I will absolutely class the South West Coast Path as one of my most favourite things I’ve ever done. I’m not saying I loved every footstep, obviously I had bad days, we both did. You can’t have a good day every day for 54 days in a row if you’re an actual human being. But oh my gosh, the eyehole fodder! Every section of coast was different. You’d drag yourself up a particularly violent hill but be rewarded with landscapes you’d cross continents for. Some of our wild camping spots were absolutely spectacular, you’d pay good money to stay there in any other circumstance.
The South Downs Way was an incredible start to the trip, even when we were taking liquid form, slogging up and down hills in heat unbefitting of England in April. Beginning with our local trail meant we broke ourselves in gently with familiar sights and the rolling hills we were used to. I’m not saying it was easy, it bloody wasn’t, but it was so enjoyable.
Offa’s Dyke Path… well, I don’t think I can do it justice as I wasn’t in a good head space. The southern section was pleasant at best and the northern section, whilst it afforded stunning views for miles, it was the same view for literally hours.
I was the one who broached the subject as we trudged through a particularly uninteresting section of the Offa’s Dyke Path. I’d not really been having a good time since Minehead. Perhaps a day or two after Minehead, I don’t really remember. I wanted to chalk it up to anxiety about wild camping now we were off the South West Coast Path where it was so tolerated, or the fact that the trails in Somerset were so overgrown and unenjoyable.
Then I’d gotten ill and that didn’t help my mood. I wanted to jack it in there and then, I sulked in our too-hot room in Weston-super-Mare and researched the best way to get up to Blackpool where my parents live. Tarrant asked me to give it until Offa’s Dyke Path. It’s a National Trail and I do love a named trail. It’d be waymarked and well maintained. We’d stay in hotels until the Path then see how I felt about wild camping. Once we were on the trail, after a couple of nights in rooms, we decided to stick with campsites and that alleviated a lot of anxiety but I still wasn’t really having fun.
I resented every hill I had to walk up. My feet had started to feel like tenderised meat. I found the trail dull and uninspiring. It felt like a chore, I kept trying to think of ways to get out of doing it, it felt like work. Tarrant was, of course, gutted, as was I, it’s not an easy decision to make, but we’d agreed from the start that if it stopped being fun then we’d stop. I feel like I have a limit as to how far I want to walk in one go, and it seemed I’d hit it a couple of hundred miles ago.
Then Tarrant admitted that her ankles had gotten to the point that the pain was almost unbearable. She’d been struggling with them since day four more or less. She was on her third pair of shoes, she’d tried Nurofen Plus, ankle supports, Deep Heat, the works. For Tarrant to actually admit that she needs to see a doctor about something is monumental. By the time we finished Offa’s Dyke she was very much in agreement that finishing in Prestatyn was the best thing for both of us.
So here we are, in Blackpool, planning a cheeky little holiday somewhere nice. Hopefully we’ll return to do the top half someday, whether it’s in one hit or in sections. We’ve both learned a lot about ourselves over the last 90 days. I never would have thought I’d be the kind of hiker reaching for Booking.com at the first sign of rain but there you go. I’ve a better idea of how far I want to walk for it to remain enjoyable, what I want to eat on a longer trail and it turns out it isn’t noodles every night.
I still love hiking, and there’s a place in my heart for wild camping although it’s very much outside of my comfort zone and if my frame of mind isn’t spot on then it has the potential to cause me a lot of anxiety. I just definitely need a break from both right now and do something within my comfort zone. Fortunately, international travel is exactly that.
Eastbourne to Land’s End to Prestatyn, England and Wales