Target in sight as David nears end of wettest SW coast walk
While you were enjoying the build-up to Christmas, this man was labouring alone on the Cornish cliff-tops in a gale; while you were relaxing after the turkey and other excesses he was striding in the eye of a Westcountry storm; and while you were getting over the New Year celebrations he was still out there, damp and aching, but marching for charity.
Meet David Jones, the unlikely long distance charity walker who spends most of his time helping to run the Manna from Devon Cooking School.
"I am an ex-Navy officer who is now a tubby cooking school instructor," he told the Western Morning News when we caught up with him on Devon's south coast. "So, no – I am not an ex-SAS type or super-fit. But I am reaching my targets and should finish the 630-mile South West Coast Path on January 9th."
Which is very impressive for any 50-something year old – but even more inspiring given that David chose some of the worst winter weather in years to march around one of Europe's most exposed rights-of-way.
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"Why did I choose the middle of winter? Well, I thought if you are going to do a damn fool charity challenge, you'd better make it stand out from the rest," laughed David as he waited for the East Portlemouth ferry at Salcombe.
And "standing out" by walking the 630-mile coast path in winter has brought him very close to raising his target £5,000 for the Motor Neurone Disease Association.
During his walk, which began on December 16, David has been keeping a blog (http://mannafromdevon.com/ mannablog) – and here's the entry for the first day:
"Having listened to heavy rain battering the van roof for much of the night we were relieved to have a dry and clear start to the walk and made excellent progress, reaching Porlock Weir by 10am. As this is classed as a whole day's walk in the guide we felt we'd done well and were catapulted along the next leg to Lynmouth. By 3:10 we had reached Lynton which should have been the final destination for the day, but it was still early and we had plenty of energy left so we headed on for another three miles.
"As I write this Holly (David's wife who is meeting him every night in a camper van, donated for the occasion) is making beef stew – but I think the heavens could pour a Biblical deluge on the van tonight and it wouldn't wake me up. Miles covered: 24.5."
Not a bad start – but what about this entry for Day 7: "At 6:30 this morning I stepped out of the van into roaring wind, rain and utter blackness. The weather today was shocking, truly bloody awful. Big winds, lots of rain, poor visibility, paths turned into watercourses or calf deep puddles, streams turned into torrents."
Or Day 10: "The wind blew fiercely at times coming directly off the Atlantic and straight into my face."
And here's Day 16: "Today I reached a number of milestones. For a start I finished the entire Cornwall section of the walk when I reached the Cremyll Ferry, the end point of today's walk. By then I'd already gone through the 400 mile mark.
"However, all of these are as nothing as today's most important reason for celebration. No, not the arrival of 2013 but of Holly and I reaching our 20th wedding anniversary. Having put up with me for this long, I am now really testing her patience with my latest mad scheme but so far she has waved me off every morning."
Day 17 was New Year's Day: "We did stay up a little past the normal 9pm curfew, but couldn't quite make it to midnight. The path waits for no one – we'd still have to be up early if I was to make my miles for today."
When we spoke David was in high spirits: "Once you get into the swim of it you are OK. I am going at a steady rate every day so there's not much opportunity to stop and see the view. And I'm starting before daylight and finishing by five at night in the dark.
"The worst moment is stepping out of the camper on some rocky headland at six in morning in a howling gale and lashing rain. That happened at Lizard Point and at Trebarwith Strand where I jumped out into an absolutely howling wind.
"But you whistle a happy tune and when the daylight comes you brighten up anyway," beamed David. "Funny enough, I've woken up most mornings and thought: 'I'll go for a nice long walk today and look forward to it'.
"That's surprised me – but I really have enjoyed it," he said, before adding: "And in the last few days the sun has come out and I'm walking in the area I know – so I'm on top of the world."
Not bad for a tubby 50-something-year-old who has walked nearly 500 miles through some of the worst weather the Westcountry could have thrown at him.