11-16 May: Starting to explore the South West Coast Path

Author: Mr A

Location: West Bagborough, Minehead and Porlock, Somerset, UK

With the welcome news that as from this week, we were to be encouraged by the UK government to spend as long as we wanted in the outdoors, I widened my search parameters for local walks and rides. So far we have done everything from our front door. Now we could legitimately give Truffy, our little used motorhome, a badly needed run and get that oil moving round the engine and those batteries charged up.

I spotted references to a long distance path I confess to never having heard of before called the South West Coast Path, which fortuitously starts just down the road in Minehead. This path is part of the system of National Trails that criss-cross the UK, and this one happens to be the longest at a foot burning 1,014km (630 miles).

The route follows the old tracks used by lighthouse keepers when they walked between each lighthouse checking for smugglers. Now the walk runs from Somerset, through Devon and Cornwall and round to Poole Harbour in Dorset. Back in 2012 a piece of research was commissioned to estimate how much revenue walkers on the path brought into the local communities – a whopping £412 million (AU$775 million) – the equivalent of around a thousand jobs.

The welcome hum of insects as we start off on the walk
Newly hatched peacock butterfly drying its wings alongside the path

Well, unfortunately in these times of pubs and cafes being closed, we didn’t contribute anything into that pot on our first two jaunts onto the path, and not for the want of hunger or thirst. However, times will change and I’m sure we will going forward into peacetime.

The first walk we did (Strava link) was starting right at the “beach” (no, get that image of sand out of your head and picture rocks and shingle) in Minehead. The track soon had us climbing up onto the cliffs with stunning views over to Wales across the Bristol Channel. I appreciated how, over the length of the walk, someone had calculated that a person would be climbing the equivalent of four times the height of Mount Everest!.

The pebbly beach at the start of the walk by Minehead Harbour – Truffy in the distance on the right
The path starts with a gentle upward slope before getting steeper to take us up onto the cliffs
Sheep and horses graze on the fields behind the beaches, here looking over to Wales
Climbing up and up…
Beautiful rhododendrons flowering along the path
Mrs A checking out the walk book for more information
An Exmoor pony gives us a questioning glance as we pass
The first foxgloves are starting to open
Mr A’s vertigo started to kick in at this point
Looking to the horizon, trying to spot Ireland
The vibrant greens and yellows on the walk

We were mesmerised by the views once again, the coastline here is so rugged, the wildflowers spectacular. However, we both noted the muddy brown colour of the Bristol Channel. A bit of Googling revealed its the turbidity (now there’s a word you have to work into conversation) caused by the fast tidal flows along the River Severn which empties into it, plus the natural geology which makes the riverbed sediment-rich. Not somewhere I will be rushing to get the packrafts out into. We took the “rugged” option right along the cliffs. I was soon at my limit for high exposed walking. As I’ve got older I experience vertigo more frequently, and this was one of those movements. So we returned the way we had come, constantly mesmerised by the changes in the landscape, the variety of flora and fauna. This is a wonderful corner of the world.

Our second walk a few days later (Strava link) started in the small village of Porlock. Childhood home of one of dearest friends in Australia, Richard Dawes. It was wonderful wandering round imagining him as a boy darting down the little alleys. We so miss him and his wife Rosemary, and for a precious moment we felt connected across the miles.

One of Porlock’s many thatched cottages
Little footpaths wind behind the roads
Interesting buildings – look at this chimney!

Porlock is one of those picture postcard perfect Somerset sea side spots that I’m sure have tourists flocking in peacetime. On our visit we (thankfully) had the walks almost to ourselves.

We headed along a woodland path lined with bold robins puffing our their chests as if proudly showing off their habitat.

Looking out across the fields to the Bristol Channel
Yet another lovely woodland path
A robin pauses from hunting insects
He follows us down the path while we walked

We soon emerged down at the beach (again..think lots of rocks), and followed the South West Coast path along the foreshore.

The colourful pebbles
The breakwaters look like interesting sculptures
The murky waters lap on the shingle and pebble beach
Picnic on a bench at the top of the beach
Dry teasels – remnants of last summer
Walking around the freshwater marshland – this whole area has been inundated in the past, causing the trees to die
Freshwater streams criss-cross the marsh
Looking back towards west Porlock
Could be pheasant egg shell remnants?
Hiking across the marshland around the high tide mark
Which way now?

We only crossed paths with one other couple on our walk. When I struck up a conversation with them, they turned out to be good friends with the only other people we had got to know in Somerset! Synchronicity once again telling us that this is a place with a good vibe.

A young robin along one of the lanes – not developed his fear of humans nor his red breast

We gazed out to sea and realised not far over the horizon was Ireland, County Cork in particular. So many places still on the list. Perhaps our experience will be different when we travel in the future, but travel we will. We day dream as we wander of walking holidays exploring further along this National Trail, regularly voted one of the top long distance walks in the world. Perhaps…who knows….one day.

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