I stepped off the bus and onto the busy pavement of Lyme Regis’s high street. The old grey walls of the seaside town spoke to my eyes, in response I felt them open up a little wider. The South West Coast path welcoming me back like an old friend. I walked down to the sea, looking for the white acorn nailed to a post marking the start of my route. Low mist hung over the bay, I could see barely a mile of the journey ahead. The cliffs in these parts are unstable, like towering blocks of cheddar cheese crumbling into the sea. I’ve accounted for two inland detours already where the path has slipped off the face of the Earth. I walked along the promenade for as long as I could, watching the fossil hunters spread across the beach. You could probably walk to Charmouth from here without leaving the beach, but I had no idea which direction the tide was moving in and hadn’t planned to swim. I climbed the steps away from the beach. Half way up the first hill I was sweating, what few layers I’d put on came off. In no height at all I was in the clouds, or maybe the mist had climbed with me. I crossed a golf course, relieved that this apparently doesn’t make for good sporting weather. Conditions changed as I descended. The sun lit up Charmouth and I made a note to remember this pretty little village. I made straight for the beach, this is supposed to be a walk on the coast after all, it would be good to see some of it.
I started up the next cliff just to look, the path is lost somewhere in the collapsed wall of rock spread across the beach. The view was a little better from here. I could see my checklist of destinations unrolling along the coast. Satisfied with what lay ahead, I headed back to another path. It was easy to follow at first but soon became overgrown. I could see dirt where no grass had grown, taking it as the remains of the path I pushed through. The next step found the ground a meter lower than where it was supposed to be. Brambles and nettle raked my legs. I don’t know if I screamed out when I fell, or just desperately grabbed at anything to slow me down, adding matching scratches to my arms. I had landed in the the aftermath of a landslide. I tried to get beyond the mud and clay but finding where the path picked up again was impossible. After nearly losing one of my feet in thick clay I decided to haul myself back up the slope I’d fallen off and go back the way I came. I found laminated signs when I got back to the beach and learned a valuable lesson too late; the path no longer exists. I doubled back through the village until I arrived at camp one. Having had a taste of the actual wilderness in the Welsh mountains the campsite offered so much luxury. There was a restaurant, a shop, a bar, two swimming pools. My pitch was a gloriously flat section of perfectly manicured grass. Most importantly there was a shower, and few things felt better that day than washing off the dried mud and blood.
I’ve become accustomed to how these things start; straight up. A constant climb towards Cain’s Folly the next morning along a single lane track. I stopped at every break in the hedge to check the view, which was just as often to catch my breath. From the top I could see where I’d been, and more importantly where I was going. Golden Cap isn’t imposing enough to describe as towering, or massive, certainly not from this distance. Or maybe it’s just far away. My route wobbled across the coast, reaching almost sea level before I began the highest climb on the south coast. Progress was stop-start again, my bag holding me down while the hill beat away at my legs. To my relief the path began to switchback as I gained on the summit, I was walking across rather than up. On reaching the top Golden Cap revealed it’s true size. In the distance the cliffs around West Bay looked comically small. Way beyond, a grey smudge on the horizon could only be the Isle of Portland. The hills I’d already climbed from Lyme Regis looked like they rolled gently. This was pretty high up. I tapped the trig point with a smile and wandered on down to what you might describe as a settlement on the seafront. The coast is littered with these holiday home resorts. Thousands of shipping container sized, almost always vacant dwellings. I could think of a few good uses.
Golden Gap had a parting gift for me. I’d come away feeling it was almost easy, but it made everything after feel hard. Climbing the next hill I passed a family who had claimed a bench I had half an eye on. Obviously struggling, their child aged anywhere between 3 and 12 pointed out to me it’s a very steep hill, as if I didn’t know. I thanked him for his observation, silently wishing that my baggage had legs of it’s own. I came down the final slope for the day only to find I had to climb back up again and into camp two. I spent most of the afternoon lying down in an attempt to achieve something resembling weightlessness. Nerves were creeping in, I was tired, my legs ached, my feet felt tight, my shoulders were tender. Day three was home to the longest distance and a compressed period of ups and downs. I fell asleep that night listening to the wind shake my tent and the waves shake the pebbles on the beach below.