We did it! We really did it! It seems surreal. We have just finished the longest signed coastal path in the world! In 63 days we walked 630 miles, or around 1,050 km. In reality we walked much more than that. Nothing about the South West Coast Path was direct, nothing at all. It was up and down, left and right, the easiest path wasn’t the path that we took. We went up and down over 30,000 steps. My knees can still feel the effects of going down, yes it is much harder to go down than up.
The final stages were supposed to be easy, at least that is what the guide book said. But the guide book was wrong, they were anything but easy. Long, rolling hills that seemed to go on forever and to make matters worse we had gale force winds that pinned us on our backsides.
It was without doubt the strongest wind that I have felt in my life. And it didn’t help that we were on the top of a cliff. It got so bad that we were at one point both lying on our stomachs and hanging onto a fence so that we didn’t get blown off the cliff.
It didn’t help that I told my wife a fact that I shouldn’t have the night before. Sometimes my curiosity gets the better of me.
The path had been extremely dangerous in places, and for some under describable reason I Googled “how many people died on South West Coast Path.” Stupid I know. And just to compound my mistake I told my wife the results. In 2018 a total of 26 people died in the South West on the coast. I tried to dig myself out of the hole by explaining to my wife that not all these people died walking the path, but that didn’t work. As we lay pressed to the grass with the wind blasting over us my wife mouthed “26” at me and gave me a look that could kill. We crawled on our hands and knees for about a hundred metres until we found a dip that we could hide from the wind in. So we didn’t only walk the path, we also crawled it!
The long and windy road - Photo Mark Thomas
When we got nearer the end we started to look back at what we had achieved. Probably a good idea that we didn’t do this at the beginning otherwise we might never have started.
I had remembered that walking the path was the same as scaling Mount Everest for times, and my knees had remembered that one as well. But these ones I didn’t know when we started.
We crossed 230 bridges, caught 13 ferries, opened and closed 880 gates, passed 4,000 coastal path signs, climbed over 436 stiles, passed through 2 UNESCO World Heritage Sites and made roughly 1.25 million steps (yes, my ankles are still feeling that.)
And the last World Heritage Site made we think and to make some comparisons with Dubrovnik, comparing one UNESCO site to another. We were walking over a hillside (for a change!) and came down into a particularly beautiful village.
“This place must be packed with visitors in the summer,” I said to my wife. “How do you know that,” she replied. “Two things give it away. Firstly, this place is pretty small and yet has a visitor’s centre, and secondly look at the size of that parking,” I answered. The car park looked bigger than any in Dubrovnik, it covered a whole side of the hill. So I spoke to some locals and did some research at the very swanky visitor’s centre. I knew the village was small, the current population was only 713!
And how many tourists came to this tiny spot in 2019, half a million! So they had more spaces in their car park than they had inhabitants. It would like Dubrovnik having a parking for 42,000 cars.
They had similar problems. The vast majority of tourists, 30 percent of the 500,000, came in July and August. Finding a workforce, especially out of the main season, was challenging. And without tourism the economy would collapse. We are not alone. The problems are universal.
We did it! Reaching the end of the South West Coast Path - Photo Mark Thomas
We passed that lovely village (Google Lulworth Cove) and moved closer to the finish. The end got emotional, but I knew it would. I made a point of wearing my father’s T-Shirt for the last stage. One of the main reasons I had walked the path was for my father, and to raise money for a charity in his name. I cried on the last stage, of course I did. Tears of joy and sadness.
There is nothing I would have loved more than my father seeing me finish this incredible journey. But somewhere deep down I know that he saw me and was proud of me. For two months my wife and I have spent 24 hours a day with each other, and I have loved each moment of it. There of course have been ups and downs, it would have been unnatural if everything had been smooth, but by the end of it we were already planning our next trip.
Now, it is back to life and back to reality. One of the many comments (thank you for all of them) that really stuck in my mind read “Nothing will ever be the same for you two.” It’s true. Everything is different.
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Read more Englishman in Dubrovnik…well, if you really want to