Rugged Tales

Wherever my feet may take me…


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River deep, mountain high

I was woken in the night when a cold splash of water landed on my arm. Battered by the elements week after week my poor little tent has sprung a leak. I went out in the rain to reposition the fly sheet but it didn’t help. Back inside, I spent a good portion of the night peering anxiously up at the two wet spots with my head torch until I managed to position a Kleenex under the worst drip and get back to sleep. By the morning the rain had stopped and I set off on schedule, despite my tiredness and the forecast fog and drizzle. I wanted to get the tide-critical fording of the River Erme behind me. But knowing what I know now I would have stayed in bed, however leaky the roof over it. By the time I’d walked back to the Coast Path from the village the drizzle had turned to light rain, and in another half an hour it was pouring. By the time I reached Erme Mouth I was soaking wet – and I hadn’t even started the wading part!

I made my way across the expanse of flat sand towards the river, took off my boots and paddled into the water. It was cold! And deep. I’d read that normally, if timed correctly, the water shouldn’t come above the knees, and I’d successfully timed my arrival at the crossing point to within a few minutes of low water. But as I made my way into the stream the water got deeper and deeper until I was pulling up even my quite short shorts, and the rush of water was so powerful I struggled to keep my feet. I started to feel a little scared and wondered if I ought to turn back, but then what? I’d already established that the other options for getting round the river weren’t great. When I saw a couple walking their dogs on the far shore I called out – several times to be heard over the distance, the wind and the rain – to ask if I was in the right place. They confirmed I was and stayed to see me safely over, calling out encouragements. Grateful for their reassuring presence I inched my way across, adopting an inelegant wide-legged waddle that probably looked ridiculous but which I figured would give me the best chance of staying upright. To my relief, the worst was over. The water started to get shallower and I finally got to the other side. It had probably taken no more than five or ten minutes to get across but it felt like half an hour.

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I had the depressing feeling I’d been a bit of a wimp about the whole river fording thing. But as I started to put my sodden boots and socks back on, thanking the couple for their moral support, another dog-walker came by. “Can you believe the state of it?” she said, gesturing at the river. “It’s never this high in July!” The consensus seemed to be that the heavy rain over Dartmoor last night – and all the last month, come to that – had changed the river from it’s normal placid summer state to a much deeper torrent. At least it wasn’t just me!

Bidding goodbye to the dog walkers I headed up onto the cliffs for the next challenge: the roller coaster path to Bigbury-on-Sea. Although reputed to be a tough stretch the steep ascents and descents over the high cliffs were not as bad as I’d expected. Finding the path in the thick fog that clung to the cliff tops, however, was almost impossible. The only other creatures out there were the sheep and for the second time today I wondered whether it was wise to continue.

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But I pressed on and was doing better until I came to climb the final hill. What looked like a firm, grippy dirt surface turned out to be a particularly slippery mud, and an inarticulate squawk of alarm escaped me when my front foot suddenly slid several feet back down the steep slope while I scrabbled to regain traction. I felt my pack pulling me off balance and for a moment I thought a face first fall into the mud was a certainty. But by a stroke of luck I managed to get one foot onto the scrubby grass and arrest my slide, ending with my legs sprawled in opposite directions, balanced on my left hand in a sort of bizarre triangular sideways press-up position.

I’d had enough walking.

Although it was only 2pm I abandoned my plan to catch the ferry across to Bantham for another five mile stretch and headed straight to the nearest campsite, wet and cold but most of all frustrated that all I’d seen of ‘some of the best cliff scenery on the South Devon coast’ was a few tantalizing glimpses through breaks in the fog.

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I pitched my tent in the most sheltered spot I could find, between the toilet block, a high hedge and a caravan, apologising to the couple in it for picking a spot so close to them in a nearly empty field. As it turned out I couldn’t have been luckier than to have pitched next to Rachael and Martin, my fairy godparents for the evening. Not only understanding about where I’d put my tent, they invited me into their cosy caravan for tea, chocolate biscuits and – later – several large whiskies, dried all my soaking clothes on their radiator, charged my phone, let me cook the food I’d bought for dinner on their cooker, and left their car unlocked so I’d have somewhere to go in the night if my tent leak got too bad. It’s testament to the warmth of their hospitality that the wonderful evening I spent chatting with them eclipsed all the trials of the morning. I was as lucky with the people I met today as I was unlucky with the weather.


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Exposed

It’s ironic that I should find myself on one of the most exposed campsites of the trip on one of the windiest nights. High on a hill-top above Polperro, the site had panoramic views of the surrounding countryside, but there was not so much as a small bush between my little tent and the howling gale. It was a noisy – and slightly anxious – night, but happily the tent and I emerged unscathed and set off towards Looe.

The hills were starting to get quite steep and I was entertained by the sign at the bottom of one slope. The photo doesn’t do the gradient justice; I would be hugely impressed if anyone could cycle up that incline, even without the steps!

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I arrived in Looe at lunchtime and since this would be my last full day in Cornwall I sought out one last ‘farewell’ pasty. Or, more precisely, two: a prize-winning bacon, cheese and leek (fully deserving of its laurels) and a slightly left-field rhubarb, apple and custard, which I put in my pack for later. Two pasties at one sitting was a bit much even for me.

And I wanted to leave room to check out one last Cornish ice-cream. Treleavens has a sizeable number of outlets across the South West, but are based in Looe. With more awards than any other Cornish ice-cream producer it would be rude to leave the county without sampling their wares, right?! It was very tasty but my enjoyment was marred by my decision to eat it as I walked. I hadn’t realised that the Coast Path out of Looe went up quite such a steep hill. It turns out even the best ice-cream can give you indigestion with enough exertion during its consumption!

The initial ascent out of Looe wasn’t the only thing the guidebook didn’t properly prepare me for. The three miles between Looe and Seaton were a total roller coaster, and I started to doubt whether I’d have the stamina to get to the campsite I was aiming for. Fortunately, although the path subsequently went over a couple of the highest cliffs in the area, it went up and stayed up – unusually for the Coast Path – before dropping down to thd fabulously named Portwrinkle.

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That just left the weather to deal with. It was a cool, grey day and high up on the cliffs I was continually buffeted by the full force of the wind. By Portwrinkle I felt I’d earned the desert pasty! From there it was still another couple of chilly, wind-swept hours, across the MoD training area at Tregantle to Tregonhawke, the last campsite I could find before Plymouth. Although I chose it purely for its location, turned out to be one of my favourite camping spots of the trip. Not a campsite proper so much as a standing permission by a friendly farmer for Coast Path walkers to camp by the side of his fishing lake, it had only a toilet and a drinking water tap by way of facilities. But I was happy to forgo some creature comforts to have such a lovely spot all to myself for the night.

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Paradise regained

‘Here we go again!’ I thought, emerging from my tent to find everything wreathed in fog. Happily, I got a reprieve from having to go out in it by the discovery that there were no laundry facilities at the next two campsites. With an urgent need for clean pants and socks, it was clearly imperative that I do my washing before I left – and drink tea and eat biscuits while I waited! But eventually there were no more chores to do and nothing for it but to start walking.

It looked like it might be brightening up, and I’d not been going 10 minutes before I had to stop and rummage in my pack for my shades and my sunscreen. It felt like an age since I last needed them! And as I walked down the lane away from the campsite a wonderful view opened up across the fields and down to the sea: quintessential English countryside, complete with the tiny Tregaminion church. Who knew that was there?! I started making my way round Gribbin Head, and was quite startled by the views back across the bay to St Austell. There were the massive spoil heaps from the china clay works, the factories and the docks. If I hadn’t have read about them in the guidebook I’d never have suspected their existence yesterday. As it was, they were much more extensive than I’d imagined.

It turned into a glorious sunny day, and though the paths were still muddy and overgrown the fresh breeze, and the late start, had dried out the grass. That alone made it a huge improvement on yesterday and in some places, like the area around the enormous Gribbin Head day tower, the going was refreshingly easy.

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I didn’t expect it would remain so, however; the seven mile section from Polruan to Polperro was reputed to be particularly tough. I fortified myself with a pasty in Fowey, admiring the unusual knitted decorations all around the harbour railings as I ate, then caught the ferry across to Polruan to run the gauntlet…

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It was fantastic fun! It’s true there were more, and steeper, ascents and descents than on previous stages, but it was still nowhere near as tough as the roller-coaster cliffs on the North coast. The paths were mostly clearer and drier, and the terrain much more open so the spectacular scenery was in view most of the time.

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It was a world away from the thankless trudges through a sodden overgrown strip between a high hedge on the seaward side and a farmer’s field on the other that have characterised the last few days. As I strode along the remote paths, drinking in the views I remembered why I wanted to walk the Coast Path – and fervently hoped the worst of those ‘jungle paths’ are behind me now.


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Maslow’s hierarchy

A mile into today’s walk I reached Porthallow – 315 miles from Minehead and the half way point of the Coast Path. Described by the Falmouth Packet, when a new Coast Path monument was unveiled in 2009, as an ‘enormous psychological moment’ for those walking the whole path, I’d been eagerly anticipating this important milestone. When the moment came, however, I forgot all about it.

Looking back I attribute this to Maslow’s hierarchy. I had spent the night at the Porthkerris dive centre, which has a pleasant, quiet camping field at the top of a cliff….and showers and toilets at the bottom. Faced with a 15 minute round trip down and then back up a very steep road to use the facilities, and with a long day ahead, I decided it would be more efficient to just start walking along the path. In 20 minutes or so I would reach Porthallow and could use the public conveniences there instead. By the time I arrived in the village my desire to find those facilities, and relief in succeeding, totally eclipsed any thought of the half-way point!

With that over, my focus moved up the hierarchy a little, but only to the practicalities of the day’s walk. From Nare Point I had a good view of the two inlets I needed to cross by ferry – Gillan Harbour (on the left of the photo) and Helford River (on the right) – to get to Falmouth.

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The Helford ferry details I already had from their website but the Gillan Harbour service had only a phone number. Deciding 8:30am wasn’t too early to call, I enjoyed a second wave of relief before I left Porthallow when the gentleman I spoke to confirmed the Gillan ferry would be running from 9:00. I set off happily and it was only after another hour of tricky, muddy, overgrown paths when I was safely on his little boat that I remembered about the halfway marker. By that point I wasn’t going back for it!

After another hour or so if walking I arrived at Helford, opened the sign to show it’s orange innards to the world, and settled back to wait for the ferry to arrive.

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Twenty minutes later it did, requiring a conscious effort on my part to relax on the quayside when both my London conditioning and my desire to get to Falmouth before the shops shut made me chafe at the delay. Even after all these weeks I still find myself surprised – though ultimately pleased – by the slower pace of life.

But I wasn’t pleased today! With the next major shopping opportunity not until St Austell (four or five days away) and my need for supplies acute, I pressed ahead and made excellent time, hitting Swanpool Beach on the outskirts of Falmouth just after 2pm. Even with some frustrating backtracking after discovering the nearest campsite to the path had been sold for a housing development, I had time left over after my errands were run. What better way to spend it than sampling the cream tea in de Wynn’s famous tea shop?

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Not a lot I would hazard: my Falmouth cream tea has leapt in at the top of the charts. Light tasty scones with a mushy jam that was mostly strawberries and tea served in an old-fashioned rose-patterned tea service, it was as charmingly presented as it was delicious. The traditional tea room ambience came complete with a soundtrack of crooners, and its location provided a fabulous view over the harbour. Add in a team effort from two waitresses, the lady – a regular – at the table behind, and a couple at the table next to me with a copy of Falmouth’s tourist transport guide, all helping me work out where the number 500 bus back to the campsite would leave from, and it was undoubtedly my best all-round cream tea experience so far. As another storm moves in and I’m huddled in my tent with my little burner struggling to heat my dinner in a strong wind and heavy rain, it’s good to have the memory of it to help cheer me up!


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In hindsight

After a few sunny days light rain was forecast for this afternoon, turning heavy overnight, and by the time I left the campsite the clouds were already gathering.

The first couple of hours’ walk offered views of St Michael’s Mount, dark and brooding under the clouds, from a wide range of angles.

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Eventually, though, it disappeared from sight as I rounded Cudden Point. Shortly afterwards, at Prussia Cove, I saw a group of hikers having a spirited discussion of where the path went – and I realised one of them was Jillian. Direction sorted, we walked together for a while before I pressed ahead to Pothleven to find something for lunch. Crossing the road back to the picturesque harbour, lunch in hand, I spotted Holger striding along. Equipped with new boots, plenty of plasters for his blisters and a course of antibiotics for the infected ones, he told me the pain was now bearable and he planned to walk from Penzance to The Lizard – 25 miles. I was impressed! He intended to stay two nights at Lizard so, with a tentative possibility of meeting up again tomorrow, I waved him off at the end of Porthleven pier.

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I started looking around for somewhere to eat when a man approached me. “Is that chap walking the South West Coast Path?” he asked. I replied that we both were. “I’ve walked it twice” he said, “but not carrying camping gear like that man.” “I’m carrying my camping gear too” I said, patting my pack, but for some reason he didn’t seem to find my exploits as impressive as Holger’s, much to my annoyance. Perhaps because my pack is half the size he didn’t believe me! But just then, Jillian caught me up and distracted me by pointing out the ominous black the sky ahead. We ate our lunch facing the other way.

I had originally planned to camp at Porthleven, the break point suggested by the guidebook but as it was only 2pm, and the forecast for tomorrow much worse, I decided to press on to Mullion. Since a shower or two looked inevitable Jillian and I started to put on our waterproof trousers. It was not a moment too soon. I hadn’t even got my boots back on before the first drops fell and by the time I set off it was raining hard. It continued to rain, with various degrees of commitment, as I walked alongside Porthleven Sands, struggled through the fine pebbles of Loe Bar, said goodbye to Jillian (who finished the day at Gunwalloe Fishing Cove), and looked around St Winwaloe church – aptly known as ‘the church of storms’.

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The rain got heavier as I skirted Poldhu Cove, nobly resisting the temptations of the beach cafe, and climbed up to the Marconi monument, which marks the place where the first transatlantic wireless signal was sent. And it carried on as I walked along the last few cliffs and down into Mullion Cove. A beautiful bay with dramatic stacks, I wasn’t really in the mood to appreciate it, however, and doubly not when I realized there was nowhere there to buy food. Since I wouldn’t have any dinner otherwise there was nothing for it but to climb up the hill to Mullion village, trying not to think about the fact that if I’d gone straight there from Poldhu it would have been about two and a half miles less to walk.

It started raining even harder, until the roads became rivers and lakes. I went off the idea of trying to cook in my tent and headed for the fish and chip cafe in the village instead. Here, finally, was a bright spot on an otherwise damp and gloomy horizon. The fish was firm and tasty, the batter light and crispy and the chips freshly cooked: one of the best fish and chips of the trip so far. Even thus fortified, however, it was a struggle to go back outside in the deluge. Given the forecast I stopped at the village shop and bought a whole day’s food ready for any meteorological siege that might befall me. Then it was just another mile and a half through the downpour to the campsite at Predannack. As I walked I reflected that if I’d done all the extra distance along the Coast Path rather than back and forth to Mullion I’d be nearly at the Lizard myself now. And if I’d stuck with plan A I’d be warm and dry in Porthleven after a relaxing afternoon. Hindsight is always 20:20!

Thankfully the rain finally stopped as I approached Predannack making it much easier to pitch the tent, though after a day of heavy rain the camping field was sodden. It was a toss up which produced the loudest squelches: the ground or my boots! But the spot the lovely warden recommended to me was wonderful: just about the driest bit of the field, far from the few other campers and screened from the wind on three sides. Warm and dry at last I snuggled down in my sleeping bag, unusually listening to the wind tearing through the trees but barely rustling my fly sheet, and ready for whatever else the weather might throw at me tonight.


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The End

I’ll never know what a good night’s sleep would or would not have done for me. I was woken up by two drunk and giggling girls who crashed back into the campsite at 1am and told each other hilarious anecdotes until around 2:30am – terrible luck in a camping field with only four other groups pitched on it! But with a long day ahead of me I got up early anyway, and another gloriously sunny start did away with any residual grumpiness.

Heading out of Pendeen the path passed through the former Levant mine, site of the world’s only Cornish beam engine still operated by steam on its original site. Amazing to think that the mine shafts extended 2.5km from the cliffs beneath the sea.

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From there it was a fairly easy walk round to Cape Cornwall. Thought to be the most westerly point in Cornwall until 200 years ago when the Ordnance Survey published a map showing that was in fact Land’s End, it’s topped with a striking monument. The plaque informed me that it commemorates the purchase of Cape Cornwall for the nation by H. J. Heinz company on the occasion of their centenary. The Heinz tower is much more eye-catching than the ruins of the medieval St Helen’s Oratory, especially from a distance, though the latter is apparently a monument of national significance – I can’t find out why!

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From there it was just five more miles to Land’s End. I was really excited about visiting such an iconic place, but the large number of other people with the same idea slightly took away from the romance of the moment! On the upside, it was easy to find someone to take my photo with the signature sign. On the downside, I had to queue up behind a large school party on a Duke of Edinburgh’s Award trip, who seemed to be taking photos with every possible combination of people. The more mathematically inclined will no doubt be able to tell me how many photos that required – I only know it was a lot!

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Vexingly to my pedantic mind, the sign didn’t actually seem to be on the western-most tip of land as shown by my OS map – perhaps there is still some confusion on this point?! But looking at the distances it struck me that it was only 874 milestone to John O’Groats. That gives me an idea for another trip…

Heading away from the hustle and bustle to find a quieter spot for lunch I bumped into Stuart (the one from Perranporth). He had hardily walked each day through the recent bad weather – much tougher than me! Although the fact that he’d booked up his B&Bs in advance may have had something to do with it. We said goodbye when I stopped for lunch on a convenient boulder overlooking a dramatic cliff face a across a cove. But as I sat there munching I saw the DofE group appear over the ridge and head towards me up the path. I quickly shoved the last few bites into my mouth and crammed my things back into my pack. With such narrow paths, getting stuck behind such a large, group would be a nightmare! I scurried off just ahead of them and all but ran down the next valley to consolidate my lead. But it turned out they weren’t the only group abroad that afternoon. In an international twist, between Land’s End and Porthcurno I met no less than three large groups of Americans and Germans coming the other way – a challenge on a path that can best be described as ‘single lane with passing places’!

But despite the crowds the scenery was some of the best so far, and the path less rocky than yesterday.

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As a result, even with all the photo stops, I covered the 16 miles into Porthcurno by 3pm, well ahead of schedule. Plenty of time for a cream tea at the beach cafe! It was a utilitarian presentation but a light and tasty scone and good quality jam. I think I may yet find a better one though…

One mile further on and I stopped for the night at the wonderful Treen Farm campsite. Best of all were my neighbours – on one side John and Simone on a short break walking from Penzance to St Ives, on the other Holger, a well-travelled German aiming to walk his second third of the Coast Path. None of them looked as if they would be shrieking with laughter at 2am, and they turned out to be some of the loveliest, friendliest people I’ve camped with since the bikers on the first night.

The appearance of the school party initially gave me a fright, but chatting to the teachers in charge they seemed to be running a tight ship. Fingers crossed!


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Rocky road

I woke up around 5am and peeped out of the tent to see what the weather was doing. A fiery red sunrise greeted me, one of the most spectacular I’ve ever seen in the UK. It was beautiful, but perhaps not the sign I was hoping to see! At least the wind had dropped, and by 7:30 I was forced out of the tent as the early morning sun heated it up like an oven.

I set off early to take advantage of the good weather while it lasted, and a dramatic change in the terrain was immediately apparent. The blue slate I’d grown used to over the last few days gave way to granite, and the path grew more rugged and rocky as a result. The section from St Ives to Pendeen is reputed to be one of the more difficult ones on the path, but it was a different kind of difficult to the tough sections I’ve walked so far. Previous sections were tough because of the amount of ascent and descent; this one was tricky because of the terrain. It was not the sort of path you could take your eyes off and, having grown used to loping along smooth cliff-top trails looking at the view, I nearly came a cropper a few times. After one particularly narrow squeak in which I very nearly got a close-up view of the rocks, I decided to pretend I was in the Lake District. I got on much better after that.

There was lots to look at. Some of the rocks had been arranged into an ‘ancient’ stone circle, complete with a local legend involving morris dancing and a virgin, for the edification of guests staying at Trevalgan Holiday Farm. And swathes of wildflowers covered the cliffs including an incredible number of deep pink foxgloves: I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many together.

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The ratio of rocks to mud on the path increased, as did the size of the rocks, and by the time I reached Porthzennor Cove I was scrambling rather than walking. I don’t want to exaggerate the difficulty – unencumbered it wouldn’t have been much of a challenge – but with my big pack on it was significantly harder to keep my balance!

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Safely through the trickiest bit I climbed back up onto the cliff tops and headed along past Gurnard’s Head, where I surprised Jillian eating her lunch on a stone stile. As we walked along together she pointed out the profusion of common spotted orchids growing by the path: it’s not at all common to see such large numbers of them growing together like that. I’d noticed pale flowers in amongst the grass but without Jillian’s keen eye for a flower I hadn’t realized they were orchids.

The path became a little less rocky as we progressed, but a new hazard began to appear: disused mine shafts. One was so close to the path you could have tripped on a rock and fallen right into it through the flimsy fence. In this Health an Safety era it’s amazing it hasn’t been capped.

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Jim was waiting for Jillian at Pendeen Watch and helpfully warned me off visiting the underwhelming ice-cream van parked there. I said goodbye to them and walked a little more of the path before heading into Pendeen to get an ice-cream from the shop there, and to camp at the North Inn. A tip from the Stuart I’d met in St Ives, it was perfect: good flat grass, toilets and lovely hot showers for £5 a night.

After a tough day I was happy to walk no farther than the bar for my dinner. This stage was only about 14 miles but felt far longer, and it used a raft of stabilisation muscles that had been enjoying a nice rest until now! It’s a long day tomorrow so I hope a good night’s sleep will restore me.


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As I was going to St Ives (again…)

But before I could walk back to St Ives I first had to leave it. The day dawned bright and breezy and I was eager to continue my walk, but the first bus back to Hell’s Mouth was not until 9:25. The weather stayed fine for the first three hours and when I arrived there at 10:15 I discovered that this part of the coast was beautiful, when you take away the sheeting rain! But I didn’t have long to enjoy it – 15 minutes later, as I rounded Navax Point, it started to rain again. I correctly guessed that it was only a shower, but it turns out that eight minutes is plenty of time to totally soak your trousers, socks and boots, if the rain is heavy enough and you don’t bother to put your waterproof trousers on. In fact, I don’t even think all eight were necessary!

Once round the headland, I encountered the full force of the wind, but it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. It was like being inside a whole-body version of those Dyson Airblade hand driers and my trousers dried out in no time, though I had to put up with the wet socks for the rest of the day. On the downside, the strong wind made it difficult to take photos. Camera shake would be an understatement; it was more like camera wildly waving around. But I did manage to get a shot of the lighthouse on Godrevy Island in a rare lull in the gale.

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Once round Godrevy Point I could see St Ives at the far end of a long curve of golden sand, and I set off towards the town. I didn’t meet any feline-laden spouses of a polygamist but I was lucky enough to bump into Jillian, my walking companion from yesterday. She and Jim had stayed on their campsite last night and she told me the rain had been torrential: much heavier than last week’s storm. In my windowless cupboard in the hostel I’d been completely oblivious. Jillian’s report, combined with the strength of the wind as we passed Gwithian (where I had originally planned to camp), blew away my doubts about whether abandoning my tent for the hostel had been the right decision.

As we made our way down the long beach it was good to have some conversation to take my mind off the effort of walking over soft sand into a fearsome headwind. The waymark said it was four miles to Hayle but it felt more like 6.

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Once at Hayle the route was more sheltered but it also proved to be one of the most boring so far, and almost entirely on roads. Although it skirted the Lelant Saltings bird reserve the best views were of the busy B3301. The highlight of the afternoon was the pretty medieval church of St Uny’s in Lelant, with it’s letter of thanks from King Charles for support during the civil war proudly displayed – apparently a common feature of Cornish churches.

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Arriving back at St Ives there was just time to buy a few essentials – food, extra dry bags, and an ice-cream – before heading round The Island. I said goodbye to Jillian and climbed up to the campsite, where I anxiously pitched my tent in the most sheltered place I could find. An hour or so later and I was feeling more confident that my tent would withstand the weather, but more concerned that the tent just above mine on the terraced site – a family-sized tent with fly sheet flapping and guy ropes sagging – would get blown down on top of me in the night. Luckily, I met Stuart (a different one to the gentleman I had walked along Perran Beach with), another backpacker aiming to walk the whole path. He reassured me that the big tent had stayed up the previous night despite its unpromising appearance. Fingers crossed, then, for both my tent and theirs…


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Take cover!

With a big storm forecast to move in over the course of the afternoon I decided to make an early start, hoping to get at least some walking done before the weather closed in. Just as well – by 8am it was raining and it kept going all day. Fortunately, it was pretty light rain during the morning: nothing that would stop a hardy walker such as myself making good progress along the coast.

The first mile and a half took me past the remains of the old tin mining industry and into St Agnes.

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Heading out of the village I got chatting to a local man walking his dog. The storm would hit this afternoon, he said, but would have passed by tonight, though it would linger a while up country. He seemed knowledgeable, and we agreed the forecasters just couldn’t get if right for Cornwall. He put it down to having two coasts.

From there the path ran easily over the cliffs, past more disused mine shafts, to Porthtowan. I took some photos of the bus timetable, just in case, and popped into the local shop to buy some mints. In response to the shopkeeper’s enquiry I said I’d walk until the weather got bad, then get a bus. ‘You’ll be getting on at the stop just there then’ he said. ‘In the next few days we’ll get 3 months’ rain.’ On that cheery note I headed for the Blue cafe for a break from the aforementioned weather. With great views of the beach, friendly staff and fast wifi it was like heaven – I could have stayed all day! But mindful that months of rain were heading my way I dragged myself back out and up the next cliff.

At the top I met Jillian, the first other woman I’ve met aiming to do the whole path. Walking the Coast Path was a retirement project, she told me, and she kindly urged me to go ahead as she didn’t want to slow me down. The truth was I could barely keep up! I’m sure I’m fitter than I was when I started – which is part of my reason for doing the walk – but clearly there is still room for improvement…

The rain had almost stopped and Jillian and I strolled along, chatting merrily, through Portreath and on towards Godrevy, past the fabulously named Ralph’s Cupboard and the picturesque Samphire Island.

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We remarked that though the wind was definitely freshening the day was not as bad as we’d feared. Clearly, that was just tempting fate and not long after the wind strengthened still more and the heavens opened. We picked a nervous way along the cliffs as far from the edge as possible. By the time we tottered into the aptly named Hell’s Mouth, shielding our eyes from the stinging rain, my enthusiasm for walking had largely evaporated. Happily, waiting in the car park was Jillian’s husband Jim, and I gratefully accepted their offer of a lift to St Ives. Although my sturdy little tent should be able to withstand a bit of rough weather I wasn’t sure I wanted to risk the experiment while I still have weeks of the walk to go. And the thought of trying to pitch it in gale force winds and driving rain, for the pleasure of huddling damply inside it all night, was not appealing. I found a bed in a hostel in St Ives for the night. Though basic, there aren’t too many people staying just now and it has a prominent bannister just perfect for drying my tent off!

Showered and dressed in my cleanest driest clothes (a fleece and waterproof trousers!) I took all my other garments to the launderette. As I sat there watching the water pouring onto my clothes in the machine, and the much greater quantity pouring down on the road outside I was relieved to be indoors!

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The feeling lasted as I scuttled through heavy rain to the harbour front for delicious ‘gourmet’ fish and chips. But as the dusk gathers the wind has dropped, the rain all but stopped. It looks like the dog-walker was right and I could have camped after all. Oh well – better safe than sorry.


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Mixed bag

My weather prayers weren’t answered this morning and I woke up to the gentle patter of raindrops on the fly sheet. In the evening, there is nothing I like better than being cosy in my sleeping bag listening to the rain, but with the prospect of a long day’s walk ahead of me I didn’t enjoy it quite so much! Huddled under my tent porch I started to boil the water for tea and porridge, only to have the gas canister run out. Clearly it was going to be one of those days. On the upside, if you are daft enough to walk along the cliff-tops early on a damp Sunday morning you get to the place to yourself, even within sight of a major tourist centre, and the rugged coastline was impressively moody and dramatic under the lowering clouds.

After such an unpromising beginning I was relieved when the day improved out of all recognition. The rain stopped, and with the fabulous scenery constantly changing it was one of the most varied and interesting days so far. There was even a bit of industrial heritage amongst the cliffs, coves and harbors. The 80ft pinnacle of inferior slate rising from the floor of the old Lanterdan Quarry was a particularly striking site.

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The next stop was Port Iasaac, an especially picturesque former fishing village now given over to tourism. After my experiences in Tintagel, I was expecting a Doc Martin theme park to go along with the Arthurian one I’d just left, as the village is the location for the Doc’s home, Portwenn. But the only outward sign of the connection was one sign and a single rack of postcards outside a cafe pronouncing itself the sole purveyor of Doc Martin
merchandise. The residents of Port Isaac, who include designer Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen and other celebrities, clearly have a different view than the denizens of Tintagel about the model of tourism they are aiming for!

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But however tastefully done, with the sun now out the place was crawling with tourists and by the time I reached the harbor front I was happy to push on to Pentire Point, remarkably quiet given its lovely view back to Rumps Point.

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But no amount of interesting sights or beautiful views could alter the fact that this was probably the longest, hardest day I’ve done. With no campsites between Tintagel and Porzeath, and the cost of accommodation in Port Isaac (the obvious break point) pushed up by its celebrity associations, there was no choice but to push through or face a substantial detour inland. After 17 miles and at least 8 steep-sided river valleys I was more than happy to see the end in sight as I rounded a headland to see Polzeath ahead of me.

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If only it was that easy… The campsite in the centre of town set a new record for the most expensive pitch so far – £25! – with the staff forbidden from offering a discount for single people in the high season though the site was half empty. Directed to their sister site ‘just three quarters of a mile further’ up a hill, I cursed and grumbled all the way – doubly so when 2 miles later I hadn’t found it. In the end I decided the lesser of the evils was to go on to the campsite clearly marked on the map rather than back to look for the theoretical one, and after another mile I finally pitched my tent at Trewiston Farm and tottered half a mile to the pub in Pityme for dinner. You may imagine my reaction when I found they had a private function and weren’t doing food. Unable to face walking any further, but unable to cook even the half bag of instant mashed potato in my bag as I was out of gas, my dinner comprised: one tin of sardines in tomato sauce, one handful of mixed nuts, half a bag of dried pears and 4 squares of dark chocolate.

But fate had not yet dealt me its last blow. With minimal data connection in the tent I decided just to read for a bit, flicked the power switch on my Kindle and…nothing. I tried again, then held the switch for 20 seconds to restart it. Nothing. In desperation I held the switch for 30 seconds, 40, 50… Nothing. I tossed the stupid thing onto the tent floor and settled down for a proper sulk, all hope gone.

And then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a movement on the screen. It flashed, went blank…and started to reboot! It was like a scene from a movie when you think the hero’s dead and then he suddenly draws a shuddering breath, and the other characters burst into tears, or jump around slapping each other on the back. I was far too tired for anything like that but I was so relieved, all the logistical irritations were washed away. There’s nothing like ending your day on a high!