People often tell us that they never get bored of walking the Coast Path. Something that is certainly true for SWCPA member Steve Pattemore, who got in touch to tell us he is working towards his fourth & fifth completion of the Path at the same time. That’s over 3,000 miles and the equivalent of 20 times up Everest! Steve told us more about why he loves the South West Coast Path so much and how he got started.
The SWCP is 630 miles in length, 647 if you walk the ‘Inland Coast Path’, now correctly re-named the South Dorset Ridgeway. I have walked the SWCP four times and I am currently walking it for the 5th time. The Path runs from Minehead on the north coast of Somerset, westwards through Somerset, Devon and Cornwall, around Land’s End and the Lizard and along the south coast of Cornwall, Devon and Dorset. The official route is from Minehead to Poole harbour in Dorset.
The SWCP is 630 miles in length, 647 if you walk the ‘Inland Coast Path’, now correctly re-named the South Dorset Ridgeway. I have walked the SWCP three times and I am currently walking it for the 4th and 5th times (I’ll explain!). The path runs from Minehead on the north coast of Somerset, westwards through Somerset, Devon and Cornwall, around Land’s End and the Lizard and along the south coast of Cornwall, Devon and Dorset. The official route is from Minehead to Poole harbour in Dorset.
It hardly needs saying that it has to be walked in stages and often over a long period of time. It can, of course, be walked in either direction. I have walked it twice from Minehead and once from Poole harbour. To change the routine a little, I am walking from both extremities to Land’s End for my 4th time and from Land’s End to both extremities for my 5th time. I have no plans to walk the SWCP for a sixth time. I will be seventy this year and I have set myself the goal of finishing for the 5th time by the time I am seventy-five. My mantra is ‘Walk to live and live to walk’. Doing nothing is not an option!
So why have I walked the SWCP three times, and counting? Why do people climb the 214 Wainwrights more than once? Because they can and they are drawn to their beauty. The same goes for me and the SWCP, I guess. I just love the varied scenery, the terrain and of course, the ever-present sea. Other reasons, in no particular order, are the wildlife that I see. Seals are a common site, they seem to have a beach to themselves at Godrevy Point, also the Cornish Chough’s are rare but nest on the cliffs of the Lizard. There are Feral Goats grazing on the vertiginous slopes of “The Valley of the Rocks” near Lynmouth. Lizards and snakes are to be seen in the summer months. I have yet to see a whale or a shark, or a Dolphin come to that, but who knows, I may do in the next few years. They have all been seen in the waters off Cornwall. The like-minded walkers I meet and the weather that is always changeable. The fact that I live in the south-west of England, just twenty-five miles from the Jurassic coast, certainly helps, too.
How did my fascination for the SWCP start? Well, back in 2004 I used to do multi-terrain running and often ran on the SWCP (although I wasn’t really aware of the SWCP at the time). When I realised that I had run most of the Jurassic coast, which is ninety-six miles in length between Exmouth and Poole harbour, I set about completing it. That led me to contemplate walking the entire SWCP, and in August 2005 I set out from Minehead to walk to Exmouth. I completed the walk in August 2008. At the time I was still working full time and driving to the Lake District to walk all the Wainwrights.
I didn’t return to the SWCP for a further three years. This was mainly because I had cancer in 2009 and completed the Outlying Fells in 2010/11.
In 2012 I set out from Poole Harbour on a cold January day and completed this second walk when I arrived in Minehead in June 2015. I started the third walk almost straight away, reversing that route back to Poole Harbour. It was becoming addictive! Having walked the Jurassic coast in the meantime, I completed this third walk when I reached Exmouth, in August 2018. Since then I have been walking mostly towards Land’s End, from Minehead and from Poole harbour, for my 4th time, and sometimes in the other direction towards completing my 5th time.
The terrain is varied and includes estuaries to be crossed, but most have a ferry of one sort or another, but they can be seasonal. The river Erme estuary in South Devon has to be waded across at low tide, about knee deep. But I count it as possibly the most beautiful estuary I have ever seen, so well worth the wade across. The Tarka Trail, which is the route of an old disused railway track, runs from Braunton in North Devon to Bideford and runs alongside two estuaries, of the rivers Taw and Torridge. A great place for bird watching and a welcome fifteen miles or so of flat walking after the ups and downs of the majority of coastal path.
A question I am frequently asked is: ‘Where do you stay and how do you plan your walks as you don’t have two cars?’ On rare occasions I have stayed in hotels, usually at out-of-season discounted rates, and sometimes I have stayed in self-catering accommodation or with my family on summer holidays. But mostly I have camped, using a variety of tents over the years. There is a good network of campsites in the south-west of England, which is not surprising given its popularity as a summer holiday destination for so many people. I have always pitched my tent on a site midway between where I intend to walk from and where I intend to walk to. It stays put for maybe two weeks and I drive to the start of each day’s walk and park there. At the end of the day I return to my car using public transport.
I probably walk a maximum of fifteen miles in a day. Back in 2005 I would walk every day. This was tough with camping as well. I met a lady on the path once who said ‘I do walking and I do camping, but I don’t do walking and camping!’ – words I have never forgotten. I knew exactly what she meant. These days, and on my daughter’s advice, I walk a day, then rest a day. If I’m tired, I rest as many days as I want – age is catching up with me and I no longer have to prove anything to myself!
In September 2018 I walked the eighteen miles of various-sized pebbles that is Chesil Beach. This is not a part of the SWCP but it does run parallel to it, so could be considered as a tough and slightly insane alternative for those with masochistic tendencies. It took me two and a half days and the timing had to be judged as access to the beach is denied when firing is in progress on the nearby Army firing range and during bird-nesting season. One thing I can say is that you will not meet many other walkers along most of this stretch!
As a senior citizen, I am finding camping in my tent is becoming more arduous by the year, if not by the day and I am contemplating buying a caravan to use on future walks. I have watched people pulling up with their caravan and having a brew on in five minutes, whilst I am just starting to unload my car. Also, taking down a tent in strong winds and driving rain is possibly one of the least enjoyable things I have had to do – especially when in full view of people comfortably ensconced in their warm caravans. So, a move to a caravan is definitely on the cards. The other alternative of course is self-catering, which can be quite reasonable if done out of the holiday season. How many times can I go self-catering for the price of a caravan?
I thoroughly recommend the SWCP to you. You don’t have to walk it all to derive great enjoyment and satisfaction, as I have. There is plenty of information about it on-line and the SWCP Association, based in Plymouth, are a marvellous and very helpful organisation. They produce an annual guide book packed with information on each section of the walk, accommodation and transport links. If you have the time, the SWCP can be broken into seven sizeable sections by using the rail network. I won’t say bite-sized because they are bigger than that, but they are do-able on a holiday.
Finally, an impressive statistic: the 630 miles, or 647 miles if taking the South Dorset Ridgeway, has the ascent of four times the height of Everest! It isn’t flat but, if you are used to the Wainwrights, you may relish the challenge!