Path Memories – by Mary Weston

Mary is a Hon Life Member of the South West Coast Path Association and a member of the Cornwall Ramblers. To help celebrate the 50th anniversary of the South West Coast Path Association Mary has written a reflective piece looking back at her time supporting the SWCPA and the work undertaken by the Ramblers Association to get the Cornwall section of the South West Coast Path open – which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year too!

50 years. Is it really 50 years since the Cornwall Section was Officially opened at Newquay on May 18th, 1973?

I well remember the inaugural walk, led by Lord Caradon and the Cornwall Ramblers, President, Alex Ainscough. This was the first event attended by Mary and Philip Carter of the ‘now’ South West Coast Path Association. The organisation had held its inaugural meeting earlier in the month. It was their brainchild whilst the Cornwall Coast Path was the brainchild of Francis Ritchie of the Ramblers’ Association. He had worked tirelessly with the National Parks Commission to have the route recognised.

Mary and Philip Carter introduce the concept of the South West Coast Path

I remember Mary and Philips’ younger son Peter in his red anorak stood by one of the stiles, handing out an invitation to the walkers to become involved in the concept of a Coast Path from Minehead in Somerset to Poole in Dorset. The day following the Official Opening Mary and Philip, as members of the Devon Ramblers, led one of the walks that had been organised by the Cornwall Ramblers’. The entire Cornwall Coast Path was walked with over 500 walkers taking part. Mary and Philip walked through Duckpool – yes, through!  In those days you took your boots and socks off and waded.

Cornwall County Council published a programme of the planned walks. Just one could not be advertised – St Ives to Zennor – work on that stretch was only completed the week before the opening. The section was walked.

Gurnards Head from Zennor Head. Photographer Ted Forman

Over 500 people took part in the inaugural walk of the Cornwall section of the Coast Path

With the Secretary of the Cornwall Ramblers, another Mary, and I, as the Publicity Officer made sure that the final number of walkers was available to the Western Morning News for their Monday publication. This was before the days of smartphones, let alone emails, so walk leaders had to phone in with their numbers within a given timeframe.

For many years Mary and I represented Cornwall at the meetings held in the Carters’ home in Newton Abbot and, as we saw work progressing with improvements to the path we often said to each other.  ‘With the Coast Path being looked after we, as Ramblers could concentrate on the Inland Paths’ – we are lucky to have such an amazing network.

Today we know there are many sections where the weather and seas have eroded parts of the SWCP, but the first section needing a diversion in the ’70s was just outside Falmouth. At Maenporth a section of cliff fell away one night – clean through the manicured lawn of a property but it took several years for the wheels of Compulsory Purchase to have the route restored.

The early ’70s was a time when many inland paths could not be used but gradually there is a good choice to afford walkers circular routes using the coast and inland paths.

Ramblers’ Family Rambling Day 1994

In 1994 the Ramblers’ Family Rambling Day was held at Land’s End. We had the use of much of the site, so our display boards and publications were there. There were two walks in the morning and two in the afternoon so there was a great variety to suit all ages and abilities.

Many of us will remember the closure of all footpaths in the country due to Foot and Mouth disease. Once the paths were re-opened the SWCPA organised the walking of the SWCP in one day. I did my bit, Coverack to Helford.

Living in Penryn I left my car at Helford Passage, got the ferry across to Helford and the bus to Coverack.Accompanied by my nine-year-old bichon I walked back to Helford.  Mercifully the tide was low at Gillan, so, having watched someone else cross, I took off my boots and socks and, with Sophie under my arm, I waded over. It saved another 4 miles.

This year to celebrate its 50th Anniversary, the SWCPA has organised relay walks which are being well advertised and proving popular. This will ensure the whole route from Somerset to Dorset will be walked. I look forward to hearing how many walkers there are, 50 years on.

Trailblazer Walk – celebrating 50 years of the South West Coast Path Association

Step out with us and help celebrate the 50th anniversary in one of the only ways we can – walking 630 miles of the South West Coast Path over 55 days in a relay! We are calling all trailblazers and people who are passionate about the Path to join us. It’s completely FREE to take part, but booking is essential.

Book your place on the Trailblazer Walk HERE

1 comment

  1. That photo of Gurnards Head brings a smile, coming from St Ives. You’ve “nearly” completed a tough yet very beautiful section of the path to Zennor, and there’s the thought of a pint or two at the Tinners. However I am really jealous of you having waded through at Gillan Creek, I’ve never managed to get there other than high tide. Thanks for everything Mary Weston – Do we do South West Coast Path stars on the path? You deserve it. Cheers Russ


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