Day 53, Tiverton to Sandford, 15 miles. 'Another Exe-ellent Day.'
A shorter day today, which was just as well after making over 50 miles in the last 48 hours, still I would never usually walk 15 miles on a 'normal', non-hiking day and, as I had experienced in full on the Pennine Way, these shorter days can actually be more troublesome than the marathon ones, however today turned out to be a perfectly pleasant stroll through lanes and along the river Exe into the heartlands of Devon.
I've found that, occasionally, it can be tricky when leaving these rural towns and trying to find a route that doesn't involve road walking (if possible), so I was fortunate that the Exe Valley Way went directly through Tiverton and was able to pick up this charming trail about two minutes from my accommodation. Truth be told I had no idea what to expect, the Exe was not a path I had reviewed in any detail whatsoever as I would only be on it for around three hours, but I was in luck as it turned out to be a beautiful romp through the Devonshire countryside.
For the first mile or so the track ran through the edge of Tiverton and it was mainly houses and allotments for the early morning section of the walk, but the views slowly changed from the urban remnants of the town into untouched, rolling countryside with the River Exe never far from view, bubbling along in agreeable fashion. Once out into the wilds again I spent most of the morning weaving my way easily through secluded forest glades and open pastureland - there may have been one herd of cows but they didn't even get up as I crept nervously by - so far so good.
Sadly, all good things must come to an end, and my time on the Exe Way was no exception as I soon found myself in the village of Bickleigh which boasted nearly as many pubs as houses - I picked the Fisherman's Cot as it overlooked the river, sat in the beer garden and, even though it was barely midday, treated myself to an early lunch and some delightful local ales.
Truth be told I was reluctant to leave Bickleigh, the pub and town were delightful and once I departed there would be no more Exe Way to hold my hand, no it was back on the Devon lanes which seem to avoid pavements and speed cameras in equal measure, they also have a propensity for taking in every possible inch of incline and making every corner blinder than Stevie Wonder at a 'staring directly into the sun' contest. I have been trying to avoid road walking as much as humanly possible on this journey but Devon is one of those counties where it is largely impossible, still there are worse places to be than rural Devon in early June so I shouldn't complain too loudly.
So with no pavement and no choice but to follow the roads I continued on, knowing I was already well over halfway with today - that was another benefit to the Exe Way, I had already made 9 or so miles of this 15 mile day without realising it. From here the lanes went on in a well maintained, but ultimately rather dull, fashion. There were small towns and farmsteads, but after more that two months on the trail they all begin to look rather alike to be honest. My destination had initially been the town of Crediton, but due to a lack of available accommodation I was forced to make for the tiny village of Sandford where I had made reservations at a local B&B. As I approached the 'settlement', the lanes turned from freshly tarmacked affairs into glorified tractor paths which was actually a relief. No self respecting car would be seen dead on these tracks, and I was therefore able to arrive into Sandford unmolested by traffic, farm vehicles, cattle, or anything remotely interesting. Still, it was easy on the eyes for lane walking.
Upon arrival I sheepishly checked into my B&B as no one was answering the phone or door, but the latter was open, so I crept about the place until I ran into the owner. Regrettably, the highly rated pub just across the street was closed on Mondays (just my luck), but there was a hotel just up the road, The Lamb Inn, and so I begrudgingly acquiesced and trotted over to get some dinner. As it turned out the Lamb was top notch with a wide range of beers, an eclectic menu and, best of all, it was nearly empty. I sank into a chair by the fire and had just begun to write up my notes when I heard a table of four behind me discussing Ladywell - a tiny sub-section of London barely three minutes' walk from my door. As a Londoner there are few things I hate more than being accosted by a random stranger, but out here in rural Devon I had noticed the rules were a little different, so I waited for a break in their conversation and introduced myself. As it turns out they were a lovely pair of couples out here for a holiday and we chatted briefly before returning to our own little worlds. However, the very next day, I noticed an anonymous donation of £100 had been made to my fundraising page citing the Lamb Inn as a note against the donation - I guess sometimes it pays to strike up conversations with strangers - just don't try it in London.