Six weeks of walking. We have walked the same distance as Dubrovnik is from Zagreb and more. The South West Coast Path, the longest continuous path in the UK, passes under our feet every day.
Are we fitter? Absolutely yes. Is walking getting easier? Absolutely yes. And, as we close in on the end of our adventure, will we miss walking. Yes, absolutely.
This is not only a once in a lifetime challenge, but also the longest period of time I have spent outside of Dubrovnik in 24 years. And if I stay here much longer I might end up being Prime Minister, everyone seems to be taking turns at the moment. I’m not getting homesick. I have the sea, although it is more of an ocean and certainly more unpredictable, I even have the weather as the UK enjoys an Indian summer, so the “ever presents” of my normal life are here.
“What are the little things that you’ve noticed,” asked my wife just the other day as we walked through yet another seaside village. “The little things that are different to life in Dubrovnik,” she added.
For the next few miles I pounded the path and thought. That’s the bonus about long-distance walking you get lots and lots of time to think. Clearly she had asked about the little things as the big things are evident to all.
“Liberalism of life,” I answered. “A freer and more open outlook,” I continued. Although this is probably an unfair comparison as the UK has always been a leader of broad-minded thinking.
“The complete lack of cash,” clearly I wasn’t answering in any specific order of importance. “I think that I have only spent paper money and coins in laundrettes,” I laughed. You just don’t see cash. Everybody pays for literally everything with cards or mobile phones. This was highlighted the other day when we were in a larger town and needed change for another laundrette. We walked almost the whole length of the main shopping street before we finally found an ATM. From public toilets to taxis and coffee, forget cash.
“The number of charity shops,” I thought of another. Yes, I was jumping from theme to theme a little. Almost ever major shopping street in every town we’ve been in has had a least one charity shop. They are a cornucopia of different products and collect money for a range of good causes. And they are always full. I really don’t know why these kind of shops aren’t in operation in Croatia, but I am guessing it is due to overcomplicated paperwork and bureaucracy and not because of the will of the people. I remember when I helped in organising second hand sales in town, to say that they were popular would be an understatement. So, the need is there.
We continued to walk and talk. We’ve done a lot of that over the past six weeks.
“Nobody here smokes,” I remembered another one. At first I thought that it was because you aren’t allowed to smoke anywhere, but I was wrong. In all the time that we have been walking, drinking in pubs, staying in rooms, campsites and Airbnb’s and eating out we could probably count the number of people we have seen smoking cigarettes on one hand. There are some people who vape, although again rare, but actual smokers are almost non-existent. Maybe this has something to do with the fact that if you want to buy a box of cigarettes you’ll need to remortgage your house. Smokers are as rare as people paying in cash.
“It’s expensive,” I continued. “Although we are in one of the most expensive parts of the UK,” I added. Just to clarify certain things seem overpriced whilst others incredibly cheap. One thing that we can compare directly to Dubrovnik is the cost of accommodation. Our days start by trying to find the next destination for us to walk to and one of the factors that is important is the cost of sleeping there. Campsites are cheap, a good one with all the facilities will cost around 20 pounds, or 170 Kuna. But upgrade to a hard roof over your head and you’ll see a jump in price. Finding a hotel room under 100 pounds is impossible. And I am not talking about a fancy hotel or even a good hotel, but the cheapest two-star one. We have even spent almost that much in a youth hostel.
We have slept everywhere, in a tent, a five-star hotel, AirBnB, a spare room in a house, pubs, a pub garden (long story), pods, shepherd’s huts, hostels and even a teepee with its own wood burning heater. We could write a price guide to southwest England accommodation. Prices and quality have varied massively. Just last night we were in a pub room with a shared bathroom and toilet with bedding and decoration from the 1970’s, and that cost 130 pounds a night! And we are looking for rooms at the end of October! What must the prices be like in the height of summer?
And don’t get me started on the price of property. Wow! Apparently it is the fault of second home buyers (another familiar story). “Local people get frozen out the market as London bankers scoop up everything,” commented one local. There are villages that we have passed that look like the old city of Dubrovnik in the winter. Whole streets where there is no signs of life, no lights, no movement and no people. Winter ghost towns.
And so we push on, we keep walking, keep calm and carry on. We can almost sense the end. Every day brings us closer. “I am going to miss walking,” said my wife. What she probably meant was that she is going to miss this adventure. “So will I, we had better start planning our next walk,” I added.
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