South West Coast Path (SWCP) walk day -1.

Wednesday 05 August 2015 – Minehead, Somerset.

After a few weeks of thinking and planning I am finally on my way south west from London to start the walk. I am making my way to Minehead a day early as I want to visit Dunster Castle, I have seen it a couple of times out of bus windows and have been keen to visit, so decided to take the opportunity while I was here. Given the fact that it was forecasted to, and eventually did , rain quite heavily over night I am glad I made the choice to not start walking today. Ease my way in to it.

El was up early to go swimming, so I had an hour at home to faff, do a final check, add to my pack the things I thought about in the middle of the night, take out the things I decided I didn’t need in the middle of the night and generally get ready to go without having to have a conversation with anyone. I am not the most social person when I am about to go travelling. I left soon after she got home and after the rush hour had passed. I will miss her while I am away.

Walking down to Walthamstow station was the first time I had walked more than ten feet with my pack on, it seemed to be OK – though heavy after not carrying any sort of weight for a while.

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The train journey to Taunton was fine, and I was lucky to find the Minehead bus waiting at the station. The bus driver, who was about to depart as I was leaving the station, kindly waited for me and reopened the doors to let me on. If this was London he would have shrugged his shoulders as if to say ‘sorry mate, it’s the rules’, and then driven off leaving me on the foot path. I am liking Somerset. The bus did seem to visit every single village in West Somerset on the way though…

I arrived in Minehead and found my hotel easily enough; it was one of those quintessentially English hotels that are so endearing, and a touch frustrating. I suspect they have been what they have been for decades – and have no plan or need to change. Needless to say I was the youngest person there by a couple of decades apart from some young kids with their (I am assuming) grand parents. I had selected it as it was very close to the start of the path – plus it was a decent price!

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I dumped my gear, packed a few essentials in an ultra-light day bag and headed out the door to visit the castle I had yet again seen from the window of the bus. Minehead is a funny place, it is not really my sort of holiday destination – it has a massive Butlins and not much else and caters for a different market to me. The tide was out and the skies a bit grim, which did not add to its appeal.

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I caught the bus to Dunster Castle, I think there is a walkway through the hills but I was not wanting to get wet before I started. Last time I was here I spent quite a bit of time by this bus stop – as I did this time. Waiting, waiting.

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Minehead is one end of the West Somerset Railway and if I had planned this part of my trip with more care I would have taken the old steam train from the town of Bishops Lydeard, which the bus passed through on the way to Minehead.

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Dunster Castle is a National Trust property, as I am a member, I did not have to pay to enter. It was not my favourite type of castle, I much prefer the falling down ruined type, but it was well worth the visit and I enjoyed exploring it and the grounds. Though it was quite busy, as is usual on a holiday day when you cannot visit the beach.

There has been a castle on this site for over a thousand years. The first recorded fort was established by the Saxon Thegn Aelfric who was killed alongside King Harold at the Battle of Hastings. His land was given to a Norman, William de Mohun for his services in that battle. The older parts of the castle were built by the de Mouhn family until they were forced to sell it in 1376. The property was bought by the Luttrell family who owned it for 600 years, finally gifting it to the National Trust in 1976. Large parts of the original castle were destroyed at the end of the civil war in 1650.

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I do like a good doorway, especially with some steps with an unseen ending. This gateway is from the 13th century and is the oldest remaining part of the castle.

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Nice ! (though a bit of a wonky photo)

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This was the toilet block…

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Listening in to one of the guides talking to another visitor I heard about a roof leak a few years ago that had damaged the 19th century Italian wallpaper in this room. As replacement paper was no longer available they had to remove sections of paper behind these paintings to repair the water damaged sections. I liked that story.

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The view out of the window from the upper floor over the Bristol Channel was a bit a foreboding and a reminder that I should not linger too long if I did not want to get soaked walking back to the bus stop – naturally I did not pack my rain coat….

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I wanted to explore the castle grounds and visit the old water mill, but just after I got outside a light rain started to fall so I took a change of direction and headed back towards the entrance, via the small stream on the edge of the property.

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I was looking to get a better angle to take a photo of the castle from, which I found.

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The bus arrived at the bus stop soon after I did, though I did jog there to avoid getting overly wet. It was looking a bit grim in Minehead as I walked back to the hotel.

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Though the forecast is looking pretty good for the rest of the week !

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With not much else to do, and nerves not allowing me to relax too much I ended up down in the bar for a pre-dinner pint and then an early meal. The food was fine, basic 1970’s English holiday fare – served by a waiter who probably harks back to those days as well. The good old days of Basil Fawlty type service.

I retired early and had a hot bath, with a small whisky and my book – lovely, a bath and a shower in a hotel. the 1970’s were not all bad !!

I am really looking forward to starting the walk tomorrow. I am a little worried about how I go out there, not overly worried of course, as I sort of know what I am doing and I do know what I am physically capable of. I have never walked a long distance before, I have not carried a pack on a hike for decades and I am doing this on my own. Things to ponder while I tried to sleep.

I am on way into the unknown again, adventure ahoy !!!

All the gear and no idea!

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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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  • 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.

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One week till I start walking the South West Coast Path

Tuesday 28 July 2015 – Walthamstow.

It is hard to believe that in a week’s time I am heading off on a bit of an adventure. Staying in England, and heading back to the South West Coast Path, though this time with a pack and a tent. I have been mildly obsessed with the path ever since I was a support driver for Malcolm Law and Tom Bland when they ran the path for charity back in 2012. I cannot get enough of it, mind you it is pretty long, so there is plenty to go around.

Unlike those two, I am not mad enough to consider trying to run the entire 630 miles, so I am planning on walking it instead, doing so over a couple of years rather than one long session. This summer I am lucky to have a month off work, and will do three weeks of walking – if I can.

When I first decided to do this a few weeks back I had in mind a three week power walk, carrying all my gear, free camping as much as possible, cooking and being self sufficient. The reality of the distance and the terrain has now fully set in, and mixed with the reality of my fitness and experience (or lack thereof) of multi day hikes I have settled for doing the best I can and just enjoying myself. If I do three days walking and three weeks of lying in the sun reading a book, then so be it. At least I left home. I suspect I will achieve something in between.

One of the many things I enjoy about doing different things is all the research that goes into these activities. I realise I am not going to Antarctica or the Amazon jungle, so research is sort of overkill, but it is part of my routine and I get great pleasure out of it – mixed with a bunch of self doubt and fear thrown in for good measure, once the reality of hiking sunk in.

For this trip I needed to pretty much buy everything, I have a good travelling pack, but it would be hopeless for hiking, I have a sleeping bag, and that is pretty much it. I needed a tent, a stove, sleeping mat, walking poles and a raft of other bits and pieces thrown in. I spent a lot of times in shops, reading, internet searching and generally enjoying myself researching things I knew very little about. Last weekend I went out and bought it all. I spent a lot of money as I prefer to buy quality over cheap. But I am happy with my purchases.

At the weekend I had a test day of putting up the tent, checking the stove, and a first load of the pack with most of the crap I have accumulated for the trip, some which will be dumped before I go I am sure…

The tent went up pretty easily and is as small as I expected a light weight two person tent to be, I reckon it will fit me and my pack comfortably, but I would not be wanting to share it with anyone else.

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The surprising thing was when I took it down and put it all back in its bag, it actually fitted with room to spare. This was actually a shock, a pleasant one mind.

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After a bit more research this week and a second packing session – I have tossed out some stuff already, I have found that the modern thing to do is put the tent at the top of the pack not the base.

The pack is very shiny !! I remember when the Macpac pack I took on my travels was this shiny. It isn’t any more 🙂 

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I have decided that for this trip I am not going to take a laptop, I was planning on taking my little travelling laptop and doing some writing and photo editing on the way, but even the small laptop weighs too much, and I am going to have to be very weight conscious (pack weight, not me weight. I plan on eating like a pig). I will take a pen and notebook and more flash memory for the camera instead. So there will unlikely be any posts along the way.

Not taking a laptop worries me somewhat as I will have to decide now what music I want to listen to for three weeks. What if I change my mind ?

It is a hard walk, the more I read the tougher it sounds, while there are no mountains to traverse the path is a constant stream of small ascents and descents, and a lot of them steep. I admit to being a little pensive about the whole thing. I guess it all adds to the excitement, in a way.

This Friday is my last day at work for 4 weeks, Yay !! As a great start to my holiday, El and I are off to the lovely lovely city of Bruges for the weekend. We are very excited about this. El has not been there and I have not been since 1987. It was the first European town I stopped at on my incomplete Europe tour and I shot a whole role of film there, which was utterly extravagant at the time. I was stunned at how beautiful the old town was, I suspect not much has changed since then. I also suspect I will take more photos this time!

Wahoo !! Looking forward to an awesome August !!