Rugged Tales

Wherever my feet may take me…


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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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Family matters

Today was another unexpectedly sunny day. At this rate I’ll start to assume that it will be sunny and warm whatever the forecast says! It was also another fairly easy day – relatively flat and not too long a walk. I could get used to that too. As it was I used some of the left-over energy to get a closer look at the famous line of stacks at Bedruthan Steps. As the tide was in I was only able to do 114 of the 142 steps available, but it was still worth the effort.

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It was a slightly sobering morning, passing a couple of benches in memory of people who died too young. I had a definite sense of ‘there but for the grace of God’ as I read the inscriptions. And I felt a renewed commitment to walking the Coast Path and all the other things I want to do in life while I still have the chance; who knows what’s round the corner?

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I stopped for lunch at Berryl’s point, to enjoy its views over the turquoise waters of Beacon Cove, and Newquay hazy in the distance. It was a bonus to discover that it also boasted a good 3G signal! It was an idyllic spot to write my blog and upload some photos, and with the weather so good I spent well over an hour lounging in my little spot.

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But the highlight of my day was Newquay. My father was evacuated there in the war and it was fascinating to see today the places he recalled from that part of his childhood, including the cliff-top house where he lived for two years (one of those on the left in the photo), and the niches alongside the footpath leading up from the harbour where he watched the bombing raids on St Mawgan airbase with his mother, wrapped up in bedclothes against the cold. I’m still smiling at the thought of my Dad as a naughty schoolboy wrecking his shoes by taking a shortcut along the beach as the tide came in.

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One of the people I met on the path today told me his father was once a junior airman stationed at St Mawgan airbase – it really is a small world. He (the son, that is) is also aiming to complete the whole Coast Path. After going so long without meeting anyone else embarked on the same task now I’ve met two in as many days. I guess it’s not only campsites that resemble busses in coming along in groups!


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Weary legs

It was a slow start today. After yesterday’s exertions, and with an uninspiring drizzle to greet me when I woke, I could cheerfully have stayed in bed until lunchtime! But with 15 miles or so to walk I dragged myself up and hit the trail.

The first obstacle was at Widemouth Bay. After just a few yards struggling through the piles of soft sand in the dunes I was cursing whoever had invented beaches and eager to trade them for a nice firm cliff or two. As is so often the case, I should have been more careful what I wished for…

The sun came out as I strode up Penhalt cliff before tackling a particularly steep descent into the valley at Millook, and then another dip at the Dizzard in increasing heat.

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Atop the cliffs near Cleave I came across a dedicated South West Coast Path bench – only 500 miles to go to Poole. Hopefully some of them will be flatter than today’s!

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Stopping for lunch on the hillside above St Gennys I was horrified to see a tick crawling up my leg. Having had quite enough tick fun in Oklahoma to last me for a while I flicked it away and hastily set off again. After four hours (and five steep valleys) I finally tottered into Crackington Haven: hot, sweaty and very tired. A cold drink partially revived me and I set off to climb back up out of the valley. But when, after having clambered over an inordinate number of stiles in the course of the day, I got stuck in a kissing gate of wholly inadequate proportions for someone with a backpack I came perilously close to a sense of humour failure. But the views back to Crackington Haven, nestling between the cliffs behind a sparkling turquoise sea, were so glorious it was hard to stay grumpy for long.

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Increasingly tired, I dragged myself up the aptly named High Cliff (one of the highest parts of the Path at 223m) believing it to be the last ascent of the day, only to discover a steep descent and the looming bulk of Rusey Cliff hiding behind it. I should have read the map more carefully.

Nonetheles, at long last I made it to my campsite in the hamlet of Pennycrocker – too small even to get a mention on the OS map – and relieved of my backpack I managed to totter the 30 mins each way to the pub at Tresparrett, the nearest available food. Yesterday’s route was reputed to be the toughest but I found today’s harder going, probably because I started it tired. It was barely dark before I fell into bed and to sleep.


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Tough nut

Today’s walk, from Hartland Quay to Bude, is reputed to be the toughest of the whole Coast Path, with 10 river valleys between the cliffs to navigate and a total ascent/descent of over 1,300m. Not content with that challenge I started proceedings a mile from the start in Stoke (the nearest campsite) and planned to end the day at the campsite in Lynstone, a mile further on than Bude.

Although rain was forecast it was another glorious start to the day and I enjoyed a picture postcard view of the church as I left Stoke.

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Once on the Path I had a good view of the cliffs I would have to climb over. From this distance, with the valleys between them obscured, they didn’t look too bad!

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But by the time I’d slithered down my third steep cliff to cross the footbridge over Marshland Water (crossing from Devon into Cornwall at the same time) it did cross my mind to wonder whether I would run out of energy before I ran out of cliffs to be climbed.

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I had a couple of things to distract me from the pain, however. First, the stunning scenery which was unremittingly spectacular. And second, the fact that I was proving unusually exciting for dogs. Two quite large specimens gave up a boisterous game of chasing each other round the beach to come and bark vigorously at me as I climbed down to Duckpool in the Combe Valley. As I made for the toilets there another dog gave voice, startling her owner into remarking “Goodness, I don’t think I’ve ever heard her bark before!”. Perhaps I’ll try a different outfit tomorrow…

On the up side it stayed dry, and it appears I must have got fitter since I started the walk. Where 8.5 miles with 650m of ascent/descent on day one had me almost on my knees, when Bude finally appeared today I had enough energy left to give, I think, a reasonable impression of a hardy hiker rather than an aged crone.

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My guidebook said that today’s route ‘can be tiring in wet and windy weather’. Having now done it I can confirm that it’s pretty tiring even in close to ideal conditions! But I’m pleased to have cracked the toughest nut, and optimistic now for my chances of staying the course.


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Four seasons in one day

This being the UK, hot weather of course cannot last. After a fine start, by 8am the clouds were rolling in and the breeze noticeably freshening. After walking in the heat for the last two days I was keener than usual to see some cooler weather arrive. As we rounded Windberry Point, looking back towards Blackchurch Rock, I was rather enjoying the clouds and cool wind – pleasantly soothing for the heat rash on my hands and the slight sunburn on my forearms.

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But when heavy rain set in it quickly became less fun, and we ate our lunch huddled beneath a ‘sun’ umbrella at the refreshment kiosk at Hartland Point – the only shelter for miles around. The weather was so filthy, potentially making the six steep ascents and descents ahead of us horribly slippery, that we seriously considered getting a taxi! But spurred on by a promising little patch of blue sky opening up, we decided to press on.

It turned out to be the right call. The clouds broke up, the sun started to filter through and the final cliffs were not as bad as I’d feared.

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By the time I said goodbye to Claire, full of delicious pub food at The Hartland Quay hotel, it had turned into a glorious evening.

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Bathed in the golden evening sunshine, the path ahead looks inviting, but tomorrow’s walk is reputed to be one of the toughest days of the whole walk. Fingers crossed…


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Feeling the heat

After exploring the coast round Barnstaple from every conceivable angle, today I struck out for pastures new, joined for the weekend by my friend Claire. An improbably long walk around the golf course from Appledore to Westward Ho! set the tone for the day: much longer and more arduous than we had expected. Fortunately, although not as quaint as Appledore, Westward Ho! had all the amenities essential in a seaside resort, including rows of colourful beach huts and a Hockings ice-cream van. Topped with an almost equal quantity of clotted cream, I felt sure this Devon speciality would power me up any number of cliffs!

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Fortunate, then, that we had eaten some as Claire and I clambered up cliff and down gully in the boiling heat. At least there was a fresh sea breeze to help cool us down now that we were back on the coast after my inland foray to Barnstaple.

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After a mercifully flat(ish) section along shady Hobby Drive we arrived in Clovelly for dinner – even quainter and more picturesque than Appledore.

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Picking our way down the steep cobbled High Street was hard enough: climbing back up to the campsite at Higher Clovelly after such a long day was even harder. We pitched our tents in the gathering dusk, trying (with limited success) to dodge the midges, and dozed off listening to the band playing old favourites at a wedding reception across the road. I would probably have slept through Armageddon after such a tiring day!


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Hat trick

Having already caught the bus to and from Combe Martin from Ilfracombe, today marked my third – and hopefully final – time in the town for this trip. It was, however, more interesting on foot than on the bus. Ilfracombe still has a working quay and I saw the boats coming in and piles of lobster pots stacked up ready as I walked past. Ilfracombe is actually part of the reason I decided to walk the Coast Path. In 2009 I spent a couple of days there and walked up from my B&B to the top of the cliffs. I passed a marker for the Coast Path and would have liked to walk a section of it there and then, but various factors (chief amongst them being the far from summery August weather) made it impossible. As I walked up out of the town today I passed the spot where I stood nearly 3 years ago and first thought it would be fun to walk the Coast Path. And, so far, it is.

Ilfracombe had new sights to offer amongst the familiar. Stopping for breakfast on the High Street I saw the largest number of dogs being walked by a single person I have ever seen.

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I assumed the human in charge must be a professional dog walker but, overhearing some other tourists’ query, it turned out they are all his own ‘large family’!

Ilfracombe also furnished me with one of my best lunches of the trip so far: a fabulous mackerel salad from the fishmongers on the harbour. And the cliffs above Pensport Rock provided a fantastic backdrop to eat it.

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For much of the day I walked above beaches covered in jagged black spikes where seams of slate met the sea.

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During one attempt to get a photo of myself with dramatic scenery behind my iPhone fell off just such a slate outcrop. Fortunately, it seems none the worse for wear and I spent the rest of the day grateful that I’d invested in the waterproof, dust proof, drop proof case that at the time seemed indulgently expensive!

But the day ended on the gentler terrain of Woolacombe Sand. Surfers were even more plentiful here than dogs in Ilfracombe, and the sand had that perfect firm but springy quality that made it a joy to walk on. Strolling by the crashing pale blue waves on what must be one of the most perfect beaches in England, this has been one of my favourite days do far. I know it’s only day five, but this one will take some beating.

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