Rugged Tales

Wherever my feet may take me…


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Messing about in boats

I thought I might be needing a lifeboat last night, it rained so hard! But by the morning the wind died down, the rain slowed to a light patter, then stopped, and I ventured outside the tent. I’d pitched in the most sheltered location I could as protection from the strong winds, but that was also the lowest – and now wettest – point in the field. Fortunately, my tiny tent fit on top of a slight mound and thus stayed dry underneath where pools of water had formed on the grass all around – it put me in mind of Ely cathedral in the middle of the flooded Fens! Although it was a soggy experience getting in and out, not everyone was displeased with the state of affairs; as I ate my breakfast a blackbird made use of the puddle nearest my door as a bird bath.

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I waited until the last few showers had died out then packed up my gear and set off for Falmouth. Although I’d already visited the town yesterday I’d gone by the direct, inland route – and by motor vehicle. The Coast Path, which goes all the way round Pendennis Point, was a lot further but full of interest. As the last of the clouds burned off to reveal a fine summer day, I passed several attractive beaches and got fine views of Pendennis Castle before skirting Falmouth Docks. I hadn’t appreciated before the scale of operations there – and was astounded at the size of some of the container ships!

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Passing the faded grandeur of streets of Victoria villas I arrived outside the museum. In a brand new development in sharp contrast to the industrial docks and the adjacent residential district, the museum sat on one side of a wide plaza enclosed by smart eateries. I didn’t have time to go inside, but it seemed like as good a place as any for lunch.

As I sat on the plaza steps eating my Rick Stein takeaway fish and chips (very tasty) Jillian’s husband Jim walked up. Jillian had stopped in Helford yesterday as the low tide had stopped the ferry, and he was waiting to meet her in Falmouth later that afternoon. It was lucky I bumped into him because it turned out that, just feet from where we sat, a remarkable concentration of J class yachts were moored in preparation for a regatta next week. I’d passed by the marina, and noted the large number of boats but – not being a sailor – had totally failed to appreciate that some were pretty special. Once my attention was drawn to them, however, I could see why any discerning Prince or Sheik might want one! (They’re the ones on the right for any other yacht dummies like me.)

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From there it was just a short stroll up to the quay to catch the less costly and less beautiful – but more practical – St Mawes ferry. It took about 30 minutes to cross and it was perfect weather to be on a boat. I clearly wasn’t the only one who thought so: everywhere I looked were yachts racing, ferries crossing and a myriad of other craft on unknown missions. The harbour at St Mawes was lovely too but I didn’t have much time to appreciate it before hopping onto the next ferry to Place.

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After all that boating it was quite a shock to have to walk again. But the stroll round St Anthony Head, through the old fortifications that (together with those I saw on Pendennis Point and by St Mawes Castle) helped defend this huge natural harbour, and up to Portscatho was a pleasant one and not too demanding. And I think I saw one of those gorgeous J class yachts sailing along off the shore beside me as I went.

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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!