My final challenge before my #50Challenges – Day 2

TUESDAY 5TH SEPTEMBER 2017

2017-09-05 10.14.14There is a Coastal Path sign directly outside the pub where we have stayed the night, pointing up the hill inland, but we decide to ignore it so we can wander along Lyme Regis sea front; our idea was to be able to explore this resort made famous by literature, rather than ploughing straight through it.

So we spend a bit of time meandering along the front, taking in the famous Cobb, before heading up the steep High Street to buy supplies, then back down again to pick up the path that will take us to tonight’s destination: West Bexington.

Coastal erosion means we start with a significant detour inland to Charmouth; inland inevitably means uphill.  The promised rain arrives, but with persistent humidity we persevere in shirt sleeves, even though everyone we pass is huddled in protective layers.  Allegedly we are back down by the sea within two miles, but we are sure we miss a turning and add on significant extra steps within some woods, because it feels much more like three miles.  But eventually we are back on the undulations of the Coastal Path proper, with the sea to the right of us and – thankfully – dry skies, although the persistent humidity makes the going tougher than it would otherwise be.

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The rise and fall of Cain’s Folly and Broom Cliff give way to the tougher challenge of Golden Cap, with a steep flight of steps for the final ascent; there are probably spectacular views from the top, but the low cloud means we can see nothing.  From the Cap it is a gentle descent down to Seatown, where we have a welcome cup of tea from the surprisingly well-stocked shop of the holiday park before continuing the three miles over Ridge Cliff, Doghouse Hill and Thorncombe Beacon, through Eype Mouth and over West Cliff to West Bay, where we finally stop on the beach for a late lunch (3.30pm).

Today is our longest walk of the week, so we face another 6ish miles once we haul our rucksacks back on.  From West Bay it’s a simple walk along the cliffs, passing in front of Burton Bradstock, before descending down to Burton Beach, which morphs into Hive Beach and then Cogden Beach.  This should be easy, flat walking; some of it is, on grassy footpaths and tarmac trails behind the beaches, but in some areas the storms last year threw shingle across the path, making the going very hard work.  The final mile or so seems like an intense work out, rather than a walk, with muscles being pushed and pulled in unfamiliar directions as we slide on the pea-sized pebbles.

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As we arrive at West Bexington at nearly 7pm, the sun finally breaks through the clouds, shimmering on the grey water.  We face a steep climb up the road to our B&B; not sure what the options are for eating in the village – or, indeed, if there are any – we call the owners of our B&B to say we are going to eat at a beachside cafe and will be arriving late.  They insist instead on driving down the hill to pick us up and transport us straight to their preferred pub for a drink and supper.  It’s service such as we have never had before. Elizabeth and Tony of Sea Fret, West Bexington, go straight to the top of our leader board of best B&B owners.

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My final challenge before my #50Challenges – 93 miles of the South West Coastal Path

MONDAY 4TH SEPTEMBER, 2017

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We didn’t set out to walk the entire South West Coastal Path.  Originally it was a one-off holiday – a chance for two mums to have a break from their families for the first time in more than a decade. My idea was that we would collapse on a beach; Catherine suggested it would be nice to stretch our legs – to do the kind of walking that we hadn’t been able to do since becoming mothers.

Through a process of elimination and narrowing down which bits of the beautiful English countryside we would most like to explore, we decided to walk the second stretch of the South West Coastal Path, from Westward Ho to Rock.  It was only going to be a one-off, but we loved it so much – and felt so energised by our week blowing the cobwebs away – that we resolved to make it an annual event.

The logistics have got easier: the children are older so we no longer have to micromanage for our absences.  The walking has got slightly harder: there are aches and twinges that we didn’t have seven years ago; Catherine is not sure how long her knees will allow her to continue arduous walking, and I am battling with the remains of an ankle injury that has plagued me for 18 months.  But we have done 450 of the 630 miles, and are determined to finish the rest. So this is my final challenge before #50challenges: the penultimate section of the South West Coastal Path – 93 miles in 6.5 days from Seaton in Devon to the end of the path at Poole in Dorset.  Yes – the end of the path.  This should really be the end of the walk for us, but as we started on Week 2 of the eight-week walk, next year we have to go back and finish the first section.  That will be one of my first year’s challenges in my decade of #50Challenges.  But, for now, I am still 49 and counting this as my final warm-up before I launch #50Challenges on the 5 November, the day after my 50th birthday.

At 9.30 we meet at the train station for our annual pilgrimage, stuffed rucksacks on backs. For the first two years we took extra baggage, which we had transported to our next accommodation, but we soon calculated that if we only took what we really needed we could carry everything ourselves. We have it down to a fine art – miniatures of everything, bare essentials only.

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The plan is to arrive at Seaton by 3pm and walk the 7 miles to Lyme Regis, partly because we are trying to cram 7 days’ walking into 6 and partly because neither of us have been to Lyme Regis for years and would like to explore it, rather than simply stomping through it.

It’s a good plan – that is utterly scuppered by GWR. Signalling failures, broken down trains and crews in the wrong places mean both the 11.20 and the 12.20 to Axminster are cancelled. Eventually, we are advised to get the first available train to Basingstoke and hope for a connection to Axminster. We arrive in Axminster two hours later than scheduled, with no bus connection available to Seaton. 10 phone calls to local taxi firms later and we finally get to the start of the walk in Seaton at 5.15pm. It will be dark by 8.30pm and we have 7 miles to walk with sizeable packs on our backs.

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We have learnt over the previous 6 years that – no matter what the terrain of the coastal path – we average 2 miles an hour over the course of a day. Even if we get a good stretch where we can pick the pace up, it will be balanced by an arduous section, so 2 miles is our rule of thumb. We know we have to keep up a good pace if we are to arrive in Lyme Regis before it is dark.

The route is unlike any other section of the path that we have been on so far; apart from a field at the beginning which yields views of sea and sky, we follow a track through lush woodland, full of saturated ferns and twisted tree roots which, together with the recent heavy rains, make the path difficult to negotiate.  There is much slipping and sliding – and one tumble – especially as it becomes increasingly gloomy under the trees in the failing light.

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We are relieved when the track finally opens out and we see Lyme Regis, with its famous Cobb, spreading out below, street lights already dancing on the water under the darkening skies. We weave our way down through public gardens to find The Cobb Arms, our home for the night, in prime location.  We arrive at 8.20; they stop serving food at 8.30. We have made it – just.

To find out more and to get involved, visit 50challenges.org

Copyright – Content and photographs – 50 Challenges Limited