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 café 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.

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