South Circular - around the south in 90 days








What's this all about?

Well, it began after I'd retired down to Poole and had my second hip resurfaced in 2008. As a celebration/gesture of defiance I set out to test my new technology by walking the sensational 630-mile South West Coast Path, which begins on the other side of the Poole harbour chain ferry on Studland beach, and follows every twist and turn of the coast heading west, round Lands End, up the wild north coast of Cornwall and over Exmoor to Minehead in Somerset. 

Two summers later, having climbed (and descended) more than four times the height of Mt Everest, I reached the sculpture at Minehead marking the end of the path (photo)                                                          

Like all path finishers I was now bereft, and in urgent need of a replacement walking project to keep me active. Do the path again? Walk round Brittany? Head east along the rest of the south coast? And, if so, why not swing round through London over to Bristol and on to north Somerset to close the loop back to Minehead? 

So that's how the South Circular project began, a 1400-mile loop round the south of England shown on the map below, and maybe the world's longest circular footpath. Remember the bit in Forrest Gump where Forrest runs relentlessly across America for years ....? Well this was my equivalent, an endless walk round the loop till the joints gave out. And sure enough they did ... the last couple of hundred miles took 3 summers to finish between long time-outs for an arthritic knee. Bristol, where I studied at the university, seemed a more suitable finishing point than woeful Minehead, and I strode under Brunel's Clifton Suspension Bridge 50 years almost to the day after first arriving in Bristol from Scotland in 1966.

Initially for each day of the walk I tried to find a piece of music with local connections to sing as I went, but this lapsed fairly quickly in the more anonymous stretches of the walk; you'll find some residual references in the blog. Each day of the walk was briefly recorded in the blog and some photos added to give you the flavour. My original intention to include a slideshow for each day's walk was snookered by Google's recent changes in the technology of Google Sites, so I hope the photos embedded in the blog give enough atmosphere.

And if I could walk it, I could raise some cash for a worthwhile cause en route, like our charity Living Water Africa which helps fight water poverty in parts of Africa by fixing broken wells in rural villages. If you'd like to support this fine cause, now that I've finished the walk, you'll find details of how to do this on the Donate Now page. We can transform a life for the laughably-small amount of £3.

 Meanwhile, with a nod to The Road to the Isles,


Sure by Brighton, and Southampton and by Folkestone I will go

By shingle banks that bring me to my knees.

If it's thinkin' in your inner heart the braggart's in my step

You've never walked our coastline by the seas.

                                                            c JAB

Postscript

I'm both amazed and grateful to have completed this walk, and feel like a walking tribute to the orthopaedic sector. One generation back my mother's last 10 years were ruined by arthritis, and here I was labouring up cliffs and covering 25 miles a day on the flat, without a twinge from my operated hips.

And what a coastline we have in the south. Although most of the scenic set-pieces are in the south-west, there is constant (well, almost constant) interest and much beauty along the rest of my route. Walking the coast is a journey through geological, social, economic and military history, and I wouldn't have missed a day of it.

The South West Coast Path is exceptionally well maintained and signposted, and there really is no excuse for getting lost ... just keep the sea on your left. Many cash-strapped councils elsewhere seem to have given up on maintenance and waymarking of their footpaths. The more progressive ones are sensibly beginning to co-opt walkers groups to help with maintenance. My route-planning in the more uncharted parts of the route was based on the excellent blogs of my two gurus Dave Cotton (https://www.britishwalks.org) and Ruth Livingstone (https://coastalwalker.co.uk/author/ruthl), may their joints last for ever.

Don't leave home without them.