Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Sixty at Sixty - Walking the South West Coastal Path

Two years ago some friends from Cornwall came to stay. It had been many years since we'd last seen them and, eventually, the conversation turned to our latest hobbies and interests. When they learned how much I liked to walk, they suggested I should visit Cornwall and walk the Cornish Coastal Path. It sounded wonderful, the chance to partake in my favorite exercise amidst magnificent scenery and within sight of the ocean. And so the trip became another addition to my ever-expanding bucket list.

Fast forward a year and the idea of the trip was still so appealing that I decided it would be a great way to celebrate my sixtieth birthday. What's more, my daughter, who'd expressed an interest in coming with me, was already going to be in the UK doing a Master's program and had a chunk of time to fill this summer between finishing the course and graduation - another reason to celebrate!

I knew the walk wasn't something you could do in a day or two, but you can imagine my surprise when I discovered the path, officially known as the South West Coastal Path, is actually 630 miles long and the recommended walking time is 7 weeks!  I hadn't realized the path stretches from Somerset to Dorset, encompassing all of the Cornish coastline, a landscape of rugged headlands and rocky coves interspersed with the occasional beach, harbor or small town. While I consider myself fit, realistically I knew I couldn't do such a long walk, not to mention the impracticality of being away from work and home (my husband wasn't going with me) for such an extended period.

My disappointment at my dashed plans was soon quelled when I found a list of suggestions on the Path's website for shorter duration walks. One such walk, in particular, stood out. The five day, 43.6 miles walk from St. Ives to Penzance was not only enticingly listed as "easy, but along rugged paths" but the two towns both have railway stations making them convenient places to start and finish the walk.

The next hurdle was finding accommodation in six small towns/villages on consecutive nights. The website provides some suggestions but we wanted places as close to the path as possible and many turned out to be considerable distances away, potentially adding miles to already long walks.

I'd find suitable rooms for some of the nights only for nothing to be available for the others. But when I searched to see what was available in those places on different dates and tried to rearrange the trip accordingly one or more of the initial rooms would no longer be available on the new dates! I felt like I was playing whack-a-mole - only with room reservations! The task appeared to be an unsolvable puzzle.

At one point it looked like the only option was to pick one place as a base and use the local buses to shuttle back and forth to the appropriate part of the path each day but I was reluctant to do this because it would have changed the whole nature of the trip. As my previous walks had all been one-day excursions, part of my excitement about the trip was the challenge of walking from one stopover to another. Fortunately, given we did have some flexibility with the dates, after many hours of frustration, and reworking our timetable several times, I finally managed to find a mixture of hostels and Bed & Breakfasts to fit our route. I was extremely grateful that it was just six nights accommodation I had to find and not seven weeks worth!

With the travel plans in place, all that remained was to enjoy the anticipation of the walk, make sure I was as fit as possible by our departure date and, most importantly given we were going to be carrying our luggage with us, figure out how to fit everything I needed for the trip in a school-size backpack!

Coming next: Day 1 - the charm of St. Ives.


  1. Mel, you have patience. Enjoy the time with your daughter - how can you not.

    1. Elisabeth, I really enjoy planning these trips - despite the inevitable frustrations. All part of the fun of travel.

  2. Looking forward to the next post!