I had a good deal of friendly conversations with strangers while in England, and when it inevitably emerged that I was travelling alone, I was often met with raised eyebrows and a “wow, you’re brave.”
That’s a sweet sentiment, of course, and it warms the cockles of my ego, but this trip honestly required almost no courage. Good shoes, yes, and a resilient bladder, but my nerves were rarely tested. I described this trip earlier as easy-mode adventuring, and it really was. Here were the greatest threats I faced along the way, for what it’s worth, in no particular order.
Tell anyone that you’re going for a long-distance walk through the English countryside these days, and the second thing they’ll say (after “Oh cool!…why?”) is, “Watch out for the cows.” They are a known threat to life and limb. But, you know, they’re also just cows.
The Coast Path runs through countless pastures, and the Purbeck Way took me through countless more. You can’t avoid cows if you’re going to walk here. And in practice, this is usually fine; so long as you don’t do anything to alarm or irritate the cows, they’ll generally leave you alone. I learned this at some point after crossing through my very first cow pasture, though, because these ladies were grumpy.
There were maybe 20 of them in this field, and I had about 200m to cross before I got to the next stile. No problem, I hummed a little song for them so they’d know I was there, stuck to the path, and with 50m to go none had even so much as looked up in acknowledgement.
Until that one asshole started mooing. She just stood there, looking straight at me, and mooed. The other cows in her cluster looked up, looked at me, and started mooing. Then the cows in another cluster I had passed a few moments earlier started mooing. They were all facing me, mooing angrily. Then two of the cows started butting heads for some reason.
This was the first time I busted out my ‘please don’t trample me’ song, which goes something like this: ‘I’m sorry I’m in your space/ I’m sorry for being human please don’t hate me/ Please don’t trample me I’m just trying to get through here/ Oh jesus just be cool guys’. I riffed a bit on the lyrics, depending where the inspiration took me. I leapt over that stile in a single bound and never looked back.
Later that day, my path took me through a large herd of cattle, including tiny calves (I’m positive there was at least one bull in there, too, which I thought wasn’t allowed???). These jerks were 100% in my way, including one calf just sitting directly in the stile at the other end. There were razor-wire fences all around, so my only choice was to walk through the herd, then find a way to jump the fence at the end.
These cows were eyeing me warily as I sang my song to them (not the greatest audience, though attentive), but overall didn’t seem to share their cousins’ bloodlust. Things got tense as I approached the stile. There was a calf there, which meant that one of the other cows was probably its mother, which meant that I wasn’t getting anywhere near there. So I clambered over a large fallen tree and two fences, cursing under my breath, while they all just looked at me. But you know what? I didn’t get trampled. I emerged in a pasture full of sheep who obligingly ran for their lives as soon as they saw me. I like sheep.
There are a couple of army firing ranges along the Dorset coast. I bypassed the one near Lulworth when I veered up to Wool, but did walk through the Weymouth one. It was clearly marked, and since there were no red flags up, I knew it was safe to walk through. But can I just point something out? Look at this:
My god, be sure to read the entire post carefully. If your eye merely skims over the right-hand column, you’re getting a very different message: “PROCEED IF RED FLAGS ARE FLYING”
Obviously, just about the entirety of England is haunted. You can’t chuck a stone without it flying straight through some transparent lady in a white gown waiting faithfully for her true love to return from the seas. And despite not actually believing in ghosts, I did manage to see one with my own two eyes. Look at how haunted all these places are:
My path took me into a good many dark woods full of mysterious rustlings, and past countless centuries-old abandoned edifices with chilly drafts that crept up the spine.
As I walked through that long lane lined with hedges pictured above, I spotted a shadowy figure walking toward me, maybe 50m away. I started to pull myself together to say hello, as one does, and continued walking as the figure approached. Something on the ground caught my eye. I looked back up a millisecond later, and the shadowy figure was gone. There was nowhere for him to go! There were thick hedges on either side! My tiny, exhausted legs made short work of the rest of that lane, let me tell you.
I’m actually a bit disappointed I didn’t get to see any of these fast horses…
My Idiot Self
I am 100% the greatest threat to my own safety & well-being, passing even cows in this category. I had failed to break my caffeine addiction before the trip, so I had to endure several days of withdrawal. (Tea is great and all, but it was not a match for my pot-a-day coffee habit.) I consumed enough clotted cream to cause a temporary supply shortage. I drank my weight in cider and made an ass of myself before an entire village (NO REGRETS). I gave myself a 9/10 hangover on the day that had the prettiest views and the most hills. I was hopelessly lost at more or less all times. And instead of getting my act together at any point, the more trouble I found myself in, the more excited I was to tell the story to my friends.
So really, the takeaway from this is that if you’re going to walk through England, you should be perfectly safe so long as you keep your wits about you, and steer well clear of cows and Janets. Can’t do anything about the ghosts, though.