After doing some bits of coast path here and there, Jill fancied doing some longer stretches. So we decided to start working our way along it, doing a bit at a time, taking advantage of bank holidays where possible. We also thought that the early season snippets of coast path would be useful training for our longer trips. I had already done the whole SWCP over three trips in 2003/2004, but even so, the walking is of such high quality that it definitely bears repeating. Pictures from the nine separate trips below, that hopefully don't look too similar to the pictures from the previous trips.
We first got going at Easter bank holiday 2006, where a couple of extra days holiday stuck on each end gave us a full five days of walking, which got us all the way to Barnstable. We stayed in a range of campsites, varying from five quid up to fifteen quid, but all with the hot showers. We managed without cooking stuff, and ate in pubs and cafes. Despite being quite early in the year, the weather was good, there was some rain, but most days were largely dry, and there was even some sun at times.
After the first bit, we had the bit between out teeth, and were back again at the end of April, on the next bank holiday weekend, where another three days of walking got us all the way to Hartland. We camped at Westward Ho!, and got a B&B at Clovelly. That put us one sixth of the way through the SWCP, which didn't seem too bad for two (long) weekends work! It also made excellent training for our Pembrokeshire Coast Path trip, which we did a couple of weeks later.
No pictures for this stretch unfortunately, which is a pity as the scenery is excellent. I have a suspicion that we overwrote them with pictures from our Tour of Mont Blanc trip a few weeks later. However the walking itself was good, and five days, clustered around the August bank holiday, got us from Clovelly to Padstow. We even repeated the bit from Clovelly to Hartland that we had done previously, because it was a lot easier to get to Clovelly on the bus. Mostly camping, although we did treat ourselves to a B&B at Port Isaac. Weather was good. It was quite a hilly stretch, with 5000 metres of ascent in the 112km (70 miles) to Padstow, which was rather useful training for the Tour of Mont Blanc a couple of weeks later.
The next stretch had to wait until the following year, but we were back at Padstow for Easter 2007, and six days of walking got us to Zennor. Mostly camping, although we got a B&B at Hayle. The weather turned out to be great, rain free, but not too hot most of the time - perfect for walking.
It was a full two years before we made it back to the SWCP, although we did do quite a few other trips over 2007 and 2008, so we did have a bit of an excuse. But we finally got back down to the South West at the start of April 2009, with six days booked over Easter, which got us from Zennor, on the North coast of cornwall, through to Falmouth on the South coast, passing Lands End and the Lizard enroute. Easter was a bit earlier in the year, and there was a fair bit of rain forecast, so even though it was a bit pricey, we treated ourselves to B&Bs for the whole of this section. The early easter also meant that the Helford ferry wasn't running yet, so we had to walk inland to Gweek, and then the next morning get a bus back out to rejoin the path at the other side. Despite the forecast, the weather was surprisingly good, and even on days with a lot of rain forecast we only got intermittent showers. Falmouth was a good finish point, as it had good connections for getting back there the next time, plus the next ferry from St Mawes hadn't started yet either. It also meant that we had broken the back of the SW coast path, with 333 miles done, and only 297 left.
The stretch from Zennor to Falmouth in April had got us on a roll again, and we booked a whole twelve days of holiday at the start of July. The weather was really hot at first, but then got cooler and wetter, although mainly short showers. Mostly camping apart from B&Bs in Plymouth and Brixham. Campsites weren't too busy. The route included a total of 6 ferry crossings, and one river where we had to wade at low tide.
After the successful trips in 2009, we arranged the next bit for the start of April, with 5 days clustered round the bank holiday. We used mainly B&Bs, booking on the fly, but took camping stuff as a backup, and camped at Charmouth on the final night. There were some rather wet periods, but also a fair bit of sun at times. The Undercliff in particular was very wet and muddy, and we looked a bit of a mess when we rolled into Lyme Regis.
Finally, at the end of April 2011, after five years on the go, we headed off to do the very last stretch! Well that was the plan at least, but we were thwarted by Lulworth Range being unexpectedly closed to walkers on the bank holiday. Rather irritatingly, the official answer-machine was still saying it was open, although the message didn't seem to have made it down to the person responsible for taking the red flags down and opening the gates. In theory we could have walked round on the road, but we were loathe to miss the excellent scenery on the range, and decided to postpone the last bit until a couple of months later. So we reversed the section before Lulworth to get back to Weymouth. On the plus side, we did see a superb adder on the way back, slithering along right beside the path near Durdle Door.
After the unexpected hitch back in April, we were back at the start of July, for the final two days of the whole path. The bus from Weymouth dropped us off at Lulworth, and thankfully this time they had remembered to take the red flags down and unlock the gates at Lulworth Range. We camped at Toms field. The weather was mostly sunny, not too hot, with a cooling breeze, and the path was nice and dry.
All in all highly worthwhile, and from my point of view, just as good as the first time! For the next (and third) time, I am thinking about doing it in the reverse direction, starting at Poole and finishing at Minehead, which I think will give a bit of a different perspective.