This is the granddaddy of all coastal walks in Britain at 630 miles and following the dress rehearsals of the Saxon Shore Way and the Isle of Wight coastal walk, this seemed to be the natural next step. Having lived in Devon a few years ago I had completed a few sections along the south coast and it had always been my ambition to walk the whole route at some stage. I had a week to myself at Easter 2006 and so decided that if I were to realise this ambition I would need to get started now that the opportunity had arisen.
I set out very early from Worthing and headed to Minehead for the first part of the walk. It was a beautiful sunny day, albeit quite breezy and it promised to be a fantastic start to my walking season this year. I parked up in town and headed down towards the seafront, stopping briefly to admire the arrival of the steam train at Minehead station. By now it was practically lunchtime so I had a bite to eat on the seafront before getting started for this fairly short section. I was glad that the first day was quite short on account of the travelling required and the fact that I had been largely inactive since my last outing on the Saxon Shore Way in December.
The start of the path is marked by a large pair of hands holding a map, a very impressive piece of public art to help serve as an inspiration to people like me that would walk a bit at a time, or the intrepid who would be walking all seven- ten weeks in one go! The start of the path was a little bit of a rude awakening, climbing up the hill from which Minehead got its name (Mine derives from Mynnd, meaning hill). The path climbed for almost two miles, soon leaving Minehead behind (with very limited views of the town through the trees) and initially climbing up through woodland. Soon I entered Exmoor National Park, marked by a triangular sign with the park emblem of a deer sporting some large antlers.
Eventually the path climbed up out of the trees and despite the warmth of the sunshine at sea level, by now it was pretty cold and I had to put on my raincoat to keep off the chill, although I felt a bit silly given that it was such a nice day. Once out of the trees, the view across the Bristol Channel was spectacular and Wales was very clear across the water. It made me wish that I had brought my binoculars so that I could pick out the individual towns and features. After a couple more zigzags, the path finally reached the top of North Hill and I could look forward to some level walking for a bit. It felt very exhilarating at the top of the hill, with such a spectacular view in front and the wind fresh in my face. Apart from the wind the only sound was the bleating of sheep and it was one of those days where it felt really good to be alive!
The path itself split shortly afterwards and there was an opportunity to take a more rugged alternative route at a lower level. As it was my first day and this was a limbering up exercise for me I decided to continue along the official route, past Selworthy Beacon, one of the highest points in Exmoor. As I looked down towards the coast, now some half a mile distant I felt pleased about my decision as the short steep sided valleys draining to the Bristol Channel looked quite tough to negotiate.
My path continued at the crest of the ridge until reaching Bossington Hill, where the most amazing view across Porlock Bay and along the Exmoor coast unfolded, giving me an idea of what to expect tomorrow on the next section. I also got a fright when a weasel crossed my path at high speed, disappearing off into the undergrowth. Due to a combination of these events and misunderstanding some of the signage I then ended up taking a wrong path around the contours just below the crest of Bossington Hill. What it did mean was that I got an extended view across to Porlock Weir and down to the village of Bossington below. I also got a good look at a herd of deer that were roaming around the hillside, which was a bonus.
I corrected myself at Bossington village, but by now I had looked at my watch and decided that it would be prudent to take the most direct route into Porlock village so as to hook up with the bus on time. This meant walking along a country lane rather than the official route across the fields but it did make for some quick walking. On the way I passed by some beautiful houses with gardens resplendent with fresh spring flowers. I made it for the bus with about 2 minutes to spare and returned to Minehead to get the car and buy provisions for the week ahead. Altogether my walk was about two and a half hours allowing for plenty of time to reach Ilfracombe, my base for this week of walking.