Updated: Feb 26, 2021
I clung on to my husband Mike as we stood in the car park at Lulworth. He joked that it was because he was so warm, but it was far more than that. This was the day that my adventure was really beginning – walking and camping on my own – and I was scared. I had only ever spent a few nights camping on my own, odd nights over the last month, practising, ready for this moment.
I had not had a good night’s sleep. It was windy and raining, and I was worried about getting wet. I dreamt that rain was misting into the tent through the fly sheet and the inner tent. I even covered myself with my waterproof jacket during the night to keep dry. My sleeping bag was damp in the morning, although I think it was condensation rather than rain, and I had had to pack it away like that – not a good start.
We had tried to eat a quick breakfast while striking camp, but I couldn’t manage it. My stomach was churning and just wouldn’t accept any more food after the first few mouthfuls.
So here we were a couple of hours later, all packed up and ready to go. Mike was heading back home to start his new job, and I was heading off into the fog on my own.
I clung on for a few more seconds, until my sense of adventure overcame my fear. One more squeeze and I was ready to go. There was no looking back now as I strode off, away from comfort and into the unknown.
The fog lifted enough for a spectacular view of Durdle Door as I passed by on the clifftop, but remained thick through most of the rest of the day. The wind blew constantly. At times, I could barely follow the path, bending my legs to lower my centre of gravity and make me more stable.
I loved the feeling of those first few miles. The steep slopes were punishing and my pack felt heavy, but I was walking well. I knew I could manage it - my confidence was building with every step.
Finally, the fog lifted enough to me to be able to make out Weymouth in the distance. The cliffs lowered and the path dropped down to the beach. I thought it was going to be easy from here, walking along the flat seafront to Ferry Bridge, where I would turn inland to my campsite. I was wrong. This was the hardest part of the day by far.
The pebbles on the beach at Bowleaze Cove are hard work to walk over, shifting under every step. As soon as there was a hard surface to walk on, I moved onto it. I was walking fast, thinking that I was almost there. As I approached Weymouth, I realised that my feet were wet. They had probably been wet all day, but because the wind had been drying my legs out, I hadn’t noticed. Big mistake!
I sat on the sea wall and aired my feet until they were dry - what a great excuse for a rest. I switched into waterproof socks and carried on. Within seconds, the balls of both feet were hurting. Foolishly, I continued walking, and it was only a couple of miles later that I stopped to do something about it. By this time, mild pain had become bad enough for me to be hobbling. I was cursing – I knew perfectly well that you should stop as soon as you feel a hot spot developing. Carrying on just gives blisters time to develop, and develop they had. I had a large blister, deep in the pad of my right foot near my toes, and my other foot was hurting in the same place. I squashed some hikers’ wool down into my socks to ease the pressure and hobbled on. I still had a couple of miles to walk, and didn’t want to fail at the first hurdle.
Walking along the old railway line out of Weymouth and then along the front of Portland Harbour should have been a joy. Instead, it was agony. An hour later, I was pleased to arrive at my campsite, where I changed into my flip flops. I was hoping for bliss, but alas, it was too late – I had two large blisters, one on each foot, and they were going to hurt now whatever I did.
It was still blowing a hooley when I arrived at the campsite. The owners gave me strict instructions about where I was allowed to camp, but the only areas with shelter from the wind were out of bounds. So, I pitched my tent in the exposed camping field to see how it would fare, careful to attach it to the ground properly before letting go. The last thing I needed on my first night alone was to lose my tent to a gust of wind. Once pitched, the tent withstood the wind, but was so distorted that the fly sheet was going to be touching the inner tent, and I would need to curl up at the far end to fit in.
Clearly, I had to find somewhere else. Walking round the campsite, I spotted an empty stable that was open on one side. The ground was lumpy where the horses’ hooves had compacted the soil, but I could at least get my tent out of the worst of the wind. Which is how I spent the next two nights sleeping in a tent pitched half in, half out of a stable, pegged down into well-rotted horse manure. It wasn’t the most glamorous of accommodation or the most comfortable of places to sleep - it was like sleeping on a jumble of upturned tea cups - but I did stay warm and dry, and I had overcome the first challenge of walking on my own.