A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace. CONFUCIUS

Thursday, 9 September 2010

South West Coast Path

The South West Coast Path is Britain's longest waymarked trail, stretching for a staggering 634 miles (1014 km) around England's south-western peninsula. It begins in Minehead, but soon leaves Somerset for the coastline of North Devon. It then encircles the whole of coastal Cornwall, and takes a circuitous line round the South Devon coast, before coming to an end at Poole Harbour in Dorset.


In August I walked two-thirds of this trail from Minehead to Plymouth: a total of 410 miles (660 km). It took me the whole month to walk it. You can't do it quickly. It's a squirming, squiggly, writhing, wriggly kind of route, tracing every point and headland, often going back on itself as it seeks a way round inlets and estuaries (though you can often use ferries to cross these estuaries). Sometimes you feel you're walking two miles only to progress one mile. And it's a surprisingly strenuous route, possibly one of the most strenuous I've ever done in the UK (and that includes the Pennine Way). There's hardly ever an 'easy' day of flat walking. Most days you're on a perpetual roller-coaster of short but steep ups and downs. But, for all the hard work, it's a remarkable route, a beautiful route, and, though there were some busy coves and beaches bustling with surfers and holidaymakers (it was the month of August), much of the route was splendidly isolated, with only the occasional other walker for company.


I started out with full backpacking kit, but soon sent home all my camping gear - tent, stove, sleeping bag, sleeping mat. Even though the stuff was 'lightweight', I found it much too heavy to carry. The unaccustomed weight on my back and shoulders was spoiling the whole enjoyment of the walk. So I resigned myself to spending more money than planned - but could now look forward to hot showers, comfortable beds and big breakfasts in the B&Bs and country inns along the trail!

The photo above shows my first and only wildcamp. It was an idyllic spot just two hours west of Minehead. The moorland here - colourful with yellow gorse and purple heather - rolls steeply down to the Bristol Channel. I pitched my tent in the lee of a stone wall overlooking ferns and rocks, short bilberry bushes and the still, blue water of the channel. In half an hour all was done - tent up, air mat inflated, sleeping bag unpacked. I put some water to boil on my dinky little Coleman gas stove and sat cross-legged, gazing out into an infinity of blue. It was so peaceful. There were no passers-by. I felt like the only person in Somerset. Buzzards mewed and red deer barked. I relaxed, freed my mind and let the tranquillity drift over and through me. I watched the sun set. An owl distantly hooted. This walk was going to be good ...


Here are two views from my wildcamp ...


13 comments:

Bonnie said...

Breath-taking photos and inspiring text. Such a trek must become a touchstone in one's life.

I think the prospect of a hot shower and a hearty breakfast would convince me to forgo the camping out ... as long as I could find a beautiful spot such as yours to sit and contemplate during the day.

What a glorious planet we inhabit!

The Solitary Walker said...

Indeed, Bonnie - the glory to be discovered is endless.

I think that if I'd continued camping out and carrying all that weight I would have been home within a week!

George said...

Well, I knew this was going to be tough on me, Robert. I knew that your first reports on the South West Coast Path would make me restless, cause me to question what I am doing with the hours of my day — and so it has. I need to make this trip as soon as possible.

During the meantime, I am looking forward to any future postings on your experience. The first few photos are stunning, and I am greatly impressed that you completed two-thirds of the path in a month.

I hope I don't sound like a wimp here, but I really think you made the right decision in opting for the bed, hot showers, and hot food in the evenings. The task of walking great distances is made more pleasurable, at least in my view, when one is not unduly burdened with weight and can find some personal comfort at the end of the day.

In any event, congratulations! Perhaps you can provide some advice on how I might fill in the blanks following this approach to my wife (who is anxious to return to Italy): "Now, honey, I know that I have just returned from my coast-to-coast walk across England, but I've been thinking about — — —."

The Weaver of Grass said...

Glad you sent that camping gear back home where it belongs Robert - I would rather think of you in cosy B and B's!!

Lorenzo said...

Beautiful, Robert. I am glad that the "hot showers, comfortable beds and big breakfasts" did not completely ruin the trek. Looking forward to more.

The Solitary Walker said...

George - filling in the gaps might read: 'taking you, too, to an idyllic part of England, darling, for a special holiday treat! You know, the Devon-Cornish coastline, where the cliffs tower higher than those of Amalfi, and where the cider is even more delicious than the finest Italian wine? You'll be staying in the most luxurious hotels, and enjoying the best dining England has to offer - oh, those mouthwatering Cornish pasties and microwaved chips! The only snag is, my sweet - you have to carry my baggage in a hire-car from place to place, while I kill myself sweating up and down the coastal path each day!'

Or something like that. Then again, perhaps not ;)

Pat & Lorenzo - thanks for thinking of me having such a thoroughly miserable time in those oh-so-comfortable B&Bs...

gleaner said...

Beaut photos and like George, it has me restless and questioning how I spend my time!

Looking forward to more.

George said...

Your are a genius, Robert. I plan to use your proposal verbatim. I will let you know how it goes.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Thanks for the comment about the Lincoln Arboretum Robert - I wonder if that is its first makeover since the days when I lived there - if so then it was no doubt long overdue! I used to love it though and my aunts who lived nearbym never married and became four elderly spinsters together, used to put on their finery and walk there every Sunday afternoon.

The Solitary Walker said...

Thanks, Bella...

...and, George, looking forward to learning the reaction, though I'm afraid you may have had to duck...

Pat: thanks for the story!

Tramp said...

I keep missing you but I've finally nailed you down.
This is not just an explanation of what can be found on the South West Coastal Path but of what it meant to you and what it did to you.
I can certainly identify with the difficulty of returning after such a solo trip. During the trip it is you and the route, the elements, the journey. Once the journey has finished, that is when you are really on your own.
...Tramp

The Solitary Walker said...

Being nailed down sounds vaguely painful, Tramp... but I know what you mean.

The constant climbing and descending day by day did tire me, and I'm only just now emerging from a period of deep lethargy, lack of energy and a cold virus, after returning home over a week ago!

What I found was this: no matter how much fitter I appeared to get over the weeks (muscles firmer, a little weight lost etc), or how much more accustomed I became to the daily physical exertion, it still didn't really get any easier as the walk went on. Some days I felt I had winged feet; but all too often I felt I had feet of clay.

However, the effort was well worth it - for I was privileged to see, in a non-stop, linear way, a piece of England that is unspoilt, old-fashioned and spectacularly beautiful. I don't think I saw one factory or one electricity pylon for a month.

Kiwi Nomad 2008 said...

I thought I should let you know where these very posts of yours might be leading me!!!
http://dawdlingwalks.blogspot.com/2010/12/south-west-coast-path.html