Saturday, 29 June 2013

Polzeath to Padstow - walking the South West Coast Path

Considering the pain in my legs last night, I felt surprisingly refreshed this morning when I awoke. I had already decided to take it easy today and I lay lazily in my tent, idly eavesdropping on the conversations of other campers. This was a surfers place and a surfers campsite. 'How was the water?' I heard a young man ask a couple of others who had obviously just returned from a bout in the sea despite the fact it was barely eight am. 'What's the surf like?'
'Not bad. It's a bit sucky though,' came the reply. (What were they on about?) 'Are you long board or short?'
'Oh long board.'
You'll be fine then.'
The day started fine
None of this conversation made any sense whatsoever to me. I lay for a while longer before getting myself up and packing the camp away. For some reason it seemed to all pack away much more neatly today and it was with a jaunty 'I'm an expert backpacker now' air that I set off down the road. Ten steps later I pulled up short. I had spotted the Galleon Beach Cafe. Aside from the crusts of bread I had sucked on as I fell asleep I had not eaten since the expensive cream tea in Port Isaac the previous afternoon. In I went.

Fabulous Galleon Beach Cafe
I loved this cafe. I ordered a traditional breakfast  - two sausage, two eggs, two bacon, two toast - and a coffee. Additional refills a pound each. They were very relaxed about using the electric so I sat there for over an hour charging my laptop, my camera and my phone. No one seemed to mind and it was only with a determined effort that I finally got up and made my leave.

I plodded back up the hill to Lundy Bay and the point of departure the previous evening. I know you are thinking I am being a bit retentive about not missing any part of the path - but once you start there is no end to it - chop a bit here and a bit there and next I'd be thinking- 'well Land's End is a long way down, why not cut it off and go across Bodmin?' And then where would I be?

The path wound around the promontory of Pentire Head. At the end is a knobbly bit known as the Rumps where a heart-lurching, narrow path clings to the edge of the cliff as it winds around the headland. Just offshore was the small islet, The Mouls. 'Blimey,' I thought, 'this is a bit dicey even by Coast Path standards.' At the end, a couple were lying on a rock studying the sea with binoculars. They turned to say hello and we fell into conversation. I explained I was walking the coast path. 'Well, you're very keen,' the chap said, 'to come all out here, beyond the official route.'

Off route on the Rumps
'Oh yes, well I didn't want to miss any of it,' I said, pretending I knew perfectly well it was not part of the coast path route. 'It's so beautiful.' Saying goodbye I sauntered off and climbed the steep path between the rocky outcrops, just to prove I knew what I was doing and wasn't lost. By the time I descended down the other side I was already feeling weary. Carrying the heavy, too big tent (see previous posts) was taking its toll. A thick mist had suddenly rolled in from the sea, obscuring the view until suddenly a gap in the mist revealed the dramatic rocky outcrops of Pentire Point.

Still, I enjoyed the solitude and took the opportunity for an impromptu, one-woman karaoke, using my walking pole as a microphone. It was great fun.

From here it was a steady downhill path back to Polzeath. The tide was going out so I decided to walk across the beach. I climbed down into a small cove which a local chap informed me was called 'Stinky Bay'.
'Does it stink? I asked. I sniffed the air, it smelt fine to me.
Stinky Bay
'The seaweed often leaves a stinky smell here,' he explained.

After Stinky Bay was Baby Bay and then Hayle Bay proper where the lifeguards were blowing on hooters and calling through megaphones asking people to leave the water until the mist had cleared; it was impossible to see more than three feet from the shore.

The Doom Bar
John Betjeman's grave
The walk around Trebarwith Strand was busy with strolling holidaymakers and the occasional walker who marched past me at quite at a pace, clearly taking their coast path walk very seriously, much more seriously than I was.

Between here and the opposite bank is the infamous Doom Bar, the sandbank at the mouth of the estuary feared by ships and site of hundreds of shipwrecks over the years. Sharp's Brewery which brews the successful Doom Bar beer (now owned by Molson Coors) is just up the road in Rock.

 I detoured across the golf course to little St Enodoc's Church sitting in the dunes and famous as the burial place of John Betjeman. Fleur Lombard, the first female firefighter to die on duty outside of wartime, killed while attempting to put out a fire in Staple Hill in Bristol is here too, and the actor Michael Harbour.

St Enodoc
I especially liked the inscription on one grave, John Turcan Melvin 1916 - 1999, the last stanza of Longfellow's poem The Day is Done:

And the night shall be filled with music
And the cares that infest the day
Shall fold their tents like the Arabs 
And as silently steal away.

Rock to Padstow ferry
Around the dunes brought me to Rock. I didn't bother going into the village, I hear it's not what it was, and has lately become an attraction for undesirables. Instead I waited on the beach for the ferry to Padstow. It was low tide so we were landed on the beach north of the town. On the other side of Padstow, at the start of the Saints Way, I booked into the very fine Dennis Farm Campsite, who offered me a pitch in the 'hiker's section', a small area with lovely views over the river and a handy bush behind the tent for use when the walk to the toilet block at the far end was too much.

Beach at Rock
That evening, on the recommendation of a fellow camper I paid a visit to the London Inn who were serving a fine range of ales including one of my favourites, St Austell's Proper Job, a fine way to wash down lasagne and chips. I liked the pub very much - five ales, a bar as well as restaurant menu, wifi, low lighting and nice music. Why can't more pubs get this right? And why is this one not in CAMRA's guide? It will be soon, I am sure.

I was finished - in more ways than one. I booked two nights, on Monday I would catch the bus(es) back to Ilfracombe and have a few days visiting family before resuming the walk at the end of next week It was maybe just as well - by now my clothes were so rank that if I decided to have a lie-in they would be perfectly capable of getting up and going for a walk all by themselves.

Distance: 6 miles
Total Distance: 167 miles
Accommodation Ranking: 8/10
Accommodation Cost: £9.50 per night.

South West Coast Path :-)

Friday, 28 June 2013

Tintagel to Polzeath - walking the South West Coast Path

Despite being woken by the cows and then the sheep (why were they there -surely sheep don't need to be milked?) I managed to doze for a couple more hours before finally rousing myself at half-eight. By the time I had packed up all my gear and chatted to the couple in the tent next door it was gone half-nine by the time I trotted back to the coast path to resume the route.

Sea Caves, Tintagel

Slate mine near Tintagel
Ten minutes later I reached Tintagel Castle. I didn't go in as I thought both the entrance fee of £5.90 (60p off for concessions!) and the hill up to the castle were a little steep. Instead I made for the cafe and guzzled a coffee. I had decided not to bring cooking gear for reasons of weight (just as well now I was carrying the tent on my own) and the downside of this was having to start each day with water and )if I'm lucky) a little bit of leftovers. Having drunk the coffee I felt a little more human and spent a while wandering around the part of the cove that you don't have to pay for. The sea was impressive, whacking the cliffs with a resounding whomp and swooshing into the sea caves at the foot of the cliffs. Finally I pressed on and climbed up to the top of the hill and a pleasant walk across the top, past Tintagel church and long defunct slate mines to Trebarwith Strand, two miles or so on, where the sea was landing on the rocks of a small cove.

Trebarwith Strand
I really was having trouble getting started this morning. I couldn't understand it until I realised I had not eaten anything since the previous afternoon. Time for a pasty. I have been eating a lot of pasties on this trip. Whilst I ate and drank more coffee I chatted to the guy on in the snack bar about the walk and the weather. We agreed that the forecasters could rarely get it right for anything more than 48 hours ahead. 'I don't bother listening to the forecast any more,' he said. I asked him whether he was busy. 'Not just now,' he said, 'but it will get busy later at low tide.'
'Why is that?' I asked.
'Have you not seen it here at low tide?'
I said I had not and he showed me a postcard of a huge expanse of golden sand, none of which was visible now. It was like a different place.
Gull Rock

The climb out of Trebarwith was a Category B (see my previous post for information on categories) verging on BF, steep enough but not impossible. My progress may have been assisted by the recent consumption of coffee and pasty though. And then here we go again: up, down, up, down, up, down. I notice a couple behind me in red jackets and it becomes a matter of personal pride that I don't let them overtake me. I keep an eye out for them, yeses - they are still way behind - oh no they're catching me up - I speed up again. For miles I travel over cliffs, unremitting- no cafes, no villages, nothing.

Travelling alone does at least give me chance to think and ponder some of the big philosophical questions of life: is a slug simply a snail without a home or are there other differences? And how come people all look different but ants all look the same? These were the thoughts that occupied me as I trudged across the hills to Port Isaac.

Category B?
Path closure

It was maybe just as well that as I walked into the village other concerns were uppermost in my mind, namely - where was the cashpoint and where could I get something to eat? There was no cashpoint as far as I could tell, and I was stupendously lucky that the post office was open, as it only operates for eight hours a week, based in the village hall it is an outreach service from Camelford. I dipped out slightly on the food, picking a ridiculously expensive cafe (seven pounds for a pastie?) but I was mollified by the friendly customers outside, a chap who was a serial long-distance walker and his son and friend who had cycled from Bude and were shocked by the hills around here (they hailed from the Midlands) and I had a nice time chatting to them about walking, cycling and beer.

Filming at Port Isaac

I left one of the cyclists having his thighs massaged by his cycling buddy, they were still in shock by the thirty per cent hills, and headed down the hill to the harbour, where lots of people were running about clutching clip-boards and shouting things like: 'now come on, help me people, stop that car driving down the road!' and 'get in position, everyone - now!' They were, of course, filming that popular television series, Doc Martin. I've seen it a few times - its ok - but I'm at a loss to explain why it is quite so popular. Anyway, I can tell you - spoiler alert - the next series features a New York cop with an enormous stuck-on moustache. Not sure what this cop is doing in Port Isaac, sorry Portwenn, but I can tell you he makes Village People look like a straight act.

Port Isaac

The last few miles to Polzeath got a little desperate - I wondered whether to wild camp but eventually decided to head into the village so I could get to a pub. I picked the campsite on the sea front, with a lovely view of the sea. I didn't get to the pub though - by the time I had pitched my tent it was all I could do to crawl into my sleeping bag. I lay there sucking on a crust of bread I had found at the bottom of my rucksack, feeling pains shooting up and down my legs in a most interesting fashion and listening to the waves which landed on the shore not in gentle waves but in a constant roar like the sound of an engine. Eventually sleep overcame the pain and I slept solidly until nine the next morning.

Mines at Port Quin

Distance: 14 miles
Total Distance: 161 miles
Accommodation ranking: 6/10
Accommodation cost £12.00 (surfers hang outs always seem to command a premium)

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Crackington Haven to Tintagel - walking the South West Coast Path

Mick has bailed out. I'm not sure whether it is the cliffs, the climbs or the company. Perhaps a combination of all three? Anyway he hopped on the bus and high-tailed it back to Devon. This has left me with a small problem. Against my better judgement we had agreed to share the load and carry one two-man tent rather than carry two separate ones. So now I have one heavy tent to carry by myself. I toyed with the idea of letting Mick take it home but then I would be dependent on finding hostels or bed and breakfast accommodation which could a) be a pain/problem this time of year and b) would put my costs up considerably. I decided to carry the tent and see how it went. There was a bus service all down the coast so if it got too bad, I reasoned, I could catch a bus home too.

I retraced my route a little to get back to the point where we had gone wrong yesterday. It was a glorious start with a walk out to Pencannow Point before dropping back down to the hamlet of Crackington Haven and a large fry-up at the beach cafe there. Despite the fact that I had always intended to do this walk solo, it felt a bit weird walking on alone and I felt a little bit apprehensive. I forced myself to get a grip. 'It's Cornwall, for god's sake Ellie,' I told myself. 'I can get a taxi and be home in an hour, what is there to be nervous about?'

I had to adjust to the heavier pack but I found that as long as I the rucksack was tight enough it wasn't too bad. I found the best way to do it up was the same as wearing my scuba kit: bending my knees and leaning forward so my back is horizontal and there is no gravity pulling down on the pack, then do up waist and shoulder straps tight, then chest strap last. This minimised any pulling down by the pack.

Category F
I was dismayed though when I came across the first big dip and climb, an 'F' category. (I had by now begun categorising the hills into Bs, Fs and Cs - B**tards, F**kers and C**ts.)  A few more followed; to compensate the views were stupendous down the coastline with rippling green cliffs and a gorgeous and clear aquamarine sea. Past an interesting rock arch I came to samphire rock. Samphire seaweed is known as Cornish Asparagus and I wondered whether it was as nice as North Devonshire Laver which I adore - fried with local bacon and cream it is superb. Through the Strangles, where cliffs have slumped and the the rock has folded and twisted, crumpled like paper under massive forces millions of years ago. The weather was misty now though, and my photographs rubbish. Take a look here for some decent pictures.

Rounding Fire Beacon Point above Seals Hole, I hear a mournful wailing song coming at me eerily from the cliffs below. Climbing down, I see on the rocks at sea a colony of seals. Hearing them, it was easy to understand the origin of the stories of the selchies, mythical creatures who could shed their seal skin and become human.

Seals at Seal Hole
At Pentargon waterfall the path dips down and then climbs a quadrillion steps. I was feeling weary now, hauling myself slowly up each one. How pleased I was then, to come across Boscastle Farm Shop and slump in to a comfy armchair for half an hour with a pot of tea and a newspaper! Refreshed I didn't feel too bad for the final mile into Boscastle. I had been entertaining thoughts of a bed at the youth hostel here but it was not to be, a sign outside said they were fully booked. It was not yet five o'clock though, so I stopped for another pot of tea at the National Trust shop, stocked up on provisions at the local shop and then plodded up the hill out the other side of the village.

In the cliffs opposite, under Penally Point is a  square shaped hole in the rock known as 'the blowhole'. Here, at certain times of the tide, the sea is forced through the hole sending a spray of water across the bay. On previous visits I had spent long periods watching the spectacle from the bench here. Today I was a little early for the full display though.

The Blow Hole, Boscastle
Climbing the hill past the lookout station I came across a trio enjoying the walk across the top and stopped for a chat. John was walking the coast path too, he had left Minehead five days before I had. We agreed that walking the path was not a thing to be rushed. I told him about the chap I had met back in Watermouth who had walked from Land's End in 14 days and not enjoyed it and he told me about a chap he had met who was walking 25 miles a day but had not stopped to look at anything. 'I'm taking my time,' he told me. 'I want to have time to enjoy it. I've been staying at Port Isaac for a week.' He was over from Australia and his wife and her friend had come to join him for a bit before heading up to Scotland while John got on with his walking thing. He planned to finish in mid-September. It seemed to me he had exactly the right idea.

Not amused to come across this backpack-unfriendly stile at end of the day...
Ladies Window, near Tintagel
The walk from Boscastle to Tintagel is a classic, and I've written about it before, with amazing rock formations including the natural arch known as 'Ladies Window' and the spectacular Rocky Valley. I passed a campsite here, but decided to press on into the centre of Tintagel where there was a campsite nearer to a pub. I had definitely earned myself a pint.

The campsite was a nice small one next to a farm. I pitched my tent next to the wall behind the cowshed and strode into town for a beer. I found King Arthur's Arms which served a fine pint of Harbour Special from the nearby Tintagel Brewery, a full-bodied beer with a creamy head which went down so well I drank another two pints. By the time I came out of the pub a thick fog had descended. It was just as well it was only a short hop back to my little tent. Despite having nothing between me and the ground except a thin piece of foam I slept like a log until milking time at 6 o'clock the next morning.

Distance:  11 miles
Total Distance: 147  miles
Accommodation Ranking: 7/10 
Accomodation cost: £6.50

Gull Rock

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Bude to Crackington Haven - walking the South West Coast Path

Mick wanted a cup of tea before setting off. So we hung around eating croissants from the local shop until the café opened at nine.  It was a fine pot of tea except for the jug, one of those ubiquitous little metal ones with no proper lip so it always spills. As the only real function of a jug is to pour liquid, I think it can consider itself a failure. Harsh, I know, but there it is.

The campsite was at Maer just north of Bude so after finally finishing our tea we set off across the dunes and around the back of Crooklets Beach into Bude itself. By now it was half past ten. Mick declared he was still hungry so we went into the town and found a fine little café which served a superb jacket potato with crayfish (Mick) and prawns (me). Opposite the café was a bakery so we stocked up on pasties and scones as well.

Bude is a pleasant little town, popular with all sorts it seems from surfers and canoeists to retired folk who wanted to do nothing more strenuous than play crazy golf. Although this was not without risk it seemed, a sign on the course warning patrons that ‘this game is played at your own risk.’ I wondered what horrors could befall an unfortunate participant.  Falling into the (empty) mini castle moat? Getting a windmill sail stuck up one’s nose? Who knows. Anyway, if you do decide to play crazy golf at Bude you have been warned.

Extreme Sport at Bude
We headed up to Compass Point where a fine little tower (The Pepper Pot) is inscribed with the points of the compass, built in 1840 for the Acland family, who held considerable amounts of land in Cornwall as well as Devon and Somerset, at one point they owned 45,000 acres. It was said in the eighteenth century the Aclands could walk from the Bristol Channel to the English Channel without setting foot on another person's land, and this was only a slight exaggeration. 

The Pepper Pot
Finally on our way, we strode out towards Widemouth Bay. The first section was easy walking aside from accumulating a bucketful of sand in each shoe. But after Widemouth everything changed. The path joined the minor road and headed up some truly vicious climbs. I remembered this section from a cycle ride a couple of years ago, having exchanged the bike for a backpack, it wasn’t any easier this time.

At the top we caught up a chap who had been ascending slowly with the assistance of two walking poles. He told us he was walking the coast of Britain in stages. He had walked the coast of England from Berwick-upon-Tweed to Land’s End and across the top of Scotland. At this point his hip had worn out and having had two hip replacements he was now tackling the west coast of England, sleeping in his camper van as he went.  My one hundred and twenty miles or so seemed pretty insignificant compared to his efforts.

Awesome folding
The path left the road and continued climbing through and then above woods until we finally reached the highest spot at Dizzard Point. Here Mick spotted a mileage marker. For some reason someone had decided that the leg of a bench, almost hidden by long grass would be a good place to put it. Bizarre. Anyway, carved onto the legs was ‘Poole 500m’ and ‘Minehead 132m’.  Only five hundred miles to go!

Just after Dizzard Point at Scrade the path lunged down another v-shaped gully. On the other side we could see wooden steps rising on the edge of the cliff, hanging over the sea, more like a ladder than a staircase. On the top at the other side we could see a tractor cutting the grass along the edge of the drop. ‘Look at that maniac!’ said Mick. We made our way gingerly down and then Mick looked up at the onward route. ‘I’m off to find another way up,’ he announced. ‘See you at the top.’ He disappeared inland along the valley.

As I climbed up I could see the sea hundreds of feet below sliding onto to grey pebble beach. It was a long way down. I didn’t look again until I had reached the safety of the stile at the top where I sat for a while catching my breath and enjoying the view waiting for Mick to appear from his alternative route. Judging by the worn path from where he appeared at the top he was not the only one who had elected to take a detour. I later discovered this is one of the steepest valleys of the Cornish section of the path. 

Just before Crackington Haven I made a navigational error and we found ourselves heading inland towards St Genny’s church.  So we decided to make for the campsite marked near here and call it a day. It was a lovely little campsite with nice facilities and a comfortable TV room where we made ourselves at home for an hour before trotting the mile down the road to the pub where we sank a couple of pints of St Austell’s Tribute and I won myself a hat.

Distance: 12 miles
Total Distance: 136 miles
Accommodation Ranking: 5/10
Accomodation cost: £6.50