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!