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.


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.

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