Friday, 27 September 2013

Day 6 - September 27th 2013 - Exmouth to Starcross via The Exe Estuary Trail

The official Coast Path crosses the Exe via the Exmouth to Starcross Ferry. That seems a bit too easy to me so I chose to take a long-cut today and make my way across the river by walking around the excellent Exe Estuary Trail, one of my favourite local walks. After an eight hour shift delivering milk I set off feeling fit and well in fine weather after resting at home for an hour. It was also less than 48 hours since I'd made a blood donation, though as usual that seemed to have had absolutely no impact on me and my energy levels felt normal.

My house looks over the estuary and I can see Starcross from my bedroom window less than a mile away across the water. However it's a much longer walk to get there. The trail starts just across the road from my house. I set off at a good pace, well aware that the last river ferry from Starcross back to Exmouth would be leaving at 4-10pm. If I were to miss it I'd have to make my way home by making a time consuming train journey via Exeter St.Davids. I was soon in Lympstone, as usual the eastern side of the trail was very popular being shared by many walkers, joggers and cyclists. I also saw several bird watchers with big binoculars and cameras with huge zoom lenses. The tide was quite high and I could see huge flocks of birds on the vast expanse of water.

Between Lympstone and Exton you pass behind the Royal Marines Commando Training Centre. All Commandos famously have to complete four tough tasks here in full kit at the end of their intense 32 week training course if they're to earn their green beret, not many make it that far. There is a curious railway station, Lympstone Commando, next to the path here where ordinary trains stop but only military personnel may alight, the only one of it's type in the country. Occasional parts of the Exe Estuary Trail are on roads, including a section here, though for the most part they're very quiet lanes and you see very few cars. There are almost no hills on the trail and the entire route is essentially at sea-level and completely flat.

Just past Exton I could see a new section of the path under construction, it looked close to completion and includes a large bridge over the River Clyst. It will shorten the route a little by cutting out the part where I had to use the footpath next to the road between Darts Farm and the Bridge Inn. There are several ways you can make your way through Topsham. I prefer the footpath next to the river, even though it's fairly narrow here and always muddy because it gets covered by the water at high tide. There is another river ferry here for foot passengers which you can use to cross to Turf Lock, I passed the opportunity and continued north determined to do it all on foot. Close to Countess Weir Bridge I diverted into a housing estate to buy a sandwich and a drink in a convenience store. Due to the urgency of catching the last ferry I decided to eat while I walked rather than stopping for a break.

The Countess Weir Bridge on the southern outskirts of Exeter in the furthest place South where pedestrians can cross the River Exe on foot. The road here is very busy, though you're only next to it for a short distance before heading south on the tow path of the Exeter Ship Canal. The first section along the canal isn't exactly the best; first you pass a large sewage works on the opposite bank, then under the noisy M5 motorway. After that it gets much more tranquil and pleasant. There were swans in the water and several fishermen camping along here, all of whom seemed to have three rods each and well equipped green tents. The Turf Hotel at Turk Lock where the Exeter Ship Canal meets the Exe Estuary is a lovely spot, I'm told it's a great place to stop for lunch though I've never been in myself. After stopping briefly to take a couple of pictures I pushed on. The path from here goes along the high bank on the side of the estuary for a mile or two, to my right were peaceful flat fields where cattle were grazing, to my left with the tide subsiding there were mud flats starting to emerge where earlier there was water.

After crossing the railway line the last mile and a half was spent walking along a lane behind Powderham Castle, home of the Earl of Devon. The castle itself is quite distant and you only get occasional glimpses though the trees. There are many deer in the grounds and I got within a few feet of a wading crane at one point. It flew away before I could get my camera out. Upon reaching Starcross I felt I could have easily carried on for a few miles more, but with the ferry by far the easiest way back going any further on made no sense. To my amazement I'd arrived more than an hour before the 4-10pm ferry, in fact I'd just about made it in time for the 3-10pm crossing, my good pace today allowing me to get home an hour earlier than expected. After a relaxing crossing on the boat and an easy stroll home from Exmouth Dock tiredness finally began to kick in. I'll sleep well tonight, very happy with progress on this walk so far.

Distance Walked Today 14.97 miles (24.09 km)

Walking Time; 3 hours 37 minutes

Average Walking Speed 4.1 mph

Cumulative Distance Walked 137.77 miles (221.72 km)

GPS Track;

 A typical section of the eastern side of the
Exe Estuary trail

Razor wire, high security at the Training Centre entrance next to
Lympstone Commando railway station

 A peace stroll through Topsham beside the River Exe

 The spot where the peaceful Exeter Ship canal passes under the busy M5 motorway

 Busy mum, a swan with eight cygnets on The Exeter Ship Canal

 Turf Lock and the Turf Hotel, there is no public road neaby, you can only get here on foot

 The grounds of Powderham Castle, deer graze under the oak tree

The best surviving engine house of Brunel's experimental
atmospheric railway at Starcross

Friday, 20 September 2013

Day 5 - September 20th 2013 - Seaton to Exmouth

I enjoyed the best weather of the walk so far today, cool with bright spells. There was no rain at all and perhaps most importantly of all for the first time I didn't have a head-wind to contend with.

The 10 miles of path between Seaton and Sidmouth were very hard-work yet exhilarating. There were breath-taking views from the cliff-tops, though a tough descent and ascent to contend with each time a river mouth was reached. Branscombe Mouth was a lovely spot, here I saw the anchor of the cointainer ship MSC Napoli which made world-wide headlines in 2007. After it grounded at Branscombe in a storm the containers which washed ashore were scavenged by enterprising locals.

The views over Sidmouth from Salcombe Hill, the highest point of the day were superb. In the fine weather this section of the coast path was busier than any I'd seen so far. When I reached Sidmouth it was buzzing having hosted the start of a Tour of Britain stage a couple of hours before my arrival. With the field including Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish, Britain's two greatest ever cyclists, large crowds had been attracted to the town. After a brief wander around taking in the atmosphere I rested on the Esplanade for a few minutes where I ate my lunch.

From Sidmouth onwards the going got easier and I was on very familiar territory; the path from here to Exmouth being a section I've walked many times before. The long slog up to Peak Hill was the last significant climb of the day, though it didn't seem as steep as those I'd negotiated in the morning. I passed straight through Ladram Bay, a favourite spot of mine, very tranquil and the sea stacks are a superb sight. Approaching Budleigh Salterton the path takes an annoying detour 2/3 of a mile inland to cross the River Otter. Once in town I stopped to buy refreshments and enjoy the sea view for a few minutes.

After some easy climbing which rewarded me with more superb views of the spectacular coast in this area I arrived at Straight Point. The small headland is a military firing range and closed to the public. Right next to it is a very large caravan park, supposedly the biggest in Western Europe. Locally it's known as Sandy Bay, though the holiday companies market it using the name Devon Cliffs. Strangely the Sea View CafĂ© has been allowed to build a patio across the official coast path here and long distance walkers awkwardly pass between tables of holiday makers enjoying a drink with their magnificent view.

After Sandy Bay I passed over Orcombe Cliffs and reached the Geoneedle that marks the western end of the Jurassic Coast, a pleasing landmark. Between here and Old Harry Rocks back on Day 1 I'd thoroughly enjoyed my journey along the World Heritage Site, undoubtedly one of the greatest natural wonders in Britain. A pleasant and flat two mile stroll along Exmouth sea-front followed. At Exmouth Dock were the official path crosses over to Starcross on a ferry I continued on to my home address from where I shall resume. It isn't my intention to use the ferry, I'd rather cross the river via an attractive long-cut; The Exe Estuary Trail.

Distance Walked Today 25.00 miles (40.24 km)

Cumulative Distance Walked 122.80 miles (197.63 km)

GPS Track;

Unfortunately there are no photographs of the spectacular scenery I saw today, I accidentally set off without my camera!

Reviewing today's GPS data after arriving home

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Day 4 - September 19th 2013 - West Bay to Seaton

The weather wasn't on my side again; I was walking into a strong head-wind all day and there was more rain. However I refuse to let that put me off and made good progress regardless.

The morning was spent on hilly terrain between West Bay and Lyme Regis. As is usually the case the toughest climbs rewarded me with the most spectacular views. West of Eype Mouth the views from Thorncombe Beacon (which I reached before the rain set in) were superb. From here Portland to my left already seemed quite small and distant. Amazing considering that's where I'd set off from yesterday morning. To my right I could see many cliffs, headlands and towns that awaited me between here and Exmouth.

After dropping down into Seatown I climbed up to the highest point of the entire South Coast of England; Golden Cap. Surprisingly the ascent wasn't as tough I expected, being a little less steep as many other uphills on my route. Unfortunately the first pulse of rain arrived shortly before I reached the top and I had to stop to put on my waterproofs. There was a great 'top of the world' feeling on the plateau at the top, the path was fairly quiet in the bad weather and I had it all to myself. I stopped there for a few minutes to enjoy the superb views and managed to get some pictures when the rain eased briefly, though visibility wasn't great.

As I pushed on towards Charmouth the weather worsened and the rain got heavier. Unfortunately the coast path both sides of Charmouth was impassable due to land slips an there was no choice but to bypass the town and make my way to Lyme Regis by walking along busy, hilly roads. Even an off-road section of the diversion was closed. This unpleasant slog in the heaviest rain of the day this was easily one of the low-lights of my journey so far. At lovely Lyme Regis it was a welcome relief to meet Lea on the front who was waiting for me in her dry warm car with a delicious hot pasty and a dry shirt for me to change into.

Leaving Lyme Regis I crossed the county border and entered Devon. Most of the way to Seaton the path passes through the dense woodland of the Underhills National Nature Reserve. Glimpses of the sea were few and far between, if it wasn't for the ever-present sound of crashing surf to my left it would have been easy to forget I was on a coast path at all. The going was somewhat tricky, very muddy and the endless tree routes a tripping and slipping hazard, however the jungle-like tree cover did a great job of protecting me from the wind and took the sting out of the rain. When I emerged onto the rugged cliffs a mile from Seaton the storm blew itself out and I saw the first rays sunshine of the day. It was a pleasant stroll down into Seaton through a golf course where I met Lea who was waiting for me as planned on the seafront.

Distance Walked Today 17.82 miles (28.68 km)

Cumulative Distance Walked 97.80 miles (157.39 km)

The view east from Throncombe Beacon, Portland on the horizon
The view west from Thorncombe Beacon
Descending into Seatown, Golden Cap ahead
Passing through a huge field of maize west of Seatown
The view from Golden Cap, the highest point on the
entire South Coast of England
A warning sign where you enter the Underclifs National Nature Reserve,
for the record it took me 2 hours
Hooray, the sun comes out at last as I descent into Seaton through the Axecliff Golf Course

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Day 3 - September 18th 2013 - Chiswell to West Bay

After Lea dropped me back where I'd stopped yesterday at Chiswell my first task was to cross back over the causeway from Portland to the mainland. Two miles of walking on tarmac next to the busy main his was a fairly tedious task, though at least I had the eastern end of Chesil Beach, my companion for most of the day, to admire. Another plus was the weather, while there was a fairly stiff breeze in my face at least it was dry, and dry it would stay all day apart from one short sharp shower mid-morning.

When I joined the mainland I had to double back a little way after accidentally wandering into a caravan park that while directly next to the path didn't offer any access. Then I set off through mile after mile of gently rolling English countryside, the amazing Chesil Beach, a natural shingle bar 18 miles long, always on my left.

There were a couple of military firing ranges to detour around and a few moderate hills towards the end, but it was mainly easy going all the way to the picturesque town of Abbotsbury where I met Lea for lunch.

In the afternoon I dropped back down onto the path which was flat for many miles. In a few spots you find yourself walking on the Chesil shingle, tiresome going but pleasant none-the-less. It was a perfectly clear day and I could see the entirety of Lyme Bay from Portland Bill to Start Point including many headlands that await me before I reach Exmouth.

From Burton Bradstock, where Chesil Beach ends, to West Bay there are a few sharp climbs, but you are rewarded by a cliff-top walk above the spectacular sandstone cliffs, a wonderful sight. By now the downhills bother my legs more than the uphills, the short steep descent into West Bay was probably the most uncomfortable walking of the day. I finished feeling this had been a very good day; pleasant weather, beautiful countryside to admire, a distinct lack of hills and 23 miles covered.

Distance Walked Today 23.07 miles (37.13 km)

Cumulative Distance Walked 79.98 miles (128.72 km)

 Chesil Beach and the Swannery below, as I climb towards Abbotsbury in fine weather
 One of the short sections of the path on the Chesil Beach shingle
Looking back towards Portland where I set off this morning
from Burton Bradstock 
 The spectacular sandstone cliffs at Burton Bradstock
 West Bay, my destination for the day comes into view

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Day 2 - September 17th 2013 - Lulworth Cove to Chiswell

After Sunday's energy-sapping test of willpower I took an unplanned day off for rest and recovery. It paid dividends; I set off today feeling fully recovered and keen to resume my task. There were steep hills to tackle right from the start, though I was rewarded by spectacular scenery including the stunning Durdle Door after only a mile and impressive chalk cliffs that included another natural arch.

From Whitenothe Cottages onwards the going got much easier as I gradually descended towards Weymouth. I loved the spot at Osmington Mills where the official Coast Path goes through the beer garden of the delightful 13th century Smugglers Inn.

After meeting Lea for lunch on Weymouth Esplanade I made my way through town to the 2 mile long causeway that connects Portland with the mainland. Soon before I crossed on the disused railway bed a series of storms blew in. Much like on Day 1 I was set to spend the rest of the afternoon being battered by strong winds and pulses of heavy rain, though the wind never got quite as severe as it had on Sunday. Unfortunately this meant my camera equipment needed to be stowed in a waterproof container inside my pack again, so few pictures were taken.

Portland is a bleak, grey island, yet still fascinating. Quarries and prisons seem to be the main industries around here. Big parts of the island are an endless series of abandoned quarries, you can clearly see where huge chunks of material have been removed over the centuries to be used for construction, including in many world-famous buildings. From the outside Verne Prison looks to be a particularly grim place, being housed inside an abandoned military barracks that was quite literally cut into the rock at the top of the island in the eighteenth century.

Coming around the south-east corner the going was quite tricky requiring clambering over loose rocks in abandoned quarries that were slippery when wet, so I slowed down to avoid the risk of an accident. I didn't see another long-distance walker on the island all afternoon, the conditions must have put everybody else off. After passing the lighthouse at Portland Bill the path back along the west side of Portland becomes much more direct and the going gets easier, though while on the west I was more exposed to the strong winds. Again there were diversions here due to rock falls.

After descending down the steep hill into Chiswell I opted against crossing the causeway again and called it a day. I'll leave form the same spot tomorrow, my intended destination West Bay. A dry day would be nice!

Distance Walked Today 26.85 miles (43.21 km)

Cumulative Distance Walked 56.91 miles (91.59 km)


Looking back towards Lulworth Cove on the
first big climb of the day

Durdle door, spectacular natural arch
 Chalk cliffs at Bat's Head

The Smugglers Inn at Osmington Mills

Arriving at the Esplanade, Weymouth

Portland Bill

 A brief break in the clouds as I walk along the cliff-top on the west side of Portland


Monday, 16 September 2013

Day 1 - September 15th 2013 - South Haven Point to Lulworth Cove

Despite the forecast arrival of the first big storm of the season later in the day (correct as it turned out) I was excited to get this adventure underway. After being dropped off by Lea and posing for a few photos next to the steel structure that marks the start/finish of the South West Coast Path. I set off from South Haven Point in good walking conditions; bright, cool and breezy. The first couple of miles were an enjoyable stroll along the golden sands around Studland Bay, I kept close to the waters edge to make the most of the firm sand. At Studland where the beach ran out I moved to the cliff-top path and made my way to Old Harry Rocks, a very pleasant spot. The chalk rocks here mark the eastern end of the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site, which I intend to walk in it's entirety this week. While at Studland I came across the first of many path diversions I expect to encounter on my journey due to coastal erosion.

From Old Harry Rocks to Swanage the going started to get quite hilly for the first time and the wind was already picking up noticeably. Swanage looked like a pleasant place, there were plenty of visitors in town, many of them there to cheer on runners in the Purbeck Marathon that was taking place that day.

Swanage was the only town (or village) I walked through today. The next 10 miles to St Aldhelm's Head were rugged terrain with the remains of many limestone quarries to seen. The wind strength continued to build through this section and was beginning to make progress noticeably more difficult than it otherwise would have been. Unfortunately due to an unexpected complication and the absence of any mobile signal my lunchtime meeting with Lea at St.Aldhelm's Chapel didn't happen. I rested for a while, ate the emergency back-up snacks I'd been given by my Mum and pressed on. I took this short video clip soon after leaving St.Aldhelm's Head a few minutes before the rain arrived, it gives you an idea of the wind strength I walked into all afternoon;

When I reached West Hill the well-forecast storm hit and the rest of the day would prove to be very tough. Winds were up at gale force and in my face most of the time. The rain was of the stinging horizontal variety that penetrates through even the best of water-proofs. Visibility was very poor, no more photographs could be taken and I was unable to enjoy the scenery. Soon after West Hill a 4-mile section of the path was on a long-term closure due to land slides. I followed the diversion route as well as I could, but it was poorly sign-posted and I ended up taking an improvised route that went through a muddy smelly farmyard and the grounds of Smedmore House.

Despite the horrendous weather I was determined to make it through the Lulworth Firing Ranges today. It was a Sunday, after today they would be closed to the public until the following Saturday. My intention is to walk the South West Coast path in sequence if possible, I don't want to skip bits which I'd have to go back and walk later.

I made my way back down to the Coast Path again after entering the firing ranges on a ridge. The wind remained very strong and made the going a real battle on the more exposed sections, it was hard to stay standing in places. The final three miles from Worbarrow Tout to Lulworth Cove were the toughest of the lot. By now I was getting exhausted and de-hydrated due to the aborted lunch meet-up. The last two steep hills were very steep, a real challenge, I stopped to rest every 20 metres or so. It was a big relief when I finally sighted Lulworth below me when a mile away with darkness falling. It was all downhill from there, I chose the Radar Station path. It was a great relief when I met worried Lea, who was waiting in the car park with much needed food and drink.

The South West Coast path threw everything it had at me today;  high mileage, more climbing than an ascent of Ben Nevis, ferocious weather. My missed lunch meeting and lack of fluids was a further complication that made the day even more challenging. I'm very pleased I managed overcome such a tough test on the very first day of this journey, I hope I won't face anything worse between here and Minehead.

After such a tough test on my Day 1 I decided to make Monday an unplanned rest day to recover, the walking to resume from Lulworth Cove on Tuesday morning.

Distance Walked Today 30.06 miles (48.38 km)

Cumulative Distance Walked 30.06 miles (48.38 km)


South Haven Point, the journey begins here
Old Harry Rocks, the eastern end of The Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site
The large globe at Durlston Castle
One of the many disused limestone quarries
St.Aldhelm's Chapel
The terrain starts to get hilly west of St. Aldhelm's Head. Shortly after I took
this picture the storm hit preventing any further use of my camera .

Friday, 13 September 2013


The Walking Milkman is back!

On Sunday 15th September 2013 I'll begin my attempt to conquer the challenging yet spectacular South West Coast Path.

My journey begins at South Haven Point, Poole Harbour in Dorset, this being the eastern end of the path. My initial target is to walk back to my hometown of Exmouth in Devon, a distance of around 116 hilly miles (including the entire Jurassic Coast, World Heritage Site) which I hope to complete in 5 days.

The South West Coast Path is England's longest way-marked distance footpath and a National Trail. It stretches for 630 miles (1,014 km) between Minehead in Somerset and Poole Harbour in Dorset. Since it rises and falls with every river mouth, it is also one of the more challenging trails. The total height climbed has been calculated to be 35,031 m, almost four times the height of Mount Everest.

I'd love to walk the entire route non-stop, unfortunately work commitments make that impossible so I intend to complete the walk in sections, including at a full week of walking each year for the next three years.

South West Coast Path Wikipedia page;

South West Coast Path home page;