Wait for a hole in the clouds, then lace up and head out to the coast
There are times – few and far between, I hope – when we all feel deflated and defeated. Mustering enough energy to get out, walk and explore is certainly an act that is vulnerable to whim or mood – a fact that many of us discovered last year when the rain kept falling.
But this is a new year. A new start. A new opportunity. Yes, many of us outdoor types will be feeling a little jaded after a severely damp festive period capped the second wettest year on record – we may be eyeing the skies with suspicion... we may even be considering taking up indoor bowls or some such occupation.
But – and it is the biggest BUT I can imagine – our fabulous peninsula is still out there, no matter how soggy it might be. And all it's waiting for is the curtain of clouds to be opened and for sunlight to pour in.
So this is what I reckon I'm going to do in the coming weeks… If the weatherman happens to promise a sunlit day, I am going to be heading somewhere extra-scenic, ultra-beautiful, in order to kick-start my outdoor year.
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I reckon a single day spent out on the cliffs above an azure sparkling sea could make all the difference. It could beam a heady light into the darkness that was 2012 and turn it into the slightest dismal wisp of a memory.
And I can think of no better walking zone in which to do such a thing than the heavenly area around Coleton Fishacre in South Devon. The house and gardens are owned by the National Trust and won't be open until mid-February – but the charity also holds vast tracts of coastal land around the amazing V-shaped peninsula that struts into the English Channel between Brixham and Kingswear.
You can park your car in either of the car parks just above Coleton Fishacre. A lane runs from one to the other, and if you walk along it to the west – and keep going – it will turn into a narrow path at Higher Brownstone Farm, and this will take you steeply down towards Kingswear.
It's one of those paths where the bed-rock shows through to somehow bear witness to the hooves of the centuries, and this rather historic mood is later highlighted by the fortifications which you'll see in the bay far below.
Another tarmac lane takes the walker along the side of a deep valley to the coast path and here you have a choice: you can either turn left and get on with the hike proper, or you can follow the road down into Kingswear or Dartmouth for lunch.
This is a bit of a treat if you like peering into gardens, and Kingswear's sunny seaward slopes seem to allow all manner of Mediterranean plants to thrive.
Indeed, stroll through the pine woods which line the mouth of the Dart here and you could easily imagine you were somewhere on the Cote d'Azur – at least in spring or summer. I wasn't actually voicing such thoughts recently when I did this walk and crossed over to Dartmouth to eat fish and chips, huddled against a bitter north wind on the quayside.
There is something so fundamentally British about this type of cold, greasy, repast – and the seagulls who want to share your meal only seem to add to the insanity that you could possibly eat al fresco in midwinter anywhere north of Marseille. And why should you? There are plenty of cafes, restaurants and pubs both sides of the river.
Fuelled, if not frozen, we went back across the river and rejoined our circular route where the South West Coast Path leaves Kingswear's most easterly lane by an elaborate flight of wooden steps, and weaves its way down towards Warren House. This place has a small fort in its garden, but don't tarry too long to admire it as you must climb what, to the digester of fish and chips, can look like the north face of the Eiger.
But this particular haul is well worthwhile because it brings you to the aforementioned forest of pines. It is a pity that so many appear to be in poor health, but don't let that spoil your enjoyment of this most wonderful of all estuary mouths.
By the way, if you ever do the walk around Warren Point on the other side of the estuary you will see how completely different a river can look, depending which shore you're on. If pushed I'd have to tell you that this eastern section of the Dart is by far the preferable – the views through the pines, down across Kingswear Castle and over the deep blue-green river to Dartmouth Castle are quite simply picture-perfect.
The path winds its way through the woods to Newfoundland Cove and onwards around Inner Froward Point where you can look down on the multitudinous birds spiralling around the Mew Stone and Shag Rock. There's a National Coastwatch look-out on the headland, manned by volunteers who keep an eye on boats and shipping along this busy part of the coast.
You could, at this juncture, turn inland and walk up the track past the 80ft-high Daymark standing proud in its field. The hollow, stone construction was built in 1864 as a navigational aid for shipping and stands rather elegantly on eight angled columns.
The track will take you directly back to the lane with the car parks – but it's far better, in my opinion, to continue on the coast path which runs north-east along the cliff-tops and eventually turns into Pudcombe Cove.
That's where the walker is introduced to the magical demesne of Coleton Fishacre. It's closed for winter at the moment – which means you have to take the footpath that runs inland directly up to the farm.
But even from there you can look down on the little corner of heaven that was built in 1925 for Rupert and Lady Dorothy D'Oyly Carte (of operatic fame). The house – which is every bit as beautiful as its environs – apparently reflects the Arts and Crafts tradition, but has what are described as "refreshingly" modern interiors.
The couple created the fabulous gardens around the place, complete with gazebo, many water features and an impressive collection of rare and exotic plants.
Looking down on Coleton Fishacre from the footpath that takes you back to the car parks will, I am sure, inspire you to return in the heat of what will be the perfect British summer…
He writes, fingers crossed, touching wood, and everything else he can think of that will help make this happen. But even if for some hellish reason it doesn't, completing this walk on a sunny winter's day will gladden your heart for months to come.