February 20th 2013

It was pouring rain and unseasonably chilly in Guadalajara, Mexico, when I boarded a flight for London en route to South West England and a week long walking vacation. I imagined the weather was a precursor to what I could expect in Britain. But I imagined it all wrong.
 
Devonshire, where I was headed, is in fact known for its warm summers and I was relieved to awaken the next morning to dazzling sunshine and a brilliant blue sky in Dartmouth, a picture-perfect seaside town on the south coast of England and gateway to The Wayfarers walk.
 
The view of the River Dart from the balcony of my harbor-side room was a colorful panorama of bobbing sailboats, rainbow-hued buildings and emerald-green hillsides tumbling down to the water’s edge.
'Sunshine!' was all I could think—'glorious sunshine!' 

 
 
The splendid seaside scene was a fitting start to what would follow: eight spectacular days of hiking over hill and dale across Devon’s unique landscapes of sun, cloud, moorland, meadow, cliff, and sea. 
 
I was keenly aware that the agreeable conditions were not the norm in the British Isles. Each day, the weather app on my iPhone confirmed that while my fellow Wayfarers and I (there were five of us) ambled beneath the sun’s radiant rays, it was raining almost everywhere else in England. 
It hadn’t occurred to me, when I’d researched the walk and been so easily seduced by descriptions of walking 'meadow-paths and narrow lanes, crossing rivers and passing through thatched hamlets, stopping for hearty pub lunches and a traditional Devon Cream Tea,' that it wouldn’t rain. I’d assumed that wading through the wet stuff was part of the bargain in England. It wasn’t about the weather. 
After exploring with The Wayfarers on three previous walks, I already knew that their trips were my kind of vacation: scenic and active with first-class country lodges, local cuisine, and in-depth immersion into country and culture with time to stop and smell the roses (or wild elderflowers).
But I also knew the capricious ways of Mother Nature.
'It rained—sometimes sideways, sometimes straight down, and the day was a lexicon of sounds that your boots make when stepping in and out of mud: squish, splodge, splash and then a rarer expletive when the water crested the top and trickled down your sock,' journalist Everett Potter writes in his article, A Coast to Coast Walk in Devon, featuring the same Wayfarers tour. 
So it was rain that I’d come ready for. 
It wasn’t only Potter’s account that intimated a soggy fate. A glance at Wikipedia confirmed that the dramatic uplands of Dartmoor and Exmoor National Parks, that the walk traversed, averaged an annual rainfall of more than six feet. 
But with the exception of one brief downpour, the sunny conditions of that auspicious first day in Dartmouth accompanied us for every step of the journey: Across a patchwork of terraced sheep pastures and steeply wooded valleys; down ancient ‘green lanes’ that have been used for millennia; alongside rushing streams and bracken-fringed paths; up to high open moorland and to our end point, the Bristol Channel, where we dipped our feet in the chilly water.   
 
Stepping out of the familiar is the real gift of travel and in the eight days since I’d sat nose-pressed to a rain-streaked airplane window in Mexico, I had walked deep valleys and wild uplands eons in the making, learned the lost art of earthen brick-making, feasted on organically reared lamb and sea trout from Devon Rivers, encountered Britain’s oldest breed of pony, and sang and danced with new friends in ancient pubs. Sunshine not required. 
Words & Pictures by Ellen Barone
Ellen Barone is a consumer travel journalist, and four-time Wayfarers alumni, who shares travel advice, vacation tips, reviews and inspiration on her websiteEllenBarone.com.
 
Read more about Ellen’s walk with The Wayfarers in her article, South West England, published online at NationalGeographic.com.
 

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