My good luck with the weather continued as I began my thirtieth and final day on this magnificent trail. When I arrived back at Lynmouth it was cool, dry and misty, absolutely perfect for walking. As I crossed the harbour I looked up at the two narrow valleys that converge here and thought about the terrible 1952 flood that killed 34 people when a freak storm dumped nine inches of rain on Exmoor.
The path was lined by lovely wild flowers where it entered some woods. A sign there said 'Coast Path, Minehead 20'. I tried not to think about finishing. After leaving the woods the path climbs steadily to around 900 feet above sea level near Countisbury. From the top I had great views back over Lynmouth, Lynton and Exmoor. On the way up I saw three deer on the path ahead of me. They dashed down the steep slope before I got too close. After reaching the highest point of the climb there were grassy rolling hills where Exmoor ponies were grazing. The path then dropped into a steep scree-filled valley at Coddow Combe. A road along the bottom leads to Foreland Point Lighthouse. I'd glimpsed the lighthouse from the cliffs at Rocky Valley yesterday afternoon, but it wasn't visible from the path today. A herd of deer high above the valley watched as I walked through.
At Glenthorne Cliffs the path entered hillside woods that went on for several miles. It stayed high up through this section and sea views were infrequent. I crossed several small bubbling streams. I found the stream at Coscombe which marks the county boundary between Somerset and Devon. There is absolutely nothing to let you know you are crossing the county border, unlike Marsland Mouth where I completed Cornwall and entered North Devon back in September. A bit further on an alternate route going inland was offered. On the coast path 'alternate' usually means easier and less interesting, so I stuck to the lower woodland route in the hope it would get more dramatic. However that section still seemed quite tame to me. Wooded all the way, just a few short steep climbs around landslips, occasional fallen trees partly blocking the path, sea views stayed few and far between.
After the two paths had merged again I suddenly came across Culbone Church in a clearing miles from anywhere, it was a nice surprise. It was a lovely spot, the 12th century chapel, apparently the smallest complete parish church in England, looked pretty and well maintained. I didn't stop to go in. A bit further on a man leading a family group of about a dozen who must have come from Porlock Weir asked me 'Did you make it as far as the church? Is it worth us carrying on?' Some of the less fit people at the rear of his party looked quite red and sweaty. I assured them they were nearly there, that it was an easy walk from here and well worth continuing. I decided not to mention that I'd come from a lot further on than the church. Annoyingly my camera's low battery warning came on at Culbone, it had shown as being full in the morning. I used my phone as a back-up camera to take most of the pictures for the rest of the day
After dropping down from the woods I arrived at Porlock Weir having passed several strange derelict tunnels on the way. Another rendezvous with Lea went exactly as planned, a 100% success rate for us this week with just the one more at Minehead to come. As usual we ate our lunch in the car while people watching and discussing the days events so far. Porlock Weir was a nice place to stop with it's quaint harbour and lovely old buildings. Despite it's fairly remote location there were plenty of people around, the hotel, pub and other businesses all appeared to be doing well.
For the first few hundred yards after leaving Porlock Weir the path crosses a shingle bank similar to that I'd walked on at Westward Ho! Then it enters a system of pancake-flat fields. Warning signs tell you the fields often flood at high-tide, in which case walkers should take the road. The slippery water-logged surface told me it hadn't been long since the last flood. After leaving the fields the path emerges into unspoilt Bossington, a small village with attractive old cottages, most still have quaint thatched roofs.
A pleasant river-side walk through woods took me out of Bossington to the bottom of Hurlstone Combe. The South West Coast Path had one last big test for my legs, an energy-sapping climb up the middle of the steep dry coombe, gaining over 700 feet of ascent with most of it at a gradient of over 30%. To put that in perspective the London Eye is 443 feet tall. I marched up, determined not to stop and made it to the top without taking a rest. With my heart still racing after the climb I had a decision to make. A sign at the top offers the choice of 'Rugged Alternative Coast Path', or 'Coast Path'. Having come this far there was absolutely no way I was about to turn all soft now, I set off on the rugged alternative without giving it a second thought.
The alternative path skirted around several deep scree-filled valleys. It was scenic and had an isolated, rugged feel. There were no buildings, no roads, no people. I had good views across to Wales where I could now make out towns, beaches, cliffs and a large industrial complex. It was growing increasingly overcast. I only felt a few odd spots of rain, but I could see what looked like a slow-moving shower over Porlock Weir, another was visible further up the Severn Estuary somewhere near Cardiff. This section didn't really feel that tough at all, if you can make it up Hurlstone Combe it's a piece of cake. I enjoyed having it all to myself, when I re-joined the easier path I still hadn't seen another person since the bottom of Hurlstone three or four miles back.
When I started to see dog walkers near a car park above Burgundy Chapel Combe I knew the end was getting close. I made my way down towards Minehead through grassland then woods. Whoever erected the frequent signs has a sense of humour. You see ' Minehead 1 3/4', then 'Minehead 1', soon followed by 'Minehead 1/2'. By now you're expecting to arrive in town at any moment, but the next sign then says 'Minehead 3/4'.
In the final mile a section of the path goes along the drive of Greenaleigh Farm. It's quite narrow, so when I heard a 4x4 vehicle approaching from behind I stepped aside to let it through. The driver stopped and offered me a lift! I couldn't believe it, this was the first lift I'd been offered in the whole 630 miles. We couldn't hear each other because his window wasn't wound down. I tried to gesture back something to the effect of 'thank-you, but I've got only 1 mile to go!'. He smiled, nodded knowingly then went on his way. I wonder if he suspected that might be the case before he stopped. I don't think I looked like someone out for a casual late-afternoon stroll.
Suddenly I noticed the tall white canopies of Butlins ahead and knew I was entering Minehead at last. The way into town wasn't exactly glamorous, a path through a scruffy grassy area with very prominent signs warning dog-owners to pick-up. I came out onto the seafront, in the last quarter mile I saw the small harbour. The tide was out and the boats were resting on mud. Then I saw the sculpture that marks the start/finish of the South West Coast Path just ahead. Lea was waiting and walked the final few yards with me. I finished this amazing walk with tears in my eyes and a mix of emotions. I was very proud to have successfully completed this wonderful adventure, the 630+ miles, the 4x the height of Everest worth of climbs, and all the rest, I'd loved it all. But I was also sad the path had to come to an end. I'd enjoyed the walking so much I truly wished it could just carry on forever.
I'll be back soon with one last blog post containing my final thoughts :)
Distance Walked Today - 21.70 miles (34.92km)
Cumulative Distance Covered - 667.72 miles (1,074.59km)
Lynmouth Harbour on a fine morning, The Lynton and Lynmouth Cliff Railway rising behind.
Deer on the path ahead of me flee down the hill near Countisbury
Exmoor pony near Foreland Point
A herd of deer watch me from the top of Coddow Combe
I left Devon and entered Somerset when I crossed this small stream in the woods at Coscombe
A tree across the path in the long wooded section between Glenthorne and Porlock Weir
Leaving Porlock Weir on the shingle bank, the last big hill on the South West Coast Path ahead
The sign at the top of the steep 700+ feet climb at Hurlstone Combe (I turned left of course)
One of the valleys I had to myself on the rugged alternate path
The final countdown begins as I descend towards Minehead
The driver of this vehicle offered me a lift in the final mile.
My first glimpse of Minehead
The very last of around 2,500 waymarks I've passed since leaving Poole Harbour