My son and I have decided to try and tackle (over time) the whole 600+ miles of the South West Coastal Path so we started this May and did the first 50+ miles from Minehead to Woolacombe. This is our journey:
MINEHEAD TO PORLOCK (9 MILES):
My son and my two grandsons (aged 23 and 26) and I stayed in Taunton on the first night and in the morning we got the bus to Minehead to start our walk. We started from the statue on the front which marks the start of the South West Coastal Path and we headed off in a rather grey drizzly rain. Now, I very stupidly had thought that a coastal path might actually mean that the path goes along beside the beach and hence is flat! Well within half an hour that myth had been shattered. This first part of the walk is classed as “challenging” and it was certainly that! This section is up and down hills, up and down more hills and then up and down even more! The weather was now not drizzly but it was quite misty so any beautiful views that may have been there weren’t seen at all. At one point we came to a crossroads and had the choice of choosing the “rugged” route or the standard coastal path. We went for the rugged route which turned out to be longer and. although our guide book promised “dramatic views”, I am afraid the mist obscured these. At first it was a small path at the extreme edge of the cliff but later we were walking through colourful fields of gorse and bluebells. When we got to a valley called Hurlstone Combe it was a very uneven downhill path which hurt my knees but once at the bottom the view of Bossington Beach and Porlock Bay spread out ahead of us was spectacular. Well worth the pain! Tonight we stayed in the “Rose Bank Guesthouse” in Porlock. A lovely B&B and to my joy my room had a shower with jacuzzi type sprays which were ecstasy on my aching limbs!
PORLOCK TO LYNTON (14 MILES):
We headed off this morning along the beach to start our walk in Porlock Weir. This wasn’t a sand or shingle beach, it had huge rocks and stones and walking on it wasn’t easy. We walked through sheep grazing fields, we walked up and down hills again and we took a breather at Culbone Church which is the smallest church in England. After that there was another uphill trek before joining a straight even path that had hundreds of rhododendron bushes either side. The flowers were only just beginning to bloom but when they are in flower this walk must be amazing! The weather was better today and we had panoramic views of the coastline that were stunning. We passed through some tunnels and through a stone gate with boars heads carved onto it. (We believe these were something to do with Lord Lovelace but that is something I need to Google in the future). There was also a lighthouse in Foreland Point that we saw in the distance. As we neared Lynmouth we had wonderful views of the town and the harbour. In Lynmouth we had intended taking the cliff railway up to Lynton but we got there at 6.05 pm and it had closed at 6pm! We all could have cried! Luckily I asked in an information centre how else we could get there (without the cliff railway it would have meant a winding hill climb and we were all too tired for that). Luckily, one of the staff, Abbey, offered us a lift so all 4 of us, sweaty and not too aromatic, I am sure, and our huge rucksacks squeezed into her little car and got a lift up the hill! Not something that would have happened in London! Our B&B tonight was Fernleigh Guest House in Lynton, Very nice place with very hospitable owners.
LYNTON TO COMBE MARTIN (13 1/4 MILES):
Beautiful walk today. The views were stunning, weather was great but it was very hard going! The first part of the walk called “The North Walk” was nice and even and right beside the sea with amazing views. We passed Valley of the Rocks (supposedly
goats graze here but we didn’t see any) then we went over wooden bridges and past Hollow Brook waterfall. The hills were covered with bluebells and ramsons (wild garlic) which actually smell very strongly. We found a pub called The Hunters Inn where we had a rest stop (it was OK for the guys, when they needed a comfort stop they could nip behind a tree but I am not keen on squatting down in the great outdoors!). Then we headed upwards, then up again, and then again. Finally we were at the highest point on the South West Coastal Path (318 metres) at The Great Hangman. There is a cairn there to mark it being the highest point but I always thought a cairn was a nicely arranged pile of rocks. This looked like a skip full of rubble had been dumped at the top of the hill! However the views from there were amazing. I was flagging by the time we got to Combe Martin and vowed that once in the hotel I wasn’t leaving again until the morning. Hence, we ended up with a fish and chip takeaway on the terrace of the Mellstock House Guesthouse. Delicious! The accommodation tonight was OK but not as nice, and the people not as friendly as the last few places.
COMBE MARTIN TO WOOLACOMBE (13 MILES):
Very achy today and I have a blister (or more descriptively a “crater” ) in my foot! Once we started walking my legs soon got into the rhythm and I had bandaged my foot like a geisha girls so my blister wasn’t too painful. The nice thing about today’s walk was that we passed through a few towns and therefore we could have toilet stops and drink stops and, at one point, a cheese and onion pasty stop! This stretch of the walk is amazing. Every time you come over another hill there is another panoramic view in front of you that takes your breath away. The coastline is so rugged with dark rocks that it all looks like something out of a Daphne du Mourier novel. We passed through Hele, Ilfracombe (where we went off course for a quick visit to see Damien Hirst’s statue ” Verity” in the harbour) and Lee Bay. We saw the lighthouse at Bull Point (a rather unimpressive one actually) and when we turned the corner at Morte Point (a particularly lovely headland) we saw our final destination Woolacombe in the distance. On this stretch we had seen running cows (who raced right ahead of us on the path), pheasants and many sheep and lambs. My grandsons had been pushing me over stiles, helping me down hills and on a few occasions carrying my rucksack for me but now the end was in sight. Tonight we stayed at The Royal Hotel in Woolacombe. All we wanted was a bath and a meal but we arrived to find the lift wasn’t working, the restaurant was about to close and the décor of the hotel made us think we had been transported back to the 1970’s! As I sat in my room with the hideous flocked wallpaper and 70’s style bulky TV with only 4 channels I realised I couldn’t even take a bath as the very unsavoury looking rubber mat in the bath was impossible to move. Definitely our worst accommodation choice of the trip!
So we have now done approximately 50 miles of the South West Coastal Path – only another 500+ to do (when the blisters heal!)