I am bereft. What now? What next? I have literally reached the end of the road.
For the past five years, the boyfriend and I have been steadily advancing along the South West Coast Path, the 630-mile National Trail that traces every nook, cove and craggy cranny of coastal Somerset, Devon, Cornwall and Dorset, from Minehead to Poole.
In four separate trips, we’ve calf-burned up cliffs, knee-strained back down them and eaten our own rucksack-weights in pasties and scones (deliciously guilt-free, thanks to the aforementioned efforts).
We’ve waded across rivers, been drenched in unseasonal downpours and got sunburnt on blissful blue-sky days.
We’ve seen seals and basking sharks and lots of tourists – though the latter we easily escaped: most people don’t bother to move much beyond the main honeypot towns, leaving the rest of this truly astonishing coastline just to us.
So, we’ve done all these things, over all those 630 miles. We’ve even become defined by them: friends didn’t bother asking where we were holidaying each year, knowing we’d be ‘back on The Path’.
But now, it’s over. We made it to the end. We’ve got our obligatory end-point photo; we’ve ordered our completers’ certificates. And I feel, not elation, but slightly sad.
The Coast Path was what I looked forward to each summer, though constantly torn between my desire to finish the challenge but not actually wanting it to end. I have never felt so exhausted, sweaty or spent as on the trail – but also, never so strong or free.
I will walk other paths, I know I will. As far as I’m concerned, there is nothing finer than a day that involves nowt but hiking you and your belongings from A to B, when the route between them is wild and wonderful.
But I don’t know if I will ever feel the same about another trail. The Coast Path is my first love: my feet may move on to pastures, beaches and mountains new, but part of me is lost to it forever, perpetually tracing a south-west clifftop, listening to the constant crash of the sea.