Join my friend E and I on a muddy, steep, cold, steep, dark, steep, slippery, steep, covered in wet leaves, steep November hike along the South West Coast Path from Kingswear to Brixham. Did I mention that it was steep?
There is fun and there is fun
The hike from Kingswear to Brixham turned out to be what E likes to call Type 2 fun.
Not familiar with the concept? Neither was I.
Here is a visual explanation she shared with me that demonstrates the three types of outdoor fun:
You get the idea…
Let me start at the beginning.
In early November, my friend E and I decided to hike from Kingswear to Brixham. We had been hiking in Cinque Terre in Italy just a month earlier, where the hills were practically vertical, and the stone steps oddly enough were built for giants, and we felt fit and strong. So the fact that this hike didn’t have any optional shortcuts, or any access to roads or public transport, did not worry us much.
We easily found free parking in a residential street near the coast path in Brixham. From there we took the bus to Kingswear. So far so good. And also very pretty.
We set out on our hike from Kingswear to Brixham just before 11 am. The path wound up a hill, and down a hill (it was the same hill, if you see what I mean), we found a little beach and everything was hunkydory. We saw Dartmouth Castle on the other side of the River Dart. We discovered a privately owned fortification of some type right on the beach. So far it was all Type 1 fun, and the weather was lovely.
We headed onwards. It was getting steep. We came to Brownstone Battery, where Froward Point Coastguard Station is located. The wind was really picking up now, and we could see huge clouds of rain coming in from the sea. We debated seeking shelter in the battery, but decided we were intrepid, so I dug out my trusty crampons. Thank goodness I had thought to pack them! I have only ever used them on Christmas holidays in Norway before.
We scrambled down the hill as fast as we could, trying to beat the rain, which we sorta kinda managed, in the sense that the wind suddenly blew the rain in a different direction. Phew!
Then we encountered England’s largest slug…
On we went, past Mill Bay and the back of the National Trust property Coleton Fishacre. Eventually, we met another human being!
By now it had started to rain quite a bit, so I had to stop so I could put on my equally trusty single-use rain poncho. I swear by these things, they weigh less than a rain coat, take up much less space in your backpack than a raincoat, are more water proof than a rain coat and breathe better than a rain coat (in the sense that they are wide open at the bottom). They are also much cheaper than a rain coat! AND they go over your backpack, so you don’t need a rain cover. Plus, they are not really single-use, you can easily reuse them over and over again. I have carried mine on all my South West Coast Path hikes so far, but this is the first time I’ve had to put it on.
Anyway, to paraphrase Bilbo Baggins: The road went ever on and on!
To our amazement, we met two more humans.
A rainbow appeared. More rain clouds. Then another rainbow.
By and by, we spotted Long Sands in the distance. We guessed at the correct pronunciation of Woodhuish and I theorised that the name, like so many other exotic-sounding place names nearby, must be of Dutch origin. (I’ve only just googled it. I was totally wrong.)
Long Sands was so pretty, and the water looked weirdly inviting due to its turqoise colour. But by now we had realised how much the muddiness and squelchiness and slipperiness was slowing us down, so we didn’t go down onto the beach.
We kept moving.
We tried to avoid a huge puddle of mud, but failed.
By now my feet were sopping wet.
I know, it’s my own fault for wearing sneakers instead of hiking boots.
It’s just that hiking boots aren’t comfortable for my hobbit feet.
So sneakers it is.
Anyway, we climbed yet another hill.
By now I was getting seriously tired…
E seemed tired, too.
Turns out the woman is a natural born actress, though.
It took a few more hours before I realised:
She was just being kind.
In my defence, I had destroyed my legs in an epic gym session just three days earlier. Legs normally recover in two days, but clearly not mine. Not this time, anyway.
That’s my excuse, and I’m sticking to it.
Our main problem now was that we had been out on the path for too long, and the sun was beginning to set. Yup. Not ideal. But look! What ho? ‘Tis Man Sands, or Mansands, as the National Trust spells it. We crossed a field full of cows that were a bit too interested in us for our comfort, and made it safely onto the beach.
Two brave ladies were having a sunset dip in the sea. They were intrepid, but we were intrepider. You see, we had to wade across a river, and we didn’t have any dry shoes to change into afterwards. Oh, the joys.
Still, after wading through mud for hours, it wasn’t like my feet could get any wetter. So I just forged right ahead. It literally made no difference.
At this point we had the privilege of climbing South Down Cliff, aka Southdown Cliff, depending on whether you’re reading the sign at the bottom or the top of said cliff. And this was where I hit the wall. No, not literally. Figuratively. It took me forever and a half to get up that hill.
I was rewarded with some spectacular sunset views of Man Sands, though.
Worth it, am I right? It was absolutely spectacular!
Darkness falls across the land
Then it got dark. And then it got darker. Then it got darker than dark. It got pitch black. We were now bordering on Type 3 fun. In the far distance, we could see the light from Berry Head Lighthouse. Needless to say, we were not going to make it that far.
Using the torches on our mobile phones, we picked our way through the muddiness that once used to be a coast path. We came to a beach. We couldn’t really see it very well. The map said it was St Mary’s Bay. We reckoned St Mary’s Bay was probably a beautiful bay. You know. During daylight hours.
This was when Google Maps redeemed themselves, though. I got a bit stroppy with Google Maps during my SWCP hard hike around the Exe Estuary (<– there’s a video of that! 😂). They led me seriously astray that day.
But here, in the dark, and the cold, and the mud, Google Maps redeemed themselves. They showed us that there is a shortcut from the South West Coast Path through the Riviera Bay Holiday Park – which led right back to our car.
Below is my last photo from the hike from Kingswear to Brixham. I took it so we would know where we need to start from when we come back here to complete this leg of the coast path. Good luck to us finding this place again – we’re gonna need it!
In other words: Mainly Type 2 fun, with a fair bit of Type 1 at the start of the hike, but definitely bordering on Type 3 before the hike was over!
Stats: 15.83 km from Kingswear to Brixham (not including Berry Head) in 6h 23m not including breaks. Total time was almost 7h. Active calorie burn 1863 (felt like 2,700). Time in peak heart rate zone: 109. A new PB and then some! Ascent: somewhere between 828 metres (Apple Fitness) and 889 metres (Strava).
Company: My lovely friend E, who is so sweet that she pretends to be tired to protect my feelings. Now that is true friendship.
Weather: Cloudy, rainy, windy, 81% humidity and 11 degrees. Two rainbows.
Fauna: Two bees and a butterfly. A field full of cows. A field full of sheep. And England’s longest slug.
Flora: Pine forests! And an evening primrose.
Parking: Free, along a residential road in Brixham.
Would I do it again? Ehhhh… Maybe? I’m really not sure…
PS: Check out all my other hikes along the South West Coast Path!
Post scriptum: When I got home and took my muddy shoes off, my socks were muddy underneath. When I took my muddy socks off, my feet were muddy underneath. There was a lot of mud.
And did I mention that it was steep?