Having walked much of the South West Coast Path, and on a mission to complete the UK’s longest hiking trail in its entirety, when I stumbled across an advert for the 2019 Jurassic Coast Mighty Hike, it seemed only right that I should sign up. The hike took place from Weymouth to Lulworth Cove along the coast path, passing by the iconic Durdle Door, before setting inland to Corfe, it was a section that I would have to do sometime, and besides that, the cause was a noble one.
The Macmillan Cancer Support is a charity that is close to so many peoples lives and hearts, as most of us know someone who has been affected by that cruel disease. In fact, in the past three years, I have been to as many funerals for those who had lost the battle to that indiscriminate disease, and these were people with healthy lifestyles, of no age, and with young families.
It seemed a great way of trying to help others, something that, if I am honest, I have not done a lot of in the past. With a growing crowd of subscribers to the Summit or Nothing YouTube channel, I thought that it would be a great way of using that platform to raise some funds, and this terrific audience did not disappoint! Every target I set I smashed, starting at £250 (the minimum required to take part), I soon raised to 300, then 400, then 500. To say I am proud of these guys is an understatement.
Although I am used to walking the coast alone, as soon as I saw the location, I knew who I wanted to invite along for the journey. It seemed a great way to get to spend a bit of time with my big brother Rob, who relocated to Portsmouth, several years ago, and who I do not see as much as I would like to. With the walk's location being slap bang in between us both, I immediately thought to give him a shout to accompany me. He leapt at the offer.
I was a little concerned at how my brother would find the walk, as he was not used to walking the miles that I was putting in by now. He was fit, he did a lot of running and cycling, but the terrain he went on seemed quite level in comparison to a stretch of the coast. Also, it would be a long time before we both got a free weekend to get out for some training together, but when we did, the Isle of Portland seemed the logical place to do so, ending our walk at the start location for the Mighty Hike itself.
Just 3 weeks before the big day, we walked 20 miles around this unique stretch of the coast path, with its chalky rocks, old prisons, ruined churches and of course memorable lighthouse Portland Bill. Rob did amazingly, and despite having blisters on his feet (something that I am lucky enough to have never had), he was never disheartened or downbeat. We just walked, and talked and took in the views and – due to an incorrect weather report – got sunburnt.
In the weeks between Portland and the Mighty Hike, Rob managed to get out a few more times and was obviously really enjoying the walking. I, on the other hand, had a busy month from then on and so that was my last training period before we set off.
The day of the Hike was upon us. A 4.30am rise, departing at 5 am to arrive in good time to find the start, register and ready to depart for 7.50. I wasn’t nervous, but I didn’t know quite what to take. No matter how often I do this sort of thing, I always panic pack at the last minute, and once again, my rucksack was bursting at the seams.
Ideally, I was going to take my Trespass backpack, as that had loops for my trekking poles in case I needed them for my knees. However, that backpack only has one compartment inside and I hate the thought of keeping water bottles and food in the same compartments as my camera gear. So, in the end, I opted for and filled, my Karrimor Urban backpack, which meant that I had to leave the poles, but at least everything was separated. Also, the Urban is a great bag for keeping food cool in the sun, and the contents dry during rain, without the need for a backpack rain cover. In fact, I saw a lot of urban rucksacks on the day, a popular and reasonably priced backpack.
I knew we got fed at the midway point, but was unaware that the a.m and p.m pitstops would also supply an endless choice of help your self snacks, sweets, fruits and nuts. I had previously loaded up with lots of snacks of my own, plus water and Lucozade. Then the weather was due to be wet, so I had water proofs and spare clothes. I had my camera gear, and extra batteries, I had knee braces and insoles – to be fair the knee braces went on before I set off. As it happened, I carried this weighty bag around with me and barely touched the contents… when will I ever learn?
I also ummed and erred with regards to which footwear to take with me. As the weather was looking wet, my Berghaus Hillmaster ll boots were my first choice, these are my go-to wet boots (especially on Dartmoor) but this seemed a shame as the Columbia Conspiracy Trainers that I had bought were so much more comfortable on longer routes, and tended not to become so heavy the more fatigued I felt.
After much deliberation, I eventually opted for the trainers, pairing them up with some Balega Blister Resistant hiking socks (whilst stashing more socks in my bag to change as I went). So it was going to be a case of suck it and see as I finally departed. Don’t let me down shoes! It was a long way to walk with wet and uncomfortable footware.
I met Rob at the main event car park, but only one of our vehicles was registered for parking, as original plans had us traveling together, so I was expecting to have to drive him to another carpark for the day – however, the attendant said that it wasn’t going to be a problem to leave the car as people were already turning around and leaving because of the incoming rain which was due! Imagine that – all that fundraising to turn away at the gate? Seemed crazy to me.
On arrival, I was impressed by the scale of the event. The atmosphere was immense, it felt like a music festival as we arrived to pumping music, an enthusiastic m.c, and a cheering crowd. The markees and starting gate which took over the car park were well organised, and we were in and out of registration in a matter of minutes.
Then, along with the other 100 or so people due to depart at 7.50, we were huddled into the start pen for a Zumba warm up, a great way to get you in the mood, as well as being a clever way of ensuring that everyone got a few important stretches in before departing. Dear old Rob soon got well into it and the Zumba instructor even threatened to drag him up onto the stage.
After the countdown, we were finally off, out onto the seafront, and the view of Portland became our weather indicator, fading as the bank of grey clouds lowered and moved in.
For the first 2 miles we were relatively dry, but the wind soon picked up as we made it up onto the cliffs, and before long what we thought may just be sea spray from the crashing waves below, soon turned into the inevitable heavy misty rain, which seemed to strike us harder as we all bottlenecked at the first stile of the route. We wondered whether this bottleneck was going to be a regular occurrence as the day progressed, traveling in such large numbers. Regardless, all around us, people were in high spirits.
I had my wife, Don, home at base camp, monitoring my progress through the day via the tracking app that Macmillan had set up. I had also put links up to the app on the Summit or Nothing facebook page so that my followers could track me too. This wasn’t working, unfortunately, and we assumed it was because our raincoats and the bad weather obscured the transmitters that captured the information on our bibs.
I also thought that I would use the Summit or Nothing Facebook page to try and up my earnings for the charity, and posted pictures and updates throughout the day with links to my Justgiving page, rousing more money from my generous subscribers and followers, and they did me proud. Don would text me every now and again saying, “Another £10”, “Another £30” and I watched my total rise by over £150 before the day was out.
By the time we reached the first pitstop, at the 5 mile mark, we realised that many people were going to make the most of it here, so we just grabbed a quick coffee (and a croissant) to go and set back off, placing ourselves ahead of much of the crowd, and we hoped, eliminating too much bottlenecking from here on in. In another 5 miles we would be stopping again anyway for our main meal.
Shortly after the first pitstop, the real challenge began. This next section was where the climbing really kicked in, as we climbed steadily up to heights of over 490 feet (149m’s). And sure enough, as we reached this beautiful and scenic stretch of the coast path, the weather soon became a bloody nightmare, wind and rain hammering us all as we made some of the steepest ascents and descents, over slippery wet and muddy surfaces.
Even so, the resolve and determination of everyone involved in this clifftop scramble was inspiring, and it was clear that an unforgettable experience was taking place, that memories of this event, and this place, here and now, would be fond in spite of the conditions. We were treated to some stunning scenery; the towering rugged chalk cliff faces, the almost vertical hillsides with a thousand bodies soldiering up or sliding down them, and the iconic arch of Durdle Door.
Shortly after Durdle Door, we headed inland a little towards the site of our lunch stop. Eating is always the highlight of any hike, and this was one of the best food breaks that I had so far experienced. The walk to the designated lunch location was a considerable distance from the coast path, but when we finally reached it, it was a welcome sight. At the entrance gate, a guy with a guitar sang to us as we swarmed passed him, playing Help by the Beetles as we passed by.
Once again, the food markee organisation was second to none, with staff constantly congratulating us as they effortlessly the crowds moving through. We
were directed to a huge buffet of pasta, salads, crackers and cheese, rolls, meat, rice, couscous, croissants, muffins, cookies….. At this point in the day it would have been easy to have overfed and
then get a stitch for the next section. Still, I had burnt a considerable amount of calories and surely was certain to burn even more over the next 16 miles. hungry for a bit of most things, and
especially enjoyed the Nacho Pasta Salad.
Rob and I quickly ate our lunches and then set straight back off, as the crowds began to filter in behind us. The rain had stopped, (there were even small patches of blue sky bursting through the heavy grey clouds) and considering we still had sixteen miles (a good days walk for me on an average day) still to go, on top of a ten mile stretch already completed (a considerable walk in itself), we were still in high spirits.
We made the walk back to the coast path, and I almost made a wrong turn following some tourists, luckily my brother was alert enough to spot the arrow that I was walking past, with lead us in the direction of Lulworth Cove. The Cove looked picturesque as we approached towards it, and kept heading down until we reached the village. Then, still heading down our route took us right down to the beach, which I was glad was only a short stint as walking of pebbles is as uninviting as walking on sand. However, being at sea level and walking beneath the huge white cliffs, we knew that the inevitable climb back out was upon us. It didn’t disappoint.
Now, I have a little trouble with my knees, and never so much as when tackling steps, so as I looked at this wall of steps leading out of Lulworth Cove, with a steady stream of hikers slowly crawling up them, I must admit, my heart sank a bit. I would rather climb a slope than steps, and especially as the steps seem to get further apart. Occasionally, it was possible to climb beside the steps, and as congestion slowed our pace, the ascent was made a little easier.
I won’t deny it, when the Jurassic Coast route first got shared to us, I was a little sad to see that it veered inland and way from coast path for the final half. I love coastal walking, and knocking 26 miles off in one day would have set me in good stead on my mission of completing the 630 miles of the South West Coast Path, and as we climbed out of Lulworth Clove I looked back at the ocean for what I knew would be the last part of the day.
The following miles weren’t as picturesque as the coast, and having been bought up amongst the rolling hills of Devon, the rural views from here on were nothing new to me, but it was, for the most part, steady walking at least. That being said, the route was leading us directly to Corfe Castle, a great ruined castle visited by Keith and Candice-Marie in one of my favourite films - Mike Leigh’s Nuts In May (Alison Steadman’s favourite role) and one that we regularly pass by on family visits to the relatives along the South Coast.
As we wove our way through fields and stony tracks, we passed the halfway point, I thought it may have been a more impressive waymarker seeing how it's a bit of a milestone of the day. In fact, I almost walked straight passed it.
I was also beginning to get a little concerned about so much of the route being on tarmac roads. Apart from steps up the sides of
cliffs, the only other thing that has ever really given me pain was a lengthy walk on tarmac – the day in question when I walked from Fremington to Croyde, mostly along the Tarka trail. I reached Saunton Sands and had to give up – the only occasion that this had happened to me.
But, then I was in heavy hiking boots, and today, my Columbia Conspiracies were doing the trick for sure. This stretch was fairly featureless, and we just counted down the miles until we reched the final pitstop.
We stopped only briefly at the 20-mile P.M pitstop. As I hadn’t taken many of the supplied snacks along the way (except the odd jelly baby handed out en-route) and seeing how they were free, I stashed a few bags of sweets into my backpack to distribute to my children once I made it home. I also took this opportunity to insert an insole into my trainer, and my brother Rob changed his socks. Then, grabbing a coffee, I noticed that they also supplied hot chocolate (Galaxy hot chocolate too) and so I had one of the staff make up one of Trev’s Mocca’s to take with me. The girl beside me at the counter considered this a while and so asked for the same.
Then we were back on the road. Our pace had slowed somewhat by now, but we were both confident that we could do it. Fatigue wasn’t quite kicking in but we were bracing ourselves for the last climb, which looked set to be one of the bigger climbs of the day to end on. But first, we were navigated through some woodland and a marshy area that became quite boggy underfoot. People would stop at the bog's edge and contemplate how to pass over it, but being used to some dodgy Dartmoor terrain, I easily identified the minescule solid patches hidden in the bog and slipped across, which seemed to impress some of those who perched along the edge. They quickly followed my steps.
Soon, though, we returned to the road and were walking for ages without noticing the 22-mile marker. We hoped we had missed it and that this wasn’t the longest mile ever. We were both elated somewhat when we finally stumbled upon the 23-mile marker, although it wasn’t far after this that my knees began to feel the strain of the day’s challenge. They literally turned to jelly and caught me completely by surprise. At one point they almost gave up completely. A minute rest and with my camera tripod extended as a walking aid, I carried on.
Almost there, almost there, I told myself encouragingly.
Before long we reached a Macmillan employee who congratulated us for our efforts and as he directed us around a corner he said, “Mile 24 and one last hill just around this corner – you can do it!” We reached the waymarker and could see the hill ahead, luckily a steady climb up and along the side as opposed to up the face of it. The hardest part of this climb was climbing the stiles at top and bottom, but once up, the views paid off, an endless landscape behind and ahead of us and were finally heading to Corfe.
The final miles were mainly downhill, which can be just as bad as an uphill climb on tired and strained knees. With my weight distributed onto my tripod, I hobbled down the hill. We passed a group of youth’s laden with heavy backpacks taking part of the Duke of Edinburgh Award, all of whom looked considerably more miserable than this fantastic group of mighty hikers that still, at such a late stage in the day were still as joyous and chatty as when we all departed ten hours ago.
And then, at last, there was the sight we had been waiting to see, the towering remains of Corfe Castle. We were entering our last mile, and as we passed the 26-mile marker, we seemed to find a second wind, and our pace picked up as we wound down to the finish line. The sound of the crowds, music and the tannoy boomed encouragingly as we approached, and as we wound the final corner into the finish line, my big brother Rob, regardless of the blisters that he had acquired over the day, shouted “I’m gonna run over the finish line!” and off he went.
“Here he comes, Rob Lewis, running over the finish line!” The announcer cheered, and the crowd seemed to lift at this and cheer him on. The fact that our names were picked up from the technology in our bibs and transmitted to the announcer for a personalised commentary of our final steps across the finish line was wonderful touch, even when the commentator added: “Rob leaves Trev Lewis, his personal videographer, in his wake.”
And then we were across, and it was heady moment where a medal was plonked over our heads, a glass of celebratory bubbly inserted into our hands, people were congratulating us, the crowds were cheering and the commentator booming as more crossed the finished line and we were ushered up onto the stand for a final photo before making our way to the mess hall for one last meal, a scourge on a hot meal to replenish some of the calories burnt.
The day was done. The walk complete. The fatigue and aches about to kick in.
What an amazing day. It was great to speak to various people throughout the day, some of whom had there own personal reasons for making this mighty hike, some just doing their bit for a great charity. It felt good to have been part of something, and for days after the buzz of the challenge lingered and was shared by many on the Jurassic Coast Mighty Hike Facebook group, many of whom have already signed up for next years walk and many of the other routes that Macmillan have planned for the remainder of the year.
As I said, this was the first time that I had done anything for charity since school, and it felt good to have been able to raise some money for others. Together with my brother at the time of writing this blog, myself and Rob had managed to raise over £1100, and there is still time to donate (HERE) should you wish to. It was also great to have bought my brother and I closer, giving us both something that we could enjoy together, and Rob has insisted on joining me for the remainder of the Dorset Coastline that I have yet to complete.
I will definitely be doing more of this in the future, and will keep an eye out for more great events in the future. But for now, wearing my medal with pride, and sitting in my Macmillan sports vest as I write this, I sign off, thanking you all for your support, and for taking the time to read my account of the day.