I’ve been occupied by and with COVID now for more months that I care to think about and the blog has been sadly neglected. Zoom has achieved a level of intimacy with my life that I wish to break and the lack of real human contact and audiences is stressful. Notonly that time is simply flying by. This time last week I was a bus heading back to Plymouth Station after five and a half days of walking along the South West Coastal Path (SWCP) but it feels like only yesterday and most of the things I planned to do this last week have not been achieved. Talking with others they have experienced much of the same problems. Being in one place, establishing a route means that time passes quickly and I wonder if that was the motivation of the contemplative orders, with the rhythm of the offices, to “Shuffle off this mortal coil” prematurely?
But one thing I have realised is that I should not have neglected this blog. I got into the same problem that has afflicted me before, instead of just writing everyday I had a plan as to what I wanted to write next. Then things didn’t happen or were delayed, so I put it off and the best part of three months has passed. My long time friend Harold Jarche wrote about this earlier this month quoting Ton Zylstra in the context of the current and pending employment crisis. I love this idea, that your blog is your avatar “in the original sense of a god made flesh in terrestrial form”. Not writing, not doing the thinking needed for that work and keeping to a near daily ritual is a important part of my mental health so even if no one wants to read it, it is time to start again. I’m going to do that gently with a record of another key aspect of health namely walking.
A week last Monday I had to be a witness in a trial on Zoom and I knew I would want to follow Matthew’s dictum “shake off the dust of your feet’ both physically and metaphorically as a result. So I checked the tide timetables as my first leg required one creek to be forded an hour each side of low tide, and the ferry over the next Estuary, four miles on, only ran a few hours each side of high tide. All looked good so I had an enjoyable couple of evenings planning the various stages of the walk and booking a five pubs and one hotel as accommodation. My plan was walk from pub door to pub door which is largely possible on the SWCP and the Cornish section, north and south is some of the best coastal walking I know, easily beating anything on my Round and Through Wales walk. But Kernow is celtic and the language is very similar to Welsh and Bretton so many of the spellings were familiar and I don’t feel guilty about expressing that preference. As people’s we were separated by the Battle of Deorham in the 6th Century and share the legends of Arthur and a dislike of our neighbours over the Tamar or the Seven!
I was last on this path over a year ago in June. 2019 saw me visit the path twice, firstly in May to walk three states from Perranporth on the North coast to Penzance on the south coast over five days and again in June where I planned four days to get me to Falmouth but ended up limping into St Kevine from the Lizard with a torn calf muscle. The tale of this path is long in the telling but I started in back in 2012 and caught up in a Landslip. The subsequent injury took me into hospital for a scan and it was then that the consultant suggested I might have Diabetes II. He couldn’t get the test done then but it followed and the story of my reversal of that and return to health and more ambitious waling. I stopped the SWCP then for a period to focus on my Round and through Wales walk that I started the 31st of March a month before my 60th birthday and completed in sixty seven days on my sixty fourth on a glorious day with sun and snow on the heights of Cadair Idris descending to the sea. Like all these paths I tend to do them in week or two/three day sections as I can free up the time. Either way there was a four year hiatus before I started again in 2018 completing sections six to fourteen in that year, then fifteen to twenty two in 2019. Last year was a good year for walking as I spend January in Snowdonia and my sixty fith in Tasmania walking around Cradle Mountain. However the twinge in my calf on the 15th of June, which had vanished for the 16th came back in earnest on the 17th and I limped in pain for the best part of ten miles to the pub in St Keverne, which just made it worse. By the morning I knew I could not go on and returned home and it was some months before I could walk again and I had to cancel the planned cycle ride from Lands End to John O’Groats and a trekking holiday. So the latter part of the year, which also got taken up with some nasty legal stuff was not a good one.
As lockdown restrictions relaxed in England, but not in Wales, my walking party ended up with seven weekends exploring one valley in the Brecon Beacons that sits in Hereford. Most of the walks involved getting the the Welsh border, looking over the promise land and then returning. It was an interesting exercise in understanding enabling constraints. Without that restriction we would not have discovered some significant new routes and also great views so there is a lesson there. But to return to main story line, trial over I finished packing and got to bed early. The tide timetables were not perfect and the complications of getting public transport back to the starting point a nightmare so I determined it would be cheaper to part in Falmouth station at 0930 and pay for a taxi to my starting point. That would be cheaper an an overnight stay and would avoid a tedious road walk from the bus stop in St Keverne but it did mean leaving the house by 0415 at the latest. It all worked and the taxi driver turned out to be a key cyclist and a true son of Trelawny so we had a good journey down and I set off to a mixed weather forecast but feeling good.
I quickly got to Porthallow and the half way marker for the whole path and wading over Gillian Creek (advice was to avoid the stepping stones) was no issue nor the Helford River Ferry (suitably masked). The sun was out and by Rosemulion head I realised I was running out of water. I had planned to stop for lunch and buy water as needed but with COVID every place had a long queue and I could not afford to wait so by the time I got to a drinking water tap outside the toilets in Swanpool I was desperate and ended up drinking four litres there and then. I was determined to get round Pendennis Head to reduce the distance for the next day so I walked past my hotel for the night, completed the circuit and ended up tired up happy at the Car. The next day however was a worry. Storm Clara was forecast to come through and I had no possibility to break the sequence of the walk as I had booked ahead just before the Government announced quarantine on returning visitors from France. That created a massive demand for staycations and every pub and hotel in Cornwall was fully booked. I was hopeful however and the storm blew through in the night and while I woke to torrential rain it was due to clear and did so. The only problem was that the Falmouth Ferries were cancelled so I ended up driving to Truro and spending one hour in a taxi to get to St Anthony just over the harbour, It was also a thank god for GPS as the taxi driver was not used to rural roads or the peninsula so it took some navigation to get there. The walk itself was then pretty spectacular with the odd light rain shower and one heavy one that I avoided by sheltering under a dense Hawthorne hedge. By the time I got to Nare Head the constant rise and fall was tiring me but it was now cliff top waking with only one more major down and up to go before I descended into the picture postcard fishing village of Portloe and my one luxury booking of the week The Lugger’s Inn which I can’t recommend highly enough. You can see it in the banner picture and I had a great meal there arriving just before the next storm swept through soaking me in the walk back from the pub to the room I had overlooking the sea.
The next day I had measured out as 17 miles and around 3,000 foot of ascent and descent (you always end up back at sea level) to get to Charlestown. I knew the Pier House Hotel served food until 2100 so I was pretty relaxed. But while the walk itself was interesting, the views and weather just brilliant it was a brutal day. It started easily but then the switch back started. Dodman points a relief as after that the walking eased a bit. By the time I made Mevagissey I needed to stop and refresh with two litres of milk and a Cornish Pasty from the local co-op. From then on it was a littlest of an endurance test but Penewan was followed Black Head and I was getting worried that it might be 1930-2000 before I made it. I made Lower Porthpean feeling OK but then the path got confusing and what I thought was a simple walk turned out to be anything but and then, with dark falling there were notices that I should walk back a mile and half and take a long diversion. I debated and decided not. I had forgotten the diversion although I had researched it and hoped to walk along the beach.. Basically the cliff edge just above the pub where I was staying had collapsed. Unfortunately the tide was now to high. the route down unclear anyway but I decided to just carry on and sort it out when I got there. Twitter had, a week before, pointed to Strava a heatmap tool used by runners and from that I knew that some people had dropped over the fields to avoid the issue and luckily that was possible if almost certainly involving a degree of trespass. So finally I staggered into the pub with 15 minutes to go before they stopped serving but they were wonderful. I didn’t go to my room but just sat with a pint of beer and two pints of water and made myself eat the fish and chips and ice cream that followed. I knew I had to eat but my body just wanted too sleep! When I checked out View Ranger I found the reason. The walk on the ground was over twenty miles with four and a half feet of climbing so I felt better about the time it had taken!
One thing to understand about coast walks is that they are punishing on the knees, and if, like me, you have no cartilage left under yours then going down is more painful that going up and also takes more time. I really should have taken the ibuprofen that day to reduce swelling but I made it. The top picture shows an example of what awaits you constantly on the path, a step descent with the ascent ahead of you and the knowledge that will repeat! Luckily day three I had planned as a rest day so I had kept it to just over ten miles and broke the journey at Par to catch the train to Truro, drove the car to Plymouth and swapped over clothes in the rucksack (I carried two days worth) before returning to Par, just remembering to put my boots on again. Par itself is pretty industrial but after Charlestown its acceptable. Charlestown is Poldark country and they filmed the harbour scenes there. It is full of tall ships and is a faithful preservation of a Georgian port. I could have spent hours there but the route to Par’s industrial works (this is china clay territory) and the train awaited so I was on a tight schedule. But after that the walk too Gibbin Tower was good and then down to Polridmouth just down from Menabilly House which inspired Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca. I met an older couple there who had completed the SWCP a few years before (it took them eight overall). I had lots of conversations on the path as its pretty easy to work out who is planning the whole thing and who is just a day tripper. Common purpose, common experience and friendship is easy. From there it was not long to Fowey and the Safe Harbour Inn. My fourth stay and yet again fish and chips! Well in the Lugger is was Pollock and pureed potatoes in small quantity but here it was substantial. I could see the harbour from my bedroom and enjoyed the bar and conversation. OK we were all socially distanced but conversation is still possible and people are curious about long distance walkers.
Four days down and two to go and the next day was a long one and I planned to finish it at the Inn on the Shore in Downderry. First there was a ferry and then a long and wild walk to Polperro and thence to Porthallow. Most of this section the path followed was around half way between the sea and the cliff top making for interesting walking on narrow paths but with spectacular views. By the time I made Looe I was ready to stop but then walking through that town I ended up donning a fase mask and using the trekking poles to maintain some social distancing! Tourism was in full spate and little care being shown. From there I reached the highest point on the Southern Coastal path, mainly on country lanes before descending into Seaton. An hour earlier and I could have walked along the beach but the tide was coming in and I had to trudge along the road. I must admit I was rather dreading arrival on the superstitious belief that I had to have at least one bad nights accommodation but in some ways this was the best. The room had two sea views, was well appointed with a great shower. The food was good and I finally got a steak and the publican and staff as friendly as ever I have met. One more day to go, but as I got up from dinner I felt the first stab of pain in my toe and realised there was was an ingrowing toenail. I made some ‘cuts’ and hoped the problem would be gone by the morning. It hadn’t but I decided to just walk through it. The ascent out of Downderry was fine, to the second highest point on the South Castal path but the cliff top walk and the descent to Portwrinkle were painful and I was slowing down. Walking through the 19th Century Tregantle Fort and firing range it was getting worse and as I climbed out of Freathy I could see the long walk to Rame Head laid out in front of me. Then a bus passed me displaying Plymouth as its destination. A quick check of the timetable and there was another in two hours, not bad for a Sunday so I hobbled on to the next stop where I knew there was a cafe and collapsed there for lunch before catching the bus back.
It was for the best. If I had carried on to Cremyll I would not have enjoyed myself, would have been very late and driving two hours back in the dark exhausted would not have been a good idea. It also makes the next section more interesting in terms of planning. So I had done 90 miles from Rosenithoin with 15,555 ft of ascent and descent with 53 hours of walking, largely without a break over five and a half days. An average speed of 1.7mph is not good and I am going to have to do something about that. In all 28 days on the SWCP so far but the final sections on the south coast are easier so I can probably do the South Devon and Dorset sections in 14 days, with a following wind and a bit of luck with the ferries. Most of that has to be done before the end of October as said ferries do not run in Winter. A few sections would be easier with two cars so if anyone fancies joining for the odd section get in touch! I am now at the point where I can just do day trips but I am more likely to do this in 2/3 day sections as the opportunity arises.
Tomorrow to more serious matters
Daily summary (numbers refer to the stages
23: 18Aug20 to Falmouth 18½ miles 2,831 feet of ascent 9 hours 36 Images
24: 19Aug20 to Portloe 14 miles 2,007 feet of ascent 7½ hours 44 Images
25: 20Aug20 to Charlestown 20 miles 4,520 feet of ascent 11¼ hours 86 Images
26: 21Aug20 to Fowey 11½ miles 1,729 feet of ascent 5¾ hours 52 Images
27: 22Aug20 to Downderry 17½ miles 3,307 feet of ascent 9½ hours 84 Images
28: 23Aug20 to Tregonhawke 7¾ miles 1,161 ft 4 hours 13 Images