Sunday 20th December 2015
Continuing on from the tail-end of Part 1, where I’d stopped for lunch beside the sea in Minehead; I was now ready to my most local stretch of the South West Coast Path for the very first time.
Selworthy, with my parked car, was the ultimate destination. My only other aim from here on was to experience it, without any certainty as to what may or may not lie ahead.
It was impossible to ignore the writing on the floor beneath me. That familiar symbol of a British National Trail, adding excitement as I began to feel as though the steps I was now following were somehow significant. This wasn’t just any old footpath passing through even a coastal town.
A number of people, mostly of an older generation than my own, were seen bimbling up and down along the sea wall. While the cold wind may have deterred others, I have myself always found there is something ‘encouraging‘ about a walk beside a large expanse of water.
Some were just happy to observe and photograph the harbour.
Me? I was delighted to find the public toilets were open, a little further ahead!
They were right beside a pay-and-display car park. From what’s now a vague memory, I recollect a charge of around £7 for an all-day stay of more than six-hours… Which is worth bearing in mind for future adventures along this coast.
A question for men…
Have you every been in a situation where you’ve stopped at a public toilet needing a wee… Whilst wearing gloves, a waterproof coat and a backpack you don’t want to have to remove which also happens to be obscuring your coat pockets?…
Where do you put your gloves?
I should also mention that I was wearing pocket-less waterproof trousers at the time, while I learned that tucking them under your chin is fine until you forget about them as you’ve finished and they’re only going to end up falling in to the waste you have departed with!
Fortunately, more than three-quarters of the single soap dispenser’s casing was absent and so I was able to dip them straight in!
Returning to the true nature of this post…
While you may think of Minehead, as I did, of being a relatively flat landscape that’s easy to amble over; the gradient of the SWCP increases swiftly from the moment you leave the tourist-trap behind and head up in to the woods.
I left the official coast path after emerging from the other end of the trees and took an alternate, sticking closer to the coast and closely bypassing Greenaleigh Point, which is designated as National Trust land on the OS map.
I remember following a drive past one set of buildings with the Welsh flag of St. David riding high within the wind – I wonder whether this statement of pride is visible from Cardiff, across the channel?
Having studied my map in advance of the walk, I was intrigued to discover the remains of Burgundy Chapel with my own eyes.
There was no-one else around and I don’t remember passing another soul between here and the end of the walk. What’s more, the sun had been shining enough since lunch that I decided to finally take off and stow away my coat.
With that, I was also presented with the challenge of now having to ‘escape’ the ruined chapel via the fiendishly steep ascent of Burgundy Chapel Combe. You may’ve also seen this in the video but the very moment I stuffed my coat in to my backpack, it began to rain again! So, I had to climb this steep hill in full waterproofs and with wet mud underfoot… Yet that experience was nothing compared to what would arrive later.
Up on the ridge, I was taunted, once again, by Mother Nature with the re-apparition of blue sky all over. Reacquainting myself with the South West Coast Path, I had a new decision to make:
There’s a chance I’ll be walking the ‘standard’ route past here in a few months time and I certainly hope that is the case because, on this walk – part-inspired by Ruth Livingstone’s quest to walk as close to the coast as is practical – I of course went with the “Rugged Alternative” Coast Path option…
Walking away from the signpost and it was as if I’d fallen in to the heart of Exmoor, six-months earlier, during the annual and highly-challenging Perambulation!
While the landscape was stunning and more akin to something I would expect to see several miles further inland; I could not ignore the definite and gruelling hike that lay ahead of me; leading downhill in an instant before zig-zagging up and over the very next hill.
This was set to continue with a succession of steep hills and narrow valleys. With no ’emergency exit’ paths available for the next four or five miles, I soon found myself feeling exhausted and unprepared. Yet the will to complete this challenge and conquer to the summit of every hill, spurred me on.
There’s a good reason I didn’t come in to close contact with anyone else at this stage in my walk – the fact that it was winter is only a part of that!
Tackling this level of a challenge is the second-half of the walk was one obstacle. With the many pauses required for breathing, taking in the scenery and for recording my experience, I began to realise that time was going to be a serious issue, after all.
It was the eve of the shortest day of 2015. Not wanting to get lost out on a hill or wandering through wet weather in the dark also helped to fuel my endurance through the growing ache of my limbs.
It is sometimes said that the moon appears as a harrowing sight for many – that was certainly reflective of how I felt, as I dipped down in to the girth of the next valley, losing track of the sinking sun.
I was feeling as though I’d lost a lot of time on this walk. One of my objectives had been to visit Hurlstone Point but with the sunlight beginning to diminish and 16.00 looming, I had my concerns. When I saw the path leading down towards the water’s edge, my mind was no longer indecisive. A hurried climb back up this hill was unwanted, come rain or shine, light or dark.
Had I given myself an extra hour in the morning and taken this chance though, I may well have bumped in to and met with a familiar and friendly face. Fate? Coincidence? We’ll never know.
A visit to Hurlstone Bay is one I shall save for another day and, perhaps even, on a shorter walk, if it doesn’t tie in to a future coastal walk through here.
Sticking to a practically higher path, without having climbed steeply to rejoin the SWCP ahead of schedule; I began my circumnavigation of Bossington Hill, from the north face, anti-clockwise. Views over and beyond Porlock Bay were quite stunning at winter’s dusk and in stark contrast to the morning’s wet and windy walk.
Ahead of me, one solitary cow would lead the way…
As I turned the corner to improve my gaze across Porlock, I realised this guy was not alone, as I continued to herd a good half-a-dozen of them around the steep contour.
They soon stepped to one side and gave way to me.
Perhaps a climb to the top of Bossington Hill is also on the cards for a future visit. I do also like the idea of continuing further west along the SWCP – for this stretch between hillsides though, it looks as though the official right of way lies several hundred metres inland from the water’s edge.
I did manage to spot two others making their way along the lowland towards what I assume was Hurlstone Point. I wonder where they set off from? What time they got back and how dark it would have been? Were they better prepared for a winter’s evening walk than I was?
It must’ve been 16.00 by now as the landscape lost a little more of its colour.
I had this conversation with someone no long ago but did we not used to find it would be pitch black around 16.00, perhaps only a decade ago? Maybe I’m remembering things unclearly. But total darkness would not fall for a while yet.
Following the hillside, I reached Lynch Combe, just north of Allerford and this would lead me on to one last steep climb, all the way to the summit of Selworthy Beacon.
Time was ticking as natural light continued to diminish.
I passed a small number of Exmoor Ponies on the way up. Wanting to pause, catch my breath and allow my muscles to heal properly. Wondering whether I should turn back, in case I incorrectly ignored the quickest route to the top. Fighting to finish the walk before nightfall, while also yearning for the warmth and convenience of car headlights, buzzing away from the car park to the south.
Of course, I wasn’t going to concede defeat at the final hurdle and I reached the cairn and trig point at a time when there was no escape the fact I was going to have to complete the final miles of this walk in darkness (honestly, my camera is being incredibly generous with its suggestion of natural light).
There was always going to be time for a selfie, with my camera’s white balance adjusted to its lowest setting.
It was 16.40 and there was barely a mile left. I ran across the land in search of the road. Two cars passed right by me without offering a lift. Keeping my thumb within my glove, I knew I’d need to be prepared.
Without wanting to drain my phone’s battery (or to risk losing it in an unseen puddle), I had only my mini headtorch and a 150mm-long handheld torch (flashlight) to guide me… It wasn’t comforting but it me down to the quiet road I had followed on my outward journey from the car. It was 17.00 by the time my torch discovered the blue shell of my vehicle and I knew, I was almost home and dry, if still somewhat battered by the ‘Rugged’ SWCP.
Everything about heading in to work the next day felt like a physically painful mistake. Yet the memories of this adventure remained strong in my mind. I have also upgraded both of my torches since Christmas, on the off-chance I may get caught in the dark again.
Thank you for reading.
[Image taken from: ordnancesurvey.co.uk]
Total distance walked: 15 miles