Saturday, 16 July 2011

South West Coast Path Q&A and Advice.

The South West Coast Path is the longest path in Britain. True fact. And it needs to be fed its respect snacks, as me and my knee found out. But what it also needs if you're going to complete it in any sort of comfort, is a lot of money. Here are some questions I've been asked, which I hope will help any prospective walkers thinking of tackling any, or some of the coast path.

Q. Is six hundred and thirty miles a long way?

Yes. You could walk from London to Paris in a third of the distance - I could make it to Switzerland with miles to spare.

Q. How much money did you take with you?

About eight hundred quid, based on camping most nights and cooking the majority of my own food. If you're planning on B&Bs and pubs, you'll want closer to two thousand.

Q. Were there plenty of camp sites?

No, quite frankly. If you're used to hiking and camping in North Wales/Scotland as I am, you'll be disappointed. I'm not averse to wild camping in the right scenario and if you're planning on camping the whole way, you'll need to - there's a great swathe of North Devon which apparently doesn't believe in campsites - there are a lot of helpful farmers however.

I imagine most walkers will also have studied the 'South West Coast Path Guide' cover to cover as I did, and will note that there's a campsite drought that begins around Barnstaple. However, having walked the route, I've noted there were more campsites than the book tells you about, many of which bear the 'SWCP' sticker, implying that they were once in the book. Several that I stayed at (in Tintagel and Bude for instance) had outdated stickers but were no longer included. Both were very good campsites, though Bude was (and will be) a little expensive.

The path assumes you'll either wild camp (technically illegal, in reality, frowned upon) or be able to stay in B&Bs. See below for a short list of places that I'd

Q. Your blog starts out in ordered days - it makes for easier reading. Why did you change to this mess at the end?

I honestly haven't the heart to relate all of my experiences in the second half of the hike in a blow by blow style. It was miserable, I was aching and faced with failure. I have been working on my own guide to the SWCP though, which I hope to get up here shortly - they'll cover the days in detail, but without too much personal experience thrown in, as well as the rest of the days based on day trips etc. And I won't have the rose tinted specs of the SWCP association.

Q. What kit did you take?

See below for my 'Kit guide'.

Q. What's the weather like in Cornwall?

Tempestuous. A day can quite gaily swing from blazing sunshine to pouring rain to muggy heat in the space of time it took me to write that sentence. Be prepared - see my Kit Guide for ideas.

Q. Is public transport possible?

A. In some places and at some times of year, yes. There's a mainline railway station running through to Penzance from London, stopping at Newquay and Exeter amongst others. Bus services are often infrequent but were always on time. Check with local transport groups.

Accessing the start of the walk at Minehead is easy enough, train to Taunton and take the regular 28 bus from outside the station.

Q. Can I still donate to Cancer Research?

A. Sure, donations welcome. Go to

Q. Where was your favourite place along the walk? And your least favourite?

A. This time around I only walked around two hundred miles altogether. Though I've walked a great deal of the south coast before, it was usually without a backpack and with a car waiting for me, so I can't adequately compare the two. From the North coast, I enjoyed the hustle and bustle of St. Ives and the opposite of that in Instow and Porlock Weir. Westward Ho!, Bideford and Barnstaple should be avoided if at all possible. My favourite walk is a toss up between my first and my last - Minehead to Porlock or St. Ives back towards Hayle.

Q. How did you manage to look so good throughout the walk?

A. I suppose that I'm just too sexy for my boots.

What I took With Me.

I use a Sherpa 65L backpack which was more than big enough for my requirements and generally comfortable enough. If you're not camping then you could easily get away with a much smaller bag (between fourty and fifty litres), as a great deal of my space and weight was taken up with tent and sleeping bag. Altogether I carried around twenty seven pounds (that's 12KG).

Two man tent (Ol' Blue) - 7 LB.
Two season sleeping bag - 2.2 LB.
One pair of trousers.
One pair of shorts.
Two pairs of underwear. (Prepare to be turning things inside out and back to front. Wash clothes whenever possible, or live on the wild side.)
Three pairs of hiking socks.
Three pairs of inner socks. I realise that's a lot of socks, but taking care of your feet is important when walking long distances - I suffer from blisters and find wearing two layers on my feet makes a big difference.
Two t-shirts.
One jumper.
Waterproof jacket.
Waterproof trousers.
Flip flops.
Hiking boots.
Walking stick.
Emergency stove.
Fuel tablets.
Pocket knife.
Water purification tablets.
Two empty water bottles.
Spray soap.
Tooth brush.
Small tube tooth paste.
Small sewing kit.
Bug spray.
Tea bags.

Smart phone.
Spare mobile phone.
Phone charger.
Solar panel and cables.
MP3 Player.


If only he had some idea. Look at that pristine knee he's got there. Bastard.

My knee swad in the doctor prescribed support which did literally nothing. God bless the NHS.

The Caribbean? Cornwall.

Or Mrs. Baggit will come after you when you're asleep.

Walking out from St. Ives.


A little game called 'Follow the Acorn or you'll get lost and end up getting abused by locals.'

Boscastle harbour.

Golf - Kills more people in Cornwall than you might expect.

Most of the views didn't look like this.

Me, mum and my brother, Luke. Yes, he does always look that miserable.

Me and Ol' Blue. That tent protected me from wind, rain and cow. It did however, start to smell a little like gone off houmous.

The three of us again. Luke is smiling, contrary to my earlier caption. Can you trust anyone these days?

The Lonely Hiker.

With Ol' Blue on the very first evening in Porlock Weir.

It turns out that the road doesn't go ever on and on.

Not in this case anyway. It's been a fair while since I updated and I know people are eager to see how the walk turned out.

Well when I left you, I'd just returned home after the foretaste of hell that was Bideford. And I wanted to write a little more about the place - indeed, I've just deleted rather a large chunk of writing slating the town for all I'm worth (Tuppence) but I've already said my piece and Bideford council have said theirs too. Unsurprisingly they think that I'm wrong, so I suppose that I'll just have to let you make your own minds up. If you ever go there. Which you shouldn't. Because it's shit.

My break at home was about as stressful as breaks come, which was only to be expected under the circumstances. I had a couple of visits to the doctor who told me that if I tried walking again, I could end up doing myself a lasting injury, which would seriously hamper my future in hiking. I hit a bit of a quandary there - hiking (and camping) fall a close second to writing in my list of things that I couldn't live without doing, but nor am I a quitter. What I am is stubborn, like a bad tempered child who doesn't want to stop farting the tune to 'Doctor Who' with his armpits. A week or so after I'd been sent home, Jess was coming down to go hiking with me so I decided to strap my knee up and go for broke. Broke is what I got.

I'll sum up the following days in quick succesion.

We spent a lovely evening, with a lovely dinner, in Bude. We walked on in torrential weather, many miles across sometimes beautiful and sometimes dishearteningly built up coastline, until we reached Tintagel, at one point with the aid of a bus and a life saving cup of tea. Trouble started when we rocked up into Tintagel - where once a ligament used to sit and play with all of it's ligament buddies, now it was weeping and hiding behind my knee cap. An acorn sized lump had formed around the afflicted area and walking was starting to prove immensely painful. We wondered (Jess wondered, I hobbled) down to the youth hostel and were informed that they were full (something which has never happened to be before) and by this time I was convinced that maybe there was a God after all, and he was punishing me for all those years of Atheism.

We struck lucky in the end, staying in a slightly unorthodox B&B just outside of the centre, which was no frills, but with a price to match and an incredibly friendly owner who had a penchant for owls and collecting obscure foreign artefacts. We rested up there for the night and watched Barcelona win some more football, then spent the next day resting in a campsite down the road. One thing I'll say about Tintagel, it was probably lovely fifty years ago, but these days the tourist is very much King. Some of the shops were well worth visiting, as were the castle and old Post Office, but old ladies getting off of coaches were very much the order of the day.

We met up with my family shortly after and did a little more walking, but in a strange order. Mum was feeling alright, so we skipped on down to Port Isaac and me and Jess walked on from there, meeting them later in Padstow after getting the ferry in Rock. Padstow (or Padstein as I've heard it called) was once a sleepy fishing harbour, now taken over by a veritable tsunami of tourism. Rick Stein opened several shops and restaurants there and now you can't move for people wolfing down fish & chips and batting away seagulls with copies of the Sun.

We spent the night in Newquay (where my family was staying) in a surprisingly enjoyable holiday park which did a good pizza before Jess headed home the following morning.

Having had my knee inspected once more, we came to the conclusion that to keep pushing on it wasn't a bright idea. It had come to the point that after a couple of miles, particularly with my backpack, I was finding it hard to put any weight on the knee what so ever. We did complete one more section of the path, taking advantage of the train - walk into St. Ives and that section was particularly lovely. Other than that I'm afraid that for this year at least, my adventure on the South West Coast Path is over. I'll update once more with some final thoughts, hints and advice, as well as a round up of some pictures not yet included. Thanks to everyone who's been keeping up with the blog and helped me raise a sensational amount of money - there's still another hundred or so quid to go yet, so keep fundraising!

I'm feeling a little bitter about the way in which my body let me down this time around, so please refrain from taking the piss for a good week or so yet. Then I'm fair game,



Sunday, 5 June 2011

'You're welcome to sleep on my couch.'

Said the transvestite politician from Bideford.
'I'd rather freeze,' I mutter.
'No thanks, I'll just stick with the tent.'

Bideford was that sort of place. Eccentric, friendly and scary in equal measure. After the hospital I went back to the pub and talked at length about my crutches, the path, the fact that I was irritated by the guidebook and if there was anywhere to get food on a Sunday. Eventually, fed (ish) and with a quiet, out of the way place to sleep, I considered my options - that I wanted to keep walking was a definite. But what to do?

The night passed slowly. I didn't sleep a great deal and by three o'clock I was sat at the bus stop waiting for the coach to Taunton. I've often spotted beardy fellows sat in sleeping bags at bus stops and assumed they were homeless - perhaps they were simply weary hikers.

The coach home was uneventful (I finally got some sleep) and my connecting bus to Ashcott was the same. I got home and found mum ready to head out for her first session of cemo. Turns out I'd damaged my knee at just the right time - she'd need someone to help out for the next few days, even if it did take me twenty minutes to figure out a way to get up the stairs.

But when my knee heals, what then? Let me fast forward a few days, to the hike part two...

Bideford - it's a funny old place.

I said I'd get back to talking about Bideford and I'm going to have to through circumstance rather than choice. When I stood up outside Westward Ho!, my right knee made a noise so sickening I think it would have floored me by itself. As it was, the pain just about sent me over and I was gasping there like a fish out of water for a minute or two - I tried to stand up under the weight of my stick but it wasn't supporting me at all so I sat and waited, keeping the leg straight as I could and trying to adopt a suitably pained expression in case someone in the local car park would take pity on me and give me a lift back into town. Alas, nobody saved the day, so after the pain had settled, I rose up, leaning on my stick and hobbled my way back into town, my knee feeling more tender with every step. By the time I'd reached the bus stop I was sweating and cursing under my breath, armed with the knowledge that there was a hospital (and a pub) in Bideford.

Keeping my priorities straight, I hobbled off the bus and straight into the pub. The Joiners Arms seemed to me, a haven of friendliness in a town of scowls. Outside another pub, a man in a baseball cap growled at me when I moved towards the entrance, but when the patrons of the Joiners saw me hobbling up, they called out a friendly greeting and beckoned me inside. What a pub - for the most part.

I got talking immediately to a straggly haired gentleman,who bought me a pint and pointed me towards the minor injuries unit. I assured him I'd be back later and fully intended to keep my word - friendly faces were rare in these parts.

Rare, except for at the hospital itself. The ladies (and gent) at the minor injuries unit were both lovely and helpful, above and beyond the call of duty. But I hope they'll forgive me for saying I hope I never see them again. They had nothing but bad news for me - I've done major damage to one of the ligaments, classed as 'Grade 2 - a partial, mid - severe tear.' The nurse who helped me laughed when I asked if I'd be able to continue; the answer was no. Certainly not right away, and not at all if I had any sense. But I've never counted 'sense' among my qualities - beauty, talent and outstanding modesty? Yes. But sense? Sense is for mortals.

Ps. Apologies to the trainee male paramedic who caught a glimpse up my boxers when supporting my leg during the examination. And thanks for not commenting on the fact that they were inside out and back to front - I had to pack light...

Westward? No!

I realise that seaside towns are best viewed in the sun and that it's largely unfair to judge them on their appearance after it's been raining, but dear Lord, this is an ugly place isn't it? Seagulls fought with obese children over chips, arcades spat out offensively loud monotone dross and old people sat in covered alcoves, waiting for either the rain or themselves to die - whichever came first.

I didn't take a lot of photos, as you can imagine, but here's one that sums the place up nicely.

But still, the walk here had left me tired and my knee sore, so I wondered up to Braddicks Holiday Centre and spoke to the girl at reception.

'Hello there, I've just come in off the coast path, I'm looking for a place for the night?'
'Are you staying in one of our hideously ugly camper vans?' (I'm paraphrasing a little.)
'Err no, no I've got a tent. See?' I turn to better let her see the pack on my back which is as large as I am.
'Sorry, we've got no space.'
'Oh. Um, really?'
'Yes. No space.'
'But my girlfriend phoned up a couple hours ago, she was told you had plenty?'
'We're full.'
'But you weren't full then.'
'We are now.'
I wonder to the door and brandish my stick at the swathes of gazebo sized space outside. 'What about all that?'
'That's not for camping. Not today.'
'No? Right. Well, thankyou for your help.'
'No problem, Sir. Have a good day.'


I didn't say it, I was brought up to respect the opposite sex, even if they're horrendous, inbred Devonions.

So I set off to find somewhere else in town but find nowhere - my book, misleading as I've found it has the potential to be, tells me that there's a campsite called the Steart Farm touring park in Bideford. I ask around, take a look at my map and find out that it's, infact, a lot closer to Clovelly. As in, right next to it. And this is a problem I've been discovering throughout the book - they expect you to have a car, or a support van or a jet pack. Or loads of money. But for the solo hiker on a budget, they offer precious little and I've heard the same from other people I've met on the path. Several towns and villages with campsites have those campsites ignored, in favour of expensive B&B's in the town and that's just no good - this path wasn't solely designed to be enjoyed by wealthy hikers was it?

Having spoken to the people back home, I decide to set off for Clovelly and do another double day's walking, at this rate I'll at Lands End by Friday...

The walk out from Westward Ho! starts nicely enough and I enjoyed watching the sea, punishing the cliffs with some impressive waves and daring surfers to have a go, if they think they're hard enough. None of them did.

I stopped just after a new development of luxury flats and set my bag down to take a breather - today wouldn't be so bad after all, I'd end up in Clovelly! Even if I would be knackered, I'd wanted to see Clovelly for months and I'd be on about the 100 mile mark to boot. Sorted! Wonderful! Great! Leaning on my stick, I straighten up, my mind full of what the book calls 'One of the prettiest villages in Britain' and then?


Friday, 3 June 2011

'Well...isn't this a shit hole?'

I thought, as I wandered into Bideford town. I'd stopped off at a little faux railway carriage which now served as a cafe and whipped my map and guide book out to take a gander. Worryingly, my knee had been feeling a little tender still on the way from Instow to here, despite my rest in a comfy bed the night before. The folks at the cafe tried their best to be helpful, but all I managed to get for my enquiries here were vague directions and unwelcome glares.

Before I get into Bideford proper, the walk from Instow to here - boring but pleasant. I left the Wayfarer with a smile and a wave and winked at the early morning girl in the Instow Arms as I went past, rejuvenated and feeling optimistic. The book promised a scenic, easy walk today and I was looking forward to it and the day started off very much in that vein - along the estuary, still on the Tarka trail (one of the ugliest trails in Britain from what I've seen) and then up into that old railway carriage I'd mentioned after an hour or so. The Bideford 10k run was on today and that provided some entertainment as the athletes streamed past past. I still feel guilty for chuckling at some of the back runners, particularly the heavyset fellow who had taken his place in the rear guard.

Worryingly, my phone's battery was struggling and my solar charger wasn't a great deal of help - it struggled to find any sun through the clouds of North Devon, but it held out for a couple phone calls from Jess, who set me onto a campsite in Westward Ho! for the night. I'd particularly been looking forward to Westward Ho!, partially for the exclamation mark and partially because the coast path association told me that it was a lovely place to spend a day on the coast and they'd never bend the truth, would they?