Tuesday, 23 September 2008

The South West Coast Path slog blog

Thanks to Mark at work, I've begun to harbour a plan to walk the South Coast Path from Minehead in Somerset down and around Devon and Cornwall to end up in Poole, Dorset.

Looks like it might take a while...

Last weekend I set off straight from work to embark on the second stage of my walk, starting from my previous end point and basically going as far as I could get and back again. Rach was away at her parents' in Devon with the boys so I had friday night and the whole of Saturday before I had to get home.

When it comes to these kind of micro-expeditions (and let's face it I never do any major expeditions), what I lack in organisation tends to be compensated for by enthusiasm - Rachel calls me 'Affable Matt' when I'm in this mode and always remarks on the contrast to my usual dour defeatism. Giving the owner of Broomstreet Farm his due, he took my 'please can I park at your farm' congeniality in his stride.

From the gate that marked my last turning point and then through sheep fields and down to the woodlands that skirt the immediate coastline.

There was a group of stags on the skyline, I watched them regarding me whilst two of their number idly leant their antlers forward to absently headbut one another. I lost the light beneath the trees after a mile or so and began to question whether I should have stayed in the enclosed spot-that-would-have-done amongst the spruce and Dougies. Grey gateposts capped with wild boar heads emerged into the headtorch beam. There were definite tones of the Whicker Man here. The presence of the surrounding darkness of tree mass drew closer and then, around the corner, a brightly lit lodge house emiting the sounds of soap opera with the door just opening.

She'd come out to tip some cooking fat into the wood and told me that the coast path was not a place to be out on at night.

"It'll be alright," I said hefting my pack and trying to sound like I did this shit all the time. My affability must have let me down on this occasion because she didn't ask me to stop for tea or let me pitch up in her garden. Through the windows I saw many pairs of antlers mounted on the wall and pictures of hounds just about to rag the life out foxes.

"Stay on the path..." it was all getting a bit American Werewolf...

Ended up pitched on the path itself at the one point where the vegetation seemed to clear. I had panoramic views across the Bristol Channel to the level orange strings of lights in Wales and a clear mobile signal through to Rach. The evening meal was international: chille con carne, pilau rice and dutch lager. I am a profoundly simple soul - apart from a softer piece of ground, it takes no more than this to make me feel very complete.

Awoke in a forest of rhododendron and heavy dew. Clear skies.

Through woods with horizontal bands of sunlight and lichen sponges. Washed my face in a waterfall, surrounded by mosses blackened with saturation. Heard a raven's croak and the beat of its wings in the still air on the walk to the lighthouse at Foreland Point.

Lighthouses really were built to last. Granite steps that were barely worn after all this time. The place was deserted, so I took the opportunity to have a good nose round and a look through the windows into the rooms that had been converted by the National Trust into a holiday cottage. They looked a bit spartan, but then maybe that's the thing about lighthouses - the contrast between the romance of the setting and their sheer solidity and functionality.

Travelled through Lynton with its hill railway, past the mountain goats on the way to the valley fo the rocks. The hanging oak woodlands of woody bay and the subsequent coastline were perhaps the most attractive of the whole walk. I hit my furthest point at 3pm and realised that the walk back was going to be a bit of a killer. A pint of shand and some pork scratches were taken on board during refuelling...

On the bridge at Lynton and the hanging oak woods of Woody Bay

The last six or seven miles were done quickly and by head torch with only minor navigational problems caused because I couldn't recall the first 15 mins of the walk. Squelched through a bog for the first time in the whole walk and finally made it back to the car at 22.30.

The drive back home was less of a tiredness duel than I'd expected. Seized up spectacularly the next day.

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