The view from the North

Well, Pick the Path is over. This event has occupied an increasingly large part of my brain since some time in 2017. It wasn’t without the odd minor hiccup, but we achieved our aim and the SWCP is a little tidier. It was a fantastically positive experience and I can only hope everyone got as much out of it as I did!

After so long in the planning it seemed rude not to write a little report on the event, so from a distance of a couple of weeks here’s a quick run down of how it was for me on the northern side.

Day 1:
I was running leg 1 of day 1 on the north side myself, so the night before I’d dropped my bike off at Lynmouth and driven back to Minehead to camp ready for the start. I had originally intended to leave the car and bike the other way round, but the arrival of a new rescue dog at home meant I had left a lot later than planned. The consequence was that after my 30km run to Lynmouth I had a 30km cycle back over Porlock Hill! The first section of the coast path did not disappoint – there was a short sharp climb through the trees out of Minehead (unfortunately the trees means I missed the first BBC Radio Cornwall interview at 5:20, so Charlie took that one as well as his own at 8), then a lovely section along near Porlock Weir including a bit of beach, before the path wound its way around Glenthorne Cliffs and up to Lynmouth.

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Porlock Weir beach

I sadly missed Richard and Sally who were running the next leg, but found my bike and set off back in the knowledge the relay was in safe hands! Porlock Hill wasn’t too bad, and after chucking my bike and tent in the car I was off to pick up Gill and Andy for the Woolacombe to Crow Beach leg.

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Richard and Sally (updated photo including the actual correct people!)

In the meantime, Richard and Sally handed over to Andrea, and Andy and Caroline (who like me had come all the way down from Sheffield, but who I sadly never saw!). They ran from Ilfracombe and picked up loads of rubbish. I dropped Andy and Gill off in Woolacombe, then picked up Andrea. Phew! Most of the first day done, time for some lunch…

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Rude not to really

Having not been able to find a place to stop near any of the lovely-looking Pasty and Sandwich emporia of Woolacombe or Ilfracombe, I ended up with a garage sandwich on the way to Clovelly. The first of the afternoon legs was taken by Anita, I traced her route backwards but somehow missed yet another runner! Charlie seemed to be doing much better than me and had somehow met nearly all his runners. I was distracted by a beach clean and Anita nipped by during this time.

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Mike and Anita

The very dedicated Mike Lang had already been, finished his leg (and more!) and taken photos earlier in the day, so all that remained now was the Hartland to Bude leg. Unfortunately this became our first drop out leg as the guys who had planned to do it weren’t able to at the last minute. I drove to Bude and ran and out-and-back leg along the coast to finish the day off, leaving a gap of 15km or so to deal with later.

Bude was busy and is clearly very committed to the Cleaner Seas project. It was great to see, and day 1 of the north of PTP ended as I collapsed into a Cleaner Seas deckchair on Bude beach.

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A big deckchair for a biiiiig message

I drove to a campsite near Widemouth Bay ready to start day two and after a surprisingly successful hour fixing the horrible noise my car brakes had started making I had a beer and fell asleep on my clipboard.

Day 2:
It was a wet and windy night – I woke up with a puddle covering much of the base of the tent and a fairly soaked sleeping bag. The 5am alarm was a bit of a relief! It wasn’t actually raining though, so I quickly packed everything into the car. Just as I was about to take the empty tent down, of course, the heavens opened.

 

Anyway, I had running to do – I drove to Trebarwith Strand and set off back towards Widemouth Bay to complete the second half of the leg Lara and Jo would be running. Due to a combination of a timing error by me and the weather, they would actually be running later, but I still needed to tick off my part. It was a proper windy leg but this part of coast path was stunning and I had a great time. The rubbish bag was tricky to keep hold of, but the side pockets of the Inov-8 pack kept everything in place. By the time I returned to Trebarwith to meet Tom and Charlie the sun was shining and the wet kit in the car was steaming away!

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Charlie and Tom

 

Tom and Charlie were top blokes and were ready for action when I got there. We had a quick handover and they set off towards Rock. I drove round to Padstow ready to see off Carole and Katy for leg three. However, having had no coffee at all yesterday and none yet this morning, I needed to address this first! I parked up opposite one of Rick Stein’s restaurants and deployed the camping stove. Coffee made I packed up some kit and set off to see Carole and Katy. Padstow was rammed! I knew the guys were possibly planning to start a bit early but not exactly when. With no phone signal I guessed my best chance to see them would be to lurk on a narrow bit of SWCP on the edge of Padstow. Unfortunately, I think Carole and Katy left Padstow on a different path. I was determined to see as many of my runners as possible today, but this wasn’t a good start!

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Carole and Katy in action! (Me nowhere to be seen…)

 

The next northern runner was Rebecca – this time I was successful and managed to see her at Porthcothan. We even managed a cheesy photo (as Charlie and the southern runners had been doing all weekend – but better late then never!) and off she went to Mawgan Porth.

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Rebecca and I at Porthcothan

At Mawgan Porth Rebecca would hand over to me, so before leaving Porthcothan I had a little while to try to catch Carole and Katy at the end of their leg. Sadly it was not meant to be and I again failed! I gave up, consoled myself with a sausage roll and set off to Mawgan Porth.

Rebecca finished, having not found too much rubbish on this section, and off I went… A lovely 8km section of coastal path took me round to Porth on the edge of the Newquay connurbation. There I turned around and ran back, enjoying listening to Gereint Thomas securing his Tour de France victory as the rain started to fall. Then I drove round to Crantock where the next leg would start. Kellie Grice was taking this one, and I was on a roll for meeting my runners. Kellie was local and a dedicated rubbish picker-upper. Her leg to Perranporth was not an easy one and as well as picking up loads she found a huge pile of rubbish just off the path – one to report to the council. Perranporth carnival made parking and finding the SWCP a bit tricky but I finally managed to see a runner at both ends of their leg!

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Kellie setting off on her leg

The final leg of the day was from Perranporth to Portreath. Sadly it was another slightly disappointing end to the day as our runners were unable to join us. I assume they are planning to go back sometime and run the section, but I ran an out-and-back from Portreath to close the day. The weather was now getting ready to turn, and after discussion with Charlie I decided to accept his kind offer of brick walls overnight instead of the planned fabric! It was great to see Charlie and catch up on how the southern side had been going. We agreed that sending runners off at 5am on Sunday was not a good idea. High winds and heavy rain were forecast all morning so we contacted our runners to suggest delaying or calling off their legs. To my relief and their credit, Emily, Anna and Mary were all keen to run their legs with a slightly later start time. I went to bed feeling really happy to be working with such dedicated people – thanks guys!

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Emily at the end of her delayed leg

 

Day 3:
The delayed starts meant a slightly longer sleep and a great breakfast! Knowing that the northern runners weren’t starting till lunchtime I set off to see if I could find some of the southern runners. Charlie headed off to meet the next leg, I wondered if I could catch up with Ed Bassett. Ed had camped the night before so was not keen to delay his leg since, in his own words, “I’d rather get it over with”!

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Ed – getting it over with!

When I realised Ed had spent the night in his tent I felt guilty for whinging about my slightly damp campsite last night! Ed and Naomi Shaw were also camping, and our double leg superstars Frank and Ali were in their camper van. Thanks so much for your dedication guys.

I spoke to Ed on the phone and heard that he was having a lovely time despite the weather. I was a fair drive from his location and he promised he didn’t need any help, so I left him to it and carried on to take my next leg then ready to meet Clare, Frank and Ali for the final leg from Helford later. As I drove, Emily, Anna and Mary all completed their legs in fairly rubbish weather, and have my maximum respect. By the time I reached Porthallow the sky had cleared, I set off back along the path towards Mullion Cove for yet another out-and-back, which I finished just in time to pick up Frank and Ali at their campsite. We drove to Helford, met Clare and the four of us set off on the final leg. As I had found on my previous leg, there was a fairly constant stream of small pieces of rubbish – quite a lot of glass bottles, cans, sweet wrappers and suchlike.

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On the final leg with Clare, Frank and Ali

The final leg was lovely, our runners were (as every single one was) absolutely great and the run was beautiful. We picked up loads of rubbish, and were even joined by Charlie and Cocao the dog for the last few kilometres along the coast to Porthallow. We could see the village in the distance for half an hour or so and actually arriving was joyful. Debbie had sorted the village hall, set up tea, coffee, cake and even fizzy wine, and having fended off a steady stream of tourists looking for a tea room was ready for our arrival!

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Congratulations to Frank for looking at the correct camera!

It felt great to have finished, but my overwhelming feeling is the thanks I owe to so many people – to Charlie for all your map work and planning before the event, and for doing such a great job sorting out the southern side, to Debbie for your hospitality, help with the finish and drivng around, and to every single one of our runners – you were all awesome, I’m really glad you got on board with our silly idea and actually made it happen. You are all stars and thanks to your efforts we made a real difference to the path. It won’t stay that way everywhere, but perhaps in a few places people will see how clean it is and think twice before dropping their rubbish… Which is of course what it’s all about!

Till next time, thank you 🙂
Stu

PS. If you like numbers, I count 26 runners on the northern side and 29 on the southern side. We picked up 90 bags of rubbish. Personally I ran 98km, cycled 28km and drove 1119 miles over the weekend (with apologies for mixing units). The highest tidal range was 7.2m, the average daytime temperature was around 23 ‘C and the mean shoe size of runners was 8.5.

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