Why walk the South West Coast Path?
As mid-life crises go, I suppose a desire to walk the South West Coast Path is fairly mild. No death-defying action; no huge capital outlay; no moral dilemma nor shameful secret . . . well, unless you count sore feet, a new pair of (hideously expensive, at least by my usual standards) walking boots, decisions as to whether to abandon all other responsibilities if the sun’s shining, and, on the last point, more a question of insanity than shame, perhaps? And why? Well, like the age-old mountain question, because it’s there. And because, if I don’t do it now, I never will.
I first walked a section of the SWCP in the mid-1980s, although in those days, as far as I was concerned, it was just a cliff path. The SWCP, in all its 630 mile “I’m the Daddy” glory, was in its infancy, and the awareness of it as an entity hadn’t reached me.
In those days, I was a student, living in Exmouth, and a group of friends decided to walk over the cliff path to Budleigh Salterton one afternoon. Having no essay to write, I thought I might as well go with them. It was a lovely walk, rather up and down, but with very pleasant views, and a good sense of satisfaction when we got back to Exmouth. I remember it being hot, but apart from that, and the rather large static caravan park we passed, I don’t remember much. I walked it at least once more before I left Exmouth and enjoyed it just as much.
35 years, two children and a rather sedentary lifestyle later, I decide I need to get fit. Having never been a fan of the sweat-shops aka gyms, I decide the easiest way to do this is to walk more. Now living in Exeter, one Saturday I am due to meet a friend, Penny, in Topsham, for coffee. I decide to catch a train rather than drive; I can then walk on to Exmouth and catch the train home. The estuary cycle path hasn’t long been open, and instead of having to pound the roads, I will enjoy a peaceful, and far safer, sojourn. Apart from a train passing, roughly half-hourly, all will be quiet, bar the birdsong. Discussing this with Penny as we sip our coffee, she tells me she is also trying to walk more, and that she and her husband have been walking some of the SWCP. We plan a walk together, and decide to redo the Exmouth – Budleigh section, simply because it’s easy to start from her house, just half a mile or so from Exmouth sea-front. Once again, we walk to Budleigh, and then walk back, and I am pleasantly surprised that I don’t struggle too much.
My interest in walking reawakened, I Google the SWCP, and discover more about it. Encouraged and somewhat in awe of the whole phenomenon, I buy myself a Little Yellow Log Book (yes, that’s its official title), and write up my first stage of the 70 listed there - my walk with Penny - and my adventure has started. At this time, I have no notion of whether I will complete even half of it, or, if I do, how many years it might take, but I’ve started.
A while later, talking to another friend who’s approaching the completion of the whole walk, I discover it’s taken her almost 40 years. Hmm. In forty years’ time I will be in my mid-nineties. There really isn’t a moment to lose!