We’ve successfully accomplished the first leg of our long journey: We’re done with the Southwest Coast Path. The weather changed again, it was grey and rainy, so we hopped on a bus directly to Minehead, the official start/end point of the trail. After 16 days we feel it’s time for something new. Wales, in our case. But before that, we’re gonna stay a while in Swansea to visit some of Henry’s family and relax our sore muscles.
We had good times and bad times while hiking on the path, went for easy strolls and exhausting climbs. We learned there are a view things not to miss if you want to make the most of your walk:
1) Prepare for every weather
The most important rule for every hiker in this part of England, certainly. The weather is pretty unpredictable around this part of England. Sometimes, we went through four seasons during one day. A day may start damp and cold, with November fogs in the morning, then turn sunny and warm around noon and end with strong storms. Temperatures can also vary a lot. So bring a good rain coat and a waterproof rucksack or a cover.
2) Go camping – when the weather looks good
Yeah, I know it sounds risky, after a warning about the unpredictable weather. And we had bad luck a few times. But when the forecast predicted a few sunny days in a row, it was usually safe to go camping. As long as there was no rain predicted for the mornings, it’s all good. There is no worse way to start a day than having to leave and get packed in the rain. Trust me, I know.
3) Treat yourself every now and then
Hiking the Southwest Coast Path will get tough. There are a lot of steep ascents and descents, hundreds of steps and some difficult climbs. So keep yourself motivated by rewarding yourself every now and then. By sleeping in a cute BnB that’s slightly over your budget instead of going camping once again,for example. Or having an extended teatime break in a comfy old Inn or Pub.
4) See how Doc Martin is doing in Port Isaac – book in advance, if you want to spend the night
The little fishing town of Port Isaac is where the popular British TV series “Doc Martin” is shot. It’s cute, but a little overrun. Nevertheless, if you like the show it’s worth a visit. Even if you don’t like or don’t know it, it’s a lovely town. Just don’t try to make it a stop for the night, unless you’ve booked your accommodation well in advance. There is little chance to find an affordable bed for the night, we were even turned down at the only campsite we found, because it was fully booked…
5) Have an original Cornish Pasty
The only place where you can have original Cornish Pasties is obviously in Cornwall. So while you’re there, try one. They make a good hearty meal, that will keep you going for a whole day. That makes it also a perfect alternative to the traditional “full English” breakfast.
6) Wander on King Arthur’s traces in Tintagel
Tintagel castle is where King Arthur was supposedly born. If he existed. Nobody knows, but the castle’s ruins are beautiful. Not so much for the structure itself, I’ve seen ruins of castles and abbeys that are more imposing. But the setting makes it marvelous. The view from the top of the castle’s ruins are simply magnificent and not to be missed, since it is directly next to the path, you don’t even have to take a detour to see it.
7) Take the bus – and don’t feel guilty about it
“You know, hiking is not about honesty – cheating every now and then is absolutely okay!” So we were reassured by a woman of maybe 60 or so, who we met on the way to Newquay, when we told her about our goal to make it to John O’Groats. She was walking the path in the opposite direction with her husband, both experienced hikers. And since we are not doing this journey to achieve any kind of record or to prove anything to anyone, but to enjoy it and have a good time, there is nothing wrong with taking a bus whenever things are getting too annoying, difficult or exhausting. In summer, many buses link the cities along the coastal path, and their journeys are quite scenic. Like the topless bus from St. Just to St. Ives. Or the bus 300 between Ilfracombe and Minehead,which is even more fun than a rollercoaster ride.
8) Skip lunch and go for Cream Tea
I love English Cream Teas. The slightly sweet scones (only the ones without raisins, of course!), the jam, the heavy clotted cream. Simply delicious. But like the Cornish Pasties, they stuff you up pretty good. So you might want to skip a meal after you went for it.
9) Go exploring – on and off the Path
Hiking is not about getting from your starting point to your destination. It’s about everything in between these points. So take your time to look around. And there is plenty to see on the Southwest Coast Path. Like old mining relics and beautiful little towns and villages. It’s well worth leaving the path and have a closer look.
10) Make up your own Clovelly horror story
Clovelly – a lovely fishing town, owned and beautifully preserved by one generous wealthy family. Turned into a tourist attraction to raise the necessary funds to keep it that unspoiled. A secluded community of families, who have been living there forever, and whenever someone is moving out, someone who has been on a waiting list for a long time gets to be a happy new citizen. It’s a happy place, apparently. But what mysteries might lie behind the fronts of the cute old houses? Has anyone ever wondered why there aren’t any really old folks around on the streets? Do they move away, as soon as they can’t get up the steep cobblestone streets anymore? And where does all that Clovelly Fudge really come from that is sold to the tourists at the visitor centre? And what about the donkeys they keep, not for work, but for rides and picture opportunities for tourists – don’t they have a cunning, strangely knowing look on their faces? There are just so many possibilities for great horror stories in that town!
11) Look around for animals
We met a lot of friendly animals on our way: sheep, cows, ponies, seals, birds, even some (stuffed) apes on a Ministry of Defense property we passed. And we saw an adder lying in the sun. It quickly escaped as soon as we tried to have a closer look. If you encounter one yourself, be careful, they are poisonous after all.
12) Take breaks to enjoy the views
Last but not least: make sure to take enough breaks on the way to enjoy the breathtaking views:
PS (instead of 13): Don’t go alone – have some friends to walk along, every now and again. And make some friends on the way.