The South West Coast path starts in Minehead, north Somerset and stretches west, further than the eye can see, along the north Devon and Cornish coasts until it rounds Land’s End and heads east along the southern coasts of Cornwall, Devon and Dorset when 630 miles later, it finally reaches its end at South Haven Point near Poole. I grew up in South Devon and, for as long as I’ve known about the path, I’ve wanted to walk it.
I had another reason too. My Grandad had passed away when I was very young, having battled Multiple Sclerosis for many years. He loved the Coast Path and, when he was too unwell to be able to walk, my Dad used give him a piggy back and carry him along the path. I could try to fundraise to help find a cure for this terrible illness by walking the path that Grandad loved.
Spring 2020 and we were plunged into the chaos, uncertainty and horror of Covid. By the middle of the summer, as everyone cautiously started to try to resume some sort of normality, I realised I had my opportunity to go walking. My job had finished with Covid. My grown-up head said I should get another job immediately, my heart said: ‘if the last few months have taught you anything, it’s to make the most of life, go walking!’
And so, on a very damp day in August, I found myself getting off the bus at Minehead ready to start my adventure. I had no idea how it was all going to work out, but it seemed simple enough. Keep the sea on your right and keep walking!
I was carrying all my kit, including my newly purchased Alpkit Soloist tent. I’d tried it out in my back garden a couple of times before starting my walk, much to the surprise of my neighbours and loved how easy it was to put up and take down and how incredibly light it was. It was worth its weight (and more) in gold as over the next 10 weeks. It was used almost every night and withstood all sorts of conditions including a couple of very impressive storms!
The walking was amazing but certainly not easy! There are a lot of steep climbs and therefore lots of steep descents. One of the toughest days was from Hartland Quay to Bude, a 16 mile walk that involved crossing 10 steep and deep river valleys and 4,170 ft of ascent! I had no trouble getting to sleep that night, or any other for that matter.
The coastal path is stunning. With no time frame I quickly realised how incredibly lucky I was to spend my days walking in such a beautiful area, taking my time to stop and look at things, swim in the sea and chat to the people I met. I was lucky enough to be joined for several days by my parents, family and lots of friends, which felt even more special after the restrictions of lockdown. A lot of the time though it was just me, walking along, choosing where I stopped for the night, how far I was going and what I was going to do with my day. After never having not worked since I left school, it was incredibly liberating!
And that’s what I did. For 10 weeks, I slowly made my way around the coast. Highlights include the beautiful scenery, the breath-taking climbs and descents, sea swimming whenever I felt like it and munching salty blackberries picked from the hedgerow. I loved camping in my little tent and some of the best nights were when I wild camped, watching a fox trot past my tent as I watched the sunset on a cliff above Mullion Cove, or listening to the waves as I fell asleep in my tent on a beach.
The thing that made the whole walk even more amazing though was the people. It seems that if you’re a girl on your own with a big rucksack, you attract a bit of attention. I loved chatting to the people that I met out on the path, some of them out for day walks, some on their own adventures. And people are incredibly kind, many offered me food, asked if I needed anything, asked if I was scared walking and camping on my own. One evening when I was just setting up camp just outside Newquay, an elderly fisherman walked over to ask if I was planning to wild camp there that night. As I already had the tent partly up, I couldn’t really deny it and so braced myself to be told to move on. Instead, he suggested that as the wind was going to change direction during the night, I’d be better to move my tent and showed me the best spot to pitch it! This was just one example of the many encounters I had which showed human kindness at its best.
Like all good things, the walk had to come to an end. And so, in mid-October I set off on my final day on the stretch to Poole with mixed emotions. I was keen to get back to my life in Carlisle, see my friends and excited for the future, but reluctant for my adventure to end, to leave the path, the constant backdrop sound of the sea and the simplicity of just walking each day. My Dad came to join me for the last few miles which was very special and then suddenly that was it! I’d done it! 630 miles, 115,000 ft of ascent (the equivalent of climbing Everest 4 times), over £900 raised for the MS Society and memories made to last a lifetime!