Earlier this month we met up with artist, walker and owner of Halcyon Cottage, Emma Scattergood. On the coast path just outside Porthleven, she told us how she’s walked over a hundred miles, whilst raising money and sketching all the way.
What is it you’re up to this year?
I’m spending 2023 walking and sketching my way along the South West Coast Path. Hopefully creating 50 pictures to celebrate the 50th birthday of the South West Coast Path Association and trying to raise money to support both the association and Dementia UK as I go.
What was it that inspired you to get involved?
Honestly, it was as if a little voice told me to! I decided to leave my long-term job as a university lecturer at the end of last October to make space for my own creativity. I imagined I would simply spend a year in my garden studio but, just five weeks later, I found myself on the South West Coast Path Association website and when I saw that they were celebrating their 50th birthday, the idea of 50 Pictures for 50 Years was born!
The South West Coast Path has played a big part in my life: my father’s family lived in Penzance; I was born and raised in Exeter, and I now live by the cliffs in Dorset. Growing up I walked the path with my parents, then with my own children, and for the past ten years myself and three friends have walked a section each year. It’s a very special and beautiful thing that I feel we are in danger of taking for granted, so doing something to help preserve and celebrate it feels important.
How far have you come already? Where have you left to go?
I sadly lost a week’s walking to illness which prevented me from doing the path in a completely linear fashion, but I’ve covered about 150 miles so far. My last stretch was Falmouth to Penzance over Easter and now I’m gradually making my way round Cornwall.
Have you had a favourite stretch to walk or draw? Any memorable moments?
I have to say the section from Weymouth to Lulworth Cove, along the Jurassic Coast, is just spectacular - no wonder so many people say it’s their favourite walk in Dorset. And my husband proposed to me on Old Harry in Purbeck, so I obviously have a soft spot for those chalky Dorset cliffs!
I’ve had some memorable moments with the lighthouses so far. Walking out to Portland Bill for the first time, on a dark, windy January day, felt wonderfully dramatic. Although it was topped by the moment I was literally brought to my knees by mad March winds on the cliffs above Start Point. That was quite terrifying!
The stretch between Sidmouth and Exmouth was beautiful but poignant; punctuated with memories of driving my mother away from our family home in Exeter to come and live with us in Dorset. She was 81 and had been diagnosed with dementia but was still so full of life and energy. We stopped in Sidmouth and walked a stretch of the South West Coast Path together for what turned out to be the last time. It’s for this reason that I’m also walking for Dementia UK, as they gave us such invaluable support until her death in 2019, five years later.
How long will this endeavour take you?
I want to complete the walk within the year and having said that I would complete 50 pictures to celebrate the Association’s 50th birthday, it feels important to do it within the birthday year. However, I also think it’s important not to let time and deadlines dictate the experience of walking the path. Too many activities are now measured and judged in terms of time and distance, and that strips away the simple joy of immersing yourself in nature and letting your feet and mind wander wherever they want to go.
Many people walk the coast path for charity, but we've not heard of many who draw it while they go. What inspired this decision?
I want to highlight the special connection there is between walking in nature and creativity - and the significant benefits of making time to do both, even if you don’t consider yourself to have any creative ‘talent’.
So many people who have felt stuck, anxious, burned-out, lost or at a crossroads (myself included) find they regain a sense of calm, direction, perspective and resilience when given the space and opportunity to walk and enjoy creative play. This is what inspired this Creative Path challenge and the workshops, which I’m offering to communities both along the path and in my home county of Dorset.
Is walking part of your creative process?
Absolutely. The slow pace of walking allows you to absorb the world around you, to notice the shapes and colours and textures, and the subtle difference as the seasons progress and weather changes. You can really look, really notice. More than that, the space and peace away from the demands of modern living, the repetition of putting one foot in front of the other, takes you into a different, more open, mindset. It invites new ideas and makes change possible.
Walking and drawing both feel like quite meditative practices. Do you feel the experience has taught you anything?
You are so right! A while back, I spent two weeks alone, walking and drawing the coastline in rural Co Donegal, Ireland. I didn’t set out to do that, I just went away for a break, but I soon noticed the transformative effect that exploring and sketching was having on my burned-out brain and tired body. Moving, breathing fresh air, and stopping to look, to closely observe the world around me, did more to help me reconnect with myself, and understand what I needed, than anything else. And, to go back to your very first question, I’m sure that is why that little voice in December told me that I wanted to walk and draw the South West Coast Path! I knew that I wanted more of that experience. And I wanted the chance to share that experience with others, to give others the chance to feel the same benefits.
If you’d like to find out more about Emma’s work or attend one of her workshops, you can visit her Facebook page or sign up to her newsletter. And if you’d like to donate, Emma has a Just Giving page for Dementia UK and the South West Coast Path Association.