From mountain biking in this area many times I knew what came next, North Hill, instead though of the usual climb straight up from the road to the top, I walked along the bottom of the wooded hill for a while and accessed them via a approach new to me, a few steps led me to a pat which rose quite steeply turned left and climbed further, at a gateway it all became familiar, I’d rejoined my usual path from Minehead towards Exmoor, up the hills into a clearing with views out to sea, then the walk would take me over Selworthy hill and down towards Hurlstone point, easy.
On a bike you cover the ground so much quicker, what I thought would be a short walk, turned out to take much longer, the path winding through the heathland, I saw the figure of a man loaded up with a large pack, he seemed to be cutting across from one track to another, lost or not, he was on a journey of his own.
The path came to a valley then turned inland slightly dropping to a stream crossing, then climbing the other side and then went back towards the coast. I could see the path on the other side of the valley, to follow the path, more than trebled the distance as the crow flies. I am not a crow!
This seemed to form a pattern now of my Exmoor walk, sights of the path not far away, yet the route much longer because of the steep sided valleys. Many of these lopes had alot of scree, as i looked around me thought of the Exmoor beast entered my mind. The beast was believed to be a big cat and was blamed for the killing of sheep across the moor, sightings were also made on the nearby Brendon hills and on the south side of the Quantock hills. I imagined what i would do if i came across one, two wild apex predators in the same area. I've never been afraid of nature, always thought i could judge it's behavior and respond in way to not threaten it.. to give it reason to attack. Over here in the UK, the most likely animal to attack a human would be a wild boar defending it's young.
Down on the edge of a steep slope a big cat stalked a lamb, when suddenly it caught my gaze and turned it's attention to me, i set up the camera and waited for it to get upon me, taking as many pics as i could before setting it down nearby on video mode and moved my self into position before being pounced on, it would be pointless trying to out run, out wit a big cat, there's a saying that in the states if a mountain lion chooses to stalk something, it will not give up and it will attack. So this one got to me and i wrestled with it knowing that if it managed to get it's teeth into my neck i was done for, despite the piercing pain from it's razor sharp claws, i managed to hold it off long enough to mount my own chosen attack method. For whilst it was coming at me a realised the only thing of use i had and could use as a weapon was my multi tool. The blades were only 30mm long and would be ineffective, so i took a more novel approach to immobilising a large predator like this. I had the multi tool opened in the plier setting and my plan was to plunge it into the cats neck and clamp it on it's wind pipe...therefore making it unconscious and i'd have a relatively damage free trophy to present to the media.
Well obviously this all never really happened, but being alone out there with the strange imagination that i have, leads to these bizarre thoughts. I also thought that i'd not wish to present this poor animal to the public, neither would i want to kill it or film it to prove it exists, it's a wild animal and deserves to be free on this land. The army had searched for it, countless other hunter types and yet it has eluded them thus far. So all images, footage, etc, will never get out because of me. Little did i know i was being searched for and being just as elusive as the fabled exmoor beast, neither of us wanted to be found.
Back to reality and an unfamiliar sight of cattle on the high cliffs, moist ground and heaving cattle aren't a great mix and the path turned to a very pitted mess.
Passing evidence of old industry, in the form of a old wheel and axle parts, bedded into the ground, i guessed about fifty to sixty years old, abandoned at the ends of it's purposeful life.
A sign marked 'rugged alternative' with my guide the acorn carved onto the post. Of course i'd take that option, always dong things the hard way, that was me. I'm unsure what made this more rugged then the other route, but it certainly seemed a long route, winding up, down, inland, then back out towards the coast again, traversing the hills in the easiest way possible. I became aware of how challenging this section of the walk would be for the many passionate walkers who pass over this trail, many elderly, retired and not so fit and strong as me. Credit is due to all those that get out there and ramble hills, fells and the mountains of the world, it's by no means an easy pastime.
At long last i got to familiar ground, a path hidden from view beyond a grassy crest, the descent down to Hurlstone. A warmth entered my heart, fond memories of a bike ride down here a couple years ago, too fast, too dangerous, a perfect thrill of a ride. A more sociable pace let me look at the terrain i passed over at a speed less responsible, it would've most certainly put me in hospital if i made any error that day. Taking risks is all to common when i'm on a bike, preservation of health seemed less important. Is doing this walk risky? Well i guess not knowing where my next meal is, where i will sleep, injuries i may have get, flu or colds and how to deal with them. Yes, it's a risk, maybe my biggest one yet.
The figures of two hand gliders ascending the slope up to the ridge made me feel less alone, it was Easter Monday and i'd seen so few people up on the moor. The sun was dropping it wanted to get to Porlock before dark so a decided not to stop to watch them, so carried on down. At the bottom, i go off route to look at the old coast guard watch tower, as i stand by it's empty and now redundant shell, my thoughts go to it's use and to all the lives that would of been saved, thanks to eyes of the men and women who watched the sea's for people in trouble. A woodland path takes me to Allerford and past the old pack horse along a lane and finally to Porlock, i'm exhausted, hungry and my feet hurt. This is just the beginning, a pain incomparable to what i will experience over the next few months, a mere feeling of being peckish compared to to feeling of emptiness i've got to come.
Although i had some money in my pocket, i wanted to find a way to earn a meal, if i could just get to speak with people, explain what i' doing, somewhere in this village there's person that could do with a helping hand, my hand..I went into a pub in the village, a roaring fire welcomed me, i spoke nervously to the owner, he had all the staff that he needed, and could not offer me the things i needed, food! He offered me a pint so i sat by the fire and rested by tired limbs and slowly drank, i was weary, i just wanted o sleep, but i needed to eat, every opportunity needs to be sought to gain a meal i can't rest yet, not now. Gathering my things, i went out once more, the streets were empty, a cool evening breeze made me shiver was this fatigue or was it actually cold enough to make me feel that way?
I went to a place i'd eaten before when camping in the area, it was quiet there, i spoke to the bar manager, like the many times that i will hear whilst on my journey, he'd told me he'd love t help, but cannot as he's not the owner. Excepting that sometimes, there will be nobody that can aid me, i ordered a pint, and sat down to see out the evening in the warm, before venturing outside to find my place to sleep. As i sat writing, and looking through photos, a couple took an interest in what i was doing, so i began my story to them, the gent at first was very sceptical, as i told them more his expression changed and the questions turned from interrogation to intrigue.
The lady offered me a drink whilst we were chatting and i explained that a can't just accept things for nothing, i'd need to earn it somehow. I then remembered what i had in my pocket, a thing that all women loved, so i decided to give it to her in exchange.
I took out the rock i'd found and told her she deserved a sparkling rock. My eyes diverted to the man as i said that someone else would need to provide the ring. I'd noticed neither of them wore a ring.
The rock twinkled in the light and she accepted it.
This mineral rock, formed over thousands, even millions of years, was now providing me with a drink and good kind company. Anything could be a tool to provide me with food or drink, not just in the form of labour or money.
The evening came to a close and we all left, yet again i had no clue to where i would stay tonight, i'd not eaten and i was still tired. I'd walked the quiet streets and found nothing so decided to head on in hope of finding a farm, a barn to take shelter in.
The coast path route went down a lane towards the village weir via a mile of pitch black lane. I flashed the torch around fields and found no buildings. Sleepy and hungry i walked on, somewhere out there in the dark is a place for me to stay, but where?
I watched a rabbit hop along the hedgerow, supper i thought. But how to catch a rabbit...the first and only way that popped into my head was to hit it with a stone, obviously i couldn't just walk up to it and wack it. I'd throw a stone at it, really hard, stun it, than i'd have a few moments to catch it and kill it.
So, i picked up a few carefully selected stones from the verge, ones with a good weight and shape to them. With the torch in one hand, i got my bleary eye in and took aim. Now! if any of you have ever tried to throw anything whilst carrying a large pack on your back, you'll understand how it affects the throw.
I pulled my hand back to above the shoulder and almost behind my right ear, then with a powerful throwing action launched the stone towards the bunny. The deathly thud as the stone hit the rabbit clean in the head never happened, instead i watched the stone clatter down the road missing the animal by a clear two metres. I only caught a glimpse of this miss because with the momentum carried forward by the rucksack, i was spun around and forward to the point of almost falling through the hedge.
Lesson learnt i shone the torch back down the road and there was bugs sat munching on the grass. The feelings that you get when taunted by your supper are a mixture of rage and hilarity, how dare it, i've caught and killed hundreds of rabbits in my life. OK! not with a stone though.
The next stone was chosen, slightly heavier it felt good in my hand, i knew i was a good shot, i could do this..
I managed to get a little closer to my fearless meal, i took aim and fired.. The stone flew through the darkness and within seconds a thud was heard, followed by a metallic clang, then a sheep dog barked and about several zillion sheep and lambs began bleating loudly. I'd missed the rabbit again!
Behind the hedge of which the stone had flown through was a barn, potentially my bedroom for the night. Waking the dog and sheep had dashed my hopes of a settled night there, as for the rabbit, bugs was still about, his eye glinting yellow in the torch light. It was now by a gateway and my last attempted with a stone pinged of the gate, the sound resonated though the clear dark night. My nemesis bunny ran off, the dog barked once more and the bleating increased. Lovely.
Down the lane i continued, a few houses on the had padlocked out houses, an old car looked promising. I tried the door, it was open. As i opened the door in hope of a lovely dry and comfy seat, i was in fact greeted with a very horrid smell. That of damp and engine oil, the seats were mouldy and old engine part lay strewn about. Not here then, i closed the door quietly and walked on.
A fork in the road and a sign saying 'The Chapel of St Nicholas', years ago chapels and churches were i believe used and sanctuaries, i hoped this would be the case tonight.
I came across the chapel, a structure clad in corrugated tin, 'tin tabernacles' as they've been termed in the past.
I tried the door, 'click!' as the door opened my relief was clear, i shone my torch around to see where would be best to rest, seating there was separate chairs, with small cushions as seat pads. I pushed some chairs apart and laid out the cushions as a mattress. In the torch light my breath was a mist, it was cold in there. Aware of the day i was concerned that a Easter Monday service would happen in the morning, i'd need to be up early ,get packed and be gone. Without an alarm, i'll need to depend on daylight, i pulled some curtains open, then snuggled into my sleeping bag to finally sleep. It had been a long long day and it felt lovely to finally lay down, the buzz from the De-humidifier did little to keep me from sleeping. My very cold and restless night had began..
Depression has been a big influence in my life and through years of struggling to deal with it alone, then with help, things dramatically changed.
On the 4th of April 2010 i left the place i loved and walked away from all that i saw was getting me down, all the people i thought i was letting down, the society i'd always struggled to fit into and the place i felt tied to.
I'd been trying to take my own life but never could make that one final commitment, so i looked at my life and knew i needed to get away and surround myself with the few things i knew would stop me going mad.
Exercise, fresh air, the great British countryside and all the fascinating features of nature. flowers, insects, birds, etc...
With those and the desire to live, i set out on what would turn out to be a life changing experience.
I left with little possessions, a sleeping bag, few clothes, knife and my camera, this would be an epic journey of self discovery and i'd photograph as much as i could.
In life we need little more than food and shelter.
Food i'd need to find or earn, the shelter i'd make or find in the form of old barns, etc..
I soon learnt that some people were inspired by my method of dealing with my own depression, they found ways in which i could help them and earn a meal or a hot drink. Some days i'd not eat properly, but my desire to succeed and so seek out these kind hearted people kept me going.
I was on the North Somerset coast in the UK and was to walk the south west coast path, a 630mile coastal route around the south west corner of England, Britain's longest national trail.
For over one hundred days i travelled around the coast, meeting many amazing, kind, thoughtful people along the way.
I got back in touch with nature on a level few will ever experience.
This is my story, my journey to share with you.
Please read the 'notes for readers' to the right.