Last Sunday my friend E and I jumped in her car and drove north until we crossed the border into Somerset. Our goal: Hiking the first section of the South West Coast Path from Minehead to Porlock.
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Technically, the first section of the South West Coast Path goes from Minehead to Porlock Weir. But the bus goes from Porlock to Minehead. So we parked in Porlock village (which is gorgeous, by the way) and took the Exmoor Coaster bus to Minehead sea front. That way we could start the hike ‘properly’ by the South West Coast Path Monument in Minehead. We are not able to do the whole coast path in one schlep, but we are determined to do it, section by section. The goal is to begin at the beginning (✔️) and end at the end by the corresponding South West Coast Path monument in Poole. The sections in the middle will be selected in a decidedly more haphazard fashion.
Anyway, back to last Sunday! We had been warned that the section from Minehead to Porlock started with a big ascent, and so it most certainly did! For various reasons, including severe anaemia, my fitness levels aren’t quite what they used to be. I quickly lost count of the number of times I had to stop to catch my breath in that neverending hill. Basically, the ascent starts down by Minehead harbour and climbs all the way up to Exmoor National Park.
Oh, it was stunning, it is a veritable sea of lush ferns, but it took me ages. The fact that I had ripped my quads to shreds in the gym a few days earlier didn’t exactly help matters, either. I was seriously beginning to worry that E was regretting doing the hike with me! Fortunately, once we got to the top, my legs (and lungs) recovered and I quickly found my stride.
At the top, we were treated to a spectacular view of Southern Wales, which made it all worthwhile. According to the Walking the South West Coast Path guide book by Paddy Dillon, what we could see was Swansea and Cardiff, as well as the small islands Steep Holm and Flat Holm in the Bristol Channel, but according to Google Maps, we were pretty much right opposite Barry. We could also see Nash Point Lighthouse with the naked eye.
Before long, there was no doubt that we were on the edge of Exmoor. There were ferns, hawthorn (that’s maytree, if you’re from Devon) and foxgloves everywhere, and the views were breathtaking, both inland and out to sea.
Eventually we got to a fork in the path, which gave us the option of going inland, across Exmoor, or hiking the ‘rugged’ coast path, which follows the coast line. Well, we felt rugged and we were doing the South West Coast Path, weren’t we? It made sense to follow the coast.
We quickly realised that in this context, ‘rugged’ actually means ‘hilly’. There were suddenly a lot of ups and downs – or downs and ups, to be specific. We crossed steep little valleys with gorgeous sea glimpses and reapplied our sunscreen whenever we could find any shade.
Obviously, I don’t know what the inland option looks like, but it doesn’t get any prettier than this, right? Except that it kind of does – once you add the wild Exmoor ponies.
The weather was as stunning as the landscape, and the coastal breeze kept us from overheating. It did get very hot down in the little valleys where the breeze couldn’t reach us, though. Everything was idyllic and peaceful… until the ticks attacked.
Yup, ticks. The most parasitic of all parasites. The most pointless of all creatures. And we obviously didn’t notice them until after we had enjoyed a lovely long break in the grass… Cue lots of frantic shaking and brushing and checking and general feelings of revulsion. In fact, I was so shook that my Apple Watch decided to end the hike right then and there, of its own accord, which coincidentally was exactly at the halfway point. I’d love to say that we quickly forgot about the tick attack and moved on, walking in a bucolic wonderland as we did, but the memory of those nasty little beasts still haunts us both.
Eventually the landscape got a little less grassy, which meant fewer ticks to worry about. Instead, we could now worry about the massive, very furry, rugged cows instead. Because as it turns out, both E and I are afraid of cows. But seeing as E admitted to it first, I felt I had to put on a brave face, so I tried my best to remain calm and just talk to them the way I talk to dogs. And cats. And seagulls. It worked quite well, but it got a bit scary when one of the cows decided to follow us down the epic descent towards Bossington Beach. I felt decidedly wobbly when we reached the bottom, but I am sure that was just because of the aforementioned leg workout and the fact that the downhill was very steep and went on foreeeveeer.
Once we were safely down, I talked E into taking a tiny detour to Hurlstone Point, because it wasn’t like our legs were shaking or anything. I’m glad we did, though, because the views from there were spectacular, and we enjoyed a long, relaxing, and – most importantly – entirely tick-free break there.
It was at this point that I led us a teensy bit astray. I was trying to save the battery on my phone by not checking the map so often. This meant that I accidentally turned left a little before we had reached the main path into Bossington. Fortunately, when I *did* check my phone, Google Maps revealed that there was a cut-through a little up ahead. We were quickly back on the main South West Coast Path – but only for a brief moment. No, not my fault this time. It was here, at the National Trust property in Bossington, that we had to deviate from the main coast path in order to get back to our car, which was parked in Porlock.
Back in Porlock, which is super quaint and full of museums that I would love to explore some other time, we stopped at the local Co-op and bought all their remaining carbs. Ok, I’m being dramatic. I got a meal deal, E got some biscuits. It was all very well deserved, however, and tasted yummmmmmy after our long hike.
The guide book warned us that the rugged coast path would be tougher, but it’s impossible for us to judge how much tougher it was, as we haven’t tried the inland option. The guide book claims the gradients are “gentle” (apart from one), and that it adds on 1.5 km, i.e. 30 minutes, and 200 m of ascent. I have my doubts about that, but perhaps it only felt much longer and much steeper because of the heat? Either way, it was beautiful beyond words and I highly, highly recommend the hike – just make sure you wear long leggings in a pale-ish colour (so you can see any nasty little ticks) and make sure you tuck the leggings properly into your socks! And never – ever – leave your hat lying on the grass… *shudder*
Stats: 16.04 km from Minehead to Porlock in 6 hours including breaks, with an active calorie burn of 1983 and an elevation gain of either 569 metres (Apple Fitness) or 728 metres (Strava)
Company: My lovely friend E, who is much fitter than she claims
Weather: Clear blue skies and hottt, although just 18-19 degrees Celsius according to Strava
Fauna: Squirrels, wild ponies, furry cows, tiny ticks
Flora: Ferns, hawthorn, foxgloves, the occasional gorse bush
Parking: Found a free spot in Porlock
Bus: £2 for a single ticket on the Exmoor Coaster
Would I do it again? In a heartbeat
PS: Check out my other hikes along the South West Coast Path!