Rachel came down yesterday to join me for this leg. I also invited friends for supper, so with clearing up, I was feeling rather bleary eyed setting off at 8am for Abergwaun! However the road was clear and we arrived at Aberteifi/Cardigan in plenty of time for the bus up to Strumble Head – which was fortunate as there was no bus stop where I was expecting a bus stop to be, having checked it only yesterday. Enquiry produced the information that there was a new bus stop on the other side of the town. As I noticed elsewhere in Pembrokeshire the bus driver was an older woman, originally from the north of England. Good to see some diversity in bus drivers. There was an older infirm lady, whom the bus driver patiently talked to the whole journey. We arrived at Strumble Head and set out, having admired the lighthouse again.
The countryside was far less dramatic than the last day I did, coming towards the lighthouse from the south. The cliffs are lower with lots of heather and gorse, but the excitement of the day was the quantity of seals near Carreg Wastad, bobbing on the waves.
Another interesting area was just west of Abergwaun, where the French landed an invasion force of some 1400 men in 1797. Legend has it that Jemima Nicholas, brandishing a pitchfork led a group of women from the town to the top of the headland, where their traditional red flannel petticoats led the French to believe that the redcoated militia was on its way. The intrepid women captured about a dozen drunk French soldiers, and locked them in the church. Jemima received a pension, and is a heroine in the town.
It was an easy walk of about 10 miles, although the final paved section into Abergwaun was a bit dull. We had fish and chips at the excellent Hook 31. Highly recommended. Our B and B is near Aberporth, which is nearly 30 miles away, and proved rather complicated to find, with a road that got narrower and narrower to the point where I was concerned that we’d get wedged between the hedgerows! Total distance just over 8 miles and a gold day – everything went smoothly!
When I woke this morning, the weather could not have been more different from yesterday. The windsock outside my window was horizontal, and a thick blanket of mist covered everything. I did not really want to get out of bed at 7, but had planned to do that in order to drop car in St David’s and get the shuttle bus back at 8.40. I thought maybe an extra hour in bed wouldn’t hurt, then it occurred to me that the shuttle bus might only go at 2-hour intervals, so I stuck to plan. Just as well, as in fact the bus was at 4-hour intervals. A happy occurrence on the shuttle bus put me in a good mood for the day. The driver had picked up a woman walker in Solfach and we were trundling down the steep hill, when the woman exclaimed that she had left the lights on her vehicle on. The bus driver immediately stopped, turned round, and took the bus back up the hill so that the woman could leap out and turn off her lights. Everyone on the bus was happy about this – I can’t imagine that happening in a big city! People are definitely kinder to each other in the country. Walking leads to cutting edge insights like that.
There is no breakfast in my accommodation, so I had planned to grab a bacon roll from the pub once the shuttle set me down at the starting point, but despite signs I had spotted yesterday, promising breakfast from 9am, there was no sign of anyone at 9.10, so I set off with just an apple in hand, hoping that the weather would clear. It was not especially cold, but the mist was thick and the rain persistent, although light. I don’t have my waterproof with me, just a light showerproof jacket, that I was glad of, although it was at full capacity. The path starts with a stiff pull out of Newgale. The surf on the beach was higher than yesterday, but still only gentle. Before long I ran into three chaps clearing the path. It is very well maintained.
Although there were more ups and downs than yesterday, most of the path was on the tops. As I dropped down into one valley, I could hear a couple of women behind me. One had a very high, carrying voice, which was a bit odd in the mist as I could not see them, but I heard a lot more than I wanted. ‘..gave it to him both barrels, first off, that isn’t…..Anthea said….a job for the paramedics…came undone…..not sure after seven months off…’ the last comment gave rise to the thought that, for her colleagues, there might have been a slight silver lining even to COVID. Eventually, I slowed to let them pass me, after I had heard about the dog, plans for a night out, and the iniquitous behaviour of the gas board (couldn’t argue with that one!). The wind then carried their voices forward.
There were far fewer insects or birds around today, although the stonechats were busy.
The names of two of the headlands – Dinas Fawr and Dinas fach – suggest that, at one time, there was an Iron Age settlement, ‘dinas’ being the word for city in modern Welsh but also for a Neolithic fort. With not much of a view, I stopped for fewer photos than yesterday and made good time to Solfach. I walked into the high street to the attractive cafe, and queued for several minutes. Unfortunately, the two people in front of me took the last table. The nice waitress suggested an alternative , so I went in to be told that breakfast had finished and lunch wouldn’t be served for another hour. I was starving now. The waitress must have seen my depressed expression as she asked the chef if he could rustle up a final breakfast. Vindicating my point about people being kind, he did, and I polished off an excellent eggs benedict. (See review). I sat there for an hour, with a second coffee and was rewarded with improved weather. Not sunny like yesterday, but the clouds lifted and the rain stopped.
Solfach is a long, narrow inlet, with quite a few little yachts bobbing gently. The path out climbs quite steeply, and then closely follows the cliff edge. At last I could see the southern arm of St Brides Bay, where I had walked yesterday. I met another lady who is doing regular coast walking. We compared notes about the steepness of the Cornish coast. Whilst this area is similar, it does not have the long steep ups and downs that nearly killed me a few years back – why I wasn’t using poles, I’ll never understand. I love them now.
The path now became very busy, especially as I approached St Non’s chapel, just south of St David’s. According to legend, St Non was the mother of St David, the patron saint of Wales. To all appearances it looked like a Celtic chapel from the early Middle Ages, there were at least 10 other people milling, waiting to go in. I was struck inside by how Catholic it seemed, which surprised me, as the Anglican Church in Wales tends to be ‘low’. The mystery was solved when I saw an information sheet, saying it had been built in 1934 by Mr Cecil Griffith, using stones form surrounding buildings that were probably originally from ecclesiastical buildings, whilst the nearby holy well was restored by the Passionist Fathers in 1951. http://www.stnonsretreat.org.uk/history.html
As I left, two men who had been ahead of me on the path stopped and began chatting to me. Something one of them said led me to say ‘Cymro cymreig ydach chi?’ That is literally, Are you a Welsh Welshman? meaning Welsh speaking. He replied that he was and asked me if I were a Welsh Welshwoman. My Welsh is very rusty after over 35 years living in England, but within one sentence he had picked me as from North Wales. A regular diet of Welsh television is reviving my skills, but the part of Wales I now live in has few native speakers, so I was glad to practice a little on these two, who were from Aberhonddu and Abertawe. Unfortunately my little chat with the Welsh Welshmen meant that the 15.40 shuttle was just sailing up the hill as I came down into Porth Clais. Rather than wait half an hour, I decided to walk up to St David’s and began toiling up the narrow lane, having hesitated as to which of two to choose. A car stopped – I thought it might be kind people offering a weary walker a lift, but it was just somebody asking if I knew where the road led. ‘St David’s, I hope.’ ‘No, we’ve just come from there.’ ‘Really? I was sure the map said this road.’ ‘No, definitely not, we’ve come from there.’ ‘Did you come down that road?’ I gestured towards the one I hadn’t taken, more or less parallel, but further left. ‘Yes. We were hoping this led to St Justinians.’ ‘Well, I don’t know. As you can tell, I’m lost too.’ I returned down to the port and took the other road. After 10 mins, I heard someone behind me and turned to ask ‘does this lead to St David’s?’ ‘No, not this road.’ ‘But someone just told me they had come down it from there.’ ‘They must have come from the other road.’ She pointed back behind us. You can see the cathedral there. I was totally confused. But all became clear when I got back to the port. I had assumed I needed to go left out of it, but I had forgotten that Porth Clais overshoots st David’s to the west, so I needed to take the right fork. I decided to wait for the bus, since it was now 16.00. When the bus eventually came, it turned up the road I had originally taken! Having had a not brilliant but quite expensive meal in the pub here last night, I thought I would eat in St David’s. Unfortunately, as I had been between breakfast and lunch earlier, I was now between lunch and supper, and had to make do with a stodgy panini. I need to rethink my plan for tomorrow to make sure I get some breakfast as there is no lunch stop.
It was just as well we did the little bit extra yesterday rather than finishing at Porlock Weir in line with standard route, as we had to be in Minehead to meet our luggage and catch the bus to Taunton. All the other days we have dawdled, but we managed a respectable speed of 2.2 miles per hour today.
There was a gentle start from picture perfect Porlock across the flood plain, via Bossington, which also looks like it fell off a chocolate box – all thatched cottages and roses rambling.
We then turned into woodland at the foot of the hill, followed by a long, steady pull upwards for at least a mile. Once on the top, we had a choice between the ‘rugged’ path, which went up and down the combes, closer to the water’s edge, or the cliff-top path, with the view. We elected the top path – partly because it would be quicker, and partly because we had plenty of woodland yesterday, and wanted the views.
In fact, there was not a lot to see, as rain set in around 9.45. It was not heavy, but it was persistent and the sea and sky blended into grey. Wales, which we have been able to see for several days, disappeared from view. There were a few Exmoor ponies chomping quietly and quite a few cows. Only heifers though, so no bother with them.
The final 2 miles wound down through woodland again and we arrived promptly at 12.15. We had a quick bite in The Old Ship Aground, which had very kindly agreed to take our luggage in, then a whistle stop photo opportunity at the end of the South West Coast Path before a 10 min wait in pouring rain for the bus. Now on the fast train to Paddington.
Today is my birthday, and I am able to celebrate it with a truly great present – finally completing the South West Coast Walk – 630 miles from Poole. But still only a fraction of my whole scheme! We covered 7.4 miles.
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.
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. 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
Another 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.
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. 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.
We’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 but 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.
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.
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.
Sitting 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. 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. There 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. We 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.
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. For 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.
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.
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.
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.