Rugged Tales

Wherever my feet may take me…


In hindsight

After a few sunny days light rain was forecast for this afternoon, turning heavy overnight, and by the time I left the campsite the clouds were already gathering.

The first couple of hours’ walk offered views of St Michael’s Mount, dark and brooding under the clouds, from a wide range of angles.


Eventually, though, it disappeared from sight as I rounded Cudden Point. Shortly afterwards, at Prussia Cove, I saw a group of hikers having a spirited discussion of where the path went – and I realised one of them was Jillian. Direction sorted, we walked together for a while before I pressed ahead to Pothleven to find something for lunch. Crossing the road back to the picturesque harbour, lunch in hand, I spotted Holger striding along. Equipped with new boots, plenty of plasters for his blisters and a course of antibiotics for the infected ones, he told me the pain was now bearable and he planned to walk from Penzance to The Lizard – 25 miles. I was impressed! He intended to stay two nights at Lizard so, with a tentative possibility of meeting up again tomorrow, I waved him off at the end of Porthleven pier.


I started looking around for somewhere to eat when a man approached me. “Is that chap walking the South West Coast Path?” he asked. I replied that we both were. “I’ve walked it twice” he said, “but not carrying camping gear like that man.” “I’m carrying my camping gear too” I said, patting my pack, but for some reason he didn’t seem to find my exploits as impressive as Holger’s, much to my annoyance. Perhaps because my pack is half the size he didn’t believe me! But just then, Jillian caught me up and distracted me by pointing out the ominous black the sky ahead. We ate our lunch facing the other way.

I had originally planned to camp at Porthleven, the break point suggested by the guidebook but as it was only 2pm, and the forecast for tomorrow much worse, I decided to press on to Mullion. Since a shower or two looked inevitable Jillian and I started to put on our waterproof trousers. It was not a moment too soon. I hadn’t even got my boots back on before the first drops fell and by the time I set off it was raining hard. It continued to rain, with various degrees of commitment, as I walked alongside Porthleven Sands, struggled through the fine pebbles of Loe Bar, said goodbye to Jillian (who finished the day at Gunwalloe Fishing Cove), and looked around St Winwaloe church – aptly known as ‘the church of storms’.


The rain got heavier as I skirted Poldhu Cove, nobly resisting the temptations of the beach cafe, and climbed up to the Marconi monument, which marks the place where the first transatlantic wireless signal was sent. And it carried on as I walked along the last few cliffs and down into Mullion Cove. A beautiful bay with dramatic stacks, I wasn’t really in the mood to appreciate it, however, and doubly not when I realized there was nowhere there to buy food. Since I wouldn’t have any dinner otherwise there was nothing for it but to climb up the hill to Mullion village, trying not to think about the fact that if I’d gone straight there from Poldhu it would have been about two and a half miles less to walk.

It started raining even harder, until the roads became rivers and lakes. I went off the idea of trying to cook in my tent and headed for the fish and chip cafe in the village instead. Here, finally, was a bright spot on an otherwise damp and gloomy horizon. The fish was firm and tasty, the batter light and crispy and the chips freshly cooked: one of the best fish and chips of the trip so far. Even thus fortified, however, it was a struggle to go back outside in the deluge. Given the forecast I stopped at the village shop and bought a whole day’s food ready for any meteorological siege that might befall me. Then it was just another mile and a half through the downpour to the campsite at Predannack. As I walked I reflected that if I’d done all the extra distance along the Coast Path rather than back and forth to Mullion I’d be nearly at the Lizard myself now. And if I’d stuck with plan A I’d be warm and dry in Porthleven after a relaxing afternoon. Hindsight is always 20:20!

Thankfully the rain finally stopped as I approached Predannack making it much easier to pitch the tent, though after a day of heavy rain the camping field was sodden. It was a toss up which produced the loudest squelches: the ground or my boots! But the spot the lovely warden recommended to me was wonderful: just about the driest bit of the field, far from the few other campers and screened from the wind on three sides. Warm and dry at last I snuggled down in my sleeping bag, unusually listening to the wind tearing through the trees but barely rustling my fly sheet, and ready for whatever else the weather might throw at me tonight.

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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!’.

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.

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!

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.