Thursday 14 August 2015 – Walthamstow.
‘All the gear and no idea’ was a phrase we used to toss around when we used to see blokes (it is always blokes) mountain biking on flash bikes with all the latest clothes and toys and we would hammer past on our crusty single speeds.
There had been a lot of talk (mainly in my head) over the past few weeks of a plan to start walking the South West Coast Path, located on – not to be too obvious, England’s south west coast. The official path is 1013 kilometres (630 miles in English), and I had intended to do as much as I could in the 16 days I had between visiting Bruges with El and meeting El for a three day holiday in Mawgan Porth, which is on the path in Cornwall, later in the month.
I had spent quite a bit of time planning and researching the trip, shopping for the equipment I was missing – which was most of it and generally having a good time of it all.
I started the walk on Thursday 6 July at one of its official start/finish points in Minehead, Somerset at the tail end of a light shower. It was the first time I had put my new pack on for any length of time and it was hard work walking up the first hill out of Minehead!
I did not have any fixed plan for walking, it was going to be dependent on the weather, how I felt and if I found myself in the most perfect place in the world. I was thinking along the lines of – walk three days, rest one day, camp as much as possible and stay in guest houses if I felt like it or the weather imposed it – I was not overly excited about the prospect of walking and camping in the rain if I didn’t have too.
I ended up doing five days of walking before hobbling/skulking back to London with my tail, metaphorically, between my legs.
I had researched pretty well. I knew what to expect, and was not surprised at how tough it was, or how hard I found it – given the lack of training I had done. Carrying a 17 or so kilo pack when you are not used to it is tiring! I knew I could walk myself fit, so was not too concerned about fitness, the base is there. What I failed to do properly and this is such a stupid beginners mistake, was to check the state of my shoes before I left home. They were far more worn than I realised, and I think they contributed to my shortened walk.
I stopped walking after five days with a really sore hip, rested for a while and then my foot started to hurt – not just an ache, but shooting pains. I have suffered from small bouts of plantar fasciitis in the past, usually shoe related and I am pretty certain that my self diagnosis is correct. The forecast for the following two days was terrible – thunder and storms so I decided to go home instead: about eight days earlier than ‘planned’. Oh well.
I did enjoy the walk, there was some glorious views, some lovely walking, mixed with some hard walking and I met some nice people on the way. My new equipment is all up to task and my pack is fantastic, it felt great on, felt lighter on my back than it did lifting it up to put it on, so I was extremely pleased with my purchases.
I learnt a lot over the few days I walked, I am going to continue with the walk when I next get a chance, making good use of what I learned. So, what did I learn ?
- I need to ensure my shoes are perfect before I go. I knew this, have known this for years and really kicked myself for this ridiculous failure to check them before I left.
- I need a new sleeping bag, I was really cold in Porlock and Lynton, even though it is late summer. I was really surprised by this. I have used the sleeping bag in late autumn and been fine.
- Stretching is good, I knew this before I left and used it wisely in the morning and evening. I had very little leg pain, until my hip seized.
- Less is best. Again, I knew this before I left, but obviously I didn’t really know it enough. My experiences backpacking in Asia told me all about packing stuff. When I went to SE Asia my pack weighed 15kg, when I left it was closer to 11. That was a lot of stuff ditched.
- While I wanted to free camp, I didn’t – I was too scared to, maybe less scared and more worried about it, something. Anyway, I didn’t do it, so I didn’t need to take so much food related stuff and all the bits and pieces needed when not staying in camp grounds. I could have ditched over a kilo of stuff just taken for that alone.
- Not heroically power walking non-stop day after day is OK. Stopping to smell the flowers is fine. In fact, arriving mid-afternoon in a busy, noisy campsite is worse than arriving in the evening if there is nothing to do.
- Training more would have been better, but was not essential. You can walk yourself fit, but next time I will do a little more.
- Breaks are good, taking a few moments to sit and admire the view and rest the legs are just rewards for climbing those hills. Eating a snack makes it even better.
- Finally, and most importantly. Ear plugs for camping grounds 🙂
It was loads of fun at times and less fun at others. I was lonelier than I expected, while I relished the solitude at times when I was travelling in SE Asia, I relished it less this time. My life has changed since those days and while I do like spending time on my own, I didn’t crave it like I did before, I am glad I had my ereader!
I am still determined to walk the whole path, I know more of what to expect when I start again and how to prepare for it better, maybe next time I will find a walking buddy as well. There will be a next time – and sooner rather than later I hope.
I took a lot of photos and will post some details of the walks over the next few days.
Was it a case of ‘all the gear and no idea’ ? I don’t think so, though I certainly I had all the gear.