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Author interview: Jen and Sim Benson, Day Walks in Devon

Thursday, 10 August 2017

South west coast path to the valley of rocks (route 2). © Jen and Sim

Jen and Sim Benson have a nose for adventure. When they’re not competing in adventure races, living wild in the British countryside or exploring their local Dartmoor, they’re writing about it. 

Employing their peerless local knowledge, Jen and Sim have selected their twenty favourite circular routes for our new guide to hillwalking in Devon. Covering the areas of North Devon and Exmoor, Dartmoor, South Devon and more, the routes take in the county’s rich history and beautiful coastal terrain. 

Now the book is available to buy, we caught up with Jen and Sim to talk about their favourite routes, the components of a good guidebook and what inspires their love of the outdoors.

 

How did you find your year of living in the great outdoors and do you think the experience had an impact on the way you wrote Day Walks in Devon?

Our year under canvas gave us the time and freedom to really explore Britain. We lived mostly within the national parks, spending a month or more in some, really taking the opportunity to get to know each place before we moved on. We spent quite a lot of the winter in Devon and Cornwall – the climate’s milder than further north and we have family there so when things went wrong, which they did on occasion, we had a place we knew the kids would be safe and dry while we sorted it out. This also meant we were able to explore the counties when they were relatively empty – they’re such popular places over the summer – so when we came to write the book we were already familiar with the places we knew we wanted to include. It also means the kids are very used to camping, so when we pack them up and head for the hills for a weekend of exploring they love it.

How did you go about choosing your twenty favourite walks?

We wanted to make sure we included a great variety of routes that really showcased the beautiful and diverse county of Devon. Some walks are classics for good reason, and we made sure some of those went in, but others explore the lesser-visited areas where there are unique landscapes, rare wildlife and a fascinating history to discover, well away from the crowds even in summer. There really is a bit of everything in Devon: sandy beaches and rocky coastline; wild and windswept moorland; rolling hills and leafy woodland; and even a mountain or two.

Which walk is your favourite?

It’s so difficult to choose – we thoroughly enjoyed every single one. If pushed we’d either go for one of the South Hams walks such as Noss Mayo as the coastline is just so spectacular, or the Fingle Bridge route around the Teign Valley on the edge of Dartmoor which is absolutely breathtaking.

Which of them is the most challenging in your opinion, and why?

Exmoor and the north Devon coast has some wonderfully steep hills, so the Foreland Point walk is probably the most physically challenging. Our Brat Tor walk is a good navigational challenge though, with plenty of wild moorland and an ascent to the very summit of southern England: High Willhays at 621 metres.

Above: Woody Bay from the east. © Jen and Sim

Do your two young children join you on these walks and, if so, which routes would you particularly recommend for family days out?

We take the children on sections of the walks we know they’ll enjoy – usually if there’s a nice beach or a good café along the way – but they’re only six and three so they’re not up to walking all day yet. We carried them for miles when they were younger and these days have a brilliant Thule all-terrain buggy that’s been on some pretty big adventures with us. Otherwise we’ll often run the routes individually – they make great runs too! The Hay Tor and Hound Tor section of our eastern Dartmoor route is ideal for families as the giant granite boulders are fun to scramble about on and there’s an excellent mobile café nearby. Otherwise any of the seaside walks are bound to be popular, and they can all be modified to make them doable for littler legs.

Where does your love of the outdoors come from?

We have both always been happiest outdoors and were lucky to grow up in families who encouraged this. Sim grew up in Devon and spent much of his time walking, running and climbing on Dartmoor, as well as taking part in the annual Ten Tors event with his school. Jen has been a runner and a climber for a long time and spent ten years doing both in Devon.

Right: Footpath north of Great Torrington. © Jen and Sim

What does Day Walks in Devon offer that is different to other guidebooks out there?

It’s a compilation of great adventures in an area we’re passionate and knowledgeable about, and we really hope this shines through for anyone taking on our walks. We’re really pleased to be part of Vertebrate’s well-established Day Walks series – we have used the guides ourselves over the years and enjoy the clear format and great layout. 

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