Walking the entire length of magnificent South West Coast Path was a wonderful adventure that I'll never forget. I am so glad I did it. The path really did live up to it's reputation; endless beautiful scenery, delightful coastal towns, friendly people everywhere. I absolutely loved every minute of the journey and could not wait to go back between visits.
There is so much variety that each of the thirty days had its own distinct character, no two days felt alike, I can't think of a single section I found even slightly disappointing.
The South West Coast Path often makes lists of the top ten trails in the world. Now I've seen it all with my own eyes I fully understand why. If possible why not get out there and see some of these amazing places for yourself? Smell the sea air, see the wildlife, listen to the seabirds and the waves crashing on the shore. Looking at picture galleries is great, but nothing is ever as good as actually being there and taking it all in yourself.
There were so many highlights I've found it very difficult to single out favourites. Maybe the one place I enjoyed walking through above all others was Porthcurno Bay on Day 18. My first ever visit here fell on a lovely sunny day. The sea was a deep shade of blue, the white sand absolutely glorious. In the bright sunshine it looked more like somewhere in The Caribbean than a far-flung corner of Great Britain. Add to that the amazing story of Logan's Rock, the history behind the Cable Hut, international submarine cables and wartime tunnels, and the Minack Theatre carved into it's dramatic location on the headland above. A truly magical place.
After much thought I've decided to go with Day 24 Tintagel to Bude as my pick of the thirty. This tough but exhilarating walk was the perfect way to spend my 49th birthday. Again I had the good fortune to enjoy fantastic weather that day while exploring a series of breath-taking places I'd never seen before; Rocky Valley, Boscastle, Fire Beacon, Rusey Cliff, High Cliff and more. A rugged, isolated region with fantastic scenery that really tests your legs. Coast walking at its very best.
Day 24, view north from Rusey Cliff
The least enjoyable section for me was going inland on a long-term path diversion on a steep busy road linking Lyme Regis and Charmouth on Day 4. I walked it in heavy rain on a cold, windy day. A thoroughly miserable experience in an otherwise delightful area.
Day 1, South Haven Point to Lulworth Cove was easily the toughest of the thirty. To make sure I made it through the Lulworth Firing Ranges that Sunday before a five day closure meant I had to walk a hilly 30 miles. It was turned into an even bigger test by two unwanted complications. First the failed lunch meeting that left me short of food and fluids. Then the arrival of a fierce Atlantic storm that battered Dorset all afternoon, by far the worst weather I encountered in the entire journey.
The Ferryboat Inn at Helford Passage. Great atmosphere, excellent service, delicious food, a good choice of local ales, reasonable prices. The perfect place to refresh yourself after a day on the path.
Best Fish & Chips
The Harbour Lights Restaurant in Falmouth. Delicious freshly-caught Cornish fish, the best I've ever tasted. Huge portions, great views over Falmouth Harbour, excellent service. So good that we went out of our way to go back for more when I was walking in North Cornwall the following year.
The South West Coast Path is always being described as being 630 miles in length, yet according to the GPS devices which recorded my tracks I managed to walk a total of 667 miles. The extra distance is in part explained by my decision not to use every ferry available. In particular the Exmouth to Starcross Ferry. I opted to walk between the two towns on the excellent Exe Estuary Trail adding about 15 miles to the total. Quite often I came across path diversions around obstructions that necessitated extra walking. Sometimes I would divert a little off the path to visit a viewpoint or place of interest, other times to meet Lea for a lunch break. No matter how good you are at map reading it's impossible to walk 630 miles without finding yourself having to retrace your steps a few times after taking a wrong turn. It all adds-up.
One of many path closures caused by landslides, this one alone added an extra 2 miles to official 630 mile total.
Advice to other walkers
The South West Coast Path really is as good as it sounds. Whether you want to get out there for a day trip or take on the whole trail in one go you will not be disappointed.
Those of you thinking of walking the entire length please remember that I did it the easy way. Never more than five consecutive days of walking at a time spread over a two and a half year period. I had the luxury of Lea shadowing me in her car all the way, the boot always stocked with drinks, snacks and dry clothes. I had a roof over my head every night, a decent breakfast before I started walking each morning. I didn't have to worry about public transport or missing a ferry. I only ever carried a fairly light day pack.
If I were to walk the entire path in one continuous trip carrying a full pack and camping along the way I would reduce my daily average mileage by at least 25% and build in some rest days. Most people should probably allow at least 60 days if attempting the whole path in one go. If you are not an experienced long-distance walker I recommend you get in shape before attempting a 630 mile hike. You need to get out on hilly practise walks wearing and carrying all your kit. Practise the camping too, sleep outdoors in your tent to get used to it. Expect bad weather and mud. The South West Coast Path is on a peninsula that juts out into The Atlantic Ocean. Rain and strong winds will happen sooner or later, often both at the same time, sometimes all day, sometimes several days in a row.
In my opinion finding places to wild camp should be quite easy if you know what you're doing. Please be responsible and leave no traces. The South West of England is popular with holiday makers, in the more populated areas you'll rarely be far from an official camp site.
Nearly all of the ferries on the path are seasonal. You need to know if and when they'll be operating before you arrive. At The River Erme there is no ferry, the only way across is to wade through the river at low tide. The Lulworth Firing Ranges, a great section, is usually only open to walkers at weekends. All these places have the potential to force you on long inland detours.
Just about anywhere on the South West Coast Path is a great place to go walking for the day. Read this blog and take your pick. I move fairly quickly compared to most people. To fully enjoy the path you might want to take it a bit easier then me and walk a shorter section. Maybe around half of one of my 20+ mile days.
For the remainder of 2016 I'm going to be focussing on running events. To celebrate my 50th Birthday I'll be participating in three races in three counties over a five week period to raise funds for MacMillan Cancer Support. The Cardiff Half Marathon, Exeter's Great West Run and the TCS New York City Marathon. You can sponsor me here;
I'm very lucky, I live in Exmouth, so I'm doing most of the training on the South West Coast Path and Exe Estuary Trail.
I'm hoping to take the ferry over to Lundy at some point this Summer to walk the around the island's coast. I may also walk and/or run the West Somerset Coast Path soon, a natural extension of the South West Coast Path continuing on from Minehead. It's only 25 miles in length and fairly flat, just right for a day trip.
At the moment I haven't decided what my next long-distance walk will be. There are several attractive options, the Wales Coast Path being one of them, the Pennine Way another.
This walk was an adventure shared with my partner Lea. She can't walk far because she has a permanent disability caused by injuries sustained in a car accident. However, Lea selflessly shadowed me in her car every walking day, patiently waiting at pre-arranged meeting points, always making sure I was well fed and carrying adequate fluids. I cannot thank her enough for her brilliant support.
I'd also like to thank my parents Bill and Eileen Qualter for their great support throughout, particularly at the Dorset end of the walk when I was based at their house.
The South West Coast Path official website, a great resource full of useful information.
Ruth's Coastal Walk. My favourite coast-walking blog, Ruth is currently walking the entire coast of Great Britain in stages. She has already completed the entire South West Coast Path, a great read.
'The Perimeter'. Professional photographer Quintin Lake is also walking the entire coast of Great Britain in stages. His superb photography gives a unique perspective of a coastal walk. At the time of writing he is making his way around the South West Coast Path.
My new Just Giving page. I'm raising money for MacMillan Cancer Support.