Day 8 Sidmouth to ExmouthI woke realizing I’ve reached the 100 mile cumulative milestone (and nearly 5000 meters of ascent) but being honest I wasn’t feeling in a mood to celebrate. Being in Sidmouth felt strange. It was wonderful to see so how many shops from the time mum was a business owner have survived, yet also to notice so many that haven’t. For example an old freehouse pub now converted to a Costa. Change is inevitable, its just uncomfortable and that’s something I’ve had to come to terms with my grief.Walking along the promenade, a kind woman offered to snap my photo and I took up her kind gesture; although I didn’t mean to be frowning I’d like to blame the sun for making me squint, I think it was also realizing peak hill was upon me!Walking this stretch, I was filled with memories … with friends and mum doing a Duke of Edinburgh practice hike (I never got picked for the team ) and walks with the family. Stopping in Ladram Bay for lunch, I enjoyed a chat with Melanie Smith, which was special to break up the solitude.Struggling to pick up the pack, I was reminded of a moment when young women from Buturi proudly showed me the water pump that the charity installed and me struggling to lift the bucket filled with water… how they giggled! They lifted the loaded buckets on their heads as though they were weightless, so delighted to only walk a short distance home compared to the distance they traveled daily in the past. I tried to embody their strength. As mum would say, ’empowered women empower women’; that thought helped get me back moving.Not long out of Ladram, I had a chance encounter with two women on the path. They were as excited to meet as me… also having not seen many walkers today. It turned out, Esther knew my mum, both from her shop in Sidmouth and from the charity events in Exmouth. It was such a surprise and lovely to hear her stories. Sadly the rain came in, putting an end to our conversation. Both the ladies were tremendously kind making a donation to the charity and wishing me luck.Hearing about mum was bittersweet. The reality is I miss her, and it still feels strange she’s gone.Reaching Otterton I was in an absolute funk…. knowing Budleigh Salterton was just ahead if it wasn’t for the need to snake 2 miles round Otterton River. I sat on a grass bank for a moment contemplating walking to Otterton Mill for a comfort stop of cake but decided against elongating the day especially with it already late in the afternoon.As I rounded the bridge to cross the river, I caught sight of a woman in a blue bandana, glasses and giant pack, gorgeous dog by her side. My heart leapt… I’ve been following Gemma Andrew ‘s inspirational SWCP hike for the last few weeks and she’s the first solo female hiker/camper I’ve met on the path (). I hobbled up to her and said hi It was such a huge boost! It felt like meeting a celebrity. Turns out Gemma is also walking to fundraise … for the Dog Rescue (where her doggo came from!) a domestic violence charity I was touched by Gemma’s candor that she had been feeling in a grump before our meeting, and I shared how I hard this section is for me with memories of mum. Walking on an adventure is filled with ups and downs – emotional and physical. I appreciated her positivity but also honesty about the challenges too. She helpfully talked about the importance of rest days and was pleased to learn she also stays in hotels as needed. This path is hard enough, and walking solo. She was so encouraging that I could make it to Exmouth, I started to believe it.On parting, the weather had got brighter. With sunshine warming my face I pushed on, eventually making it to Exmouth… nudged on by a Borzoi It was so interesting to learn Exmouth is home to one of the oldest sections of the Jurassic coast! Clearly I hadn’t taken that in during my geography lessons.Reaching Claire Bedwell and James house for my stop tonight. I was so touched by their hospitality. They’re both away on holiday but insisted I make myself at home. Claire had kindly organized a potato and salmon dinner for me (I’m in love with potatoes at the moment) and even had the forethought to leave me a mini bottle of suncream!!I fell asleep grateful to have had so many special moments today. As wise friend who also lost her mum said, there is collateral beauty in grief I’m very much appreciating all the messages and people checking in with me/giving support – thank you!
Day 9 Exmouth to TorquayHad a real treat to start the day… meeting up with my friend Niki before boarding the water taxi from Exmouth to Dawlish Warren. Niki was delivering lectures when I was studying on my Doctorate at Plymouth, we then worked together as colleagues at Exeter, and since then she’s become a mentor, sewing teacher and virtual wine buddy (with Priya and Liz). Niki came out to meet me on the rain and even her husband joined incase his sailing connections were needed to help me organize water transport across the estuary. I might have been the only passenger but the taxi went as planned. Niki in her generosity waved me off with a hug and giant chocolate bar The Exe Water Taxi owner unexpectedly donated the crossing fare to the cause after Niki explained I was walking for charity – such tremendous kindness from a small local business I felt like a big kid on the boat I haven’t done this crossing since I was a child. Sadly the journey across the water was over quickly… leaving nothing to do but walk Today started on sand as I was warned the path through the dunes has become hard to find. Trudging along in my waterproof trousers, I was getting hot and tried quickly but it wasn’t too long before I met a paved path.Walking through the inland portion of the Dawlish route, I got a little lost trying to locate the SWCP acorn signage between houses and cars. A nice woman stopped to point me in the right direction. We got chatting. Val, explained she’d just come back from Shaldon. She shared she’d hoped to walk the coastal path with her husband when he retired but sadly he died not long after finishing work. She hadn’t thought to go on her own and now wasn’t physically able to make the journey being in her 80s. She talked about how despite all her effort to remain healthy, frailty had inevitably crept in; such is the privilege of growing old we conceded We reflected how she at least has this beautiful slice of the path on her doorstep before saying our goodbyes.Having travelled by Great Western Railways countless times, I thought I knew this section of the coast but the views from land were quite different. The red clay cliffs are so much more dramatic up close and I didn’t realize Shaldon has a pier!I enjoyed my second estuary crossing today from Shaldon to Teignmouth. It’s beautiful old boat and reportedly the oldest passenger ferry route in the UK. Apparently beating the Thames crossing simply because that’s kept changing locations over the years as the river has moved Taking on Gemma’s advice about rest from yesterday, I consciously took more frequent pitstops. Indeed, today was heavily punctuated by refreshments: tea and flap jack at Dawlish, a smoothie and chicken wrap at Holcombe, and tea and cake at Teignmouth. With each stop I was feeling smug to dodge the rain but that soon created problems as I realized the section from Teignmouth to Maidenhead to Babbacombe was tough! Walking up and down, up and down valleys, I felt quite frustrated knowing I was so slowly snaking my way along the coastline. As sunset had passed, I made a decision to come off the path through random fields and book a taxi to avoid walking in the dark. The company was so nice to locate me with limited information about my layby Reaching Torquay I was exhausted but delighted to learn of all the meal options for dinner I’ve worked in NHS services in Dawlish and Torquay but never enjoyed these sections of the path before so it felt really special to enjoy these parts of Devon.
Day 10 Torquay to BrixhamToday was a tale of two stories…Walking around Torbay, it felt like a return to civilization after my solitary stint on the rugged South Devon cliffs the evening before. A bit of a shock to the system to see so many houses and people in close proximity but so lovely to watch families enjoying time together and children playing.The morning it felt strange to see how built up Torquay is as a seaside town; I never realized! The pavements were packed with people, sadly many of whom were engrossed in their phones and didn’t notice I need a wide berth with the pack I was so envious of all the swimmers as the sea is looking clear and inviting. I didn’t linger too long feeling self-conscious that people seemed to be curious about a woman with such a large hiking pack. I do stick out in my hiking gear while everyone else was carefree in their summer shorts and dresses As I arrived on Paignton Beach, I stopped to enjoy the views and an elderly man beckoned me over for a chat. You can see Bob in the corner of my photo sat with his wife outside their beach hut.Bob was gracious to hear about my walk to enjoy the SWCP in honor of mum and to fundraise for the charity. He proudly showed me the chalk doodles lining the inside of his hut by his grandchildren, now grown up and living in Canada but visiting as a birthday surprise for Bob’s son-in-law over the weekend. Was such a lovely conversation about family. Dodging collisions around Paignton pier proved exhausting so I decided to take refuge at the Harbour Light for a pub lunch. As I was leaving, I was delighted to get a phone call from by big sister Jenifer Smith It was lovely catching up while sat on a bench in the sun watchibg the boats and swans in thr harbour.The solitude of walking solo feels special but I’m really appreciating the opportunity for connection with people too. It feels like an interesting parallel between walking in built-up spaces and nature As it turned to afternoon, the path started to thin out as people made their way home and I was chuffed with the return to a more rugged landscape walking past Broadsands Beach, Elberry cove and Churston cove. Finally making it to Brixham about 8pm, with dramatic backlighting from sunset
Day 11 Brixham to DartmouthI started today at the Curious Kitchen with avocado on sourdough toast with bacon, onions and sesame seeds sat in the sun, followed by a salty caramel milkshake I’m low on my DIY meals and they aren’t filling enough. I told myself I was fuelling for the day but I wasn’t… I was enjoying a leisurely breakfast, not only the meal itself but also the table to sit at… so civilized in comparison to eating porridge on the grass with a lime green spork!Brixham was hard to leave… the town was full of interesting noticeboards about its maritime history and beautiful tulip beds but I pushed myself on.With clear sky at Berry Head I enjoyed a moment to take in all the coastline I’ve travelled. Looking across the channel to Dorset I realized with pride that I had walked as far as my eyes could see Pausing at the toposcope dedicated in memorial, I was approached by a couple enquiring if I was walking the coast path. It turns out Kevin Richards is a member of the Plymouth branch of the SWCP association. In 2017 he ran the entire 630 miles with his wife, Linda Richards , accompanying by car and bringing supplies. I was utterly in awe of their journey and team work. Walking the path is tough but yikes, running it!! We chatted for a bit about the weight of my pack and the beauty of the path. I shared how valuable the SWCP association have been in helping my planning…. I quickly learned that its not simply attending to the miles per day but also incline! They were very encouraging and I appreciated the conversation after several hours of solitude.Over the next section I passed St Marys Bay, Mussel Rock and Sharepoint; not much of note to describe but on from there, the sweeping hills were immense. Made all the more epic listening at random to the Forest Gump theme tune. If you haven’t listened to it… give your ears a treat! The song transported me back to living with Jenny Weston studying for our final psychology exams. Jenny was playing this one afternoon as we revised and it was so beautiful and familiar I had to ask what it was; the song has lived on my playlist since. Jenny recently got on contact and it was such a pleasure to enjoy a walk together in Somerset… realizing she lives very close to my dad! Its amazing how music transports us with memories As I travelled along the cliffs, the path kept zigzaging back and forth to the extent it left me skeptical that I was making any forward momentum I realized that sometimes the coast path forces us to look backwards, at other times we chose to look back of our own volition and take stock… much in the way I’ve chosen to walk the SWCP to cherish my memories with mum, acknowledge my grief, and reflect back on my life so far, with the intention to move forwards (including moving the charity forwards). I will always feel her loss but I’m learning to carry it. The dance of looking back and looking forward is an interesting one but what I’ve been learning from my mindfulness practice and teacher training is the importance of being in the present moment. Appreciating the here and now. Not that that’s easy when your feet are burning from the weight of the pack!After what felt like an endless journey, I made it to Kingswear. Only to be disappointed that the only open establishment didn’t serve tea not ideal when your cold to the bone. I smile thinking Mum would not have been impressed either Wondering around Dartmouth after the crossing, it proved difficult to find any open restaurants. It seems there is a shortage of chefs! The receptionist at The Royal Castle was so kind taking pity on me in my walking attire. I felt a little embarrassed not to have ‘dressed up’ (or even just washed) but I soon forgot that with a nice glass of Chardonnay in my hand!
Day 12 Dartmouth to BeesandsIn psychology there is a memory concept called primary and recency effect where you have stronger memories of the beginning and end of something. Today that held true for me.I started today in love with Dartmouth! There were so many cute galleries and bookshops (independent and second hand). I had to muster all my might to drag myself away from the windows. Luckily I was rewarded by so many interesting pit stops… Bayard’s fort, warfleet creek with views over to Britannia Royal Naval College and then Dartmouth castle. Passing little coves and forest inlets, I made my way to the sweet village of Stoke Flemming. Here the path comes off the coastline and you have to meander around houses. Either I’m mastering the art of looking lost or the residents are used to lost hikers… a nice man helped me get where I needed to go.I enjoyed a rest stop at Blackpool sands… taco, chips and TEA before making my way up over a giant hill and eventually back down again to Skete. This middle part of the day was a wash of green fields and cliff edges.I was excited to finally reach Slayton Ley Beach but my goodness it was tough walking on the sand! Despite loving being at the waters edge, I conceded I couldn’t take it any longer so used the inland path; still not easy as this was covered in sand One third of the way along and I was really struggling. Seeing a bus shelter I focused all my energy to make that goal. Hobbling up to it, I realized how beautiful the hut was… etched with carvings of butterflies (I associate with mum as a symbol of the UK lupus charity). Walking under, I was already crouching and desperately untying my laces to allow my feet to breathe. Looking up at the bench I read a handcrafted message…. crafted from a 176 year old tree. I shook my boots off and had been intending to have my first tantrum of the trip but found I didn’t have the energy. (Well I did melodramatically message my sibling informing them I might get buried here ). Instead, I sat in silent appreciation of the shelter, massaging my feet till I was ready to move again.The end portion of the day was a blurr of sand, more sand, pain, more pain. Hill, followed by stairs, followed by more hills. New fresh hell round every corner despite the beautiful scenery! Part of the day that I don’t want to remember yet feels vivid. Eventually I made it to Beesands. Kindly, the campsite owner had messaged ahead and advised I grab food from the local pub before making it up the hill to the campsite.Inside the pub I was initially told they couldn’t take anymore food orders. I decided to snack on cheese and onion crisps and warm up in the pub before intending to head over to the campsite. A nice local sparked a conversation so I wasn’t sat alone. Richard moved to the area after retiring. We both agreed this is a gorgeous stretch of Devon and had a fascinating conversation about the no-dig garden movement and the importance of worms! It was fab to talk about something other than walking so I didn’t think of my aching feet (). In our conversation it was lovely to acknowledge the privilege of being able to enjoy things in life… like walking the coast path and enjoying retirement. Things mum didn’t get to do. None of us know the time we have or how our health will be. As much as today felt hard, I know I’m lucky I get to do this and I’m getting stronger as I go I was delighted when the pub owner later offered a table at the restaurant where I warmed up properly with a delicious risotto. Ready for bed, I made it up the last hill of the day and pitched my tent in the dark (not something I’ve done before or intended to do but managed ).
Day 13 Beesands to Salcombe (staying in Galampton)Opening up the tent, I was welcomed to the morning with a fabulous view over Beesands.Having woken up later than anticipated, I got myself packed up to enjoy a cup of tea on the beach rather than making my own brew.With another day of solo walking my imagination started running wild, much like the landscape of the day. The cliffs around Mattiscombe beach were magnificent… it felt like climbing the scales of a stegosaurous’ tail. Some sections were so rocky, I was pulling myself over the boulders.At Hallsands I met a lovely group of retired walkers. I’d have loved to have joined them for the day but they were setting too fast a pace for my liking. Affectionately I referred to them as my platoon. I could often see the three scouts at the front of the pack and the rest of the troop not far behind; it felt comforting to think of them adventuring ahead, checking the path was safe for me. Through the day we kept criss-crossing past each other having taken different break times. At one point I was disappointed that they were out of eyesight and perhaps too far to catch upto but rounding the corner to Lannacombe beach, I caught the pops of colour from their jackets illuminating the sand; a spot I decided to enjoy myself over lunch.Coming up to East Prawl, I realized the distance between us had expanded (I walk slower after lunch), getting larger with the ascent to Prawl Point, so much so we did lose each other after the coast watch station.Ambling along, I reflected on my disappointment that I hadn’t kept up with the group. I reminded myself I’m carrying camping equipment and reasoned that I will naturally be slower than others because of the pack weight (and multiple days of walking behind me) so I shouldn’t compare myself. It’s so easy to forget that we all have very different experiences of walking (and life)… none of us see the burdens that others are carrying, they are often invisible or held privately.Feeling happy to have found my own dawdling rhythm, I was enjoying snapping photos and spotting seals in the rock pools below. That was until a hiker coming from the opposite direction warned me that the last crossing to Salcombe leaves at 5.30 and the ferry port at East Portlemouth Beach was roughly 3.5 miles away. I said “so like 2 hours walk from here given the path is so up and down” … “yep”. Definitely a heartsink moment. Annoyingly I’d taken for granted that the last ferry in Dartmouth was running till 11pm and assumed Salcombe would be similar. I had no contingency plan to not cross tonight and had already booked a nonrefundable Airbnb to be able to shower. With it being the end of the day and already 9.1 miles in, I was tired but last night Martin had reminded me of Nims’ (Nirmal Purja from 14 Peaks) saying… “when you say you are f****, you are only 45% f****). I figured having slept well and not pushed myself through the day, I could dig deep and try for the ferry. I was desperate for a shower and the Airbnb owner had kindly agreed to do a washing load! So I hustled as fast as my silly little legs would carry me. The phrase “just keep moving” became my mantra… walking or jogging for moments, I didn’t allow myself to stop. Skating down the forest banks to Mill Bay, I reached the ferry port at 5.35.Knowing I wanted to cry, I sat on a bench and held back tears so that I could workout an alternative plan by bus or taxi. Looking up momentarily, I had to do a double take as the ferry was in front of me. It turns out the ferry man had watched me across the bay and decided to pick me up When he asked about the purpose of my hike and found out about the charity, he refused my fair making it a donation to the charity instead On landing, I walked straight to the Kings Arms and bought myself a celebratory packet of crisps for successfully making it to Salcombe
Day 14 Galmpton to Monwell BeachI had such a brilliant start to the day from staying with my airbnb host Bryony. Bryony kindly cooked me breakfast for a hearty energy boost and one of her dogs, Alice, warmed my feet while I ate. Alice is actually Bryony’s 80 year old father’s dog but as a pup, is a bit boisterous for him. Alice not so patiently waited through breakfast for some of my sausage and I couldn’t help but oblige.Bryony mentioned her daughter has scales (borrowed from a local farmer) to assess the weight of her luggage as she was heading off on a trip to South America the next day. It turns out the base weight of my pack is 13kg which is much heavier than I intended! On top I carry water and food Luckily I’m nearly the lightest I’ll get as I’m out of supplies and will be restocking in Plymouth.It turns out Bryony also likes walking and camping and is building her confidence with a group of women. It was such a boost to hear about other woman challenging themselves. We talked about our shared interest in doing survival skills courses. The more I think about it, its curious it isn’t part of our education curriculum for youngsters. I was a Rainbow, Brownie and Guide but I don’t recall there being much focus at that time on women building skills and confidence in the outdoors. I hope that’s changed now.I did get sewing badges and that love of crafting has stayed with me Noticing the gorgeous block quilted curtains in the guest room, Bryony explained they were made by her mother who had upcycled the fabrics from other curtains. I’ve been learning to quilt (English paper piecing) since the lockdowns. It was great to admire the craft(wo)manship! Also it triggered a memory of mum with her sewing machine making curtains for our living room. Such a great skill to have Mum studied design and textiles at university, she loved colour and patterns Bryony waved me off with a sandwich a slice of cheesecake which was tremendously kind!Feeling great from having slept well, morning dog cuddles and wearing properly cleaned clothes (hand washing doesn’t do much), I set off with a bounce in my step Rejoining the path at Hope Cove, I meandered along the cliffs to cross the marsh at Milton Sands, passing Thurlestone golf course and eventually making my way down to Bantham beach which was full of surfers.The seasonal ferry for the River Avon is on a small boat and the crossing just takes a few minutes but in that time I enjoyed chatting with the Ferryman; especially about the history of the beautiful thatched pink boat houses perched at the mouth of the river. It turns out at one time they were houses for fishermen but are now used as holiday cottages or second homes. He also pointed out a stump of rusted iron in the rocks and explained this was used to hold up antisubmarine nets during World War II. Fascinating to think how much this area has changed over the years!Crossing the river to the beach below Folly Hill, I realized this section was empty of people. I unpacked the fresh baguette that Bryony filled with cheddar cheese and Branston pickle (can there be anything better than fresh bread ) and savored this slice of heaven to myself. Leisurely, I made a cup of tea with my Jetboil reflected how much I’ve enjoyed being outside through this journey.So much of my time at work I’m indoors, its been really special spending so much time in nature. I notice I’m getting more acclimatized to the cold and wind, learning to appreciate different weathers but also learning how to camp alone (for example the best spots to avoid harsh elements), working out when I need creature comforts; just generally how to improvise and adjust. Its come from experiences from the trip but also taking on board advice from other people over the years to gradually build my confidence to this point and I’m so grateful for that. I know there is more I need to learn to be safe on outdoor adventures and I’m excited to keep learning!After reaching the top of the hill, I took in Bigbury (and the infamous sea tractor to Burgh Island), Arymer cove, and Wycombe Beach. Passing Challaborough, I met a lovely couple coming in the opposite direction… Mike had lost his jacket but I assured him I’d seen it on a bench round a corner of the path ****; in turn they assured me I could make it to Monwell before nightfall which I appreciated At Monwell, I sat taking in sunset and like a mirage Martin Lamač sauntered down the to meet me Martin has been finishing his thesis but flown from the Czech Republic to join me for a few days on the path The man brought chocolate cake and set up a fire (!!) making a fab first wild camp of the trip (despite bad weather rolling in).Fundraising for the The Buturi Project and Judith Smith*** Mike has since been in contact to share he retrieved his jacket before anyone called the coastguard thinking someone had fallen off the cliff… something I hadn’t considered! And also kindly made a donation to the charity ***** sorry for the delayed posts… after a few days if wild camping I’ve not had battery power so will be catching up *****
Day 8 Sidmouth to ExmouthI woke realizing I’ve reached the 100 mile cumulative milestone (and nearly 5000 meters of ascent) but being honest I wasn’t