Hiking the South West Coast Path: a Covid micro adventure
The Plymouth-to-Falmouth trail is perfect for blowing away lockdown cobwebs
We could all do with a little adventure these days, and sometimes we can find it in our own backyards.
One lesson the pandemic has taught me is that I don’t always have to cross deserts and jungles or scale big peaks to escape from the ordinary.
Why the South West Coast Path?
Looking for a real change of environment within reach of London, I was recommended the South West Coast Path, a long-distance trail that runs from from Poole to Minehead. The full 630 miles wasn’t going to be possible in a week, but a friend and I decided to take on the Plymouth-to-Falmouth leg, 77 miles over four-and-a-half days.
What terrain do you cross?
The landscape is incredible, with miles of lush English countryside on one side and nothing by the sea on the other. There are dozens of amazing little coves that you can walk down to and have your own beach for the day. I have never seen the water so clear in the UK - at times it looked more like the Mediterranean.
The terrain is variable, with flat fields and sandy plains followed unexpectedly by long steep climbs. At times you will be high on a clifftop - with the most spectacular views of the south coast and its rolling countryside - but what goes up has to come down. The descent, arguably the hardest part, can take its toll on your knees and hips, especially with a pack on your back.
What level of fitness and experience do you need?
A good standard level of fitness is required, as you will be walking an average of 15 miles a day over rough and steep ground. I would advise getting some long hikes in before to allow your body to condition to the miles you will be covering. This will help decrease your chances of injury.
The coastal path can be deceiving at times, full of ups and downs. Take your time if you’re struggling - there are plenty of spots to regain your breath - and watch where you place your feet at all times. The ground has lots of loose rock which could lead to a sprained ankle.
However, you don’t need to be a seasoned hill walker to enjoy the coastal path. Navigation is easy as the path follows the sea, although some experience of weekend hikes and camping would be helpful.
Guides can be hired if you don’t feel 100% confident about doing it on your own, but obviously this adds to the price of the trip.
What equipment do you need?
First and foremost a good pair of walking boots are essential. Make sure you give yourself enough time to break them in, ideally at least a month, which will help prevent rubbing and blisters. Waterproofs are also vital, even if wet weather is not forecast - it can strike at any time, especially on the coast. If you are wild camping, a decent tent and sleeping bag will be required - or, if you’re like me, a good basha/fly sheet that you can hang up.
Where can you stay?
Camping is not compulsory: the trek takes you through many little villages and towns with guest houses, pubs and AirBnBs. If you’re feeling more adventurous, you will find excellent camping spots in beach coves and woodlands, where you can pitch up and embrace the wilderness. Just make sure you respect the surroundings and take all your rubbish with you. I did a bit of both, spending most nights in the great British outdoors, but with a night inside halfway through to freshen up - and another at the end as a reward.