Two journeys in one

It is a long way. My wife, Sheila, and I started at Minehead in May 2011 with a target of walking the South West Coast Path in weeklong blocks and over four to five years. Six hundred and thirty miles of it are quite a challenge and a good one to set ourselves for early retirement. We were not entirely sure we could manage even the part from Lynmouth to Coombe Martin within one day, all 14 miles of it with about 4,000 feet of ascent. But we did it and by 3.30pm. From then the only looking back was to admire the wonderful views.

Rain and gales did not deter us. Sunshine, puffy clouds, crashing waves and white spray spurred us onwards. High views around bays looking forwards towards our route in future days inspired us and behind us we saw completed paths that encouraged us. Ice creams, Cornish pasties, ale, and B&B breakfasts energised us.

Well done to all those and especially volunteers who have maintained and improved paths. A huge thank you to B&B oweners who have gone the extra miles to ferry us about and otherwise help us on our way. We enjoyed swapping our travel tales with fellow hikers.

We averaged twelve miles and ascents of 2200 feet per day. Before the end of 2011 we had reached the Camel Estuary and Padstow; 2012 the Fowey; 2013 Teignmouth and on 23rd June 2014 we made it to South Haven Point on Poole Harbour where we opened bubbly in celebration. Guillemots and cormorants, dolphins and stoats, shrews and kestrels, drifts of wild flowers, clouds shaped like wispy feathers, sunsets to dream about, tall ships in full sail, speed boats, ferry boats, fishing boats and warships – we saw them all.

The journey had another beginning. In September 2007 I found myself paralysed in hospital with a peripheral neuropathy (diagnosed at first as GBS then as on the spectrum between GBS and CIDP). After 10 weeks I went home but two relapses left me as weak as a kitten and having to learn how to walk again.

As I gradually recovered I went walking and swimming to get stronger and as a way to fight my way towards regaining health. Friends often came with me and my walking group (White Cliffs Ramblers) gave me support, encouragement and a choice of walks of increasing lengths. After a few months I managed a ten-mile walk and thought there would be no going back. However things were not so simple due to chronic fatigue, aches and very variable energy levels. Fortunately the more I did, so the more I found I could cope with. My Christian faith sustained me. Sheila did more than words can express.

By 2010 Sheila and I decided on a walking holiday in Pembrokeshire and we tackled parts new to us, so completing the Coast Path begun some years before. That was a preparation to see what I could manage as our target was to walk the whole of the 630 mile SW Coast Path. Over 38 months, spending a week’s walking holiday at a time, I could see I was getting stronger.

Although I had been told that residual symptoms would improve little after the first year or so, they have continued to become much better. More particularly the great tiredness I was experiencing has continued to improve even after more than five years from the start. What a wonderful way to find fitness again by walking and enjoying the exhilaration of our country’s beautiful countryside and coastline.

Andrew Boultbee

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