I had already done the first 520 km (333 miles) of the coast path in two chunks (Minehead to Newquay & Newquay to Falmouth) during 2003, which only left a mere 477 km (297 miles), from Falmouth to Poole, to complete the whole thing. I was keen to get moving, and made sure that I had two weeks holiday booked at the end of May. I was definitely sure that I could get as far as Weymouth in that time, and there were good train links to get home from there. But I was also quietly hopeful that with a last minute spurt I could make it all the way to Poole to complete the entire path.
The journey down took some organising, requiring 1 taxi, 2 trains, an overnight stop in Truro, and then another train in the morning to Falmouth. At this point I was still smarting from the 76 pound train fare, but the thought of the good walking ahead soon banished the negative thoughts. It would have been great to visit the Falmouth Maritime museum, but I really needed to get moving, as there were still two ferry trips needed before I could even start walking.
The first ferry went across to St Mawes, with good views back to the front at Falmouth. I was the only person on the much smaller boat from St Mawes to Place, and I touched down and got walking at 11am. The path went through trees, passing St Anthonys church, and through an old graveyard, lots of very old gravestones, and an interesting old coffin carved out of rock. It was sunny, with blue skies, but a freezing cold wind, which was actually perfect for walking.
There were good views back across to Falmouth and the section of coastline beyond, I could still remember it quite well from the trip in September. The path was very easy, rolling through fields thick with foxgloves, bluebells, and other assorted pink flowers. Suddenly I turned a corner and I was in Porthscatho. And good views opened up of Nare Head. I didn't hang about in Porthscatho, but pushed on and quickly reached Nare Head. I found a good sheltered spot, out of the wind, overlooking Kiberick Cove, an excellent venue for an afternoon snooze.
I headed for the YHA at Boswinger, and slightly overshot, and had to walk back up the road, but still reached it in good time, and cooked up some pasta. There was only one other person in the dorm, a chap who was also walking along the coast path, doing the section from Boswinger to Exmouth. We reminisced about all the superb walking on the north coast stretch of the path.
It was a good breakfast in the YHA, and then I headed off to make the pull up to Dodmans point, looking out over small fishing boats off the point, and great views from the top along a long expanse of beach, and a candy striped marker on a headland far in the distance. I got a quick snack from the small shop in Gorran Haven then pushed on to the small harbour at Mevagissey. There were lots of tourists milling around, but it wasn't overly crowded and it was a good chance to sit down and have a pasty and a cold drink. From the harbour, the path climbed out of the village right past the front doors of small cottages.
There was a short inland diversion round a caravan park at Pentewan, and after that the path was hemmed in between a fence and the cliff edge, so quite a few ups and downs, although nothing too strenuous. Nearing Black Head there was a lovely stretch through a short wood, carpeted in bluebells. At Black Head the path passed a granite memorial to the Cornish writer A.L.Rowse, and I took a detour out onto the headland. After this there were a few ups and downs on steps, hemmed in by carpets of bluebells, before popping out beside the beach at Porthpean. Here I bumped in to the chap from the YHA again, and after a sit down we pushed on to the small 18th century stone docks at Charlestown where he had a B&B booked for the night.
After Charlestown the path went past a large hotel, and a golf course, with views down to a long beach where a lot of construction work was going on. In the distance was a factory with chimneys billowing out columns of smoke, and the path eventually reached it, and went through the buildings, coated in white dust, and over a bridge with lots of large pipes below, before heading into Par beside the main road. At this point I was starting to think about where I was going to bivi for the night, but I had a look at Par Sands holiday park, and it turned out to be a lot better than it sounded, the camping was on a nice grassy area separate from the caravans, and there was a big freshwater pond full of swans and other birds, and not bad value at four pounds fifty. After checking in and getting a quick shower, I adjourned to the Ship pub, which was handily located beside the entrance to the holiday park, and then came back and pitched up.
I was woken up by the sun coming through the side of the bivi bag, so was and up and moving very early. Back past the Ship pub, and out towards Gribbin Head. I had though about walking out to bivi there, but I'm glad I didn't because it was longer than it looked. But I eventually reached the huge red and white striped marker tower that I had spotted from back at Dodmans Point the previous day. It was warm and sunny by this time. Then the path rolled through fields of buttercups, to pop out at Readymoney bay. There was a board describing an interesting sounding route called the Saints Way, which shared a short section of the coast path, before heading inland, all the way to Padstow on the North coast of Cornwall.
The path headed along the narrow road to Fowey, past the grand old tall houses overlooking the river. At Fowey I had some time to kill before the next ferry across to Polruan, so I stocked up on food, then adjourned to a cafe for breakfast. Then a quick ferry trip across the river, past some tall sailing ships moored nearby, and up the hill out of Polruan. At the top of the hill there was a flat concrete area and a seat, so I laid out some wet clothes to dry, and sat for a while taking in the views across the Fowey estuary and back to Gribbin head.
After this the well trodden path went through thick bushes, and sometimes grasses and flowers, with good views over the sandy beach at Lantic Bay, and the small boats moored off the beach. At West Combe the path reached a stream with a small waterfall, and I stopped for a while and cooled off my feet in the stream.
The walking was great, but it got even better. There were a few good climbs, on steps, passing a large white obelisk. Then the path picked its way across a steep hillside, covered with thick bushes and plants, often right beside the cliff edge, with nothing between the path and the rocks below. And outstanding views down to the rocks, covered with orange moss, and seaweed in the clear water below. This was absolutely superb walking, some of the best on the coast path so far. After this the path got a bit wider and easier, but still with some precarious positions, before turning a corner and descending to the harbour at Polperro.
I hung aroung in Polperro for a while, firstly in the pub, then in a cafe, but eventually crossed the river, past the house on stilts, and headed uphill out of the village. In Talland Bay a couple of snorkellers were out for an evening swim, as well as a hardy fellow wearing only swimming trunks. I was starting to think about where to pitch up for the night, but just after Talland Bay, beside a huge landmark for ships, was a campsite, only a hundred metres or so above the path. It turned out to be a good spot, nice grassy terraces overlooking the sea, and very quiet, nice calm sunny evening too.
Another early start after being woken up by the sun, I was on the path by 7:30. But the early start paid fantastic dividends, as after only couple of minutes walking I turned a corner to see a cloud of dust and some noise ahead. Looking more closely, it turned out to be four fox cubs having a scuffle. I stood and watched them for a while, before they all darted off in separate directions, one of them ran to the mother fox, and then dashed towards me, getting quite close before it spotted me, and then quickly disappeared into the undergrowth.
At Looe the path went inland a little to use the bridge across the river, and I was hoping for some breakfast, but I couldn't see anything open. The route was right beside the river though, going right through fish landing areas, complete with scales and sizing charts on the wall. There was a great stretch to Seaton, going through grasses and bushes, then into thick forest stretching down to the sea, popping out occasionally onto grass and fern covered hillside. At Seaton beach was a good cafe, so I was able to get a very substantial breakfast.
At Downderry the path had been forced inland on to the road by clifftop housing developments, but after that things picked up and there was a nice stretch to Portwrinkle, the path tightly hemmed in by tall grasses, flowers and bushes, very warm on the climbs. I could see the distinctive headland of Rame Head in the distance. After Portwrinkle the path went through a firing range, and zigzagged up and down a bit before climbing up to the fort. According to the notice, the range was closed for the next two days, so I was lucky to have hit it during an open day, and avoided a long piece of road walking. Even better, just after the fort was an ice cream van so I was able to sit down with a cold drink.
I camped at Whitsand Bay Holiday park, at Tregonhawke, a few kilometres before Rame Head. This was another place that was a lot better than it sounded, it had a camping area completely separate from all the caravans, and in amongst a bunch of tall conifers. There were good views over plymouth too.
From Tregonhawke the path headed across the hillside towards Rame Head, wiggling about to avoid a load of small holiday cabins on the hillside, but it straightened out a bit at the Wiggle hut, then passed an impressive stone fort before reaching the head. There were lovely views back to Rame Head in the early morning sun, and I also came across a bunch of deer hanging around on the path. The track went through woods down to the small village of Kingsand, and I negotiated the narrow streets, passing an old sign on a house that marked the old dividing line between Devon and Cornwall. After Kingsand the route went through Edgcumbe country park, a easy wide and level track through grassy fields and then into woods, with hyperactive squirrels racing around everywhere.
At Cremyll I had a quick snack while I waited for the ferry across the River Tamar to Admiral's Hard at Plymouth. On the Plymouth side the route was helpfully marked by acorns painted on lamposts, although they did seem to peter out every so often. There were other clues to the route too, such as inset marble plaques on the pavement, red metal signs on walls, and strange messages inset in the pavement every so often. Things like "Nightcap...Consider your health", and "Secluded...Sorry to say house caught fire last night. Serious damage". One of my feet was really painful by this time, so I stopped to take a look and found that my little toe looked very bad, the toenail was very sore, and it had a big blister (or more accurately, the whole toe was one huge blister). Very nasty. Soon after passing Sherlock Holmes house there was a small chemist shop, so I invested in a small pair of nail clippers, and stopped at a quiet bench on the waterfront to try and effect some repairs. I trimmed the nail down, and changed to a thinner sock to take some pressure off the toe. It was still a bit sore, but a slight improvement, so I pushed on.
The route went along the waterfront, below the red and white striped lighthouse on the Hoe, then over a small bridge to the National Aquarium, complete with little silver fishes inset in the pavement, and then up a wide concrete path past a huge red and white striped South West Coast Path obelisk, and various other sculptures. After that, the route went through an industrial estate, then crossed a bridge over the river Plym, and followed a poetry wall alongside a busy road. At the end of the poetry wall was a huge supermarket, so I stocked up on food, and also managed to get an extra memory card for my camera.
I though I was almost clear of Plymouth by this time, but there was quite a bit more walking on odd bits of path here and there, residential streets, and seemingly skirting every possible small water inlet. Eventually though I reached the head of Mount Batten Point, which truly marked the end of Plymouth. There were good views back across to the Hoe, the aquarium, and the path with the sculptures, which all seemed surprisingly close given that I had spent most of the afternoon walking the intervening stretch.
I pushed on a bit further to find a decent place to camp, and found an excellent spot near Heybrook Bay. A flat and smooth grassy cliff top, with the rocks and sea only a few metres below, There was a great view back towards Plymouth, and from my bivi bag I sat and watched the sunset over Cawsand Bay, and all the lights coming on in Plymouth. A succession of cormorants flew by at regular intervals, and the occasional duck, skimming low over the water.
From the bivi spot it was very easy walking to Wembury, along a grassy path near to the shoreline. At Wembury the path climbed past an old church, and then headed down to the River Yealm, with superb views looking out towards the river mouth. At the ferry pier I opened the white disk to hail the ferry, then sat in the sun looking out over all the small boats moored in the river, and houses clinging to the wooded hillside. On the other side, the path followed Revelstoke Drive, an easy wide and grassy track, built in the 1880's as a carriage ride for Lord Revelstoke. Looking back along the coast I could still see Rame Head, but eventually I turned a corner, and it disappeared for good.
Revelstoke Drive eventually finished, and I continued through rolling grassy farmland, past an organic dairy farm. I reached the River Erme three and a half hours too early for low tide, but after all the dry weather the river was quite low, and after a couple of experiments I was able to easily wade across, with the water coming to just above my knees. The next bit past Beacon Point had some good ups and downs, and some good cliffs appeared. I was starting to run out of food though, as I hadn't passed any facilities of any sort all day. I was down to the last 200g of bombay mix, and a few dried apricots. And worse, I ran out of water too.
But I soon reached Chalborough Bay, just before Bigbury-on-Sea, and there was a holiday park, with a little shop, so I was able to stock up with food, and adjourn to the pub for a quick meal. After that I backtracked a little to a bivi spot that I had spotted on a hill just before Chalborough Bay. A small grassy ledge, with a few collapsed walls from an old building, and perfectly hidden from the path unless you looked carefully. It only just had enough space for the bivi bag, but turned out to a very comfortable pitch, sheltered from the wind, and a nice soft surface, so I had a very good nights sleep.
After the good nights sleep, I wandered down into Bigbury-on-Sea, and bought some food from the post office. There was a phone box, so I rang the Youth Hostel at Salcombe and booked a bed, good thing I did, because there was only one left. The next bit required a ferry across the River Avon, which ran between 10-11 in the morning, so I had a leisurely breakfast, before walking the couple of km down to Cockleridge. Sixty seconds of vigorous waving seemed to trigger some movement on the other side, and the ferryman appeared, with assorted dogs, raised the flag on the flagpole, and then started across the river in a small boat, with a dog standing at the stern keeping watch.
After the short crossing there was some easy walking, as the route skirted a golf course, with good views of some birds of prey working the steep grassy slopes down to the sea, and a distinctive rock arch in the large bay ahead. At Milton Sands there was a refreshment hut so I was able to have a short sit down with a cold drink.
From Milton Sands, the path went through the pleasant little villages of Outer & Inner Hope, then there was some excellent walking, a grassy track through gorse rounding the headland at Bolt Tail, and superb steep cliffs that got progressively more jagged as I went along towards Bolt Head, culminating in the excellent spiky headland at Sharp Tor. There were quite a few people diving from boats down in Starehole Bay, and little orange surface marker buoys bobbing about.
After turning the corner at Sharp Tor, there was less wild rocky scenery, but very pleasant all the same. The hillside was covered with ferns and a scattering of trees, then into a forest, with impressive large sycamores, oaks, sweet chestnut, lush undergrowth, and smells of wild garlic. There was a short detour up the road to reach the Salcombe Youth Hostel, but it was worth it, set in stunning gardens, with an array of exotic plants, palms, bamboo, and huge trees. Nice to get a hot shower too, after two nights of rough camping.
Despite sharing the dormitory with the loudest snorer in the whole of Devon, I still slept well, and got a good early start. I can't remember much about Salcombe, but I got the ferry across to East Portlemouth and then headed out towards Prawle Point. The path wound its way round various headlands, with great views down to the rocky shoreline, and back across the mouth of the river to the Youth Hostel, and further back to Starehole Bay. It was a sunny morning, and there were lots of blue and orange butterflies flying about.
After turning Prawle Point the character of the path changed suddenly, it got flatter and much closer to the sea, going alongside green fields full of crops which were squeezed in between the sea & old sea cliffs slightly inland. However things got a bit more rocky as I neared Start Point, culminating in the spectacular sharp ridge running down to the Start Point lighthouse. On crossing the ridge, a huge new section of coast suddenly popped into view, and there was easy walking across a fern covered hillside down to the Trout hotel, where I was able to get an excellent late breakfast and a pot of tea. From down below the hotel there were great views of the remains of the old fishing village of Hallsands, small cottages sandwiched on a tiny ledge at the bottom of the cliffs.
From here it was easy walking along past the row of houses at Beesands, and on to Torcross, where I refilled my camelback with water, and I was also able to restock with bombay mix. After Torcross, there was the long lake of Slapton Ley, separated from the sea by a long shingle bar. There was a pleasant path beside the reedbeds, and the signs even warned of adders, but sadly they all seemed to be keeping a low profile.
The next stretch was unpleasant. In fact deeply unpleasant. Maybe one of the worst bits of the whole coast path. The path got diverted inland, and along a busy A-road, with heavy fast moving traffic, blind corners, and no pavement, shoulder, or even verge to speak of. And hemmed in by stone walls on both sides, so you couldn't even jump out of the way. Incredibly bad routing, especially since there didn't even seem to be any particularly good reason why the path had to move inland in the first place.
After the hazardous road section, the rest of the inland diversion wasn't too bad, on some quiet roads with little thatched cottages, footpaths between hedges, eventually popping out at Stoke Fleming, where I adjourned to the superb Green Dragon pub for some food and a swift half. From Stoke Fleming, there was a little bit more walking on the road, but eventually it was a relief when it turned and followed a path back to the coast.
By this stage I was keeping an eye out for somewhere to bivi for the night, and I passed a nice headland at Combe Point, with grassy ledges and great sea views. Unfortunately there was a herd of cows roaming round the headland, and I didn't fancy being woken up in the middle of the night by one of them stumbling over me. There wasn't much else in the way of good spots, but I finally found a fairly secluded spot just near Blackstone Point, a small clearing, slightly off the main path along a track tightly hemmed in by bushes, underneath a large flagpole. Not the most comfortable spot ever, but OK'ish, and as long as nobody decided to raise a flag in the middle of the night then I didn't think I would be disturbed.
I had just got comfortable in my sleeping bag, when I heard some footsteps coming down the track. Then rustling of bushes, and a torch beam appeared. I poked my head out the bivi, half expecting to get moved on, but it actually turned out to be another coast path walker, also looking for a bivi spot! We discussed the walking, while he laid out his bivi bag on the only other flat bit in the clearing and sorted his stuff out. He was actually doing the coast path in the other direction, in weekend sized chunks, and gave me a few useful tips on the following sections.
There were some heavy rain showers during the night, with unusually large and noisy raindrops, although it had stopped by the morning. The other chap had a non-hooped bivi bag, and he said that he could feel the drops hitting him, and even though he was inside the goretex bag, psychologically it had felt like he was getting wet! We packed up our damp gear, wished each other luck, and pushed on in our opposite directions.
In Dartmouth there was a car ferry just about to leave to cross the river, so I rushed over and got on it. At the other side there was some lovely walking, through conifers, on a carpet of pine needles. It started to drizzle though, and then eventually rain properly, so I had to put full waterproofs on. The path popped out at Brownstone Battery, an old World War II gun emplacement (possible poor weather bivi opportunity here, the larger buildings are closed off, but there are a few low concrete bunkers). There were fantastic views back along the coast, all the way back to Start Point (passed the previous morning).
Continuing along, the path wiggled up and down a bit, with some good views down to lots of birds on the guano covered Mew Stone. The rain started to ease off, and some blue sky even appeared. The next bit was very pleasant, across fern covered hillside, quite warm when the sun was out, and some good uphill pulls near Scabbacombe Sands, before reaching Sharkham point, and the busy Berry Head country park.
After all the quiet path walking, the crowded seafront at Brixham came as a bit of a shock, but I pushed on round the promenade, and past a brass band playing popular TV theme tunes. After Brixham there was a long path through woods, nice walking, but my feet were feeling rather tired by this time, and the path just seemed to go on forever. Eventually though it arrived at the shingle beach at Elberry Cove, where I was able to sit down and rest my feet for a while. It was quite a popular little beach, and there was lots of activity in the water, with people jetskiing, waterskiing, racing about on speed boats, and towing people round on giant inflatable sharks.
After a quick snack on the promenade at Broadsands I continued on to Roundham Head. My feet were really sore by this time. I was finding it very heavy going, and the rests were getting longer, and the distances between the rests were getting shorter, but eventually I made it to Paignton Harbour. There was a backpackers hostel in Paignton, but before I managed to find it I came across a reasonably priced B&B quite near the centre of town. All that remained was to nip out and get a takeaway curry, and then I was set for the evening.
After the comfortable night in a proper bed, I got a good early start, and pushed on to Torquay, past the little green parks with palm trees, the huge row of Plane trees along the seafront boulevard, ornate fountains, and on through the paved area round the harbour. It all seemed quite pleasant at 8am in the morning. Then the path turned off the road into a park, winding round the top of a headland, lots of twists and turns, and through the middle of a small turret. There was another pleasant bit round Black Head and Anstey Cove, through trees, with good views of some of the climbing routes on the overhanging walls below.
The path came out of the trees at Oddicombe Beach, and it had started drizzling, but I adjourned to the small beach cafe for some breakfast and a pot of tea. It was a nice spot, sitting under the verandah watching the drizzle, with good views along the impressive red crumbling cliffs ahead. A couple of divers turned up, kitted up and disappeared into the water over the seaweed covered rocks.
There was another lovely forest section to Maidencombe, walking on the vivid red soil path, with tall sycamores towering overhead, and everything covered in ivy and ferns, it all looked a little primeval. It kept some of the rain off too. The path through the forest was completely deserted, but unfortunately the same couldn't be said for the Thatched Tavern pub at Maidencombe. It was jam-packed, and there was an eighty minute wait for food. I made do with a quick drink and a packet of nuts instead, and then got moving again.
The next bit was deserted too, and quite a lot of ups and down, on slippery red mud. Overhanging the path were thick grasses and plants that efficiently deposited their load of water down your legs as you brushed past them, so I needed full waterproofs for this bit. According to the internet it was going to drizzle all night, so I passed up on the campsite at Shaldon, and took the ferry across the river Teign to find a B&B instead. The ferryman seemed remarkably cheerful considering the heavy rain, freezing cold wind, and the choppy sea. Teignmouth didn't seem that well endowed with B&Bs, and I wandered round for what felt like ages, but eventually I found a decent one quite near the railway station. It was great to get a warm shower after being in the rain all afternoon, and I treated myself to the obligatory take out curry.
I had spotted the next bit from the train on the way down to Falmouth, and it had looked quite interesting, so I was looking forward to it. I got a good early start and headed along the sea wall with the railway track just beside me. The drizzle during the night had stopped, and it was dry, although still very cloudy. There were good views of the Parson rock ahead at the steep headland at Holcombe. At Smugglers Lane, the path disappears underneath the railway (at high tide this would be like passing through a sump in a cave) and moves inland for a bit, to bypass the headland. It soon rejoins the sea wall again though at the little station at Dawlish.
Eventually the walking along the sea wall came to an end at Dawlish Warren nature reserve, and continued along the road through Eastdon and Cockwood to the ferry pier at Starcross. I got to Starcross about five minutes late for the ferry across the River Exe, but luckily it was still there, waiting for a late train connection. It was a surprisingly long trip across the river, as the ferry had to do a long circular route to navigate all the sandbanks. On the Exmouth seafront I found an excellent place for a second breakfast, the Harbour View cafe, which did indeed have great views, much further than the harbour in fact. I sat and enjoyed the breakfast, whilst looking back along the red wooded cliffs, as far as Hope's Nose at Torquay (passed the previous morning).
All the sea wall and promenade walking was enjoyable enough, but it was nice to eventually get off the concrete and back onto proper footpath again. But it was short lived, as I soon reached a huge caravan park, although it did have a shop so I was able to get a cold drink. After the park there was a lovely section of path, climbing up to a headland, through bushes and pine trees, and lots of small round pebbles naturally inset in the path, before descending to the pebbly beach at Budleigh Salterton.
After Budleigh Salterton there was a river to cross, and the path went inland for about a kilometre to reach a bridge, before following the river back out again to the coast. It was easy walking, through a nature reserve, walking through reeds, and tall conifers, with lots of bird boxes. Back at the coast, there was some fairly easy rolling terrain along field edges, to reach Ladram Bay, where there were some impressive sea stacks made of crumbly looking red rock.
There was a large wooded peak guarding Sidmouth, and it was a good pull to get over it, but I made it to Sidmouth and adjourned to The Ship for some food. It had turned into a lovely evening, sunshine, and very little wind, so I pushed on a bit further, over a few more good hills, before the path zigzagged all the way down to the pebble beach at Weston Mouth. I pitched up just beside the beach on a tiny bivi bag sized spot of short grass, then lay in my sleeping bag, watching the full moon reflecting over the sea, and listening to the waves raking the pebbles back and forth. What a superb spot!
The idyllic beach camping spot had only one slight disadvantage, it was hidden from the morning sun, so my bivi bag was a bit damp from the morning dew. But I got going nice and early and made the climb back up onto the cliff tops. Then walking along edges of fields, some full of wild grasses and flowers, before reaching Branscombe Mouth. The small shop was open early, so I was able to get a pasty and a drink. Then the route went through thick bushes under Hooker Cliff, sometimes even tunelling through the bushes, with the crumbly white chalk cliff and stacks above, before climbing out onto the corner at Beer Head. There was additional excitement on reaching Beer Head, because suddenly Portland became visible for the first time, still way off in the distance, but nonetheless an excellent sign of progress.
I wandered down to the small village of Beer, there were a load of benches on the small hillside overlooking the bay with the morning sun on them, so I sat down for a little while, and spread out the bivi bag and sleeping bag to dry out. At Seaton the path actually went along the pebble beach for a little while, before joining the promenade. I spotted a small cafe up one of the side roads and had a good breakfast, sitting on a table outside in the sun.
After a short bit through the golf course, the path reached the 'Undercliff', and a notice board warned of an arduous 3½-4 hour walk, with no escape either inland or down to the sea. The walking was fantastic. The path was surprisingly three dimensional, wiggling round, through, and over crevasses, with ivy covered trees towering above, and the ground covered with ivy and ferns, and occasional patches of grasses and nettles in wetter parts. There were occasional views of the cliff face through the trees, sometimes crumbling white chalk, other times completely covered in ivy. And views of crevasses to the side of the path, full of ivy and thorny bushes. As the path neared Lyme Regis, it got a bit easier, but still impressive trees and ferns, and passing through patches of wild garlic, and stagnant looking green pools.
After the Undercliff, Lyme Regis was a bit of a shock, the promenade was very busy, and the beach was completely packed with people. I didn't spend any time there, but headed straight out the other side. The path climbed up the road out of town, then went through fields full of grasses, buttercups, clover, and daisies, with two horses happily munching away. After this the path was diverted inland to avoid some landslips. I was sorely tempted to try the original route and see if it was passable, but restrained myself and instead set off on the diversion, quite a long way round, through the golf course, then along the road down to Charmouth, at least there was a pavement to walk on though.
Charmouth was a pleasant enough village, and there were a few shops, so I was able to stock up with food and refill with water. After this there was a long climb on a quiet road, to reach the top of Stonebarrow Hill. There were good views back to Lyme Regis, and great views looking ahead to Portland. It was a sunny and calm evening, and as the sun set I sat and watched a buzzard slowly gaining height above the cliff, and a kestrel hunting all over the grass and gorse covered hilltop, then found a good bivi spot, only a few metres from the coast path, but nicely hidden by a bunch of gorse bushes.
From Stonebarrow Hill, I headed down through the grass and buttercup covered fields, and quickly dispatched Golden Cap, the highest point on the South Coast at 191m, then a trio of grassy humps to reach Thorncombe Beacon. On the way down I saw a fox skirting the field. West Bay seemed to be the last decent place to stock up for a while, without a detour into Abbotsbury, so I filled up with water and bought a load of dried fruit and stocked up on bombay mix.
After West Bay the hills got progressively smaller, and it was easy but pleasant walking along the tops of the crumbling muddy cliffs, some sections thick with pink flowers. After Burton Beach the route moved away from the sea a bit, on a wide grassy track, passing reed beds. I had a quick drink at the small cafe at West Bexington, then continued along the pebble track, which eventually turned into a quiet narrow road for a couple of kilometers. At the end of the road was an unexpected cafe, so I took advantage of it and sat down for a pot of tea.
From here the route headed inland towards Abbotsbury, initially skirted by wispy tamarisk bushes, before contouring round the hill with the small St Catherines chapel on top. The rest of the inland route was less interesting, it climbed up and followed a ridge for a while which was OK, but then skirted field edges, before coming down a small valley to join West Fleet, the large lagoon that is trapped in by Chesil Beach.
The path followed the edge of the lagoon, alongside field edges. There were a few swans, and a couple of herons, but otherwise it looked a bit lifeless, with lots of green growth in the water. It was very quiet walking though, from passing Abottsbury to turning off for the campsite at East Fleet a few hours later I didn't see a single person. Maybe the lack of access to the beach, and the sea, puts people off. The campsite at East Fleet was only a little way off the path, and very quiet. After two days of rough camping it was great to be able to get a hot shower.
I got an early start and quickly made it to Ferrybridge, passing through the dense gorse of the firing range at Charlestown, and a short inland detour round a fenced off military training area. My feet were hurting a lot, I had blisters on the outside of my heels and on my little toe, which had been there for more than a week, but now for some reason they had suddenly starting hurting a lot more, and I retied the laces a few times to try and reduce the pressure, but without much effect. I started the trek over the causeway to Portland, and stopped for some breakfast at the cafe at the Chesil Beach visitors centre. At this point the top of Portland was obscured by a large dark grey cloud, which didn't look very inviting.
After breakfast I sat down and carefully padded round all the blisters, but when I started walking again it didn't help at all, I was reduced to painfully limping at about 50% of normal pace. The situation was quite critical, I didn't even feel confident that I could make it round Portland and back to Weymouth, never mind the rest of the coast path. The top of Portland was still covered by a grey cloud, which didn't give me a good feeling either. I decided to take a hefty dose of ibuprofen and push on as far as Portland Bill, where at least I could get a bus back to Weymouth if things didn't improve.
There was a quick pull up to the top of Portland past Fortuneswell, and by the time I got up the worst of the clouds had dispersed, and the sun was starting to appear. Then there was some superb walking, along limestone clifftops, huge quarried limestone blocks lying about, and views back along Chesil Beach. The path got grassier, passing a housing estate inland, with more great views of the steep limestone cliffs, and the coastguard lookout on the headland, followed by a gentle downhill to the red and white lighthouse at Portland Bill, and the packed cafe. My feet situation had improved a lot, the bumper dose of ibuprofen had done a great job, and I was back up to about 90% of normal pace. There was almost no pain either, so I was able to relax and enjoy the gorgeous scenery without all the soreness and limping.
After a quick snack at Portland Bill cafe I continued along the tops of the small limestone cliffs, some dramatically undercut by the sea, and with old hand cranes perched on top. After a while the path got more rocky, winding its way round huge blocks, and old mounds of quarry spoil, and covered with pink flowers. By this time the clouds had gone and it was warm and sunny. The bright flowers, and the glare of the sun off all the white blocks gave the place a very tropical feel.
Eventually the path reached the prison, and traversed along the tall outer fence with razor wire on top. The next bit was less interesting, away from the sea, and on a wide track through featureless landscape. But it soon reached the Verne Citadel, and contoured the Verne, before popping out on the outskirts of Fortuneswell. I stocked up with quite a bit of food, as I didn't have think that I would have an opportunity again for a while, and refilled with water, which was going down quite rapidly.
There was the long trek back across the causeway to Ferrybridge, although this time I walked on the grass covered side of the road instead of the pavement. From Ferrybridge the path followed a cyclepath, then some quiet streets through the leafy Weymouth suburbs, then a short stretch of promenade leading to Nothe Fort, and Weymouth quayside. Weymouth was busy, lots of people sitting out in cafes and bars, enjoying the late afternoon sun. I walked along the long promenade, with great views of the chalk cliffs on the coastline ahead, heading for a strange white building gleaming in the sun at Bowleaze Cove.
There wasn't much food choice at Bowleaze Cove, so I succumbed to a tray of chips smothered with tomato sauce. Then pushed on, back on proper footpaths now instead of concrete, over some grassy hills, and past an adventure centre, with lots of excited shouting and shrieking from inside. I wasn't sure where I was going to stop for the night, but I found a a good spot near Osmington Mills, grass covered ledges leading down from the path, and views across to Portland, and back along to Weymouth.
I was just sitting watching the view, thinking about pitching up, when I heard a rustling noise from nearby undergrowth. I looked round, expecting to see a rabbit, and got a suprise when a badgers head popped out, and then the whole badger. Just as I was taking in the excitement, three more badgers appeared behind it. They were completely oblivious to my prescence, and they all snuffled off up the hill through the grass, and vanished into some more undergrowth.
There was only one drawback with the bivi spot, it didn't catch the morning sun, so everything was a bit damp, and the long grass was wet with fresh dew. It was only a short distance to Ringstead Bay, where the cafe was open nice and early so I was able to get a decent breakfast. From there the path climbed up to walk along the chalk cliff tops towards the small row of terraced houses perched by itself at White Nothe. The path went through long grasses, with ears of wheat here and there, and lots of small yellow butterflies flitting about.
Shortly after White Nothe, the path reached an obelisk, which marked the start of some good hills, the next bit to Lulworth was a superb roller coaster of a route, repeatedly dropping into deep hollows, then climbing out again. In some of the troughs were hundreds of black and red spotted moths flying about and landing on the yellow flowers, as well as lots of big daisies, and small blue butterflies. Climbing out of one of the troughs I even spotted a lizard sunbathing on the path. It was very warm and totally windless by this time, and there were excellent views back along the white chalk cliffs gleaming in the sun.
At the dramatic rock arch at Durdle Door there were a lot more people about, and the path got quite busy, climbing the final lump over to the dramatic car park at Lulworth Cove. I knew from bitter experience that there weren't any more facilities after Lulworth until all the way to Swanage without going off route (apart from possibly the ice cream van at Kimmeridge), so I stocked up on food, and filled up with a lot of water, 2 litres in the camelback, and 2 extra half litre bottles just to be on the safe side.
The path disappeared into the trees behind the cafe at the beach, and it was an incredible transformation, after all the crowds at the cove, to be on a completely deserted and quiet path after only 30 seconds of walking. It soon reached the Lulworth Range, where there were fantastic views down to the fossilised forest, then superb climbs out of Mupe Bay, and Arish Mell, with rows of rusting tanks as a backdrop. After Worbarrow, the cliffs changed from chalk to crumbly limestone, then nearer to Kimmeridge to shale & mud. At Kimmeridge I got a drink from the ice cream van, and then sat down for a while, and laid my bivi bag and sleeping bag out in the sun to dry off.
It was late afternoon by this time, and I pushed on out of Kimmeridge, along the mud clifftops in the early evening sun. The path was riddled with deep fissures, which I hoped didn't mean that it was about to drop into the sea. In some places the path was overgrown with thick yellow plants that were taller than me, and I had to push my way through, unable to see where I was going and hoping I wasn't blindly wandering over the cliff edge. After the overgrown bit it got a lot easier, and I bumped into two people with large rucksacs who were just starting out walking the whole South coast in the other direction.
At Chapmans Pool, the route took a detour inland, and I stuck to the bona fide route, rather than the short cut that clambered down the steep slope. Then along the clifftops to St Aldhems head, past a field of lupins, walking through yellow flowered plants, clumps of wheat, and thistles. On the other side of St Aldhems head was some great walking, through thick grasses, right beside the cliff edge. Not far after St Aldhems Head, I found a bivi spot in a quarry, lots of nice flat grassy bays, a couple of climbers round the corner getting an evening route in, and two blokes fishing camped further along. Lots of small quarried caves too, that might present some useful bad weather bivi options. Good spot, apart from the armies of woodlice and ants crawling over everything.
I woke up fairly early, not much sun, so my bivi bag was fairly damp. I climbed out of the quarry back on to the path and then went through the now obligatory routine of patching up my feet with padded plasters, and taking some ibuprofen. The walking was easy, rolling grassy path, with hillside above, and cliffs directly below. Looking back there were good views along the cliffs and quarries, and the terraces on the hillside. It was cloudy, but the sun was occasionally breaking through, and very warm.
After the lighthouse near Durlston Head, the path got a lot easier, it was wide and flat, with good views of birds below. Past a dolphin watching shelter, which had a picture of fin outlines for identifying the members of the 'Durlston Five' and other regulars. The track passed a huge carved globe, then went through trees before popping out on the large grass covered Peveril Point, then down into Swanage for a large breakfast.
I stopped off at the greengrocers for some fruit and bombay mix, then walked along the promenade, and an inland stretch through a private estate. Followed by the very last hill of the whole south west coast path! It climbed up to Ballard Point, and I passed some huge yellow dragonflies. On the top it was easy walking, on grass tracks, and I passed a strange clump of bushes with a ghostly white covering over them, which turned out to be hundreds of caterpillar cocoons. There were excellent views of the chalk stacks at Old Harry Point, and Poole & Bournemouth suddenly came into view as I reached the point.
After Old Harry Point there was a flat wide track to get to Studland, and then a long section along a very busy beach. I went inland for a while, taking in the 'heather walk', with lots of small blue dragonflies, but it was slow going on soft sand, and wiggling about all over the place, so I moved back onto the beach to make some better progress. Through the short naturist section of the beach, with accompanying large signs warning that there was a danger of catching glimpses of naked people. And then all of a sudden, I was at South Haven Point. There was a sign pointing back to Minehead, 630 miles, and I got a passer-by to take a quick snap of me beside it, for posterity, then quickly jumped on the car ferry which was just about to leave to cross over to Sandbanks.
Finally, after three trips, spread over 12 months, and 34½ days of walking, I had made it. I had expected to feel a bit sad that it was all over, but to be honest I think I was just too tired for that. On the way home though I did reflect on the chain of events that had got me this far. From a couple of short walks on the Dorset coast just over a year ago, never even having heard of the South West Coast Path, to spotting the odd signpost for it and wondering, as you do, where it goes. Then buying a guidebook for it, which pretty much committed me to doing it, buying some lightweight camping gear, a few long training walks on the great hills round Lulworth, and then before I knew it I was at the start and heading off on the first chunk.
Overall, its an outstanding trail, with superb scenery, wildlife, geology, historical interest, and incredible variety as it unfolds day by day. I think if you don't do it at least once in your lifetime then you are making a huge mistake. Best of all would be to do the whole thing in one go, and I'm sorely tempted to do the whole thing again in a single push when I get the time (which will probably be when I retire). But even doing just a week a year would work quite well. Or even weekends, like the chap I met at the bivi spot near Dartmouth.
As is customary, here are the walk facts for this last section, from Falmouth to Poole: