FOLLOWING THE PATH
written by Lottie Lewis
Cloudless skies and warm winds had left my skin freckled and tight. Looking up from the dusty, uneven track, I watched my sister climb over a worn stile with an acorn etched into the wood. Her dark curly hair was twisted on top of her head, and there was a salty white patch appearing through her backpack where her swimsuit was stuffed. My knee twinged painfully as I maneuvered the big granite boulders and the small streams that the path wound amongst and between. We were surrounded by a sea of blue and gold, crystal clear oceans meeting a wall of tropical smelling gorse. The only sign of man on the wild landscape was the thin footpath that we were following along the edge of never-ending cliffs.
Around four years ago, my little sister Bryony and I walked the southwest coast path from the Devon and Cornwall border all the way to Land’s End. We trekked over 140 miles along the coastline of our home county with our backpacks for no reason. We just fancied it. We camped on the beach, slept in abandoned caravans, stayed with friends, and lodged above pubs. I remember it being tough, but our beautiful human brains have blocked out all the bad times (it was unseasonably cold, windy, and rainy for September in Cornwall in 2017), and I look back on the whole trip as being purely hilarious, beautiful and one of the best weeks of my life. The years passed, and we kept talking about completing the coast path but travels, studying, work, and covid put our plans on hold.
Lockdown felt stifling.
While those of us based in coastal areas were immensely lucky, I still found it challenging. The same places and faces day in, day out. My laptop and living room and lie-ins were leaving me feeling uninspired and agitated. Screen-time was high, and motivation was low. With nothing to get up for but working from home and dog walks, I felt like I was losing my zest for life. So, what better time to walk the rest of the path than when there was literally nothing else to do? Bryony and I planned our route, packed our rucksacks, and set off on the long hike from Land’s End to Devon, picking up where we’d left off.
It felt so good to be back on the path.
Spring has always been my favourite season and this April wasn’t failing to renew my love of the world. The water than lapped at the sandy beaches and towering cliffs was crystal clear, sparkling in the early morning sunshine. Huge sub-tropical ferns grew wildly of their own accord. The rocky shores were painted and peppered with white salt and black cormorants. Passing through tiny coastal towns we’d stop for ice creams and coffees.Stripping off sweaty shorts we’d dive into freezing waters for solitary swims. Dropping our backpacks we’d spread ourselves wide on giant granite boulders tucked out of the wind and soak up the first hot sun-rays of the year after a long, dark winter.
And when we weren’t swimming or sunbathing or licking dripping ice cream off our fingers.
We were walking.
One foot in front of the other, no one else around for miles, no roads or vehicles or power lines or signs of civilization. At points, we’d feel as if we were the only souls on earth, wandering the rugged landscape. Sometimes we laughed and chatted and put the world to rights. Other moments called for silence, our footsteps punctuating the constant background noise of waves crashing and birds singing and wind rustling through the white blossom that flanked the trail.
The endless ocean to the east swelled and rolled like a colossal sleeping beast, gently rising and falling, lapping at the land. Seabirds wheeled overhead. Wild ponies grazed amongst the gorse. Tiny wooden bridges led us further into the calm wilderness as the sun beat down and the path continued.The landscape changed constantly; open beaches made of granite boulders became flower-lined paths through thick undergrowth. Long flat sandy stretches turned into hundreds of uneven steps that tumbled down the cliffside. The line of the horizon, where the ocean met the sky, was the only constant.
Bryony just completed the other side of Cornwall. Over 8 days, she walked almost 150miles from Land’s End to Rame Head. For 3 days, I walked alongside her until my knee injury hurt so severely, leaning on my makeshift walking stick, I admitted I couldn’t take another step. Her boyfriend took my place when I couldn’t walk any longer. For a couple of days, she hiked on alone. On the last day, I followed her around in my car, waiting with coffees and snacks at every stop. After all the blisters and tears and moments of rolling on the floor in delirious hysterics, I feel immensely proud that my litter sister continued without me and completed our walk. However heartbroken I was to have to stop, I’m so happy that she finished what we started, and her relentless drive and determination was and is truly inspiring.
When I close my eyes, I still see the sea stretching out ahead of me.
We decided to use our walk to raise money for the breast cancer charity CoppaFeel! If you’d like to donate, you can click here to help support this life-saving initiative.
JUSTGIVING -SISTERS SOUTH WEST WALK
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