It’s December, coming off the end of Christmas’s festive grip and I’m feeling lazy. Looking outside, a grey, dreary afternoon stubbornly sulks past the window. I’ve just finished off the remainder of the mince pies and I have zero motivation to move. Like many at this time of year, I find it hard to summon the enthusiasm and spirit that comes so naturally during the long bright days of spring and summer. However, from somewhere deep inside I have to find the will to move. Reluctantly, I dig out the thermals, the waterproofs and something healthy to snack on (I compromised with a bar of nougat covered in nuts and raisins). After a 12 mile bike ride through rain and fog up two of the gnarliest hills in my home town of Bristol, I now find myself cocooned up to my eyeballs in blankets writing this blog. Why would I do that to myself you might ask? Well, I have a larger goal in mind that makes this hellish ride seem like a blissful stroll on a summer’s afternoon.
After a bleak start and a hard ride, I was rewarded with a glorious sunset at the top of the hill. I’m sure there’s a moral lesson there somewhere?
That goal is to walk the South West Coastal Path (hereafter referred to as the SWCP), England’s longest long-distance footpath and National trail; covering a foot blistering 630 miles and some 114,931 ft. of elevation which staggeringly is almost 4 times the height of Everest! The path is highly exposed, regularly experiencing harsh Atlantic storms as it oscillates the rough terrain of our ship shattering rocky coast. All of this amounts to quite a formidable trail. Why then is it one of the most popular walkways in Britain and a regular feature in lists of the globes best walks? Well, apart from passing through hundreds of acres of cow fields and the cow pats that pepper them, the SWCP traverses some of the richest and most mesmerising landscapes that old Blighty has to offer. This includes: 2 world heritage sites as well as numerous Special Sites of Scientific Interest (SSSI), Marine protected areas (MPA’s) and Marine Protection zones (MPZ’s).
Starting in Minehead, the trail follows the muddy banks of Exmoor National park’s heritage trail into North Devon. From there, it meanders through the idyllic towns of Lynton and Barnstaple into Bude; skirting the largest sea cliffs in the country. Now in the county of North Cornwall, famed for its surf, sand and serious clifftop exposure, the path carries on through the legendary village of Tintagel (King Arthur’s Favourite haunt) into the surfer’s Mecca of Newquay and down into Britain’s southerly tip that jets out into the wild Atlantic. The path then enters sunny South Cornwall, heading East through the historic harbour of Falmouth into South Devon and the Ocean City of Plymouth. Whilst this Southern stretch is blessed with comparatively calmer weather thanks to the protection provided by the British channel and the hills of the South Hams, it still offers its fair share of discomfort thanks to the numerous river mouths that gouge into its shores, contributing much towards the SWCP’s daunting elevation. Hidden under crowds of tourists, the path then passes through the peninsula housing the popular towns of Dartmouth, Paignton and Exmouth. From there, it travels the length of the Jurassic coast to finish in the opulent Dorset harbour of Poole.
After 630 miles, I’m sure my already raggedy old boots will look a whole lot raggedier..that’s a word right?
It was a few weeks earlier that I had decided on this venture. I had recently handed in my Master’s thesis and I was stuck in the motivational doldrums on a similarly depressing day as the one I’m writing on. Scrolling through the internet I came across a page called the ‘Plover Rover’s’. Intrigued by their wacky mascot of a ringed plover wearing an oversized pair of walking boots, I read on. I quickly became engaged with their message of promoting marine protection by uniting Marine science and the Coastal community. For it is not just the historically and culturally gifted towns and villages along this coastline as well as their curious inhabitants that stoke my interest, but also the unique marine environments, their intertidal residents and the science that have come to expose the relationships between the two that excite me. As a nation I feel we could do more to not just enjoy the sights and sounds but to also recognise the role that the marine environment has played in the formation of our heritage as an island nation - both for our benefit and that of the natural sites and species that fringe it. Whilst improving scientific understanding is crucial to bridge the gap between our actions and consequences, I feel that first we have to know why our coastal environments are worth protecting.
I must admit, the little guy is growing on me.
That is why I decided to sign up as one of the long-distance walker talkers with the aim of sharing my experiences of what our coasts have to offer. I will document the scenery, culture, community and history of the SWCP as well as the life above and below the waves that lap around it. Hopefully my effort inspires more people to get on down to the coast, to look closer at the life that surrounds it and to acknowledge the science that is revealing the urgent need for its protection. With luck, this will promote a more conscious effort to conserve our natural heritage but also an awareness of the psychological and spiritual benefits that a simple walk along our coasts can bring in an ever claustrophobic world. To achieve this, over the coming weeks and months I will strain my writing ability for all its worth, blogging about my preparation, training and mental state following up to my walk. Once on the trail I plan to do more frequent posts about life on the SWCP and the people, environments and sensations I meet along the way.