In April 2013 Hannah Boscence walked 117 miles to raise funds for the Trust, this is her eight day diary. Hannah was a member of the Conservation Team between January 2012 and June 2014.
Easter Sunday fell on the 31st of March this year. Over the years my excitement about Easter day has ebbed away, along with my sweet tooth, but this particular day I was a bag of nerves. It was the day before the off!
Being of a slightly paranoid disposition, I had checked and re-checked the plans, the accommodation and my packing. In retrospect I must admit that despite my best efforts, it was actually a combination of blind luck and good company which saw me through.
My brother Jan, (yes, it is also a boy’s name!) 6 months previously had made a comment something along the lines of “I’ll walk with you. Can’t be that hard!” This was dismissed in the usual manner, as without wishing to be unkind … he has a reputation amongst those who know him as an ideas man. Implementing the ideas is usually up to someone else! So when he said the week before; “So what’s the plan, what time are we leaving on Sunday?” I was shocked, and then nervous and stressed about his lack of preparation and whether our relatively pleasant sibling relationship would last that many miles. However credit where it’s due, Easter Sunday rolled around and he was packed and ready to leave. (In fact he was both over and under packed as he would later discover- too much stuff, of which only a small proportion was useful!)
We set off for North Devon, to meet a friend who had agreed both to put us up for the evening, and drop us off at the start bright and early the next morning. I did not sleep well, if at all that night, which was no reflection on the hospitality. 6am rolled around and after more checking and re-checking of belongings, and an unwanted but necessary bowl of muesli, we headed into Lynmouth. It was a cold grey morning, and I was keen to get going as we had 19 miles to go before reaching the overnight stop. The massive silhouette of Lynmouth hill was a terrifying sight. The unassuming start of the footpath which wound around a few houses swiftly became very steep, and the combination of a lack of sleep, nervous knots in my stomach, my recent breakfast and exertion were not conducive to feeling very well!
However, slowly and unsurely we reached the top. If I hadn’t been concentrating so hard on keeping my breakfast down, I might have had a better view of a few red deer running past! As we began to descend I started feeling much better knowing “that” hill was done with, and that the walk was properly underway. We settled into our strides and headed South. That day we made our way to what seemed like the top of Devon, with Exmoor stretching out in front of us. It was desperately cold and bleak and the wind was punishing any skin left uncovered. The ground was still frozen hard after our never ending winter, and as we crossed what would usually be the boggy sponge at the source of the eponymous river, it was like crossing a boulder field. Arriving before anything was open, we arrived in Simonsbath where we ate our lunch by the river, waiting for somewhere to open – desperate for a hot cup of coffee. Eventually thawed out, and with a good meal in us we made sound progress for the remainder of the day, arriving (early again!) at the beautiful Royal Oak in Withypool. As we waited for our rooms, it felt only right to have a celebratory pint in the warm and welcoming bar.
It began well. We were well fed and rested, and despite some slightly sore feet we set off in good spirits. It was a beautiful clear day, and as we wound our way following the river through some lovely woodland, we could see the evidence of the winters awful flooding still hanging onto the trees a good 8ft from the ground in some places. We found the Tarr Steps- just recently replaced, and pushed on over Hawkridge where we had some stunning views of the countryside. I could feel the blisters on my heels starting to shout at me, when suddenly I was distracted from my feet at the sight of the first Joe Turner memorial stone. I had been looking forward to this! It meant we had reached the edge of Exmoor, and would only see the other half of this great boulder once we crossed the lower ground connecting the two moors, and found our way to the edge of Dartmoor. As we reached Knowstone the welcome of Sara Harrison and Monty the Golden Retriever at Rosemary Cottage was such a relief. Sara’s kindness was hugely appreciated, and as I hobbled upstairs I knew I wouldn’t have trouble sleeping that night!
As I woke on the morning of day 3, the thought of walking another 16 miles was almost too much! My feet were really hurting and I had already made my way through an entire pack of blister plasters. I had two knee supports on, and just couldn’t face putting my boots back on- So I set off in flip flops! One of the things we had noticed over the past couple of days, was how the signing of the route altered depending on which local authority we passed through. Occasionally the signs would change in colour, design or frequency. Today, we struggled to find any at all. Following the GPS, peoples directions and our internal compass we struggled to find our way. By the time we made it to Black Dog we were exhausted.
This was by far and away the hardest. After a difficult evening, and finding no respite overnight, my entire body was aching. As we set off I was stumbling along the path so much that Jan nicknamed me “Grannah”. Remarkably (and a little irritatingly!) he was fairing up well, despite no training and no walking boots. In fact it was this day in particular that I was so glad of his company. He helped change the dressing on my blister plasters, and when Drewsteignton seemed an impossibly long way away, and it was all I could do to stare at the ground and grimace against the pain… Jan began singing a rendition of Shania Twain’s “Man I Feel Like a Woman”
So after a good laugh at his expense, I felt much better! We pushed on through a brief but heavy snow blizzard, and finally as we crossed the A30 we caught a glimpse of Drewsteignton on the far side of the valley. I was particularly looking forward to getting there as I knew that evening’s accommodation would be the best- Home! As we made it into the village we passed the 2nd Joe Turner stone, and what seemed to be the workshop of its creator Peter Randal-Page.
I was like a different person- all of my aches and pains had just vanished after a hot bath, a night in my own bed and some of mothers home cooking! Dropped back into Drewsteignton on another crisp, blue skied morning, I was full of optimism. 15 miles to go, over some more familiar territory and waiting at the end of it, was my second home- the Rugglestone Inn! By the time we were up near Fernworthy reservoir, I had news from Maz in the office that my fundraising target had been doubled! We had just passed the £2000 mark. Boosted by the good news, it wasn’t long until we had passed Grimspound, Hamel down and were heading down hill. In truth, it felt as if it was all downhill from there!
It was a glorious day. More clear blue skies, and this time the temperature rose to match. A mere 9 miles today, and again through some more well-known countryside. I set off in a slightly unusual get up… a friend of mine had agreed to sponsor me £100 if I wore a Barn Owl costume, and of course the Trust were happy to provide it! Through to Pondsworthy, up over Sharp Tor, round the hill down to New Bridge before climbing the hill through Holne woods, it was simply beautiful.
That daunting shadow had crept back, pushing yesterday’s sunny disposition to the side. The weather had changed back to those cold grey skies, and as I set out the harsh Northerly quickly reminded me to wrap up. 14 miles to Ivybridge didn’t seem so bad, but when up on Buckfastleigh moor around the top of the Avon Dam the path which had been becoming increasingly difficult to follow in the long tufts of purple moor grass, just seemed to vanish entirely! After quite a lot of faffing, I found my way back onto the path. The scrambling trails had become a definite track, used for maintenance of the Dam. With the assurance I was going the right way, came the pummelling of the elements as the track snaked through some of the most exposed landscape yet. Nothing but grass and gravel. Eventually I began to head down hill, and step by step my nose seemed to regain feeling! As the path landed me at the edge of town, I continued downhill passing the Ivy Bridge to find my accommodation.
The final day!
All I wanted to do was get going, I was tired and uncomfortable in my boots again. And on that drizzly Monday morning I struggled desperately just to get out of the town! For the life of me I couldn’t find the path, despite the cheery hotel owner saying “just down to the information centre and follow the signs!” I found the information centre (despite the signs to it having been turned to face the opposite direction) but I found no signs to anything, or a path, or anyone to ask, and I came to the conclusion it was the least informative information centre I had ever seen! With the frightful thought of being stuck in Ivybridge forever more, my senses kicked in and I heard the river behind a few buildings. As I headed towards it I thought at least it will take me in roughly the right direction, and thankfully I was proved right. I finally spotted a sign, and the footpath emerged again from the concrete streets.
Once again moving through green fields I felt much better, and as the drizzle came and went in waves, I thanked my lucky stars that this was all there had been in the way of rainfall all week! In April I think 7 days without rain almost counts as a miracle! Come lunchtime, the skies had lightened and I was joined by David, Frances and the lovely Maizie for support along the final 8 mile stretch. We encountered some treacherous hills as the increasingly coastal landscape took shape in front of us. Finally, when it seemed like we had been saying “it can’t be much further” for far too long, we rounded a corner in the midst of Wembury village. There it was. The South coast. I was overjoyed! I jumped, despite my blisters! The feeling of relief seemed to lighten the load and I had to stop myself from running down the hill! Despite being ahead of schedule I was excited to finish, and so we gently made our way downhill. Heading down to the beach, Frances spotted the signpost. The one which said Lynmouth 117 miles!
By the time the welcome party arrived I was slightly dazed, but more than happy to accept the glass of bubbly handed to me! And so with boots off, a paddle in the sea and a congratulatory toast, it was time to head home and put my feet up.
After some time off to recuperate, and a week or so of collecting the remaining sponsorship, we had a grand total. An astonishing £3,490. It’s 3 months on and I am still overwhelmed by this. Three and a half times more than the initial target! Thank you very much to all who donated money to the cause, supported me along the way (especially my mum!) and cheered me on. It makes every last blister worth it!