Rugged Tales

Wherever my feet may take me…

Leave a comment

Slippery when wet

Overnight the breeze freshened, and strengthened some more until the darkness was saturated with the rush of wind through the trees, the snap of the fly sheet with each gust and the pounding of the rain. It wasn’t the most peaceful night I’ve ever spent under canvas, though it had the benefit of obliterating the sound of the snorer in the tent next to me! But by breakfast time the rain had stopped leaving a bright and breezy day ahead.

I started out by rounding Lizard Point. How different it looked in the sunshine today compared to yesterday’s lashing rain!


Energized by the glorious start I bounded off round Housel Bay looking forward to the day’s hike. But I hadn’t allowed for the aftermath of two days of heavy rain, or the local terrain. The first had left large parts of the path a sticky, slick mess and I realized how much harder it is to get up and down the steep narrow cliff paths with limited traction. The second meant that in between the mud weren’t normal rocks – oases of firmness on which a walker could confidently step to avoid the quagmire – but rather the Lizard peninsula’s own special serpentine. I’d been primed to appreciate this particular rock, as an interesting geological phenomenon and as an attractive material for local artisans to work into souvenirs. But no-one warned me that it is surely the slipperiest rock known to man. Even with relatively clean, dry boot soles I was apt to slip straight off if I stepped on a lump of it, and if any trace remained from one of the (numerous) muddy patches the result was a frictionless interface that put Teflon in the shade.

With much of the Lizard peninsula formed of serpentine there were plenty of rocks to slip off. The difficulty was compounded on the headlands by the strong winds, in which it was sometimes difficult to keep my balance even with a firm footing. But the lowest point came on the badly maintained paths after Kennack Sands. The Coast Path has already supplied steep paths, muddy paths, rocky paths, waist high vegetation and low overhanging branches, but not – until today – all at the same time. And not combined with a generous quantity of super-slip boulders to clamber over.


If took me three hours to cover the four and a half miles from Kennack Sands to Coverack, and by the time I had laboriously slipped and tripped my way to the village I was ready to quit walking the Coast Path and get the next train home.

But the views of the beautiful harbour cheered me up, as did the knowledge that halfway along Coverack beach lay the transition zone between the serpentine (from the Earth’s mantle) and gabbro (from the Earth’s crust). Coverack is one of the few places in the world where the ocean crust and the mantle are exposed on the Earth’s surface, making it a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a favorite destination for geology student field trips.


But my primary thought was that gabbro couldn’t fail to have a better grip than serpentine. I shot round the bay like a (rather tired) greyhound out of the traps, and the new rock more than lived up to my expectations. The path after Coverack was quite marshy in places but I sprang from stepping stone to stepping stone, reveling in the sure-footed security of a nice bit of basalt. I’ll sleep easier tonight knowing that’s one ordeal that’s behind me now: serpentine thankfully isn’t found anywhere else in England!

Leave a comment

Mud and puddles

Last night was an anti-climax weather wise. Braced for torrential rain and strong winds, mere fog and drizzle were rather a let down, although there was one hairy moment during a nocturnal trip to the wash block when I couldn’t find my way back to the tent in the murk. Luckily, I spotted my footprints from the out trip in the dewy grass and followed them back to my bed. When I woke in the morning there wasn’t even fog, just a still, grey but dry – at least for the moment – day. However, the Met Office forecast (for what it was worth) predicted heavy rain starting late morning. Thus motivated, I leapt out of bed (well, wriggled – it’s a small tent), packed up my gear as fast as I could and hit the road within the hour.

Having covered extra ground yesterday it was a relatively short distance to Lizard, the end of the next stage, and I figured that if I could reach it I would both avoid losing a day to the weather and have better facilities for a wet day than a campsite in the middle of nowhere – however nice – could offer. With all the extra distance I’d done yesterday I felt justified in heading to the nearest point on the path rather than backtracking to Mullion Cove, and from there I set off towards Lizard Point as fast as I could. Unfortunately, that wasn’t very fast. The path had not been improved by hours of heavy rain and snaking round the puddles and slipping on the slick mud – which nearly had me over a few times – slowed my progress considerably.


But eventually Kynance Cove came into view with it’s particularly attractive stacks, one of which is intriguingly called Asparagus Island!


At low tide the Coast Path drops down to the beach at Kynance Cove and initially I was pleased to have a break from the mud and puddles. But between the unstable rocks and piles of seaweed it proved to be even more treacherous. After several near tumbles I was relieved to regain the relative security of a muddy path up the cliff on the other side!

But if the rain wasn’t good for me it was great for the plant life. I saw the biggest wild mushrooms I’ve ever seen in the UK on the cliff top above Pentreath Beach.


Even more exciting, I saw a family of Cornish choughs – rare birds that have only recently returned to Cornwall. I also saw them around Cape Cornwall so I’ve been really fortunate in that regard.

But a little after 10am, as I was approaching Lizard Point, it started to rain again. Anxious to avoid another soaking I abandoned my plan of walking as far as the lighthouse and headed straight for Henry’s campsite. It felt strange to be pitching my tent, rather than striking it, at that time in the morning but at least I got it up before the heavy rain started. With the rest of the day to spare I took the opportunity to do my laundry, and as I waited for it to finish, sharing the barn with an eclectic selection of naughty chickens raiding the feed bin, I could hear the rain pouring down harder and harder outside.

Happily, Lizard provided a great selection of places to hide from the weather for such a small place. And when the rain eased off a little in the late afternoon I even made it down to the Polpeor Cafe on Lizard Point – Britain’s southernmost cafe – to sample their cream tea: purported to be the best in town.


It was certainly the most filling so far, with two huge scones! It was touch and go whether I could manage my dinner after that. But after all this walking there seems to be no limit to the amount of food I can put away. For all that I hope there aren’t too many more days this wet: I’ll be both broke, and as round as a football by the time I get home!