Bought a flat, got married, turned 30, joined the Campaign for Real Ale and became addicted to Countryfile – there is no escaping from the fact my life has gone all grown up. The times, “they are a changing” (see I’ve even started listening to Bob Dylan) the transition has also been reflected in my appearance. The wardrobe consists of more shoes not trainers, knitwear not sportswear, durable wax coats not sports jackets FFS I’ve even started wearing bobble hats. Said garments just so happened to be built for the ‘outdoors’ so it was somewhat inevitable that at some point the path to middle age would involve taking up walking. My previous weekend pastime of watching the beautiful game has just become too expensive, too much hassle and too detached from the very people that made it ‘beautiful’ in the first place. The gap needed to be filled and my first ‘awayday’ was to be Devon and Dorset’s Jurassic Coast.
My able, make that very able companion was my step-Dad Simon who had climbed the likes of Mount Blanc and Kilimanjaro in the past. Needless to say with just a couple of very light rambles around Richmond Park the 22 miles over two days certainly sounded daunting. The guys at work obviously agreed, they assumed it was for Charity at first! Whatever was to happen it was important to wear the right gear and just as vital, look smart doing it. So the Casual Co Weir bobble hat, Casual Co ‘Beat the Storm’ waterproof, Casual Co High Peak Sweatshirt, waterproof Berghaus trousers and gore-tex Timberland Hikers were all packed into Fjallraven Kanken. When you look good you can take on anything, that was the thinking anyway.
The quaint town of Budleigh Salterton was to be our starting point. Our departure was slightly delayed by the fact that nothing appeared to open until 10. This was odd considering the town was besieged by elderly locals looking to go about their business.
That said the astounding English breakfast at the Tea and Tattle was well worth the wait and perfect fuel for the miles ahead.
The first section somewhat of the walk somewhat bizarrely for a Coastal walk was a large detour inland up the Otter Estuary. Despite the amount of waterproof clothing amongst my person, the thought of wading across the mouth of the estuary to stick to save some time seemed rather silly. It was the first indication of just how varied the trek was to be, numerous birds flying in and out of the tall reeds got the walk off to a great start. We even passed some guy meditating; we were already well and truly in the heart of the great outdoors.
Once we’d got back to the coast we spent the next few miles on the first leg to Sidmouth hugging the coast with the sea to our right and vast open countryside to our left.
Living in the capital city peace and quiet is rare to non-existent but bar the gentle lapping of the waves coming in and the odd seagull we were a world away from the hustle and bustle of daily life back in London. Fortunately this was to be a constant feature over the weekend.
After six miles we arrived at our first stop of Sidmouth and whilst it was fairly comfortable the pint of Old Speckled Hen went down very well.
The appeal of staying inside instead of walking the eight miles to our overnight shop of Beer was a big one. Nonetheless as Simon said it shouldn’t be “too many ups and downs” so were soon on our way again.
It’s fair to say Simon misjudged it slightly as we pretty much spent the next eight miles up and down, up and down and up and down. Whilst reaching the bottom of what seemed far too many steps would ultimately bring a sigh on reflection they were the perfect excuse to stop and catch your breath and at the same time take in and marvel at the rugged and colorful coastline. Strangely going up hill was easier than going down hill particularly when the descent was steep in that one slip and I’d be on my arse. Luckily that only happened once!
The variety of landscapes on such a short stretch continued to both surprise and amaze me. The path meandered across open land into tiny tree covered walkways, wound its way through dense forest, alongside white cliffs, brown cliffs, red cliffs, peering down on sand beaches and pebble beaches.
The variety certainly helped to keep us going. Not that we needed too much incentive as the signs soon kept directing us to our next and that days final stop a village beautifully named Beer. Stick the word Beer on a sign and it’s amazing how blokes will quicken the pace.
On the subject of signs, the various authorities [The National Trust, and the Devon and Dorset Councils] involved deserve huge credit for the setting up of and excellent upkeep of the path. The map and compass pretty much stayed in their bag as we just followed the numerous wooden guide posts. Access wasn’t an issue and it just hit home how ludicrous the recent plans to sell off land and forests by the current clowns in government were! Access to such beautiful parts of this great land should be available to as many people as possible and it’s something that should be treasured and applauded and not sold to the highest bidder to make a quick buck. Rant over.
Our initial plan was to stop off for a quick ale at the much lauded Masons Arms in Branscombe but with the dark approaching we decided to head straight onto Beer. And just after five o’clock we’d arrived and checked in at the excellent Dolphin Hotel. First thing to do was to devour a well deserved ale or two all to the sounds off the Wurzels
on the pub jukebox…we were very much in the West Country. We then went on to eat and drank in the very good Barrel o’Beer. Nothing major with 14 miles walk done and another eight the next day sleep was a must.
Another fried breakfast in the hotel in the morning and we were off again. Shame to leave Beer which like many places along the route were in ‘off season’ mode. Whilst it would no doubt be a lovely place in the summer with some good weather, you do wonder if the region retains its beauty under the weight of tourists.
Seaton was just a mile over the hill, which we reached by walking across the beach. You’d think that after hugging the coast all the previous day you’d be pleased to walk right on the cusp of the sea? We obviously forgot the less than firm ground of a pebble beach and we were glad to get on more solid ground and not only just because we just nipped ahead of the advancing tide that nearly left us stranded.
Seaton didn’t really amount to much as we walked through it until things livened up just as we left it. It became clear that the coastal path was literally sending us smack bang through a golf course, right through the middle of it. Fortunately we avoided being hit by any golf balls to begin our final leg of the journey to Lyme Regis.
We were left in no uncertain terms that the 6 miles walk that was to follow was be approached with caution.
However we had stout walking boots on and having already walked over 15 miles scoffed at the warning. Like all the signs that weekend it did prove an excellent guide, it really was off the beaten track. The pathway was as narrow as we had experienced at times the steep and often boggy steps were best approached with caution.
It was a route took us pretty much wedged between huge white cliffs and the sea. Dense trees sheltered most of the path but with the sun making its first and sustained appearance the light poking through the trees lit up the rest of the journey. Spring was very much in the air.
The adrenaline certainly kicked in the last couple of miles as the thought of an ale and some fresh fish and chips at our final destination of Lyme Regis drew closer.
As we reached the top of the hill with Lyme Regis at the bottom there was time for one last picture of what was a truly beautiful part of the country.
Upon arrival in Lyme Regis we toasted the conclusion to a great weekend with a pint of the excellent local Palmers ale at the lovely seafront pub The Royal Standard. There was just time for some astounding fish and chips under the watchful eye of some expectant seagulls before I jumped straight back on the train London.
The train journey transported me further and further away from the meandering and peaceful coastline of whose variety and the beauty was so worth exploring. It genuinely felt a great privilege to sample some of the best scenery the South West has got to offer.
Already bookmarked the next weekend this time on the North Coast of Somerset. Looking enviously at the destinations further a field like Lake and Peak Districts for future expeditions. If first impressions are anything to go by this country has an awful lot to offer, get out there. If enjoying and exploring England’s green and pleasant land is part of growing up then bring it on…provided I’ve got a good waterproof to hand and a Real Ale or two and a nice bed to look forward to at the end of it!
Like the path itself the South West Coast Path website is excellently maintained for more details http://www.southwestcoastpath.com/index.cfm
To see the rest of the pictures from the weekend here is the flickr link http://www.flickr.com/photos/10210546@N04/sets/72157626221592998/with/5508190451/