Getting Started
We did our 1 and only National Trail walk on the SW Coast Path in May-June of 2017. We were told that it was the toughest segment of the 660 mile coastal system because of the relentless, steep, trails down and then immediately up the many mini-gorges.

Walking through low scrub on a lovely day.
Begin, of course, like Bill did with an online search of something like  "national hiking trails England" to get the most up to date resources on the National Trails. Bill found http://www.nationaltrail.co.uk to be a useful starting point but it didn’t help him as much as he had hoped with the detail planning.

You’ll need to consider how much daily walking you can comfortably do, when you want to go, where you’d like to go, and what the transportation options are between your trailheads and airports. Bill found rome2rio.com very useful in sorting out bus and rail options. Do some searches too to inform yourself about the weather patterns in the region you are considering and also if your target area is one of the current tick hotspots.

We opted to have an overly ambitious itinerary. Our guess was that we’d have some nasty weather along the way and we’d turn one or more of those days into rest days. Only one of our nightly stays wasn’t near public transportation, though we could have made it a short walking day to a bus. As it was, we had acceptable weather for 11 consecutive days with our weather-related rest days being the last 2 of our journey.

Bill planned our itinerary and made all of our nightly reservations himself but you can have a tour company do all of that work for you. An experienced, Canadian hiking friend used Contours for the Coast Path and was very pleased with their service. She added "We almost used Macsadventure, another excellent walking company.  Both are based in either Scotland or England and offer sherpa services, or guided walks, in many places (UK and worldwide).  You can google them to see all the offerings."

Bill used booking.com as his go-to source and hotels.com as his back up. Of the 2 bookings made through hotels.com, one was our most expensive and the worst accommodation of our trip. Using those 2 sources had seemed fine but as we traveled closer to Newquay, it was apparent that the local hosts weren’t listing with the .com reservations services. It had looked to Bill that there was very little lodging available in that area and he’d planned 25 mile walking days because of it. In hindsight, lodging was plentiful, just not online.  

Two ways to find those more hidden hosts are through our luggage service website, Luggage Transfers www.luggagetransfers.co.uk, and the SW Coast Path website. Bill didn’t use these resources because it required a phone call to each proprietor, which was too tedious in the early trip planning stage.  

Next time, his strategy would be to again start with booking.com and when he encountered dry stretches, to look at these other 2 sources. The first question to answer with the non-online sources would be “Are there more options?" If so, he could continue building the itinerary and then go back to fill-in where needed with the more time consuming telephone bookings. 

I went for the spats look to keep the ticks from crawling up my pants.
Luggage Transfer
The very flexible, readily available, luggage transfer service made this trek possible for us. We had two 50 lb suitcases for our 4 month overseas trip. The transfer service picked them up every morning sometime after 9 am and deposited them at our next night’s lodging by 5 or 6 pm. They were flawless, though not cheap. Our 2 bags cost about 25 pounds Sterling each transfer, which was each day. Amazingly, when we needed to add a 3rd bag of food for 2 days without market access, the additional bag was only 4 pounds Sterling per day. Our service has a 25 kg limit per bag.

Bill booked with Luggage Transfers and we were extremely pleased with them. Our host at the start of our journey in Minehead terrified us by saying that all of the transfer companies were horrible but all of our other hosts raved about all of the companies.

I was pleasantly surprising that every village we encountered had at least 1 public toilet building and sometimes 1 at each end of town. They were all free until the end of our trip at Port Isaac, where the charge was small but of course, required exact change, which we didn’t have.

These toilets usually had a small wall unit that dispensed soap and water for hand washing and had a blower for hand drying. The only problem for me was that early on, most were a mess when we arrived and were out of toilet paper. I always carry my own toilet paper, but not enough for tidying or covering a toilet seat.

We began our walk 4 days after arriving in England from the States and our GI systems are always the last to recover from the 8 hour time difference. Hence, my morning poop was occurring mid-day during our walk and I quickly discovered that a hygienic, high squat over the toilet seat made it difficult to poop. I finally solved the problem. I still had a small packet of antibacterial countertop wipes for use on the plane and I began carrying it with me on the daily walks. I used the wipes to clean-up the toilet seat, set it aside, and then used the wipe on the door handle when I exited, conserving my toilet paper.  

We often consider it more hygienic to pee in the wild than use sometimes poorly maintained toilets. However, on Day 2 of our journey, we discovered that Exmoor, our host region, was a tick hotspot and we were picking up ticks about every other day. Squatting in the wild quickly became a last choice for me and even Bill picked up a tick on his clothes when he peed in urban bushes.

One of many cow stiles to climb over (note dog door on lower left).
I switched to only peeing on hard, bare surfaces like rocks, gravel and exposed dirt. Depending on the issues on your trail, you might want to carry repellent with you (versus only applying it in the morning) to give your buttocks a spritz before squatting. Ticks don’t cause any pain when they attach, so the only way to know if you have acquired one is to visually inspect your skin.

Training For the More Difficult SW Coast Path
Of course, increase your daily hiking or walking as possible to improve your sturdiness and to bring to the surface any brewing injury patterns or issues with your footwear. Start months ahead of time so you can understand and treat any problems that erupt. 

Hit the stairs early in your training to prepare for the many awkward outdoor dirt and timber staircases. And do actual stairs rather than using a training machine to make it more authentic. Find several different stairways with different rise/run proportions to vary the stresses. Go for 10 or more stories if you can and do laps because that is what some segments of the route demand.

Though potentially injurious, I like to condition by doing “2 at a time” stair work, both up and down. It strains my vulnerable knees to do 2 stairs at a time, but if I re-introduce the training carefully, it does wonders for my knee stability. Do a few, then wait a couple of days to see how your knees are tolerating the stress, then increase the workout gradually if they are responding well. Absolutely use a handrail for safety.

Work on calf strength, flexibility, and endurance because the calves take a beating. Look online or work with a trainer for a suitable routine for you. Perhaps learn to do a bit of self-massage as well. I am a new devotee of myofascial release for solving almost all of my soft tissue problems and I carried my 2 favorite self-release balls in our luggage and used them to keep my calves comfy.

Hip range of motion and strength are also critical for climbing over an assortment of cattle stiles, which are breaks in fences. We walked a bit with a woman who lacked this hip conditioning and she was miserable—she quickly exhausted when going over stiles and other barriers.

A UK Adapter + a European adapter + USB adapters & a bottle to support their weight.
A nice exercise we do from the DVD exercise series, P90X, are leg swings. Imagine or actually stand in front of a low stool or an open clothes dryer door and lift one leg up and over it, then reserve the direction. Do a number of reps with one leg, then switch legs. Notice if you crumble your torso towards your leg. If you do, don’t swing as high so that you can maintain your upright posture. By all means, put a hand on a piece of furniture the first time or 2 you do this exercise to avoid falling.

In addition to leg swings, perhaps you can also intermittently lift your knees high to do some marching when hiking or walking to develop endurance in that unused range of motion. We knew from past experiences with going up and over downed trees that a few “up and overs” on a hike can be very depleting so it is best to prepare for them.

Things to Take
..tick repellent (Autan or a product with 20% Icaridin or Picaridin)
..long pants and socks to tuck them into for a tick barrier if needed
..a full rain suit
..a second pair of a different style of walking shoes
..trekking poles are near-essential on the SW Coast Path (we prefer the ultralight Black Diamond carbon, fixed length, for about $160 though we only buy them on sale)
..several electrical adapters (it’s too easy to inadvertently leave 1 behind)
..a navigation app or device that you know how to use (preferably one that doesn’t require an internet connection like Gaia)
..paper and antibacterial wipes for public toilets without paper
..a small hand scale to weigh your bags if you are close to the 25 kg limit of transfer services