Cardinal Spins

Cardinal Spins 1: SW – Day 3

Note – I have now had time to catch up on a full account of yesterday (Tuesday). Have a look back at that. And now for Wednesday …

Paddle Steamer Waverley

The Bristol Channel is a large – and very tidal – expanse of water that separates South Wales from the South West of England and it needed crossing to continue my (as yet carefully maintained) south westerly straight line. This was always going to be a significant challenge, since there are no ferries and I don’t know anyone with their own boat. What to do?

In such circumstances, I find it useful to turn one’s attention to the possibilities of ocean-going paddle steamers. There is only one, The Waverley, left in existence – in the world – but luckily for me she was visiting the Bristol Channel in June, with a different itinerary every day. There was one day this year – just one – when it was possible to cross from Porthcawl to Ifracombe, which is about as faithful to my straight line as can be. Coincidence? I think not.


A huge queue of passengers had lined up on the harbour in Porthcawl at 10am to board The Waverley. I was concerned I might not get on. She doesn’t appear to be a very large vessel and sits quite low in the water. But all the many people were accommodated with some ease and my bicycle was lifted aboard and given its own special area to enjoy the crossing. The water was like a millpond and the two hour cruise was extremely pleasant sailing. It was comfortable to sit out on the wooden seats of the upper deck and watch the high cliffs of Exmoor grow closer and more colourful as the sun broke through. By the time we reached Ilfracombe, in Devon, it was a glorious day.

Ilfracombe inner harbour

The town of Ilfracombe clings to the steep hills around its harbour in long rows of tall Victorian terraces. It has a rather gentrified appearance from the water. The “Combe” is a natural valley leading down from the cliffs to the sea, culminating in a sandy beach and a sheltered harbour for yachts. A small chapel sits on the headland that protects all this from the open sea and below it, looking out to sea like a Greek God, is a very tall bronze and steel statue that had appeared since my last visit seventeen years ago (also on Waverley).


The unmissable statue, over 20m in height (and taller then the Angel of the North) is called Verity and is the work of Damien Hirst, who lives in Ilfracombe. It depicts a heavily pregnant female figure standing atop a pile of legal books. In her left hand she confidently holds a sword, raised aloft above her head. In her right hand she holds the scales of justice behind her back. Strikingly, the skin on the right side of her body is peeled back to reveal her musculature, as well as the well-developed foetus in her womb. Verity is loaned to the town until 2032. I rather liked her.

Verity from the side

I got no further than a rooftop cafe overlooking the harbour before acceding to the temptation of a pasty. I was, after all, now in the West Country. I also needed an energy boost for the afternoon’s ride, which began with a shockingly long and steep climb up out of town. I can’t imagine many kids ride bikes here. It was brutal. But once on top of the cliffs I was treated to superb views out over the blue sea, with Lundy Island easily visible ten miles off the coast to the west.

I roller coastered the top of the moors for an hour before the Taw and Torridge estuaries opened up beneath me like a life size OS map. There was a steep descent into traffic-choked Barnstaple and then I was quickly out onto the truly excellent rail trail that hugs the side of the estuaries all the way to Bideford. It must rank as one of the best cycling experiences that anyone can enjoy in Britain. I was treated to a pair of Shelduck with a family of at least ten Shelducklings on the exposed golden sands. All around was a bright, sun-kissed world of green and blue and yellow, with the sides of the rail trail a sea of big, white daisies. There were many folk out enjoying the spectacle, moving at a variety of speeds, all apparently in the best of spirits. I reached the village of Instow, with its old signal box, where there were spectacular views across the golden sands to Appledore on the far shore. The tide was most definitely out and the mud and sand was dotted with small boats. It was an absolute picture, ideal for a quick latte and almond croissant stop from John’s, an exceptional delicatessen on Instow high street. I was very happy with all this.

Instow beach

From here onwards, I chose to follow the rail path as far is I usefully could, pushing inland along the Torridge valley for several more miles before taking to the tiny, undulating quiet North Devon lanes. I arrived in the small town of Holsworthy in time for a quick shower and a lamb shank dinner in the Kings Head, washed down with a couple of pints of Dartmoor Ale. As days go, this one was more than acceptable. The late evening sun still shone outside; but the weather forecast was causing Jenni some alarm and with good reason. Major changes were on the cards. It called for an early night and a lot of luck if tomorrow’s plan had any chance of working. Oh.

Tarka trail art