There came a point when I realized that if I missed a step with my left foot, I would come crashing into a pile of sharp thistles – and if I missed a step with my right foot, I would have slipped helplessly down a steep hill until I reached the sheer cliff face, at which point I would have plumetted to a gruesome death. It also dawned on me that I was so far away from another human being that my screams would only be heard by a few apathetic sheep, who would likely have regarded my fall with cruel indifference, stupidly chewing their grass while I was swept away by the unforgiving tides of England’s South West Coast.
It’s important not to think about things like that; just think about planting each foot on the next stable part of path. I tried to ignore the cuts on my face incurred by a combination of wind and hail, the uncomfortable sensation of walking in soaked socks, and the deserted miles of Exmoor National Park that lay ahead of me. But there was something that was much more difficult to ignore: the little voice in my head imploring “Why Andrew…. WHY did you decide to do this?”
The date was September 2nd, and it was my second day of walking. But ladies and gents, I’m happy to report that was the only day on the whole trip that was NOT fun.
I have recieved several emails inquiring as to whether or not I am deceased. By now, you have surely deduced that I am not, but allow me to confirm: I am alive, with all my limbs and organs fully intact. And, I have finished walking the South West Coast Path, having charted a rough distance of 230 miles, and ascended/descended the altitudinal equivalent of two Mount Everests. And despite an extremely bleak second day, I am pleased to tell you that it never… ever… rained again. Here’s a map of what I did (Minehead to Penzance).
I obviously don’t have enough time or space to recount every insignificant little story of the walk, but suffice it to say the walk was extremely pleasant, and became increasingly easy! There was a tremendous amount of ascent/descent as I mentioned. I would compare a typical days walk with doing the Grouse Grind (both ways) 3 or 4 times. It was certainly physically demanding at first, but I got used to it very quickly and after a week or so, it was relatively easy.
Again, for the first few days the landscape was ‘uninspiring’ at best. But, as I crossed the border from Somerset to Devon, and then from Devon to Cornwall, the landscape became dramatically better. Soaring cliffs, endless beaches, enormous waves, and quaint villages nearly the whole way.
I stayed in Youth Hostels nearly all of the way. Camping proved impractical, expensive, and unnecessary. So after a couple nights of tenting, I transferred my camping gear for a later pick-up, and only camped again near the end. Staying in Hostels made the experience much richer, because I met so many fascinating people (such as: a Lithuanian International Business Student, a German Viola Player in Munich Philharmonic, an aimless wanderer from Poland, to name just a few). And the Hostels were frequented by other coastal walkers, who could give tips and encouragement. I used the occasional B&B when Hostels were unavailable.
About three quarters of the way through, my Dad joined me for the final stretch, which was probably the best stretch. He guided me through his old stomping grounds, and pointed out where he and my Mum had lived, and the places they visited when they lived there. It was nice to have a bit of company after nearly a month of nearly unbroken solitude, but having said that, I must say that I had maintained my sanity pretty well while I was alone. I rarely got bored or restless, likely because each day was its own unique challenge and adventure. In the end I think I did pretty well for such a long time on my own – I barely went mad at all; only rarely did I casually speak to animals and laugh for no reason at all. I only contemplated murder once, and I didn’t actually go through with it so it doesn’t even count.
There’s much more to tell of course, but that’ll wait until I get home, which is actually not for another month. I’ve been in Wales for the past few days actually, in a place called Llandudno. Right now I’m visiting my extended family in Sheffield.
I just want to say thank you to everybody who wrote me little emails while I was walking. Sorry I was so late returning them, but as you probably guessed, I had extremely limited access to the Internet until now. I should be online quite a lot during October, so drop me a line anytime and I will probably answer back this time. I hope everybody is doing well at home… from what I’ve heard things seem to be on track for everybody. To all my SFU brothers and sisters, drink a pint at the pub for me, and don’t attend too many lectures! Hope all is well in Pitt Meadows. To all my fans way out in Mission, throw a poutine at the players-room wall for me! To Erin, sorry I haven’t called, but I forgot your home number… when I get home we can discuss converging theoretical frameworks for implimenting practical models of over-arching socio-economic diasporic globalization.
Take care all. ~Andrew