Monday, 30 April 2012

Padstow to Port Isaac

Padstow all dressed up for May Day
A reasonable night’s sleep, given that May Day celebrations lasted until midnight or so. The bar was being hosed down as we had breakfast. All the furniture was piled up, waiting removal for even busier nights to come – no seats fo drinkers, obviously. It is clear that May Day in Padstow is a major event, and a large proportion of the local population gets a nightly skin full. It seems a pity to miss it, when we are so close to the main date, but the walking schedule was put together without taking such events into account.

Having discovered that my waterproofs were non-compliant with the Trade Descriptions Act, the first thing after an excellent breakfast was to buy a new pair of (hopefully better) waterproof trousers – hopefully a prophylactic rather than necessary. In the hope that today would be showery rather than a repeat of yesterday I stuck with the old ones, keeping the new pair in reserve. Then it was time for the ferry to Rock. It was a boisterous crossing, with wind against tide, and great showers of seawater breaking over the gunwales and smashing into the cabin – and me – before I changed my seating position.

Myself and Niki Dale between Rock and Polzeath
It was still showery when we arrived in Rock, but the intensity soon abated, and we had a pleasant walk with occasional sunshine along the coast path to Polzeath. Dunes to start, and then open grassland. We passed the church where John Betjeman is buried, now disentombed from the sand which had previously engulfed it. The whole way we were buzzed by swifts, with occasional house martins and swallows, obviously feeding up on the St Martin’s flies that were much in evidence. We continued to see swifts throughout the day, often unconcerned about flying within inches of us. New arrivals, presumably, refuelling after their cross-channel journeys.

Hot chocolates in Polzeath, in a local cafĂ© which initially seemed reluctant to serve us. But it was good – with the added benefit that the ain had let up by the time we left. Then it was a steady climb up to Pentire Point, from which the view is tremendous. And wildflowers in profusion all the way. Carpets of tiny blue star-like flowers, which remind me of gentians, but for which I don’t know the name. Thrift everywhere, absolutely at its best. Patches of bluebells; sea campion; celandine; dandelions; gorse; wild garlic; stunted blackthorn, still in flower; others too numerous to mention, many of which I should know but don’t. I hope that Frank brings a flower book with him so I can fill in some of the gaps. The interesting thing is that the dominant flower changes from one place to another. Is it that the soil conditions are subtly different, or that once one plant becomes established it can dominate a large area?

The next stretch is Noth-facing, leading to a wonderful view over a coastal formation and offshore island called The Rumps. The view from the West is like a rhinoceros with five horns; from the East it’s less impressive. After you turn the corner at The Rumps you can see the next 20-plus miles of coast – all the way to Tintagel. The next two miles are relatively straightforward, with the path mainly about 70m above sea level. Then there is a series of combes (not sure whether that’s the correct Cornish expression, but it’ll do) where steams enter the sea and one has to climb down and up the other side. The last of these is at Port Quin, where there ae a few houses and a newly modernised set of old fish sheds, almost ready to rent for the summer. Here we judge that we’re in good time, and elect to take the Coast Path – “Port Isaac – 3 miles” rather than the inland diversion that’s also on offer.

The Rumps, looking North-East
We soon discover why. This is a really tough stretch. Not an inch of level gound – one’s either climbing or going downhill. It’s not because of steams here (except one towards the end), but because there are huge indentations in the coast where you have to go inland (and up) to make any progress. Richard leads, going twice as fast as us, only waiting at kissing gates for a kiss from Niki. It has to be a genuine kissing gate; it won’t qualify if superficially it looks like a kissing gate but actually has a latch. Niki goes uphill slowly and steadily, for which I am thoroughly grateful, because that’s my way too.

The weather is now quite good, and we finally arrive in Port Isaac just before 6:00 – not too bad, considering that we hadn’t started from Rock until 11:00. It’s a pretty village, Set mainly on a hill between two valleys with drying harbours behind great stone walls.  Richard and Niki thinks rivals Polperro as the top port in Cornwall. It’s not as wooded, but certainly attractive – though the newer houses at the top of the town display the normal lack of architectural merit one comes to expect in Cornwall.

Our destination - Port Isaac
A final (60m) climb from the harbour to our B&B at the top of the hill. Joy of joys – we have baths in both rooms! Although on the whole I’m a shower man, a bath is bliss after a day like this. Most B&Bs have rather puny electric showers, which are no substitute.

Dinner at “The Edge” which it least is nearby. Great views over the sea, if one can ignore the car park immediately in font of the building. Huge portions of indifferent food.

Showers at fist, then sunny intervals. 19.1km in 7 hours. 864m ascent, 811m descent. Mainly moderately severe; severe for last 5km.

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Mawgan Porth to Padstow

Any hope that today would not be as bad as forecast was dashed as soon as I looked out of the window. Water dripping from overflowing gutters, wild convulsions by every bit of visible vegetation, birds battling against the gale, and low scudding cloud cover.

The traveller's assemble - before the storm
After a (necessarily) hearty breakfast, it was a question of putting on every bit of available wet weather gear, taking a photograph of posterity, and venturing forth into the gale.

The vey first bit of the coastal path gave a clear foretaste of what was to come. We were in a stream bed, with water cascading down the steps, as we climbed out of the village. Wherever the path was at all worn below its surrounds, it was full of water – flowing downhill against or with us, or in giant puddles on the occasional level bits. No gloves, as it’s Spring, after all – but my hands were stinging with cold within ten minutes. Within twenty I could feel the water in my boots, and in half an hour it became abundantly clear that my waterproofs weren’t.

So it was 4½ hard miles along the Coastal Path to Porthcothan. This is spectacular scenery, particularly around Bedruthan Steps, but its charms were hard to appreciate. Every time I looked up to see how far ahead Richard had walked I could see the vista – but also got a face-full of stinging rain. God knows why I chose to wear glasses – they were rain-spattered throughout the day – but at least they marginally moderated the assault of rain in the face. Perhaps a marginal compensation was that this stretch has only moderate descents and climbs, though there was a slight reduction in the intensity of the weather’s assault at these points.

At Porthcothan the decision was simple. No more of the Coastal Path; just a straight walk along the B3276 all the way to Padstow. If we’d done the whole of the SWCP it would have been the best part of 16 miles; as it was we reduced the stage to 9½. Quite enough! Nothing to note on the road walk – apart from the fact that for long stretches the road was as much a river as a highway. I’ve seldom seen anything like it – certainly not when walking.

At least dinner was as occasion - the Padstein experience

I should have taken photos – or movies – to prove just how atrocious the day was, but my hands were too numb and the camera too deeply pocketed to make it a realistic proposition. Besides, it’d probably have got completely soaked anyway.

We reached Padstow just before 2:00pm after a four-hour stint with no stops. The destination always appealed more than any thought of a temporary respite. There it was a question of climbing out of waterlogged clothes (nothing was dry!), having a long shower, dry clothes, and then a drink and a snack. The afternoon was largely dedicated to recovery and recuperation, but we did venture forth later on. The wind was already moderating, and there were only a few drops of ain by late afternoon. C’est la vie!

We are staying in the Golden Lion – probably the most popular of the many local pubs. It’s been jam-packed all day long, and now the music has started. Mayday in Padstow is a major event, and everyone is getting in the mood. The streets are decorated with maypoles and bunting, and the town is full.

Dinner was at the Rick Stein fish and chip shop. Nothing particularly exceptional, but he has the name and wins the game. Everything is served in smart labelled paper trays or tubs, and they even charge for tartar sauce. Half the restaurants in the town are the Rick Stein this or that, and he has delicatessens, shops, you name it. Padstein, really.
Musings over dinner on projects. What do I do after this trip? Richard has embarked on a project to use the local library in Polperro as a location for briefings on health topics for people “of a certain age”. It appears that it may be gaining traction, and could be rolled out across the county. And we also chatted about how one (Richard, not me) could produce an entertaining book of “Why am I here?” Lots of angles, and one I would love to see him explore more fully.

The weather’s fine this evening, but it’s another dire forecast, with severe weather warnings for Cornwall. Oh well …

Horrible wind and rain; only about 6-8C. 16.0 km (estimated). Tracking did not work; failed to switch on altimeter; estimated 350m ascent and descent.

Saturday, 28 April 2012

... on to Week 2

I am approaching the second week with some trepidation. The weather forecast is awful – at least for today and tomorrow, which is the first day of walking. And the third and sixth days will be severe – lots of little blue lines at right angles to the coast, which signify streams – and steep-sided valleys to test the leg muscles.

Resuming where I left off in February
At least today was relatively easy – a drive through the rain down to Tiverton, where I left the car, and a nice easy train ride on to Liskeard, followed by drive back to Mawgan Porth.

An excellent lunch with Chris and Ann Hill, who had just returned from West Wittering in Sussex. It was good to catch up with them after a long gap. They also reported on the Kynge’s villa in Cyprus, to which they went in late March, and which we will be visiting at the end of next month. It sounds idyllic: when we go it should be warm enough to swim. It may well be recuperation from the next two weeks of walking. How exhausted (or not) will I be when I next see Chris in ten days’ time when he joins me in Combe Martin for two demanding days in North Devon and Somerset? I think Chris too is a little apprehensive about those stages, but as a regular long-distance cyclist he’s probably fitter than me.

Well met at Liskeard by Richard and Niki Dale, and then a pleasant country drive to Mawgan Porth. Wonderful wooded road along the River Fowey, and then largely treeless for the remaining few miles. 

The Merrymoor - a very comfortable B&B
Vey nice rooms at the Merrymoor Inn in Mawgan Porth, and a first taste of climbing to get mobile reception higher up in the village. A surprisingly good meal this evening, and excellent company. Richard relates the story of his latest research and published paper on the long distance pilgrimage business in medieval Europe. He’s treating it from an economic slant: although people undertook it in the hope of miracles and indulgences, it was very much a business on the supply side. And the church too made huge sums out of the pilgrims. He’s had all sorts of criticism from historians (many of whom write with a religious emphasis) and expects more. He relishes the controversy.

A last stroll after dinner reveals no sign of the threatened storm. I even saw a hazy moon through thinning clouds. Are the threats unfounded. We shall see on the morrow!