Saturday, 19 October 2013

To be continued in 2014 :)

Reluctantly this walk is now on hold now for the Winter.

I'd love to walk all of the magnificent South West Coast Path in one continuous uninterrupted journey. However the reality is I have no option but to tackle it in sections due to work and family commitments. I'm already looking forward to getting back on the path in 2014, which will include a full week of walking during a break from work. It's my intention is to get at least as far as the half-way point of the path during the year, which I note is just south of Coverack in Cornwall.

The path certainly hasn't disappointed so far, as expected delivering a superb mix of terrain; genteel seaside resorts, rugged unspoilt coastline, sandy beaches and just about everything inbetween. I've walked through many wonderful places I'd never visited before and enjoyed mile after mile of spectacular scenery. Perhaps I was a bit unlucky with the weather at times, especially on Day 1 when I was battered by an horrendous storm, though on the other side of the coin I was fortunate to stay completely clear of any aches, pains or injuries. On reflection my favourite part to date was the glorious isolated and rural section between Berry Head and Kingswear on Day 8, simply magnificent. The low point was on Day 4; a tedious detour of several miles on steep and busy roads around Charmouth. The coast path was impassable both sides of town due to landslips leaving me no option other than this unpleasant slog in heavy rain.

I'd like to say a big 'thank-you' to my parents Eileen and Bill who let me use their house as a base for the first two nights and provided the best possible hospitality. Also to my partner Lea for her invaluable support. She patiently followed along in her car on Days 1 to 5, dropping me at the start point each morning, meeting me first for lunch, then wherever I stopped to take me back to our accommodation. She also brought along food, changes of clothes, etc. Unlimited use of 'Lea's Taxi' was very much appreciated!

Many people have asked me if this is another charity walk. Initially that wasn't my intention, however I've been persuaded otherwise after a few people insisted on making a donation to a good cause in appreciation of my efforts. I've decided I'd like any money raised to go to Macmillan Cancer Support again. They're a highly worthwhile cause who are currently giving invaluable assistance to my mother during her battle against breast cancer. If you'd like to make a donation please do so via my Just Giving page which you'll find on this link, otherwise you can forward it to me.

Thanks for reading, Gary :)

Progress to date, 178.67 miles covered in 8 days, about an Everest worth of ascent and descent thrown in for good measure. The red line accurately shows my route as recorded by my handheld Garmin GPS device. Click pic to enlarge.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Day 8 - October 11th 2013 - Torquay to Kingswear

By necessity my walk today commenced after I'd finished my regular daily milkround in Exeter, just as it had on days 6 and 7. That's an 8 hour shift spent mainly on my feet after a 1-30am alarm call. If you're questioning my sanity at this point I wouldn't be surprised. But don't worry; I can handle it. I try to avoid walking too much over 20 miles after a working day. On a non-working day my range is 30+ miles.

When I arrived in Torquay I was delighted with the weather; it was bright and sunny with a strong, cool northerly wind. Absolutely perfect when you're about to start walking south. The first couple of miles going into Paignton weren't that much fun, going along a footpath next to a busy main road. At least there were pleasant views across Torbay to enjoy. From Paignton onwards the main road diverts inland and the seafront becomes more peaceful. The tide was high and waves were coming over the sea wall in places. It wasn't too bad but the road along the front was closed to traffic as a precaution.

At the north end of Goodrington Sands a short section of the official path was closed by an unstable cliff. The diversion here was the first I'd seen since Charmouth. Broadsands seemed a lovely spot, though the name wasn't very apt today; the high tide and rough sea meant the beach was completely covered by big waves, I couldn't really see much sand at all. As I walked along the promenade I found myself being blasted continuously by spray. I didn't mind, that sort of thing just adds to the fun as far as I'm concerned.

From Churston Point onwards the nature of the path changed noticeably. The seaside resorts were behind me now and the going started to become quite rural and moderately hilly. From here through to Brixham was a surprisingly pleasant section. Sandy beaches were replaced by more rugged coastline, the path passed through some wooded sections and across a couple of small coves. Brixham itself is a pretty fishing town, totally in contrast to the modern touristy areas I'd passed through earlier. I stopped here briefly for my lunch (a Cornish pasty again). It was consumed while I sat on a bench next to the statue of William of Orange. He landed an army of 20,000 men near here in 1688.

After leaving Brixham I made my way up to Berry Head. There was much to see including the impressive Napoleonic era fortifications. In front of the lighthouse there's one of those direction and distance signs that points out what you can see on a clear day. I could easily make out Exmouth, 18 miles distant, and several other places I'd passed through along the Jurrasic Coast. That included Golden Cap in Dorset, I wondered if there were people up there at that very moment looking back across Lyme Bay towards me. On such a fine day for walking I concluded there probably were. It was a little too hazy to make out the island of Portland from where I was, I expect those at Golden Cap could see it. Portland Bill was 42 miles away in a straight line according to the sign. I can tell you from very recent personal experience it's actually 120 miles away if you do the journey on foot without using any ferries!

Soon after leaving Berry Head the path enters a spectacular section that continues all the way around to Kingswear. You leave civilisation behind and don't see any roads or buildings for several miles. There are spectacular coves and cliffs, occasional small beaches that you can only access on foot or by boat. The path gets rocky and rugged and becomes a switchback of steep hills, it's tough going and not for the faint-hearted. In my opinion areas like this are exactly what the path is all about, representing the coast of Great Britain at its very finest and I enjoy them immensely. In one spot I found my way blocked by three grazing Dartmoor ponies who didn't want to budge, there was a cliff top close to my left and dense scrub to the right. It was a magical moment. After a brief stand-off I eventually sweet-talked my way through! I thoroughly enjoyed these last eight miles or so of today's walk, they were undoubtedly right up there with the very best I've seen on this journey so far. I was getting tired by the end, stopping for regular breathers on the last few killer hills, including the steep one that climbs through the fascinating WWII defences at Brownstone Battery. Despite that I was left in absolutely no doubt it had been more than worth the effort to see such wonderful places.

When I got into Kingswear I made my way down to the ferry terminal where the official South Coast Path crosses over to Dartmouth. My arrival was well-timed to catch the 5-00pm tourist steam train back to Paignton. It was a little more expensive than the bus, though a far more pleasant mode of transport. The steam train was hassle-free, relaxing and on time. To the contrary when I got alighted at Paignton I found my connecting train to Torquay on the National Network had been cancelled, so I ended up on a bus after all. I'm making good progress on this walk, I'm not sure if the same can be said for public transport.

Distance Walked Today 19.78 miles (31.83 km)

Walking Time; 5 hours 51 minutes

Average Walking Speed 3.4 mph

Cumulative Distance Walked 178.67 miles (287.54 km)

GPS Track;

Paignton Pier in superb walking weather
Sands? What sands? Stormy seas at Broadsands
A replica of the Golden Hind in Brixham Harbour
Naopleonic era defences at Berry Head
A deserted beach at Long Sands
This is the stuff! A spectacular section of the South West
Coast Path somewhere near Scabbacombe Head
One of the Dartmoor ponies that blocked my way to The River Dart
Looking across to Dartmouth upon my arrival in Kingswear
This Iron Horse took me away from the River Dart

Friday, 4 October 2013

Day 7 - October 3rd 2013 - Starcross to Torquay

Due to Met Office severe weather warnings of heavy rain and localised flooding my decision to walk today was left until the very last minute. After finishing at work I took a close look at the live rainfall rader images and decided to go for it; I could see that the heaviest of the rain would be passing shortly before I started and that conditions should improve in the afternoon.

A big downpour had left a lot of standing water when I set off from the railway station car park at Starcross, though the rain falling at the time was actually quite light. I made my way to Dawlish Warren along the unavoidable roads, though it was a bit better than the last time I walked through here as some new wide new footpaths have been constructed where before there were none. Soon after I started to walk along the sea wall between Dawlish Warren and Dawlish it began to rain quite hard again, the sea was rough and visibilty was poor. I'd chosen to walk this section today due to low tide falling at lunchtime, at high tide two sections of the coast path in this area are impassable.

Conditions stayed misreable as I did the first hilly sections after Dawlish and made my along the sea wall that takes you into Teignmouth. I just put my head down and got on with it at a good pace, reminding myself frequently that the rain wouldn't be lasting all day. To my surprise I saw three other individual long-distance walkers out on this section despite the foul weather, each of them alone and heading north.

At Teignmouth I thought it very unlikely the ferry would be operating in the rough seas, even if it was I didn't fancy waiting around for it in the deluge. So after buying a pasty for my lunch I headed straight for the The Saldon Bridge. To my relief the heavy rain started to ease off just before I crossed.

After Shaldon the weather gradually improved and the walk became far more pleasurable . The path closely follows the clifftops around scenic Labrador Bay. The coast road is too far away to be heard over the sound of crashing waves and you feel far from civilisation, I didn't see another person here for a couple of hours along this stretch. This was my favourite part of the walk today. Mind you, the going was pretty tough all the way. You're always going up or down and it's often steep. It was also quite overgrown in places, I was glad I was wearing waterproof trousers rather than shorts when I found myself wading through nettles and brambles. Low hanging branches weighed down by rain are an annoyance when you're six feet tall.

Apart from a couple of short road sections the path is surprisingly rural and rugged as it skirts around the built-up areas to the north of Torquay. The going remains quite hilly, but you are rewarded by some great views of various coves and cliffs. With the sun breaking though by now I enjoyed walking through here too, visibilty was improving and I caught occasional glimpes of Exmouth and western end of the Jurrasic Coast in the distance.

By the time I finally emerged into Torquay itself I was beginning to tire. It was hardly surprising; I'd been up since 1-45am and put in eight hours on the milkround before this walk. During that shift I'd probably walked at least another 10 miles. I made my way to the railway station and caught the first train back to Starcross where my car was parked. It took a mere 32 minutes to return me to the place it had taken me over 6 hours to walk from. As the the train passed along the spectacular line through Teignmouth and Dawlish I could see huge waves crashing over the sea walls I'd walked along earlier, this made me very pleased that I'd researched the tide times before setting off.

The walk today was very varied, both the terrain and the weather. Admittedly the first couple of hours wasn't much fun in terrible conditions. However I was glad I hadn't let the adverse weather stop me, by the end I felt exhilerated and with an overwhelming sense that I'd thoroughly enjoyed the day.

Distance Walked Today 21.12 miles (33.99 km)

Walking Time; 6 hours 03 minutes

Average Walking Speed 3.5 mph

Cumulative Distance Walked 158.89 miles (255.71 km)

GPS Track;

South Wet Coast Path, the live rainfall radar just before I set off
Heading south out of Dawlish as heavy rain falls, Lea Mount the first hill of the day ahead
A short video clip I recorded between Dawlish and Teignmouth during the downpour,
the path had turned into a river here
Looking back at Teignmouth through the murk
Yay, it starts to brighten up as I walk along the Labrador Bay cliff-top, the angle
between the fence and the horizon shows how steep it is here
Babbacombe Cliff Railway in the first rays of sun of the day,
the path goes under the track in a small tunnel
Ansteys Cove
Torquay Harbour and blue sky, a very welcome sight after the earlier deluge