I am walking along Culver Cliff, through woodland, towards Minehead. Nearly there. And that means I am nearly at the end of the South West Coast Path.
As I follow the path, sloping downwards towards the outskirts of the town, I am overcome with a very strong feeling. An orange line crosses my map at about this point. That means I am crossing over a boundary, moving out of Devon and into Somerset. Out of the domain of pixies and pirates and into the world of scrumpy and Glastonbury. I feel the division as though it is a physical barrier, an invisible wall that I am about to walk through.
This sense of transition is very strong, and a very real sensation. I’m filled with profound sadness. I have so enjoyed my rambling through Devon and Cornwall. Surely the rest of the walk be an anti-climax after this?
My first impressions of Minehead are not good. A tatty piece of scythed grassland, with benches overlooking the sea.
And just across the road are some tea rooms. They’re closed. It is only 4:30pm on a sunny afternoon in July! What is going on?
Disappointed, I continue onwards.
Ahead I see houses and a narrow esplanade. Minehead doesn’t look too bad, despite the lack of tea and scones.
A fellow walker had warned me that the South West Coast Path ends ‘in the middle of nowhere’. It actually ends at a point along the esplanade. Not quite the middle of nowhere, but certainly not really ‘anywhere’ either.
The end (or the beginning, if you start from Minehead) is marked by a wonderful piece of sculpture. A huge pair of hands holding a giant map. It is such a great image and – of course – I must have a photo.
Just then, a male walker passes me. He is in full walking kit with a giant rucksack. But I make him stop and ask him to take my photo. After a few failed attempts (due to me forgetting to switch the camera on!), he takes a couple of good ones.
So here I am, the official end / beginning of the South West Coast path. 630 miles of wonderful walking.
[Although, when I count up, it turns out I’ve actually walked 689 miles, not 630. That must include my detours around estuaries due to non-running ferries, and the many extra miles covered whenever I was lost.]
A middle-aged couple have been watching the photo shoot. They move on and I take my own photos of the sculpture. The sun is low and much of the piece is in shade, but look how wonderful it is. The cut-out detail of the map is just superb.
[Later I find an old Telegraph article and learn that the design was chosen from a competition among A level students. The winner was Sarah Ward and her design was executed by the sculptor Owen Cunningham, in stainless steel. We should commission more sculpture from A level students!]
Near the large sculpture, on the wall, is a much smaller plaque. The SWCP may have come to an end, but the West Somerset Coast Path is just beginning.
Suddenly, I realise that the orange line crossing the path marked the edge of ‘Access Land’ and was NOT the county boundary after all – despite the intense and visceral feeling of transition I experienced while walking along that stretch of path.
Opening out my OS map, I flick dead flies from its creases and follow the route of the SWCP, looking for the county boundary. But this section of my map is so crowded with contour lines and other features, I can’t work out where the boundary runs. In the end I have to resort to other maps on the internet to find the exact point at which I stepped over from Devon and into Somerset.
The transition happened unnoticed, and unmarked, during the pouring rain yesterday. It was shortly after I left the stone cross that marked Sisters’ Spring. Back near County Gate.
So much for intense and visceral experiences! But I am a scientist by background and not a person who believes in spirits or spooks, in premonitions or in the supernatural. And so, funnily enough, I’m relieved to discover it was all in my mind.
Miles walked today = 10
Miles since beginning of South West Coast Path = 689
Miles from start of my round the coast trek = 1,452