Well today was the day that we started our adventure. We were long overdue a trip to see Toni at the Lorna Doone Hotel in Porlock so where better place to start than at the beginning of the SWCP in Minehead with a walk to Porlock Weir, via the beautiful village of Porlock.
We left home at 07:20 (only 5mins late!) leaving us plenty of time, or so we thought, to catch the 09:20 bus from Porlock Weir to Minehead. It was a beautiful day with clear blue skies until we got on the A39 north of Bridgewater where, at Cannington, there were major road works with queues of about 2mls in each direction. Then a mixture of other road works, farm vehicles and old ladies in old cars delayed our arrival at the car park in Porlock Weir to 09:10!
Note: we originally planned to get the 09:30 Quantock Motor Services bus but looking at their website the latest timetable was for 2013 and a phone call to QMS put us through to a bakery in Minehead! So we therefore went for the 09:10 Webber Bus service which was the only one mentioned on the www.travelinesw.com website (a very useful site for negotiating the South West public transport system).
We had a good chat to the friendly bus driver resulting in Fiona being able to use her new bus pass for the first time (and not the last we suspect on this challenge?). The only other passenger was an old chap with a big beard and a big black plastic bin liner full of ‘swag’?, but also using a bus pass – let’s hope councils don’t withdraw these subsidies before we complete our challenge!
There was no need to stop between Porlock Weir and Minehead but along the way, just outside Porlock, we passed Doverhay Place where my mum and dad met in 1937. At that time it was a Cooperative Holidays Association (CHA) centre where individuals and families stayed to walk during the day and then enjoy self made entertainments in the evening. I remember going on similar CHA holidays with his parents when in his early teens – how times have changed. Just outside Minehead we turned off the main road and passed the cemetery where Fiona’s dad and mum (in 2012) are buried.
Arriving in Minehead at 09:50 our first task was to find the sculpture which is the official start of the SWCP and is located just past the Quay Inn. Approaching this we spotted a couple trying to take photos of themselves in front of the sculpture so we offered mutual help.
The other couple were from Switzerland and had arrived in Minehead the previous evening via Heathrow, train to Taunton, and then bus to Minehead. They were walking the SWCP for 10 days on a luggage transfer deal which we are sure we will use at some point during our challenge.
We then set off but no sooner had we gone 100m when Fiona spotted a cafe on the quay and it now being 3hrs since breakfast we stopped for morning coffee and more chats with friendly locals – this is going to be a long day!
By 10:15 we were on our way again along the coast to Greenaleigh Farm and then up, up, through beautiful woods …
… until we reached the top of North Hill.
On the way up we met a couple with dog from up north who we’re camping at Porlock and therefore had all day to get back and so were planning to walk the alternative ‘rugged’ path which adds an extra 1.5 miles. We had a lunch appointment at the Lorna Doone hotel at 13:30 so we walked on the main route to Selworthy Beacon, hearing and then seeing our first skylark of the year, and then the view to Porlock Bay opened up …
… but not before ‘Me and my shadow’ appeared!
… and then the long walk down Hurlstone Combe …
… which was murder on Fiona’s knees! It was here that we met a man who had walked the ‘rugged’ route and seen an adder basking in the middle of the path. From Bossington we walked on the diversion route across fields to Porlock. On any walk with Fiona it is mandatory to take a picture of flora, in this case a stunning Ceanothus in Bay Road, Porlock.
Arriving at the Lorna Doone Hotel at 13:30, as planned, we were greeted by Toni. Her husband Dick worked with me at IBM in Welwyn Garden City and left IBM around the same time that we were moved to Bristol. We kept in touch for 36 years and spent many a happy visit to the Lorna Doone Hotel where Toni serves wonderful food and hospitality. Sadly Dick died in July 2013 after a long illness. Toni had cooked us a delicious Thai lunch and after a couple of pints of Cotleigh Brewery beer, and much conversation with Toni and a couple of interesting locals, we posed outside for a photo alongside ‘Dick’s Chair’.
This is where Dick would spend many an evening with a glass or two of red wine watching the world go by. We raise a glass to you Dick.
Only 2 miles to go now back to Porlock Weir along a lovely wooded path. The temperature had risen to 22C (the warmest day of the year so far) and we arrived back at the car park at 17:00 at the end of a wonderful first day of our challenge. We hope that the next few years of walking will be just as enjoyable but suspect that the weather will not always be as kind!