A bay along the South West Trail path

6 weeks and 630 miles at 63

By Richard Roberts

Richard spent 44 days hiking the South West Trail with 22 wild camps (3 under the stars), 11 were camp sites, 2 were hotels and 8 were with friends.

It was dark now; I’d found a good spot to pitch my tent, the first night and I’d remembered how to put it up. Everything was sorted and, in its place, ready for a good night’s sleep before the following days backpack and then the next 6 weeks of walking and something like 630 miles of stunning coastal scenery. This was the South West Coast Path, let the adventure commence.

The sea is my happy place. This big walk connected so many holiday memories that I’ve enjoyed with my family… It tied it all up into a very neat adventure, I hesitate to use the word holiday, but the sun was shining…!

Craggy coastline around the South West Trail

I started at Poole to finish at Minehead, most people (and guide books) go the other way. I planned very little, booked nothing but did take a careful note of all of the river crossings and tide times. 

I figured that walking myself fit over the few weeks would prepare me for the brutally physical Bude to Hartland Quay section – this worked. What I hadn’t counted on was the pure number of people you meet going in the other direction. It was lovely! Never did I feel alone, great conversations with people from all over the world but all with a common goal – I think the path was touched with Trail Magic and a fair smattering of people touched with eccentricity’s

Hiking the South West Trail

My initial target was to meet up with friends at Plymouth Sound in around two weeks, a possible lawn pitch on the Lizard but basically not much of an agenda. The plan was to keep going, keep the sea on the left and savour the moments

And the sun still shone.

And so, leaving the Isle of Purbeck behind me, a daily routine emerged where I would wake up at 5am and be packed up and walking by 5:30 then walking a couple of hours before stopping somewhere with a perfect view and a bench seat – this almost always happened! Here I would brew a pint of coffee (two sachets worth) and ginger nut biscuits / choccy bar, consumed while I caught up with my blog and just gawped at the view. I did a lot of gawping. Then packed up until the next shop / café where more food was consumed and always ensuring that I could top up my phone & battery bank and water bottles. I estimated that I consumed around a minimum of 8 litres of water every day and thankfully never got dehydrated. With various stops and rests along the way I would aim to find a spot to camp after 9pm if camping ‘wild’ or earlier if staying at a site, but always walking first thing in the day and towards dusk were special moments. Food was almost always in my thoughts.

The sun still shone.

Serene bay on the South West Coast Path

Inevitably coast path walking is quite a physical challenge, there are big hills to go up usually followed by big hills to go down, repeat this many times. Gradually the recovery time at the tops of the climbs lessened and I knew I was regaining my fitness. And always the sea by my side, useful to cool my feet and enjoy a swim. 

Refreshed, laundered and recharged from my stay with friends I walked on into Cornwall and on towards the Lizard, here I stayed with friends of friends. Three ladies of ‘seniority’ (the oldest and brightest was in her mid-nineties), sherry was out by 3pm. I made it to just after 10pm, the first to retire!

A completely unexpected delight was being told by a fellow walker about a small bay that had a stream cascading down onto the beach in a manner not unlike a shower – it was quite perfect, I spent the whole afternoon swimming, showering, reading and then slept out under the stars with only a seal for company.

Wild camping on the South West Trail

The SWCP Facebook group was a good source of information and camaraderie, this and my own WhatsApp group supplied me with much feedback, encouragement and fun! Lots of talk of the sheer quantity of Adders on or near the path. I have a curious but uncomfortable fascination with snakes. Ultimately I  only saw a corn snake being dragged around Paignton esplanade! The theory is that the impact of feet and walking sticks moves them away long before you get to them. I did however see slow worms and lizards and from above Peregrines. Ticks were also very popular.

Completing the South West Path

And still the sun shone, until the day when I’d really wanted good views. The highest point of the whole path – Great Hangman. The whole day was shrouded in clouds and heavy rain fell – even the chef in the Combe Martin café took pity on me and gave me extra bacon! BUT this was the only day when I wore my waterproofs for the whole day, and the really good thing is I was walking into Exmoor and the end of my epic walk. 

I spent 44 days on the path of which 2 were travelling. Of the 43 nights, 22 were wild camps (3 under the stars), 11 were camp sites, 2 were hotels and 8 were with friends.

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