Nestled away on the remote hills of Dartmoor is woodworker Marc Hoskins’ workshop, where for the past four years he has been making the signs that guide us on our way. But Marc’s love for the coast started long before that. We went to visit him at his ‘Wild Work’ workshop to find out how his journey led him to the Coast Path.
How did you get into making signposts for the Coast Path?
I’ve always had an interest in woodworking, back from when I was a young boy and my Dad was really into that kind of stuff. Then, in 2010, I started working for the National Trust as a Countryside Ranger on the south Devon coast. That’s where I first fell in love with the coastline, especially the coastline of south Devon, it’s amazing. During my six years as a Ranger, I worked a lot on the South West Coast Path, and the wider network of paths that feed into it. I’d have to work closely with tenant farmers to help manage public access to the Path and of course, put in signage that would help walkers and runners find their way. As part of my job, I would commission and install lots of signage and there was something in me saying, “I could do this better.” I didn’t have the right tools to go ahead and start making them myself, so I got this workshop set up with all the equipment I needed and, well that was four years ago!
How many signs do you make and how long does each one take?
It probably takes about 4 weeks from placing an order to having it delivered, ready to go out on the Path. In terms of the number I produce, usually this would be about 80-100 a year, but this year has been a standout year. The South West Coast Path Association and the National Trust were able to get funding to make some improvements, so there are now 23 projects underway, many of which include signage. So far this year, I’ve made over 250 posts to help with the improvements.
What type of wood do you use to make the posts and why?
All of the waymarker posts and fingerposts are made of either chestnut or oak. The reason I use these two types of wood is because they’re both extremely durable outdoor timber. If the posts are put in properly and in a really good spot, they’ll last at least 25 years. Less than this though if the ground is particularly wet. As a hardwood, they’re untreated which means we rely on the natural tannins in the wood to protect itself against the weather.
Where does the wood come from?
To date, all of the hardwood has been sourced from a local sawmill on Dartmoor. From the workshop here, it’s about 5 miles and for me, it’s important to let people know the production miles are really low. The wood is grown and sourced within the south west, milled in the south west, and the posts are made here on Dartmoor then I deliver locally.
Where’s your favourite spot on the Coast Path?
Not so much now, since I’ve had children, but I used to love my surfing. So, I love the whole area around Bantham and South Milton. If I had to pick a favourite section of the Coast Path from when I worked on it, then it’s got to be Revelstoke Drive. I don’t know why, as its almost completely flat, but there’s just something about that stretch. So that would be Stoke Church to Noss Mayo. Then, when we go down to Cornwall as a family, there’s something so special about seeing one of your posts. I can always tell if it’s one of mine, and I don’t know, walking past it is a great feeling.
Why are there are so many different types of signposts on the Path?
Signposts have to be sympathetic to the landscape they’re in, that’s why you’ll see such a variance from wood, to metal and even stone signs. But for the wooden ones I make, consistency is key. For walkers, seeing a sign that they recognise, gives them that real sense of reassurance that they’re on the right path. The acorn tells them they are walking on a National Trail and accurate mileage to the next location is always good to know! Signposts and waymarkers are simple objects, but to know they are being viewed by millions of people and that I’m playing my part in guiding those people, is something really special.
See some examples of the types of signage on the Path below:
“Signposts and waymarkers are simple objects, but to know they are being viewed by millions of people and that I’m playing my part in guiding those people, is something really special.”
Is there anything that makes your job more difficult?
Long place names! They’re always tricky. And I guess it can get pretty cold up here in the winter. There’s no heating. I remember the winter before last, the dog’s water bowl was a solid block of ice, so I’ll be looking into getting a wood burner this year I think! But no, other than that I love what I do, and I can pretty much cater to any type of requests.
So, is it just signposts that you make?
No, I do all sorts of things. I’ve made engraved wooden race medals, wooden keyrings, lots of variations of signage. I even produce commemorative finger posts that you can engrave for someone as a present, which the South West Coast Path Association sells in their online shop. They’re really popular and a sweet reminder for someone about their time on the Coast Path.
Check out where the magic happens….
Find Your Way Appeal
The South West Coast Path Association, the charity working to protect the Trail is currently fundraising to install better signage in the locations that need it most. At the last count there were over 4,000 way markers along the trail, 25% of them currently need replacing – around 1,000 signs. We are trying to raise £10,000 to carry out this vital work to make sure everyone can find their way on the Coast Path. If you would like to find out more and make a donation visit www.southwestcoastpath.org.uk/find-your-way