Rugged Tales

Wherever my feet may take 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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Which way’s west?

Not the direction I went this morning, as it turns out. Entranced by the unusual thatched archway heralding the start of the Worthy Combe private toll road, I totally failed to notice the second archway that I should have walked through. Despite a nagging sense of unease I was too lazy to stop and get the guidebook out of my rucksack. Only after I’d hauled myself all the way up to the top of the steep road did I remember that I’d uploaded all the Ordnance Survey maps for the region to my iPhone before I set off. The app even popped a helpful little blue ball on to mark my – wildly off course – position. D’oh!

At least it was just the steeper side of a hill I had to climb anyway so the uphill effort wasn’t wasted. I got some great views from the hilltop as I worked my way back to where I was supposed to be, and the tiny back roads were virtually traffic free and a lot less muddy than the designated path. I lost maybe half an hour but by the time I rejoined the proper path I was quite pleased with my forethought in taking an alternative route!

Even less reliable than my sense of direction were the distances on the signs. Porlock Weir remained stubbornly 1.5 miles away for a good 30 minutes after I started walking in the morning, and Culbone (which I never actually saw thanks to my detour) remained a steady 4 miles behind me for half the afternoon. I was excited to see that Countisbury lay only 1.5 miles ahead, only to walk round the corner and see another sign telling me it was 2 miles to go. What with that, my unintended detour, and another, more deliberate, diversion to take in Devon’s most northerly point – Foreland Point- I’m not quite sure how far I walked today. Perhaps 15.5 miles? But since not all of them were to the purpose I figure there are 608 left to go.

My over-riding impression of today, however, was of forests and streams rather than dramatic coastlines. For much of the day the path wove through woodlands and I saw so many beautiful small waterfalls I lost count. Perhaps without all the recent rain they would not have been such a feature, but today, they made the walk worthwhile on their own.

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But the final stretch into Lynmouth was exactly what I’d envisaged: a narrow path winding along the cliff tops with dramatic views along the coast and a quaint harbour to top it off.

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As the sun came out and the views opened up I was so enjoying myself that I only just made the last departure on the historic water-powered cliff railway. If I’d known it stopped at 6 I’d have hurried up a bit – clambering up there at the end of a long day was definitely not high on my wish list!

Once at the top it was just a short walk to the campsite and in keeping with the mood of the day I found a really beautiful pitch by the side of a rushing stream – and even a small waterfall opposite. Just the thing to lull me to sleep…

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