Rugged Tales

Wherever my feet may take me…


Mixed bag

My weather prayers weren’t answered this morning and I woke up to the gentle patter of raindrops on the fly sheet. In the evening, there is nothing I like better than being cosy in my sleeping bag listening to the rain, but with the prospect of a long day’s walk ahead of me I didn’t enjoy it quite so much! Huddled under my tent porch I started to boil the water for tea and porridge, only to have the gas canister run out. Clearly it was going to be one of those days. On the upside, if you are daft enough to walk along the cliff-tops early on a damp Sunday morning you get to the place to yourself, even within sight of a major tourist centre, and the rugged coastline was impressively moody and dramatic under the lowering clouds.

After such an unpromising beginning I was relieved when the day improved out of all recognition. The rain stopped, and with the fabulous scenery constantly changing it was one of the most varied and interesting days so far. There was even a bit of industrial heritage amongst the cliffs, coves and harbors. The 80ft pinnacle of inferior slate rising from the floor of the old Lanterdan Quarry was a particularly striking site.


The next stop was Port Iasaac, an especially picturesque former fishing village now given over to tourism. After my experiences in Tintagel, I was expecting a Doc Martin theme park to go along with the Arthurian one I’d just left, as the village is the location for the Doc’s home, Portwenn. But the only outward sign of the connection was one sign and a single rack of postcards outside a cafe pronouncing itself the sole purveyor of Doc Martin
merchandise. The residents of Port Isaac, who include designer Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen and other celebrities, clearly have a different view than the denizens of Tintagel about the model of tourism they are aiming for!

But however tastefully done, with the sun now out the place was crawling with tourists and by the time I reached the harbor front I was happy to push on to Pentire Point, remarkably quiet given its lovely view back to Rumps Point.

But no amount of interesting sights or beautiful views could alter the fact that this was probably the longest, hardest day I’ve done. With no campsites between Tintagel and Porzeath, and the cost of accommodation in Port Isaac (the obvious break point) pushed up by its celebrity associations, there was no choice but to push through or face a substantial detour inland. After 17 miles and at least 8 steep-sided river valleys I was more than happy to see the end in sight as I rounded a headland to see Polzeath ahead of me.

If only it was that easy… The campsite in the centre of town set a new record for the most expensive pitch so far – £25! – with the staff forbidden from offering a discount for single people in the high season though the site was half empty. Directed to their sister site ‘just three quarters of a mile further’ up a hill, I cursed and grumbled all the way – doubly so when 2 miles later I hadn’t found it. In the end I decided the lesser of the evils was to go on to the campsite clearly marked on the map rather than back to look for the theoretical one, and after another mile I finally pitched my tent at Trewiston Farm and tottered half a mile to the pub in Pityme for dinner. You may imagine my reaction when I found they had a private function and weren’t doing food. Unable to face walking any further, but unable to cook even the half bag of instant mashed potato in my bag as I was out of gas, my dinner comprised: one tin of sardines in tomato sauce, one handful of mixed nuts, half a bag of dried pears and 4 squares of dark chocolate.

But fate had not yet dealt me its last blow. With minimal data connection in the tent I decided just to read for a bit, flicked the power switch on my Kindle and…nothing. I tried again, then held the switch for 20 seconds to restart it. Nothing. In desperation I held the switch for 30 seconds, 40, 50… Nothing. I tossed the stupid thing onto the tent floor and settled down for a proper sulk, all hope gone.

And then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a movement on the screen. It flashed, went blank…and started to reboot! It was like a scene from a movie when you think the hero’s dead and then he suddenly draws a shuddering breath, and the other characters burst into tears, or jump around slapping each other on the back. I was far too tired for anything like that but I was so relieved, all the logistical irritations were washed away. There’s nothing like ending your day on a high!

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After a wonderful week off socialising with friends and family in Hampshire and London I returned to Tintagel today, undeterred by the storms of the last few days. OK, maybe a little deterred. But I figure I have to get back to it sometime and (this being the UK) if I stop every time it looks like rain it could be years before I finish.

Returning to Tintagel has been a surreal experience. Traffic congestion in Wadebridge from the Royal Cornwall Show scotched my chances of getting the busses to connect so I took a taxi from Bodmin Parkway station instead. As a result, I unexpectedly spent the last 45 minutes of my journey swapping lively stories about watching lions kill in the Kruger National Park and the Masai Mara and our experiences with wild scorpions as the car wound round the tiny Cornish lanes. The driver also gave me a bit of local colour about the Camelot Castle Hotel so, after I’d pitched my tent, I wandered round to check it out.

Owned by artist Ted Stourton and his business partner John Mappin, the hotel’s website describes it as ‘the diamond jewel of Cornwall’. Trip Advisor suggests there may be more than one view to be had on that subject, however, and a quick google search turns up as many hits on Scientology (of which the owners are fully paid-up adherents) as on the hotel’s accommodations. Rumours abound that the building is a Scientology recruitment centre, attempting to indoctrinate staff, locals and guests into the cult. But aside from a few sidelong glances at my muddy hiking boots (which was probably not unreasonable) I emerged unscathed after a drink at the bar. On the whole I found the prominent photos in the lobby of John & Irina Mappin posing with various celebs, the crested A4 invitation to participate in ‘a television project about the extraordinary work of Ted Stourton…and its positive global effects’ that dominated my table, and the incongruous Bentley parked right in front of the entrance to be obnoxiously self-aggrandising rather than actively sinister. Perhaps I just didn’t stay long enough!

But I was more than happy to trade the grandeur of Camelot for my own more modest – and more portable! – ‘castle’, despite the heavy clouds massing on the horizon.

So far my tent has not been called on to withstand nothing more than a heavy dew, but it may perhaps face a tougher test tonight. Either way, I’m hoping the weather clears up at least a little before I continue on the Coast Path tomorrow…

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Mists and legends

Excited by the promise of the legendary King Arthur’s castle I set off today for Tintagel, despite a lingering stiffness in my legs. Early sunshine quickly gave way to moody clouds that threatened rain, but it stayed dry as I made my slow way to Boscastle harbour.

Scene of one of the most extreme floods ever recorded in Britain, there is little sign now of the devastation that occurred in 2004. I treated myself to a delicious brunch at the Harbour Light, a 16th century harbour-front building completely rebuilt after the flood destroyed it.

Climbing up out of Boscastle, however, the sea mist rolled in as I made my damp and chilly way round Firebeacon Hill.

I consoled myself that the swirling mists would add to the mystical atmosphere as I approached my destination. But by the time I’d spent a fruitless hour searching for a campsite that turned out to have closed down, the sun had regained the ascendancy and I finally rounded Barras Nose to see Tintagel Head in sun-drenched glory.

The sun also drew out tourists in considerable number, and upon drawing closer Tintagel revealed itself to be more Monty Python than Malory, with the 19th century Camelot Castle Hotel a particularly prominent and hideous feature. Having reconciled myself to being in a kind of Arthurian theme park, though, I’m actually quite enjoying it. Full of Granny Wobbly’s homemade ice-cream, and homemade fudge (stuck to each other with a generous coating of cream), and with an ATM, two well-stocked convenience stores, and numerous pubs within an easy walk even on my sore legs, I’m finding the amenities compelling. Cosy in Ye Olde Malthouse, the original 14th century village inn, with a glass of wine and free wifi, I’m more than happy to look past the rather lurid depiction of some round table event or another hanging on the wall next to me.