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Postcards from the South West Part I

I have spent the last couple of weeks touring around the whole south west coast from Bristol to Land’s End and back to Southampton. The primary goal was to spread the word about my new book on the south west part of the England Coast Path (link). As ever I have been wonderfully surprised by the support I have received from small outlets – independent book shops, gift shops, museums and information centres – who have stocked a book by someone just walking in off the street carrying a box. In fact I’ve found this approach works better than phoning ahead, emailing information and trying to set up meetings. As long as the right person is there, they open the box with fresh eyes and I love watching their joy at leafing through my books, finding their own local of the path, then being delighted at some nugget of information or choice of song for the day. But the trip has also given me time to revisit some of my favourite places at a time of year when spring is trying to blossom fully and the south west, while still blissfully quiet, is just starting to feel like paradise. Here are some postcards from these places along the north coast of Somerset, Devon and Cornwall.

A Hymn to Lee Bay

North Devon has a plethora of beautiful corners, but I have a particular soft spot for Lee Bay. There are few places on the south west coast that are as low key. Perhaps it is because there is no sand on its shore that people flock instead to nearby Woolacombe. On a sunny Sunday like this, the road to Woolacombe is busy all morning, the car parks and roadsides filling up with cars and vans disgorging children, surfboards and picnics. The road to Lee on the other hand is a tiny lane that winds down through the trees and cottages to a small free car park near the front.

The Calderdale Wind Farm

Writing a blog about one of the proposed sites of the turbines on the Calderdale Wind Farm is right up my street, an excuse to explore and a chance to gather my thoughts about the proposed wind farm. I have chosen to focus on Turbine 34, one of the most remote turbine sites, a long way from any paths and located on featureless ground between Walshaw Dean and the head of Crimsworth Dean.

The England Coast Path's South West Frontier

The south west of England is its wildest peninsula, stretching furthest west and south and reaching further into its Celtic past. Here a Celtic language survived far longer than in the rest of the country, only dying out in the west of Cornwall in the late 19th century, and its words remain preserved in local place-names and its culture in the many prehistoric sites scattered across the region. With travel by sea easier than by land, the south west was for a long time more closely linked with south Wales, Ireland and Brittany than it was with the rest of England, and that probably suited it very nicely.


The Opening of the King Charles III England Coast Path

The England Coast Path began with the Marine and Coastal Act 2009, which created a statutory duty for Natural England to establish a long distance trail around the whole coast of England and designate a coastal margin for open access to all beaches, cliffs and shoreline. These two parts have been worked on in tandem, meaning it is a far more complicated proposition than the Wales Coast Path, the 870-mile route around Wales that opened in 2012.

Memories of Powys

I have been back in Powys recently, conducting a survey of the Public Rights of Way network that has had me reminiscing about doing this particular job over the years. Since 2004, I have walked 5% of the paths in the county of Powys on half a dozen occasions. It has taken me to all corners of this extraordinarily elongated county; from Ystradgynlais, Pontcysyllte and the edge of the South Wales coalfields, to Lake Vyrnwy Llanrhaedr-ym-Mochnant and the Berwyns on the fringe of Snowdonia. It takes in most of the English-Welsh border country of the Marches, plenty of the Cambrian Mountains and even a tiny stretch of the Welsh coast around its former capital at Machynlleth. It is based on the ancient Kingdom of Powys and its name is derives from the Latin word pagus, meaning countryside. This is very appropriate as the county is a vast sprawl of hilly farmland, the archetypal vision of Wales’ lush green valleys. Its largest settlement is Newtown with just 13,000 people and most of it is grass, sheep and mud.