Take a look at any South West Coast Path guidebook or website and you will find the words, strenuous, long, steep, tiring and tricky. But you will also find the words, stunning, dramatic, beautiful and inspiring. It’s a path for all people and you can take it any way you wish; from gentle strolls to mountainous challenges.
The South West Coast path is, at 630 miles, the longest of all of the UKs long distance trails and runs from Minehead in Somerset to the shores of Poole Harbour in Dorset. Some people of course will look on it as the challenge of a lifetime and it can be walked in its entirety in around 30 days.
But for visitsouthwest.org’s intrepid explorer Deirdre and her dogs, it’s more like a project of a lifetime – to be walked a few miles at a time.
Deirdre’s tips are:
- Hospitality first – decide what sort of treat you want and plan your walk around a lovely tearoom, a beach picnic or a cosy overnight stop.
- Refreshments – more remote sections may have little on offer – check ahead and pack a flask and a picnic. This particularly applies if you’re walking out of the main Easter to summer period.
- Footwear – good hillwalking boots for cliff-top sections or something comfy for beaches and promenades.
- Fascinating facts – you will get so much more out of your walk if your guidebook or section guides tell some of the amazing stories of the ruins, shipwrecks and smugglers coves you’ll pass along the way.
- Hop aboard – it’s so much more enjoyable to walk a longer one-way walk than a there-and-back. Research bus times and route but watch out for very limited Sunday services.
- Best Friends – dogs will love it but you need to be prepared to keep them on leads; either to protect livestock or to keep them well away from steep cliff-edges. You can take human best friends too!
- Hospitality last – enjoy that cup of tea or a pint, put your tired feet up and give yourself a huge pat on the back.
Deirdre hopes to complete the whole of the path by 2021 (no rush then) and often plans short sections that can be enjoyed as an afternoon stroll. During a bright and breezy weekend she and her husband Phil plus dogs Kippie and Rory completed a short walk from Hartland Quay in North Devon to the Hartland Point lighthouse. But this was just the warm up for the following day when they completed their first full ‘section’ of the coast path, a strenuous 11 mile hike from Westward Ho! to Clovelly.
Deirdre describes the agony and the ecstasy: ‘My legs ached, my toes ached, my flask was empty and it was nearly dark by the time we got back to the car – but it was worth it! Not far out of Westward Ho! we could see the white buildings of Clovelly; our goal in the distance. I’m too old to say “are we nearly there yet” but at times it just didn’t seem to be getting any nearer. By the last couple of miles, a gentle amble on Clovelly’s hobby drive, I was practically walking on air; the satisfaction was enormous. Highlights, other than Clovelly itself, were the excellent views eastwards along the coast and out towards Lundy Island, the tiny tumbling village of Bucks Mills and meeting up with a herd of Clovelly donkeys on the track – out for a bedtime stroll with their handlers!’
Deirdre, Phil and the dogs stayed at Hoops Inn, between Clovelly and Bideford. They hiked with OS maps and the Cicerone guide to the coast path but also made use of the excellent resources on http://www.southwestcoastpath.com/