in via Braunton which gives a chance to stock up at Tesco. This time however, following directions given by my iPhone's Waze App, I took the B3230 via Muddiford and noticed what looked like a good pub to stop off for Sunday lunch, The Muddiford Inn. Therefore, with the appetite of a wolf we stopped off on the way home and found they serve food until 8pm, result! Roast chicken for me, followed by summer fruit crumble and custard, now that's a good way to regain my lost calories! The sun was shining still, the weather was on our side and sitting in the garden was a great way to unwind before the journey home.
It was time to say goodbye to Matthias and Sam, until the next surf trip (next weekend no doubt). More often or not, when travelling with friends in other vans it's a case of convoying home, but not recommended in this instance, as suggested by Matthias, his 1.9td is standard, no tuning to the turbo or fuel pump so that sad reality of 50 MPH up hills. Therefore once past Barnstaple I left them and took off homeward bound.
NOTE: Thanks to Sam for many of the pictures.