South West Coast Path 2011 – Planning

This is phase 4 of a multi-year project to walk the South West Coast Path from east to west with my father and, sometimes, my brother. This year’s section will be from Dartmouth to Plymouth in mid-May, taking 5 and a half days to cover about 65 miles and 15,000ft of ascent.

This phase has been a tricky one to plan in terms of smoothing out the relative distances and ascents across the days. Usually I plan for a maximum of 14 miles, 3000ft of ascent or 6 hours walking on any given day, and even then would only expect to have one such day. I also have to plan for a half day on the first day, allowing us to travel and walk on the same day, and to factor in a bit for participants’ fitness adapting to the walk as it progresses.

The difficulty comes, as usual, from planning where to stop overnight. At last year’s debrief over a pint and a meal in the Ship in Exeter, a suggestion was made about looking into baggage transfer for this year. Accordingly, it made sense to look at what towns and villages were served and to try to base overnight accommodation stops around these places, giving us the flexibility to call on baggage transfer if we wanted.

Even so, I’ve found it quite difficult to find suitable B&Bs for 3 males in the stretch between Salcombe and Wembury and am now having to look at inland options in combination with bus/taxi rides to and from the path.

And to make matters worse I’ve left it a bit late this year, with quite a bit of focus having been put onto the Cumbria Way trip I’ve just come back from.

At the moment, though, the stages for this year break down as follows:

Day 1 – Dartmouth to Torcross (9 miles, 1800ft ascent, 4.5 hours)
Day 2 – Torcross to Salcombe (13 miles, 3300ft ascent, 6.5 hours)
Day 3 – Salcombe to Bigbury (13 miles, 3300ft ascent, 6.5 hours)
Day 4 – Bigbury to Holbeton (8 miles, 2600ft ascent, 4.5 hours)
Day 5 – Holbeton to Wembury (12 miles, 2800ft ascent, 6 hours)
Day 6 – Wembury to Plymouth (10 miles, 1600ft ascent, 4.5 hours)

As you can see, I’ve broken my rule of thumb twice here, and moreover it’s on consecutive days. But there’s just no sensible way of avoiding it. I’ve even looked at doing this year’s phase in reverse, but it makes no significant difference.

And with accommodation options in Bigbury and Holbeton limited, it looks like a might be booking a couple of nights inland, somewhere like Modbury, but that might actually work out to be a good idea as it may enable us to lighten our load on at least one day. It also means that I might be able to smooth out days 3 and 4 because I can be a bit more flexible with the end point on day 3.

Similarly, although I don’t expect the same level of accommodation issues in Wembury, it’s so close to Plymouth, that I’m thinking of booking somewhere for 2 nights in Plymouth and using public transport to get to/from the path at Wembury.

And don’t get me started on the various river crossings that we’ve got to do. On the worst one, the Erme, we’ve opted not to wade and instead are going to walk around – in practice I’m going to try to be clever with accommodation so that most of the walking around is actually in a taxi.

And with Easter holiday looming and a trip to Snowdonia for early May (that I’ve not even started planning), I’m running out of time.

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