What are we doing?

Nancy’s take on the mission in 2014:

We, the two grinning goons in the picture above, have embarked on an unusual but by no means unique mission to walk the British mainland coastline. We decided to begin somewhere symbolic and near where we live, so Beachy Head was chosen as we both like the thought of returning to the classic cliff of death in our dotage. We settled on heading west as, being realistic, we may never finish but at least we’ll get to Devon and some other beautiful rugged county coastlines.

We both have full time jobs, partners, children and various other interests that take up the majority of our time. As a result, our current availability to walk together, further and further from home, is limited. At the moment we can manage 15 or so days of walking a year, up to 16 miles a day – or many less dependent on the amount of steep ascents and descents! My job often highlights the tension between process and product in education and I personally champion the process. So, it doesn’t matter if we don’t finish this mammoth endeavour as it’s all about the process: the planning, the execution, the enjoyment and the companionship of each individual walk.

Nancy’s update 2022

Eight years in, with a two year global pandemic to add to the mix, and our ethos has changed to a certain extent and not at all in other respects. The romantic notion of sea to the left in one continuous line came to an end in 2018 when it was becoming increasingly challenging to always find time and finances to schlep across from Sussex to the west country. Now in 2022 we seem to be at an almost even position on the west of the country in Minehead and the east in Gravesend. Plenty of marsh and river estuaries in front of us on both sides!

As I anticipated at the beginning of our adventure, it may never end. The genius of that plan didn’t really become clear to me until we bumped into another coastal walker, Jim, in Kent. He is doing a magnificent thing and not only raising money for charity but also achieving an enormous personal objective by completing the whole coastline in just over a year. This caused me to reflect on our own paltry efforts and I realised that actually (for me personally) I was walking the coast in the most perfect way. How and why you may ask? Because we will never need to have another idea of what we want to do for the rest of our lives as we will always have another stretch of coastline to look forward to. If I finished it all in a year then I’d need another mission, another plan. Plus it means we can take our time, look around and appreciate each day rather than pushing ourselves too far physically. And most importantly it means we will have the shared bond for much longer: Barbara’s companionship and the regular opportunity to escape the everyday are key to the enjoyment of this whole process.

Barbara’s perspective: Sea to the left

Nancy is the dedicated walker of the pair of us. Me? I am a fair weather walker, prone to complain at great volume at both the prospect and reality of steep hills and endless mud. Not, I feel, someone who is asked along for a lifetime commitment of walking. That saying, I am rarely one to say no to things either, especially when it involves the outside, something ridiculous and, above all, the company of a fine friend. So, one day between winges about work and over a ciggie (me) and coffee (both), Nancy proposed. Or at least it felt a little that way. The wording was something like ‘walking the coast of the UK has been on my bucket list for years and after thinking long and hard about who should come with me, I have chosen you’. Now how can anyone refuse such an offer? My immediate response was to remind Nancy of my inclination towards wild positivity one minute and outright rage the next, but after being assured that actually this made my company all the more appealing, alongside the reality that this wouldn’t be taken too seriously (a lifeblood sucker if ever there was one), well I was game. And still am. I am sold. I love it. I love the sea and endless sky. I love the stunning areas already found just miles away from what has been home for so long but not seen until now. I love the walking, the almost meditative one foot in front of the other and that end of day ache. I love the almost impossibility of it all. And I truly love the fact that this is, as I see it, a way of cementing a friendship until the bitter end. We will just keep walking until minds or bodies give out and will do so as and when we can. That and this blog may actually prompt us both to write! Bring on the next.

12 Responses to What are we doing?

  1. Martyn west says:

    Hello, I’m not sure me first message was sent, but apologies for the repeat if it did!
    I think I met you today! I was the (slightly breathless!) runner at the bridge in Dawlish who asked you where you were walking too today. I hope you had a good days walk to Torquay and it wasn’t too muddy😀
    The walking in Devon and Cornwall will be the toughest you encounter on your way around the coast but the up side is that it’s truly breathtaking. Iam nearing the finish on my trek around the coast and only have 500 or so miles to go, I have been also walking in stages since 2009 but it’s been a fantastic journey and an experience😳😳


    P.s if it wasn’t you, all of the above minus the bit about meeting you!!

    • babsandnancy says:

      Hi Martyn
      I think you might well have been! Hah – small world!! We started at Starcross on Friday evening, stayed at Dawlish Warren, ended at the Babbacombe end of Torquay on Saturday and Sunday walked to Goodrington. Saturday’s walk was extremely muddy – in parts a bit like skiing up hill.
      Wow, it sounds like you have covered a LOT of ground (literally) in a short period of time. Have you done it as a continuous thread or chosen the ‘best bits’? I shall check out your blog. Hope you enjoyed the run – I am ever impressed by runners (I live with one) but it is just too fast for me!

  2. Martyn West says:

    Hi Barbara, Phew! it was you!! I have a vague recollection of your blog from Ruth Livingstone’s coast walk blog and as you approached me I thought “I wonder”! ha ha I wished we could have had a longer chat.

    Due to the distance getting to the point where I last finished I tend to walk at least 8 days and if possible (and Sue my wife doesn’t miss me too much!) I try to squeeze in 10 days it makes the long journey worth while, but of course you will know this with the 4.5hour return journey home and getting longer as you head into the deepest darkest corners of Cornwall!!

    When are you back? and can I be a guest walker please? no running!!!!!!



  3. babsandnancy says:

    Hi Martyn
    Huge apologies – I should have replied weeks ago! (and if you read the blog you probably know what a last-minuter I can be). We are back again very soon – next week in fact, but have hordes of kids with us again – lots of guest walkers this time round. We may well see you running again!

  4. Martyn West says:

    Good luck with the rest of the walk, watch out for the section between Brixham and Dartmouth its a doozy!! Safe journey 🙂

    • babsandnancy says:

      You are right – it was! Amazing coastline the further towards Cornwall we get. It’s my favourite stretch yet.

  5. Martyn West says:

    Glad You enjoyed it 🙂 The thing about the SWCP I found is that it never ceases to suprise and amaze you at the same time, just when you thought you have seen it all then BAM there is Mevagissy around the corner!! Nothing to compare to it on all my walks and certainly nothing tougher, not even the Scottish Highlands (though the scenery is just breathtaking)

  6. patriz2012 says:

    Hi you two,
    I really like your philosophy – I frequently get moments of agonising over whether I’ll ever finish (and I’m not even doing Scotland) so very refreshing to read about the process rather than the product attitude.

    Keep it up – maybe we’ll bump into one another one day.

    • babsandnancy says:

      Thank you! How funny I was reading your latest posts the other night and was thinking how close on the SWCP we are! You’re about 5 or so walks in front of us. If we get our skates on (unlikely at the moment) we’ll catch you up 😀

  7. Penny says:

    Nancy. I can see your blog now. Wow ,How fantastic!

  8. Nelle says:

    Big fan of the blog, keep up the good work!❤

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