Longing: The South West Coast Trail

Totally opposed to my notion, nay my resolution–to use my time more wisely in the mornings, I once again found myself browsing at random by way of Google Earth. This is  a lens on the planet through which I could gaze–and learn–for entire days if I (or she) let myself.

Thankfully then I suppose  it was a good thing that my old computer was sluggish touring the world through Google Earth. Unfortunately then I suppose it is not to my advantage that the new iMac with much more internal memory and much faster video card makes Google Earth seem a spontaneous extension of my hand — — as if I were in real time traveling along one of the world’s great rivers or over its highest mountain peaks.

The latest exploration this early morning arose out of my curiosity about the filming location for a Netflix series we have been watching called Broadchurch. [Rated 8.4 on IMDB.] I was able to find out that Dorset on the coast of  Great Britain was one of the filming locations, and that is what I plugged into the location bar in Google Earth. The experience of traveling the Dorset and adjacent coast has been strangely bittersweet.

The bitter bit of this experience is acknowledging that I will never be on the ground to explore the territory, and only know it from the map. Walter Mitty experiences remorse on accepting as real the fact that he has been pretending. In particular, it is the South West Coast Path that has caught and held my attention this early cold morning, and created a feeling I can only describe as longing.

[I’d be shocked if anybody did, but just as a starting point for exploring this trail, you can input into Google Earth the following: [su_highlight background=”#d6eaed” color=”#191f5a”]Start Point Lighthouse, Dartmouth, United Kingdom.[/su_highlight]]

Of course you know if you have visited this blog many times at all over the past 13 years that I am very happy to be where I am. And yet, there is a part of me that grieves and regrets that it is so very difficult to avoid ugly, busy, overbuilt and artificial in eastern half of this country. Frankly, I’m ashamed and disappointed in what we’ve done to both natural and built environments. No wonder we are held in low regard by so many in other places that have honored their history and the land. But that’s another riff.

I hold no illusions that the southern coast of Great Britain is pure and devoid of such things. And yet, the very fact that this footpath courses through mostly small villages across 630 miles of countryside, close enough in most places to see the sea, often from the very bluff’s edge–this is quite different, you likely agree,  from east-coastal America–which is for the most part rather newly “developed” and ugly, busy, overbuilt and artificial. I know there are exceptions, but you’ll be hard pressed to travel two miles on the eastern seaboard south of Maine without asphalt, neon and traffic. Except in remnant snatches, we gave that kind of coast away a century ago.

I guess I always imagined that the time would come when I would travel. Now would be that time of life I imagined. There will not be the hiking and climbing and sleeping on the ground I found no challenge at all long years ago when I was imagining knowing the world upon retirement. We could still be tourists somewhere I suppose, but that does not conform to Mr. Mitty’s travels into his future. Imagination’s current abode is in a different chassis with worn wheels and shocks, and small gas tank.

I realize every day some new “never again.” The fact that I have just discovered but will never set foot on the South West Coast Path is, oddly, just one newly-plucked item fallen through the wide wicker of my bucket list.

But you, dear reader who has stumbled here by accident just to find this post–check it out. Maybe this is one you can both imagine and do. Tell me about it when you return, won’t you?

Share this with your friends!

Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. Ahhh…Fred,
    For many reasons this blog post reminded me of a novel that I think you need to check out if you ever have the urge to read fiction. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce is about a gentleman from Kingsbridge (which I think is in the same neck of the woods you describe here) who suddenly, and without planning, decides to walk to Berwick upon Tweed which is near the Scottish border, a journey of 600 or so miles. The story is less about the scenery than Harold’s interior life and redemption and I think your post may be as well. 😉
    I hear you about travel though. At this age I find I have to dole out my energies carefully and whittle the tough stuff down to only that which makes my soul sing.
    I’ll have to check out “Broadchurch”. We have gotten quite attached to British drama lately!
    When you next visit your daughter, plan a drive down to Ft. Fisher if you haven’t already done so. It’s a relatively unspoiled stretch of coast that is a relief to the senses, though it can be sort of crowded in the “season”. Another good visit is the Carolina Beach State Park which has some trails through mostly swampy terrain near the Cape Fear.
    Take care and keep up the traveling even if it’s only virtual. Isn’t Google Earth wonderful?

  2. I hope your bucket list items will not entirely fall out of your basket, Fred. You may have some surprise opportunities yet. I believed i had missed my chance to go to Norway, where my mother’s relatives still live. But my 79 year old husband just declared he is going to brave the hell of air travel and take me on a small ship cruise there this summer. Will wonders never cease!

  3. While you are enjoying the thrills of Google Earth take a side trip to New York City. The latest upgrades have really changed the experience as you fly over the island with 3D buildings turned on. It really is just like flying over the city….Try it.