Gillian Grattan: family adventures on the coast path

In 2012, I moved with my children and my elderly Mum to the UK from Canada. My Mum is 91 and had wanted to return to her homeland to live out her days. I love Britain and tried hard to make the move a reality for many years but things did not fall into place until I became a divorced single mother of three small children. We found the means to make our dreams reality and happily settled into rural village life in Cornwall. I desired Cornwall for our new home as I’ve had many wonderful holidays in the southwest all throughout my life, and felt the sleepy little village of Sennen, on a perfect beach, could be the ideal place to raise my family and create our new life path together.

On days off from school, we began exploring the South West Coast Path in our area, starting out doing small hikes for a couple of hours, to eventually tackling great lengths of 6-7 hours from Land’s End to Lamorna! It was hard but rewarding and we soon realized that this was a wonderful way to explore our new surroundings.

Family hiking the South West Coast Path

As the school summer holidays approached in 2013, I asked the children how they would feel about attempting to hike the entire South West Coast Path from start to finish, no matter how long it might take. They all cheered with enthusiasm and so that summer we set off from the beginning route marker in Minehead. We hike approximately 6-8 hours a day, sometimes less depending on the weather or how we feel and I work out the route to pick up the path, by bus and train schedules as I do not drive. We stay at a variety of B&Bs, pubs, hotels or self-catering cottages all along the route. Many kind proprieters of these accommodations will even pick us up where we finish the path or drop us off the next day. I try hard to look for places with pools or play areas for the children as they have more than earned the extra treats.

All throughout Somerset, Devon and Cornwall so far, we try to visit every family-friendly attraction along the way and have spent ample time exploring all the villages and towns. The children have great memory for detail and retaining the geographical knowledge of the southwest, and can easily discuss what it is like in so many places like Bideford, Bude or Braunton!

Family hiking the South West Coast Path

The adventures have been amazing and as we come to the end of the western half of the South West Coast Path, 273 miles from Minehead to Penzance, we feel a great sense of accomplishment and a newfound love for our adopted home. Later in 2015, we will begin the Eastern half of the path, 356 miles from Penzance to Poole Harbour in Dorset. It may take a long time for us to complete it but I know we will achieve it because the children are determined to do it, and I know as a family we have the strength and ability to use the power of our own feet to reach our goal. These are memories we will treasure for a lifetime and a new knowledge about the southwest that will be second to none.

Family hiking the South West Coast Path

Ryder, age 11: The path is cool. There’s always loads to see and do and I always find sticks and branches from trees to make into swords or alien ray guns! I like running ahead and getting to the top of a steep climb up a cliff before anyone else and then announcing if a village is in sight. It’s a big moment and a great feeling to see a village because on lots of the cliff climbs you get to the top and see nothing but more climbs ahead. I feel like a king when I see civilization ahead!

My favourite memory so far is when we lost the coast path in North Devon, between Porlock and Lynmouth. We missed the acorn marker in a field and got off track for two hours. When we found the path again it was after supper and Mummy felt we should look for a way off the path in case we ran out of daylight before we reached Lynmouth. But we couldn’t find any exit points and it got darker and darker.

Finally Mummy said we had to sit down on top of a cliff on some grass and she phoned our hotel in Lynmouth, and they sent the coast guards! It was exciting sitting on the cliff in the dark watching the bats and feeling scared! We heard the coast guards calling us from far away before they found us and then they led us off the path and back to the main road by forests and farm fields. They were big tough guys and I felt really safe. They had powerful torches and carried Rowan because he was sleepy. We finally got to Lynmouth after midnight and a crowd was cheering for us and I felt like a star! I really hope we have to get rescued again one day!

Family hiking the South West Coast Path

Frances, age 8: I love hiking the coast path because it is just me, my brothers and my Mum doing this adventure as a family. It’s nice to be outdoors and not have tablets or TV. We just get to look at the ocean and follow the trail and see where we go next like a surprise. I love all the birds, butterflies and insects we see and love taking pictures of them. I am an animal lover and I love to pretend I am a lion, a dog or a horse when on the path and I crawl along sometimes for long parts while I am being an animal.

It is the best place to pretend to be an animal and lots of great spots to make little dens. My favourite memory so far is when we were on the path near Morwenstow, after we crossed from Devon into Cornwall. We were walking along and I saw a tiny little mouse beside the path just sitting there shaking. Mummy said it looked hurt so I used a sandwich container to scoop it into with grass and leaves and we carried it to the pub in Morwenstow. Mummy asked in the pub who the local wildlife rescue person was and then called them and they came and took the mouse away to help it. We found out the next day it sadly died but I was glad it died peacefully and not being eaten by a bird. I will always help any animals I find on the path.

Family hiking on the South West Coast Path

Rowan, age 6: I like the path but I like cars more. But it’s fun to play with my cars on the path. There are lots of good places to make car tracks on the path and I carry lots of my cars whenever we hike.

My favourite part of the coast path is when we see the old sections of the path, down on the cliffs below us where they are now all ruined and crumbled away. I always point out the old eroded parts and wish I could go and explore them because they look so exciting. They look like they would make great car tracks! I also like the path signs with the acorns showing we are on the right path. I always touch the acorns and count how many I can touch each day and I am always the winner!

Gillian, Ryder, Frances and Rowan all appeared on our 'Case for Coast' campaign materials, which we used to convince government not to cut the England coast path. Find out more.

Gillian Tyson

What a wonderful, inspiring article - and what a great family you must be to all do such a lovely thing together. You are obviously really enjoying it, but there must be some difficult times as well. To have walked 273 miles in all weathers and still be so positive and enthusiastic about your adventures is a marvellous achievement. I walked some of the Dales way with my grandson when he was about 9, but that took some organising, and we only did about 4 or 5 days, so I am full of admiration for you.
Ryder, Frances and Rowan, I hope you'll keep writing your blogs; it's fascinating to read how each of you finds something different to enjoy and appreciate. Good luck for the next stretch of your adventure.