Writer, musician and blogger Tom Corneill reminisces about his discovery of the South West Coast Path last year, that took him from scroller to stroller.
Hopefully it won’t be too much longer before Tom can get back to it!
(Written in September 2019)
I wasn’t going anywhere, literally or metaphorically. I was starting to feel like an insatiable couch potato.
2018 was a challenging year for me in the investments industry. Twelve months were taken up with a single project: a system upgrade the likes of which my company had never experienced before. Then twelve months became thirteen, fourteen… I played a big part in executing the task and as a result sacrificed many of my own hours, weekends, brain space and energy. My workout routine (one I’d been perfecting for years) fizzled out early on and as the eighteenth month approached, recovery time-outs became an increasing necessity. I was so exhausted I couldn’t bring myself to exercise – or do anything that required particular effort – save for sitting at home for long periods, flicking through my phone, tapping on colourful images to get my dopamine fix.
It’s amazing how much time you can lose while flicking through your phone, and it’s equally amazing how quickly you can spend money while barely conscious. There are fifteen apps on my phone via which I can shop directly. There are a further five apps that while not specifically built for shopping are nevertheless laden with advertisements to entice me to spend my money. On one of said apps I can discover my heart’s desire in the morning, and have it delivered to me in the afternoon. This is why I have the same water bottle in two different colours for different occasions; a pair of running shoes to suit every terrain; and four of the same white t-shirt so I can get through a week without troubling the washing machine. It may also be why my savings look so neglected despite me having a well-paid job. According to a study by uSwitch, twenty-five billion pounds will be spent via smartphones in 2019.
Enough. The little whisper that had been floating around my head increased to a deafening crescendo and insisted ‘GET OUT!!’ All at once my withered muscles and tired bank account had rallied and I was inspired to remove myself from the sofa. One Sunday, I suggested to my wife that we go for a walk. We strolled for 3 hours. We left our front door, turned right, picked some pathways neither of us had traversed before and let our imaginations guide us. And something magical happened: we talked more than we had for ages. It seems we are not alone. According to the Ofcom report, A Decade of Digital Dependency, 54% of people admit that connected devices interrupt face-to-face conversations with friends and family. All it took was getting some fresh air to lift our chatter to a level we hadn’t experienced for an embarrassingly long time. We discussed food, drink, friends, hopes and dreams. It was wonderful.
During those three hours I did use my phone a couple of times to check our location and to take photos. I don’t regret these minor tech intrusions. But I didn’t do any mindless screen-tapping and I most certainly didn’t make any financial transactions. The only money I spent that day was about six pounds at a pub we discovered during our little quest (a pint each on a hot Sunday is surely allowed).
Eventually – buoyed either by the endorphins or the romance of our new common ground – we got onto the subject of walking itself in the great outdoors. We decided we should do it more often. A few weeks later, we are members of the ‘South West Coastal Path’ group and are working our way around the coasts of Dorset, Somerset, Devon, and Cornwall. We’re getting more exercise each weekend than we have for a long time and the sights inspire new conversations with each mile.
“I am completely humbled by the beauty of my surroundings here in the UK. It feels as if, previously, I’d been walking around with my eyes closed.”
At the time of writing, we have walked approximately thirty-three miles of the six-hundred-thirty mile path that skirts this area of the country. Our first walk was just over four miles and we’re now up to eleven per outing. Being the rebels that we are, we’ve chosen not to follow the path section-by-section from Minehead to Poole, but instead are picking off sections at random. The scenery is fantastic. Yesterday, we picked off the section that is meant to be the starting point – Minehead to Porlock Weir – which happens to be the bit of coast closest to Taunton, the town where I was born and raised. The crazy thing is, I had never walked this path before and though I started off with low expectations for the scenery, it turned out to be the most breathtaking section so far. The sea; the cruel, rocky inclines; the neon greens, purples and yellows of the ferns and heathers; the eeriness of the salt marshes with their ghostly, petrified trees. All contributed to a journey that was a little like walking through Tolkien’s Lord Of The Rings stories. I am completely humbled by the beauty of my surroundings here in the UK. It feels as if, previously, I’d been walking around with my eyes closed.
Tom also shared this song with us that was inspired by Tom’s time spent on the Devon coast. #InspiredByTheCoast