When things don’t go to plan and you leave space for the unexpected some wonderful things can appear. I had two weeks roughly mapped out ahead of me to share with a friend when those plans fell through. I was left feeling alone and flailing. As someone who fills my time almost compulsively with work, friends and activities I felt bereft at the idea of this vacuum. And so I decided to to continue on alone and with the help of friends embarked on a small journey to challenge myself.
I grew up with the privilege of plenty of travel abroad. I continued that into early adulthood and have never refused the opportunity to get on a plane - sometimes to escape, sometimes to keep moving and sometimes because I didn’t know what else to do and have felt that moving through exotic spaces colours me in a way that gives me substance.
My own country has been neglected in these constant wanderings. And yet I discovered a perfect solitude in walking a small part of the South West Coast Path this last week, along the 95 mile Jurassic Coast. I discovered a sense of independence and freedom and clearness of mind. I let go of needing things to be perfect or on time.
One rather painful discovery is that rushing leads to injury! As I was trying to complete this alone my hardwired competitive side came out - I had to do it in as fast a time as possible. And after two 16mile days over rough terrain I sustained a knee injury. I hobbled along for a further day, desperate to be able to continue, but in the end had to accept that having reached half way I would need to stop, rest and return at a later date to finish the second half.
The other lesson learned, on the back of the above, is that waiting leads to adventures and discoveries. As I hobbled down into the nearest village to figure out what to do, and waiting for the pub to open so I could tap into their wifi and make a new plan I called out to a passing man to see if there was a local campsite (loathed as I was to return to the awful caravan park I'd passed a mile back) to rest and stay the night. He happened to be the local cider farmer and had a small campsite in his apple orchard. By a river. With an all day cider bar and live music that evening. Perfect! He bundled me into his landrover and I found myself in the most idyllic spot to while away the afternoon and evening (note: the nicer campsites are set back off the trail if you have the energy to walk a mile or so inland). And my neighbour even made me supper and we compared notes about the trail - he told me of his intention to do the full 660 miles next year over 4 months to raise awareness for mental health issues.
I’ve also learnt of the kindness of my friends and the possibility of asking for the things I need. Despite having trekked in some quite extreme places including Patagonia and Nepal I'd never done anything longer than a 2 hour walk on my own. Without my dear friends Rich and Marie to get me started I probably would have ended up staying in London but their support got me going and their tough love kept me walking so that I discovered the joys of walking and being alone.
The walk itself in the end started at Exmouth and I finished at the very quintessentially English village of Abbotsbury, taking in swims in Sidmouth and the bustling Lyme Regis. Most of the route was amazingly quiet with few trekkers. Highlights included the rainforest like undercliffs of the Axmouth to Lyme Regis route and the climb up to Golden Cap at sunset before dropping down into the tiny Seatown for a delicious fish ploughman at The Anchor. Also the unexpected Bredy Farm visit in the apple orchard at Burton Bradstock. When I resume it will be from Abbotsbury and on through Weymouth and finishing the route at Poole.
I travelled with the excellent lightweight MSR Hubba Hubba tent and initially a small trangier but decided to get rid of some weight on the way since there are so many cafes and pubs along the route to eat at I didn't feel it necessary to cook for myself, although this can get pricey. Campsites were frequent and always had space but can be expensive when travelling alone as you are paying per pitch rather than per person usually (£14 - £26 a night). I also took my thermarest, a warm sleeping bag and minimal clothing. A 35l rucksack is fine - I had an Osprey Stratos 36. Next time I might take walking sticks - you look like a pensioner but I think it really protects your body when doing long distances. Carry plenty water. I was lucky the weather was a bit cloudy so not super hot but I was drinking a good 2-3 litres per day. There is a bus (The Jurassic Coaster) that travels along the full length of the coast path so it's really easy to drop your car and then get back to it.