My first target, the start.

My first target, the start.


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.


9. Thoughts and farewells

I woke from a good sleep, i could tell by the sound of traffic and school children it was sometime after 8am, i got up and dressed.  When i removed my sleeping bag from it's water proof cover, it revealed a moist end to my bag. Condensation had formed on the inside of rubbish bag. Lesson learnt i thought and took note to make sure the bag got dried out sometime during the day if possible.

Once packed, i walked back down to the Church gateway, unfamiliar noises alerted me to life in the bushes nearby. I looked over and the distinctive yellow flashes on the wings of birds grabbed my attention, enough for a better look. The birds had red on their faces. I immediately recognised them as Goldfinches, a type of bird i'd never seen before.
It's only when you see things for the first time, you realise that you'd never actually seen it or them before. Quite an obvious statement i know, but when you expose yourself to so much, your thoughts and senses open up to reveal a set of senses and feelings, often hidden away. Restricted by  distractions of life and limited time.

I feels odd that, i've laid in fields and watched young barn owls playing,  practicing swooping for their prey. I've had a family of badgers pass me by, within two metres of me, Mum, Dad and four cubs.. They didn't flinch, i was no threat.. High on the Quantock hills just before the Rut kicks off. I sat and watched the bond between stags break down. Fighting, stamping and antler polishing by thrashing the dead bracken. I've even seen the courtship of newts...
Yet despite all that i've seen in the wilds of the UK, i've yet to see a relatively common bird, The Goldfinch..There was loads of them, fluttering in and out of the branches, i can't recall what bush they were on, neither did i stop to take photo's. I said i'd meet Steffan and  according to the date stamp on the camera, it was time to do so.

Whilst walking, i could hear the raised voice of a man, as i neared, i saw him facing a bus timetable shouting at it. I worked out from his loud outbursts, he wasn't approving of the time of the next bus, or the lateness of the one he wanted.
I passed the angry man and went to a cafe, the money i got last night will get me a drink and a bit of breakfast, i'm unsure how much though.
I ordered what i could afford, some poached eggs on toast and a mug of tea and turned to sit at a table. Steffan was there and had eaten his already. I'd not arranged to see him so it was a pleasant surprise. He had it appeared a less than perfect night's sleep. Not only did he camp  at a windy location, it also happened to be near an area that the local youths like to hang out near. Although they did not bother him in his tent, their noise kept him awake. I shared with him my night as i ate.

Once i'd eaten and drank, i asked the staff to refill my water bottles then we left. A short piece of off road around Capstone point brought us back onto a road , but thankfully only briefly.
We were now back on the Tarka trail, which we joined on the previous day. It gets it's name from the the book of the same name, the trail follows the route that 'Tarka the Otter' took, it's a figure of eight around North Devon, with much of it coastal.

To our right was the sea and the rugged coastline of North Devon. The weather was good after yesterday afternoons rain and it looked to be getting brighter as we walked.
There was many an occasion where Steffan had walked ahead of me, i was doing battle with the camera and landscapes. The rocky shore line, was very photographic, it's greyness against the green of the clifftops. Then where the sea met the land, it was white as the waves crashed against the land.
I noticed how less murky the sea was here, compared to that east of here along the Bristol channel shore line. Further east the sea is almost brown from the constant and powerful tide and the silt it disturbs.
Also the rock that formed the shoreline, is made up of layers of slate, now near vertical due to the forces on nature. These rocks have been 370 million years in the making. This reminded me of my time investigating a fairly unknown cave on the Quantocks.

A few years ago whilst looking over a detailed map of the area, i saw there was a cave on the hills. Me being me and after a few weeks of wondering and wandering in the area, i found the entrance. It was via an old Quarry where i believe copper was once dug for. I was trespassing on  farmland, not that ever bothered me to much. The cave entrance was about 3 metres below ground level and dropped more once i went i there. I'd taken a video camera in there and filmed it the best i could with night vision. The thing of interest aside from the bats and the adventure was it's history.
Around 200 years ago a local  amateur Scientist named Andrew Crosse. He came to this cave  to collect water for his  electro-crystallization experiments. On the ceiling of the cave where the Ilfracombe slate bed meets the sandstone bed, from here mineral rich water ran and where it ran down the ceiling a layer of crystals formed, a rare crystal called aragonite . Crosse
He tried to recreate this in his home made lab on the Quantocks in 1836, then on the 26th day of the experiment, he saw what he described as a perfect insect, created from a rock and passing electricity through it. A friend of a friend of Crosses was a certain Mary Shelley, creator of the character, 'Frankenstein'. Whether or not Andrew Crosse influenced this, from his fascination which electricity remains unknown.
Memories like that made me feel good, thought's of my lone exploration of that cave and then with friends, one a claustrophobic, were good times, it's important to look back at the good times when nothing seems good anymore.
I'm in my element when facing the unknown, when things are an adventure, dangerous, risky and perhaps a little naughty. And with these good feelings i was able to loosen the mind a little.

However! When my mind is free to wander it can stray into realms of being a little weird. On this day, weirdness entered my mind, triggered by a natural function of the body. Whether it was a poor diet, something in the water or another thing i needed the loo, desperately. I shuffled down an embankment onto a semi-secluded beach to squat. I'd foolishly taken my pack off, to ease the tricky descent to the chosen toilet and i had no man made loo paper. Many handfuls of grass later and i hoped to have sufficiently wiped clean. I pulled on my clothes and climbed back up to my bag. I reloaded and continued walking. Having done what i had just done, my mind wandered back to similar scenarios like that over the years. One of which i'll share with you.

Now i'm sorry if you're reading this with a frown or other look of disgust, if you are, then erm, to bad. This is the raw tellings of a man in the wilds and when the needs a must, you'll go to all the lengths necessary. And this i mean to tell in all the glory or gory detail, such as it occurred.

Having just experienced usage of natures supplier my mind drifted to that of wiping in the wilds. Since an early age,  i've wandered and wiped using a variety of materials, all with differing effects.
As a boy, i'd often be caught short whilst out playing and would go home without underwear. This would end with much questioning from my mother once my stocks had ran out. My pants must of been hanging up in so many bushes or trees back then. As i grew older, i began making use of the greenery around me, leaves, grass, rocks and my personal favourite and one of Eskimos during the mild months, Moss.
On one occasions though things didn't turn out so well. It was just prior to a big mountain bike ride on Dartmoor in the south west, it was winter cold and damp, so i was dressed up inconveniently for outdoors bowel relief. The chance of making it to a public toilet wasn't an option, so i headed into the nearby woods, making sure i was away from all paths. Through the dense undergrowth i rushed, then without to much warning, the urgency to poop increased. I had no more time, against the next tree i stood and began peeling off the layers of winter clothing i had on. In normal situations this would be to simply undo a belt, a button and fly. But not for me today. You see my winter riding kit consists of a pair of bib tights. The best way to describe these,  to those not familiar with cycling attire is thus.
Picture some skin tight dungarees worn next to the skin, so under everything else you wear. The only way out of these is to undo the torso lengthed zip on the front and the remove the two shoulder straps.
So struggling to do this in close to freezing conditions, with a straining sphincter wasn't the finest moments of woodland pooping.
Still i managed to hold on to it, i leant my back against the tree and relaxed...aaaaaahhh! Now for the clean up operation. Now without the need to rush things  like now, i'd of carefully selected my location. On this day as i looked about the ground for something suitable,  a potentially painful realisation entered my mind, and very nearly entered elsewhere.
Of all the places you could chose to go to the loo, under a holly tree isn't the best place, dried holly leaf loo paper is a highly impracticable wiping material. Bare bummed and still crouching i looked for moss, a smooth stick anything suitable, but nothing caught my eye. This meant that i needed to move locations. If anyone has been caught out on a normal toilet and for instance the loo paper had ran out. You'd sort of shuffle to the next cubicle or to the loo roll stores.
This shuffle has a half stooping posture, leg wear is usually half way down your legs restricting movement.
So there i was half naked in a wood consisting mostly of holly trees, almost crouched looking around for a way to get clean. In the end a stick gets used to great effect and i'm able to rejoin the others and go for a ride.
Whilst remembering such experiences, i walk the path with a slight smile, and the odd snigger to myself. Away from the lonely, depressed times, i've done some crazy things in my life, little did i know at this stage, was the craziest yet.

Compared to the previous days walking, the path was easy going today so far, quite flat and fairly straight, just a few dips and steps, nothing too severe. Despite this, Steffan was developing blisters and was beginning to struggle, the next place possible, he needed to get some treatment and new insoles.

As we rounded a rough and rocky headland of Morte Point , we stopped and admired the views. From here North, west and south was sea, east and south east was coastline. As the sea broke up against the ragged shoreline, the rhythmic crashing sound was both soothing to the ear and eyes,almost hypnotic. I could stop here to watch and listen to it all day.
Also the rocks were an interesting thing to look at. The tilted layers of broken limestone, stood up out of the ground. Some like plates stacked for drying, others like teeth. As the sun peaked out through the clouds, the silvery grey slabs of smooth faced rock lit up, whilst their jagged edges  gave a dramatic shadow on the ground hidden from the sun.
We were now walking south and after a while the rocks gave way to a gentle grassy slope. Behind us to the north the skies had cleared and made way for a beautiful blue sky. To the south west, moody dark clouds hoovered low and threatening over the distant Woolacombe. Fortunately for us the wind was in our favour and the clouds were blowing away from us.
With all the stunning scenery, i was preoccupied in taking it all in rather than let my mind wander away with bad thoughts. Of course though me being me,  occasionally i would grow thoughtful and i'd become a little less happy.

Steffan was struggling and it made me realise that i would suffer from blisters too at some stage. Also i knew my backpack would be causing issues with my back. I was often still having to adjust it on my back. It would twist and lie awkwardly and if i'd not packed it well, i'd have my battery charger sticking in my back. These i needed to just cope with and deal with as they occurred. All part of Manning myself up a bit. If  could work through pain, hunger, lack of shelter, loneliness, i could handle the cruelness of society better.

I'd told myself on the very first day to not look back. This however was almost unavoidable as when asked questions about why i was doing this, i'd be honest about it. The further i got from where i'd left, the easier it got to be open about things. I have three children and need to be alive for them, even if i can't be with them, it's better than them hearing ive been found in a tree and they no longer have a father. I was doing this as much for them as myself. Little did i know about the repercussions that my walking away without telling anyone would have on the rest of my life.
So far on the walk, when people asked if i'd told anyone where  i was. I said, "yes!"  A lie i know, at this stage i didn't want anyone to know where  was from or my full name. Should a search ever be done for me, i'd be known as just a mystery walker.

A large sandy beach was now in view, this is a popular surfing spot, but at this time of year, it's just the locals who enjoy the waves. Today though wasn't ideal surfing conditions, not that ever stops them sitting out on their boards just waiting for that one good wave.
We head into town, which is quite busy and we find a Pharmacy, Steffan purchases a blister pack and some new insoles to try. We go outside and sit on the pavement while Steffan cuts and fits his insoles and deals with his blister. We eat more Rye bread, some cheese and an apple each. Then we get under way again.

Along the warren  to Baggy point another headland and more stunning rocky features then down to Croyde  bay.  Here we walk along the beach, which with a heavy pack on, isn't so easy. A river runs out to sea half way along the beach and it's to deep for my non waterproof boots. So i remove them and continue the beach walk bare foot. It's a great feeling walking on soft sand and i must make sure i do as much as possible. It's good i think for the feet.
At the end of the beach a ramp takes us back up onto the cliff so i need to get my boots on again. I sit and wipe them dry with my blanket, making sure i dust of all of the sand. I really don't want that rubbing inside the boots.
Climbing up from the beach,  it's a short walk to Saunton sands. There's about 4 miles of sand dunes to walk around to Braunton and Steffan doesn't see the point of walking a featureless path of grassy dunes and water. And because i'd become dependant on him i followed him, regrettably missing out part of the path.
We walked along the road and eventually reached the small town of Braunton where i told Steffan i NEEDED to do my thing. That i felt terrible that he was feeding me and had been for the last few days. I was to go for a wander and try to find a way to earn my meal, perhaps even somewhere to stay. We arranged to meet up again after an hour, even if only to say goodbye.
I only tried a few inns, but my confidence had dropped as well as my energy levels. My whole sales pitch was lacking the happiness it needed. My speech was stuttered, sentences were broken so lacking the flow. This all meant that people weren't willing to listen to what i was offering and either didn't understand me, or didn't trust me. I wandered streets hoping to see someone in their garden. I wanted people to ask me first what i was up to. If they were friendly enough to make conversation with me, perhaps they'd they'd have the time and patience to listen to me and maybe even be able to help me. But nobody did. I walked the streets alone for an hour, then headed back to the centre to see if Steffan was there.
We arrived at the same time and having told him of my efforts, i sensed he did not believe me. Still being the kind hearted man he was, he offered me some fruit and yogurt. I peeled/chopped some Kiwi fruits, plums, apple and orange and mixed them into the yogurt and savoured the wonderful flavours as i ate.
We talked very little and felt this was to be the last moments of our journey together. He told me he'd be heading back to a camp site that we passed earlier, on the road so he could shower and do some laundry. He said we could meet in the morning  and continue on together, but his body language told me different and i knew i could see how he really felt. The air temperature was dropping, so it urged us to put on coats and repack. A few kind words from Steffan confirmed for me this was a farewell, though he never said goodbye, the manly hugs, firm handshake and look in his eyes, said enough. I told him i appreciated all his help and support over the last few days, everything he did for me, the food and the company. We then left and went our separate ways.

Mentally this was rejection, though i knew it's something we both needed to do for our separate journeys. Steffan needed to up the miles to reach as far along the coast path as he could. Where as i needed to work on helping people and finding ways to earn the food i ate. Not just to rely on kindness alone. I was alone again, however it was very necessary and all just a negative situation to turn around..
I had to pick myself up and be positive, find away to be happier and somewhere out there, find that person who needed my help or just wanted to help me on my way.

I had no idea where to go next, i felt i'd looked down every avenue, tried every place. In truth i'd barely tried at all. I just walked off in any direction and followed my heart a little. I came across a large pub/restaurant called the 'Agricultural' nick named 'the Aggi". There appeared to be quite a few people in there dining and looked cosy. I calmed myself and entered.

A man immediately greeted me and asked me if i'd like a table for the night. Politely i requested to speak with the owner to which the man told me he was the owner. I offered him my hand to shake and told him my name, we shook hands and he told me his name, "Tony" he responded. I explained to him what i was doing and why, then offered to collect glasses for a cup of coffee. Without hesitation he showed me to a table and asked if a burger and chips would be ok. He wanted nothing in return, saying he was happy to help me.
He went of to make the order and then came back with a cup of coffee for me, with some biscuits. This turn of luck cheered me up immensely and i couldn't thank him enough when ever i saw him as i he hurried about his business. He served me up  sumptuous homemade burger, fries with side salad, to which i enjoyed alot. Returning to collect the empty plate, he wished to know more about my walk and a little more about why i was doing it. It turned out he was a member of 'the rotary' a volunteer organisation set up to help underprivileged communities, victims of disasters,etc, around the world. This explained his understanding of my situation and his willingness to help me. I was invited to rest there for the evening, to which i was further grateful for. I sat and wrote my journal, went through the day photos, then got out the spoon to work on. I'd been slowly whittling away at it whilst walking over the last two days and i was happy with it's shape. So now it just needed sanding down.

The ruck sack that had made up the carrier for my larger bag was is i've said my mountain biking bag. In one of pockets i had left a bike tool and a puncture repair kit. In that kit was a small piece of sand paper used for roughing up bike tubes prior to applying a patch. Now it was my spoon sander and i sat working away at making my spoon smoother.
When i saw empty glasses at tables i got up to collect them, i just had to do something i return for what i had received. So for my help, i was given constant top ups of coffee. Guess i couldn't win.
On one such return with glasses, i spotted a book high on a shelf a thriller written by Michael Crichton, it was called 'Prey'. The barman said i could have it, along with an umbrella if i'd like to choose one from the many left out in the entrance hall.
I took the book and sat down to yet another coffee. I'd began people watching and during one of my glances behind me, Tony caught my attention and asked me if i'd like to take some apple pie away with me. "Would i like some Apple Pie?  It took no thinking about and a keen, "yes please" got me a slice wrapped up in foil. Breakfast!  I thought.

It was now getting late and  i was becoming weary from the days walking. I Packed all my things and said a final thank you to Tony and his staff. Tony inquired where i may sleep the night and offered me a tent to borrow. I declined telling him i wanted to make, find of earn shelter. To have a tent would to me feel like an easy option so i left with my pie and book, just to now pick up an umbrella. A green Britvic branded one, seemed to me a good sturdy option. Green is my favourite colour, and if i was to end up sleeping in random places, i should at least blend in a bit.

I retraced my steps back to the centre and near a car park was a library. It had a good sized over hanging roof so i found an area away from the wind to settle for the night. A car pulled up in the car park, stopping nearby, with the engine running and lights on. A group of men walked passed having left a pub, they chatted loudly. The street lights shone bright too. It was all to much and i decided to go in search of somewhere darker and quieter. I'd not unpacked and laid of my bed for the night, so only needed to stand up, throw on the bag and walk. The Tarka line/coast path continued down a dark footpath, so i used my little torch to light the way. I went over a style and walked down the side of a river. I figured i needed to keep near the coast line, which the river would lead me to. Large rotten boats lay abandoned on the river side, i wondered if i should sleep in one of those. Some were listing over and very  decayed. Others just looked neglected. I shone the torch at each of the boats, to look for a suitable one. Then a light flashed back as the owner made his presence known to me. Not in a threatening manner, more i guess suspecting i was up to no good in the area. I continued down the path where it turned to a road and the mouth of the river widened. I was now on the wrong side of a very deep wide river and going in the wrong direction.

Getting more and more tired i had to keep going. I couldn't rest till a good place was found. Passing the same old boats, attracting the attention of the person with the torch again, i made my way to the end and found the bridge crossing the river sign posted for the Tarka trail again. I was now heading past the Marine Barracks at RAF Chivenor where i'd once done some construction work. A brief reminisce back to those several weeks of long hours, meals in the NAAFI and the one instance of using a unauthorised nail gun on site. The tool used a small charge, which when fired, shot a fixing through steel or into concrete. This one particular time, we were fixing into steel hanger supports. When fired the loud bang would echo and resonate through the building and someone must of heard it and notified their superiors. First we knew of it was when a group of about twenty armed soldiers, surrounded the building, then entered it. The Sergent asked where the gun was, and who was in charge. It took alot of head scratching to finally work out what caused the alarm. After a demonstration of the tool in action, they were at ease and let us commence with our work.
From here at Chivenor, the RAF search and rescue helicopter flies out. I've always admired the service they and the other rescue services provide. It's ironic that as i walked past this place and their search Helicopter. I'm oblivious to the previous search efforts made possibly by that very craft or ones like it, for me, just a couple days ago!
Once past the Barracks, i search for a shed or barn, just any form of shelter. I'm so tired now. I cross a road and rejoin the old railway line of which alot of the Tarka trail is on. A bridge offers  little shelter either. So i keep going, it must be way past midnight now. I'm flagging heavily, with the pace getting so slow.
Ahead of me another bridge can be seen, I'm pretty much ready to settle for it. I saw a path leading up onto the bridge so took a look. On top of the bridge a path led to a circular fence protecting a hole about a metre across and Three deep. A walkway around the perimeter of the fence and a wall around that. I worked out it was a type of kiln, so when down to find the main building.

Back down the bottom I looked around in the dark and notice a small clearing to the side of of the bridge, looking out to the Estuary. The sea is quietly lapping the shore line  and i shine my torch around me. Off to the right a stone structure is seen, it has a shallow archway on the side, I take a closer look. The Archway is only about four feet high and  curves downwards at the back forming an alcove, at the base of the curve at ground level is a small opening, big enough for a shovel. there's two further of these features on the two other sides of the building. The one facing the sea is the deepest and tallest. On the floor of this one, is some ply board and cardboard, telling me someone else has stayed here. I settle for this as it's dry and fairly protected. I unpack my stuff and lay out the bedding in the order it had been used before. Using the board to create a flat bed, i then proceeded to lay, bin bags, blanket then sleeping bag out upon it. Then i opened the umbrella and used it as a wind breaker. It almost filled the entrance to me lair, which was great. Then i lay down and tried to sleep, but now couldn't, despite being so exhausted. I decided to put on my head torch and take a look at the book, so began reading it. Reading books had a great effect on me whilst trying to sleep and it wasn't long before the close attention on words, sentences and paragraphs forced me to close my eyes. I managed to turn off the light and snuggle down for the remainder of the night. Asleep at last.

8. A cold shower.

I woke at first light, the sun had risen behind distant hill and lit the sky in a glorious glow. I grabbed my camera and began to frame some shots, trying a few variations of white balance to create more drama and differing coloured sky.

According to the date stamp on my camera it was 06.37am. The air wasn't too cold and i lay in for a bit looking at the sky, listening to the sea and the waking birds, i remembered the sound of a nearby tawny owl as i drifted into the deep calm sleep, it was good to be so close and exposed to nature, it made me feel normal again. Below me in the town there was no sound of man, just the squawk of gulls.

I lay back and found myself falling asleep again, awaking after just an hour. I half expected the tent to be down and Stefan to be gone,  because i sensed he would be keen to get an early start and didn't wish for me, my photo taking and lack of food to slow him down. It was evident that i still felt that i'd let people down, hold them back and to begin to rely on them.

The tent of course was still there, he was a good honest man and it wasn't in his nature to be so impolite.
I decided now to get up and get packed ready for whatever lay ahead for me. We had agreed to walk together today, but during the night, Stefan may of changed his mind and would prefer to charge along at his slightly faster and required pace.

Not so long after i'd got packed, he emerged from his tent and instantly offered me a little breakfast and a hot drink, telling me we'd get moving as soon as he'd packed up his tent and i'd eaten.

I needed a spoon, so i quickly set to work, whittling one  from a piece of dry hardwood. The cut timber i'd used to form the wind break for the night, was now finding a new use.  My multi tool had a small saw, so i cut off a piece about the length of a tea spoon. Then popping out the knife, i pared away at it to make a paddle shape. That would do or now, it'll serve the purpose this morning and i'd have plenty of time to work on it on the coming days and nights.

A part of me was relieved to have the company , another part was telling me to wait back abit, go back to town to earn breakfast, or at least offer to help someone.

The weak part of me won so after eating, cleaning the dishes  we set off up the hill, we passed the cliff railway, linking Lynmouth and Lynton, followed a road for a distance, with grand views down to the sea and harbour. From up here i could see the mouth of the river Lyn, which reminded me of a local tragedy.
On 15 and 16 August 1952, a storm broke over south-west England, depositing 229 millimetres (9.0 in) of rain within a 24hr period, the all ready soaked Exmoor.
Debris-laden flood waters cascaded down the northern escarpment of the moor, converging upon the village; in particular, in the upper West Lyn valley, a dam was formed by fallen trees, etc., which in due course gave way, sending a huge wave of water and debris down that river.
The River Lyn through the town had been culverted to gain land for business premises; this culvert soon choked with flood debris, and the river flowed through the town. Much of the debris was boulders and trees.
Overnight, over 100 buildings were destroyed or seriously damaged along with 28 of the 31 bridges, and 38 cars were washed out to sea. In total, 34 people died, with a further 420 made homeless.
Just six years ago, a similar thing happened to a village down in Cornwall, i'd pass through this village in a week or so time, once again the power of nature wind over mankind.

The path took us around the cliff edge and to valley of the rocks, an area i used to go to when i was a late teen to clamber over the rocks and fool around with girls. In later years i had taken my children there to do the same, the once easy path was now well eroded and only the local wild goats made easy work of it. Still, ever the risk taker, i got them down and we walked out to the rocks to sit and watch the sea, the goats had been playing on the rocks, but we'd scared them off. Well that was a while ago and a good memory from all the sadness i had felt. Now i was just passing by, with a chap i barely knew, walking away from the children i love so much.  I was still in an area i'd spent time with them and there was many things to remind me of them and the good times i'd shared with them. Although right now, i had Stefan to distract me from  inner thoughts, they were there in hiding and deep down i excepted they come out to test me soon.

Past castle rock and the entrance to my old play ground was Lee Abbey, this old building is now a christian retreat and holiday centre.
It's grand character is now mixed with modern and less than in keeping material and design. Britain slowly losing it charisma to commercialism.

The road went on, down through toll gates past a small settlement, then to climb very steeply, i felt fit and well and wanted to maintain a pace that my walking buddy would appreciate
Photo's weren't being taken, i had little time to stop and stare.
We did talk though, about my past, his past, relationships, family, jobs, in fact quite a bit, so walking and talking we headed unknowingly to a very first experience for me.

Basic hygiene is very important on wild trips like these, cleaning teeth, bathing or at least a damp wipe down, then of course laundry is necessary. Before we left camp, we agreed to bathe in the first suitable place, this could of been a river, stream, it may of been in the centre of a village under a fountain, we didn't know, but as a challenge, we'd do it and do it totally naked.

Ok, so i'm not really embarrassed about my body, i'm not over weight, in fact from the opinion of others i'm athletically fit so there's no real reason to be ashamed. I've performed on stage with strippers, and been arrested for exposing myself in public. Nothing too bad, i just needed a pee and happened to choose a slightly packed high street, at 2 o'clock in the morning. Then i was under the influence of drinks, now i had morals and a lack of confidence.

Well it would turn out our washing facilities would not be in a town or village, neither was it a secluded piece of running water in a quiet field.
It was in fact under a waterfall right on the south west coast path, just after leaving the aptly named west woodybay wood, the path became a little more exposed and it was along here on a slight u bend in the trail.
Falling from about twenty feet the cool April rain fall, fell onto the slippery algae covered rocks below, it was decided and without hesitation Stefan stripped off his clothes, got out some shower gel and walked into the cold natural shower.
Immediately i could see how uncomfortable it was, not only was the ground awkward to stand on, the pressure from the descending water and the coldness made for a very rushed wash, it wasn't long before i had six foot plus of wet naked German walking towards me and i was my turn next!
I asked him to get my camera and to take a pic of me, turns out it was over exposed it seems in more ways than one, a little photo-shop will sort that.

On the 6th of April 2010, at 10:31am and suffering from depression, i stood naked on the coast path and waited my turn. He handed me his gel and i wobbled over to wash. It's at this point i should inform you that i have very sensitive feet,  walking bare foot on anything but flat, smooth, soft and even ground is like walking on broken glass.
Waddling along, almost on all fours i reached the fall and knew what i needed to do and that was commit. It's like walking slowly into a cold ocean, slow torture. So not caring about what  i was standing on, i walked straight into the water fall. There's no room here for any expletives, imagine standing naked in a 60mph vertical gale, with hail stones, not only are you naked but you are also bald, the hail stones pelting you right on the head and shoulders, not to mention any other bit of flesh sticking out in front of you. Yes, even in the extreme cold there was no protection by way of extreme shrinkage.

Now that i'm  sufficiently wet, i can now apply the gel, steeping out from the pain for a moment to one side,i vigorously lathered myself up. For anyone who passed us by that morning i can only apologise, at this moment i was blind, with a good covering of soap and working it in really well, i really was a touch preoccupied to consider other users of the path.

It was now time for a rinse, i was aware of the fact, i had soap everywhere and that i'd need to rinse all of it off, this may take a while i thought.  Once again i stepped into the water and began rubbing myself all over. Usually i'd spend plenty of time in shower just standing there, hot water running over me body and enjoying the sensation it gives.
Today i was certainly getting a sensation, and to use the word enjoy would feel a little inappropriate. After what felt like too long, i was well and truly rinsed, quite possibly exfoliated too, i stepped out one last time.
Waddling once more across the slippery uncomfortable river bed, i made my way back to dry off, this is when i learnt how bad a fleece blanket is at absorbing water.
Whilst doing the best job i could with what i had, Stefan washed some clothes in the running water. I had got dressed just as two walkers came by and having shared good mornings, they passed and we loaded up.
By now Stefan had taken on an appearance akin to a clothes airer, with socks and shirts and a towel hanging off his pack, it provided a brief bit of humour for the pair of us, then i was back to the path.

I was feeling fresh and alive, my eyes were alert to the scenery and things living amongst it. It would appear to be the mating season for beetles, literally hundreds of bloody nosed beetles were either copulating or looking for a mate. These are flightless leaf eating beetles, their slow movements meant a easy subject for close up photos.

There would be much better views of the coast today, compared to the previous one, however the sea was far away at the foot of very steep cliffs. Our path then turned in land and we descended a fairly steep path down into the very steep sided Heddons mouth cleave. What goes down then goes up, then back towards sea again. The route we just took from the other side of the cleave, had meant a climb down of 180m and a return to the same height on this side. This was over a distance of about 2 kilometres, as we could both see the path from the other side it was a bit frustrating to walk so far, were as the distance as the crow flies, to coin a phrase meaning in a straight line, was only about 300m.
It levelled out after Peter rock and east cleave, also the path followed the high cliff top heading south west for a good distance which took away the previous frustration of Heddons cleave. Next up was a similar beast, Sherrycombe, with a slightly steeper drop down, i stopped to photograph a few local ponies then crossed a small bridge before the long climb to great hangman cairn, which by all accounts is the highest point on the whole south west coast path.

We rested by the cairn and drank some more water. So far during my journey, all the water i was drinking was from streams, complete with contamination for all knew. Any illnesses i picked up along the way, would need to be dealt with by the immune system, something few people barely have left nowadays. You can get a remedy for most things, so  just let pills, creams or liquids do battle with the nasties inside us. I'd rather build up my own defences, maybe it was my way of making myself suffer more for walking away from everything..
After the break, it was a good down hill pretty much all the way to little hangman. The weather today had been pretty mild, it was certainly a nice day for a walk.

On reaching the north Devon seaside resort called Combe Martin, Stefan wished to buy more provisions and water, i filled up my bottles from a tap in a wash room, then we found a local shop.
Whilst he was inside, i placed my camera on the top of a shopping trolley and sorted out my rucksack contraption. I wish now, i'd taken a picture of it in all it's lashed together glory. The nature of it's design or lack of, meant it would quite often be unbalanced, therefore uneven on my back. This meant i was often trying to fix it to make it more comfortable. It was after all just waterproof bag, strapped to a small empty rucksack.

Stefan came out of the shop and we headed of in search of a cafe. Suddenly i realised something was missing from my person, my camera, it was still outside the shop up the road. I turned and went back, it was only a minute or so away, but a couple seconds is all it takes for someone to take something. To my relief, the camera was still there where i left it. "pheww!"
Having re-joined Stefan(the spelling maybe wrong, if he ever reads this then i'm sorry) we found a cafe and he kindly once again bought me a hot drink and i had some apple pie and cream, one of my favourites.
More walking ahead of us i was becoming increasingly aware, i'd not been achieving the things i wanted to. Stefan was providing everything food wise for me. I felt bad about this and rather than say anything, i just let it happen.

The rest of the days walk faded into just walking, whittling my spoon, the conversation had stopped flowing and i wasn't taking pictures or taking in the scenery, the weather also changed, it got cooler and dark clouds loomed over head. All i wanted now was to stop walking and rest for the night, maybe even eat a cooked meal.

Coats were put on and we followed the path down to Ilfracombe, just as we got to the edge of town, the acorn signs sent us up around fort Hillsbourough, the short diversion, felt much longer and as the rain began to fall, my mood and energy levels dropped further.

Once we reached town, Stefan spotted a German supermarket, so in the rain we headed there. We wen inside where he bought egg waffles, Rye bread and Greek yogurt with some fruit, enough for me too.
Having eaten outside he then offered me a pint, to which i foolishly agreed, my constantly taking from him, was affecting our friendship, i knew soon, i'd have to fend for myself once again, despite of the fact i knew this was happening, i did nothing to prevent it. I'd told Stefan of my intentions along the path and had shown him no evidence of it being put into action. We went to a bar and whilst i sat by a fire writing, he sat at the bar taking to locals and eating cake. I drank slowly and felt very alone, tired and sad.

He eventually told me he was off to set up his tent, we'd spotted a suitable location earlier on as we came into town. I told him if he'd like to, i'd meet him at a cafe in the morning, to either say goodbye or walk another day with him. I didn't think he'd be there, my confidence was once again in tatters.
I sat, wrote and went through the days photo's whilst sipping beer, i felt like a smelly tramp, ignored and unwelcome in the corner. I was about to leave, i'd already packed to do so, went to the bar to return the empty glass, i said thanks to the barman and turned to get my bag. Behind me was a young lady, Zoe was one of a group that was sat nearby, she instantly offered to get me a drink, to share a short with her and her friends.
Excepting it, i told her a little bit of what i was doing and why, she wrote her number on a piece of newspaper and asked me to call her should i ever visit Manchester.

Bizarre and as brief as this meeting was, it was enough to lift my spirits, if only slightly. I then turn to get my bag and leave for the second time, this time i was interrupted by a man sat with his partner. He'd over heard a little on what i was doing and wished to know more, so i sat down with them.
It wasn't long before he bought me a pint and was listening intently to my tale, occasionally he or his partner would ask questions. I was feeling much better, not just from sharing my adventure, but also because they admired me and saw what i was doing as inspirational. It's very uplifting to hear words of support from complete strangers, it was always people i knew who'd offer their opinions on things i did, rarely were they supportive though.
There was one last act of kindness from this couple and it lined my pocket with some money for breakfast. With sincere thanks i left into the cold, dark and wet night to search for a sleeping place.

 I walked for maybe half an hour looking for somewhere dry and away from the wind, options were poor in fact it felt non existent. A large church stood in the centre of town, i knew it to be unlikely that i would find an open door here, churches often had other places to shelter so i went through the gates to take a look.
As predicted the main doors were locked, to keep out the homeless no doubt..I went round the side, my head torch lighting the way and there i found a small archway leading to an iron gate which appeared to lead down some steps to i guess a vault. It was here i decided to stay, at the entrance to the vaults of the church of Philip and st James.

From the moment i set eyes on my room for the night, i knew full well it wasn't big enough, at only about five feet deep it would mean my legs would protrude outside in the rain. Precautions then were needed, which would come in the shape of rubbish bin bags.
The head of my bed was in fact the first step, so i needed to build that up with clothes and bags. I laid out the usual bedding, bin bags to keep out the damp from the ground, my fleece blanket with was now dry, then on that my sleeping bag, to which i slipped the bottom of the bag in a black plastic bag, to try and keep out the rain. I undressed and used my clothes as a pillow, got into my sleeping bag, ticked off another day and several more miles. Then after much thinking and guilt for using Stefan as i felt i was doing so, i drifted off into a calm and relaxed sleep, essentially in a grave yard.

7. Chance encounters

The air was cold, outside of my sleeping bag, as my hot breath met the chilled air, it formed into a micro cloud and slowly drifted away from me.

I heard voices outside, it was morning and i'm late up! Why didn't i wake up earlier? it should be lighter than it is now, i looked up to the window that i'd pulled the curtains too and saw ivy, thick dense ivy, very little light..

I quickly packed and got ready for the door to open, it was Easter Monday, i was sure there would be a service today. However, the voices outside had gone, i'd not have to explain myself to anyone just yet.

By the door was a donation box, i felt it right to give a donation, for they had provided me with shelter for the night. I dropped in a one pound coin and opened the door to a bright but overcast day. Closing the door behind, i thanked the church and walked down the steps to rejoin the road, then made my way to the weir and to find the coast path again.

As i stood by the sea i looked at the old sea worn groynes and a settled WW2 pill box, the one at Porlock weir, back in Bossington and again at Dunster beaches where cast concrete, then clad in pebbles to camouflage them.  My imagination pictures a time all those years ago, images of the home guard constructing and manning it, watching out for attempted invasion via this coast.

Back to the day ahead and the pending journey, i'd use the money i now had to purchase a little breakfast and a hot drink. A pasty and a cup of tea would fuel me today. The thought of offering to earn it in anyway didn't cross my mind, i wished to get moving, i sensed a long hard day in front of me.
I ate and drank as i walked, up a narrow pathway into the woodlands.

To my left was a small field containing sheep, their lambs in little plastic coats suckling and bouncing playfully. These coats i guessed were to keep the rain off, clear polythene, they looked purpose made, designed to pass over their heads and with a small band under their belly's. Many of these coats had worn off and lay blown up against the fence, like litter...Next to the creation and birth of new life lay a reminder of a pet hate of mine, litter.
Mans disrespect for the land we live in, the world around our busy destructive existence is littered with signs of human laziness. Here in my hands are a paper cup and plastic food wrappings. Why is i can simply fold them up and place them in my pocket for disposal in a bin later, yet others seem incapable of such basic things?  Bottles, foil crisp bags, tissues, sweet wrappers, etc... I'm sure we've all seen it in places, where people sit in their cars eating plastic like burgers containing processed meat and drinking sugary or fatty drinks. The effort required to get up out of their seats and walk up to the provided bins, to dispose of the containers seem to much, the floor is closer, of course someone will clear it up.

Leaving the lambs behind i traverse a hill over looking some small fields to the sea, then come out by a wonderful curved building, Worthy Toll house with it's thatched roof and arched gateway. I turn off here down a path which leads to Yearnor woods, it zigs zags up wards, passing through and past old tunnels and follies, which once led to an old building in Ashley combe.

The area has suffered landslips over the years and diversions are in place to aid walkers like to me continue on through to Culborne and it's little Church which  is said to be the smallest parish church in England.
Here i'm not alone, it's Easter Monday and this seems a popular place to visit, i offer to look after the dog of a couple so they can look inside the church and experience it together, but they seem to be content in looking at it alone.

After taking a few pictures i moved on again, so placed my bag on my shoulders once more and went through the little gate to return to the path.
Suddenly as i looked up to where i was heading, familiar people were approaching walking their dog. I feared the would see me and question what i was doing, i couldn't run or turn away, my mind froze to react in any other way than to lower my head and walk on by.

These people had known me for years, Sue was the daughter of my mothers neighbour and her and Kevin her husband would of recognised me in an instance should they of not been looking at the church.
My mother was still living in the house i spent all but the first year of my life growing up in. Sues mother and father were like family, i'd spent so much of my teenage years with her dad, working as a woodsman and if i knew then what i know now, they would of been so relived to ave found me there.
As it was they didn't and i was able to continue on oblivious to to fact i was a missing person and massive amounts of resources were now being spent on searching for me, not to mention the efforts of people like Sue, Kevin, other members of family and friends.

If they ever get to read this i guess they'll be upset that they didn't see me, even though i pretty much brushed shoulders with them as i passed by.
I thought about this encounter alot as i walked on, would they catch me up and finally see me, I tried to blank it all out and to not feel bad about not speaking to them.

I'd been walking at a good pace for a while now and the distractions of nature had relaxed my guilty thoughts.
Birds, water and the trees all triggered my senses.  The feel of the soft moist ground, spring plants breaking the surface, the song of the robin, squirrels in the tree tops, trickling water and cascading waterfalls.
Any bad thoughts went away and i was once more so glad to be here in this experience, i always liked being in nature and my alertness to things around me reminded me just why it's an important part of who i am, and how much good therapy this was going to be.

I spent time trying different settings whilst taking pictures, from close up shots with a blurred but obvious feature as the background, to long exposure shots of running water, i wanted to learn about the camera and what it was capable of. As i knelt on the ground, i became more aware of the little things in nature there, tiny insects and small plants. The world is made up from so much and few people realise this whilst going about their rushed lives.
I am in no rush, i have no big agenda or place to be. I am free to see things in wonder and amazement of all that is around me. I am happy.
Time seems irrelevant too, i don't know what time it is or how far i have till the next village or chance for food and right now i couldn't care.

Ignoring a diversion round a land slip, i decided to go through the barrier and take a risk, most of the route had been re-instated, with large boulders protecting the path from further slips, one tree lay still across the path and my 5 minute battle to get through it provided a little entertainment for me. The branches of the tree got entangled in my rucksack, i struggled to go forwards or back wards, patience and persistence however helped me overcome this obstacle.

Laying on the path was the skull of a red deer, it reminded me of the deer i held so close to my heart back on the Quantocks. As well as being beautiful beasts, they are also an important reminder to my past and the loss of a baby of mine.
Several years ago, one of our babies was lost during a premature birth, she was cremated and the day we let her ashes free to blow across the hills, a young stag leaped out from the dead bracken and ran past us, from that moment the red deer of the Quantocks became the guardians of Lois.

I had another photo session at 'sister's fountain',  a natural spring, the small moss covered stone structure with a cross on top blended in with the dark damp green foliage all around me.
I met a man not far from there, he told me a short story of when German U-boat men came to nearby beaches to collect fresh water, the steep cliffs protected the beaches below, he said an English farmer saw them and led them to the spring. And a few years ago, the Boat captain came back to the area for a reunion and to re-tell the stories. All i can find out now, is of stories that the Germans rolled up their overalls and used them as a footballs, they played games the beaches for exercise and to enjoy the fresh air, away for the messy crapped conditions within the u-boats.

Back to my adventure now. I passed through to large pillars, on top of them each was a grotesque boars head, on the verge daffodil leaves swayed in the breeze, spring was here and soon flowers will be abundant for me to feast me eyes on.

 On Countisbury, i joined a road briefly and spotted in a field a new born lamb, it was still covered in mucus and very unstable on it's feet.
I sat on the verge side and took photos, then filmed all that was happening.  As the ewe licked her lamb and bleated out, the smell and sound of the mother would provide that bond they both needed.
The lambs instinct to feed was there, but finding the milk source wasn't so easy, it nuzzled the sheep's leg, wobbled some more and then gave the rear of he sheep a sniff, almost wanting to go back in.
I stayed there and filmed, this beautiful event for some time. The mother was aware of my presence and despite the fence i was behind, she was keen to lead her lamb away from me to safety. The lamb staggered behind her and often just lay down, to yawn and lick it's own face, only to be prompted to stand and follow mum.

I heard foot steps up the road from where i'd came from, i was about to meet my German walking companion, six foot two, carrying a giant pack, a man of good build and a handsome face, (i had not at this stage started fancying men, or later for that matter) at least i could see features that would be attractive to ladies. His name was Steffan.
We spoke briefly and his good English made communication easy, though with differing senses of humour, i needed to consider how i spoke with him, we were heading the same way so agreed to walk together for the rest of the day.

A short walk on a road, turned off onto a path and the obvious acorn signs continued to guide me on the right route. The coast was not visible at this point as it had not been for most of the days walking, but as we made our way to the light house at Foreland point, which was in fact off route of the coast path. We'd been so busy discussing our own reasons for doing the walk general conversation, we lost our way and found ourselves on the grounds of the light house.
We saw a ladder over a wall and before i knew it, we'd dropped over the two metre wall onto the cliff edge and what appeared to be a goat track, leading along the steep cliff top. We agreed to follow this path and head back up with the line of the vaguely obvious path. The wind was blowing luckily off the coast, so we we're being blown into land, which we were both thankful off, a lost footing would of been very fatal. With a sheer drop to the sea a hundred or so metres below, it became a risky but exciting detour.
The path wound along, well i call it a path, most of it was covered in heather, it hugged the contours of the cliff edge, when it reached a scree slope, we had no other option than to follow the path, directly up.
This had now turned even more of a challenge, such a slope would of normally warranted using a safety rope, instead we were relying on the grip of the heathers roots, the terrain was steep enough that we could hold onto heather, grass without leaning forward, thankfully this was only necessary for fifty or so metres, then we were back on a more suitable track, which turned out to be the official path.
The rest of the path was now either traversing the cliff top or a gently descending gradient taking us down to the small town of Lynmouth.

Steffan offered me a coffee and cake, to which i accepted and having found a little cafe, we sat down to relax a while.
He was on a mission to walk as much of the path as he could in twelve days and he hoped to get to St Ives in that time, to achieve that, he'd need to cover around twenty four miles a day, today's total was a mear twelve miles, to double that daily and find food, possibly earn it and take my time taking photos at that pace would be too much for me to undertake, so at this stage we'd not spend anymore time walking together. He needed to find somewhere to put his tent up, somewhere secluded enough to not be disturbed, but close enough to the path for an early start.

I walked with him and suggested we try up in the terraced woodlands between here and the town above the gorge we were in, a place called Lynton.
Part way up the hill and just off the path a level clearing provided a suitable place to pitch a tent. I helped clear the area for the tent and whilst he was putting it up, i went for a wander looking for animal tracks, i'd seen goat tracks and wondered if deer were in these woods.

The level clearing on which we'd decided to set up his camp had a fallen tree across it, it seemed a wide enough clearing to in fact be an old access road, to where i wished to know. So i went back to Steffan to see if he was ok. Whilst he sat, he noticed an old rotten tree leaning over the tent and he was a little concerned about it falling over night. However he had settled to the idea of staying there and when i told him i needed to go down into the town to find a meal, he offered me some of his.
So we sat there on the edge of this gorge over looking the Bristol channel, eating cheese, crackers, fruit and yogurt, the two of us talked and got to know a little more about each other.

As the temperature dropped i decided to have one last look around the area, so leaving my friend to sort out his stuff, i climbed up the embankment and around the fallen tree to investigate the other end of this old roadway.
Not much further up the track, to my surprise i found an old stable,a pile of wood, built up like a fire, but it was old, rotten and damp. Inside the stable or old barn, was a big old wooden bench, lots of goats droppings, despite of this it was dry sheltered,i'd found my room for the night and couldn't wait to show Steffan, there was room for his tent too, away from falling trees.
Alongside this track, was a wall, i dropped down the side of it and went back to where the tent was, excitedly i told Steffan to follow me, with no explanation, i ushered him to where i'd come from. He joined me and on seeing my findings he agrees we  should move there, and get a fire going.

After gathering our stuff and transferring it all to the other site, i gathered wood for a fire, whilst Steffan put up his tent. I found my room, with a newly replaced roof, had another guest, a small bat hang from the felt, it's head twitching in response to my being there, i left it alone to rest before it needed to go hunting the night for moths and other delights.

With a shortage of tinder i made some feather stick, which is basically a piece of dead wood, finely peeled with a knife, so that many fine strands of wood, would be able to catch fire and generate enough heat to establish a fire, once that worked,  we had a lighter so luckily no rubbing of sticks was needed. The downside to burning damp wood was the smoke and the wind seemed to be in favour of filling up my accommodation, at least though i'd be comfortable and hopefully warmer then my previous night in the old tin chapel.

Fire seems to have an hypnotic affect so after a nice peaceful time staring into the flames, we both were ready to sleep, so we said goodnight and Steffan went to his tent, me i went to my bench. I'd laid some spare clothes and the blanket onto the base and then my sleeping bag, however the wind had turned and was blowing straight into the barn, it had no doors just two large openings, separated by a central pillar. I moved the big heavy bench to behind the pillar, the bench had a solid back which acted as a wind stopper, also in the barn was a few lengths of wood, i used these and fashioned to uprights and a rail, to which i would hang my coat, jumper and other items over, forming a perfect wind break, lastly before i crawled into bed, put my boots under the bench to keep them from the goats that i guessed would visit during the night. I then undressed, got inside my sleeping bag and quite quickly, to the sound of the sea below, i drifted off to sleep, the best sleep i'd had in days, tired, but warm comfortable and safe.