I’ve never been a bucket list kind of person. I don’t have a list of places to go, people to meet, marathons to run. But for as long as I can remember I have wanted to walk the length of the South West Coast Path.
When I was still in full-time employment, for all that I loved my job, there were times when my mind would wander in the occasional dull meeting. When that happened, my thoughts would always drift away from Whitehall to cliffs above the Atlantic, to wind-whipped waves and big skies. When I retire, I used to tell myself, I’ll walk that coastal trail.
In recent years, I’ve had more flexibility over my time, but I haven’t managed to do it yet. At 630 miles, the SW coast path is Britain’s longest national trail. And, while it has its share of hills, it isn’t exactly the Highlands. But it is over 600 miles from Minehead in Somerset, all around the south west peninsula to Poole in Dorset.
I have always had this image of myself setting off with backpack and map and walking the whole thing, like some nomadic hermit. Sleeping rough with the sound of the ocean in my dreams. Appearing bearded in harbourside pubs, with dust on my boots and salt in my hair, for the occasional beer and plate of chips, before shouldering my pack and disappearing again into the gloaming. Dreaming up great ideas as I stroll along with only the wind and the horizon for company.
It’s a nice idea, but I have finally owned up to myself that there is no prospect of going off for seven or eight weeks, abandoning family, friends and responsibility. And in any case, maybe that would get a tiny bit lonely. Instead, I have decided to walk the path in instalments. Starting tomorrow, when I will be (for the first time in my life, and briefly) in Minehead. From there, it is over 60 miles in four and a bit days, to Barnstaple in Devon. Keep the sea on my right, and what could possibly go wrong?
Weather forecast variable, by the way. Watch this space.