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.


10. kind folk

I'd slept lazily through a dreamless night. It had been light for some time now, though i had no clue what time is was.
The light had been filtering through my green brolly but now it was even brighter, i guessed that the sun had risen and come round  lighting up my southerly facing shelter.
The water that had been lapping gently at the shore was now silent and the gulls that called to me earlier as i slept were distant too. I could hear voices, footsteps, bicycle bells and children, all passing along the popular path behind me.

It was time to rise and get what i knew to be a less enjoyable in terms of a scenic walk done. Today most of the walk will be along the old railway line, linking Barnstaple to Bideford via Instow.

Whilst packing my stuff i remembered my pie, so i ate that as i looked out across the river Taw which i'd previously thought was the estuary.
The sky was clear save for a few wispy clouds. Vapour trails from jets streaked across the sky rushing people to and from their holidays or on business.
Once i'd taken some pictures of the view and of my shelter i checked the time on the camera. 11:05am. Wow! A lie in, i thought.  Then i remembered my damp sleeping bag, so laid it out in the warm morning sun to air a little.

Up to now i'd been wearing scruffy paint splattered jogging bottoms and i wondered whether i was time for shorts and therefore a slightly tidier image. I chose to wear my shorts, up top a sports tee with my light weight raincoat, so packed the rest and after maybe 20mins of airing, i packed the sleeping bag too.

I set off up the now tarmac path and got into a good stride. It was a day to be polite and friendly to all i met, as today would be a very busy day on the path. Not only was it part of the south west coast path. There were various cycle hire centre's along it's route, so a lot of bikes were being ridden along it too.
Also i think it may of been a bank holiday, though by now i wasn't sure what day it was as it didn't matter to me.

As i neared the bridge over the river, i was warming up so removed the coat.
Over the bridge  and passing a large national cycle network sign, i was now on the old railway line and heading back in the direction i'd just come from. Only this time i was on the other side of the river Taw.
With little more to see than the salt fields and mud banks, my eyes were averted to that of all the lovely cute ladies that seemed to be using the trail today. Fit body's wrapped in tight lycra would of normally sent me chasing after them. All i could manage now was an appreciative smile. My once high level of confidence around the opposite sex, was now very low. Essentially i was homeless, jobless and worthless to them, so why would they even want to know me right now.

A family on bikes passed by, only for me to catch them up again several minutes later. The dad was stood there with the handle bars of his sons bike in his hand and he had the look of confusion about him. He fiddled with the bars to try and get them to slide back on. So i offered to help.
As i rummaged about in my bag for my bike tool, to which i now found the reason why i needed to bring it. I explained that i was a keen cyclist and  that i knew my way about bicycles well enough.
In little time the handle bars were refitted and at a height more suitable for him. I too adjusted the saddle, as i'd observed it being to low, then i went on the get the gears working better. The brakes were damaged so i advised them to get them fixed.
A thank you was my reward and off i went feeling great about being able to help.

For the next few miles i happily walked the ribbon of grey, reading plaques along the way. They explained the importance and role of the salt marshes that were to my right. As well as providing sea defence and habitat for many types of plant and wild life.
They are still grazed by Soay sheep to maintain the marshes. This has been practiced here for more than a century. Thus keeping it healthily and diverse. This area is classed as a Biosphere.

 A head of me a man and a lady walked, though maybe not obviously together. As i reached the man, he spoke and took an immediate interest in what distance i was walking.
Obviously the pack on my back told him i was out for more than a days jolly.
As i told him my tale. The why's and where fors, about Steffan, depression and family. He shared with his experience with doing a similar thing, years ago when he was younger and fitter.
I'd guess that he was in his sixty's. He carried a slight limp, the lady had a dog, it was slowing her down, from being very interested in the many smells that were along the trail side.
The man called Rob, told me of a time he slept under a boat and another time in the shed of a couples home. They heard him enter and came to investigate, yet let him stay, without hindrance. This gave me hope of the possibilities i could have along the way. He also told me of his various exploits travelling and seemed friendly enough.

I'd learnt a few days ago to just accept generosity like this. In kind, i'd earned it a while back when i fixed the bike.
My faith and belief in karma was growing. If i helped others without direct reward, somewhere along the way, that kindness would be re payed.

We continued along the path, passing a little cob hut, then on approach to Instow the north Devon cricket club stood to our right. I'm not a fan of cricket, a little to slow paced for me to watch.
What caught my eye was the thatched pavilion. The club has been running for around a hundred and ninety years and the ground is beautifully kept. It was also the home ground of the late David Shepard and well respected World class umpire was from the area.

A dispute between Rob and his partner/non partner occurred about whether the route went onto the beach  here or there. Not getting involved i chose to head on a little more in search of my so far good guide, the acorn.
Alas it appeared and myself, followed by a now grumpy Rob followed a path leading onto the beach. Rob stomped out across the beach ahead of me, he was heading towards the sea and not along the shore line.
As his lady friend appeared in the distance, he began whistling at her as if she was a dog, then started shouting.
This all seemed quite unnecessary and a touch arrogant. I decided to not be near this behavior and went to tell Rob i was off and to thank him once more. Suddenly he turned and seeing me approach him, took a step towards me and said, " I think i'd like to continue now, just with her",  he pointed to the lady.
He said this in such away, as if to infer i was following him.
I told him, i'd only followed him, to tell him i was to continue on with my walk and to thank him. He mumbled and shouted at her again..
I managed to catch his eye, thank him and wish him well, then headed back across the beach, to the shore line. The sound of his voice booming across the beach towards his friend quietened.

There were shops up beyond a wall, with many people sat upon it eating and drinking. I decided i should eat now too. I wasn't sure when i would next get a chance and i knew from endurance racing and experience, i should eat before i get hungry.
There was a little pub that looked really busy and shop next door.  I opted for the shop as all i really wanted was a snack. I'd checked the time whilst reviewing photos and it as was now 3pm.
I bought fruit, a large pot of yogurt, a chocolate bar(Steffan ate and shared alot of chocolate with me) and a Cola. Then went outside to sit in the sun.

It was such a stunning day. Still wispy clouds drifting high in the blue sky.
The outlook from here was out across the water where the river mouth of the Taw met the river Torridge.
The Taw enters the sea via Barnstaple and the Torridge at Bideford. They both merge together here then join the Bristol channel by Saunton Burrrows in Bideford/Barnstaple bay.
I sat on the wall and took out my multi tool and self made spoon. Popped open the big pot of yogurt and commenced chopping fruit. I had apple and banana.
As i ate, i looked around at the other people eating burgers, hot dogs and other fast processed foods. I was trying to make sure everything i ate provided as much goodness as i needed. Protein to repair me, carbohydrate and sugars for energy, vitamins to try and maintain a healthy working body and some fats to build up a reserve. Not that in my 38 years had i been able to gain noticeable layers of fat.

I could of sat here for longer as a group of young people had sat next to me. One of them was an attractive girl with her large but lovely Staffordshire bull terrier. It was rummaging in the dried seaweed that was laying next to the wall. I saw fries amongst the weed and pitied the dog for either wanted food, or being used to and familiar to the smell and taste of crisps.
However i wanted to keep going, so i packed my stuff and wrapped my unconventional cargo up into a now some what organised fashion.
I had formed a technique that kept the weight fairly high on the back, which in effect, made it feel lighter. Along the way, my ability to adapt and improvise in dealing with difficulties and challenges was growing. Improvisation in the practical sense was always something i was good at.
Well at least in my own mind, i could get over physical difficulties by way of 'a little making it up along the way'.

I'd began to get a dull ache down the back of my ankle, my Achilles had developed an injury, whether this was from all the walking or the rucksack, i wasn't sure. Whatever the cause, it would need treatment before the end of the day. But not from medication of any sort. I wanted to do this without anything like that.

Beyond Instow i passed another cycle hire centre.
Several more old boat hulls lay rotting and green on the bank of the river Torridge. I wondered whether the owners where still alive.
You couldn't leave a car to rot roadside without it being removed. So why should the rivers be subject to man kinds neglect like this?
Of course now the rotting hulls are homes to wildlife and have become part of the system.

As the  path enclosed from views of anything but hedge and litter, i had to go down some steps under a bridge to join a road. Really so far i'd struggled to use the camera. My eyes were failing to see images worthy of a photograph.
Some of the while, i'd been thinking about the past few days with Steffan. And how i had let myself down by not being stronger and seeking out ways to get self sufficient.
I worked out he must of spent over twenty pounds on me, even more. That made me think. Is it possible do this through actually earning the things i was needing and so far getting. For as yet i hadn't been able to on my own.
I was questioning myself alot, which for me is very much a sign of depression.
However! I was determined to do this. I just needed to have faith in myself and to try alot harder. A heck of a lot harder.
I now had nothing to loose, as deep down i started to believe that i had lost everything, the moment i left.

I passed over a large bridge called the Bideford long bridge leading to Bideford. It's twenty four differing sized arches have supported the bridge since the 13th century.
A thundering sound could be heard approaching from behind me, making me turn to see what is was from. An old Motorbike rumbled by. I'm not sure what make it was, though the sound was powerful.

My Step father introduced me to the combustion engine when he entered the life of my mother and sister when i was about 12 years old.
(As i write this, it reminds me how l little i remember about the times from my father left and my step father arrived and most of childhood)
He was an merchant navy man who when he came into our lives, worked down in the depths of the QE2 and other ocean liners.
He'd spent alot of time taking things apart and putting them back together.
Adrian my step Father(though he never married my mother), first got to know her whilst he came to help repair tractors and other machinery that our neighbour used for his business. The business of  mostly tree felling and the selling of firewood, with the occasional work of fencing and farm work for a few local farmers.
At some stage he moved in and helped bring myself and my sister up.
He would often have old cars to repair in some way, whether mechanically or structurally. I'd stand watch and ask questions, sometimes being  aloud to help, by handing him tools or other little things even a boy couldn't easily mess up.

As the motorbike rider and other road users went about on their journey's so did i.
I turned off the bridge and followed the main street along the riverside.
Shops appeared to be closing, i checked the camera for the time, it was 5:30pm.
I felt ok apart from the heal, so decided on keep moving on, the pavement joined an area of playing fields. Some public toilets gave me a chance to relieve myself, so i stripped off my pack then placed it down outside.
It was good to get the load off, so once i'd used the facilities, i thought i'd grab a moments rest and sit in the sun for a short while.
I had a little food left over from Instow, so ate that and watched families play, and other people pass me by as i lay on the grass for a while.

Aware of the rough time that the sunsets. I knew i have just an hour or two of daylight left, in which to find food and shelter for the night. I had eaten and had money so there wasn't any excuse for going hungry.
I knew Appledore was the next place i'd come to and that was not far away.
Up to now i was still in fairly familiar area. Beyond that was Westward Ho! and then it becomes a bit of a mystery what comes up next.

Loading up my pack onto my back, off i went, now heading north.
As the crow flies, to use the term again, i'd not really covered much distance from when i began the walk. Now five days ago, or was it six? I wasn't sure.
The nature of the  of the UK's coastline and consequently  the coastal path, meant i was often back tracking as i crossed rivers, steep sided hills and inlets or headlands.

At the end of the playing field area, the acorns pointed through a small estate, then down a muddy walkway. Crossing a small beach for maybe five metres then back up. A  small copse took me away from the river a little and i was glad to be off the tarmac finally today.
I could see a large shipping building ahead of me across a low field. More boats lay to rest along the banks of the river here. Though these were moored further out.
Two were large fishing vessels made of metal, i guessed their owners were no longer catching enough from the sea, to make the job viable. A long thick mooring rope ran from the bow to the shore, green weed hang from below tide line.
 Then there was a much smaller wooden hulled boat with a small cabin. A small charter fishing boat i'd think.
Then there were the old decayed wooden boats. Now partially submersed in the silt beds. Green with weed and algae.
A further metal boat, one lower built than the two other metal ones, was abandoned closer to the river bank. This was such a graveyard for old boats.

As i got to the shipping building, i lost sight of the water and boats as i headed into Appledore.
Down a street it led where i said a cheery good afternoon to a lady who was walking in the opposite direction. I then saw an open door to a workshop, with in a large Hudson car of around the nineteen thirties. He had the side panel up to reveal the side of the large engine. Once again my knowledge of old vehicles and mechanics made me interested, and i offered what knowledge i could in helping him get the car running.
He was to take it and his wife out for a drive the following day, It wasn't firing well and when cold wouldn't run smoothly.
I suggested a few remedies to which he told me he had already tried.
He was down in his holiday cottage, and went on to tell me, he ought to go in for some food as he'd get an ear full for spending all the time in the garage. He was from London but came down to his cottage and classic cars for a week every month or so.
I too needed to eat and get shelter, i didn't even try to find a meal here from this chap, i was happy to just talk about cars for a while and take another break from walking.  As he cleaned his oily hands, i wished him a good evening and that the car would be ready for a nice day out tomorrow.

Down a little village lane passing more fish houses on the right. Then i was back on the river bank, or was this the estuary bank?
I was looking over to the water when i heard someone comment on my rucksack
It was the lady i previously spoke to. She found it an interesting contraption and truly guessed  that i was on a less than planned trip.

The lady it turned out loved the water and owned a boat, though much smaller than she'd had in the past. Sailing was her pastime.
I told her what i was doing and a little of why, she offered me fish and chips and her words of, "the best in the country," made it an offer hard to refuse. Still i explained that i needed to earn it somehow.
"So here's the deal" she said, "I get you some food, because i'd hate for you to go hungry tonight, and you promise to pop by my pottery in 'Welcome' to see me when you get down that way." Welcome was a small village on the border of north Devon and Cornwall, inland about a mile or two.
I agreed as suddenly i had the image of me working away on a potters wheel, which appealed and was suitably random for me.
We sat on a bench looking out over the water and at a gig being taken out for it training row.
The lady went on to tell me about gig's, as although i could see it was a large traditional rowing boat with six rowers and pilot. More mini viking than the sort you'd see in the annual race along the Thames by the teams from Oxford and Cambridge Universities.

A gig was traditionally used as a work boat, with one of their jobs to ferry a pilot out to vessels coming in from the Atlantic. There was a big risk of the vessels running a ground on rocks, so it would be the job of a local pilot to guide the vessels safely into shore.
Back then the race was between the many gig crews, to try to be the first to get their pilot on board the vessel, thus winning the job and getting the payment.
During other years the boats were known as the first shore based Lifeboats, used for helping distressed vessels. The earliest rescue is dated back to the late 17th century.
These modern gigs are now just for racing but are strictly based around the 1838 gig 'Treffry'

We watched 'Siren' the Appledore gig get rowed away whilst i talked more about my life and why i got so down, to choose to do such a walk. She did not judge, she just agreed i needed to do things in a way that i knew would help me feel happier.
As hard as the day had been so far, i was now actually happy.
Experiencing the kindness i 've recently felt, was restoring all the faith i'd previously lost in humanity.  There were many good people out there, ones who's genuinely wished to help and through luck or chance, i was meeting them.

The sun had dropped behind the buildings that stood behind us. We were facing northwest and without the sun, the temperature soon lowered and the kind lady was feeling the cold.
I thanked her once more and wished her a good evening. I then promised to find the pottery and see if i could help out there.

Once more i was alone, only now i had the warmth of the food heating me up inside.
Discarding the empty fish and chip wrappings in the bin, i followed the pavement around and into the sun.
My heal was getting more painful now, thankfully i knew a rest was not far away.
Two Jackdaws were collecting hay from a nearby hay pile, no doubt lining a nest in someones chimney with it. They will begin breeding in a couple weeks.
This was a nice reminder that spring was here and that awful long cold winter has passed. I had all those wonderful spring time things to come, the flowers, the trees turning green once more, longer spells of daylight  and the warmth of that sun. The thoughts made me smile to myself.

The sun dropped further as i crossed near a golf course and then was onto the beach at Westward Ho!
 This is familiar beach for me, having been here several times with friends who surf.
The tide was out a fair way with the soft flat sand wet and mirror like.  I took many pictures as i walked casually across the beach.
The sky was turning orange as the sun dipped beyond the watery horizon.
I watched a young lad cycle his bike out across the beach, leaving a tyre mark out to the sea. The impression made for a good photo opportunity, the line streaking through the wet sand and into the reflected sky.
I reached the end of the beach as the sunset, i was ready to rest for the evening. It was now 7:56pm.

I walked through the town looking for an inn or somewhere to rest. I didn't need feeding, but still wanted to offer to help somewhere. Also i needed to look for a place to stay whilst it was still a little light.
I past a small building site so i found a way over a wall to survey the suitability of a roofed building there.
The building appeared to be a toilet or shower block and would provide a good place to stay if a better offer didn't materialise during the rest of the evening.

Leaving the building i saw an Inn up the road.
The village inn as it was named seemed a welcoming place, so i entered and approached the staff.
It as fairly quite inside, just a few locals. My relaxed offer to help out, was well received but not needed. I'd eaten and just wanted to rest now. Do some writing and look at the few photos i'd taken.
So i just ordered a pint as i had some money left from Rob and sat down. I found a power point to charge my camera batteries, which i'd been doing in other bars when possible. It was important to me to not miss out on a photo.
Sitting writing my journal, a couple took an interest in me and spoke.
Once again i began my story, and was being more open about the situation to why i'd left in such a way.

It was not boring me to go over it over and over again with everyone i met. In fact it was helping me to share my thoughts and feelings.
The more i'd tell people, the more i began to understand what was wrong in my life and when it all went wrong, but not yet why.
I was invited to join this couple and they even offered to buy me a meal. It wasn't needed after the fish and chips earlier so settled for the drink that was also on offer.
As i stood to join them, i was reminded of the pain in my heal. So went to the bar and asked for a glass of ice. Wrapping the ice in my 'buff' which is a tube of material i used as a hat. I sat down, then took off my boot and sock and held the icy buff against the Achilles tendon.
I shared with them more of my journey so far, showed them photo's and talked more about what made me do this crazy thing.
They were impressed and inspired. I was laughing and joking with them. My mood nice and high after the mellow days with Steffan.
He bought me another drink and we all talked some more, almost like i'd known him and his girlfriend or wife for years. Eventually they needed to leave and he gave me £15 to help me along the way. He told me i was inspiring and brave, that it was a pleasure to help me this way.

The ice melted in my buff, the heal was cold as was my hand. Though it mattered not. It had turned out to be a wonderful day. A day of not so pretty walking but very beautiful people. And in so many ways.
More people chatted with me through the evening and the night went fast, finally it was soon time to close and for me to go into the night to sleep.
The several drinks i had, the company and the walking had tired me. I wished to sleep and knew i would be safe and dry tonight, my shelter was decided upon.

I left with a thanks and walked down to the building site, hopped over the wall and picked a wind free corner in which to set up bed.
The usual bed was laid out, then i stripped off and crawled into the sleeping bag.
I made a mental note i was on a building site so i needed to be gone at first light, to not be caught there.
I was happy and content.
Tomorrows walk remained a mystery to me. All i knew was that i'd be keeping the sea to my right and to follow the acorns. The rest would be just one big surprise.
Placing the head torch onto my head, i read a few more pages of the book and quickly my eye lids grew heavy, i dropped the book and fell asleep. Waking once to turn off and remove the torch.
And all was dark and quiet again.

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