Day 4: Going it alone

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Sunday 19th October 2014 (Posted 04/05/15… Only one post behind now!)
Combe Martin to Ilfracombe:  Distance 5.3 miles / Ascent 1280 feet

Cumulative: Distance 40.4 Miles / Ascent 10,026 feet (plus “alternative rugged coast path” of Day 1)

It has to be said, a ‘Full English’ breakfast prior to walking, can most definitely be recommended. In reality, however, I guess the financial impact of traveling to and from each leg of this mammoth task, will unfortunately render bed and breakfast a “luxury” and, therefore, limit the number of bacon and egg moments prior to me lacing up my boots. Consequently, this particular occasion was savoured to its maximum.

Jenny’s feet were far from healthy and, although it was clearly a sensible decision, my agreement to plod on alone, leaving Jenny in Combe Martin to have a little meander at a leisurely pace, was a lonely option. Arrangements were made for me to provide a mobile phone tip off on my arrival at Ilfracombe, whereby the lovely Penny from Mellstock House would drive over, accompanied by Jenny, to grab me and transport me back to Combe Martin. Au revoirs were shared between Jenny and I, above Combe Martin cove, and I strode out, intending to see if I could meet the challenge laid down in the South West Coast Path Association handbook and complete the walk in the 2.5 hours indicated.

Racing against the clock gave me a much needed focus. This was the first stretch I was to complete alone and, even though it was only my fourth walk, and one might have thought it was too early for a pattern to have been established, I missed the companionship of my fellow walker.

Looking back, as I left Combe Martin, I was able to photograph Great Hangman and Little Hangman and mentally revisited the walk of the previous day and the difficulties Jenny and I had encountered. The sun shone brightly and the clear skies coloured the sea blue, with waves crashing in a gush of white froth against the rocks. My spirits were lifted, as they always are in the vicnity of the ocean. I was reminded of the beauty of our coast and couldn’t resist, half way along the route, slipping off my boots and photographing them on a bench, overlooking Ilfracombe. This was to be my final walk of 2014, as the shortening of each day would prevent further walks before Spring of 2015, so I thought it only fitting to pay tribute to my trusty boots.

As I approached Hele Bay, the second cup of tea which had accompanied the earlier Full English, began to take its toll and I prayed the public toilets would be unlocked. Nearing the toilets, a moment of panic lodged in my throat, or maybe it was my bladder, as I realised my Girl Guide training and loyalty to the motto “Be Prepared” had resulted in me secreting a £20 note into my back pack “in case of emergencies” but, if a 20p coin was required to access the public lavatories, I was going to find myself anything but “prepared”. As I write this I realise this is the third post to have a “toilet” issue, it seems to be a recurring theme! I was fortunate to find Hele Bay toilets required no coinage, as well as being clean and providing: soap, water and warm air… but made a note to self to carry a selection of coins on my next walk.

Leaving Hele Bay, one climbs the steep zigzagging path, to the summit of Hillsborough. The ‘Full English’ impeded a speedy arrival and the Black Country couple I encountered on their way down, towards Hele Bay, were probably not fooled by my engagement in lengthy conversation, recognising it as an attempt for me to gain my breath before proceeding. The views were most certainly spectacular, with Damian Hirst’s “Verity” creating a huge spectacle of herself. (Googling ‘Verity Ilfracombe’ should provide you with images.) I question why it was felt that Ilfracombe required a 66 foot woman brandishing sword, scales and legal text books… there may be some geographical places on earth where women may find justice to be lacking and, as such, a reminder may well be needed, however, Ilfracombe most certainly does not spring to mind as one of those geographical locations.

As I made my way down the steep meandering slope towards Ilfracombe, the descent towards the town brought the harbour and its surroundings into perspective and I was able to identify familiar aspects. Memories of Ilfracombe trips infiltrated my thoughts, including my youngest son’s fishing trip, and him proudly holding his catch aloft as the boat returned to the harbour. One particular memory, involving my good friend Christine, always brings a smile. In an attempt to escape the endless British drizzzle, accompanied by my three young sons, we had entered yet another shop on the Ilfracombe harbour, only to find it housed hugely expensive items, littering low level shelves. My heart was in my mouth as my sons skimmed past each shelf and, watching them intently, I guided them away from the costly articles and back towards the door. Nearing the doorway, I heard an almighty crash and, on taking a deep gulp, I turned around and discovered, rather than a calamity involving one of my sons, it was in fact the hem of Christine’s raincoat which had caught and dislodged one of the priceless pieces!

As I followed the signs for the coast path, I noticed they guided me away from the harbour but, as this is where I had agreed to meet Penny and Jenny, I made my way towards Verity and the appointed rendezvous, proudly noting I had achieved the fourth leg within the 2.5 hours suggested by the book, even having paused to remove my boots to carry out the official photograph, which now takes pride of place on the front page of my blog.

Whilst I sat on a harbour bench, awaiting the arrival of Penny’s charabanc, Verity cast a glance over her shoulder and scowled. Maybe, with such eagerness to vehemently share her message of justice, strength and equality amongst those who inhabit and visit Ilfracombe, she perceived my little stroll from Combe Martin to Ilfracombe to be one of triviality.

Verity… I think, maybe, you rather miss the point… it is indeed freedom of choice, justice, equality and strength which enabled me to conduct my walk.

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Day 3: Blisters before Dusk

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Saturday 18th October 2014 (Posted 21/04/15… shocking delay!)
Lynmouth to Combe Martin:  Distance 13.3 miles / Ascent 3766 feet (greater ascent than climbing Snowdon, apparently!)

Cumulative: Distance 35.1 Miles / Ascent 8,746 feet (plus “alternative rugged coast path” of Day 1)

In the summer, Jenny and I enjoyed our annual trip in my Motorhome, Morgan, to the far distant fields of Cheddar. For those who read my blog on distant shores and may be less familiar with the South West geography of England, this is only 6 miles from my home and, indeed the home of our yummy Cheddar Cheese! Knowing our calendars quickly filled up, it seemed a good idea to arrange the next Morgan weekend well in advance and so, the weekend of 17-19 October was etched into our diaries. Little did Jenny suspect, several weeks later, when I suggested a switch from a Morgan weekend to South West Coast Path walk, the trials that lay ahead. As Jenny was a seasoned walker, I knew that walking was not something which fazed her and, as anticipated, she readily agreed.

I went ahead and booked two night’s accommodation at Mellstock House, Combe Martin, which we were to discover was a wonderful guest house, to include evening meal and breakfast. As members of the South West Coast Path Association, and at no additional cost, our hosts Penny and John agreed to transport us to Lynmouth on the Saturday and collect us from Ilfracombe on the Sunday afternoon; with us breaking our walk at their guest house Combe Martin Saturday evening.

Jenny lives half a mile from where we work, en route to the M5, so we planned that I’d pick up Jenny just after 4pm, as I left work. Poppy (my six year old rescue Westie) had alternative thoughts. On the previous evening, her trip to the vets revealed a further five  days of antibiotics required. Now, as super as my neighbours are in sorting Poppy’s feeding, watering and toileting, expecting them to corner an unco-operative Poppy into her basket, prise open her ear (between the thumb and finger of one hand) whilst locating the ear canal with the nozzle of the tube of medicine, and inbetween Poppy’s numerous attempts to avoid the procedure, squirt medication down her infected ear was above and beyond the call of duty. And so, plans were edited and I traveled home straight from work, to medicate said ear and then return to within half a mile of work to collect Jenny. A twenty two mile round trip but dear Poppy, and all her infuriating rescue dog habits, was worth it. (The lovely Claire agreed to drive over on the Saturday evening to administer antibiotic Day Two!) However,  having conducted the required veterinary process, and begun my return journey to Weston-super-Mare, there was a nagging which chiseled away in the depths of my memory bank. I ran through the contents of the car… Radley overnight bag (proud possession!), walking boots,  poles and clothes, food and water for next day’s lunch during walk, iPad, maps, chargers for iPad and phone… maps, maps, maps… I had no recollection of climbing on the piano stool to reach the maps down from the top shelf of the book case. Groan. U-turn on A370. Home. Retrieve maps. Text to Jenny to say am just leaving house, again, and will be with her ‘far’ later than intended.

Without further ado, Jenny was collected and the journey began. All was good as we sped along the motorway, aiming for the A361. As we left the M5 at junction 27 the sun had set and darkness was settling around us. Nevertheless, the journey continued with ease as the road was reasonably lit and often dual carriageway. Our turning off the A361 onto the A399 brought with it: torrential rain; complete darkness and worryingly twisty roads. Being unfamiliar with the roads my speed dropped to 25mph and a trail of traffic followed in my wake. Road signs promised the close proximity of Combe Martin and I suggested to Jenny to ring the guest house and let them know our arrival, although not imminent, was certainly going to take place that evening. As Jenny leaned forward into the footwell to ferret for my phone through the handbags, scarves and carrier bags tangled around her feet, a large dark shape flung itself across my path from the right, resting upon its four legs in front of my bonnet. Shifting my foot from the accelerator to the brake pedal whilst simultaneously putting my left arm across Jenny for fear she may bang her head, the car continued its path towards a deer. Oblivious to our screams and prayers, as we careered to a slower halt than we may have done on a dry road, the deer gave us a look of indifference, before nonchalantly scaling the fence to continue its journey into the field at the side of the road. Whilst a little shaken we continued, wishing our arrival at Combe Martin was approaching ‘forthwith’!

Fortunately the rain eased on our arrival and we were able to decant the contents out of our car and into Mellstock House without being drowned. We related our Bambi encounter to our hosts whilst enjoying a complimentary and most appreciated cup of tea and coffee and selecting our menu choices for our dinner.  We ordered our evening meal, cottage pie for me and pork burgers for Jenny, and were shown to our room by John whilst Penny began to conjure up our two course meal. A quick wash and change of clothes and we returned downstairs to tuck into the meal… And very good it was too, with vegetables to accompany our meals, cooked to perfection. I decided on a bottle of red to enjoy over the two evenings and Jenny, one who never drinks alcohol take note, settled on a cup of tea. Our evening in the bar was filled with banter, laughter and, by the end of the evening, we parted from our newly found hosts with a friendship that was easily formed between like minded congenial company. We both slept soundly and woke early ready for our full English and lift to Lynmouth, ready to begin the third leg of the walk.

As Penny drove us across to Lynmouth, Jenny did her utmost to convince me that Penny should drop us at Lynton, rather than the designated Lynmouth which was sea level and would require a reasonable level of energy to clamber up the coast path to Lynton. But… my previous walk had concluded on the white iron bridge of Lynmouth and, therefore,  Lynmouth was indeed the necessary starting point. Penny duly obliged, dropping us in the Lynmouth car park and we walked down to the iron bridge for the obligatory photo shoot.

Our walk began with great determination as we clambered up the tarmac path which zigzagged alongside the cliff railway, although having such an early start meant we were unable to observe the funicular cliff lift in action. Once at the top, we enjoyed the extensive coastal views as we walked towards Valley of the Rocks, keeping our eyes peeled for the feral goats that roamed amongst the rocks. As we passed Lee Abbey and made our way towards Woody Bay, less than two miles into the journey Jenny decided an impromptu toilet stop was required and it was my role to keep guard as she snook behind a tree! (Very difficult as Autumn was well upon us and vegetation was now depleted leaving large gaps through which squatting bodies could be identified!)

With many trees having lost their leaves, we were fortunate to enjoy wonderful views back across to Lee Abbey and Valley of Rocks. The coast path edged along the cliff top, through woods and even along country roads, where we had to watch out for cars as the roads narrowed. Returning to a wooded path, I had to balance precariously at the edge of a waterfall for another photo shoot, although, yet again, Jenny declined the photo opportunity. As we returned to the cliff top, beautiful coastal scenery opened up before us and the sun peaked here and there through the clouds. Eventually the path wound down towards the river and deeper into the wooded area of Heddon Valley… Heddon Valley, the one place where a get out clause was permissible with public transport available further up the valley ensuring relocation to Combe Martin a far less strenuous manner. Jenny assured me her feet were holding up and  we should continue with our planned itinerary. We crossed the river by a small stone bridge and I continued striding out, aware that time was of the essence if we were to arrive in Combe Martin before the arrival of dusk. Nearing the top of the track, and believing Jenny might have been finding the path a little tricky as she had made no participation within the conversation,  I turned to find that, in actual fact, i had been talking to myslef, Jenny was still at the bottom, chatting to strangers (her favourite past time!) It was at this point I began to fear whether we would complete the trek before dark. Jenny finally caught up and we located a bench that gave us a view of the sea whilst we quickly ate our tuna and sweet corn sandwiches and munched through bags of hula hoops before continuing our journey.

Strong winds, stone walls, bridle gates and stiles marked our way towards Combe Martin, though I was aware that Jenny’s pace was slowing and I was concerned that maybe Jenny wasn’t sharing all the information regarding her feet. Being bossy, I insisted Jenny sit down and we checked out her feet… Badly blistered, despite having spent a fortune on special plasters. Socks changed and an adamant, “I am not stopping, I am going to complete this walk”, Jenny placed her walking shoes back on her weary feet and valiantly (no, I am not being dramatic), valiantly continued to walk.

Ignoring her protestations, I grabbed Jenny’s bag and carried it for the reminder of the walk, hoping to ease her burden a little. The next leg was down the extremely steep-sided slope towards the stream, passing the National Trust Great Hangman sign and alerting us to the fact we were approaching the highest point of the South West Coast Path. Even with sticks, the slope was significantly difficult. Once over the stream, a zig zag path led us back up the other side, towards Great Hangman and its renowned altitude. Jenny plodded on and I don’t really know the extent of pain she was in as, Jenny being Jenny, she soldiered on, regardless. We finally made it to the cairn on the top of the Great Hangman and, despite her attempts to avoid the camera, I insisted she had her photo taken whilst she added her thrown rock to the cairn, as a momento of her achievement. Darkness was beginning to fall and I feared, only three walks into the 630 miles, I was going to have to call the coastguard for support to help us off the coast path and to the safety of Combe Martin.

Rather than pausing to take in the  wonderful views from the cairn, we “sped” (this word is chosen for dramatic effect… “Limped” would be far more accurate) towards Little Hangman and the sloping downhill Coast Path which would lead to Combe Martin and our home for the night.  For the last half mile or so, I had to use my mobile phone to light the way down the steps towards the village. As the lights of the village grew brighter, and our destination neared, we rang Penny and John to reassure them we were safe and we would soon arrive at the Mellstock doorway. A second photo shoot at the bottom of the hill, near the cove, recorded the completion of the leg and the distances Eastward.

A small incline from the cove up to Mellstock House and our desperate knocking on the door, concluded with our hosts pouring Jenny a much needed and begged for cider (you may recall, Jenny never drinks alcohol!) which she necked whilst stood outside the front door, leaning against my car, shoes removed and socks exposed. To quote Jenny: “that cider never touched the sides”.

Wearily we clambered up the stairs to the first floor, staggered through our bedroom door and silently lay prostrate on the beds, wondering if we would ever gather the energy to return downstairs for supper… and me… well I said a little prayer for our safe return… And gratitude for not having required the support of the coastguard.

Day 2: It takes two

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Sunday 5th October 2014 (Posted 03/11/14)

Porlock Weir to Lynmouth:  Distance 12.3 miles / Ascent 3,156 feet

Cumulative: Distance 21.8 Miles / Ascent 4,980 feet (plus “alternative rugged coast path” of Day 1)

With the exception of the bus driver, whose forgetful antics I surely cannot be held responsible for, I felt the planning of the inaugural leg had a reasonable level of competence. I was, therefore, fairly confident that, following this positive experience, my successful planning of future legs would thrive. I believed that merely replicating my new found knowledge and skills across the planning requirements for the remaining seventy or so legs of the South West Coast Path Walk (depending on which guide book you choose to follow!) would result in the planning for future walks being accomplished with great ease! Hmmm… It would appear that such thoughts were just a tad premature or maybe, more realistically, highly naive!

The starting point (Porlock Weir) and finishing point (Lynmouth) were fairly simple to identify as both the guide books which I had purchased agreed on the same “Day 2” of the walk. The necessity of parking was also readily achievable, with a quick check on the internet revealing an all day car parking space in the vicinity of Lynmouth available for the sum of £5, which proved a bargain when compared with Porlock Weir’s daily car parking spaces being rented at a whopping £8.

My youngest son, Jonathan had spotted a pair of walking poles at half price within a store in Worcester and my sons: Matthew (26), Luke (24) and Jonathan (22) had agreed to buy them for me for a Christmas gift. (I love this time of year, when it is so easy to recall how old my sons are… Come April, and Jonathan’s birthday, they all go higgledy piggledy again until September!)

Furthermore, my good friend Sue, had already put up her hand for the second leg and agreed to partner me on the route. I’m certain that when Sue and I encountered each other in the heart of the dialect, accents and grammar lectures of the 1994 English degree university classroom, Sue never considered the possibility of a lengthy  stroll along the South West Coast Path twenty years later… Heated debates in a public house as to whether Jane Austen was “just another Mills and Boon” would have most definitely been a high probability, however, blisters, rhododendron bushes and scaling Countisbury Hill would most surely not even have registered on Sue’s horizon of any future life which encompassed me! Might I say, however, what a gem of life would have been forfeited by us both had the encounter within the classroom been averted and the companionship of the second leg of the South West Coast Path failed to materialise.

So, with car parking located, geographical  location  of walk confirmed and my walking companion eagerly awaiting the arrival of the said date, Sunday 5th October 2014, the only aspect of the walk which remained to be planned was she transporting of us both from Lynmouth to Porlock Weir, in order for our return amble to be accomplished. And there the planning with ease came to a screaming halt. Whereas for the first leg, following an Internet search, I had quickly located a bus to transport us from the Porlock Weir car park to Minehead, despite repeated in depth searches, I was unable to locate the topless bus, which I understood linked our two locations (Lynmouth and Porlock Weir), via the A39. Further investigation located a collective noun of buses (what would that collective noun be, I wonder?!) which would transport us from Lynmouth to Porlock Weir, via what seemed to be several villages and towns within Exmoor, North Devon and Somerset, for the extremely delayed delivery of five and a half hours… Really?! In desperation, I telephoned Lynmouth Tourist Information, who advised me that the topless bus had been grounded as the company no longer existed and confirmed, “Yes”, the only other option was a nigh on six hour journey by a variety of buses! So, that left me with only two viable options… “One”, a taxi (£25) or “two”, we travel in two cars, leaving one at Porlock Weir and the other at Lynmouth. After a moment or two’s deliberation between Sue and I, we quickly established the fact that travelling in two cars would incur double fuel and double car parking fees but, most significantly, the loss of the fun of the occasion of traveling together, which outweighed the cost of the taxi fare. The taxi was booked, Bill of 1st Call Exmoor Taxis and, after a small explanation of: “No, I couldn’t walk in the opposite direction from Lynmouth to Porlock Weir and he dropped us back to Lynmouth… Well, because that was the ‘wrong way’ and would not support my OCD tendencies”, Bill happily agreed to pick us up from Lynmouth. Had he spoken with my work colleagues, Bill would have not even posed the ‘reverse walk’ question, for he would have determined that I was not even capable of reversing our work lunchtime walk!

Sue brightened the whole occasion with her homemade flapjack, (maybe I could encourage her to make some for each leg of the walk), and I brought bacon ciabattas to the breakfast table, along with a flask of coffee. With a little disbelief, our planned timings were fully adhered to, with Bill dropping us, as planned to Porlock Weir car park for our 10am start… and he even had a pair of nail scissors to rectify my broken nail en route! (Note to self to carry an emery board on future legs!)

And so, the second leg began. Initially it seemed the preparation was greater than the intended walk! The weather was fine and the path was well signed. With two bottles of water each, breakfast biscuits, ham ciabattas and homemade flapjack life was looking good. Little did we know what lay before us. The view of the coast was very quickly impaired by the onset of wooded areas and, in particular, rhododendron bushes, which seemed to flank the ‘coastal’ path for miles and miles, obscuring the stunning coastal views which we had anticipated . Whilst Summer may have produced beautiful flowers, with a scent to match, we had only endless branches with their protruding green leaves to keep us company. On an odd occasion we glimpsed what we believed to be the sea, presented between a small break within this intrusive wall of nature, which would most certainly not be considered to be native. Although these glimpses helped to remind us we were walking a coast path, their rarity made it impossible to note coastal landmarks, which would have enabled us to visually mark our progress. Instead we had only the aching feet upon which to measure our advancement towards our destination.

Thank heavens, the tediousness of this path was broken by several moments of pleasure:

Culbone church appeared from nowhere. Enabling a congregation of just about thirty parishioners. Reputed to be the smallest church in England (that still holds regular services) and apparently having a window through which members of the local leper colony were permitted to engage in the service, this tiny church nestled within the woods and directly on the South West Coast Path. At this time our path crossed with Colin and Paul who kindly obliged us by taking a photo of us both at the Church. After our visit to the church we said “goodbye”, for the men decided the answer to the dreariness of the path was to head upwards and take the alternative coast path… As always, I plumbed for the path closest to the coast, albeit a secluded one, secreted beyond the depths of dense vegetation.

Encountering Sister’s Fountain was a landmark for us as this provided the crossing from Somerset into Devon, as well as the folklore of Joseph of Arimathea, who having struck the ground with his staff brought forth a spring. Definite photo spot!

After several miles of tedious plodding, the unsuccessful search for a bench and the failed observation of the coast, the rise and fall of this tiresome path began to take its toll upon our legs and, even with the walking poles shared between us, our resolve for reaching our destination began to diminish. Until, rather like an oasis in the middle of the desert, though maybe I exaggerate a little (?!), at the summit of one of the longer climbs, both a stunning view and an empty bench appeared forthwith! We gratefullly placed our weary bottoms upon its wooden length, located the much needed flapjack and savoured every crumbly bite as we gazed upon the stunning view which had been so very absent for the majority of the walk. (More healthy ham and tomato ciabattas were also on the menu, along with bags of hula hoops, but the flapjack was the star attraction!) Whilst lunching, another couple appeared at the brow of the hill and we offered to share our bench and agreed upon the difficulty of this particular length of the coast path. Shortly after, Colin and Paul reappeared, a little dishevelled and confirming that despite having ‘ascended’ in order to gain viewing opportunities, the views had failed to materialise rendering the additional ascent pointless. Colin and Paul continued on their way. Once our flapjack was consumed, and with the knowledge that there was still a considerable distance to be covered, we wished our bench companions well and began the second part of our journey.

With the coast now clearly visible, flapjack devoured and renewed energy we strode towards Lynmouth. Our striding must have been greater than that of Colin and Paul’s for we quickly caught them up and the remainder of the walk was conducted as a quartet. Whilst the clear views gave us the ability to landmark and chart our progress, which raised our spirits, they quickly plummeted to a new low when a valley seemed to appear out of nowhere, meaning rather than the climb of Countisbury Hill beginning part way up the hill, we had to walk down into the valley and commence the climb from much lower down. For those not familiar with this hill, there is a road on the other side of the hill, which has escape routes because of the steepness of its incline. Climbing Countisbury Hill as an isolated venture would result in an amount of heavy breathing. At this point in our walk, with aching thighs, throbbing calves and (in Sue’s case) blistered feet each step which took us lower into the valley was burdened by the knowledge that the balance would have to be later redressed by the equal amount of ‘up’ steps… Oh, and did I mention we both needed the toilet and, having been surrounded for so long by suitable nature curtains, we were now completely conspicuous, with not an appropriate bush to be seen.

On reaching the bottom of the steps, the dark cloud, which had hovered tauntingly above us, decided it was a suitable time to release its precipitation… I felt so weary, the thought of stopping and retrieving my raincoat from my bag seemed far too great a task and, the coolness of the rain actually seemed to ease the chore which stood before us. Believing our weary legs would hinder Paul and Colin, I offered for the gents to lead the way but they declined, allowing us to tread the initial steps, with them following behind. I commented that ‘I really was not fit’ and Paul pointed out… “But you’re here and you’re doing it”. Thank you Paul, a much needed positive reminder. I’m not exactly sure when Sue declared that she thought she might die… It may have been this stretch, slightly earlier or slightly later. By now, much blurring of mind took place. I do recall reaching what initially appeared to be ‘the top’, only to discover there was a path which continued “up”… I think it was at this point that Colin reassured me the ‘continuing up path’ took you to the road and we were to traverse the path this side of the road… And, therefore, no further ascent was required. This knowledge and the liquorice toffee that he offered brought great relief… Well to my mind and taste buds, anyway. The bladder still required a receptacle for its relief.

Lynmouth harbour was clearly visible but it’s minuteness only served to heighten its distance from us, truly disconcerting. The downhill trudge towards the harbour continued for well over an hour, eventually bypassing the ‘escape lane’, climbing steps made for people with four foot long legs, balancing along the wall on the edge of the road and, finally, zig zagging down through the woods to the coast and the edge of the harbour, where a deserved photo call took place… And, all the while, repeatedly telling my bladder it was not full and did not require release.

We staggered across the edge of the harbour, crossed the white footbridge spanning the River Lyn and precariously negotiated ourselves into the pub and well earned seats, where Paul and Colin met their mate who had not been able to partake in the walking of the second leg. We were offered a drink by our gallant gents… Sue begged for a pot of tea, whilst I settled for lime and soda… But, first, we needed to desperately locate the ladies room. There were two cubicles within which Sue and I sat, side by side… And we waited… And waited… Silence. Either the prolonged convincing of our bladders that a) they were not full and b) did not require release, inaccurately rendered them as “perceived empty” or else every muscle within our bodies had surrendered and were now refraining from their intended function. Either way we were unable to pee! Following great thought about the process, words with oneself and positive encouragement there finally resulted a never ending stream which, we feared, may have continued without arrest!

After our communal beverage, we said our goodbyes, returned to our car and began the journey back to North Somerset… Reminiscing upon the day’s events: the wonders of communicating for nigh on twelve hours (well, except for the bits where we only had breath to walk, not to talk), the wonderful scenery (when not obscured by the foliage) but, most of all, the power of friendship.

Day 1: The inaugural leg

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Friday 29th August 2014 (Posted 21/10/14)

Minehead to Porlock Weir:  Distance 9.5 miles (plus 2.5 miles) / Ascent 1824 feet… At least!

As a young girl, numerous Summer holidays incorporated wonderful walks along the coastal paths of England, predominantly traversing the scenic coast of the Isle of Wight, in particular Ventnor and the surrounding areas. Prior to the walk, the planning involved the suggestion: “Shall we go for a walk today” and, once agreement was established, appropriate footwear donned and the important decision as to whether one required sunscreen or waterproofs, we would begin the coast path stroll, which generally concluded at a public house or, when the walk was carried out in the evening, the ice cream soda cafe on Ventnor Esplanade, which sold Horlicks in proper Horlicks mugs. Several years later, as a Mum, and accompanied by my three sons or combinations thereof, history was frequently repeated as we continued in the Adkins family tradition, walking coastal paths whilst on holiday, although the family walks were generally of the Devonshire and Cornish variety.

Naively I assumed that walking the South West Coast Path would be equally simplistic!

Obviously the 630 miles was not going to be conducted with a pair of my FitFlops. A trip to Bedminster’s Taunton Leisure, the support of an extremely patient lady and £120 later, I was the proud owner of my Scarpa boots, size 7 (really?!),  which were to assist me throughout my journey, along with two pairs of Merino wool socks. Further purchases of rain repellant trousers that zipped off to form shorts (well this is England) and a bargain Merino top were added to my newly formed walking wardrobe. (Merino, a wool which apparently ‘wicks’… and there was me thinking only candles were capable of wicking!)

Whilst at Taunton Leisure it also struck me that a set of maps may be rather useful. Harvey’s conveniently provided a functional set of seven maps which chartered the South West Coast Path. Having chosen to follow the more popular anti-clockwise route, Minehead to South Haven Point, the maps supported my OCD tendencies in that Map One began with the Minehead to Porlock Weir and Map Seven concluded with Worth Matravers to South Haven Point. An assistant suggested the use of a compass to support the map reading… though surely, when walking in an anti-clockwise direction, one merely needs to keep the sea on the right, do they not?!

And now, I just needed a planned companion for the first leg of the walk. Matthew, my eldest son, eagerly put his hand up. Luke, middle son, apologised – unable to have the day off, and Jonathan, the youngest and a student, thought a 7am start was “just ridiculous” and to let him know when I neared Newquay, at which point he’d do a stretch with me.

Armed with bacon butties, ham ciabattas, bananas, water and the statutory plasters, we set off from North Somerset, aiming to arrive in Porlock Weir for 8.45am in order that we could catch the 9.15am local bus to Minehead. All went to plan, until the bus driver forgot to tell us where to jump off the bus – well to be fair, in addition to us two interlopers,  there were a further six people on the bus, all of whom seemed to know exactly where they were going, so I guess it must have been really tricky to accommodate our request! Despite the bus driver’s unintentional attempt to scupper our mission, we located the start of the path and after a few annoying photographs (Matthew never has grasped the visual recording necessity),  we began the first steps of the 630 miles. Rapidly the flatness of the Minehead path succumbed to a steep incline, within moments I was out of breath and, as I began the climb upwards, Matthew, who ran up most of the slopes, shouted encouraging words, “I bet you regret saying you’d do this!” In his defence, Matthew did locate a perfectly sized stick for me, which accompanied me throughout the rest of the walk and upon which I leant frequently and gratefully.

Rather than Selworthy Hill and its spectatcular views, we chose to follow the ‘alternative rugged coastal path’ as, if one is to walk the South West Coast Path, I do believe one should follow the coast… The clue is in the title! The challenge was presented and our stamina was tested as the path repeatedly  plummeted towards sea level, only to then raise itself out of the depths in order to reach the brink of the neighbouring cliff. There was just one moment when the path seemed a little too close to the edge, the ground on my left seemed a little too high and the earth to my right slipped a little too sharply into the ocean. My stick was gripped a little more tightly and rather large self-encouraging  words embedded themselves within my mind, enabling each footstep to continue in a Westerly direction, albeit gingerly. Little did I know that behind me Matthew was taking a photo of his feet overhanging the edge of the cliff… Do boys ever grow up?! It is difficult to know the length of this walk, as choosing the alternative rugged coastal path increased the length and possibly ascent of the overall walk. Maybe somebody could calculate the walk and the ascent for me and let me know? I’m sure there must be an app!

As drizzle decided to descend upon Bossington Hill and its occupants, we encountered three men, all of whom were sensibly clad in rain gear,  whilst I stood before them in ‘separated trousers’…  for, out of breath and overheated earlier,  I had removed my trouser zip offs, only to discover they did not actually fit over my boots and so, preferring not to remove my boots, the remains of my trousers hugged my ankles in a strange gaiter style manner. Engaging the gentlemen in conversation, to ascertain whether we were approaching Bossington from the ‘correct side of the hill’ as designated in our guide book, we discovered that they were all “First Bus” retired drivers and, were assured by them that, had they been our Porlock Weir to Minehead bus driver that morning, they most certainly would not have forgotten to tell us to disembark at the correct location!

As we neared the base of Bossington Hill, Porlock Weir and its car park with Ruby (my quirky Peugeot 107, red with broad white stripes – to match my demure nature) beckoned to us across the breadth of the pebbled beach. However, each step seemed to bring us no closer to our journey’s end and it was an hour or so before the car park finally arrived under foot… and only then, after having clambered across boulders, pebbles and rocks: the word “shingle”, given as the adjective to describe Porlock Weir beach, somehow failed to impart the energy required to reach our destination!

And so, the first leg was completed. With a half pint of lime and soda for me and a pint of some alcoholic celebratory liquid for Matthew, we congratulated ourselves on our achievement, whilst sat outside the Bottom Ship, with our weary feet resting upon the bench. Eventually I wished Porlock Weir “au revoir” and we returned to the car, parked several hours earlier that day. The stick Matthew found for me was safely stowed in my car boot, a note to self was made to purchase a pair of walking poles and, following the consumption of his pint, there was the obligatory stop en route home to North Somerset… for Matthew to relieve himself behind a tree!