Day 87 – Braunton to Woolacombe 7 July 2017

Day 87 – Braunton to Woolacombe 7 July 2017

We have had a difficult 24 hours. The plan was for Rachel and me to meet at Paddington catch the 6.03 train on Thursday night. Conscious it would be a bit of a rush, I wore my walking clothes to a meeting with 30 other surveyors all in suits then raced to Paddington. I arrived 5 minutes early only to see the dreaded word ‘delayed’ against all services.

Rachel assumed I was joking at first, because the last two occasions we had left from Paddington, there had been delays. But sadly not. In fact, ‘delayed’ was the least of our problems. It transpired that all services had been cancelled owing to signalling problems.

The place was heaving. The advice was go to Waterloo, get a train to Reading and change to the Exeter service there. We called an uber, as the tube was jammers as well, but when he told us it would take over an hour, we gave up on that and decided to have a drink whilst the trains sorted themselves out. It was pushing 30 degrees and humid, so tempers were fraying all around.

With no improvement, we took the tube to Waterloo, which was equally chaotic; we tried to get on an Exeter train, but it was like one of those Japanese bullet trains where people are pushed on – although I was aggrieved that people refused to pass down into the carriages and let more people on. We then tried for a Reading train, but couldn’t even get onto the platform. At that stage, we gave it up as a bad job and went back to Rachel’s in North London. The whole thing resulted in major rearrangement of our plans, and I must say that the manager of our planned hotel, The George in Braunton was unbelievably helpful, even giving us the number of a hotel in Exeter, if we could get that far – there was no chance of the branch line to Braunton.

We rose from our slumbers at the crack of dawn, to catch the 7.30 from Paddington. Having thought no more could go wrong, the train then developed an engine fault outside Taunton, and sat there for 20 minutes, eating up the available time for changing to the branch line.

We had quite given up any hope of catching it in time for our luggage to be collected by Luggage Transfer, who had already kindly agreed a postponement. But our luck had changed. The Barnstaple train was either late itself or held to meet us, and also left from the same platform, so we leapt on and managed to get to the place we should have stayed in last night by 12pm.  We had a sausage sandwich to steel ourselves for the 14 miles ahead.

I immediately made matters worse by turning the wrong way along the old railway track that leads to the coast path. We only discovered it, when, fazed by the failure of the estuary to appear, we whisked out the compass which smugly informed us we were going north, rather than south.  Hastily retracing our steps, we covered an extra 1.4 milers, slightly compensated for by an obligatory diversion inland, caused by path erosion. IMG_2070

The walk was pleasant, but largely unremarkable – continuing along the Tow estuary, then behind the dunes at the Burrows, before climbing up and over the headland to Croyde. We had an excellent Devon cream tea there, then did the final 5 miles into Woolacombe, first on the road, then a fabulous finale along the 1.5 mile Woolacombe beach, which is apparently the third most beautiful beach in the UK, however that may be calculated.IMG_2121 I must say, whilst it was undoubtedly lovely, I am not sure it reached the beauty of some of the East Anglian beaches, or those around Lulworth Cove.  But it was wonderful to sooth our ruffled nerves by walking through the shallows, hopping over the copious jelly fish. It was freezing to begin with, but then seemed to warm up.

Our hotel is basic – rather reminiscent of a 1970s Stalinist effort, but we had a pleasant, if expensive dinner in the village. We covered 15.4 miles in total

 

Day 81 – Tintagel to Crackington Haven 15th October 2016

Day 81 – Tintagel to Crackington Haven 15th October 2016

img_1387Another bad journey down from Paddington yesterday. This time the trains were delayed for two hours because someone had been hit by a train at West Ealing. With nothing to do but wait we whiled away the time in the pub.

Two glasses of wine and a Cornish pasty, later we got on the packed train – along with all the other passengers from delayed trains. Including a dog, named Daisy. The dog was fine but its owner talked to it incessantly. At one point it made a break for freedom, Jon guessed in search of the quiet carriage.

It was noticeable how much shorter the journey was than the last one down to Penzance – progress measured in train journey times!

We managed to rearrange our lift from Bodmin and got to Tintagel around seven. Sadly too late to go to the headland, although there was a splendid moon.

This morning were delayed in setting off because the luggage people hadn’t confirmed the pick-up. We mooched around the village before concluding that we would leave cash with our B & B to send the bags on by taxi, if they weren’t collected. We also collected some pasties for lunch. We finally set out around 9.40, down the lane to meet the coast path just to the north east of the village.

Today is marked as strenuous in the book.  There were lots of ups and downs and, although no single one was as fierce as the days before Tintagel, there were fewer long flat bits. All the way, looking back, we could see the vast Victorian Hotel, the Camelot Castle, out on the headland. It never seemed to get much further away. Whilst the weather started sunny, by the time we got to Boscastle – the place almost washed away by floods a few years ago, it was beginning to spit.img_1417

We stopped in a very nice tea shop for coffee and cake, and as we ate the rain began to come down in stair rods. A vote was held to delay setting out for half an hour to see if it cleared. But it didn’t. So we left around 1.45, suitably plasticked up. It poured for another forty five minutes.

Strangely, it is easier to walk on a soaking path, than a damp one. Damp paths are far more slippery than wet ones. The views were tremendous – the autumn colours looking very dramatic against the grey sky. img_1428 The rain stopped and the sky turned bright blue, the water turquoise and calm, and the last couple of hours were gorgeous.

Now in the pub at Crackington Haven in what would be a nice room if the window were not nailed shut. We had an excellent dinner – I tried some Cornish gin very good indeed! Quite herby. We covered a pleasant 12.5 miles.

The moon was full so Rachel and I had a brief walk down to the sea front it was gorgeous in the moonlight apart from a very disconcerting shadow that looked like Quasimodo beating someone with a club.

 

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Day 80 – Port Isaac to Tintagel 17 July 2016

Day 80 – Port Isaac to Tintagel 17 July 2016

img_1326We’re all aboard the 16.18 from Bodmin Parkway to Paddington.

We made a fairly early start, by our standards, leaving our very modern B & B at Three Gates Meadow at 8.30. The day is marked as ‘severe’ in the book, same as the Pendeen to St Ives stretch, but only 14.8km rather than 23.5 (that is less than 10 miles).

We decided not to walk back to the cliff edge at Port Isaac but to go along the road for a mile to avoid the first big drop, and we were very glad to have done so. We cut back to the coast and after about a quarter of a mile, the land fell away into one of the steepest valleys of the route so far – ie since setting out from London Bridge! Going down was horrible. My knees have been pretty good this trip, with no heavy bag to carry and shorter distances but this was evil and they were protesting severely. Up the other side, I was almost on all fours – generally up hill is less troublesome to me butimg_1350 this was a killer.

Back on the top the path was flat for no more than a quarter mile before dropping away again, not quite so severely but bad enough. Up again, and along (through a herd of young stirks who hovered near the stile, of course). A flat bit and then down the dip we’ve christened Big Bertha for obvious reasons. We met a man and his daughter who are doing the whole South West Coast Path, – camping!  Ugh!  They were bowed under the weight of the kit. Rather them than me, but they seemed pretty jaunty. Bet they didn’t enjoy Big Bertha.

From the map, it looked as though the worst were over, but no.  Dropping down into Trebarthwith sands was an almost vertical staircase.  A quick ice-cream as reward, then up the other side and a final 2 miles into Tintagel, where we cut across the fields to the church before collapsing into a pub for lunch. We had made it with just 20 minutes to spare to bolt some food before picked up by our taxi.img_1364

The weather today was a fascinating mix. There was a heavy sea mist when we set out, which cleared off the tops, leaving bright sunshine above, with thick mist over the sea – very atmospheric.

The temperature has now soared. It must be around 28 degrees, but fortunately, our train is air conditioned and Jon and Stephen were very happy whilst waiting for it, as a steam train pulled in, to be ooh’d and aah’d over by admiring crowds.20160717_153626

Goodbye to another part of the great adventure, although I am feeling as though I have barely scratched the surface yet…

In theory, I have now done 20% having broken through the 1,300 mile point today – assuming the 6,500 guestimate is close enough to the reality.

Day 75 – Portreath to Perranporth 12th July 2016

Day 75 – Portreath to Perranporth 12th July 2016

IMG_0931Sitting in a grim hotel in Perranporth which I shan’t name, further than to say it ain’t the accommodation highlight of the trip! Distinct pong of damp dog, and the door won’t lock from the inside.

We left our very pleasant little B&B in Portreath at 8.45, rather a record this trip. Unfortunately, owing to oven issues there was no cooked breakfast, but a good selection of fruit and pastries staved off the worst pangs of hunger. As it was necessary to go up and down two very stiff slopes to get into the village yesterday, so the same pertained on the other side, but we were rewarded with excellent views back toward St Ives and forward to St Agnes’ Head. An hour and a half brought us into Porth Towans where we had truly excellent bacon sandwiches in the beach café.

The weather was bright, although not very warm, hut the sea was again a superb turquoise with darker patches.IMG_0944 The vivid purple heather makes a wonderful contrast, especially with the myriad rock colours red, orange, white and even occasionally verdigris where the copper is close to the surface. IMG_0956There is plenty more evidence of copper mining here. Portreath used to ship the ore direct to the smelting works in South Wales. It may have been on one of those very ships that my ancestors left Cornwall to head for Newport.

A long pull up from Porth Towans, then a good bit of flat cliff top before an evil slope down into St Agnes that played the devil with my knees, which so far this trip have been fairly quiescent. IMG_0935We stopped for a welcome drink in the Driftwood pub before hauling ourselves up the other side of the valley. Another double dip, and then we were on to a long flattish stretch.

Towards Perranporth, the path, which is very poorly signposted as usual, gets rather lost amongst what may be old airfield buildings or mining works.  It then clings rather precipitously to the edge of the cliff.  I had my eyes firmly inland at that point.

We arrived around 5pm having done about 11.5 miles.  I have used all of my camera card and am struggling to find a new one. The good news, is that there is a camera shop here, the bad news is that it is closed and won’t open before 10.30 tomorrow.

Day 73 – Pendeen to St Ives 10th July 2016

Day 73 – Pendeen to St Ives 10th July 2016

Lolling on my bed in a very pleasant B&B, completely exhausted. I had heard that the Pendeen to St Ives stretch is the hardest on the whole South West coast path, and whilst I would not say it was harder than the murderous Mousehole to Lands End leg, it is certainly up there.

I took an early bus from Penzance to meet Jon and Stephen at their pub in Pendeen – the vey spot where Chris and I finished last year. We had arranged for the baggage people to collect our gear from there, and I am very thankful we did. Not sure I could have made it today with a big pack.

The weather was excellent all day. Plenty of sun to make the sea a wonderful turquoise, but also breezy enough to be the right temperature in a t-shirt.

The first point of interest was the Pendeen Watch lighthouse, a landmark which we could see behind for miles as we progressed north-east. IMG_0765For the first time, I now have the sun generally on my right arm with the sea on my left. So far, as I have walked clockwise I have had a burnt left arm, and a burnt right arm as I have walked anti-clockwise. There won’t be any much sun on the left side until I start west again along the coast of South Wales.

The path dipped and swooped, climbing up and dropping down. It was nowhere as steep as some of the parts of Devon, but it was always narrower and closer to the cliffs. At some angles, the wind was blowing off the land, which is quite disconcerting when there is a steep drop to the side.IMG_0798

As always in Cornwall, the path is very poorly sign posted, and although you might think it can’t be that difficult, there are often tracks and sheep-trods to confuse the unwary.

There are numerous old mine shafts and wheal houses still dotting the countryside. After last year’s trip to Geevor mine I could imagine the shafts going out a mile or so under the waves. A lot of the stone had the greens tinge of copper ore.IMG_0820

The various interpretations boards (none today) promise choughs and kittiwakes, but so far only herring gulls and ordinary crows have materialised.

We did, however see a kestrel from above, hovering golden in the sun-light, before it swooped down and grabbed a small creature.

We had toyed with the idea of turning inland at Zennor to go to the well-known Tinners’ Arms for lunch, but we were making such slow progress that we decided not to add the additional mile or so each way. I can normally take or leave lunch when walking, being quite happy with an apple and some chocolate, but today to was so strenuous (although only 14.6 miles) that I was really struggling by the end and chomping on my dark chocolate with no thought of anything but shovelling in energy. We eventually crawled into St Ives at about 6pm, found the nearest restaurant and stuffed our faces. We were on a terrace, and so cold from hunger and exhaustion that we sat huddled in our fleeces and extra blankets whilst people on the next able were in shorts and t-shirts.

I haven’t gone away!

For anyone who thought I might have given up – I am still here. It is hard to believe that a year has passed since my last walk, but in the meantime I have been busy with my new business www.tudortimes.co.uk and I am also writing a book. So weekends have been a bit hectic. Nevertheless I have managed to squeeze in 10 days back in Cornwall, this time in the company of friends Jon and Stephen. Jon is working on an end to end project and wanted to start from Land’s End. That works perfectly for me, because I can pick up the bits I missed last summer – Porth Leven to Mousehole on Friday and Saturday, and meet the others at the pub in Pendeen where Chris and I finished last year.

On the final day last year, instead of walking on from Pendeen, we spent the day at the Geevor tin-mine. The weather was absolutely appalling – quite different from the previous day, and my boots were slipperier than ever, so we thought the tin-mine would be a good option. And it was – absolutely fascinating. I highly recommend to anyone with the slightest interest in history, mining, industrial archaeology, industrial relations, systems, engineering, or just about anything.

Since then, no plans have actually come to anything, so I am absolutely delighted to be off again. I hope the weather is as good as last year!

The advantage to going with friends, is that we are clubbing together for a bag transport service. After the miseries of last year, I’ll welcome it, as it is fair to say fitness levels are slipping with the current very sedentary projects.

I’ve bought new boots too. I went for Zamerlan again because they are so comfortable. Just hoping that the first pair had faulty soles, rather then the whole design being poor. Fingers (and toes) crossed!

Train at 12.05 from Paddington tomorrow and a whole 10 days of Cornish Pasties and cream teas ahead.