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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Town, Tea, Tate

Aside from having to go out at 2am to replace a peg that had worked loose, my tent stood up well to the wind and rain last night (and thankfully so did my neighbours’)! But having proved that point there was no need for the continued wind and rain when I woke at 6am. At 8am there was some improvement – a brief period of lighter rain – but things soon returned to normal. I was not very tempted go even as far as the wash block, let alone to Pendeen some 15 miles away. Remembering how tiring yesterday’s ‘easy’ section had been in such a strong wind I decided to take the day off and hope for better things tomorrow.

It was a golden opportunity to work on my cream tea project. I walked down to the town in search of a nice looking cafe that would provide me with wifi as well as the opportunity to continue my research. I thought I had struck gold on my first try: the Tate cafe. But while they had wifi available my iPhone wouldn’t load the login page so I couldn’t use it. Two of the staff helpfully showed me that their iPhones were connected to prove it was possible, but it didn’t seem to arouse any desire in my own device to follow suit. St Ives is lavishly provisioned with charming cafes serving homemade cakes in cosy settings, but none had wifi. Wifi seemed to be the preserve of big pubs, or restaurants full of noisy children forced to bring their running around inside on account of the weather. Just as I was giving up hope I found the lovely Cafe Art at the far end of town. The cream tea was respectable, though not as good as the last. Sadly, it looks as though I shall have to continue my search. But at least I had a warm, dry place to sit while I worked on my blog and my photos.

Taking advantage of a break in the rain I went for a wander round the town. The narrow cobbled streets were full of interest in themselves, and there were lots of quirky shop windows to look in. My favourite display featured wedding welly boots “ideal for beach photos or rainy wedding days”. I imagine a number if brides could have done with a pair of those over the last few weeks!

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I worked my way through the town and back to Porthmeor Beach where I was amazed to see the number of people eating an al fresco lunch on the terrace of a restaurant. Bundled up in warm coats against the icy blast of the wind, with the ever-present danger of rain, I’m not sure whether their determination to continue their holiday plans if at all possible was heroic or foolhardy. Personally, I retreated back into the Tate to enjoy panoramic views over the town and The Island through the windows of their snug cafe.

I wiled away the damp afternoon acquainting myself with the paintings of Alex Katz, before venturing back out for a final pot of tea at Bumbles Cafe. Their window neatly summed up my day!

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With tea and a few chapters of my book completed it had stopped raining, and by the time I had bought a few groceries and walked back up the hill to the campsite it had turned into a gloriously sunny, though still windy, evening.

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Hopefully that bodes well and the storm is finally moving away so I’ll have some better weather for one of the toughest sections of the path tomorrow.


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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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Take cover!

With a big storm forecast to move in over the course of the afternoon I decided to make an early start, hoping to get at least some walking done before the weather closed in. Just as well – by 8am it was raining and it kept going all day. Fortunately, it was pretty light rain during the morning: nothing that would stop a hardy walker such as myself making good progress along the coast.

The first mile and a half took me past the remains of the old tin mining industry and into St Agnes.

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Heading out of the village I got chatting to a local man walking his dog. The storm would hit this afternoon, he said, but would have passed by tonight, though it would linger a while up country. He seemed knowledgeable, and we agreed the forecasters just couldn’t get if right for Cornwall. He put it down to having two coasts.

From there the path ran easily over the cliffs, past more disused mine shafts, to Porthtowan. I took some photos of the bus timetable, just in case, and popped into the local shop to buy some mints. In response to the shopkeeper’s enquiry I said I’d walk until the weather got bad, then get a bus. ‘You’ll be getting on at the stop just there then’ he said. ‘In the next few days we’ll get 3 months’ rain.’ On that cheery note I headed for the Blue cafe for a break from the aforementioned weather. With great views of the beach, friendly staff and fast wifi it was like heaven – I could have stayed all day! But mindful that months of rain were heading my way I dragged myself back out and up the next cliff.

At the top I met Jillian, the first other woman I’ve met aiming to do the whole path. Walking the Coast Path was a retirement project, she told me, and she kindly urged me to go ahead as she didn’t want to slow me down. The truth was I could barely keep up! I’m sure I’m fitter than I was when I started – which is part of my reason for doing the walk – but clearly there is still room for improvement…

The rain had almost stopped and Jillian and I strolled along, chatting merrily, through Portreath and on towards Godrevy, past the fabulously named Ralph’s Cupboard and the picturesque Samphire Island.

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We remarked that though the wind was definitely freshening the day was not as bad as we’d feared. Clearly, that was just tempting fate and not long after the wind strengthened still more and the heavens opened. We picked a nervous way along the cliffs as far from the edge as possible. By the time we tottered into the aptly named Hell’s Mouth, shielding our eyes from the stinging rain, my enthusiasm for walking had largely evaporated. Happily, waiting in the car park was Jillian’s husband Jim, and I gratefully accepted their offer of a lift to St Ives. Although my sturdy little tent should be able to withstand a bit of rough weather I wasn’t sure I wanted to risk the experiment while I still have weeks of the walk to go. And the thought of trying to pitch it in gale force winds and driving rain, for the pleasure of huddling damply inside it all night, was not appealing. I found a bed in a hostel in St Ives for the night. Though basic, there aren’t too many people staying just now and it has a prominent bannister just perfect for drying my tent off!

Showered and dressed in my cleanest driest clothes (a fleece and waterproof trousers!) I took all my other garments to the launderette. As I sat there watching the water pouring onto my clothes in the machine, and the much greater quantity pouring down on the road outside I was relieved to be indoors!

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The feeling lasted as I scuttled through heavy rain to the harbour front for delicious ‘gourmet’ fish and chips. But as the dusk gathers the wind has dropped, the rain all but stopped. It looks like the dog-walker was right and I could have camped after all. Oh well – better safe than sorry.