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Signposting of The Wealdway is good throughout its eighty plus miles

The Wealdway

The Wealdway is an 80+ mile/134+ km path across the south east of England, from Eastbourne on the South Coast, to the River Thames at Gravesend. Traversing the Weald, walking northwards from East Sussex into Kent, the route crosses both the South Downs and North Downs.

Mr and Mrs Three Points of the Compass set off on a cold winters morning from Eastbourne Pier for our first day on the Wealdway

Mr and Mrs Three Points of the Compass set off on a cold winters morning from Eastbourne Pier for our first day on the Wealdway

Each year, Three Points of the Compass works through one of the long distance paths in ‘my’ south-eastern corner of England where I live. These are usually completed as a series of occasional day hikes. For the Wealdway, Mrs Three Points of the Compass joined me. We actually commenced this in 2017, intending to complete it by 2018. But with one thing and another, various commitments, not least my completing a five month 2000 mile hike last year, it was not until early 2019 that we managed to find time to knock off our final day on this trail.

Looking south from atop the South Downs, the English Channel can just be seen on a misty cold morning

Looking south from atop the South Downs, the English Channel can just be seen on a misty cold morning

This is not a difficult walk. Climbs may be moderate, but it it is a very enjoyable traipse though a changing countryside. The wide open chalk escarpments of the South Downs and North Downs stand above low lying farmlands. Pasture mingles with woodlands, tiny streams and almost forgotten villages are encountered every day.

Mrs Three Points of the Compass makes a short descent through a small mixed woodland to cross one of the many streams encountered on the Wealdway

Mrs Three Points of the Compass makes a short descent through a small mixed woodland to cross one of the many streams encountered on the Wealdway. The proliferation of both water and wood meant that it was this region that supported the first iron workings in the country

In the middle section of the path, the way climbs, crosses and drops from the High Weald at Ashdown Forest. This bulging geographical anomaly is beautiful walking, the term ‘forest’ is slightly misleading, it being more sandy heathlands and gorse, with stands of pines.

Ashdown Forest

The High Weald at Ashdown Forest makes for an easy and pleasant days walking

Some 99% of the Wealdway has excellent signposting

Some 99% of the Wealdway has excellent signposting

Sussex and Kent County Councils differ in their preferred signs but they are equally as effective

Sussex and Kent County Councils differ in their preferred signs but they are equally as effective

There is not much written about the Wealdway. I am not sure why as it certainly rates amongst other longer trails in Kent and Sussex though just a couple of other bloggers have written about it. There are GPX files but as it is marked on O.S. maps and I prefer hard copy maps, I carried the relevant O.S. Explorer map for each days hiking. The whole route is covered by O.S. Explorer 123, 135, 147, 136, 148 and 163. I preferred the larger scale 1:25 000 Explorer maps to the 1:50 000 Landranger maps as it is helpful at times to see which side of a hedge, ditch or stream that the path was following.

I carried a compass but probably used it on no more than two or three occasions. I carried the most recently written guide with me on occasion, but more for lunchtime or train reading en route than anything else. A guide to the Wealdway by John H N Mason was published in 1984 and there are a handful of changes to the route shown in his guide. Despite this, the researched notes make for interesting reading and if you can find a second hand copy, it is useful if you intend to enjoy this route. The most recent printed guide is Along and Around the Wealdway. This guide was researched and authored by Helen Livingstone and was published jointly by the East Sussex County Council and Kent County Council in 1999. It is attractively produced with lovely photographs and paintings. However its design is hopeless, the size and shape are not conducive to stuffing into a pack and it has a ‘pull-out’ centre Walk Guide.

There are only two guides of any note that cover the Wealdway, both are now pretty old and out of date in aprts. However they both provide a wealth of background information on the sites to be seen, the geography and history of the diverse route are well covered

There are only two guides of any note that cover the Wealdway, both are now pretty old and out of date in parts. However they both provide a wealth of background information on the sites to be seen, the geography and history of the diverse route are well covered

I never camped on this trail, or stayed overnight. When hiking, we travelled each day to and from railway stations that were never more than a mile or so off route. That said, while various guides give the total distance of the Wealdway as between 80 and 83 miles, these station link miles do add up and we covered 97 miles in total over the six day hikes it took to complete the trail..

Eastbourne (pier) to Berwick railway station 14.5 miles
Berwick railway station to Uckfield railway station 20.5 miles
Uckfield railway station to Ashurst railway station 16.0 miles
Ashurst railway station to Tonbridge railway station 12.5 miles
Tonbridge Railway station to Borough Green railway station 16.0 miles
Borough Green railway station to Gravesend Pier (end) then station 17.5 miles
Total distance covered on Wealdway including station links 97 miles
Only a couple of diversions were encountered, here, a blocked tunnel below a main road meant that 1.5 miles were added to the days total when hiking between Ashurst and Tonbridge

Only a couple of diversions were encountered. Here, a blocked tunnel below a main road meant that 1.5 miles were added to the days total when hiking between Ashurst and Tonbridge. Though I don’t reckon the tunnel was collapsing, the reason given

Three Points of the Compass does like to explore a church or two en route, or at least take advantage of a seat in the churchyard for a lunchtime halt. Beside pottering around fonts and pews, admiring stained glass and tombs, a peek inside the interior would frequently encounter the makings of a cup of tea with biscuits provided, laid on by parishioners in exchange for a modest donation. Very welcome on hot and colds days alike.

Part of the harvest festival display at St. Pancras Church, Arlington

Part of the harvest festival display in St. Pancras Church, Arlington

The Wealdway crosses differing rock strata, each of which has leant itself to different building materials and architecture. Thatch, wood, brick and hung tiles proliferate. Black & white timber framed houses and barns abound. Farms vary from the tatty and unloved to the grand and expensive. Wealden wooden braced halls alternate with flint walled churches. It really is a joy and if walking alone, I would probably have taken more time to halt and sketch en route.

Lovely wealden houses passed while on trail

The 13th century gatehouse and curtain walls are almost all that remain of Tonbridge Castle. Built by the Normans, it stands on the site of a Saxon fort

The 13th century gatehouse and curtain walls are almost all that remain of Tonbridge Castle. Built by the Normans, it stands on the site of a Saxon fort

Horses graveyard near East Hoathly. The nearest headstone carries the musings of a proud owner- '13 races, 13 wins'

Horses graveyard near East Hoathly. The nearest headstone carries the musings of a proud owner- ’13 races, 13 wins’

Honesty stall selling local produce

Honesty stall selling local produce

I walked through miles of orchards where the trees were literally dripping with apples, leaving these it was only to pass hectares of soft fruit. There are often surprises encountered on a long trail, I would never have expected to see a horses cemetery. The trail passes a statue to a kidnapped native American, the sites of crashed bomber aircraft, the haunts of smugglers, dead country railway lines, priories, the only surviving iron pier in the world, and the bridge where Pooh Sticks was invented…

“And that was the beginning of the game called Poohsticks, which Pooh invented, and which he and his friends used to play on the edge of the Forest.  But they played with sticks instead of fir-cones, because they were easier to mark.”

The House at Pooh Corner, A.A. Milne

Coldrum Stones Long Barrow was excavated in 1910. It contained the remains of 22 people, men, women and children

Coldrum Stones neolithic Long Barrow was excavated in 1910. It contained the remains of 22 people- men, women and children

An avenue through a young coppice woodland

An avenue through a young coppice woodland

We will never really appreciate just how much the countryside has changed around the Wealdway. While the hills remain largely the same, other than the ravages of quarries and road cuttings, the wooded slopes have largely gone, torn down to fuel the iron furnaces or build the warships, cleared to make fertile land for farming, or make travel easier across a former dangerous place for a hunter gatherer or traveller to be.

More modern coppice woodlands- chestnut especially, or beech, oak or coniferous, depending on soil type, remain if much reduced in acreage. However the remains of the prehistoric races that lived here are in evidence. The remains of Bronze and Iron Age forts are passed, the ‘Tumuli’ shown on the O.S. maps are often worth a bit of an explore, especially sites like Coldrum Stones just below the North Downs. This long barrow differs from others found in England, being more akin to those tombs found in Denmark, which belong to the earliest Northern European neolithic culture.

The statue of native American Pocahontas and her memorial are seen on the final day on trail at St. George's Church, Gravesend

The statue of native American Pocahontas and her memorial are seen on the final day on trail at St. George’s Church, Gravesend

Mrs Three Points of the Compass and I thoroughly enjoyed our time on the Wealdway. Travel to and from each days section was easy by public transport and each day bought something new. Even when the clay soils were wet, the going was never particularly tough and our six days were spread across all the seasons so we got to experience it in all weathers, we even did one section twice, if unintentionally!

I thoroughly recommend it to anyone that wants a gentle and fairly short introduction to the diversity of Kent and Sussex. I loved walking in out of the fields and woods to briefly pass through a tiny almost forgotten village, briefly ponder whether to pop in to one of the pubs or not, reluctantly decide against it (miles to cover) and walk on back into the Weald.

As to my next day walk trail in the South East, more on that in the future.

Taking time out for the crack of leather on willow- A cricket match at Bidborough

Taking time out for the crack of leather on willow- A cricket match at Bidborough

Baseball at Tonbridge

Baseball at Tonbridge

‘back of the drawer’ EDC- the BCB mini-work tool

Stainless steel pocket tool from BCB. This probably dates from the 1990s and is a better credit card sized tool than the cheaper copies that followed

Stainless steel pocket tool from BCB. This probably dates from the 1990s and is a better credit card sized tool than the cheaper copies that followed. Despite that, it has been supplanted by more useful pocket tools today

Having a clear out the other day, I came across a ‘blast from the past’, a little metal tool from BCB that I used to carry for around a decade or so before switching out to more useful tools for my Every Day Carry, or EDC. This little card sized tool would even accompany me on the odd hike a couple of decades ago, but at 30g, or 40g with its vinyl sheath, it offers too little practicality today so will probably go back into the drawer.

This little tool, measuring 69mm x 40mm x 2mm, has been updated then cloned by numerous other manufacturers in the intervening years. The modern copies, the majority of which seem to be Chinese made, are pretty shoddy in comparison. Every equivalent card tool I have seen of recent years has any number of extra ‘useful’ functions incorporated, few of which are actually useful. Always of most use to me was the corner flat screwdriver (mine is pretty torn up now), bottle opener (or cap lifter), the point of the tin (can) opener, which was always useful for opening packages etc. and the the ‘knife’ blade. I can’t really call it a blade as it is more a 45 degree sharpened 29mm edge at one end of the tool but it would still cut cordage with a bit of effort. The cut-out hex wrenches on these tools are never any use as you usually need to access from above the nut instead of from the side.

My old BCB pocket tool to the right of one of the cheap modern versions. The addition of a few extra functions hasn't really added anything to the usefulness of these little credit card sized tools

My old BCB pocket tool to the right of one of the cheap modern versions. The addition of a few extra functions hasn’t really added anything to the usefulness of these little credit card sized tools

Cheaply made, pressed stainless steel pocket sized tool is of limited use today. The finish on these bits of kit is extremely poor

Cheaply made, pressed stainless steel pocket sized tool is of limited use today. The finish on these bits of kit is extremely poor

I really do feel that the more modern versions have lost much of the capability even though they seem at first glance to offer more. More recent versions often have a bearing plate for a button compass, but not the actual compass. The tin opener has become far less aggressive, and as a consequence, far less practical in use. This was probably because the piercing point on the earlier version protrudes further and is therefore more likely to cause injury to the unwary. Another reason why a nasty little camo vinyl holder was supplied. The saw blade on the early version is, while very short at just 31mm, actually well cut and aggressive. Recent versions have a far less effective saw. The wire stripper has also been excluded from the bottle opener in the modern version. All of these changes mean that modern rubbish versions can be picked up for a pound or two. I don’t carry one of these credit card sized tools with me now, preferring the greater versatility provided by a proper, fairly small, multi-tool from Victorinox or Leatherman, supplemented by other tools in my EDC on occasion. But on trail, I usually settle for something far simpler, more on that in a future blog or two.

The Big Walk by A. Walker

A decent read- The Big Walk by A. Walker

“It was as if hundreds of little devils, each with a tiny red hot pitch fork, were prodding my feet continually. I could almost see the wide grins on their ugly little faces as they danced about me… the pilgrims of old who put stones in their shoes when they walked cannot have suffered more than I did on that night alongside Loch Ness”

It is odd that the journey between two equally isolated points of mainland Great Britain continues to attract so much attention. Over the decades thousands of people have walked, run, cycled and driven between Land’s End, located on the beautiful Cornish peninsula, and the equally lonely John O’Groats in Caithness, which isn’t even the most northerly point of Britain that many believe it to be. Others have walked backwards, pushed prams, carried fridges, even utilised a newly acquired bus pass to travel the entire distance on public transport. Such is this continued interest in the journey twixt that many have taken advantage of the commercial potential.

Partly inspired by the achievements of a slightly odd woman- Dr. Barbara Moore, in February 1960, the South African born, British entrepreneur Billy Butlin, called a conference of a dozen or so of his organisation’s managers. Many of these worked on his popular and affordable holiday camps. Ever alert to the potential for self-promotion, he announced his intention to stage a race- open to all, it would be a ‘walk to end all walks’ from John O’Groats to Land’s End.

18 year old Wendy Lewis was the first female home on The Big Walk. She and the second female eacgh collected £1000 prize money from Sir Billy Butlin, shown here with his wife and son at Land's End

18 year old Wendy Lewis was the first female home on The Big Walk. Wendy was a popular competitor and hundreds turned out to see her walk by. Cheered on by adults and children, she was frequently piped through towns and villages. She and Beryl Randle,the second female finisher, each collected £1000 prize money from Billy Butlin, shown here with his wife and son at Land’s End

With many attracted by the £5000 prize money on offer, over 4000 applications were received, whittled down to some 1500 entrants. One of these, a Border farmer, went on to write a book of his experience. The Big Walk by ‘A Walker’ is his account of the 891 mile Butlin Walk that commenced 26th February 1960. The winning man reached Land’s End at 07.32 on 13th February, the first female arrived two days later with hundreds following in their wake over the next twelve days. Wendy Lewis was recorded as ‘being in a frightening condition; her hands and legs were swollen, her hair bedraggled about her drawn and sunken features and her black-rimmed eyes stared glassily ahead’. Many more were not counted or recorded after the closing finish date, including the 68 year old Duke of Leinster, and others that went on to finish despite having been disqualified for one reason or another.

The route followed by competitors in the Billy Butlin Walk, from Land's End to John O'Groats in 1960

The route followed by competitors in the Billy Butlin Walk, from John O’Groats to Land’s End in 1960

The event caught not only the media’s attention but the public were equally fascinated. Alongside children and adults alike requesting autographs of the walkers, the author relates numerous accounts of the kindness of strangers- offers of food, accommodation, footcare and lifts. Some of his account makes for fascinating reading. The walk began in atrocious weather and entrants had to contend with three metre snow drifts on the roads in Scotland. Besides exhaustion and hypothermia, foot pain and blisters are a constant companion. Walkers wore an assortment of attire- boots, shoes, sandals, Wellington boots, some even barefoot as a result of swollen feet, they struggled on. Hundreds retired, over 170 in the first fifty miles. Many others also dropped out later, through ill-preparedness, injury, being struck by vehicles or disgust with the cheats.

With substantial prize money on offer, many cheats took advantage of lifts in cars or lorries, others had prior arranged surreptitious transport. The honest walkers and officials alike were aware of many such cheats and additional check points were promptly arranged in an attempt to catch and disqualify them. One such cheat even attempted to flag down and obtain a lift from Billy Butlin himself.

The kit list of a typical competitor in the 1960 endeavour makes interesting reading. Note the 'kerchief type scarf, sufficiently large enough to keep the next warm while being smart enough to wear while dining in a five star hotel

The kit list of the author of The Big Walk during his 1960 endeavour makes interesting reading. Note the ‘kerchief type scarf, sufficiently large enough to keep the neck warm while being smart enough to wear while dining in a five star hotel. For protection from the weather, he wore an ex-army gas cape. His choice of footwear proved disastrous as his feet swelled so much he couldn’t get them on. He was forced to wear a pair of Alpine boots with the tops from a pair of sandals stuffed into the sole- “this was the answer I had been looking for and was most successful”

Beside the hardship and experience of the author, it is the account of other walkers that is most remarkable. They covered fifty, sixty, even seventy miles a day. One walker had a wooden leg, another was blind. The youngest finisher was aged just 16, the oldest 65. The eventual men’s winner was Jimmy Musgrave, a 38 year old glass packer from Doncaster. He collected £1000 in prize money, finishing in 14 days, 14 hours and 32 minutes. The author finished his walk six days later but was not counted amongst the finishers as he had broken down just miles from the finish. Despite having had to miss a few miles at the end, accepting a lift on medical advice, the author returned to the race just hours later. Determined to finish, he walked in to Land’s End to a muted reception, received just a lunch ticket for two Cornish Pasties and a cup of tea prior to attempting to return home on his diminished and now meagre funds. The Big Walk records his satisfaction at both reaching the end and being able to return to his beloved farm- “never have I been so glad to be going home“.

This no ‘how to’ manual, instead, it is an unadorned personal account of a fascinating race and captures well the determined mind set of amateur speed walkers in a simpler era.

The Big Walk, A. Walker. Prentice-Hall International, 198pp, 1961

The Firefly can be ordered in different pack configurations, I ordered two Firefly and two Firefly Mini. Toothpicks can be stored in the pack when swapped with the firesteel

Firefly- a simple addition to your kit

I recently received a sweet little package through the post. I ordered the Firefly firesteel when I came across it on Kickstarter. It is one of those simple ideas that you wonder why no-one had produced before. A very small, very slim ferrocerium rod that takes the place of the toothpick in a Swiss Army Knife.

Large and small Firefly inserted into the slots provided for toothpicks on my Victorinox Spartan and Classic SD Swiss Army Knives

Large and small Firefly inserted into the slots provided for toothpicks on my Victorinox Spartan and Classic SD Swiss Army Knives

One of these fire steels is not going to last any great length of time. Instead, they work well as an emergency carry, for those times where you get caught out for some reason, wet matches, ineffective lighter etc.

A good edge is required to raise a spark so not every tool in a Swiss Army Knife is effective. You will see me use the back edge of a saw in a Wenger Swiss Army Knife in the film below. But scissors, awl and fish scaler are effective too. The suppliers of the Firefly, Tortoise Gear, say that a can opener or file tool could also be used, however I have had less success with these. The knife can also be used but I’m not wrecking my blades attempting to do so. The back of a tool in a Swiss Army Knife can also be filed to give a good ninety degree angle for striking a steel, but likewise, I’m not butchering the tools on my knives.

There is an additional technique required when using these mini firesteels, you have to support the steel with a finger to stop it being broken. Also, strike along the thin edge rather than the wide edge, this stops it being worn away during use and no longer fitting tightly into the slot in the scales of your Swiss Army Knife.

Should you be interested, the larger 52mm Firefly weighs 1.7g , and the smaller 44mm Firefly Mini weighs a paltry 1.2g. So if you carry a Victorinox with you on trail or as an EDC, you may like to consider these. Alternatively, simply slip one into your ditty bag along with a small striker. One word of warning though, if living in the UK, watch out for those customs fees!

The next stage…

Three Points of the Compass has now completed the South West Coast Path. After a further three days, exploring Exmoor while moving inland, I took a small break to recuperate, rest and carry out a small number of gear repairs and replacement, primarily to the worn out Altra Lone Peak 3.5’s. Following that, I worked across country via Taunton, Glastonbury, Cheddar and Bristol. Then crossed into Wales and am now working up the Marches on the Offa’s Dyke Path.

Just a few items of gear have required a little attention. My Altra’s needed a bit of glue while on the SWCP. I carry a 1gram tube of super glue gel and that was sufficient. The heel cups wore through after 500 miles. After a further 100 miles I had to resort to a couple of strips of Leucoplast across each foot’s heel and gaffa tape inside each shoe heel, just to protect my feet from the bits coming away from the shoes. The tread was obviously very worn and absent entirely fore and aft. Not surprising considering the often Rocky terrain and the miles. I reckon I got around 680 miles out of my first pair before swapping out for a new pair.

Also, the mystery holes that appeared on my Duplex tent were identified eventually as having been caused by gulls pecking at the material (slugs, insects, the foliage pattern?). These I repaired with cuben repair tape. My Merino Polo has had a few holes ripped in the sleeves and torso by thorns, mostly on the Dorset paths, I’ll get round to poor sewing of this eventually.

Other than that, I think it is just the stuff sack that I keep my quilt and night garb in that required tape over strained seams, but that is my fault for stuffing too much into it.

My Thermarest Xtherm sleeping pad has developed a very slowly puncture. I tried to locate it in a few inches of bath water but cannot find any sign of a leak. What I do know, is that come morning and a good few hours of slow loss of air, side sleeping is enough for my hip to be touching ground. This doesn’t actually bother me that much as it is time to get up anyway.

The 630 mile South West Coast Path was a superb walk, no doubt about it. The coastal scenery is superb and only enhanced by the occasional wet days, the misty days and the changing angle of the sun throwing magnificent shadows across their heights. I never bored of them.

I found the remnants of a fishing industry now mostly gone, though a much depressed minor catch persists. The industrial remains of where copper, tin and other minerals have been hewn from the ground were also a fascinating diversion, especially on the Cornish coasts.

Engine house on the south Cornish coast of the South West Coast Path

Its often you will hear the phrase- Go to any country in the World, where there is a hole, look down it, there will be a Cornishman at the bottom hacking away…

They took their mining expertise worldwide, while the landowners and entrepeneurs made their fortunes.

Though very infrequently encountered, I did find the spoil from recent and resurrected mines an eyesore and unsympathetic to the landscape. Yes, my double standards can be breathtaking.

What I possibly wasn’t expecting was the proliferation of art and culture to be experienced on the SWCP. As I left the Coverack YHA, the Warden, sorry, Manager, told me my path would take me ‘through the Sculpture Park’. Shows how much reading ahead Three Points of the Compass does, I hadn’t a clue this existed.

Terence Coventry has placed around thirty of his sculpures in an upper and lower field, free for anyone to see. I happily killed an hour of my time wandering amongst them. Some I liked, others I didn’t. The trail would wait.

At the other end of the scale, another local boy has erected one of his pieces at the end of the harbour at Ilfracombe. This has been in place for a few years now and the stink it created, even prior to installation, passed me by. I quite like Verity, but Damien Hirst’s sculpture has divided local opinion.

Camping was mostly on recognized campsites. I have said before, Three Points of the Compass is a softee who likes a shower at the end of the day if possible, so campsites and hostels were frequently used with the odd wild camp where necessary.

Though I did stay a night in one National Trust place that was dry, cleanish and only partly open to the elements. I obviously left it cleaner than when I arrived and was gone early morning.

I have had a few stand out pieces of gear. While days were warm, the temperature rapidly plummeted in the evening and I found my insulated PHD trousers superb for those few hours between finishing a hike, getting cleaned up, and climbing into my quilt. I have never used these before on other hikes, yet found them invaluable. It is now June, warmer, and I haven’t worn them for a week or so. I will likely send them home soon

Z Packs Duplex has been excellent, quick and simple to erect. Pacer Poles were invaluable, I could not have done the SWCP without them, beside the fact that they are my tentpoles.

My choice of Full Metal Jacket tent pegs (stakes) was poor. The stones found some 5-10 cms below ground on much of this trail meant they would often suddenly lurch sideways when being eased in with a foot. Result- snapped peg. No bending, no warning, knackered. I have now switched them out for MSR mini Groundhogs for the corners, retaining my original two full size Groundhogs for each side of the tent

Cooking system has been good. Look at my Lighterpack link from my Gear page for the detail.

My Darn Tuff socks developed some holes. I have switched them out for similar replacements. I know, but I find them comfortable, if slow to dry.

So that was the end of the South West Coast Path. A grand walk in itself, but it was only the start of my Three Points walk. After a night in the Minehead YHA, I set off to explore a bit of Exmoor en route to a three day R&R with very good friends of mine at Stawley. Mission Control was also able to visit, bringing not only herself, but importantly, new shoes.

This break also afforded time to weigh myself. I had lost more than a stone on the SWCP but attempted to put a bit back on during my break. It may have seemed as though I lived mostly on Cornish Pasties on trail, especially as a lunchtime meal. Not quite…

The part of the Macmillan Way West that I followed was adequate, if inadequatly signed, however the West Deane Way is a superb walk. From there I followed part of the Somerset Way, so obsolete a route that some paths are now impassable. Also, the West Mendip Way, likewise a good route, has a few daft and superfluous turns and some visiting of downhill towns was extracted. I now find I am frequently hiking in a mix of hot (very hot, leaky, soak my baselayers) weather, or torrential thunderstorms.

I am now hiking the Offa’s Dyke Path, which has been superb walking. With the intention of completing this in 12 days. As I post this, on day sixty seven, I am camping at Knighton, the honorary half way point, which it isn’t!

I have no idea when I will post another update, but I do invite any questions, on gear, route, diet, anything, and will do my best to reply to them promptly.

“what’d you think of cardiac hill?”

The farmer shouted the question above the roar of his 4×4 farm vehicle and switched it off but the racket continued. His two Collies, protective of their domain, continued in their protestations as to my presence.

He had no doubt watched me from afar, toiling up a slightly inland slope that had garnered a local reputation. By the time we met, I had regained both composure and breath,- “it was, interesting, it certainly made me… think”. We had a brief chat and just before restarting his Kawasaki and roaring off, he replied “some of these hills do make you think about what you are doing”

The walking on the South West Coast Path is superb. Amongst the best I have ever done. However the terrain, with continued ascents and descents, often rocky paths and that damned mud in the first fortnight means that I cannot manage high mileage days. The most I have done so far on this trail is a tad over 24.5 miles, and that was simply because of a lack of camping opportunity and a ferry to be caught. Daily ascent has varied, the most ascent so far has been 4516 feet on day fourteen.

Most days have been far shorter and I see I am currently averaging around 13 mile days. I am not overly concerned by this as it will pick up once I move inland after the SWCP.

Spring is very much here. Flora has been changing and increasing. Now into Cornwall, Bluebells are prevalent. A bank of Early Purple Orchid was an unexpected joy, Spring Squill is a west coast beauty and Thrift is THE flower of both headland and grass covered stone walling.

I continue to take a few minutes out when I can to both explore what I pass, and to chat to people I meet. That is, after all, one of the primary aims of my adventure. And come on, who isn’t thrilled to come across a skull and crossbones on a 17th C. memorial slab in a church?

My weight hasn’t exactly, ahem, dropped dramatically. But I put that down to a conscious effort to keep the calorific intake up.

The Cornish Pastie was, or should have been, made for hikers. And I am pretty much convinced that the Cream Tea is the perfect lunch time meal- calories, mix of carbs and protein, even some vegetable for vitamins. And I can ask them to refill my water bottle, all essential hydration.

My gear is mostly holding up well with few failures other a hole in the heel of one sock, a tear in the left sleeve of my hiking polo shirt, courtesy of thorn bracketed paths, and a small failure on the seam of a Z-Packs stuff sack that holds my quilt. Easily repaired with a square of cuben repair tape.

My continued use of campsites and hostels, where present, means that I am keeping on top of clothes washing to an acceptable level. Socks and skiddies get at least a daily rinse. If they aren’t dry in the morning, they go on wet.

I have managed one additional wild camp since my last blog. That was purely due to a lack of ‘official’ sites and my need to hit a low tide, early morning, to make one particular ‘wet feet’ crossing of a harbour.

The weather has mostly improved, as has my ‘hill fitness’ and as a result the walking, while not easy, has been mostly superb. I have taken one zero , today, as a result of torrential rain.

This gave opportunity for rest, repair, a decent meal and a bit of exploring. Beside that, I can only report that my First Point of the Compass- Lizard, the most Southerly Point of Mainland Britain, has been passed. Suitably celebrated with a steak and a bottle of wine in the excellent Witch Ball Inn in nearby Lizard village

The first thirteen days- done

I forgot about the mud!

I am still gently easing myself in to my hike. Not a lot of miles pounded this year prior to setting off on this walk, mostly due to work commitments Muscle memory not withstanding, I still felt it prudent to keep an eye on the miles during the first week or two. A pretty gentle internal itinerary was required but the mini ‘Beast from the West’ that dumped a good part of the ocean on the West County not only ensured that spring was going to be a wet one, but also ensured my baptism to the South West Coast Path was not going to be gentle.

For the first week or so, the mud has been horrendous in parts. Dorset mud I recommend to no-one, slippery stuff that takes you down as soon as you lift your eyes from the path to look at the view. I fell once, not heavily, enough to swear inwardly (there was an audience), so no damage done. No accidents please, not this early in to my trail. However Devon mud- OK, if I have to have it, then that red stuff is far more preferable. More glutinous, doesn’t slip so easily beneath your feet.

The path has been fantastic. The views as good as I expected, except on the odd misty day. It has rained on at least three days, but more frequently at night. Don’t we all love being cosy in a tent, from the warm comfort of a quilt, listening to the rain hammering down, and trying to find a reason not to move for just a few more minutes?

I won’t lie, I have finished many of my first days, short as they were, pretty tired. That does not concern me. ‘Hill fitness’ will come with time. My shortest day was 6.85 miles, my longest 18.58. Day thirteen, a fairly short section of 11.48 miles from Brixham to Stoke Fleming has delivered my greatest ascent in one day on trail so far- 3516 feet. But every day has seen steep ascents and descents at some point. That is the nature of a coastal path. My knees, which concerned me prior to setting off, have been holding up. Though my left knee occasionally says hello on some more dramatic steps up.

I have been doing mostly a mixture of official campsites and YHA so far, all providing hot showers for a mud besplattered hiker, I’m a softie you see. I even splashed out on a B&B in Brixham.

I stayed in an International Backpackers Hostel in Torquay (interesting) and have managed one wild camp. I won’t say it was while crossing the Lulworth Ranges, as that would be illegal of course.

I’ll keep you updated on how things progress.