Rugged Tales

Wherever my feet may take me…


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Transformation

Thick fog, more rain. They’d forecast a drier day today but there was no sign of it when I got up. Since the ferry across the River Avon from Cockleridge to Bantham didn’t start running until 10 there was time for one last cup of tea with Rachel before slithering down a very muddy, steep field to catch it. Or, more precisely, to yell for it. This ferry doesn’t have one of those wooden sign boards that you open up to show you want to cross. Instead, you apparently yell and wave and generally make a spectacle of yourself until the ferryman notices you. Lingering over my tea (and who wouldn’t prolong a cosy tea and a lovely chat in the face of a wet, muddy walk ahead?) I got to Cockeridge Ham a bit later than I planned, and delayed myself further by stopping to chat to another walker (a young guy rough camping by the estuary). By the time I got to the ferry point two other walkers had done the hard part for me. Glenda and Val have walked most of the Coast Path in stages over a number of years, while saving the killer North Devon section for last. I met them yesterday when they arrived in the cafe – drenched – after bravely walking as planned.

And it looked as though another drenching might be on the cards. We huddled miserably in the little boat as the rain grew heavier, and even the ferryman looked fed up – persuaded by the ‘brightening up’ story he didn’t even have a coat on!

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Once in Bantham I thought I’d go for a coffee with Val and Glenda rather than stay out in the rain and we headed into the village. But by the time we’d established that the pub wasn’t open yet and the shop had no cakes the rain had stopped and I decided to press on after all, having roughly twice as far to go as them.

As I negotiated the muddy paths round the edge of Thurlestone golf course I caught up to the young chap I’d met before and we walked along together for a bit. It turned out his name was also Chris, and he was also walking the Coast Path in stages over several years. But where Glenda and Val favoured a relaxed pace with plenty of coffee breaks and delicious lunches in good restaurants (I think they may be onto something…), Chris was aiming to walk from Plymouth to Poole (some 220 miles) in 10 days. After being so comprehensively rained on since he started this leg though, he was wondering if he shouldn’t have come in September instead.

But as we approached Hope Cove it did seem that there was cause for optimism. The brightness in the sky was starting to approach squinting levels and we agreed our waterproofs were becoming uncomfortably hot. We parted company in the village – Chris for a cigarette and me to forage for lunch – and when we bumped into each other later we were almost unrecognisable. T-shirts and sunglasses had replaced top-to-toe waterproofs and enthusiastic gesturing at the beauty of the landscape had been substituted for grousing about the unseasonable weather. We were not the only thing transformed. As we rounded Bolt Tail some spectacular cliff scenery opened up, set off to perfection by the blue sky above and the deeper blue sea below. In the sun, it was like another planet.

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At Soar Mill Cove I said goodbye to Chris and strolled on happily along the cliff tops. The stretch from Bolt Tail to Salcombe was one of the most fun walks I’ve done on this trip so far, and I particularly enjoyed working my way round the rocky ledge at the base of Sharp Tor.

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The recent bad weather has certainly given me a new appreciation of the good days, and not even a direct hit from a seagull could dent my mood as I pottered round Salcombe with an ice-cream shopping for dinner. Sitting outside my tent in the evening sun to eat it, looking out on a fabulous view of the Kingsbridge Estuary, I could hardly remember that the day had started out in fog and rain. With a long day ahead tomorrow I really hope the weather holds.

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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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Disappointment

I thought about taking the day off today: when planning the trip I’d allowed myself one a week. But bright sunshine woke me at 6am, and with the Met Office optimistic about the weather I decided it was too good a day to waste. In happy anticipation I donned my shorts, applied my sunscreen and hit the road.

I walked back down into Portscatho to buy something for lunch, then set off round Gerrans Bay to Nare Head some four or five miles away. By the time I got there clouds had crept overhead and it had started to rain a little. Perhaps it was just a shower.

Two hours later and it was still raining on and off, and increasingly on. So much for sunscreen! Growing weary of being rained on, the idea of an indoor lunch snuck into my mind as I approached the pretty village of Portloe.

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My guidebook mentioned a tea room there and I walked up and down the main street looking for it. I found a smart hotel and a pub, but no tea room. I asked three people if they knew where it was but none of them was from the village and no-one had seen it. Not in the mood for heavy pub food – and not suitably attired for the hotel! – there was nothing for it but to press on and find consolation in my hardiness.

After a slightly damp picnic on a pile of fallen rocks (the driest available surface to sit on) I carried on to Portholland, where my guidebook said there was a cafe. There was a building that looked as if it might, at one time, have served refreshments…but not today. Portholland did, however, have some fabulous public toilets maintained by a local volunteer – some of the most stylishly decorated I’ve ever visited.

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By now it was raining heavily. Musing on how a forecast of “dry with sunny intervals” could translate into a whole afternoon of heavy persistent rain, I set off for Porthluny Cove where the guidebook claimed there was one last cafe. By now I figured I had more than earned a pot of tea and a slice of cake in a cosy eatery. But when I got there it turned out to be more of a beach kiosk – foiled again!!

Clearly, I was not fated for cake today. I took a last look at the imposing Caerhays Castle through the rain and set off again. Since it looked like the best I could hope for was half-packet of fig rolls and tea in my tent, the quicker I got to the campsite the better. But I was not going so fast that I couldn’t stop to admire the misty views from Dodman Point, and the huge granite cross on the cliff edge.

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I sent up a quick prayer for better weather, and headed off to Treveague Farm campsite. That at least did not disappoint. With toasty hot showers, Roskilly’s ice cream (my favorite!) on site and – best of all – a drying room, it was an earthly paradise for a damp hiker. But as I sheltered in my tent from another evening of torrential rain it didn’t seem that my weather prayers had been answered. Maybe tomorrow…


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There be Pirates!

After a wonderfully peaceful night’s sleep, today dawned bright and sunny – too sunny, in fact. For the last few days it’s clouded over a bit in the afternoon, but this time the sky stayed clear and I burnt the backs of my calves and the tips of my ears – fortunately not too badly. I said goodbye to Simone and John, who were heading towards St Ives, and to Holger, who borrowed a bicycle from the campsite to go to Penzance in search of an industrial quantity of blister plasters (and new boots!), and headed back to the path.

I wound round the cliff tops, enjoying a last view of the Minack Theatre across the bay, before dropping down to Penberth Cove where I met a fisherman. I would have thought that keeping his boat there he would have met a lot of Coast Path walkers but he seemed surprised at how far I was going. ‘You’ll like the next valley’ he said, ‘it has 110 steps!’.

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Undaunted I headed up out of Penberth and around the cliffs until I reached Porthguarnon. Even when I saw the steps in question I wasn’t too worried: the cliff didn’t look too high, and what were a mere 110 steps compared to the thousands I’d already had to climb on the north coast?! As I labored up the slope on unpleasantly gigantic steps, I reflected that pride really does come before a fall – or a tough rise! But despite the pain I must have made reasonable progress as by the time I reached the top I’d caught up to two other walkers.

Claudia and Ilona were walking a few sections of the path on a short holiday from Cologne. I mentioned that I’d had some great conversations with a walker from Munich at the campsite last night and they immediately recognized Holger – they’d walked some of the way with him yesterday! I commented that Cornwall seemed to attract a lot of Germans and they explained this was all down to Rosamunde Pilcher. Adaptations of her novels, set in Cornwall, are a mainstay of German Sunday TV. Even those who (like themselves) didn’t think much to the stories couldn’t help but notice the spectacular scenery. But they forbade me to ask Holger if Rosamunde Pilcher had been the inspiration for his trip, if I saw him again!

The path was very overgrown in places and I was happy to come upon two men strimming it back as I approached Tater-du. They asked me where I was headed and helped me perfect my pronunciation of ‘Marazion’. At least the pronunciation bears more relation to the way it’s written than Mousehole, my next destination.

On the way there it was Jillian’s turn to surprise me. Popping out of a side turn disguised in a pink baseball cap, I didn’t recognize her at first! But it was a good day to have company. Mousehole was gorgeous, and supplied some particularly good ice-cream: one scoop of gooseberry, and one of orange and mascarpone.

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But from there on the Path was a tedious trudge along the road through Newlyn to Penzance. The most interesting thing I saw on the way was a large party of scuba divers near the shore just after Mousehole. I’m surprised I haven’t seen any before today: the water is so clear around the coast here I would expect there to be a lot of good dive sites.

Eventually we tramped into Penzance. I stayed there for a holiday almost a decade ago but none of it looked familiar. As it was getting late in the afternoon we didn’t have time to leave the promenade: I guess that wasn’t a part of town where I spent much time on my last visit. As a consequence, I was surprised to see an emerging pirate theme as we walked along, an association I thought consigned to Victorian comic opera!

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From Penzance it looked like just a short distance to Marazion and we were horrified to see a road sign half a mile out of town stating it was still three miles away. We were even more horrified to see another shortly after saying three and a half! Thankfully, the next Coast Path marker gave the distance as only one and a half miles – and even that was further than I felt like walking at the end of a long day. But inspired by the beautiful views of St Michael’s Mount in the soft evening light we made the distance and I said goodbye to Jillian before heading inland a short way to Dove Meadows campsite. The first person I saw as I arrived was Stuart, who I’d last seen at the St Ives campsite. Although he’d made good progress through the rough weather his ankle was badly hurt and he was talking about quitting at The Lizard, and finishing the rest of the Coast Path another time. Between Stuart’s ankle and Holger’s feet, I’m feeling grateful that, so far, I have nothing worse than a few aches and pains.