Rugged Tales

Wherever my feet may take me…


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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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Kindred spirit

Where yesterday nothing went right, today the Gods were smiling on me all day. In defiance of the forecast the weather dawned bright and sunny and stayed that way, and I had a delicious breakfast in a lovely deli cum cafe with great coffee in Rock before heading down to the slipway to catch the ferry to Padstow. Before you ask, the ferry is an official part of the path and not me cheating! But it was certainly very pleasant to sit back and relax in the sun, reflecting on the long walk via Wadebridge that I was being spared.

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After a leisurely start, I didn’t have much time to explore Padstow itself, and I figured I would in any case have to return with a different wardrobe if I wanted to check out Rick Stein’s famous restaurant. So, I joined the happy throngs on the path towards Harbour Cove. It wasn’t long before the next opportunity of refreshments arose – the Rest a While Teagarden in Hawkers Cove. As the path wove between the houses the whole hamlet had the feel of walking through someone’s garden, but I’m sure that’s the way the sign pointed!

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A constant procession of eating opportunities followed, the trade off for the greater number of other tourists to share the path with, until I’d more than made up for yesterday’s deficiencies. But it was my final break of the day – ice-cream in Constantine Bay – that was the most exciting: I met another person doing the whole walk, my first in 14 days of walking! A young guy from Bristol, Rich isn’t a big walker but fancied a challenge. I was impressed by his boldness, and he seemed to be getting along alright so I reckon he has a good chance of making it.

I said goodbye to Rich in Treyarnon and pushed on to Porthcothan, and a refreshingly warm welcome at the lovely Berryfields campsite.

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The friendly owner recommended the pub where her son works, just up the road, which was part of the neighbouring Carnevas campsite. Seeing me peering in the window of the shop one of the staff knocked up the wardens who cheerfully went to check what gas canisters they had, and sold me one even though the shop and reception were both closed. Clearly, campsites are a bit like to busses – you wait and wait for a good one and then get several at once.


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Mists and legends

Excited by the promise of the legendary King Arthur’s castle I set off today for Tintagel, despite a lingering stiffness in my legs. Early sunshine quickly gave way to moody clouds that threatened rain, but it stayed dry as I made my slow way to Boscastle harbour.

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Scene of one of the most extreme floods ever recorded in Britain, there is little sign now of the devastation that occurred in 2004. I treated myself to a delicious brunch at the Harbour Light, a 16th century harbour-front building completely rebuilt after the flood destroyed it.

Climbing up out of Boscastle, however, the sea mist rolled in as I made my damp and chilly way round Firebeacon Hill.

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I consoled myself that the swirling mists would add to the mystical atmosphere as I approached my destination. But by the time I’d spent a fruitless hour searching for a campsite that turned out to have closed down, the sun had regained the ascendancy and I finally rounded Barras Nose to see Tintagel Head in sun-drenched glory.

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The sun also drew out tourists in considerable number, and upon drawing closer Tintagel revealed itself to be more Monty Python than Malory, with the 19th century Camelot Castle Hotel a particularly prominent and hideous feature. Having reconciled myself to being in a kind of Arthurian theme park, though, I’m actually quite enjoying it. Full of Granny Wobbly’s homemade ice-cream, and homemade fudge (stuck to each other with a generous coating of cream), and with an ATM, two well-stocked convenience stores, and numerous pubs within an easy walk even on my sore legs, I’m finding the amenities compelling. Cosy in Ye Olde Malthouse, the original 14th century village inn, with a glass of wine and free wifi, I’m more than happy to look past the rather lurid depiction of some round table event or another hanging on the wall next to me.


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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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Circumlocutions

Waking up this morning in Croyde village I was just 5 miles or so from my destination of Braunton – if I could go by the direct route. Via the Coast Path, and adding in a mile to get back to it from the village, two miles round Baggy Point (which I bypassed yesterday as it was getting late) and another mile detouring back into the village again when I realised there were no other shops) it was more like 15.

Despite being shrouded in a morning sea fog, the path round Baggy Point was a dramatic walk I’m glad I didn’t miss.

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My detour back to Croyde village also had it’s compensations: an unconventional but delicious breakfast of luxury Devon ice-cream from one of the shops that was closed when I arrived last night and hadn’t yet opened when I left this morning. Between the ice-cream, the beautiful views, the friendly people and a perfect beach, I’d be happy to go back and spend more time in Croyde.

But for now it was time to press on and make my way along the back of Braunton Burrows. A military training area, I was braced for a degree of risk but it came from an unexpected quarter. Lucky the fog had burnt off by then!

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Once the adrenaline had faded, the rest of the day was spent in an unexceptional, flat walk around the River Caen estuary and past the south edge of Braunton.

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The only excitement was the discovery of a Tesco superstore as I skirted the town. Not normally a cause for celebration, but it’s definitely opened up more possibilities for my tea tonight.