The Two Moors Way, Part 9, The final stretch.
SO that was a lot of blogging. It's my first go at this, and as a person who can talk for hours with a willing participant, know that I did my best to eliminate 90% of what I COULD have said, and I seriously culled my photos as well. I take some satisfaction from knowing that it was a rewarding experience just to reconnect myself with the journey through the process. If I'm the only one that ever reads this, I will still have learned a lot from looking back on the trip this many months out, and it's made me more aware of how I want to approach my return journey. Now that writing this is mostly off my plate, I can focus on both training for the next - and from what I have been told, hillier - hiking trek, and also get focused back on work. Many things are in flux for us this year, and I will need to find a way to focus on it. Writing about this trip has been cathartic and a good escape from the stress, but I may have taken too much liberty so far - I guess only time will tell.
My weather luck definitively ran out on the morning of day 7. I had stayed in Scorriton at The Tradesman's Arms, which was, like the other places I stayed, a lovely night on the trail. It was also the first place since the Exmoor Forest Inn that I ran into sociable fellow hikers. I had walked the route 'backwards', going from north to south (I decided I wanted to end AT the English Channel, just because) so most people I encountered out on the trail were going the other direction, which I guess made for better conversation. At Scorriton, I met an Australian couple that had decided to do the Two Moors Way before attending a family wedding - why not?? - and they were the first that had been going in my direction. We had basically been about 20 minutes apart for the entire day's hiking, and now we both faced the prospect of a soggy day's hike tomorrow. Through dinner conversation, we talked ourselves into accepting that taking the South Devon Railway from Buckfastleigh to Totnes, and thereby cutting the day's walk in half, was not cheating, but a well deserved break at the end of a long journey. I'm still not totally ok with this choice - it was totally cheating. BUT it could be argued that it was also a way to experience the local amenities, I suppose.... In the morning we saw each other at breakfast again, and declared our intentions to stick to the plan, even though I intended to make an earlier departure. Another couple joined the breakfast, this time an American couple, who were walking north, and had a 20+ mile day planned ahead of them. 20 miles in the rain, and the woman asked us if we thought they might need rain jackets. The trip was also a surprise by the woman for her boyfriend, he literally didn't know what the trip was until getting off the plane at Heathrow. I really do hope they managed to make it home as a couple after the journey's end. Fingers crossed!!??
Once again, I remember this as being a charming walk despite the rain. Especially the section where I found those GIANT irises. They were about 5' tall, just growing wild in a soggy stretch woods alongside the footpath. I'm sad to report that I don't have any photos from HemburyWood, though. It was so thick, green, alive, and gorgeous. It's the kind of place that made me scream internally 'I LOVE THE WOODS AS MUCH AS PIZZA AND NAPS.' I would love to eat pizza in the woods and then take a nap, now that I think about it... The problem was that I got caught up in the hurry to make it to the rail station by 10:45am, and I rushed through. I've promised myself to not do that again next time. What would the worst thing have been about me getting into Totnes later in the day? I would have missed the amazing lunch I had on the High Street, but I didn't know that at the time. I did notice as I left the little train the Australian couple from the hotel, that had been several cars up from me on the train. We said our hellos and goodbyes as we exited the station, I hurried into town to begin exploring, and they had a few miles to go before getting to their destination. Knowing that there are people out traversing the globe without being attached to a car or the other types of insulation we surround ourselves with daily just feels hopeful to me for some reason.
When planning my trip, I would research the towns that would come up in my possible routes, and try to adjust according to what places looked the most interesting, in addition to which ones had affordable accommodation. Totnes seemed to be an excellent place to end, both because it was a 1000+ year old town that now has an eclectic art scene, a castle-fort, and plenty of hippie food options, and because it had a train station to get me back to Heathrow. Let's be honest though, if it didn't have a train station I would probably have picked it, just because I was too curious. Due to the milage to get to the ocean, though, I planned to stay 2 nights here, and then be able to wake up and head straight to the train on the last day. It seemed prudent to have a few legs as possible on the day that the journey ended with a hard-stop gate closing at an aircraft. My room at the Steam Packet Inn was the most expensive of the places I stayed, but it was also the most upscale conditions, and Totnes is a near-coastal town with more amenities than anywhere else I stayed, so, it was ok. There was even a small fridge to share in the hallway, which was good because breakfast was not included, so I picked up some juice and a local chunk of cheese from a cheese shop and ate like a queen in the morning, comfy in my own room despite the lack of silverware. In Totnes I also found actual stores to shop in, mouthwatering options for vegetarian and gluten free food, and plenty of charm to distract from the persistent drizzle. After checking in, I thought to myself 'hmmmm....i'm bored. let's go for a walk!' and enjoyed wandering around town, exploring and wearing only Keen sandals and a small backpack. It felt like I'd won quite a prize, to be able to feel that free. I saw a person taking photos of some political graffiti, and after I asked her what she thought of it, we ended up learning more about each other than I know about some of my neighbors at home as we walked back near my hotel and her house. She asked for a hug and thanked me for making her day a little less lonely in a town where she had only lived for a few weeks. She was from San Francisco, married to a Brit, and had been anxious to leave London and find a more family-friendly and bohemian vibe - thus they moved to Totnes. That's how the best travel works - you go halfway across the world, meet strangers, and get reminded that geographical limitations are just a mindset. PRO TIP: bring personal versions of business cards with you, so that you won't have to worry about forgetting names of people you meet, like I always do. I wish I had had the forethought to do this, and say 'follow me on instagram, so we can stay in touch!', but I blanked while enjoying the moment. Sigh.
I'm trying to consolidate this, I really am, but it's just not working. Sorry! The 8th and final day of the hike would get me from Totnes to Blackpool Sands, via Dartmouth and a combination of local roads and pieces of footpath. I had the option to use the South West Coast Path for the stretch west of Dartmouth, but the weather was so bad at that point that I opted not to add a couple extra miles of cliff-edge scrambling to the route, and stayed on town roads. Let me say this, that walking on pavement with hiking boots and a pack on HURTS. On this day I was able to leave the large pack at the hotel and just carried my day pack, but still....pounding the pavement is much less desirable than walking a mulched, grass, or dirt track. I encountered the most daily walkers on this stretch, understandably, and also several excruciatingly charming little villages, like Dittisham and Tuckenhay and Ashburton. I would easily return and rent a cottage in Ashburton and spend a few days, weeks, months, etc exploring the countryside here. You know, if time, money, family commitments, and all other things didn't need to be considered. Maybe a retirement spot????
I was still feeling the pull of the clock, though, this time because of bus schedules, as I would need a bus to get me back to Totnes at the end of the day. I had a 15 mile route in the rain, using mainly roads, and those factors tended to add time to the day - the rain for obvious reasons, and the roads because they tend to be less direct than the trails, or at least that's what I was finding. I seemed to tack on unplanned distance on the days I had a lot of road walking, and i'm not really sure why, but at this point I felt I knew better than to push it with needing to catch that last bus back to Totnes from the beach. I also still felt there was a SLIGHT chance i'd be able to make that victory splash into the Channel, despite the rain, and I wanted to have time to dry off, change, etc at the beachside facilities. Dartmouth was on the route, and I have to say I didn't find it as charming as the rest of what i'd seen - it was bigger, a bit messier, and just didn't really speak to me. I don't doubt that on a sunnier day when I wasn't so soaked through and freezing when I wasn't moving that it would have been more interesting, but that was not the case on this day. I got some lunch, charged my phone a little, and was back on the route with the clock ticking in my head.
I dont' think there were any fireworks or emotional explosions when I finally got to the coastline, after all this was all part of the plan. I intended to make it all the way, I learned along the way that it was entirely possible despite blisters, rain, a heavy pack, falling a few times, a sore arm, getting lost, etc., so making it to the last day wasn't a surprise. In that concept lies some of the reasons why people should embark on challenges like this. For the most part, completing it was all on me. The training, the making the decision to book it, forging on despite sore feet or a bleeding knee, it was all my choice and my determination that made it possible. Obviously if there was a terrible storm, or a broken ankle, or if finances prevented me going, that would have been a more significant obstacle. In those cases though, I could have tried again, delayed a couple days and adjusted my accomodations to allow some healing or clearing weather, or chosen a challenge closer to home that didn't require transatlantic airfare. The possibilities regarding a trip like this are all up to the person committing to it, and taking that break from being subject to what others say and do is a good thing. When you allow or force yourself to get away from the repetition and responsibility of your daily life, you allow time to think about what YOU need to think about, you give yourself the space to process your thoughts when YOU need to - I just don't see that as a possibility in daily normal life. That may just be me, but if you feel that you agree, please do take the time to get yourself the space you need in order to not break down.
It wasn't the sunny shore I was hoping for, and no matter how much I hemmed and hawed about getting in, I just didn't feel it was a good idea. The churning water's edge dropped off pretty quickly, and the surf was rough enough to make the freezing cold really dangerous. I considered slipping out of the waterproofs and just wading, but then what was the point? I walked around and enjoyed a bit, then headed back inside for yet another gluten free brownie, probably one a day on the trip - they were everywhere! While inside, I enlisted the help of the counters staff at the cafe to help me decipher the bus schedule - the one online was different from the one on the bus shelter at the road. It was 4pm, and there was no way i'd have time to hit the roads again and hope to coordinate my route with the bus route and hope to be at a stop when one miraculously showed up. The result of the scheduling research efforts was that I would be given a ride home by Michael, the young man working at the cafe. The owner promised me she knew him since childhood and he lived in Totnes, dropping me in town would be a safe and cheap option for eveyrone. Several other people overheard and offered me a ride as well, but Michael was physically a carbon copy of my cousin Matthew, who I adore. I didn't know if this was a sign sent from my dad to get me home safely, just a random coincidence or what, but I felt Michael was the best option. I rested, updated my photos for everyone back home, and dried my socks out while I waited for them to close up, and off we went. We chatted for the entire 40 minutes back to Totnes, and I was so grateful for all of it. Yet again I was kicking myself for not getting his info or giving him mine - another interaction left to my memory that this modern mind that is used to cataloguing EVERY SINGLE THING is having trouble accepting. It was such a sweet way to end the trip, really it was perfect.