Sophie Pavelle: Walking the 300 mile South West Coast Path (for an MSc dissertation!)
Sophie Pavelle is an adventurous zoologist and science communicator, passionate about sharing the wonders of nature with a wide audience, in an informal way. Since her trip in 2017 she's worked on various projects for the BBC as well as the Wildlife Trusts - and is still using social media as a way to share her passion for nature. Check out her website here, and Instagram here - for a beautiful stream of nature pics!
Sophie, tell us about your trip?!
In June 2017, I decided to ‘do something a bit different’, and hiked 300 miles solo around the entire Cornish coastline on the UK’s longest national trail - the South West Coast Path. Why? I wanted to test whether social media could inspire an interest in science, the local environment, wildlife and conservation - from the infinite ready-made audience that lingers almost obsessively online. I managed to persuade my masters professors that hiking 300 miles would most definitely fit the criteria for my MSc dissertation!
I’m nuts about nature. I wanted to use this massive trek as a platform to inspire as many other people as I could, to fall in love with it too. It wasn’t as simple as completing the adventure and then telling everyone about it retrospectively - I wanted everyone to come with me – by sharing my journey with them online, in real time.
I made 22 vlogs (one per day) documenting the wildlife and environment on my journey. Each evening I edited and uploaded them to social media in real time. To capture people’s attention and be relatable, I deliberately made my iPhone my sole piece of filming and editing tech. My mission was all about communication and engagement with our landscapes, not cinematography or fancy production value!
How does a physical challenge change if you add in another factor like this, i.e. a 'bigger purpose' you're trying to get across?
In short, it’s so fulfilling. I’m not sure I could justify embarking on an adventure anymore without a wider mission!! But it is tough - having to juggle filming, presenting (remaining enthusiastic at all times!) and negotiating a gnarly trail in the hottest June on record for 40 years was a challenge. My grit was really tested in the evenings. I was shattered, sunburnt and wanted nothing more than to shower, eat and sleep. But I had a whole audience online waiting to see a nicely edited vlog. So, I had to suck it up, be mindful of ‘WHY’, and spend two hours editing and engaging on social media! Don’t get me wrong though – I loved every minute of it and the challenge made it all the more worthwhile!
Give us an hour-by-hour lowdown of how your trekking day looked...
Typical day... I’d wake up around 6 and aim to set off by 7am. I tried to get a few miles under my belt before the heat took its toll – but some mornings I was already dripping by 7:30!
I ate LOADS. Cake, pasties, baked potatoes, milk, blueberries – I treated myself to a big lunch each day which wasn’t hard to find as I passed through enough civilisation to stock up. Trekking with a pack burns lots of calories, so it was so important to keep feeding.
Because it was part of my Masters research, the Uni weren’t happy about me camping alone – plus I needed good Wi-Fi and charging points, so dreamy wild camping just wasn’t realistic. I had a really solid itinerary of hostels and B&B’s along the route.
I had researched lots prior to the trek on all the wildlife hotspots on each leg, so I had a vague idea of what to expect. But such is the nature of nature that nothing is certain and I often had to point and shoot and present on the spot if something happened!
I walked between 12-25 miles per day depending on the terrain. I also had to make sure I did all the filming and arrive at my destination at a reasonable time, so I had no time to muck about or dilly dally. Once I finished, I would grab food, shower and settle down to edit. Then hang out of a window for about an hour whilst I tried to get good internet signal to upload, then SLEEP. Then repeat for 22 days – no rest day.
Do you think the pairing of activism and adventure needs to grow?
YES. Adventure is an amazing narrative to tell stories about the environment organically, because it’s founded on a personal connection with the land. Adventure can be a pretty self-indulgent thing to invest in... I totally get that. I think adventurers actually have a responsibility to use their stories to spread awareness about conservation and the environment. It’s an important and special opportunity for them to be powerful advocates of our wild spaces – now more so than ever.
But, the last thing you want is to feel pressured to act and become an environmentalist, that’s not what it’s about. But why not litter pick along the way, make your own trail food to limit packaging, or use solid soap bars for showering? Little changes are easy, but they surmount to widespread positive action.
Best moment from the trip?
Ahhhh...hard! One that has really stayed with me is the first time I saw a gannet! It was after a really tricky and long ascent and I hadn’t seen much wildlife for a while. Then I wandered to the edge of the headland off the path a bit and the sea was wild and blue below – loads of birds were feeding. Then this massive white bird swooped on in and just owned the whole space, unmistakeably a gannet. They are so much bigger than I thought! It was amazing.
Biggest lesson learnt?
Don’t underestimate the power of a solo adventure! It has honestly changed my life.