Plymouth- Wembury (14.8 miles)
Distance from Minehead – 426.4 miles / Distance to Poole–202.6 miles
Today’s stage was perhaps the most built up and urban. Today I walked through Plymouth. Plymouth is famous for being where the Mayflower set sail for the new world in 1620; famous for Sir Francis Drake playing bowls on The Plymouth Hoe before setting sail to defeat the Spanish Armada; famous for it’s Plymouth Gin; famous for it’s theatre where most West End shows such as CATS started their life; and famous for the dockyard and naval base. It is not famous for being the prettiest, most scenic or nicest stage to walk. It is largely on roads and through industrial areas. It is certainly not the kind of walking I am getting used to – although it is mostly flat which makes a nice change!
The thing is though, as I walked through the city I was pleasantly surprised. South West Coast Path signs are generally quite good and clear until you get into a town, at which point they seem to vanish into the ether. I was expecting the same to be true of Plymouth, and so along with my expectation of a long and dull day of walking, I was anticipating getting lost a significant proportion of the time. However the city excelled itself in not only providing a whole host of clear signs showing the urbanised coast path route, but they also did so with style! The basic South West Coast Path signs show an acorn and then either an arrow or a place name and perhaps a distance. There have been a variety of styles but mostly they are simple wooden signs. In Plymouth however there were all sorts of styles and ways of showing the route. Some were big and bold and looked more like sculptures and spaceships. Some were subtle and in character with the surrounding area – painted on lampposts, carved into rock and part of a wooden fence. Some were totally unique and a real work of art.
It struck me how what would be considered to be the least attractive stage was in fact the place which had made most effort. Instead of wallowing in the self pity of not quite fitting in with the rest of the coast path walk, instead of not providing enough signs because so much of the route is on busy roads, instead of giving up, Plymouth seemed to celebrate that they had part of this iconic path pass through its boundaries. The amazing signage seemed to say that Plymouth is proud of its heritage and culture and it is ready to show it off to anyone who is prepared to walk this part of the coast path. I applaud the city and the positive attitude it displayed to me today. Too often when I am with others, I am quick to apologise if I think things are not perfect. If I suggest somewhere to eat or a place to go and if not everything is 100% top quality then I am devastated and will spend the next hour (or sometimes much longer) saying sorry that all was not as it should be – to the point where I will apologise for the weather, which even I can admit is not under my control! I want people to have a great time and I sometimes lose the focus on what makes an experience great – often just being with the people you like!
If I was Plymouth I would have spent the whole stage apologising for not being beautiful and scenic, for not having majestic coves and dramatic cliffs, for not being like every other stage of the walk. I would have hung my head in shame and felt bad for putting people through 14.8 miles of misery. But thankfully I am not Plymouth (or the creative people responsible for the signs in Plymouth) and so instead of an apologetic stage I got a celebratory stage – ‘I may not be pretty, I may not be the most scenic or dramatic, but boy do I have some talented people living here, and when that is merged with my history and culture, we have created an interesting and far from dull walk for you!’