I have had an idea for a new kind of project brewing for a while and last week I made a snap decision to make a start. The Boy decided to get involved, I roped in LSH to help and The Girl and The Dog got dragged along for the ride.
So What Is This Project? Walking the South West Coast Path, which goes from Minehead in Somerset, along the North Devon and Cornwall Coasts, back along the South Cornwall and South Devon coasts, then along the Dorset coast to South Haven Point, a whopping 630 miles in total. There are suggested ways of breaking this into 30, 46 and 82 day walks, but we’re starting off working from the standard 52 day list, although we won’t be tackling it in 8 weeks solid, I think a weeks worth of walks a year for 8 consecutive years will be challenging enough for us.
I’ve been musing on doing this for while, from when The Boy and I walked a couple of sections previously, and when someone gave me Walking Away as a present, and my brothers tales of walking the John Muir Way near his home in Scotland, but in the end, it was the fact that we had a bank holiday weekend coming up with nothing planned that spurred me into action.
After sorting and packing the camper van, we had brunch on Sunday and then drove from up the Exe Valley, through Tiverton and on through Exmoor to Minehead. When the iconic headland came into view LSH told The Boy “You’ll be walking up that tomorrow” and I thought “Eek, what have I done”.
We’d booked in a nice little campsite that allowed vans and kids and dogs and after settling in and making daisy chains we walked into Minehead to explore. I didn’t think much of the town itself, all Poundland style shops and not much else, but the kids had fun on the beach while I took The Dog (who was Not Allowed on the beach, it being high season now) past the harbour to explore the grassland at the start of the coast path. Eventually the rest of the family caught us up and then we all walked back to the campsite following a stream through some parks most of the way, ate and got an early night (well, for adults at least, later than usual for the Kids but there is no point trying to get them to sleep before dark on a campsite).
In the morning we had a cooked breakfast and packed up the van in record time and then drove down to have the obligatory photo taken by the statue that marks the beginning/end of the walk. Then LSH drove the van 2 minutes to the carpark whilst the rest of us walked. I’d been reading the everyone the initial chapters of Walking Away at the campsite so The Girl made us a sign to match the one Simon Armitage got. And then we all walked across the meadow and into the trees. But as the path turned steep, The Girl refused to go any further (despite their being a perfectly nice circular walk around the headland that starts on the SWCP) and it was time to say goodbyes.
The walk up the headland was steep, but the lovely woodland provided welcome shade from the heatwave we were having. Going was slow as I stopped to take photo’s and The Boy stopped to look at boats through his binoculars and kept wanting to look at the map. We were walking just as the ferns were getting ready to unfurl and I thought they looked like alien lifeforms.
We also found a “cave of bees” (several bumble bee’s going in and out of the holes in the rock, moving too fast for me to photograph), and puzzled over the many short branches coming diagonally of the track leading straight to the steep cliff.
Once up the top onto Exmoor, we chose the “rugged” alternative that hugs the coast and gave us spectacular views down the cliff to the see where we could see the sea mist / clouds below us (there was a bit of a debate on that one) and a shoal of fish moving around and breaking the surface. There were several coombes (steep sided valleys) to cross and a long straightish stretch where it was hard to tell how far along we were and The Boy starting worrying aloud that we had fallen onto an Infinite Path and would have to chose between eventually starving to death or plummiting to our doom off the cliffs when despair overtook us. There were lots of pretty flowers for me to take photo’s of, including some blue bells, which I associate more with woodlands than clifftops.
We did make it to the other side of Exmoor though and then down a really steep slope that I found very unpleasant to negotiate and a short detour to Hurlstone Point, where we finished our lunch and The Boy expolored the ruin, clambered on the rocks and saw a lizard a bit like this. Then after rejoining the path there was a short stretch through the lovely shade of the woods and along the river to Bossington (stopping to try out the tyre swing obviously) where there was a carpark with a toilet, bliss!
We bought some apple juice from a farmhouse guarded by a large owl sculputre, then walked through the slightly eerie saltmarsh which was previously farmland but there is a managed retreat happening after a big breach of the natural shingle ridge that protected the farmland from the sea. The dead trees reminded me of the famous Salvadore Dali painting of Swans reflecting Elephants.
Thanks to the wonders of modern technology the Support Team came to meet us and walked the last bit of the saltmarsh and across the shingles to Porlock Wier with us, where we celebrated with icecreams. Then a very tired family set off for home, with a short stop for sustenance on the way.
So, 8.9 miles done, I guess that leaves 621.1 to go.