Today was all about tarmac and mostly flat tarmac too. Bizarrely I was actually fantasising about the knarly ups and downs of the SWCP, I think I miss them! I did enough of them that the total ascent (and descent) adds up to over 8,000m. That’s the equivalent ascent of Everest – although differing atmospheric conditions, but still, Everest? Mental. So I would’ve thought I’d be relieved to get away from them, instead I quite miss the salty air and looking out to my left and pondering as one does when faced with a large body of water. Or is that just me?!
I headed in and then out of Bideford on the pavement, over the bridge and picked up the Tarka Trail and it was this that I followed for the next 9 miles to Barnstaple. Quite a few of you will probably know, but for those that don’t, it’s not so much a ‘trail’ in the trail running sense of the word. It’s predominantly a disused railway that has been tarmacked and broadly follows the route of Tarka the Otter from the novel of the same name. (I should add that one to the reading list, although I’ve not yet finished Poldark and I’m going to be out the other side of Devon in no time). The route is perfect for a gentle cycle, which I do believe I did a mere 19 years ago, not so much fun in baking heat with a heavy backpack.
Once I’d picked up my next map parcel at Barnstaple – thanks mum and dad! – and sent my used maps home it was off up the considerable hill to the campsite via the road. So the full 13.5mile was on tarmac and I can certainly feel it in my feet, muscles and joints – I will try to avoid many more days like this if I can.
So today was a bit dull but I have now completed ‘Section 1’ of 6 in the guidebook. It’s a bit arbitrary and it’s the shortest section(!) but it’s a good motivational tool – 1 stage done, just rinse and repeat, 5 more times! Maybe I’ll just get though tomorrow first!
I’m catching up, so I hope you’re sitting comfortably, it’s gonna be a long one, but I’ll try not to bore you!
Started at: Tintagel YHA
Finished at: Mot’s Hole (SX159985)
Miles from LE: 116
Duration: 10hrs (9:30-19:30)
Trig points visited: 0
Ales imbibed: 0
I started out later than hoped because the drying room had failed to dry my laundry – grrr – in the end I just put on some damp clothes and left. On the path I was passing and being passed by runners and at Tintagel there was a race gazebo so I enquired as the the race. It turns out that they were doing a) 10mile, b) 40mile or c) 24hr endurance races along the coast path – mental! Just 12 runners entered the 24hr race which involved runnning the same 8 miles and few hundred steps over and over. 18hrs in and only 9 remained with the leading having completed 55miles! Respect!
There were a couple of early showers but I cracked on along the South West Coast Path (SWCP). En route at a strategically placed bench I met Wendy English – a lovely and exceedingly fit 81 yr old lady with a backpack(!) who was a career advisor at the University of London, after a quick chat we went on our respective ways and her parting shot was ‘I hope you find the perfect job!’. At Boscastle, it was a bit strange to walk around the corner and see somewhere in the flesh that I remember so vividly from news reports. The flood was 13 years ago now and you would never have known that it had happened. The buildings, bridge and river banks were rebuilt and now look well established.
Just as I set off from Boscastle, post coffee, a biscuit and a restock, I bumped into Ronnie and Julie munching on their lunch. So I stopped, had my lunch too and then we set off together towards Crackington Haven skipping out a couple of the ups and downs. Ronnie and Julie were planning to wild camp and were happy for me to join them, so we pushed on for another couple of miles and found a great little spot called ‘Mot’s Hole’ at SX159985 where we ate, watched the sunset and went to bed.
Started at: Mot’s Hole (SX159985)
Finished at: Cerenety Eco Park, nr Bude
Miles from LE: 125
Duration: 4.5hrs (9:00-13:30)
Trig points visited: 2 (SX167989 and SS199058)
Ales imbibed: 1.5x Dartmoor IPA
We packed up and set off at a reasonable time and it was straight up out of our camp spot and onto the cliff tops. We stuck to the SWCP all day. Along the way we spotted a couple of beautiful holidays cottages, this was a particular favourite down in Millook. It might look like much but it’s clearly old and been lovingly restored to a very high specification.
But at £3,500 for a week we decided not to blow our collective budgets to stay and we set off towards Bude. We passed through Widemouth Bay and up to a couple of trig points.
On the approach to Bude I remembered that a parcel I posted to myself was waiting for me, but it was Sunday so the post office would be closed, d’oh! Ah well, I’d have to wait it out in Bude until the following morning. I said goodbye to Ronnie and Julie again, got some fish and chips and went to the pub to watch the last day of the premier league unfold – unfortunately not in the Gunners’ favour. I camped at an Eco Park so that I could play with the goats, so that I did! There were a pair of kids which I nicknamed Ronnie and Julie 😜.
Started at: Cerenety Eco Park, nr Bude
Finished at: Elmscott YHA
Miles from LE: 137
Duration: 9.25hrs (9:00-18:15)
Trig points visited: 0
Ales imbibed: 0
I headed straight to the Post Office, took out a couple of items and posted the rest home – as I hadn’t missed any of it. Hit the SWCP heading past a large GCHQ communications station and then a path closure forced me inland past a nice little tea room, which I couldn’t resist.
The highlight of the day was most definitely crossing the Cornwall/Devon county border at Marsland Mouth.
I slogged on for the last few miles to the hostel at Elmscott, the weather and clouds started to close in but lifted again just in time for a nice sunny evening. The two volunteer YHA wardens, Janice and Sue warmly welcomed me into what was an old school and even offered me a glass of wine to have with my dinner!
Started at: Elmscott YHA
Finished at: 383243 nr Peppercombe
Miles from LE: 154
Duration: 12hrs (9:30-21:30)
Trig points visited: 0
Ales imbibed: 0
Awoke to a heavy sea fog and it was gusty so as opposed to heading out early as I had intended, I gave it an hour to lift. It didn’t but off I set anyhow. I knew there was a scarcity of accommodation so a wild camp was in the offing and was feeling confident having done the first one with R & J. I took roads and tracks up to Hartland Point from which Lundy is apparently visible…pah! I couldn’t even see the sea at the bottom of the cliff, let alone the lighthouse perched at the end of the promontory or Lundy.
I walked through Brownsham Woods towards Clovelly and enjoyed the change of scenery; for the first time I wasn’t on either the coast path nor a field boundary. I arrived at the top of Clovelly village at just after 5 and as everything would be shutting up at the end of the day I didn’t go down the steep slopes to the harbour and instead pushed on.
The woods continued and continued and continued. The coast path hadn’t be shrouded by trees at all since Lands End – why now? I dislike woods at dusk and really don’t like camping in woods so needed to get out to find a spot. I stopped in the corner of a field and cooked up some dinner then cracked on. I could see from the map that in a couple more miles the trees cleared. I was getting frustrated and it was getting dark, especially in the shade of the trees, it was humid and the little bitey bugs started to come out and, well, bite me! Finally just beyond Peppercombe beach the trees cleared and I found a spot on the path so I pitched up and went to bed. At 17miles it had been my longest day so far and was quite foot tired.
Started at: 383243 nr Peppercombe
Finished at: Bideford Premier Inn
Miles from LE: 158.5
Duration: 4.25hrs (8:15-12:30)
Trig points visited: 0
Ales imbibed: 1.5x Abbotsham Ale
This was my spot:
Unfortunately the long grass was a haven for bugs (which I hadn’t considered when I was tired and needed to pitch my tent) and I woke with a tick biting me and more in/around the tent, plus many other weird and wonderful insects. As soon as I set off, just 50meters along the path I passed another tent but they were yet to rise so I passed by quietly and left the inhabitant to their lie in.
It was another foggy and humid morning, the vegetation was waist high and very damp and so my trousers and boots got soggy very quickly. I was breaking through cobwebs all the way along the path which tickled/irritated my arms and face, plus I roused the many bugs as a wafted past the plants (have I mentioned the annoying bugs?!) who I could feel biting me. It was hot work but I had run out of water so was thirsty and I was tired from yesterday’s long effort. Also, I didn’t really know where I was headed, I didn’t have a plan for the next few days. All of these factors combined and led me to have my first meltdown! I shouted expletives at the many bugs and had a little cry. Once I had calmed down, I got a 3G signal and found that there was a Premier Inn in Bideford so I booked in!
Now I had a plan, I was going to stay a couple of nights in order to do some proper laundry, eat some fresh food, get myself and gear clean and dry, and research the next section of the walk; Barnstaple to Knighton. The route to the hotel happened to go via a lovely pub where I inhaled a burger and beer in a beautiful garden and then all was right with the world. Reading about the events in Manchester certainly put my ‘hardship’ into perspective.
Another gloriously sunny day on the South West Coast Path…this could be purported to be boring but far from it! Yes, everyday I see pale yellow sand, blue sea with foaming white waves crashing against the brown/black rocks, blue sky with white fluffy clouds and green fields but every cove, each twist and turn and all the ups and downs reveal different views as you go along. Early on in the morning I passed the Bedruthan Steps which are a series of rock formations out in the bay:
Then there are the people. In Porthcothan, just after I had my photo taken by an American lady who was doing a 10day cycling tour of Cornwall with her 3 girlfriends (1 of which was currently laid out by injury and another lost somewhere -I do hope she found her soon) then who should appear from around the corner? Only the couple who I’d heard about who are also walking LEJOG! Now known to me as Ronnie and Julie from Durham. (Hi Ronnie and Julie if you’re reading this, hope all is going well for you both and Ronnie isn’t moaning too much!)
We chatted pretty much all the way to Padstow via a couple of lovely beaches and also our first major inland ‘shortcut’. We headed straight into the middle of Padstow, mouths watering from the discussion about a bakery on the quayside who laid claim to ‘the best pastie in the world’, only to find it closed…so we went round the corner and picked up a reasonably tasty pasty. We then parted ways as Ronnie and Julie are doing this walk ‘properly’ by walking all the way down the Camel estuary to Wadebridge, whereas I had opted to take the ferry to Rock.
Ronnie, Julie and I at Padstow harbour
Once in Rock I traipsed across the dunes, all over St Enodoc Golf Course and had an adrenaline fuelled encounter with some cows. It resulted in me having to lob my rucksack over a couple of fences and following over them myself (including getting zapped by an electric fence) but I finally made it up to Trewiston farm which was a very empty campsite, with a dramatic night sky:
Sky over Trewiston Farm
Started at: Trewistan Farm, nr Rock
Finished at: Tintagel YHA
Miles from LE: 103
Duration: 8.5hrs (9:00-17:30)
Trig points visited: 0
Ales imbibed: Trelawny & Harbour Special
Set off and continued on an inland route and made a ‘bee’ line to Porteath Bee Centre to pick up some local honey and honey fudge…mmm yummy. Also went inland from Port Quin towards Port Isaac where I met a guy who walks laps of Cornwall for faith, now that is dedication, that must get very tough! Arrived in Port Isaac to find crowds of people and large amounts of TV crew; it turns out that Port Isaac is Port Wenn in Doc Martin and Martin Clunes himself was there so I got a quick snap and then passed through the crowds to get on my way. Took this as a nod to my little nephew:
Lots of ups and downs all the way to Tintagel YHA which is in a stunning location right on the cliff tops and has been recently refurbished so feels more like a hotel than a hostel (also helped by having a dorm to myself). Unfortunately I didn’t spend a huge amount of time in the hostel because I went out for dinner, in part, to celebrate getting through the 100mile mark!
View from Tintagel YHA – “Where ever I lay my hat, that’s my home”…!
(FYI I’ve just finished walking on day 12, I’m trying to catch up…!)
So after the optimism of my previous post hoping that I would make it the 9miles to Perranporth, well I did, only it was 3days later than planned. It turned out that I wasn’t better and needed to rest, so that I did. In 48hrs I managed to crawl out of my tent to check out an ‘Alternative Skills Fair’ at an Ecologic Park next to the campsite (where I learnt about a Cornish Apple Project) and to the local beach at Porthtowan plus the cafe for some toast when I was getting my appetite back. It was Monday when I got on my way to Perranporth.
Started at: Porthtowan
Finished at: Perranporth
Miles from LE: 60
Duration: 6hrs (9:15-15:15)
Trig points visited: 0
Ales imbibed: 0
Set off just after the rain had stopped and the only thing I fancied eating were Tangfastics so that’s what I ate! Got to St Agnes in good time passing one of the many mine shafts that scatter the coastline around here. Very atmospheric and evocative given my current reading material of Poldark – highly recommended, and that’s coming from someone who doesn’t like period fiction/drama.
Mine shaft in the mist
The pub in St Agnes would’ve been awesome if I had felt better, lots of fresh seafood and attached to a brewery, what more can you ask for? Ah well, there’ll be others. Instead, I forced down some lemonade and a few chips and went on my way. Got to Perranporth YHA in the increasingly heavy rain but it wouldn’t open for check-in for a couple of hours so I went and explored Perranporth and one of its pubs. Once I finally got in I immediately fell in love with the hostel. It’s very small but perfectly formed and the format works so well. It’s capacity is about 20ish and it feels very much like a home from home with stunning views to boot (when the cloud lifts!).
View from Perranporth YHA
Those 9miles took it out of me as I still wasn’t able to fuel myself properly and since the weather forecast was looking poor, I took another day off…! I know I know, if I keep going at this rate I’ll never get to John O’Groats, but I don’t plan on getting gastroenteritis more than once! Rather than slob about in the hostel all day feeling frustrated and lazy, I took a bus over to the county town of Truro and visited the museum and cathedral. In the rain on a midweek lunchtime it wasn’t all that, but I could see that the cobbled streets would be very charming on a busy sunny summer day. The warmth of the hostel and the other people staying there did the trick and when Wenseday came I finally wanted to eat something, so after a cereal bar off I went; ‘On the road again, I just can’t wait to get on the road again…’.
Started at: Perranporth
Finished at: Mawgan Porth
Miles from LE: 75
Duration: 8.25hrs (9:15-17:30)
Trig points visited: 0
Ales imbibed: Sharp’s Own
The route began by crossing Perran Sands in the rain and over the dunes towards Holywell. On the beach I met a guy walking the entire SWCP who told me he had just met a couple who were walking LEJOG but that was an hour ago so they were now 2hours ahead. At my pace I wasn’t going to catch them up, ah well, so near and so far from meeting someone else doing what I was doing, perhaps there will be others?
Around the corner, I trimmed off my first corners of the coast path – Kelsey Head and Pentire Point…dun dun duuuur. Well I’m not walking the SWCP so I’m going to trim off as many corners as I want! In doing so I wandered in to a very quaint village called Crantock and found a cafe for I a bite to eat. I got chatting to the lovely owner/chef (Jon) and it turns out he spent his career in the outdoors as a montain guide, had done many solo walks and kayak trips around the Scottish Highlands and Islands, plus he’d heard of the Rockhoppers! Anyhoo, as I came to pay he told me he was enamoured by my story and so my breakfast was on the house! Well I welled up at this sign of generosity, it was such a nice gesture and sent me on my way towards Newquay with a spring in my step. (FYI – it was the Cosy Nook cafe, but don’t all rush at once with tales of long distance hikes, I don’t want the guy to go out of business!). Then I got to Newquay…
Welcome to Newquay!
Perhaps a tad unfair, although this was one of my first encounters as I entered from the west. It was the largest town I’d been though thus far and it was a bit of a shock to the system. The streets seemed packed and there was so much hubbub, it put me in a spin, so I just motored through as fast as I could. This brought me to Watergate Bay, which was an unexpected find, it was absolutely stunning. From the top it appears to be a standard cliff top, but get down on to the beach and there is evidence that the high tide surges right up to the base of the cliffs and cuts away at the rock leaving caves at the bottom of this huge and dramatic cliff face. Standing at the bottom and looking up I felt so tiny and insignificant, it was just awesome. Plus there are streaks of purple running through the rock…I’ve never seen purple rock before.
From here it was just a couple of miles on to Mawgan Porth and my campsite for the night; Magic Cove. When I arrived the owners were out but I had couples coming over to help, almost tripping over themselves to offer me tea, coffee or anything else I might need/want – wow today has been all about generosity and has given me a nice warm glow inside! Well that and the first beer I’ve had in days!
Ales imbibed: Cornish Buccaneer, Wooden Hand Brewery
I thought I’d have a slightly shorter day today, and spend a night in a hostel, just to mix things up a bit. Headed north from Gwithian and up to Godrevy Point and just around the corner is Mutton Cove but there are no sheep to be found, instead a large seal colony. Unfortunately some other hikers did not see the ‘keep quiet’ signs and promptly scared them all off into the water but I did manage to get the camera and binocs out in time.
Seals at Mutton Cove
From there is was mostly flat across the top of the cliffs. Stumbled upon an unexpected cafe at Hell’s Mouth but far from hellish, I demolished a very tasty cream tea and was off on my way again. When I arrived in Portreath I headed straight to the bakery to pick me up a ‘Hiker’s Lunch’; pastie, doughnut and a drink for £4.50 – bargain and delicious! The sun was blazing and so headed for the beach and was the only person to scurry into the shade. It then occurred to me that it was a Wednesday lunchtime and apart from the pensioners and toddlers, why were there so many people on the beach and not at work…?! It didn’t trouble me for long, instead and I spread my towel and read my book.
Knees on the beach!
After picking up some supplies, I headed up through Illogan Woods out of town and up to the YHA – a lovely and very fit elderly couple (70s/80s) let me follow them to the hostel as that was where they were heading. I think the YHA needs to re-brand to ‘Hostel Association’, from my experience there are certainly very few youths in hostels, it’s mis-selling!
To cut a short story even shorter, I then spent the next 36hrs either in bed or near a toilet for I had been afflicted either by something I ate (I’m pretty sure it wasn’t the pastie, more likely my dinner) or a virus.
Started at: Portreath
Finished at: Porthtowan
Miles from LE: 51
Duration: 2.5hrs (11:30-14:00)
Trig points visited: 0
Ales imbibed: 0
(I’ve decided not to include days off in my day count…these are walking days, not elapsed days.)
Having not eaten for 24hrs I was feeling a bit sluggish but wanted a change of scenery so ambled along to the next village of Porthtowan. Experienced my first rain of the trip, which didn’t particularly help my mood but the clouds did part long enough for me to pitch my tent, crawl in, cook some soup and then have a nap. I’m hoping to make it the 9miles up to Perranporth tomorrow so that I can stay here: (I have options if I’m still struggling.)
Packed up a very dew soaked tent and set off to Pendeen Watch with a sore throat ☹️.
An uneventful day on the whole, lots of reminiscing of the Rockhopper trip to Cornwall last year. Revisited a short stretch in the opposite direction from Bosigran to Zennor. Weather very similar – warm sun with a nice cooling breeze. The ups and downs between Gurnard’s Head and Carn Naun Point got a bit tiresome towards the end of the day and I had already done a mental inventory of what I could potentially live without- a lighter bag does mean more enjoyment and not less ‘comfort’. Arrived at Trevalgan and my goodness me, the facilities were closer to a spa hotel than the campsites I’ve become accustomed to. For example last night’s shower was in the corridor between the bar and the pub garden/smoker’s shelter. It was a cold shower, not particularly clean, had people traipsing right outside the door and the smoke wafted in just when you thought you were clean. At Trevalgan it was immaculate (you could eat off any of the surfaces), there was underfloor heating, a hairdryer….you get the idea – chalk and cheese. And I very much appreciated this cheese(!). Although they had no licence to sell beer I did buy some local bacon.
Started at: Trevalgan
Finished at: Churchtown Farm, Gwithian
Miles from LE: 37
Duration: 7hrs (9:30-16:30)
Trig points visited: 0
Ales imbibed: Porthbud, Bude x 1.5
Woke up with a stinking cold…harrumph, ah well I guess I’ll just walk it off. Was sent on my way from Trevalgan with a fresh pain au chocolat and demi-baguette which were very welcome. I headed straight for St Ives Post Office and forward posted on to Bude about 1.9kg worth of kit – if I then don’t need it I’ll post it home from Bude, but this way I have options. Ooh the inclines and declines were definitely easier, I could get used to this. The rest of today’s walk came into view and it looked like a lovely pleasant strole along the beach:
Well, not all was as it seemed.I snuck past the first headland just before the tide, but the Hayle Estuary gets in the way before the next bay. It was very low tide and the estuary looked so tame; ‘surely I can just take my boots off and wade the 5-6meters of shallow water?’. Well apparently there are dangerous strong currents and quick sand, so I took the delightful 3 mile detour through a bit of industrial estate, across a dual carriageway and past other suburban landmarks in order to end up a stone’s throw from where I started. The rest of the day was along the beach so I decided to let my feet breathe, they sighed an almost audible sigh of relief- they’d been let out!
Arrived at Gwithian over the dunes and have headed to the local ‘PH’. Today was mostly flat and either tarmac or sand which was drastically different from Sunday and Monday, let’s see what tomorrow brings.
Slept well which was a bit surprising, given I’ve had a bit of a nervous tummy for a day or so, with the big day looming. Woke at 8 and lazily packed up, some cursory research informed me that Lands End wasn’t going to be ‘open’ until 10am. And I wasn’t going anywhere until I’d got the obligatory photo taken and my verification form stamped. Adrenaline was pumping as I was filling in the form and my brain was jumping all over place as I tried to remember my own address but I managed!
After a warm, two handed handshake from the photographer at the sign accompanied by well wishes, I was off! At last, it feels like aeons ago that I made the decision to walk the length of Britain and it was finally happening. That adrenaline was still flowing as I headed off and barrelled along for the first 5miles – classic case of starting out too quickly! I soon slowed down.
I took a quick detour to England’s one and only Cape; Cape Cornwall. (I refreshed my knowledge with the correct definition; ‘a headland at which 2 seas converge’.)
Then it was on towards the many mine shafts of Botallack, Levant and Geevor. In the heat of the full sun I was grateful for the cool sea breeze but still applied ample sun cream. I was feeling the difference between my usual wild camping camp and this pack. This pack is definitely heavier. I think I’ll soon be taking a serious look at my kit and jettisoning non-essentials. But, but, but I need it all, hmmm.
I’ve finished up at my target for the day; the North Inn, Pendeen which has a camping field out the back. No sign of any blisters but a few sore joints. Time for a shower, dinner, a stretch and then an early night me-thinks.