In 2023 Emma Scattergood set off on the South West Coast Path with pen, paints and pad. She shares a year of walking and sketching along 630 miles of this National Trail from Minehead to Poole Harbour. Some of her sketches are pictured here.

My sketch of Portland Bill lighthouse.My sketch of Portland Bill lighthouse. (Image: Emma Scattergood)

The Journey Begins...

There were some raised eyebrows from my colleagues at Bournemouth University when, in Autumn 2022, I gave in my notice with no real plan of what I’d do next. Call it a mid-life crisis (and I’m sure some did), but a little voice inside me knew that I had to make space for a change to happen. I’d been working as a lecturer for over 20 years, juggling it with looking after my children at first and then - more recently - with caring for my mother. I felt tired and adrift. Amidst all the busyness, I had somehow lost sight of ‘me’.

With my friend at the starter marker for the South West Coast Path. With my friend at the starter marker for the South West Coast Path. (Image: Emma Scattergood)

Something told me that the only way of tuning back into my own voice was to carve out some significant time alone, in nature. I’d always dreamed of walking some of the South West Coast Path by myself. It had woven its way through many of my happy childhood and adult holidays, and I knew it would be somewhere I could walk and think in peace – without getting lost. All I had to do was follow the acorn signs. However, like many women who have spent decades ‘doing’ and ‘achieving’, I felt oddly guilty about taking time out just for me without a ‘proper’ reason or justification. So, when I happened to see that the South West Coast Path Association (SWCPA) would mark its 50th birthday in 2023, I almost cheered! For me, as a former journalist, anniversaries have always been the perfect excuse for celebrating and revisiting something. By the end of that day, I’d been in touch with the SWCPA and, together, we’d hatched a plan. I would spend 2023 walking, drawing and fundraising for the South West Coast Path and, hopefully, create 50 Pictures for 50 Years along the way.


The South West Coast Path route is marked by an acorn emblem. The South West Coast Path route is marked by an acorn emblem. (Image: Emma Scattergood)

Making Plans

It all felt very exciting until December when, hunched over maps and the Coast Path Guidebook, issues began to emerge. I’d recently secured a part-time creative job, which was great, but made it impossible to walk all 630 miles of the South West Coast Path (SWCP) in one go. Instead, I would do small sections at a time. This was fine initially, when I was walking in Dorset or Devon, but more challenging (and expensive) when I had to travel for hours to pick up the Coast Path, in Cornwall or Somerset, where I left it.

Then there was accommodation. Camping in January didn’t appeal, so I turned to the Youth Hostel Association (YHA) - but even hostel rooms get pricey if you’re not keen on sharing. Kind South West-based friends offered to help but despite my best efforts I soon built up quite an Airbnb bill. Not ideal when you’ve just left your job.

Enjoying the sunshine at Studland on the South West Coast Path. Enjoying the sunshine at Studland on the South West Coast Path. (Image: Emma Scattergood)

Nevertheless, on January 2, 2023, I set off excitedly from the SWCP marker at Studland Bay with my rucksack and new sketch book. Impatient to feel like a ‘proper’ walking artist, I stopped at Joe’s Café on South Beach and did a dreadful, nervy sketch. I walked on, rising above the bay where the view opened up and stopped again to draw. This was more successful, then I turned a corner and came across an even better view. I couldn’t keep stopping as I needed to get to Lulworth before dark. How was I supposed to pace this? Should I just focus on landmarks like Old Harry Rocks? I needed some to set myself some ‘rules’.

Day one and my head was full of questions and concerns. So much for inner peace! I crawled into bed that night wondering if I’d created a monster of a challenge.


Sketching my route before I walk it. Sketching my route before I walk it. (Image: Emma Scattergood)

Finding My Rhythm [sketching shots – drawing of lulworth}

As the weeks and miles went by, I began to relax into the process of walking and sketching, allowing myself to go with the flow. I realised just how tightly wired I’d become while managing the pressures of the past few years, and how wedded I was to perfection, of making sure that I ‘did it right’ – even though this was my project, and the only person setting benchmarks for it was me!

I tried to let my days on the Coast Path unfurl naturally and, if something caught my eye, I would allow myself to dally. Some days I sketched frequently, on others I simply took photos or made voice notes on what I saw. As long as I embraced the journey (and made it to my accommodation), that was all that mattered.

As my attitude shifted, I noticed how focused on goals other walkers were. People always asked how far I’d walked and how long it had taken me, and seemed bemused if I was vague. They had bits of kit to help them clock their achievements. I became increasingly determined to make my ‘challenge’ (I increasingly disliked that word) to be about simply absorbing all the Coast Path had to offer, and not about the outcomes.

In April, I was interviewed on the same episode of the SWCPA podcast as the renowned landscape artist Kurt Jackson. I literally punched the air with joy when he echoed my thoughts and spoke about how we seem to have become a nation that evaluates our time in nature with metrics, instead of slowing to appreciate it.

That night, I reflected on how Kurt had wisely spent a whole year focusing on a section of just one river. And wondered what on earth had possessed me to take on 630 miles!


With my sketch book with Old Harry Rocks behind. With my sketch book with Old Harry Rocks behind. (Image: Emma Scattergood)

Through Fresh Eyes 

Initially I had pondered if it was worth re-walking the Dorset sections of the Coast Path that I already knew well, but I’m so glad I did. Seeing it through a slower more thoughtful lens was as rewarding as exploring new landscapes.

Although I’m a regular visitor to Old Harry Rocks (where my husband proposed to me), being there alone with my sketch book provided a new level of appreciation for it. Sitting, quietly focused on tracing the lines of the chalk stacks, crisp against a clear blue sky, I felt connected to the landscape in a way I never had before.

Ready for a dip at Dancing Ledge tidal pool. Ready for a dip at Dancing Ledge tidal pool. (Image: Emma Scattergood)

I also found that knowing what was awaiting me around the bend provided an extra thrill of anticipation and allowed me to prepare better for it too. Golden Cap, for example, is obviously worth climbing for the tremendous views, but experience told me that the climb feels far easier after lunch in The Anchor Inn. Similarly, I knew that reaching Dancing Ledge is much sweeter when you have your swimsuit ready for a dip in the tidal pool. And knowing that my favourite view of Durdle Door is from Bat’s Head, I could happily continue walking west, rather than dropping down to the beach with the day trippers.

And there were new corners of Dorset to discover too. Committing to the project took me, on a blustery day, to the Isle of Portland for the first time. Not everyone who has ‘completed’ the Coast Path chooses to include this section of it, but they are missing out. Dorset never ceases to surprise and reward me. I was blown away (almost literally) by its wild, rugged landscape on the walk up to Portland Bill lighthouse. I will return soon to spot the butterflies and flora attracted to the quarried areas.


Windswept and inspired by Portland.Windswept and inspired by Portland. (Image: Emma Scattergood)

Testing My Resilience 

Of course, as every walker knows, there will be highs and lows on your journey and my year on the Coast Path certainly had both, mainly thanks to the weather. There were unusually severe storms in Spring 2023, one of which - Storm Noa - brought me to my knees in every sense of the word but also taught me some important life lessons.

A rocky stretch of path in a steep, remote valley (that I had happily skipped through in previous summers) was made utterly treacherous by Noa’s torrential rain and gale-force winds. There were moments when I was terrified that I might slip down the sheer granite and break an ankle, or worse. There was no escape route inland, so I had no choice but to continue, acutely aware that no-one knew exactly where I was, and phone reception was patchy. It was only when I finally, thankfully, made it to my accommodation, shivering with cold and utter exhaustion, that I allowed myself to think about anything more than putting one foot safely in front of the other.

The view I sketched coming down into West Bay looking forward to lunch at The Hive beach cafe. The view I sketched coming down into West Bay looking forward to lunch at The Hive beach cafe. (Image: Emma Scattergood)

I’d been beyond stupid to set off so poorly prepared (without even a whistle or torch) and was incredibly lucky that I’d made it across the valley unscathed. BUT in doing so, I had also proved to myself that I was stronger and more resilient than I often give myself credit for. The Coast Path was teaching me more about myself than I ever expected.

This wouldn’t be the last time that I’d witness the devastating impact of extreme weather on the Coast Path, but every landslip and falling fence I came across on my journey only increased my resolve to keep going and raise as much money as possible to help the SWCPA with their ongoing maintenance of its 630-miles.


The early morning view from my tent, kettle is on. The early morning view from my tent, kettle is on. (Image: Emma Scattergood)

The Joy of Simple Things [tent flap pic and drawing, drawing going into west bay}

It soon became a standing joke that every time I set off to spend time on the Coast Path, my friends knew to reach for their umbrellas, as rain was inevitable. I stopped carrying watercolours with me, as it was usually too wet or windy to sit down. If I was able to stop and draw at all, I would quickly pull out a carbon pencil or my ink pen and accept that smudges and blots was the weather playing its part in my composition.

In May, on my first attempt at camping, the rain was so torrential that I was trapped in my tent from 3pm, when I erected it in a rush. Only released the next morning when it finally eased. And yet, that trip gave me so much joy. Being alone, I didn’t need to worry if my companions were bored or hungry, I was able to simply roll with the situation, eat crisps for dinner and feel a huge sense of gratitude when I eventually opened the tent flaps to be greeted by a valiant sun. I was slowly learning to accept whatever life threw at me, and how happy I was to be alone.

Capturing that moment in my sketch book. Capturing that moment in my sketch book. (Image: Emma Scattergood)

I have a simple little ink sketch in my notebook of my teeny canvas home on one such morning, the flaps of the tent pinned back to frame the camping kettle boiling slowly on the small gas stove. Seeing it transports me back to a precious moment when everything was fresh, green and lush, the only sound was bird song. I had the promise of coffee and porridge on the way, followed by a leisurely cliff-top walk with my sketch book, and maybe even some chips for lunch in the village pub. What could possibly be better than that?



Some of the many sketches I did on the walk. Some of the many sketches I did on the walk. (Image: Emma Scattergood)

Inspiring a Creative Future 

I wasn’t long into my walking adventure when I noticed that, after a day on the Coast Path, I was buzzing with ideas. Intrigued, I discovered research that apparently proves walking has an impact on the part of the brain that inspires creative thought. I certainly couldn’t deny the powerful impact of mixing walking with creative play and pausing to tune into my senses. I started to ponder how I might share these benefits with others. And then the Universe stepped in, opening a window for me to do so.

In June, I discovered that I had an auto-immune condition and needed to listen to my body and rest a bit more. Though I was frustrated, I also realised this gave me the space to share my experiences as a creative with others. In September, working with the South West Coast Path Connectors, I delivered my first Creative Path workshops to community groups, encouraging them to pause, listen to their own voice and enjoy all the benefits of creative play outdoors. It was beyond rewarding to witness their positive impact and I’m continuing to deliver the workshops now.

Whatever my university colleagues may have thought about my choices, there’s no doubt that my year on the path has significantly changed me, and my life, for the better.

If you would like to find out more about what I did, and the workshops, I’m hosting a small exhibition of The Creative Path at Durlston Country Park, Swanage from July 5th to 15th.

You can also help me reach my fundraising target of £1500 for the SWCPA, which is what it costs to maintain just ONE mile of the Coast Path each year,

by entering the raffle to win one of my Coast Path paintings, at


Find out more about Emma’s creative workshops at