Hiking England at 79

Active & Adventurous - The Aging Adventurer

Emily Kimball on England SW Coastal TrailThe Aging Adventurer Reports on Her SW Coastal Hike in England

Part I

The South West Coast Path begins in Minehead  Harbor, England south of Bristol, and is celebrated by  a sculpture of huge hands holding a map.  We look like midgets standing in front of it, as a bystander snaps our picture.  Portlock Weir is our intended destination 9.5 miles down the path; our book tells us there are many B&B's there. We decide not to make reservations ahead of time––deciding  to be more spontaneous and see where we end up. There are some limitations  to this policy as one has to end up where there actually are accommodations.  We carry our belongings in our 20-pound backpacks––but no tent, pad or sleeping bags.  

SW Coastal TrailThe start of the trail is paved, but it soon turns into dirt and gravel. On our right is the Bristol Channel Sea, where in good light we can see Wales in the distance. Waves lap the dark black rocks and pound against  the cliffs which shoot straight down to water's edge. Between us and the sea are fields of purple heather and yellow gorse, and long stretches of rust-colored ferns spotted with splashes of green. In the other direction long-horned sheep graze in square patches of fenced in green. As we hike the trail we climb over gates that separate one field from another.

Soon we are offered the opportunity to take an alternative route called "The Rugged Coastal Path." It goes closer to the sea; the main path veers inland. The guidebook tells us, "It is a splendid alternative and not difficult and will give you much better views than the official Coast Path."  In three miles it rejoins the main path. We're game. We choose this hike because it follows the sea so closely. We expect it to be rugged and have lots of long ups and downs.

We struggle up long hills on narrow paths to reach high cliffs; then plunge down into deep valleys. The motion of the waves pounding  the cliffs and crashing over the dark protruding rocks is mesmerizing. 

SW Coastal Trail The surf covers the rocks completely––then retreats in swirls of foam only to return again and again. Salty smells from the sea permeate our nostrils as we walk along the cliffs. It is a rugged path but it is well worth the added effort. We struggle into our heavy coats to ford off the strong wind on the cliffs.  Later, in the valleys, we return to shirt sleeves.  Eventually we reconnect with the main Coastal Path.


We are too tired to go all the way to Porlock Weir, so stop a mile short of it at Bossinger. The only restaurant in town has just closed. The B&B we find is pricey but serves supper. It is truly a gourmet experience––amazing chicken breast streaked with leeks and mashed potatoes along with a plateful of vegetables, a mushroom hors d'oeuvres  and a baked meringue dessert filled with clotted cream and topped with fresh, juicy raspberries.  The total cost for overnight, breakfast and supper is $83!  As we leave in the morning I know that the memory of this gourmet B&B will follow us on our trip, but will not be repeated.

DSCN0820As we struggle on towards Porlock Weir  for a possible 13-mile day we are dragging a little from yesterday's vigorous trek. We stop at Culbone and see 12th century St. Beuno's Church, a must-see according to the tourist bureau. The path leading to it is all up hill. It is a sweet small church with walls built of rubble; the sanctuary has room for 33 people. The font, where shepherds used to come in from the fields to be baptized, is especially beautiful––carved of a thick, reddish-brown stone, narrowing down to a small square white stone base. It dates to Norman times. We sit on a bench in the church yard and eat our lunch.

DSCN0829We look at possibilities of places to spend the night realizing that we are not going to make it 13 miles today. Instead we head for a  farm B&B that has been recommended. No one answers our knock on the door, and the farm seems deserted. Now what? It starts to sprinkle. We duck into the open barn to get out of the rain, and think about our next move.

"What should we do now?" asks Barbara.

"Let's make ourselves a cup of hot tea on our backpacking stove and think it over," I reply.

Cold and tired, lying in the hay sipping our tea, we look in the guide book again and learn there is Ash Farm B&B right down the road. We call them and they tell us to come right along. They don't serve supper, but the owner is willing to drive us to a nearby Pub. He tells us to walk down the road past the parish house, and beyond it on the left is a gate to his field of sheep. Open the gate and walk across the field and we will be at their back door. Soon we are at the gate. The piles of sheep turds on the ground make for hazardous walking, but we successfully navigate our way without slipping.

DSCN0796The Richards family greets us warmly and offers to dry our wet clothes  on the bar protruding from their farmhouse stove. We also learn that the Ash Farm is reputed to be the place where Coleridge, in an opium induced state, wrote Kubla  Khan. The next morning when we leave the fog is so thick you can hardly see your hand in front of you. Crossing the sheep field to resume our hike is even more hazardous.

"How will we ever find the gate in this fog?"  I ask.

Barbara replies, "Just follow the tree line until there is a break."

We gratefully find our way out to continue our journey.


SW Coastal Trail, Part II





Emily Kimball on Mt KatadhinEmily Kimball makes her dreams happen. After retiring from a career in Parks and Recreation she rode her loaded touring bike 4,700 miles across America, and hiked the entire Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine.  Now approaching 80, she continues an active life of biking, hiking, backpacking, tennis and water sports––though at a slower pace.

Emily is also a writer and speaker. Her recent book, Appalachian Trail Stories and Other Adventures: Living Your Dreams at 60 and Beyond, describes many of her exploits. It can be ordered from her web site www.TheAgingAdventurer.com. In her professional speaking business, Make It Happen! Emily relates life lessons learned from her adventures in powerful presentations on Risk Taking, Creative Aging and Making Dreams Happen. She can be reached at  etkimball@aol.com or 804-358-4959.




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