Posted by: natsevs | March 7, 2010

1000 miles, 1st day off and 24 years old

Hello! I’m spending the end of my first day off in eight weeks of walking updating you on my progress.

Oh dear, it’s been a while since my last blog, and I missed loads out of that as well, sorry to Stella and Simon who not only washed my clothes for me, but provided me with lots of Lion bars (extra bite no less). Monday and Tuesday probably weren’t that interesting so I’ll start from Rock, as I did that the morning after I last wrote.

Just read my journal to remember Thursday 18th Feb and remembered how annoyed I was at a particular part of the South West Coast Path. In between Port Quinn and Port Isaac there is a stretch of the path that has been made pointlessly difficult. It winds up and down a very steep edge running towards the sea, making you travel three times the distance you need to, despite there potentially being quite a relatively flat and more sensible route by staying at the top of these winds the whole time. The fact that this route is so obviously better is probably why they have fenced in the path so that you have no option but to go down 10 meters, along five meters and then up 10 meters constantly.

From Port Isaac to Tintagel (my finish point) was reportedly severe, and the start certainly was. I had a lot of steep climbs and descents to deal with, not helped by the morning’s rain. I went down one particularly slippery and steep slope, managing to stay on my feet the whole way, then at the bottom whilst standing completely still, my feet flew out in front of me and I came crashing down onto my bum. Two hills later I was crossing a stream on stepping stones when both feet slipped again and my body flew in about 10 different directions at once. The terrain eased up a bit as I got further and Tintagel was reached successfully.

From Tintagel, I walked to Boscastle with Mum and Dad doing the last two or so miles with me before setting off home, leaving me to complete the rest of the day’s journey to Widemouth Bay alone. My bag was now completely full again and it really did feel it. I was actually hoping to reach Bude, but the combination of the pack’s return and some really tough walking shortened my distance slightly. The hills along here and for the next few days were killer. There was one which completely exhausted me, to the point where I was laughing for no reason at all other than because the alternative was to curl in a ball and sleep.

Towards the end of the day, exhausted with already creaking knees, I managed to crack my left knee-cap on the top of a style. You can guess at the sort of things that came out of my mouth, and quite loudly too. I had also slipped down a step and into a gorse bush on separate occasions earlier in the day. A B&B called and I found a pretty good one in the bay, unfortunately so had a man with an incredible snoring problem. I have no idea if his room was next to, above or below mine, all I knew was that he may as well have been stood next to my bed with an air horn.

The walk to Hartland Quay was much the same as the previous day with lots of climbs, expletives and slips, although I had an audience for one of them, which is always great. It did finish with an odd and slightly scary occurrence though. Whilst taking a picture of the sunset, not long before hitting the end point, I heard trampling behind me and turned to see a large white cow coming to a halt right behind my back. This animal then started running around me and jumping in the air (the photo will be arriving soon if not tonight). Over friendly horses I can deal with, but cows are stupid animals and therefore dangerous in my opinion, so I got out of that field at quite a decent pace. I was picked up from Hartland Quay by Alison Newberry to stay with her and Phil, who looked after me very well.

More massive hills greeted me the following day, but I did see Hartland point which is apparently the furthest point in England from any city. From there, I was diverted along roads for a bit due to landslides, so had slightly easier walking for a period. A very short period. The weather was very good which was uplifting but also meant I was incredibly sweaty despite stripping off as many layers as was decent.

At Clovelly, which is really pretty, I abandoned the coast path and its hills for what I though would be an easier option of the beach. It was definitely flatter generally speaking, although the actual walking surface was anything but flat. A lot of the rocks weren’t as securely placed as they looked but I managed ok with them. It was the green rock that got me.

During a period of large bouldery rocks I jumped over to one slightly green rock to find that green=algae=SLIPPY – schoolboy stuff really. I went straight over managing to hit my back, knee and elbow on adjacent rocks. Hills are a lot softer, they definitely have that. I didn’t learn my lesson though and was soon jumping over to a purple rock this time. This time I became fully airborne before returning to said rock with a thud and folding around it. I was like an overturned tortoise, completely incapacitated. I had to free myself from my bag in order to get up, before standing there laughing. I was possibly slightly delirious.

I spent about three hours on that beach before returning to the hills, where I met up with Dave Manna aka walk buddy number seven, who would be joining me for the next five days. He accompanied me for the last mile into Westward Ho!, the exclamation mark is compulsory apparently, it’s on the signs and everything.

The following days walking was ridiculously easier and incredibly boring. Appledore, though, is a nice place to go through with its multi-coloured alley-like streets. It was a whole day of walking next to river, mostly on a cycle way and that’s about all you can say about it. The scenery was mostly dull, as was the walking. We set up our tents on a patch of grass just off the Tarka trail a little further on from Barnstaple and failed miserably at making a fire.

In the morning, whilst sorting out some breakfast and packing up my stuff, a gentleman of no fixed abode came and said hello and told me that if we were heading to Barnstaple then the church was giving out free food today. I have to admit that I was slightly proud that I looked like a man who would need free food. It means that, on that particular morning at least, I probably had the appearance of someone who had been walking for six weeks and camping most nights. It was more of the same for most of the next day and the weather was awful as well.

Dave had to be regretting his decision, especially as he was developing a rather nice blister collection.

At some point, we rejoined the coast and then just before Croyde, on our first hill for some time, we came across a sheep that looked to be stuck against a gate. When I investigated, the wire was not around it at all, but it did seem to be very fat and slightly wedged under the gate. It was obviously in lamb and this was obviously not going as it should. Despite our best intentions, there was really nothing Dave or I could do to help the situation so in the end we had to leave her and hope for the best.

In Croyde, we stopped for a beer which the barman, Robert, gave to us on the house. Up from Croyde was another hill, with a mast on top of it that I was drawn to and had to climb up. The weather was still awful and it was starting to get dark, so we started looking for a flat and sheltered spot to camp when we spotted a barn type thing. I jumped the field wall to have a look. The front had a wide opening but inside looked very dry and the wind would be hard-pressed to get at us through stone. As the floor was hard rock, I wouldn’t have been ale to pitch my tent inside if I’d wanted to but I quite liked the idea of just chucking down my mat.

Woke up very dry and ready for a tougher day, with Dave’s day made tougher by his blisters giving him quite a lot of trouble. At Morte Point, we went for a clamber on the rocks which jutted up into the sky sharply all along the ridge. The introduction of hills on the dreaded third day did not make for a happy Dave and he won’t mind me saying he struggled, even with the relative rest bite of ‘flat point’ which wasn’t that flat. The absolute highlight of my day was getting a voicemail message which turned out to be from Johnny Kingdom, if you do not know who he is then you should.

Dave was an absolute shadow of a man when we finally came down into Combe Martin, in the dark, very slowly. I’d got my mum to find us a B&B there so that he had both an incentive to carry on and a much needed good rest to tackle the next day, unfortunately guaranteed to be harder. Come the morning with, possibly misguided, encouragement from our hosts, Dave felt he would be able to meet the challenge of 13-plus miles of strenuous walking. To be fair to him, he did it and looked in a far better state at the end than he had the previous day. The walking was through Exmoor national park and the scenery had taken a dramatic turn for the better, meaning we could actually enjoy the walking a lot more. There was even some proper climbs and descents to deal with, particularly at Hunter’s Inn. The Valley of Rocks took us into Lynton where we stopped for the night because Dave’s mum had very nicely booked us a B&B as well as lunches in the morning with Lion bars included, which I’m sure aren’t normally a part of the pack, so thank you Dave’s mum, who also sent him to meet me with a load of lions.

The next day I had 23 miles to get to Minehead so Dave sat out the coast walking, but did walk the more direct road route, only getting a lift for a few of the 18 miles he had to cover. I’d like to tell you a lot about the route that day, but I spent most of it with my head down. I can tell you that when I started there was an unbelievably strong wind which actually picked me up at one point, bag and all, and almost dumped me off the side of the hill. I didn’t feel particularly safe. There was also two occasions where the path was completely blocked by a fallen tree, just what you need when you’ve got a very short time to do a lot of miles. Eventually, I reached Minehead and the end of the South West Coast Path, quite a feeling of achievement despite it being around a tenth of my whole journey. This was the end of Dave’s journey and despite giving him a bit of stick for his speed at times, he deserves a lot of credit especially, if you’d seen his blisters.

The West Somerset coast path carries on from where the South West finishes, but only for 25 miles, and unfortunately not always on the coast. This is because holiday parks along the route had refused to allow the path to pass through them. No comment.

I’d started to be able to see Wales as I neared Minehead and now I was getting clearer views which cheered me on a little. At one point, I carried on along the beach too far and had to climb up a very steep and muddy bank to get back to the path. Not an easy thing to do with your life on your back. Once I’d reached the top, I was confronted with an electric fence. I know it was definitely electric because I was shocked, twice, quite painfully. I finished the day walking right next to a nuclear power station before searching for a sheltered spot to camp as pretty heavy storms had been forecast overnight.

In the end, it was one of the stillest nights I’ve had and the rain was barely noticeable. Until I started walking the next day, then I got soaked. I reached the end of another coast path pretty quickly then had to go inland to get around the River Parret. Here the walking turned very dull and I spent a large portion of the day on busy main roads. Apparently dangerous busy main roads as there were plenty of signs telling me how many people had died or been hurt on them, and the figures weren’t good, especially without a pavement.

Got back to the coast at Burnham on Sea and also treated myself to a quick trip to Morrisons for some cookies and scones, food of kings. From Burnham, I stuck to the beach and eventually set up camp in the sand dunes around Berrow. This was my 50th day of walking which meant that I had completed around 1000 miles, another milestone achieved.

I had a very cold night on the dunes and my tent wasn’t entirely secure in the sand. The start of the day was more beach up to Brean Down which looks like a slug in the middle of a completely flat landscape.

At Brean Point, there are great views over to Wales, taking in the islands of Steep Holm and Flat Holm as well. You can also see Weston Super Mare clearly just across the river mouth. Unfortunately, that river meant I didn’t reach Weston until 4pm. The journey there was fairly boring although the sun was out enough to warrant shorts for the first time and a dog did fly two-pawed towards me, aiming perfectly for between my legs, at height. I laughed through the pain. Oh it also included a lot of climbing over fences and locked gates and being asked by a woman if I should be walking there as I trudged through her farmyard. I think we both knew the answer to her question.

I stopped for the day in Weston and was taken in by my friend Joe’s god-parents Judith and Simon. I had a very early start the next morning and was walking by 8am. It took me a while to navigate my way out of the building site that is Weston’s sea front and then had a lengthy spell on a boring road until sand bay, around the headland.

Pretty soon I was back to jumping walls, fences and gates, and avoiding famers as well as I could. I managed to get to the sea wall and walked along there until I was reminded that I was not allowed on that land, I have no idea why not by the way, it seems like a real waste. I was soon back on roads though, which annoying would not go in a straight line. In Kingston Seymour, there was a farm selling buffalo meat, and there in the next field was a herd of Buffalo, in Somerset. From Clevedon there was a coastal path which took me to Portishead, without trespassing once, and it was here that I was picked up by my friend Louise.

The next few days of walking were really quite boring so I may spare you some of the details. It’s not because I’m being lazy again honest. Out of Portishead it was straight back to walking on busy roads, really not doing my feet any good. To get over the River Avon you have to walk on the M5 bridge into Avonmouth. Unfortunately, that means you have to find your way onto that bridge. This took me at least an hour because there was not one sign to lead you to the cycle and pedestrian ramp that joins the bridge. My reward for eventually finding my way onto and across the bridge was to walk through mile upon mile of industrial wasteland. I have nothing interesting to say about it except that the endless burger vans didn’t help maintain my sanity as I walked, ever so slightly peckish. I eventually ended the day and Severn View services right next to the (older) Servern bridge.

I had my third free stay in a row with Russ and Sue, who were incredibly helpful and supportive and sent me on my way the next day with a lot of supplies. Crossing the bridge took a while and it was pretty windy up there and I then had to try and find my way along the coast without a map. Thankfully, Wales seems to be a lot more walker friendly and they actually put destinations on there footpath signs. I had to come inland slightly at Caldicott, but was soon back at the coast and walking on the sea wall for the rest of the day, except for a little detour around a river. Was a great sunset which I took too many photos of before having the coldest night ever.

Despite it being freezing outside, I managed to get up and going fairly early the next day. I had the pleasure of walking through Newport docks and along yet more busy main roads before returning to the coast and the sea wall. Around Peterstone, I had dropped down to a dirt track at the base of the sea wall when I saw a pony stuck in a water ditch with water up to the top of its legs. It didn’t look like it was able to go anywhere so I figured I’d have to call out the RSPCA.

It was a bit of a challenge navigating them to where I was, as it wasn’t exactly along the beaten track or with any landmarks around. Eventually, the officer arrived, who called for the fire service and a vet. It turned into an episode of Animal Rescue. All of the rescuers were on the other side of the ditch in the field the horse must have been in so all I could do was watch from behind some brambles. I was tempted to claim I singlehandedly lifted the poor thing from the ditch, but the photos wouldn’t match up unfortunately.  Eventually it was pulled out, sliding on its side looking very thin and weak but after some time stood up. I’m hoping its on the mend, they said they would let me know how it’s doing. All this took three hours, so I had to go for it to get to Cardiff, along roads and through docks. I made it though and enjoyed a beer to celebrate with Sam and Jo who put me up and fed me last night. Today, I am in a Premier Inn with my family who have come up to see me on my birthday and first day off. Back to walking tomorrow, but as its very late now, I’m thinking it will be a shorter day than usual.

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Responses

  1. Hi Nat, hope you enjoyed your day off and ate lots of cake! Sorry we couldn’t make it but will start making plans for easter weekend. I liked the bit of your blog when you said you were laughing for no reason at all because the alternative was to curl up and sleep, you must have looked mental! speak to you soon take care xxx

  2. a big aussie hi, from the land down under!, love your writings, thankyou for taking the time to share, sending lots of warm & hearty blessings your way, will chat to you again soon!. with love & light…

  3. Postman Pat returned your card Nat as “unknown at this address!” I wonder why! Still all our good wishes for the year ahead. I’m sure you enjoyed your well deserved day off with the family, several pints and lots of supplies I hope. Keep up the good work we are enjoying following your progress and look forward to joining you in November when you get to Essex.

  4. Oh and Happy Birthday!

  5. You are doing so well. Keep it up. I am really enjoying your posts!


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