I’ve heard (and said) on more than one occasion that there’s nowhere nicer to be than the UK when it’s sunny.
We had that in spades this weekend.
Booking the Wild Pear Centre in Combe Martin back in February was a risk.
I was envisaging long summer nights, walking the coastal paths in the sun and an outdoor weekend that would rival being abroad. However at that time Devon had experienced the longest period of wet weather for ages, they were about to be snowed in when we had the Arctic effect in March and when I went there the roads were flooded.
I closed my eyes, crossed my fingers and committed to the booking.
The Wild Pear Centre is an old Ashram on the main road through Combe Martin with sleeping for about 20. It’s eclectic in it’s appearance but has a comfy, well used and loved air about it. It was clean and serviceable and perfectly adequate for the 8 of us that were there. It may well be able to sleep a greater number but we weren’t rattling around in it and found it very pleasant.
The drive to the centre was a challenge for all of us. The M5 was stuffed from an earlier accident and none of us took under five and half hours to get there, some took more. I decided many Weekenders ago that my timetables need to be fluid and so we scrapped the first few things and when nearly all of us were there had dinner and did introductions.
The centre is located within a short walk from the Combe Martin bay and so after dinner we wandered down to the sands to do our first exercise on mindset and beliefs. Kirsty delivered this session, we sat on the rocks warmed from the day and after the discussion we took in the sunset and pootled around the sand and took photos.
After a guided meditation and relaxation session we went to bed early that night. We were tired from the journey down and also wanted to be ready for our main day of walking on Saturday.
Saturday morning saw all of us bleary eyed and sleep deprived as the first night in new surroundings affected all of us. There’s a lovely room in the centre that is perfect for group work. It’s full of large cushions and you can use it for exercise or workshops, relaxation or stretching.
On Saturday we did a short stretching session before having breakfast and getting prepared for our guide Richard to arrive to start our day.
Richard had pre-warned me that the countryside, as beautiful as it is, houses a range of biting insects and ticks and asked us to all wear long trousers tucked into our socks. It was a bit of a blow as the weather was gorgeous, but a tick is not a nice pet and so we all took heed and got ready.
Richard arrived at 09.10 to guide us to our start point and after a safety and health chat we headed off in two cars to The Hunter’s Inn, Heddon Valley which was going to be our base for the day.
Richard had planned two routes for us, both circular, that brought us back to the cars between walks so we could have lunch at the Inn.
The morning walk took us out through shady tree tunnels and out along gently rising coastal paths. The views ranged from the dappled sunlight on birch bark and the vast expansive view of the Bristol Channel. At our first stopping point after about an hour or so we noticed that we were already higher than the seagulls swooping over the bay.
As we were walking Richard pointed out wild flowers, gave us a little history about the area and showed us part of the coastline we’d be walking that afternoon.
The route was undulating but not too challenging and within 3 hours we were back at The Hunters Inn where we were to have lunch.
A quick review here for the Inn. It was exceptionally good value, hugely quick service and a nice place to be. All of our meals were great, too big for some and although there was talk of chocolate brownies and clotted cream no one thought that was a good enough idea to go ahead with given our second walk loomed.
Walk two took us in a different direction from the car park and along a river for a bit before we reached a sign that Richard got us to stop at. He said it was a steep climb and that we were to take it at our own pace. It was indeed steep. I think it was a mile long and we stopped along the way to catch our breath in the sun and see if we could spy any red deer in the bracken (I didn’t).
Those using poles found them very useful during this climb. It helped with balance and power.
We broke the top of the climb to a fabulous view of the valley and took a well earned break.
Even though Richard said we only had a little climb left, it actually seemed like it went on longer than that. We walked along paths that had deep valleys below us that if we’d taken a dodgy foothold may have seen us rolling down into it without much in the way to stop us. For some of our party this caused a little anxiety and so, as a team, we took it in turns to make sure everyone felt safe and confident as we went along.
The final part of our route this afternoon was a long descent along the coastal path back to base. The path was covered in scree and to our left it was a steep drop to the sea. This freaked some of our crew out. Knowing who was struggling and how they wanted to deal with it allowed us all to help each other and ourselves down.
The views were stunning (if you chose to look at them) and the path challenging, but we all made it back in one piece with a smile on our faces when we reached the bottom.
After a drink in the Inn again and a quick chat with Richard about where we could walk the next day we set off back to Combe Martin.
We’d walked in the region of 18 miles that day in the sun, attacked by flying biting bugs and down some pretty precipitous paths.
However we’d also walked 18 miles in the sun that day, seen some stunning views, conquered some fears and helped others with theirs. I thought it was a day well done.
Back at the Wild Pear we stretched, we moaned about it and then we all took a well deserved shower before dinner.
After dinner Debbie took a session based on the book ‘The Big Leap’ by Gay Hendricks. She spoke about his ‘zone of genius’ and what stops us from getting there. It sparked some interesting conversations about what we think about ourselves and what we say to ourselves.
After this some of us decided to go back to the bay to see the sun set as the sky was looking interesting from the kitchen windows and we headed down just as the sun was about to drop into the sea. The next 45 minutes were a stunning sky show of changing colours and cloud formations. It was stunning.
Everyone slept better that evening 🙂
Sunday morning and we’d decided to leave early for our unguided walk to the Hangmans points up on the cliffs. We got up, not too achey, had breakfast, loaded up with water and flapjacks and headed out by 07.45.
Within about 10 minutes were were walking some pretty steep and challenging paths. It wasn’t the soft start like Saturday and we were all quiet and determined as we climbed up. The views however were worth it. The higher we climbed the more beautiful they got and by the time we reached Little Hangman we felt accomplished.
Big Hangman was visible in the distance and we headed off up to that through much wider expanses of hillside than the previous day, it was a lovely place to walk and take in all the big sky, expanse of grassland and mass of sea around us.
On reaching the Big Hangman we took a break, shoved flapjacks down us, sloshed water into us and enjoyed a sit down to read the map.
It seemed simple enough and off we headed.
At an intersection Debbie and I debated which way to go and headed off.
It took us down another steep, scree covered path that we had to pick our way down. It was steep and we needed to make small steps all the way and we all commented on how we were glad we weren’t walking up it. It seemed to take a long time, although I can’t say how long it took.
At the bottom of the valley was a river and as we crossed over it we went straight into a climb again up into the sunlight.
We’d been climbing slowly and steadily for about 5-10 minutes when four men walked down the hill past us. It seemed that they were heading to Combe Martin to watch the football, and yet we were heading in the other direction! They also said they’d come from The Hunters Inn, which is where we were on Saturday and knew that was about 8 miles from our base.
We took another quick look at the map, decided we would be able to find a way through and carried on up the hill.
After another 10 minutes or so Debbie scooted ahead to see what was coming up and on her way back down, with a big smile on her face and talk of positive mindset, said we needed to go back as there was no sure way through.
There was some fatigue in the group by now, we’d battled down this path we didn’t want to walk up and now we were choosing to.
We had a power break. Took some time to quell anxiety, refuel, prepare the team plan and headed off back up the other way.
We decided to approach it Fit Camp style and did interval hill walking. 30 – 60 seconds walking, 30 seconds view looking. Before we knew it, we were at the top and ready to find the right way home.
The final part of our trek took us through farmland and down proper roads, we walked downhill for a long time which emphasised to us how far we’d climbed that morning. We arrived back in Combe Martin four hours after we’d left. Having climbed higher than Saturday and conquered even more anxieties.
After stretching, showers, another mindset session with Kirsty and lunch we drew our weekend to a close.
Everyone agreed that it was a fabulous weekend. The weather was just as I’d imagined back in February, the group were so supportive of each other when needed and let people be when required. We’d learned lots, walked lots and laughed. We’d eaten well, slept OK and seen some fabulous views. But for all of us we’d taken time out from our normal lives and done something simple like walking that made us feel alive.
Thank you to everyone who joined me this weekend, Debbie Atkins and Kirsty Boswell as support crew, my mum in the kitchen and the walkers Liz, Caroline, Shirley and Rowena. One to remember for sure 🙂
Our next Weekender event is from Friday 12 October to Sunday 14 October and will be in High Cloud House in Monmouthshire. For more details or to reserve a spot you can click HERE.