Just past a bridle path on our left signed to Kemacott, we turned right through a hunting gate into the footpath across Martinhoe Common which led to Slattenslade. We marched straight across the middle of a pasture still soaking with dew and, passing through another hunting gate, crossed a lane into a huge field of cattle and sheep. We kept close to the right hand boundary and after negotiating two 5-bar gates found ourselves in the lane above Slattenslade. We turned right down to a cottage and here turned left to climb up towards the car parks above Woody Bay. At a crossroads we bore right downhill and, at a hairpin bend, turned off left into the bridleway which leads to Hunters Inn.
This is a good, broad track along which we marched at a smart, Somerset Light Infantry pace through a woodland of old oaks which stretched away down to the sea far below. It was a beautiful, sunny morning with a veil of haze where the sea faded into the sky.
The woodland eventually gave way to open heathland, where the air was rich with the earthy scent of the dying bracken, and we were rewarded with marvellous views eastwards along the coast towards Lynmouth. The sea was denim blue, patched dark by the passing clouds.
The Coastal Path was clearly visible a hundred feet or so beneath us. If we had turned right at Slattenslade, the lane would have taken us down towards the beach and given access to the path.
The bridle path, however, suited us fine, and we bowled along towards Hunters Inn. As usual a smattering of dog walkers warned us that we were getting nearer and, after passing into the woodland above Heddons Mouth, suddenly the pub was there before us. It was too early for more than a handful of customers, and we walked past the entrance and over the river before turning left into the path which led us up the valley, first through Invention Wood and then Heale Wood until we crossed the foot bridge to regain the road. Opposite was Mill Farm, whose chimney was one of those wondrous structures which have stood for so long that their stonework appears to have metamorphosed into some strange vegetable matter. It was guarded by an elderly terrier who was enlivening his twilight days by playing chicken in the road.
We walked a short way up the lane before turning right into a metalled driveway which was signposted as a footpath to a place with the delicious name of Higher Bumsley. The sunlight was slanting downwards through the trees but an icy chill fingered upwards from the stream which foamed white beneath us away towards the sea.
The path passed behind the Heddon Mill buildings, and then climbed away steeply towards Parracombe. It levelled out and then took us along through pasture land before entering a narrow path as we neared the village. There were high hazel hedges underpinned by bramble patches on either side of the way before we came down past some stone barns into the outlying hamlet of Bodley with its old cottages propped up against the weather by vast buttresses. Just past a rank of modernish houses we took a footpath which finally took us down through a maze of cottages before it tipped us out into the street just above the river bridge and the Fox & Goose.
The pub is a late Victorian building with a curious pub sign. On one side there is the fox, luridly caricatured and about to tuck into a large pie, presumably containing the goose. On the other side is the goose itself, depicted more in the slightly mystical style of a primitive cave painting. It’s an eccentric contrast.
There were three proper beers, all racked up behind the bar and served straight from the barrel at the best of temperatures. Ever dedicated to drinking anything new to us, we started for the purposes of research with a pint each of Bays Gold. Bays Brewery has been brewing in Paignton only since last year, and its Gold is a typical, lemony, bitter bitter of that ilk. If you like these citrus-type ales, you will like Bays. We are not that crazy about them, and we moved on to an old favourite, Cotleigh’s Barn Owl, a dark-red kind of junior porter which we find irresistible. The Fox & Goose takes its food seriously, and charges accordingly. You can get a sandwich for less than five pounds, but the fresh fish dishes were only just short of £15 and a fillet steak would set you back £16. The cooking obviously enjoys a reputation as on a Friday lunchtime there was a respectable number of people eating. It was a grand place to sit, however, and enjoy a five star pint.
We turned left out of the pub and walked up the narrow, winding street before taking a lane to our right which led past an obviously Victorian gothic revival church. We continued past the primary school until a track led us to the original parish church of St Petrock, usually identified as a Cornish saint – Padstow is supposed to be a corruption of his name – although he was the son of a Welsh king and gives his name also to churches in Devon and Somerset. The church dates from the eleventh century and since 1879, when the other church was first planned, has disappointed all those who have expected it to fall down. John Ruskin, who donated £10, was among the many who contributed to ensure that it was not demolished and the new church built on its site. The Georgian interior is quite unspoiled with a splendid screen and lovely box pews.