My private campsite last night was so lovely and peaceful, and I was so tired after a tough day, that I didn’t wake up until after seven. So much for an early start! And it promised to be another long day. My guidebook suggested spending a night in Plymouth, but since Plymouth isn’t big for camping I decided to try and compress three of the book’s stages into two so I could camp either side of it. Today was the second of those days, and an even greater distance than the first one, but at least I was lucky with the weather. It was still very windy but sunny with it, and much clearer than yesterday. When I first arrived back at the cliff top from my campsite in the valley I was amazed by the view back around the bay, and by how close Rame Head had got under cover of yesterday’s mist and low cloud!
But one thing I didn’t see all morning was Plymouth. By virtue of the shape of the coast, and the routing of the path through some dense woodland, it remained hidden until the last minute before being dramatically unveiled close as if at the conclusion of some giant conjuring trick. I boarded the ferry at Cremyll to close the last part of the distance, and so left Cornwall behind after some 280 miles of coastline.
In addition to being momentous, it was an unusually exciting ferry ride. A Spitfire flying low over the city in loop-the-loops and barrel rolls elicited oohs and ahhs from all the passengers. But arriving at Admiral’s Hard I came down to earth with a bang. After weeks of walking alone on remote cliffs, during which I’d come to view places like St Ives (population ca 12,000) and Penzance (population ca 30, 000) as big centres, Plymouth (population ca 260,000) was a shock to the system.
A huge amount has been done to make the route through the city attractive and interesting, and I enjoyed the redeveloped Royal William Yard, and the Sherlock Holmes quotes set into the pavement of Durnford Street (where Arthur Conan Doyle once lived). But the signage – though striking when I found it – was sporadic, and even the guidebook gave faulty instructions at one point. Thank heavens for Google Maps, or I’d probably still be wandering hopelessly around Millbay Docks!
As I approached The Hoe the crowds were denser than I expected, even for a sunny summer Saturday. Stopping to read a ‘road closure’ sign I realised I had unwittingly walked into the middle of Armed Forces Day. In hindsight, the Spitfire thing probably should have tipped me off… It looked like a fantastic family day out, and a great way to celebrate the contribution of the many men and women who serve our country. But the noise and the crowds were too great an assault for my senses. When Johnny Vaughan took the microphone and informed the crowd that there would be an opportunity later to meet Justin Bieber, the ear-piercing shriek from a young woman standing next to me (who, frankly, looked a bit old for him) was the final straw. I abandoned my attempt to admire Smeaton’s Tower, and fought my way back to the road.
I stood in front of the Royal Citadel to get my bearings until I realised that the guns that we’re about to fire a salute were directly over my head. Hastily retreating towards the marina I instead watched a so-many-guns-I-lost-count salute from a ship sailing by. Unfortunately, having an almost no knowledge of the Navy other than that it exists, I can’t tell you what ship it was, or even what type, only that it was very large and grey. If any of my better-informed friends knows then I would be grateful for the instruction! I feel somewhat embarrassed by my ignorance, especially having grown up within 20 miles of Portsmouth, and am resolved to educate myself a little when I get back.
But for today, the boat I was most interested in knowing better was the Mount Batten ferry. A lengthy battle with the crowds in the Barbican to buy so much as an ice-cream had crushed the last of my interest in seeing more of Plymouth today, and my only thought was how to effect the speediest escape. Although I missed out 5 miles of the Plymouth Waterfront Walkway by catching the ferry, I’ve added on that many extra miles in the last few day alone going to and from campsites, and there seems to be no logic I can follow about when a ferry is an established part of the route and when you’re supposed to walk round. I decided the ‘cheat’ was not such a heinous one, under the circumstances.
Even with the shortcut I’ve covered 40 miles in the last two days, and am quite tired as a result. Luckily, the end of the day proved a perfect restorative. At Mount Batten the crowds immediately fell away and from there to Wembury was a peaceful, relaxing walk over generally easy terrain, with some great views back towards the city from a suitably safe distance.
A sign at Wembury Beach gave the distances to Minehead and Poole. I can’t quite believe that there are ‘only’ 206 miles left to go! But I’m relieved none of them are likely to be as densely populated as today’s.