For university students, the long summer break is a great chance to do some globe-trotting or work to earn some extra cash or valuable experience . But with strict travel restrictions in place, and many businesses not recruiting – this year was a bit different. One student however, decided to look on the bright side and use the time to explore a world-class hiking trail that’s right on the doorstep. Joe Biggins tells us about his experience following the acorn on the South West Coast Path.
Exams had finished, COVID-19 had jeopardised my chance of bagging a summer job, and three months of summer was sitting idly, waiting to be filled. I was certain I would not let this summer go by without making something of it. So, I worked with what I knew. I like the outdoors and travelling but can’t go abroad. Joining the dots together and a bit of research led me to hiking the spectacular South West Coast Path. My plan was to set off on the 11th of July, from Minehead, walk a lot, friends could come join and in 45 days I’d finish in Poole.
A running joke quickly developed about the difficulty of the path and the acorn symbol, which you follow, became a sort of game master orchestrating every experience on the Coast Path. We used this joke to lighten the mood when things got tough. The whole Path is the equivalent elevation of four Everests, so it usually went something like this, “That darn acorn”.
But away from the incessant hills the acorn also had a fondness for depleting our supplies when they were most needed. Yet, when one experiences the acorn, day in day out, they gradually become more competent, accepting and ultimately appreciative. This we called salting.
Day 9, Hartland Quay to Bude, 16 miles, with 1,390m of ascent. In my opinion, the hardest section of the Path, but also one of the most dramatic. It was a day the acorn was particularly brutal, as the remoteness of the previous day had prevented us from stocking up on water and food. So, with no breakfast, or snacks, we set off from Hartland Quay with the mindset of speed and survival. We survived. Yet my memory of the day consists of a blurred rush.
After days on the Path you begin to accept challenging situations as you become more confident in your competency. Day 29, my friends and I had reached Noss Mayo on the river Yealm. The forecast predicted temperatures of up to 30 degrees and we were desperately low on food and water. Unfortunately, the only open shop was a village across the Newton Creek. The prospect of reaching Bantham for that day was beginning to fade. Yet we remained calm and started talking to a local man, who kindly offered us his boat to take across the creek. With zero rowing experience we jumped in the boat, stocked up with supplies, returned his boat in one piece and made it to Bantham before nightfall.
Naturally, as you experience more you begin to worry less about getting through the tough situations and start to relax in the present. Some of my favourite experiences during my time on the Path have been the build-up to a headland. The build-up may last days, like Lyme Bay, or a matter of minutes; a small Cornish fishing cove for example. Either way, in that time much can happen, you could get lost, you could help a disabled person cross a road, or you could get chased by a cow. Whatever happens the headland neatly compartmentalises that section and begins a new fresh chapter, starting with the view past the headland.
As the acorn threw challenging situations at us, we gradually became more competent and started to accept what may come. With this we stopped the inpatient, survival mindset, slowed down and began to appreciate all situations.
In doing so, we experienced much more of what the South West Coast Path had to offer.
To see more photos from Joe’s trip, check out his Instagram SWCP_2020: https://www.instagram.com/swcp_2020
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