Today's walk was only the second time that I've ever done a 'proper' walk on my own, which is strange to think given how much walking I've done over the last six or seven years. I started the day with a mixture of slight nervousness and determination. Pab's tiny, pencilled notes in the official trail guide, written after he'd done the walk for the first time in 2001, contained words like 'very strenuous' and 'erosion', so I was expecting the day to be both tiring and difficult. In the event, it wasn't nearly as bad. In fact, it was even good.
Once I'd left Torquay's seafront behind I was able to appreciate that this is actually quite a quiet stretch of the coast path. I'd arranged to meet Pab at intervals during the walk, but by our first meeting at Meadfoot Beach, looking out to Thatcher Rock, I'd barely seen anyone else. There were moments when this was a slight worry - I have to admit to a slight paranoia about personal safety - but I enjoyed being able to walk at my own pace, to stop to look at the different trees in the woodland on Black Head, and generally occupy myself with my own thoughts. By the time we met again at Oddicombe Beach (the steep slope down to the beach cafe almost finished my knees off) I was thoroughly enjoying the mental self-sufficiency of doing my own pacing and route finding.
Things nearly went awry around Petit Tor, the first serious deviation of the route from both the guide book and the map. Coastal erosion has caused the Coast Path to be re-routed around residential streets; the signage was slightly confusing in places, and I got briefly lost in a deep, grassy dip at St Marychurch. Once beyond this, the waymarking improved although the path itself did become quite twisted and narrow through the wooded Valley of Rocks.
Being alone gave me a different perspective on this section of the walk; in the quiet of the woods I became aware of myself as an intrusion. Leaves piled up around my boots as I picked my way over slippery, stony tracks, and there was a strong, fungal and damp smell of autumn. I took a moment to stand in a clearing to listen to a robin singing in a bush; above me, a jay landed in an oak tree.
My final catch-up with Pab, at Maidencombe, was my last chance to potentially cut the day short. It was tempting; Pab's notes (and recollection of the route) were clear that the hardest part - described in the guidebook as 'tiring' - was yet to come. But I was determined to finish the walk. It wasn't too difficult until just before the end, where the long, steep slog up a field really started to hurt. It was only when I dropped down the other side of the hill that I realised I was almost at the end of the walk, so I was genuinely excited at the prospect of finishing. Pab met me by the road into Shaldon with a Devon takeaway: scone, clotted cream and a tiny pot of jam packed carefully in a paper bag.
Originally walked on 20 February 2001.
All contents copyright © 1999-2012 Paul and Emma Bennett