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The weather this morning shot the day into first place for our worst trekking weather ever! Drizzle soon turned to rain compounded by gusty winds as we continued forward to Woolacombe, our next stop. Fortunately, today’s trail led us between hedgerows rather than out along the steep cliffs, so we felt it unlikely we’d be blown away.
Soaking wet, we popped into the bar of Ilfracombe’s Royal Britannia Hotel for a cup of coffee and they couldn’t have been nicer. As we unloaded our backpacks and peeled off our rain pants, the woman behind the bar up-sold us to orders of cream tea…not that it took much convincing.
I entertained the idea of grabbing a taxi to Woolacombe, but £37 seemed as steep as the hills we were climbing. Reg decided we’d continue our trek…after fortifying ourselves with one of England’s most popular treats.
We slept until 7:00 this morning and hated to leave the wonderful Bed and Breakfast we were staying in…but the path called, and we had a long day of climbing, including reaching the highest point on the South West Coast Path, The Great Hangman, at an elevation of 1,043 feet.
As we left Lynton, our first surprise was rounding a bend and wandering through The Valley of the Rocks, a spectacular display of rock formations looming above our heads. The rest of the day unfolded with one breathtaking view after another.
Rain arrived right on schedule this morning. As we stewed over threatening weather reports at breakfast, two English women trekkers set our minds at ease, assuring us we could walk the low route along the cliffs and be sheltered from the worst of it.
Our day encompassed 14 miles with 6,300 feet of elevation change. And yes, we got very wet! Rain finally eased off about 1:00 pm. I think we climbed and summited every mountain and hilltop between Porlock and our destination of Lynton.
We encountered lots of steps today. Steps up and steps down on sections too steep to maneuver without. As we sip wine in the bar of our Bed and Breakfast, we have one more trek for the day…just a short walk to dinner before curling up in bed. We’ve had enough fun for one day!
Day 1 dawned sunny and warm…an ideal start for our South West Coast Path trek. We had a bit of climbing ahead of us, 1,200 feet to be exact, along the shore, up a forested hillside and across green rolling cliff tops where sheep and cattle grazed.
And then we plunged back down to sea level, absolutely straight down. It was a knee-busting descent that left us both wobbly at the bottom. The path has numerous days with climbing far more challenging than today, so this was a bit of a wake up call, and a good reminder for us to pace ourselves. We have many more miles to go.
At breakfast this morning our host tipped us off to what turned out to be the perfect outing for our last day of leisure. A short two-mile walk found us in the medieval village of Dunster, nestled in the shadow of Dunster Castle.
While parts of Dunster Castle date to the 13th century, most of what we saw today was renovated between 1868-1872. Now run by the National Trust, the castle and gardens are open to the public for self-guided tours.
I promise you we really are here to walk the South West Coast Path. Tomorrow our work begins when we pack our bags, hoist them on our shoulders and take our first steps along England’s longest national trail…rain or shine.
An uneventful plane flight delivered us right on schedule to London’s Heathrow Airport this afternoon. We’ll spend one night in the city before making our way to Minehead where the South West Coast Path officially begins. But first, we had just enough energy for a little sightseeing. We discovered Kensington Gardens just one block from our hotel and decided to explore.
Take A Hike Photography transported us to heights we can only dream about in their post titled In the Shadow Of Peak Lenin, Day 1: Welcome to the Big Leagues! This was just too amazing not to share. Enjoy!
We have been trekking in Kyrgyzstan for 23 days now. We have only four days left, and we have saved the biggest challenge and hopefully the best scenery for last. For our final trek, we will be hiking around Peak Lenin, Kyrzygstan’s highest peak at 23,405 feet. They say that Peak Lenin is one of the easiest 7000+ meter peaks to summit, but we have no interest in going that high.
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It has been six months since we sat down with guidebooks, maps and iPads to book the lodgings for our South West Coast Path trek. At the time, the trip was well in the future so we were fairly relaxed about the plans. Now that our September start date is just around the corner, the pre-trek jitters are beginning to surface…everything from “Will our backpacks arrive when we do?” to “Can we conquer the endless, daily ups and downs the path demands?” Mostly, I think, we are simply ready to just get going; to take that first step and announce, “We’re off!”
To get in the spirit and to offer support, we joined the South West Coast Path Association. As a part of our membership, we received a copy of their guide (pictured above) which includes, in addition to the above trail map, details of every aspect of walking England’s longest way-marked footpath.
The entire path is 630 miles, beginning in Minehead, Somerset and following the coastline down and around to Poole Harbour, Dorset. As you might imagine, that is a far too ambitious goal for carryoncouple. If all goes well, we will complete our trek at the most westerly point of mainland England, Land’s End, West Cornwall, 260 miles (give or take) from our Minehead starting point.
We’ll see you soon…on the trail!
As we begin the countdown to our fifth European trekking adventure, I felt it was time to share my story of just why I’ve become so obsessed with walking. I feel extremely fortunate to have recognized the proper trail that would lead me through troubled times.
The door opened and he extended his hand, introducing himself. “Hello, I’m Dr. J. I can’t believe you are still walking!” I shook his hand and glanced over at Reg in stunned silence.
As Reg shook the hand of the neurosurgeon who would ultimately save my life, I tried to prepare myself for what was to come. Six months earlier, I had noticed numbness in the ends of two fingers on my left hand, and I soon found myself shuffled between a series of appointments and doctors. Days earlier I’d had an MRI of my cervical spine and had been told it revealed a tumor. I was about to learn just exactly what that meant. I suspected the news would not be good.
It was November of 2011. Reg and I studied my MRI on Dr. J.’s computer while he explained that my tumor, a fairly rare intramedullary ependymoma we would eventually learn, was located within my spinal cord and had grown large enough to begin restricting the flow of spinal fluid. That was causing the numbness and tingling, along with a host of other symptoms that I would eventually piece together.
“You will need surgery, he said. “It is not without risk. We will take every precaution, but there is a chance you will be left quadriplegic. It is also possible that you will not survive the surgery…but if we do nothing, the tumor will kill you.”
Three and a half weeks later, two weeks before Christmas, I was prepped for surgery. There was really no other choice. Ratcheting up my powers of positive thinking, I put my life in Dr. J.’s hands. I did tell him, in all honesty, that if I couldn’t walk out of the hospital, not to bother waking me up. The next thing I remember, I was in a hospital room bed with Reg by my side.
As I slowly became aware of my surroundings, Dr. J. hurried in and began touching my fingers. “Move this one, now this one.” When I wiggled each finger, as ordered, he turned to Reg and announced, “She will be fine.” And off he went.
While the diagnosis was devastating, the recovery was absolutely traumatizing. Surgery had been pretty much a complete success, but I hurt every time I moved. Two days later, I was sent home. I could walk but I couldn’t feel my feet. Sheets and pants felt like sandpaper dragged across my bare legs. My rib cage felt as though it had been wrapped with an elastic band, and both hands were numb and tingling. I felt as though a spike had been pounded down alongside my neck, a neck that sported an angry, red six-inch scar. All part of the recovery process I was told. My nerves had been traumatized and needed time to recover…and so did I!
A year and a half later, in 2013, Reg and I trekked Spain’s Camino de Santiago together. It was a walk of discovery and gratitude for us both. We had our individual reasons for tackling such a challenging feat. For me, walking is something I will never again take for granted. Reg and I have continued to trek the trails of Europe where we find both a sense of adventure and contentment.
While I’m left with a few lingering side effects from the surgery, I’ve learned not to complain. Some (most) days are better than others. When so much could have gone wrong, I will forever be in debt to, and in awe of Dr. J.’s skills. To keep trekking is the best way I know of acknowledging how incredibly thankful I am that he was able to save my life.
And that is why I trek.