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Simply Anxious Adventures is born…

Hello and welcome to the Simply Anxious Adventures blog page! We’ve had lots of requests to blog about our journey on the South West Coat Path and our musings along the way, and since now is the time to cosy up and hibernate for winter what better opportunity to start!

First things first, where did this idea even come from, I hear you cry?! Well, read on…

After becoming friends through our love of movement, and the nourishment of mind, body and soul (Eve will ALWAYS be grateful to Luisa for introducing her to yoga), we set ourselves a challenge. But, it is a challenge with a difference – no deadlines, no ambitious targets or pushing our bodies to the limits. Hold up, what’s challenging about that?! Well, the more you get to know us, the more you’ll understand why this will be no easy feat! We’re both busy, feisty females juggling rather a lot in our world here in Minehead, West Somerset. So, here lies our challenge…

–          To prioritise time for ourselves

–          To immerse ourselves in nature. Like, fully.

–          To S L O W D O W N and take time to breathe from hectic modern life

–          To see some new sites in our beautiful corner of the world and explore the secrets of the South West Coast Path

–          To share, offload, and gain perspective on some of our thoughts and struggles, and therefore manage our anxiety better

–          To celebrate our strong and beautiful bodies and what they can do

–          To help and inspire others who might be in a similar position!

The list could go on, but that pretty much sums it up for now. We are so excited! So, what can you expect from following our adventures on the Coast Path? Well, ALL OF THE photo spam of course. The beautiful views the coast path has to offer, with some close ups of the beauty we find along the way, happy (or not so happy) selfies and of course our celebratory food and drink at the end! We’ll be reviewing each stage in our own special way for those of you wanting to find out more before you set out on your own journeys, and providing our professional (and often not so professional, sorry in advance about our sometimes colourful language, ahem…) insights into managing your mental and physical health.

The other thing that drew us together? The gift, and burden, of anxiety. Something that we both manage well on the whole, but also really struggle with, and therefore a topic that often comes up when we spend time together. We’ll be writing about the topics that come up in the hope it gets the conversation out there, and helps someone else who might also be suffering. And if it gets more people out on our beautiful Coast Path, then bonus! So, we want to hear from you! What topic would you like to see discuss on our next walk, and penned down into a helpful article format? We’re both fountains of knowledge in our different fields (more on this in another post!) and we love learning, so you can expect self-help and advice based on sound evidence. However, as this is something so close to us, some of our views will be deeply personal as well and may just be a bit of open reflection – perhaps it can encourage you to do the same. Wonderful.  

STAGE 11 | PART 2 | TREBARWITH STRAND to PORT ISAAC | April 2020

Well, starting this stage in early April was very different to starting the last stage at the end of December! Meeting up at the start of Trebarwith Strand brought a childlike excitement (after a leisurely breakfast on the beach due to a mix up with times, SORRY GUYS #moonface) at the thought of getting out there again and seeing each other for the first time in months. Even the rather large hill out of Trebarwith Strand didn’t prove much of a challenge as we were just TOO busy gossiping!

The April day brought a wonderful warmth and hazy sunshine which meant our layers were shed within minutes and arms and legs were soaking it all up. FYI though, the steps are pretty steep. Now nestled in Cornwall, the sea takes on a beautiful, almost milky hue (anyone know why this is?!) which just looks oh so inviting. Head across a field and zigzag downhill into a valley and over some footbridges, and across grass. It was just about warm enough for the gorse flowers to release their lovely aroma – does anyone else agree it smells like artificial coconut, not like real coconut but more like coconut shampoo?!

Here, you go down a valley and inland a bit, and then the path splits – don’t do what we did and accidentally take the wrong path down to Tregardock Beach – although, if you wanted to see it you could of course. Maybe don’t do what we did next, which was try and be careful and literally SCRAMBLE UP A CLIFF ON HANDS AND KNEES trying to cut back onto the path. After some hairy climbs, crawling through brushes and scratched legs, we did a shuffle of shame back past some people working on the path, trying to pretend that was all part of the original plan – oops!

The walking gets a little bit more challenging here, the path gets steep and rocky down to Jacket’s point, you cross a footbridge over a little waterfall (more inviting water! So beautiful!). There are then a lot of steps uphill alongside a big slice out of the cliff. At the top you are taken around the edge of a field, and down into another valley. Uphill again, downhill again, though the slopes are less steep this time. There will be a stream with stepping-stones and then you will get to more gorse, which leads you down into another valley. Up once more and you’ll pass through fields at Bounds Cliff. You then go over a couple of really big granite stiles, before going down yet again into another valley.

Looking back we patted ourselves on the back for all the miles we have covered – it’s such a great feeling to think ‘I’ve walked all that!’ Who cares how long it takes as long as you enjoy the journey right?! You will then cross a footbridge and climb some steps, and you’ll then walk much closer to the cliff at points.

Soon, you’ll spot signs of civilisation, including a beautiful looking house called Silver Spray. We mused at whether we could afford to stay there or not..probably not..boo.. You’ll walk down to the road and on there for a bit, heading down into Port Gaverne. It was mid-afternoon at this point and it was scattered with happy people finding a corner of the earth to relax in, people were friendly. We could feel hope in the air, mingled with the hazy sun. The road goes uphill and you walk along a car park, before going along a tarmac path which very quickly drops into Port Isaac. Head all the way downhill and you will reach the harbour where some toilets were well signposted.

We even managed to top off our day with a drink, and a swim in the sea, before heading home with the sun setting at our backs – sun-kissed, salty-skinned and happy. Spring was truly in the air, and we were already itching to get out on The Path again.

STAGE 11 | PART 1 | BOSCASTLE TO TREBARWITH STRAND | December 2020

For the first time since starting our journey on the path we were more than a little apprehensive. Much to our ego’s disdain, as you may remember lovely readers, the last leg LITERALLY broke us. Not even being dramatic – Eve needed to see a physio and Lu, well she may need us to carry her down really steep hills in the future! Or maybe fashion some sort of cart.

Anyway. We started at Boscastle farm shop, nervously laughing and once we saw each other in the flesh (socially distanced OF COURSE), the joy in seeing each other once again made any fears dissipate. We popped into the farm shop to buy something delicious and pastry-based (highly recommended by the way, scrummy quiche!) and for a last wee and set off. The sky was murky and overcast and pretty chilly but we were in good spirits and set off over easier paths – don’t forget to turn back to see the slightly ominous black cliffs. Not long later (or was it? We were too busy catching up and talking about the horrors of Tinder to notice) suddenly Boscastle Harbour pops into view, where there are a few facilities, and the Witchcraft Museum, where we had to peek through the windows and made a pact to visit when it was open again… then we all felt a bit weird and hot despite the cold air and had to scuttle away.

So now, officially we’re onto stage 11. Cross the bridge out of Boscastle Harbour and make sure you admire the rugged views around you. You then walk across fields and down some slate steps – be careful – slippery when wet! This was the stage where we almost fell over at least 18 times. Eve apparently squeals the most, but styles it out of course. You will cross a couple of footbridges, and then go up over a lovely stone stile. Views. For. Days. You then reach a gate, but the path turns right and again you’ve got some more mighty fine views. You head down into the Rocky Valley and cross another footbridge. Uphill again, and yet more stunning views! This is a good stage to do with some reasonable weather as they really do stretch for miles. You walk downhill, first on a path and then via some steps, to another footbridge. Head up some steps and fairly soon you will see the rather spooky Camelot Castle hotel peeking out of the headland, just beyond a sign for Barras Nose. As you head around the corner you will see the spindly bridge to Tintagel, and head downhill for Castle Cove. Good stop for snacks and toilets, and of course a visit to Tintagel Castle if you wish – it is known for being the birthplace of King Arthur.

Head up the road for a short distance and look out for the path on the right which zigzags uphill. We passed the slightly hopeful looking staff member at the entrance to Tintagel Castle – again, don’t forget to look back at the other side of the castle. The path will take you right as you head towards the church, and you will continue in the open, soon reaching a Youth Hostel. You should be able to see Gull Rock out to sea around the signs for Glebe Cliff. Keep an eye out for some unusual rock formations – like someone has carefully cut out a slice. The hill down takes you into Trebarwith Strand. To our slight dismay, this is where this day had to end – there just wasn’t enough daylight left for us to carry onto Port Isaac. Still, we were happy to have got out at all – especially as a couple of hours after we finished further lockdowns were announced, and that was the end of any resemblance of freedom for a while longer!

Stage 10 | Bude to Boscastle (17.2 hilly miles…now known as ‘the breaking point’!)

Well. Where. To. Start. At the beginning is probably a good plan. What an adventure this day was, and not all of the good kind! The most challenging day yet: physically, we aren’t sure – some of the other stages have been tough, but we’ve always flopped down at the end tired, but happy. But mentally the toughest? Most definitely.

We started the day driving down separately, but both listening to the dance tunes on Radio 1 and raving away for our warm up. There was a chill in the air and wind whispering (maybe warning us?) as we went for one last pre-hike wee in the car park (not in the car park, in the loos there!) at Bude and set off – cue the usual level of faffing we always seem to do at the start of a stage! But once we decided which bridge matched Paddy’s description as the starting point, we found our groove.

The easiest way to work it out is to basically walk out of the car park, away from the beach, up to the main road. Cross that bridge, keep walking past a car park on your left, and turn right at the bridge when you reach the canal. Turn right and head back towards the sea alongside the canal (either side is fine, as we found out), with some cute looking cafes on your right. You’ll need to be on the side with the residential houses to start leaving Bude, there is a little lock where you can cross if need be. There are a few steps up a little lifeboat station, head up those and turn right, and you’ll get to a turning area with Elford Cottage on the right. Head up the stairs there, and turn right again, following a tarmacked path to reach the coast again. The beauty of this stage is that you really don’t lose sight of the sea at all, almost the whole way. Head up a grassy slope, where you will get to the Storm Tower on Compass Point… don’t do what we did and head into the little beach there to look at the strange swiss roll rock and have to scramble up the steep way, no bother for us at that point, but little did we know, we could have really done with that energy later…

Nice grassy slopes here which took us to Upton, past a couple of B and B’s, where we walked parallel to the cliffs and a small road. The ground changes underfoot and gets a bit more rough and ready. Lots of people around here, presumably, like us snatching in some walking time while the weather isn’t too bad and there are still some good hours of daylight. As always, don’t forget to peek back to have a look at the views and say ‘yup, done that!’

Lower Longbeak just before you head into Widemouth Bay has a nice view. The wind was picking up at times, which made for much accidental hair-eating and zip-whipping, and got us talking about more practical things, the best thing to do with longer hair on a big walk, and our preference for clothing… if you saw two women staring at you on this leg, we were probably eyeing up what you were wearing to see if it appealed to us.

Anyway, although the windy was gusty thankfully it was mostly coming from behind us… UNLIKE LATER WHERE IT LITERALLY BLEW RIGHT INTO US…. But more on that to come.

There are options for a bit of a stop at Widemouth bay, and some toilets, but not too much else except a car park for the hardy surfers still braving the weather. Walk up the grassy hill here and cue the first freezing rainy shower of the day… Eve was waaaaay too optimistic looking at the no rain forecast and had opted for a fleece.. never again!

Head downhill again to Black Rock where there is more opportunity for food and drink. Head uphill again, and then down a flight of steps. The first of many steps. And when we say steps, the steps on The Path are a bit of a different ball game, and steps probably isn’t the most accurate term. Some of the depth on the steps here are a good 2 feet deep, as shown on our pictures, which makes for some actual climbing if you’ve not got long legs, and a whole lot of impact when coming downhill!

Head inland a little (don’t worry, not much, as promised) and cross a pretty stream and reach a little road at Wanson. Turn right passing this amazing, exclusive looking house complete with big fences and security cameras (we reckoned a cinema and at least 2 hot tubs hiding somewhere on site) and head uphill passing an outdoor adventure centre. There is a small bit of the path that takes you away from the road, but then joins it again shortly after. You pass a campsite entrance on the left, and continue up the hill to get to a small car park and viewpoint. This little stretch involved ditching layers because the sunshine was so beautifully warm! But, like a f**kboi at the first sign of commitment, it just kept disappearing on us (only to show up again when it gets lonely hey).

When you get to the top of this hill make sure you turn around, as there is a fine-ass view stretching waaaay back. It boggled our tiny minds thinking we had managed to walk all that and more!

Look out for the path leaving the road again for a bit, and then head down into Millook. We had a quick boiled egg and boot adjustment stop here, before heading up out of Millook, up the hill along the road. It was very much quieter by this point and seeing other people was getting less and less frequent.

Now this, dear adventurers, is where it started to get interesting. Our anxious brains were already a little twitchy at getting started as early as possible in order to finish the stage with plenty of light, and because travelling to the start points is getting longer and longer. We were however pleasantly surprised that we managed the first 6 miles in really good time – great, we thought, over a third of the way there, we’ll finish in great time today! Ha. It is a little known fact that there is not only a genuine black hole between Dizzard and Crackinton Haven, where ¾ of a mile took us about an hour (HOW?!) but more of those damn steps made it seem like we were walking up into actual Mordor (off of The Lord of the Rings). See the photos for evidence of the all-seeing eye!!!!

Readers, we weren’t sure what happened over the next few hours but wow, it was an adventure.

The gateway to ‘Mordor’, also known as the road to hell (on this particular day!)

The sole of Luisa’s foot had been complaining a bit due to a welly-clad walk earlier in the week, which, although she stuck some plasters on before it complained too much, we think may have forced her to change her gait to compensate for it, which caused her knee to be extremely unhappy… much exacerbated by descending giant-sized steps and countless ‘thuds’ to make it even angrier.

Eve’s injury for the day was a little bit more embarrassing – her beloved walking trousers were a little bit tighter round the hips and thighs than when she last wore them (100% guilty of too much lockdown baking), which we can only conclude, again, forced her to change her gait slightly, which over soooo many miles made for an extremely unhappy hip. More on that later, but all we can say is we would like to apologise to the owners of the Boscastle Farm shop, if they happened to see us shuffling past like two crippled homeless people in the fading light to cut to the car park and collapse into our ever-patient awaiting lift, Mr S.

Back to our journey, and on the road out of Millook, keep an eye out for the path on the right, which looks very secretive and inviting. The path starts off nice and grassy here and heads uphill, look out for a cute bench which discreetly tells you you are ‘only’ 500 miles from Poole!

Then the path becomes more wooded and you reach a sign for Dizzard. Here. We. Go! The hills were getting more challenging and the weather set in a bit here… You come out of the woods and head up over the fields to a trig point, which we somehow completely missed… too busy focusing on getting to Crackington Haven. We foolishly opted to have lunch when we reached there you see, which was our fatal error. Because the terrain between Millook and there got so much more challenging, the miles took much longer than the previous ones, and even with emergency cookies our fuel reserves got waaaaay too low, starting off the vicious cycle of fatigue, injury and all round grouching.

Cookies to the rescue. Still smiling. A bit.

You cross some stiles, and then the giant steps begin as well. First you go down around 180 – very steep – very scrambly steps, and then up another 130 or so. Head down a narrow hill once more, and get to a little footbridge right by the sea which is Cleave – more freezing rain to spur us on up the next climb of 50 more steep steps. Rinse and repeat! Down 60 more giant steps, over a footbridge, and up another 40. SURELY at the top of this hill Crackington Haven will be waiting for us?! Nope, just a taunting sign telling us it was still 1 and 3/4 miles away, and more of the road to friggin’ Mordor, taking us along a ridge and around to head for Pencannow Point. ‘Are we there yet?!’ we whinge.

Another smugly placed sign ‘Crackington Haven, still a god damn ½ a mile away’… but finally, we could see the beach there and some signs of civilisation. We stop here for a short while, though not quite as long as we would have liked because we were most definitely running short on time. It was around 3pm by the time we got to Crackington Haven, nearly an hour and a half later than we thought we would. Still scratching our heads we brought some fruity fizzy drinks for a bit of a lift and ate our lunches, and a quick wee stop before setting off once more – in more rain. Thanks, Mother Nature. One knee, and one hip definitely telling us they weren’t very happy at all here, but we assured ourselves we didn’t have much to go and would be fine, with slightly pained expressions.

Now here our spirits were lifted slightly! Paddy says ‘the path onwards is reasonably easy’ – we’ll take that! Yay! Nah he literally meant the first tiny bit. COME ON Paddy. We decided whatever Paddy was taking when he wrote the chapter for this stage, we needed some immediately.

This last part was most definitely the most rugged and wild we’ve experienced in quite a while, with view that’ll truly make you contemplate your tiny place in the universe. Anyway, onwards. More steps, more steep and scrambly slopes. You will cross 3 footbridges going round Tremouth Haven. Then, you have a choice here, heading up a recently made zig zag path (MUCH nice than steps, FYI), or head inland to miss out this second. Well of course, stubborn us, we had to do it ‘properly’ – what does that even mean anyway? I’ll tell you what it means, even if it’s a half a mile stretch, our anxious brains can’t cope with feeling like we have ‘missed’ some of the true path, that’s what. So anxious to stomp through this last part in reasonable time we got our hills mixed up and therefore thought we were half a page further than we actually were. Sigh. So, the hills are a bit more gradual here, go down to cross another footbridge and then go up another hill, starting with grassy underfoot before a short section of a more bushy (teehee) slope. Here, you’re climbing the top part of High Cliff (original name, huh?) and then down again. It’s a bit of a challenging climb as the floor underfoot is very holey from rabbits.

DOWN MORE STEPS. By this time, our injuries were most definitely in full ‘ouch’ mode and we were both really starting to hobble. At the start of the day we could thump thump thump down the steps, left right, left right style. By this point? We were like toddlers, picking to lead with one leg followed by the other before trying the next steps. This, of course, made for much slower progress, which meant we were actually starting to lose the light – it is mid-October – another factor to worry about. The app ‘what three words’ and the service ‘coastguard rescue’ were talked about in great depth here, but the reason ‘Eve and Lu are really tired and sore’ is probably not enough of an emergency – well, why not?! *flips hair*.

Next, you climb Rusey cliff. This part was probably what broke us – dogged determined silences featured heavily on the last 4 or so miles. The climb is in stages, but we feared if we stopped, we actually had nothing left to give to start again, so we shuffled ever slower – not helped by quite challenging and changeable terrain underfoot (AND watching the people who overtook us not long ago get further and further away… another topic of great discussion was walking-pole stealing… we would have given them back, honest!!) Keep an eye out for markers indicating the path you need to take – climb a bit more, and then head down into a valley looking back on the cliffs you’ve just conquered. Or, in our case, practically slithered. The walk becomes easier for a short while, where you will be able to see Gull Rock.

Then, you swing around Beeny Cliff – it got awful again, dear readers. Here, the path is very narrow, and at times cut quite deep into the ground. This doesn’t sound like much, but with a knee and a hip getting angrier by the minute (and the rest of our bodies complaining rather a lot as well from all the adjustments and compensating over the past 16 or so miles), having to walk with a narrow stance was quite literally agony. I wonder if Lu heard Eve literally growling, and muttering obscenities at the nothingness in front of her… (no, I didn’t! Drowned out by my own grumbles!) So, 70, very slow, very painful steps downwards, and then you swing round a corner to see yet more steps uphill as well.

Openly begging to spot Boscastle, or any civilisation so we could stop, you swing around again into a valley – this is absolutely stunning, with the full power of the Atlantic crashing into the coast, and deep cracks cut into the almost black rocks. Hallelujah, we spotted a building at the top and after a quick check of Paddy we realized this must be Boscastle Farm Shop – readers, we were desperate, DESPERATE to try and finish and get to Boscastle, but after reading that once you get to the farm shop there is still over a mile to go, we had not only run out of good light so risked ourselves a serious injury – it was gone 6pm by then, we were just done. We couldn’t. Physically, and mentally. We needed to call it a day, or risk tainting our experience just that bit too much.

So, a quick text to Mr S to tell him to go there instead of our original meeting point, and heading down 40 more bloody bas****ing steps, where you can see the waterfall at Pentargon. The final nail in the coffin was another 200 steps up one last hill, swearing and cussing all the way, before crossing a field to come to the back of the farm shop. Wounded in more ways than one, we emerged into the car park to our saviour in the red campervan, who immediately knew things weren’t right, and where we collapsed to finish for the day.

Comfort food, licking our wounds, and wondering what the hell happened that day were most definitely in order.

Eve & Luisa (Simply Anxious Adventures)

~~~

We also thoroughly recommend St Nectan’s Glen near Tintagel for a little recovery stroll the day after this monster of a hike…take your boots and socks off and have a little therapeutic, healing water bathe for your blistered tootsies, like Luisa did! (and a scrumptious piece of homemade cake in their treehouse cafe, after. You’ve definitely earned it).

Stage 9 – Hartland Quay to Bude – 22nd August 2020

For those of you familiar with ‘The Path’, you’ll know this is rumoured to be the toughest stage.

Although not the longest, it is very exposed and can be very gusty, which can make climbing a lot trickier, and it is also peppered with BAH (Big-ass hills). And we mean big. So, this stage is not recommended for beginners! 

We were laden with expectations here, having seen peeks of it from the Facebook group, and having spoken to others (thanks Mum! *eye roll*) and we individually all admitted later in the day that we had each had a small freak-out that morning about it.

Eve writing here – due to some big life changes, and this year being a bit of a funny season for me already, I very nearly cancelled on the morning. I was in a complete funk and my negative thinking patterns and anxious body were doing everything they could to tell me not to go. My advice is, if you ever feel that way – do the thing anyway. Worst case, you call a raincheck, best case, you end up having a great time and stopping all those horrible thoughts and physical symptoms in their tracks. This is why we keep wittering on about walking – when you’re shimmying your way down a slippery track, or scrambling and huffing your way up yet another bloody hill, you have to be mindful – all you can think about is your next step. The weight of the world, the worry, the rumination, just melts away for a while. And the feeling when you reach the top of the hill and look back at what you’ve conquered? That’s free therapy right there. 

Plus, we had a few extra ‘support crew’ for the first mile of this leg, landing bang in the middle of the summer holidays! So we all needed to stay chipper.

Hartland Quay, although incredibly remote, is a very good place to start/finish and has a good car park and toilets. The baseline level of windy might be quite high around here, but it was extra windy today – sea foam coated the vehicles parked up like soap suds in a car wash!

The first climb of the day is right out of the car park, up some wooden steps. Huffing and puffing already (if anyone knows exactly how you can throw weights around, run a gym, horse ride, etc etc, and still get out of breath on a flight of steps please let us know!) Anyway, up onto the clifftop we went – be aware of the wind – a gust actually blew Eve over mid-stride! Lots of ‘lols’.

We get to the first waterfall of the day, and then head inland a little to a lovely grassy stretch across a field, featuring a little baby mountain. We were expecting quite poor weather, so it was a pleasant surprise when the sun came out for most of the day! By the end of our hike there were slightly crispy noses, necks and shoulders… note to self, get some pricey but worth it ‘only apply once’ sun cream, for next year.

We go over a bit of headland, and then head down the hill to another waterfall at Speke’s Mill Mouth – this stage would be a good one to do backwards, to end at the waterfalls, as even minutes into our walk the temptation to jump in and cool-off was strong!

Head inland once again, over a foot bridge. Then, A DECISION MUST BE MADE (preparing all you anxious types here, yes, you have to make a decision, rather than just following the path!) You can either keep left and follow a more gentle path inland through a valley, or turn right and take the rugged path over the cliff and headland – can you guess which one we did?! Well, we thought while we are here, may as well! Again, another really windy bit – and the path is pretty narrow and close to the cliff at times, so do take care.

Head (gently, thankfully) uphill with fields to the left, where you are taken inland a bit and get to a road junction near Sandhole Cliff. Turn right along the road, and keep an eye out for the path on the right, taking you back along the cliffs – as ever, don’t forget to look back as there are some lovely views back across the fields here. Not so much the best view facing forward, as there are satellites making themselves known, but hey, whatever floats your boat.

You head around Nabor Point where there is a picnic table to stop for a break, and you then pass a National Trust sign for ‘South Hole’ (sniggers and goofy picture opportunity here, if you’re anything as childish as us).

Some beautiful scenery here, the gorse was out in its full glory, as was some heather which created the most beautiful purple and yellow patchwork across the hill. Head gently, downhill… ha, well, yes.. it starts gently, and suddenly there are those infamous rollercoaster hills appearing!

Follow a steep zigzag down – more than 150 steps, if you’re interested. We gave up trying to count the number of steps we clambered up and down over the day – if anyone knows, please tell us! Anyway, at the bottom is a really lovely river with some stepping stones across it (when the river is running higher it must be a beautiful sight!) above a waterfall – this is called Welcombe Mouth, which has a little car park – which, despite it being August, wasn’t too busy.

Okay, what goes down must come up! Get up one of the many big hills, and head across a field at the top – we collapsed here for a bit of lunch. Plenty of food and water needed on this leg! 

Another downhill… we read somewhere on the facebook page there are 9 giant hills in total, but tried not to obsess over counting them as we went… and about halfway down is a cute little ‘reading hut’, in memory of the poet Ronald Duncan (and Lu’s favourite new writing spot!)

Continue downhill, and cross a footbridge, where, the landmark we were so excited about was waiting for us – Cornwall! Definitely get some pictures here! What an achievement, already!

Use your joy to spur you up the next hill, it’s a biggie! Head down many steps to cross another footbridge, and up you go again. Along Cornakey Cliff the path is a little less clear, but it’s still fairly easy to find your way. Another down, and another footbridge at Yeol Mouth. Back up, and the slope gets a little less savage (we’ve got the “Classy, Bougie, Ratchet” covered!) and you head over Henna Cliff. The path then gets pretty stony so be extra careful going downhill here – many people do the walks in trainers or trail shoes which is absolutely fine, but if your ankles are prone to rolling or injury we definitely recommend a good pair of boots, with ankle support, to safeguard against this (Stage 3 is similar!)

Cross another footbridge (is it just us that find footbridges really cute and pleasing?! Good thing probably…) Many, many more steps take you up to Vicarage hill, where the path runs alongside fields. You can glimpse signs of civilisation here – although this stage was definitely not the quiestest we’ve known, it was far from the chaos of the stage before. You can see the church at Morwenstow, and, if you need to, can head inland to get food, drink and somewhere to stay, with some (limited) buses to Bude.

Head down another steep hill, and pass a sign for Tidna Shute (yup, we’re in Cornwall! What a name!) before crossing a footbridge and going up, up, up to Higher Sharpnose Point – easy to see why it’s called that looking at the scenery!

You’ll pass a cabin and it gets a bit grassier again. DON’T GET COMPLACENT THOUGH – 10 points for guessing what’s next! Yup, head downhill again via some steep zigzags to a footbridge which overlooks a little beach called Stanbury Mouth. Up again, steeply (I think we were deep into our standard 2 hour in-depth pudding discussion by this point, happens every stage.. it’s probably us just going to our happy place!) Anyway, we reach another weird radar field. A bit eerie really… mostly because the fields surrounding them were so alarmingly well-mown. Pondering if we’d stumbled across some top secret government base, we get to a little strip of tarmac and head right, and someone actually RAN past us at this point! We smiled and said hello and exchanged horrified looks as soon as he passed us – it’s tough enough walking!!

Here you’re heading towards Lower Sharpnose Point, but ‘The Path’ doesn’t quite take you there, instead taking you in left. You’ll get to Duckpool, which has a car park and toilets (sadly closed when we arrived, much to our dismay – we don’t mind wild wees, but always nice to have a bit of luxury!) It was getting a little busier here – judging by the attire of many people around us, we’re starting to get to popular surfing spots. 

Okay guys, not far now… I’m getting tired again just writing this! Head uphill again, and downhill, again… over a footbridge, then, up, AGAIN… aaaand down. Here, you get to Sandy Mouth. This was a busy little place! Car park full, people everywhere and the café and toilets busy busy busy. Looks like another choice surfing spot, even at about 5pm we saw lots of people out on the water.

ANOTHER uphill, although this time considerably less steep. Head along the grassy terrain, passing a few campsites. Actually, this is a fairly loose term, more like a field with some campers and tents scattered hazardously around – but it looked like everyone was having a fabulous time!

Almost there! Another steep downhill took us to Northcott Mouth which has a stony beach and some quirky cottages. Head inland a bit, this is where we got caught in a brief shower – thankfully it was really short-lived, after a day of being spoiled by lovely weather it was not welcomed. But, the end was in sight! We could see the golden shores of Bude beckoning!

Follow the grassy stretches, and cross the edge of Crooklets beach, over the final footbridge of the day to reach some cute beach huts.

Finish this stage wherever your tired feet and hungry belly take you – plenty of choices of lovely places to eat along the beach, or head along a tarmac path to head towards Middle and Summerleaze Beach to reach a carpark, where you can head inland into the town of Bude, where there are plenty of other places as well. We highly recommend a feast – that evening was particularly full of indulgences, thanks to some wonderfully hospitable friends who have a house nearby.

All we can say is it was lucky we hadn’t scheduled to walk further the next day… hic! 

Stage 8: Clovelly to Hartland Quay

After the chaos Mama Earth just keeps throwing at us, we were chomping at the bit to get going! Arriving in two separate cars to try and keep safe and minimize risks, we set off from Clovelly. This section warns us that it starts off easy but quickly gets hillier. Bring it on we said! Oddly, one of the most remote sections so far was also, BY FAR, the busiest. We were dodging people all day – they were everywhere! Naturally, being us, we grumbled about it a lot – like, how dare people choose the same section of path as us?! But actually, it was lovely to see so many people enjoying the Coast Path and all it has to offer. We did almost feel like shaking a collection pot at them… it’s well known that many thousands of people enjoy the path each year, but very little donate back to help with it’s upkeep, which is vitally important, especially when Mama Earth throws her extreme weather curveballs!

Alice finds a friend!

There was a bit of confusion leaving Clovelly as the path is not clearly signposted. If you’re parking in the car park you head back onto the road, and head down to a junction where you can finally find a comforting acorn, signpsting the path through a black gate. Keep right along a grassy track, and then enter some woodland and pass a basic shelter. The path heads out of the woods for a bit before heading back into the woods and getting to a much more boujee shelter – called ‘Angels Wings’, a prettily restored memorial.

The landscape changes and becomes more striking and hilly. There are a few junctions and options here, but it’s fairly clear to stick to the path – generally keep right (keep the sea on the right too and you can’t go far wrong…!)

Zigzag down, and you reach Mouth Mill. This has a pretty little beach you could stop at, but we pressed on, crossing a wooden footbridge and then heading inland a little (oh no, going away from the sea!) before heading right (phew) up through the woodland, leading out into a field, passing a sign for Brownsham. Keep to the edge of the fields and then zigzag down some steps into another wooded valley, crossing another footbridge.

You guessed it, back uphill again! Phew, think of the butts we’re going to have after all these hills (famous last words after the amount of incline coming up on the next stage!). Up through some woods, and then easy going alongside some more fields. You cross another valley and footbridge, and climb up some steps to more fields, complete with stiles and gates along the imposing Exmansworthy Cliff. You pass a trig point – great chance for some photos here – and then walk through more fields above Gawlish Cliff. There are some amazing views here, don’t forget to turn around and have a look! We’re great fans of doing that because it’s so amazing to see all that coastline behind us that we can proudly say we’ve already explored!

What comes into view next is a very strange object. We pondered over what it could be for some time and after checking trusty ‘Paddy’ (our nickname for our favourite guide, find it here), found out it’s name wasn’t a ‘niblet’, which is what we thought it looked like(!), but a ‘radome’ (an appropriate close word for what it looks like… ahem… when you’ve seen it you’ll understand what we mean!) it actually being a radar tower.

Keep going through fields, and then turn around the cliffs about Shipload Bay. The path climbs above this bay, and past the radome. You then get to a small car park – which was rammed full with people, and had a cute little shed café with some refreshments, complete with a nice Coast Path sign urging us to keep walking – so, we did!

The terrain changes again, becoming much more rugged and rocky. There’s a little track heading down towards a lighthouse, but the path heads away from the gates, taking you to an old coastguard lookout. Make sure to stop here for a little look around and some photos (windswept look will be guaranteed here!) as there are some beautiful views. You can even see the little lighthouse peeking out from the cliffs, as well as a memorial to a shipwreck on the beach.

Head across Upright Cliff, and then head into a valley. There’s a footbridge and you pass a mobile home – what a place to live! Head up the steps out of a valley, and then, you guessed it, down into another valley. There’s some really wild landscape here – great for pictures!

Final part – climb many, many, many steps up a short, but savage hill, and then drop into yet another valley, crossing a stone bridge. When you head upwards again make sure to turn around to see the lovely waterfall. A few more ups and downs (think of the booty, think of the booty…) then you head inland a bit to pass a house, and over another stone bridge which takes you past the Abbey River. Come back round towards the coast and cross a big field, where you will see an old folly – for those with good cameras this is a great photo opportunity as it frames Stoke Church when the angle is right. We passed a quirky cottage to join a little lane. This cottage had great floor to ceiling windows on the first floor and has an enviable view – perfect for a morning coffee or evening glass of wine.

Head either down the road or the track parallel to it, and then you drop down to Hartland Quay, feeling like you’re at the edge of the earth, finally reaching Hartland Quay Hotel where there are a couple of car parks, much-needed toilets and a cosy place for our end-of-leg-usual – any version of fried protein and carbs, and a yummy pint.

Scampi in a basket! And a pint…heaven…

The staff were very accommodating in the hotel bar – we rarely book ahead anywhere at the end of the leg because we’re never sure what time we will arrive. They had reasonable social distancing measures in place, a great portion of food at a good price, and even let us use their landline to call our lift (warning – no phone signal or wi-fi at all down there, so bear in mind when planning!) Some fabulous views and really striking parts of the earth meeting the sea – we collapsed, crusty from the windy salty air, but oh so happy, and headed for home.

Stage 7: Westward Ho! to Clovelly

Wow, well what a year 2020 has been so far. For a long few months only solo walks, sending each other slightly sad pictures and lots of facetimes was the extent of our contact. Not only were we missing the path, we were missing each other! Let’s keep this chapter focused mostly on walking, but look out for future blogs reflecting on the lockdown (you can also read more of Luisa’s personal blog about navigating life after the pandemic, http://luisaskinner.co.uk/blog called ‘A Year to Heal’ and even join her accompanying online community study group, free, on facebook:https://www.facebook.com/groups/575919536442036 )

This stage was planned at fairly short notice, simply because we weren’t sure when it was legally – or morally – okay to get out again! We drove to the wonderful Seafield Car Park separately (still free!), with Luisa’s hero husband and wildlings in tow, who had a day of fun, sea pool swimming, and exploring planned, before collecting us at Clovelly (with masks, of course!). From what we have gathered, this particular stage is trickier to coordinate transport wise, with very few buses, although at the time of walking we were keen to avoid public transport. Pre-COVID, we had been really looking forward to this stage, keen to leave the flat, built-up stretches behind us, with promise of the horizon once again stretching temptingly out of sight and far around the corner.

So, off we went, off out of the car park and along the old railway trackbeds, which takes us along Abbotsham cliff. We made this stage in record time – the predicted was 6 hours, and we made it in about 4 and a half, but that might be because we had SO much to catch up on! Lots of venting, analysing, musing and digesting meant good strides were made. We were also a little nervous to be around people again, so keen to leave the busier, more built up areas of the path behind – although Eve has been working as normal, this has been mostly from home, and after Luisa worked from home for a little while, she was then furloughed. So, both of us have been tucked away, using the opportunity to channel our introvert vibes.

Ahead were gentle, open, ups and downs, along open fields with the beautiful blue ocean ahead, seeing the endpoint of Clovelly nestled in the distance and Hartland point waiting for us too. There are lots of opportunities for beach stops here, though the beaches are pebbled. Make sure to turn around to look back on the rolling hills, and back at the point of Saunton.

Walk past some gorse bushes, and over a stile, down a hill onto Babbacombe Mouth – another great place for a beach stop! It had got a lot quieter by this point, so we had a quick wee stop by clambering (separately!) up the little valley to a convenient hidden corner.

Then a litre or so lighter(!) we headed back up again, leaving the beach up some wooden steps – many, many wooden steps. It gets a little more foresty here, and eventually you get to the top and can see over to a lovely wooden building. Climb down a little, over some ever so slightly wobbly duckboards – definite Jumanji vibes here, and after this year so far we scuttled through as fast as possible without touching so much as a leaf! Once you get down a bit more, we could see this was another opportunity for a beach stop, though this one also looked popular with fisherman – who stared at us like we were aliens from another planet *eye roll*.

There was a brief break at the little building at Peppercombe (great location near a beach for sit downs and picnics!) to change into better socks, and have a snack – cue a rather impressive hummus explosion.. maybe Luisa thought the scent would attract some interesting wildlife?! Then back up a hill, up 40 steps… though we swear we counted 41, but may have been a bit delirious from the muggy heat of the day, and the joy of being out again.

This little stretch definitely had Mediterranean vibes, and actually reminded us a lot of the first part of the Porlock Weir to Lynton stretch – one of the good things about the COVID19 pandemic (yes, we must try and see some good) is that many of us Brits have fallen back in love with holidaying in the UK, and have been getting out on more walks, and taking the opportunity to explore our home turf. More uphill, then we entered a forest, which was a welcome break from the heat. We popped out and walked through some fields, with a small emergency stop when Luisa felt some ticks trying to wriggle their way into her socks – YUCK. Back into the woods and we headed downhill again, into the tiny village of Buck’s Mills. Straight back uphill behind some little houses, and worrying a bit that we had ended up in someone’s back garden. 50 more steps. More sweat. The path winds its way in and out of the woods, until we dropped down and crossed a little foot bridge.

After a few more steps, the path begins to get much wider and more track-like, and, fuelled by home-made oat and raisin cookies we carried on, starting to see a few more people. We passed the large stone memorial bench which reads ‘The new portion of road measuring 833 yards was added to the Hobby by Frederik and Christine Hamlyn in the year of Our Lord God 1901’. The track goes slowly downhill, with a couple of benches to stop at where you can see the harbour peeking out. The track goes over a couple of streams and comes around to the top end of Clovelly. Sadly, nothing was yet open in the village so we did not join the cobbles and head down the hill, but went left instead for one final bit of hill to go and find out lift. Sadly, all the shops in Clovelly car park were also shut. So, this stage was the first where we didn’t manage to explore the local businesses and find somewhere to eat. We had good packed lunches and tasty snacks (of course!) but it didn’t feel quite the same.

The muggy weather meant we both had to be careful not to guzzle all our water too quickly, but we were pleasantly surprised at our levels of fitness, given the enforced few months off. Back into the wilds, and as ever, hungry for more! Without reading too far ahead (mustn’t forget to stay in the moment!) we’ve heard the next couple of stages are some of the most challenging. But hey, if we can get through a global pandemic, we can manage a few more hills… can’t we?

We also talked about some great ideas for future blogs, based on things we seemed to notice even more on the path today. At times walking past your stereotypical walkers, white, older men (sorry fellas but it’s true) and being looked at with mixed responses – some stared a bit, others gave us slightly strange looks as if to say, is it just the two of you? Others avoided eye contact completely, even when we said hello. Perhaps we were just unlucky with who we came across today, but it got us thinking – why don’t we see more younger women on the path?

This, dear followers, is where it is over to you!

Women under 50, we want to hear from you! We’ve been so pleased to inspire so many of you to start your own journeys on the path, or even just dipping a toe into walking, but we want to know – what stops you from heading out there? What barriers are there? What worries you? We’ll be trying out an official survey soon, but in the meantime, please get in touch! 

x Eve & Luisa

Stage 6 part 2 | Instow to Westward Ho

All week we had been exchanging weather related messages, anxious (obviously!) that our plans would have to be postponed by storm Ciara. However, the day before we were due to go, the forecast shifted and the day looked reasonable… though we did later admit we would have probably pushed our luck even if it didn’t! #desperate

For this leg we drove down, with the aim of parking at Westward Ho! and getting the number 21 bus back to our starting point at Instow. Our research about where to park led us to find the BEST car park ever – Seafield Car Park. This has been leased by Rob Braddick of Braddicks Leisure, and given to the public to use for free! HOORAH!

The BEST car park so far! Thanks Rob Braddick!
And a far cry from the very worst of Sandhills at Instow…where last leg we got a £60 penalty, even though we bought a ticket for 1 hour and stayed for only 36 mins! (making our finishing pub lunch very expensive)

This was an infinitely better start than the end of our last leg, where we (now with deep regret) parked at Sandhills car park in Instow, where we experienced poor signage, massive potholes and on our return home horrible threatening letters with a hefty fine, all because we didn’t pay for our stay quickly enough! Some research after discovered many people experiencing similar situations sadly and there are even a very helpful Facebook group which you can seek advice from, should you be unreasonably stung too.

So, parked up at Westward Ho!, hopped on the bus, hopped off again (after a horrifying moment where we thought we had missed our stop) and gave the finger to that awful Sandhills car park before setting off. We didn’t get far at all before being drawn into the deli, John’s of Instow, to grab a quick cuppa for the journey… where we drooled at the delicious and mahooosive cakes and pastries before forcing ourselves to leave. Definitely worth stopping off in there to pick up a locally made treat and a coffee!

Headed along the beach in Instow, the weather was glorious. Cold, crisp and sunny – just perfect. Already hungry from the wonders of the deli, we discussed walking snacks. We haven’t been in a position yet where our walks have been far enough away to require a packed lunch, so we pack snacks to keep us going before rewarding ourselves with a meal at the end. This means we pack bits to keep us going in the meantime – fruit, our staple malt loaf, and cereal bars. All yummy and reasonably healthy, but still fairly high in sugar. We talked about more savoury snacks for the journey, and we often bring nuts too, though they can be a little dry to munch while walking. Well, Luisa had a great idea, though sadly not many points for presentation… boiled eggs with lots of black pepper, stashed in a sports bottle to keep them for being squashed… see pictures for a laugh! Still, a brilliant idea for a more savoury snack to give you wholesome fuel. Definitely doing that next time! If anyone has any good healthy snack suggestions or recommendations, we’d love to hear from you!

Paddy described this stage as ‘well signposted but fiddly’. He wasn’t wrong. We headed up to a railway crossing where a small station has been preserved, and headed off to the right to follow the path, dodging cyclists as we went, as this is also the Tarka Trail. The path is then sat between the estuary and the road on the old railway track. Walking away from the coast again (no! we need the wilds! Thankfully this was fairly short-lived) we walk under the busy Torridge bridge enjoying the sunshine, and arrive at East-the-Water, and cross the bridge to arrive in Bideford. It looks like this provides lots of options to stop off for drinks, food or accommodation, so those travelling further might want to adjust their stage planning to end up here. Walking alongside the quays in Bideford is lovely, and we stop to re-lace boots and feel the warmth on our faces, before walking past a boat that has been made into a bar/restaurant! Very tempted to stop there to have a nose, but we pressed on to ensure we would arrive before we started losing the light.

Now walking back in the direction we came, just on the other side of the estuary. The path takes us away slightly and to some quiet houses on the edge of the town. Back under the Torridge Bridge again, before the feel of the day changed, we had to ditch coats and jackets because it felt so warm, and the bamboo littered around the lovely houses gave it a feel of somewhere much further south than where we actually were (shout out to the guy cleaning his car listening to old school Rhianna living his best life!). The terrain changed again, to an actual path – yay! Mud! Which was narrow and windy and took us past an intriguing houseboat, though it was clear the occupant wanted to be left well alone so we didn’t hang around too long! We then reach Burrough Farm, closely hugging the shore before being taken inland a bit more, where we cross a road, a little bit more muddy path before being put back onto the road again. We pass around the edge of a big shipbuilding shed, and head into the village of Appledore, which is another lovely place with lots of places to admire and explore.

A lovely welcome sign and a quirky house brings us to turn right onto the quayside to walk. When you reach the car park on the right keep hugging the shore closely, where you then get taken to the ‘old part’ of the village. We walked through the quaintly-named and brightly-coloured houses, almost feeling like everything was in hibernation at this time of year because it suddenly got so quite compared to the main part of the village.

A chill in the air forced us to sadly put our layers back on to stay warm. You pass the little lifeboat station, to follow a path and then a road, which turns off right and took us to Northam Burrows Country park. We were really glad the path didn’t leave this bit out as we were keen to explore the change in terrain, but wow the wind and chill picked up – that part is exposed for sure, but it also could have been the arrival of the unsettled, stormy weather. You walk along the grassy verge by the track, and once you get to the end of the car park head off right to hug the edge of the land, which takes you around and along the edge of a golf course.. luckily no flying balls this time!

Walking into the wind along the little sand dunes gave us a free face exfoliation and probably more than our recommended dose of eating sand, and we then stomped along the rocks by the beach before cutting in to to join the track.

At the end of the track your re-join the road, turn right and it brings you into Westward Ho. Over the last hour the weather has really changed, gone was the lovely still air and the warm sunshine, replaced by clouds, a chill, and an angry sea with the swell and choppy waves getting bigger by the minute.

We sough shelter in the local chippy, Atlantic Bay. Good choice it was too! A lovely friendly girl served us and we defrosted under the warm solar lamps, devouring our fried food and planning what we want our little project to develop into this year. We were tempted by a sweet shop serving giant ice creams, but it was just a little bit too chilly. We headed back in the direction of the car, stopping off for a signature Korev & Lime shandy at the Pier House to admire the angry sea from the warmth and safety of the building. Just as we were losing the light, we scuttled the little distance back to the car and had a peek at what was waiting for us at the next stage, before heading home to cosy up before the storm hit!

Overall by the day, really glad we went on the Saturday and not the Sunday, but pleasantly surprised! This stage again is very flat, but much more varied than the first half. We really enjoyed the ever changing terrain and got a little bit of everything (except the hills of course!). Definitely one of the easiest stages to plan transport wise, with the free car park and regular buses, even in the winter months.

This leg was also a bit of road-testing for some new trousers Eve had got, by Acai activewear. For those of you that know Eve, style is very much as important as comfort, and her mid-weight, splash-proof trousers were fabulously comfy, snug without being too tight or needing to be hoiked up every few minutes… The real test will be when we start doing some hills on the next stage, but for now, definitely recommended! We both agreed these are nice enough to be every-day trousers/jeggings too.

The next stages become considerably more wild again, as well as much more challenging. As ever, slightly anxious, but bring it on we say! 

x Eve & Luisa

Stage 6 Part I | Braunton to Instow | 27th December 2019

Itching for post-Christmas movement (mostly wanting to walk off the kilos of cheese consumed…) we set off, starting from Braunton. Grey and drizzly but reasonable. Because of hectic work/holiday schedules there was a lot to catch up on… Apparently that speeds us up because we zoomed out of Braunton, passing the RAF Search and Rescue base on our right, and past RMB Chivenor, having to double-check Strava as we walked about 8 miles in an hour and a half! 

We emerged onto the estuary of the River Taw, where we saw lots of Canadian Geese. We then passed an industrial estate on our left, where opted to cross the Taw bridge, rather than continuing on for a bit longer and crossing the Yeo Bridge – this takes off about a mile, but we figured as it was getting more urban we wouldn’t miss too much. We trekked over the busy bridge (realising once we had crossed the bridge the path was closed, whoops!) and down the other side, heading back towards the sea down the other side of the estuary. It was at this point we decided this particular leg would be much better suited to a summer’s day – where you can enjoy the sunshine and not have to worry about the need for any incline to make you smugly hot and sweaty. 

Today, it was beautiful, but in a very still, eerie sort of way. We both longed for the wilds and the hills, and the sea. There is something very grounding about being right on the crashing coast. We walked along, passing a strange graffitied shelter and reached Fremington station, where we had a civilised wee and gazed briefly at the cakes before setting off again. Again, another stop which would be lovely in the summer sunshine!

We crossed a little bridge, and then another long stretch on the trackbed. Finally, the path was signposted away from pesky tarmac and onto softer ground! Lots of tarmac walking can be a bit hard on the knees, especially in heavy walking boots. However we had both made wise choices with our boots and we were still feeling comfy. Then things got muddier. A lot muddier! Cue another of Luisa’s famous stumbles… Sadly she was holding a half-eaten malt loaf which ended up squelched into the mud. Eve, like a true friend, laughed a lot and took a few pictures. A quick ‘out in the wild’ handwash (rubbing hands on hopefully non-peed on grass) and we tottered on. 

At this point we could definitely smell sea air, and the wind had picked up a little – we were getting back to the coast, hoorah! We passed a building site and spooky old pier and boat graveyard, and rounded the corner across a few little dunes before arriving in Instow. This is the point where we decided to split stage 6 in half – this stage actually goes all the way to Westward Ho! which makes it the longest stage so far at 23.5 miles. Paddy estimated it taking 9 hours. As we were walking just after the Winter Solstice, with short days and little sun-light we opted to split this stage in half. However, the rate we were walking (13.5 miles in 3.5 hours!) we think could have done it in about 7 hours! It’s amazing the amount of difference the incline makes to our timing! We wondered if Paddy’s book takes into account the incline, or if the estimate is just based on a general walking time, as our actual scores have been quite variable compared to the guide, depending on how challenging the terrain is.

We stopped off at the first sign of coffee – The Instow Arms. It was a great choice! We took ourselves upstairs and snuggled into the corner of the sheltered terrace, complete with lovely lights and huge soft blankets to keep warm! Two coffees and two delicious fish finger sandwiches which we hoovered up before realizing we forgot to take a picture. We felt… restless! Hungry for more (not food!), longing for more miles, barely feeling like we had been out before we had to finish. Get us back out to finish Stage 6 ASAP!

Christmas and other December lunacy…

CHRISTMAS. December lunacy, Christmas shopping, endless raffles, play dates, work commitments, fairs, Christmas jumper days, social gatherings, Christmas parties, family visits, present wrapping, you get the picture.

Overwhelmed?

Yeah, us too… We’ve been pretty quiet on here recently as we’ve both been well and truly swept up in the Christmas whirlwind. But here are the facts.

Christmas.

Is.

Hard.

Full of expectations and ‘shoulds’. For many of us, it is an incredibly difficult time of year, fraught with unachievable expectations for ourselves and tough memories. It is really important to try and find some little ways to cope with this, and to find some peace and positive in amongst the chaos, if you can. So, if you are reading this, here is your gentle but firm suggestion that you make a cuppa, and give yourself a few minutes to read on.

Okay, first things first. This is something we will probably witter on about in many of our blog posts, but not only is it something fundamental to quiet down that stress response, it is something we do already, perhaps just not as nourishingly as we could. Let’s check in. How’s your posture? Slouched, stooped? Where are those shoulders, up round your ears? How about your jaw? A little tight? Brow a little furrowed, with a touch of a headache up by your temple? The likelihood is we all have one or more of those symptoms at any time. So, relax that jaw, drop those shoulders and sit up straight and proud.

Let’s start think about how to move our body from the stress response, to the relaxation response. The way we do that? Simple, yet effective! B R E A T H E. Proper breathing counteracts all the physical effects from that adrenaline circling around our poor tired bodies. A good technique to try is breathe in through our nose for a slow count of three, pause, and then breathe gently out through our mouth for the count of 5. This helps to show our body we aren’t in danger and get rid of that pesky CO2 that causes other uncomfortable symptoms as well. Your body will do it’s best to keep trying to protect you – the part of the brain responsible for adrenaline learns by association, not logic. This means, it will take practice. Thankfully, breathing well is something you can practice pretty often!

Feeling overwhelmed and anxious and like you have so many things to do you don’t even know where to start? Or are you just feeling totally swept up in the hurricane of your thoughts and don’t know how to stop that washing machine worry or rumination? Try this. In your mind (or out-loud!) make a note of 5 things you can see. Then, 4 things you can touch. 3 things you can hear. 2 things you can smell. Finally, one thing you can taste. This is a simple, yet very effective grounding exercise. See how the tasks get harder? It gently forces you to bring yourself back to the present moment, giving your thoughts and body a much-needed pause.

Next tip? Carve out some time for yourself. No matter how big or small. Just make it meaningful to you – getting your butt to an exercise class and being told what to do for an hour, meeting a friend for a coffee and a gossip, or just a 10-minute walk. It is SO easy in life to be taken in by the inside out approach – meaning we very often let the things we do be dictated by how we feel. If we aren’t feeling very good and our motivation is low, this won’t be much.

So, instead, try the outside-in approach. Doing things according to our values. Really plan out the things we want to do, the more detailed the better. This helps us to plan and prioritise, and means we will be much more likely to get things done. Although it is oh so tempting to ditch the gym session (or whatever) at the end of a long day at work, force yourself to go, because chances are – you will feel better for doing it. Motivation only comes from the feedback you get once you have done something, it doesn’t just appear before that – if it still feels a little too much, just start off small. Though just to throw a little spanner in the works, be aware that there might be things you need to step back from. I guess it’s about recognising the thoughts that lie behind those difficulties – is there a specific reason you aren’t feeling that Christmas party, or is it just that ‘can’t be bothered’ vibe?

Be proud of your achievements and how you are coping with the Christmas period, no matter how that looks. Give yourself some time and space to process difficult emotions, reflect on hard times, and remember absent loved ones. Look through some photos, chat about memories with someone you feel safe with. Be kind to others. They may be having a rough time too, just dealing with it in their own unique way.

Final tip? Well, getting out on a bracing walk of course! Sure, its cold and most probably wet and windy, and obviously we want you to stay safe, but half the fun of getting back from a walk is getting yourselves warm and dry. Getting out there and feeling the elements helps us to feel alive and invigorated!

Let.

Go.

Of.

Expectations.

Great aunt Mildred who wants to come and stay and eat you out of house and home and comment on your choice of curtains – politely but firmly say no. Spending too much money on gifts that you end up rushing around and getting just for the sake of it? Trade them for experiences instead, write a little voucher treating your loved one to a lunch or activity. Don’t fancy staying too long at the extended family gathering? Get yourself home and snuggled up instead.

From Eve and Luisa, go peacefully this Christmas.

Stage 5, Woolacombe to Braunton, 23rd of November 2019

Bussing it…

Stage 5, Woolacombe to Braunton, 23rd of November:

Well, this blog is a lot longer than the previous stages! Mainly because it was done with memory still fresh. The idea of a bit of storytelling after each leg didn’t happen right away. For this stage, it seems the journey was more eventful than the walk!

Our beautiful horticultural guru Alice and her hairy baby Finn sadly had to pull out at the last minute due to germs, which meant a last-minute change of plans for transport. Thankfully, even in the winter months the North Devon bus service seems to be more plentiful than Somerset, so we planned to drive to our end point in Braunton, and get the bus back to Woolacome and walk from there.

The forecast didn’t look great… actually, that’s an understatement it looked pretty darn terrible… with some warnings in place for rain. But, we set off nonetheless, quite early to get the first bus and get enough sunlight to last us the leg.

Then, and this is NOT and exaggeration, a brush with death before we even got there! Driving down Countisbury hill enroute, chatting away, and a fully-grown stag jumps out from nowhere. All within the blink of an eye he bursts into view on the passenger side, coming so close to both of us we could see the whites of his eyes, and his enormous set of antlers out of the passenger window, literally inches away from Luisa. Somehow Eve manages to ignore her instinct to either swerve the car (which would have meant a trip down the sheer edge of Countisbury!) or brake hard (which would have meant the stag would surely have joined us on the front!) and kept a steady speed down the hill. By some miracle the stag managed to put his brakes on for long enough not to hit the car as we drove past – Eve saw him stumble into the road and off down the side of the hill right behind us, Luisa had her eyes firmly shut at this point! Only the two of us will truly understand how close he was. How he didn’t hit us, we will never know. We have to pull over to recover from the enormous rush of adrenaline we both had. Sips of peppermint tea and sugary mints, but we probably would have guzzled something stronger!

Once we vaguely recovered, we continued our journey, only to descend into Lynmouth to see a whole host of emergency service vehicle and personnel gathered in the main car park… had something awful happened nearby?! Luckily, judging by their chilled demeanour and cups of tea we figured they were on a training exercise. Were these signs telling us perhaps today wasn’t the day to go? Maybe – but instead, we chose it as a sign that we were lucky to be alive and well enough to head on a day’s walk. The power of perspective.

Onward to North Devon, and down the valley to Braunton (driving past not one but two evident crash sites – eek!). Feeling a little hyper and delirious we parked up in the very reasonably-priced car park (though it did take us a while to work out how much it cost despite it price being right in front of us! Adrenaline to thank for that one, it affects concentration and decision-making) and headed for the bus stop in the drizzle. We managed to get on and off the bus with no mishaps, and a last wee stop in a real toilet in Woolacombe before setting off.. though to be honest a hedge might be preferable to the toilets there ;0) Very grateful though!

We felt optimistic starting off here, in our trusty Paddy guide it says this is the easiest leg yet, and indeed the ascent was the smallest yet. In the rain, we headed off up Marine Drive, noticing how sad and empty Woolacombe looked – not even the hardcore surfers were out yet, but maybe the tide wasn’t quite right. We were supposed to stay between the beach and the road for the first part of this section, but within minutes we were scratching our heads wondering if we had gone wrong. Clambered up a bit of hill to find we were heading for a different path, so we backtracked a little and rounded into the scrubby dunes. Paddy said turn right, then left, but not right, don’t do this, or go here… didn’t take us long to go wrong again, where we stumbled upon a little café called The Porthole, which looked cute but was by the road so we knew we had strayed off the path… back down the hill again, trying to be clever and take a short-cut which ended up looking far too dodgy, and given we had pushed our luck already today we had to go back up the hill to come back down again – after a week of Kettles, Core Fit and Zumba our legs were already not thanking us!

Back on the path we headed… wait, why are there cows? A little circle of cows on the sand having breakfast, who didn’t seem at all bothered by us! Once we got out of the dunes there was a handy sign telling us about the benefits of the cows to the environment! But wait we said, does that mean they can go hang out on the beach? Head up to Woolacombe if they wanted?! Lucky cows!

Past Puttsborugh Sands, also looking a bit sad and empty at this time of year. Back on the road for a short bit and then the path takes us into a field. A very big, wet, muddy field. Turns out we went astray again, walking across the field instead of round the outside. It has been raining quite hard for a while now and we are both getting quite soggy – so is Paddy! Sorry Paddy! We both have a discussion about going shopping for a ‘book raincoat’. How middle aged, we muse. Still, needs change as we get older!!

Going slightly off-piste for the third time of the day, getting confused between Paddy’s instruction of turning right, and following the classic Coast Path Acorn (which we maintain sent us left?!!) meant we slightly went around Baggy Point. A bit of a shame as even in the rainy gloom the views would have been stunning.

Down we came into Croyde, past some lovely looking houses and cafes, and more empty campsites. Past some more yucky toilets and we’re onto the beach itself. We pick our way across the beach and do our first ‘live’ video! Check it out on facebook, and please do your best to ignore the fact that it seems to have a ‘still’ of Eve showing the wet rain patches on her trouser legs, but instead looks like she’s attempting some sort of crotch grabbing hip hop dance.. *facepalm*. Because there had been so much rain there was an actual river to cross, which made for jumping, laughing and squealing our way over. Phew, dry feet and no ‘you’ve been framed’ moments!! Up we went out of Croyde, and followed the path through a kissing gate.

It was then the atmosphere changed a bit. No, no arguments about the best brand of cereal bar here. Just a weird change in the energy which we both felt. Black rocks, angry sea, and a moody sky with a brilliantly bright patch of light on our horizon (check out the pics above, hard to demo on our phones but it was incredible).

We approached a weird looking building – what is it? Did the army use it? An old disused lighthouse? Once we got close enough to see more we could see mostly done brand new windows. Then it clicked, this was the house featured on tv’s Grand Designs that went spectacularly wrong. It sounds cruel but we could sort of see why, it was a bit of an eye sore, which also had a rather odd, but quite quaint looking shed next to it – was this where the owner now has to live?! Very sad project.

Anyway, back to the path. A random left turn along the road for a few paces before crossing and joining the path again to tromp through sticky mud, before Saunton Sands came into view. We drop down right into the road by the Saunton Sands Hotel. Now this place is definitely on our list!! We hope to stay here for a night or two and get some more done in the New Year! At this point there are two options for the path, one that avoids the road, but was in the wrong direction and headed back to that weird spooky section, so it was a no-brainer to turn right and cross the road to go round the outside of the hotel and through a car park. Heading up the road, and back onto a path passing a couple of tiny houses. This felt a bit odd as we were heading directly away from the sea at this point and we both assumed we would be walking along the length of Saunton sands.

Back on a busy road (thankfully not too busy!) and heading off right just past a golf club. Ah, great, more danger. Not only was there a sign warning us about a bull in the first field, but we also had to look out for flying golf balls! Some more lucky escapes there, with one thudding alarmingly close behind us.. the thing with lots of sand dunes means us and the golfers were often hidden from each until the last minute. Oops!

Now, the atmosphere was to turn a bit more eerie again, when we arrived at the edge of the military testing area. Bangs in the distance were pretty much the only sound we heard for a while, so strangely quiet… it seemed like it took an age to cover less than a mile! Time really can stand still in certain places.

Then we walked along Braunton Burrows, emerging on a road called ‘American Road’. We decided it was called this because it was very long, very straight, with no civilization in sight – isn’t that what all the American roads are like in the horror films?!

We reach the edge of the military area and go through a little car park, where according to Paddy at this point we would leave the road and start the last bit inland. Big red signs told us not to do this due to bad flooding, and to stick to the road for our final bit. Well, after the mishaps of the day we were going to do as we were told, and good thing we did too! The flooding was crazy. Eventually the path and the road joined again and looking back, well, we couldn’t even see the path because it was just under water!

The book said to look out for the White House… so is that somewhere called the White House, or a white house?! Well, we came right up to a white house so figured this must be it. There were a couple of lovely old stiles to get over – we’ll be honest we both resembled some sort of invertebrate trying to get over them. It’s amazing how the surface you are walking on makes a difference and the road had finished off our stiff hips and sore quads. We walk past some lovely looking boats, including one with a cat flap(!) and finally join the road again. Waddling up to the roundabout where stage 5 officially finishes and the next stage heads right to Westward Ho!, tiredness meant a quick Google map search to find the quickest way into the village centre. (FYI, head up to the superstore and there is a path you can follow which goes along a little river and brings you out by the medical centre. Not far at all.)

FOOD. WE NEED FOOD. While waiting for the bus we had our eye on somewhere called SQ. We were kind of worried we were a bit too bedraggled looking to go in there, but we took a chance and thankfully didn’t get asked to leave. We were glad with did, it had a lovely relaxed atmosphere, friendly table service and a warming coffee each before guzzling a scrummy sandwich, washed down with lager lime shandies. Delish! Homeward bound took a little longer than planned, after deciding to avoid Countisbury hill we had to navigate through very thick fog for much of the way home. It made for a much quieter journey home, feeling a bit weary and Eve having to concentrate on seeing the white lines and cats eyes! But still, home safe and straight into the bath for us both (not together, it’s not that kind of blog we’re afraid!)


This day was also where the idea for our next blog was born – we’ll be talking more about the fight/flight/freeze response and how this relates to anxiety. Created from our close brush with deathly circumstances!

Keep an eye out, and watch this space for the next adventure!

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