THE EARLY DAYS -1992 -2000
CORNWALL TO OUNDLE
FROM THE TAMAR TO THE NENE
THE DRY RUN
It was Friday morning May 1st – Judgment day, whether or not I would be able to cope with the 300 mile march, officially commencing at Launceston – Cornwall‘s old county town. Earlier this week I was advised by the doctor to rest for at least a fortnight following a severe virus. I had walked to the surgery half a mile away which resulted in my legs shaking and my clothes soaking in sweat. I had no difficulty in convincing the doctor of my ailments. However resting at home was not what I wished, and although at the mercy of the virus, I had no intention of remaining in Cornwall for a further two weeks. As soon as I had strength, I would assess myself in terms of walking. I would need to be resolute, relying on much mental fortitude.
By Thursday, I was able to walk to Redruth to pick up supplies, and with improvements to the weather, began to feel confident. It was now or never. Deciding that I needed a test day, I loaded my rucksack in anticipation for a 30-mile walk which would see me close to the border of Cornwall and allow time to assess my fitness before giving total commitment to the 7-day event. This time tomorrow I would be on my way – at least as far as Bodmin – a nice little prelude for the marathon ahead.
So on Friday morning, I left Carharrack at around 10.00a.m. heading for Redruth, to leave last minute instructions with friends, before making my way to the busy A30 to Bodmin. It was extremely windy and the A30 was dreadful, with lorries hurtling towards me at menacing speeds, and after an hour of constantly retrieving my hat from hedges and streams, I decided to stop and revert to a headband. I felt awful, soaking wet with sweat and in view of the cold, I did not wish to loiter too long.
My first real stop was some twelve miles from Bodmin at 3.15 in the afternoon where I was able to change my clothes in a garage toilet block. It was not the most serene of places, but nonetheless serving its purpose. I was wringing wet and my body ached all over. This, of course, was largely attributed to the recent virus, the additional component linked to the test. To think the walk didn’t officially start until I left Cornwall, and I had a good 30 miles to go to reach that landmark!
My break lasted for 15 minutes only, enough time to enjoy some cereal and fruit juice before continuing up a steep incline to make my exit from this small town known as Fraddon. Here I was spotted by an Oundle person on holiday in Cornwall, and although I was not aware of his presence, he was able to report back to Jim and Co. that I was at last in action. He was impressed with the speed I was marching, evidence of which was substantiated by my arrival at Bodmin at only 6.00p.m. This was after taking detours around the town allowing the opportunity to assess Bed and Breakfast facilities and enjoy a fish supper at the local chip shop.
I had never been to Bodmin, and had expected to find a town as substantial as Peterborough, particularly as I have in the past heard comments made to the effect that Bodmin was once the county town of Cornwall. I ambled through the town with my arms still swinging nonchalantly in a bid to stave off the cold wind. In what was a seemingly short time, I found myself approaching the A30 again – in fact I was now Launceston bound! A frightening prospect for many, or merely an interesting challenge on what could be the most isolated stretch of road, in bleak conditions, without respite from traffic, and furthermore, little opportunity of finding accommodation.
I did not wish to dwell on this prodigious task too long. I had learnt from the past ( especially whilst serving in XV1 Lincoln Company Airborne Forces), that once you start marching there in no turning back. To do so would sabotage the mission in terms of morale, as it would create a negative, demoralising effect. I still had some light left, and there was a possibility of finding an Inn. I remembered the old Jamacia Inn was on the moor, and would probably provide accommodation. I was a little upset, having travelled 3 or 4 extra miles for nothing, believing I was to stay in Bodmin overnight – in effect I could have travelled straight down the A30.
A sense of urgency crept in with the clouded sky, indicating that light was in short supply. I hastened along the dual carriageway, finding sanctuary from some road works, which allowed me to walk for the first time in a traffic- free zone. I was surrounded by green sections of hill, and wondered what it would be like to scale them with map and compass – that would be a marvellous way to achieve my goal.
Night time approached, it was nearly 9.00p.m. I had passed the Jamacia Inn without realising, and Okehampton and Launceston were now featured on all the road signs, Launceston only being 8 miles away. However, it was pitch-black and my knee was starting to hurt, causing me to slow down to a snail’s pace. I realised that I would not reach Launceston and that the sensible option would be to retreat to the Jamacia Inn. An honourable retreat I felt, as I had achieved more that was necessary, and did not wish to jeopardise the rest of the walk.
I tried to run back to the Inn, but in fact hobbled most of the way, and to my horror, found that there were no vacancies. I was quickly handed a glass of ale to treat the symptoms of shock after hearing such news, while the receptionist made various ’phone calls on my behalf.
By 9.45p.m. they had found me an Inn, just west of my route. If I had turned left instead of heading back, I would be been there by now, but lack of knowledge prevailed, owing to it being my first trip, and the fact that most of these places are bypassed by the A30, which highlights the major towns only. A member of staff was decent enough to take me there, it wasn’t too far from the A30, so I would have no trouble getting back to the route, and in any case, I had my pedometer. Any extra miles at this stage were a bonus, and so far today, there had been 47 of them, with the Cornish border now firmly in my grasp.
STEPPING OUT FROM CORNWALL
Saturday May 2nd 45 Miles
At 7.00a.m. I struggled out of bed and into yet another hot bath, a temporary solution to my aches and pains. I was in considerable pain in the back of my right knee where the tendons had been stretched due to prolonged marching. Marching is not a natural exercise when compared to walking or running, it is a fast method of travelling on foot whilst carrying weight, and I was looking for an average of 4 to 5 miles an hour, in order to complete the journey by next Friday. I knew the injury was only minor, but would create a pain barrier for the rest of the event. That morning I couldn’t eat as I was in physical pain and my nervous system had not yet adjusted to what was happening, especially in the wake of the disruptive activities of the virus. I would now have to come to terms with pain if I was going to maintain the present standard of mileage.
I set off at 9.30a.m. – the sun was shining and it showed promise of a much warmer day. Regular fluid would be required and possibly less clothing, which would add to the weight of the rucksack. I passed through the gated town of Launceston around midday enjoying a glimpse of its Norman Castle, and beyond the rugby ground was a Devon sign post, my first significant landmark. This was a tremendous boost and my next objective would be to reach Okehampton, a possible stopover for tonight.
Walking along hilly countryside was a liberating experience and I took the first of two breaks at a Little Chef Restaurant near Lewdown. From here I walked part of the new road which was still under construction and took a further break at another Little Chef 4 miles from Okehampton, where I enjoyed piping hot tea with loads of glucose powder, used as a substitute for sugar, food did not appeal to me at all. The roads were crammed full with traffic though I was relieved to see that I was not the only fundraiser at work, there was a large team of cyclists accompanied with a support group whom I occasionally met.
On arriving at Okehampton I had a pleasant downhill run, free of traffic, amidst the most lovely spring weather imaginable.
Spring being the operative word, owing to the surroundings, which were cliff-like in appearance, with water in constant flow, portraying an image of cascading beauty. I stopped at the town to replenish my supplies – the main area of importance being the chemist, as I was now in need of a knee bandage. I also purchased another tracksuit and some Deep Heat.
It was a superb evening, or to be more precise, late afternoon, as it was in fact 5.00p.m. A tempting opportunity now beckoned for me to increase my mileage and head for the next potential stop. I had initially planned to stay at Okehampton, but I felt good and the next village was Tawton, only 7 miles, with Crediton a further 12. “Play it by ear”, I thought, after all it was a more relaxing, scenic route on a ‘B’ road away from the dual carriageway.
Here I was exposed to the full splendour of the Devon countryside, passing over bridges on the narrow lanes where I could view the old train lines, some of which are still in use. At one stage I was only 6 miles from Exeter. Tawton was no match for me – I conquered it easily, spurring myself on to Crediton, a small town in the heart of Devon, which would hopefully be my place of rest for the night. I worked hard – almost running at times, though I stopped periodically to study the roads. Many of the villages that I passed through were not featured on my map, leading to momentary confusion, usually remedied at the next signpost. All that remained was the task of convincing by weary legs that they would carry me to Crediton, My efforts were bolstered by sheer aggression and the will to overcome pain, but as I approached Crediton in the fading light, I was praised and encouraged by passers-by. One person stopped to advise me where I could find accommodation, and two young lads gave me a pound, it was all very pleasant – a far cry from life on the modern carriageway.
I passed through Copplestone, over the bridge, where I was able to catch a glimpse of the cross-country railway line which runs through the middle of Devon. Not far to go, soon I would be seeking shelter for the night.
I arrived at Crediton at 9.30p.m., this was excellent – only 14 miles from Tiverton, my next forecasted stopover point. Accommodation however was a different matter, it was Bank Holiday weekend and there were major fun events being pursued. On my final attempt for Bed and Breakfast, the lady of the lodge, which had no vacancies, ‘phoned a friend who owned a farm and occasionally provided facilities for travellers. His name was John Roach (Wellparks, Crediton) and he was able to oblige and so I had a place at last to rest my weary head, or more appropriately legs. Here I had to encounter stairs, which I endured unwillingly at the end of each day, just what you need after a 12-hour “hack”, also I realised that I had slight sunstroke, leaving me feeling dizzy, cold and shaky.
THE ADVENT OF SPRING
Sunday May 3rd 40 Miles
I had appreciated the benefit of a good night’s sleep and unlike the previous morning, I was able to eat a hearty breakfast. I chatted to the farmer for a while as I was his only resident, then I paid him for his services, signed his register and with a few instructions from him, I was on my way.
It was 9.00a.m. and I had to walk 2 miles to get back to my route, which was now on course for Tiverton. I wasn’t too perturbed by this, but I was concerned about the pain signals I was receiving from the patella region of my right knee. The leg muscles were still lacking flexibility and the weight of the pack was beginning to jar my knee-joints.
In addition to this, it was extremely hot for the time of year, and the A3072 is a winding, undulating road causing me to experience significant discomfort on the downhill run.
The countryside was endowed with a wealth of beauty, little villages with their old-world pubs by the river, hosting traditional local events devised to assimilate the awakening of spring. The atmosphere created from the celebrations amongst some of nature’s finest characteristics offered much solace, helping me to ignore the pain I was suffering. Although not complete as an anaesthetic, I absorbed the scenic detail and amused myself by developing certain walking techniques which enabled me to minimise the jarring and thumping against the hard road.
I arrived at Tiverton, stopping for a drink of milk and to rest my feet, at this stage in the proceedings a passage through dual carriageway was now imminent – an 8-mile slog to be precise. I walked up by Sampford Peverall, eventually leaving the carriageway where I was able to locate a tourist office and a Little Chef. I stopped for some hot tea before seeking advice from the tourist office regarding accommodation prospects at Taunton. It was around 4.30p.m. and there was promise of a storm as I passed the road signs for Wellington and Taunton, the latter being my target for the day, a further 14 miles.
Today was certainly taking its toll on my body, and I could feel myself slowing down, although I had not covered anywhere near the distance of yesterday. I passed an inn called the “Last Pub in Devon”, 2 miles later I made my first contact with Jim Leigh. It was 7.00p.m. when I informed him that I was making for Taunton. One hour later I struggled through Wellington where I came across my first pavement. What a luxury! And it was here when I was spotted again by other natives of Oundle, Richard and Mary Sumner, once more I was oblivious of their presence.
The “hack” from Wellington to Taunton was arduous in every aspect, by now I had blistered feet to accompany my aching knees – every mile was a mountain. The struggle continued on arriving at Taunton where it took me an hour to find shelter. I struck lucky with a Bed and Breakfast at only ten pounds per night and with a nice long bath, which was put to use immediately.
I rang my mother at 10.00p.m. to inform her about my progress and then hobbled up to a pub where there was an extension until 11.30p.m., this I gratefully appreciated and in which time I managed to consume three pints of local ale before retiring for the night.
A HOLY ENCOUNTER
Monday May 4th 44 Miles
With blistered feet and aching limbs I managed to confront the stairs and enjoy a large breakfast, which had become the highlight of the day as far as food was concerned, as it was usually my only meal.
It was Bank Holiday Monday, and despite painful knees and blisters I was now fired up for an encounter with Somerset, Glastonbury a mere 24 miles away, being my afternoon stop. Once again the day was hot but the weather, rather than slow down my movements, added to it by providing me with new-found vigour as I marched fiercely through the countryside I passed straight by Otherby on the A361 and all the other small villages eventually stopping for refreshment at a café close to Glastonbury. There is nothing better than a pot of tea on a hot day to alleviate the problems of dehydration. Before leaving I swallowed some salt to help retain my body fluids for the remainder of the journey.
I arrived at Glastonbury after 2.00p.m., this was an excellent session and I was able to enjoy a yoghurt and cereal in a somewhat Gothic environment. I checked in at the Imperial Cancer Research shop and had a chat with the staff before signing their book and departing for the City of Wells.
This was a shortish trip to an amazing town, firstly I had never been there, and secondly it was probably one of the finest places I have seen so far. There was a stream running through the street (possibly how its name was derived), which had many wonderful sites and historical buildings to see. Unfortunately, my mission awaited me and I had to press on leaving behind the tourists and holiday- makers to admire its grandeur. Pain had become more striking too as it so often does when renewing oneself to the task after a much desired interval. There was hard work to be done if I was to reach Bath, an incredible feat of fifty miles or more for the day, but the B3139 seemed to yield few landmarks as I limped through Radstock in Avon.
I cannot begin to describe the pain I was in, bursting blisters only to acknowledge the arrival of fresh ones, I wasn’t able to walk properly, causing further pain to my hamstrings and knees. 8 miles from Bath, I came to a standstill – whilst contemplating whether or not to tackle the hill leading out of Radstock, I was confronted by two young men. One of them asked me if I believed in God. I half-answered him, telling him of my brother who is a devout Christian. He told me God had a purpose for me and gave me a Bible. We chatted for a while until their friends arrived, by which time I was invited to stay the night with one of the group’s family. This was marvellous as I don’t think I could have gone any further, in fact they were all curious as to how I was going to manage to walk the next day. That evening they took me to Midsomer Norton, where I stayed the night and enjoyed an interesting experience. Some of the group were very fit, working out regularly with their social aims to prevent juvenile delinquency and drug abuse, certain members themselves being former participants of these activities, and so portraying the poacher-turned gamekeeper scenario.
In any event I appreciated a bed for the night, it had been a tough day on the road, my feet giving testimony of the effort with little skin left unbroken.
Tuesday May 5th 35 Miles
I had enjoyed my brief stay with the Christian group known as ’3 SCORE AND THEN‘? They took me back to the point where they found me and bade farewell, leaving me to tackle the hilly climb on the road to Bath. I did not relish the thought to dealing with the task on the previous evening., but now I was joyfully limping in the cool of the morning. It was a welcome reprieve from the unusual hot, spring weather, and by 9.00a.m. rain was pouring down, forcing me to employ the use of a mac. It was short-lived and quite innocuous, though it did seem appropriate that I should be subjected to a shower in Bath, a touch of divine intervention I thought.
It was Tuesday and I had already passed through four different counties and would at some stage today be negotiating a fifth, namely Wiltshire.
Bath, however, was my first tea stop where I replenished my needs at a Wimpy bar, after which I peered through a television shop to catch sight of Ian Botham opening the bowling for Durham in a Trophy match. After some lazy window-shopping, I stealthily headed back to my route, the A4 to Chippenham , a journey of about 11 miles. It was an arduous session, although the trek of 8 miles to Lyneham, proved to be a tougher barrier to overcome. I had to accept that pain would be ubiquitous from here onwards owing to the fact that it was necessary to push myself to the limit in terms of miles walked and the length of time spent on the road each day. It appeared to be a very long 8 miles going through some hilly terrain on what was now a hot day. 3 miles from Lyneham a public house was just opening, it was only 6.00p.m., most evenings had exceeded 9.00p.m. I kept thinking it would be nice to finish around 7.30p.m., any town would do right now as long as it harboured both pub and chemist. This was not to be, barely walking, I arrived at Lyneham to find that one guest house had closed and the other one was full. This became demoralising as I was totally “knackered” and I even considered the prospect of park bench facilities, I was no stranger to this option in my younger days, though usually when I couldn’t quite manage the trip home from the pub, as opposed to a 30-mile hike.
Somehow I toiled on ignoring the discomfort, eagerly awaiting the appearance of a Swindon sign or more approvingly a Bed and Breakfast one. The pleasant chill of the evening allowed me to progress efficiently enough to cover a supplementary 5 miles, arriving at a small town called Wootton Bassett, a suburb to Swindon. I tried half a dozen inns, most of which were patronised by contractors, eventually finding residence at The Borough Arms, the last pub in town. I was so relieved, relaying the events of the day to the landlord and lady over a pint of Guinness before a nice hot bath, fish and chips, and two more pints of Guinness. I took the opportunity to ring my parents, and Jim Leigh, indicating that I would aim to reach Chipping Norton the following day. I then retired to watch the cricket highlights and revise my thoughts of the day gone by, recapturing the areas of interest. I remembered all the detail, the green hilly landscape with the occasional path to accommodate my blistered feet, and provide me with safer passage. One striking memory on passing by the Wiltshire County signpost, was the presence of an old Victorian railway tunnel, an internal structure, possibly extending back through a mile or more of hillside. It is difficult to imagine the problems which would have tested the work force of that era, with few resources outside their sheer manpower, a feat such as this should be preserved to the end of time as a tribute to these men. It is thoughts like this which construct the fortitude required to overcome the day-to-day ailments and discomforts suffered on the road.
THE ANONYMOUS HIGHWAY
Wednesday May 6th 53 Miles
I rose a touch late that morning, scurrying off to the chemist to obtain some aspirin and then to the bank to increase my cash flow. As I set off for the day starting on the A420, I acknowledged a road sign for Swindon which read 6 miles. Encouraging as this may been at the time, it is often all to easy to overlook the importance of local knowledge, to which I should have sought in the course of replenishment. Hours later, I was still walking with absolutely no comprehension of where I was going. It certainly wasn’t Swindon, in fact I had not seen another signpost since leaving Wootton Bassett, I had clearly been going in the wrong direction. An elderly couple informed me about the lack of signposts in the area and tried to reroute me on the back roads near Purton with the possibility of bypassing Swindon. Sadly my map was hopeless, as it only highlighted major roads and towns, so once again I was lost, and by the time I had found a sign, it indicated that Swindon was 5 miles away. I could hardly believe what had happened, it was 2.00p.m. and I had technically gained only 1 mile, despite walking 20! Although the miles were not completely superfluous, it had become so important to maintain the momentum by pushing for a daily target, usually another county, and it would be a gross misconception to think I would be staying at Chipping Norton tonight.
The problems didn’t end there – getting in and out of Swindon as a pedestrian, was a nightmare beyond imagination. Eventually I found a bus depot where I was given instructions on how to get to the A361 to Burford. There was much to remember as I hastily made my way to the ‘Magic Roundabout’, somehow I managed to retain all the information along with mixed feelings of the relief of leaving Swindon, and the annoyance of ever going there in the first place. Somewhat dejectedly I pressed on to Highworth arriving at 4.20 in the afternoon, by which time I was limping badly and in need of a rest and footcare. I realised that because I had suffered a setback, enervating my morale, my threshold towards pain would now be lower. At this point I began to think positively, not allowing the mishap to affect my mind, instead of which I hastily prepared myself, and with a couple of aspirins and a touch of anger, I stormed out of Highworth. Stripped down to shorts, with my knees immersed in Deep Heat, I was ready for some hard work, not just a walk as I had been doing for the last few hours, but some serious speed marching and running if required. I was determined to reach Chipping Norton, feeling zestful as I entered Lechlade in Gloucestershire. The journey seemed very brief and I celebrated my arrival by awarding myself some salt tablets and Dextrose, which the chemist let me have free of charge. The lady wished me well and at 5.45p.m. I was on the way to Burford, which was something of a mystery in terms of road signs. At least I can be thankful it still had Burford on them, registering the fact that signs had been the low point of the day.
Eventually I arrived at Burford, 6.30p.m. to be precise, and although it was getting dark, I allowed myself a beef burger before setting off towards Chipping Norton. Burford was a lovely place but I couldn’t dwell, owing to the remaining 11 miles which I had yet to achieve. I was again greeted with the same frustration of countyy signs, and as dark crept in I noticed the occasional old-fashioned gypsy caravan parked up with the inhabitants enjoying a brew. I was contemplating a brew myself at some stage, hopefully a pint size model, always a delightful sensation after a crazed day on the road. Wildlife was also present on the road, foxes and deer were commonplace as total darkness provided the extra hazards I would now have to encounter I had never been to Chipping Norton and had no idea of the size of the place. I had visions of not obtaining accommodation and either having to walk through the night or finding a bus shelter to sleep in. I managed to arrive at a pub at 10.30p.m. allowing myself a drink of shandy whilst the barman kindly ‘phoned other pubs to arrange accommodation for me. I was allocated to the King’s Arms where I was rewarded for my efforts with a further pint and was able to relay the distressing events that had occurred. In summarising the day overall, I realised the value of the mind and the strong part in which it plays, illustrating how much more you can extract from the body in times of distress.
Thursday May 7th 50 Miles
I paid the £20 for the “digs” and resumed by journey which was to be the most exacting stage of the entire mission, highlighted once again by the presence of pain. The previous day I had negotiated three different counties, and with a mishap, concluded the exploit, realising a marathon 53 miles, an experience which had drained my resources.
Initially it was the blistering to my feet that became the source of corruption resulting in slow passage to Banbury, where on arrival I had to remove some of my plasters due to the lack of room in my training shoes. My footwear was bald in appearance, £50 for a week’s walking gives the mind something to chew over, loosely evaluated at around 20p a mile.
Despite my admiration for Oxfordshire, I was eager to transfer to the next and final county, Northamptonshire. It was a great feeling to know that what ever happened here on in, I had at least walked the distance between my home counties, which would always be the significant factor when reminiscing over the achievement. Those Cornwall and Northamptonshire road signs fixed firmly in my mind, symbolic of my efforts. There was much still to be done however, with a further 26 miles to complete in order to reach Northampton itself, my final resting place en route. I felt convinced that I was heading toward Bugbrooke, a shortish route to Northampton on the B4525. Somehow I missed the turn which I believe was signposted to Culworth, and was concerned as to whether I was actually now on course. A gentleman eventually directed me onto the old Towcester road, one of which was not chartered on my map. I hadn’t walked too far out of my way, but would need to air caution from now on and use local knowledge pertaining to the route. It was on this road where I completed my 300th mile although not prompted to rejoice, with the feat itself overshadowed by lack of available drinking water and painful feet throughout this seemingly long trek. The sign read 8 miles, loosely translated as the crow flies, the journey took hours, passing through small villages, the first of which was Helmdon. It was fair to say it was an idyllic country environment, some pleasant scenery, buildings and disused train lines making suitable passage as a nature trail for the leisure enthusiast.
It was after 7.00p.m. on arriving at Towcester, by which time I could hardly walk, and with a dose of dual carriageway awaiting me, I decided to have a snack and repair my feet for the final push of the day.
Darkness was only an hour away, and I was relieved when the opportunity came to exit the busy main road and continue on the old Northampton road at the Blisworth turn off. Signs for the Roade made me fearful of being lost, as I passed through small villages with lively pubs, and a garage, stopping here momentarily for a Mars Bar, at the risk of being accredited with the status of a tramp. Old Northampton portrayed character with its buildings and bridges and provided a suitable epitaph for the day. I remember an overhead train passing, reminding me of my childhood trips from Oundle in the old steam days. On entering Northamptonshire, I received instructions from an ambulance attendant at his depot, which to my amazement left me just one mile to hobble. I ‘phoned Jim Leigh at 10.45p.m. to inform him that I was in Northampton and it would either be an inn for the night or a park bench and an early start. Fortune favoured me once again as I found accommodation just inside the town at the Plough Hotel near the old railway station. There was no ale tonight, just a hot bath after which I slept as a result of sheer exhaustion.
Friday May 8th 30 miles
The final frontier – I woke up renewed and refreshed with a relaxed approach, enjoying a 3 course breakfast and a stroll around Northampton, excluding for once a trip to the chemist. My attitude was completely transformed, dispelling any thoughts of pain, I discarded the use of knee-grips and painkilling remedies. Mentally I was strong, acknowledging my efforts, walking over 300 miles in a week incorporating my home counties and now I was set to conclude the event. My main discomfort was the trek along dual carriageway which I endured until arriving in Thrapston, the second stop of the day, where I indulged in fish and chips. I ‘phoned Jim Leigh stating where I was, he congratulated me, asking if I needed a lift home, as I had walked the 300 miles. Of course I declined, telling him I would see him in the Ship, hopefully in a couple of hours. Many people saw me that day, not knowing what I had achieved, one person even said to his mate – look there’s Blob, he looks tired, I wonder if he’s just walked back from Cornwall! On reaching Barnwell I was joined by Jim who photographed me approaching Oundle, and on arrival leaning on the signpost. The epic journey was over, 344 miles in all, and for my efforts I received £520 from local sources (presented to Adam Baum, Imperial Cancer Research in August 1992). As I sat in the bar enjoying my Guinness I was able to reflect back on the previous week, the turmoil of illness and getting lost and the character-building qualities required to overcome these obstacles.
The many milestones that lay ahead as I struggled to get through Cornwall, wishing that I had started either at Plymouth or Launceston as forecasted, thus avoiding the desolate moors of Bodmin with endless miles of soul-destroying dual carriageway. Then there were the undulating, narrow roads of Devon with the tempting village pubs eager to service the travelling man, and the pain of blistered feet, my sole companion throughout the journey. There were people who acknowledged my task, cheering me on and helping me if possible, the Christian group deputising themselves as a temporary backup team in my hour of need. Much can be derived from the experience of walking, besides raising one’s standards of health, as well as serving as a relaxing, therapeutic device, there is the construction of mental fortitude and tenacity required for goal attainment. These qualities are possessed by many individuals, but sadly used by few. There will always be times when we need to summon that bit more from our bodies, maybe as well as extracting the surplus energy for our own needs, we should occasionally think of others – particularly those who are incapable of such actions. I will always have good memories of this walk as I now have fresh insight to life and worthwhile goals for the future.
To summarise on the highlights, aside from the scenic beauty which nature so generously provides amid the geographical and historical benefits from the journey itself, was the reaching of landmarks. Each county signpost being a major achievement, spurring me on to the next stop, remembering also that I was without backup, which meant walking to and from my “digs”, (which can be obtained on arrival) often miles from the route. Not to mention getting lost, and the 45lb pack welded to my back throughout the event. I’ll never forget the first sight of the Northamptonshire sign and the long journey on the Towcester road that followed. Finally I realised I had walked between home to home, although the trip from the Ship to my house several hours later was quite formidable.
JOHN O’GROATS TO LAND’S END
THE BIG ONE
Day 1 John O’Groats 6th Sept. 30 miles
Day 2 Lybster 7th Sept. 25 miles
Day 3 Helmsdale 8th Sept. 34 miles
Day 4 Tain 9th Sept. 36 miles
Day 5 Charlestown 10th Sept. 33 miles
Day 6 Carrbridge 11th Sept. 24 miles
Day 7 Newtonmore 12th Sept. 35 miles
Day 8 Blair Atholl 13th Sept. 25 miles
Day 9 Bankfoot 14th Sept. 42 miles
Day 10 Kincardine 15th Sept. 50 miles
Day 11 Biggar 16th Sept. 33 miles
Day 12 Moffat 17th Sept. 18 miles
Day 13 Lockerbie 18th Sept. 25 miles
Day 14 Carlisle 19th Sept. 20 miles
Day 15 Penrith 20th Sept. 30 miles
Day 16 Kendal 21st Sept. 22 miles
Day 17 Lancaster 22nd Sept. 37 miles
Day 18 Charnock Richard 23rd Sept. 42 miles
Day 19 Tarporley 24th Sept. 41 miles
Day 20 Wellington 25th Sept. 40 miles
Day 21 Ombersley 26th Sept. 40 miles
Day 22 Hardwicke 27th Sept. 40 miles
Day 23 Bristol 28th Sept. 34 miles
Day 24 Bridgwater 29th Sept. 30 miles
Day 25 Tiverton 30th Sept. 32 miles
Day 26 Okehampton 1st Oct. 40 miles
Day 27 Camelford 2nd Oct. 40 miles
Day 28 Carharrack 3rd Oct. 32 miles
THE JOURNEY THROUGH SCOTLAND
Almost a year after walking the coast of Cornwall I was prepared in readiness for the ‘end to end’ encounter. There had been much tension in earlier weeks linked to the alteration of plans to accommodate my companion Douglas Kirkpatrick. Finally on September 5th we embarked upon the long journey to John O’Groats – the starting point of our intended walk. Previous walks had been completed successfully but this one was to be nearly twice the distance of any one of them, as was ominously apparent whilst driving up. We tracked my route on the way, making note of the focal points and possible stopover place.
I deposited a spare rucksack at Douglas’s mother’s house in Lockerbie which contained fresh supplies and clothing for the journey through England. I rekindled past memories of Cumbria still firmly implanted from the epic journey from Hadrian’s Wall to Land’s End – an encounter I would be eager to repeat within a fortnight from now.
We had allowed 12 days to tackle the Scottish section, largely because Douglas would be required to fetch his mother back to Lockerbie, and also taking into consideration the costs incurred from time spent on the road. I had received generous support from one of my employers, namely Mr Richard Bizley, who was keen to support the project. There were also donations from other friends as well, my old pal Fred Wrougton gave me £50 and James Bradshaw chipped in with a ton.
On the way up we had little trouble in locating the roads, with the inclusion of the odd country lane, and to our joy we discovered the old A9 had now become a cycle route, thus providing us with respite from the constant flow of traffic.
We stopped briefly in a lay-by near a horseshoe-bend to stretch our legs, whereupon a motor cyclist shot past at incredible speed as if to challenge the shape of the road, I assumed he got around it, he might otherwise have been a bit disappointed, with a sheer drop of two hundred plus feet. Sometime later I mentioned to the pipe-smoking Douglas that the stunt seemed rather incredible and how could he have achieved such a feat? ‘Perhaps he didn’t’ was the reply. I kept of thinking of the sheer genius and expertise required to engineer such an operation as well as having the courage to question the impossible. Or did he simply fail to acknowledge the warning signs, therefore taking a premature exit from the carriageway, cascading down into the valley – an experience appreciated more approvingly by bungee jumpers.
There were many interesting place en route with some unusual names attached to them. The roads in between were quite desolate, one in particular from Yetts o’ Muckhart was probably the longest 8-mile road we had both come across – I’m convinced the crow was still airborne as the post went in the ground.
By nightfall we reached Inverness, refilled the tank and made our way to Lybster where we found accommodation in the village pub. We consumed Guinness for the next two hours before retiring to a brief, but much needed sleep.
Morning was soon upon us and we breakfasted in earnest for the task ahead. Originally Dougie was to leave the car at Lybster for his cousin to collect, whilst we made ground to John O’Groats using the bus service via Wick. But, as a result of our belated recreation the previous evening, the landlady was fully aware of our tasks, and offered her son’s service in providing us carriage to the top end. This was a major bonus, in effect, saving us a probable two or more hours, and giving us the opportunity of a dry start in what was due to be an inhospitable bout of Scottish weather.
THE COASTAL ENCOUNTER
So here we were at the edge of the sea, though with all its glory John O’Groats defied my expectations. I had for moths lived in awe of this little place, conjuring up visions of great towering cliffs with the sea crashing about its shores. Instead, we looked out upon the low-lying saturated grass banks adjoining the sea, which was in fact as calm as a millpond.
Such as our haste to start the walk, we dwelled only long enough to photograph each other outside the ’Last House’ in John O’Groats. It was a weird sensation, stepping out from what felt like the edge of the world. I was immediately embraced by the aches and pains from niggling cricket injuries, as if to remind me of the journey ahead. Was I to start and finish in pain, or was it just an anxiety attack, forecasting doom on the momentous hour? The weather too, had its say, with looming dark cloud bearing down upon us with a statement of authority, questioning our assignment. In all fairness, the temperature was quite mild, given the coastal presence as we trekked steadily away from John O’Groats, to be confronted by only the odd bus, and a handful of cyclists.
The mission was under way and one thing was ominously certain in both our minds – there was no turning back.
The journey was to Wick was pleasant enough as we passed by many old dwelling scattered about the green landscape, which had plenty to offer in terms of nature, initiating us with a presentation of its many species of bird life. The A9 was the basis of our route throughout much of Scotland and, in the early stages, provided us with a splendid opportunity to view the coastline and its resources. The many stone castles still echoed a voice from the past, where, in the presence of their great warriors, stood firm against time. Historians revel in the Scottish environment, as do the tourists, who ponder over some of the more mythical aspects, I too enjoyed my brief history lesson courtesy of Mr D. K. himself.
After an enjoyable interval at a pub in Wick, we took stock of ourselves for a further 14 miles, on what was now a sunny afternoon. I was still experiencing stiffness in the back of my knee, but was able to continue without too much discomfort. The beautiful countryside provided me with the anaesthetic to combat the pain, allowing me to enjoy the fresh air, and toil with thoughts of how the damaging effects of time have not yet fully eroded this country.
By 4.00p.m. Douglas had become a speck in the distance, and although not walking in top gear, it was evident that our paces were different. This was not a problem, as Dougie had made it clear at the start, that my mission was foremost, and that I should continue at my normal pace. However, I could not help worrying about him, especially later on when an ambulance passed by me. Could he have damaged himself, or swallowed his pipe, maybe?
I stopped to examine my feet which were covered in blisters, largely due to my socks, which were far too thick, causing friction. On the assumption that Douglas was alright, I pressed on, feeling somewhat tired and uncertain as to how many miles I had left to do. It appeared that I was still on the A9, after all, there was no other road, yet there was a distinct lack of signposts indicating mileage and township. Eventually I descended upon Lybster, a good 2 miles however, from the signpost itself, arriving at the inn around 5.00p.m. I enjoyed a shower and repaired my feet, whilst eagerly awaiting the arrival of Dougie. He arrived 2 hours later, swiftly informing me of his visit to the Lybster Hotel at the top of the village, where the Guinness was at its finest. On hearing this wonderful news, I quickly renewed my footwear and sped off up the road to enjoy 3 pints of Guinness – maybe not quite sped, but I certainly limped at great speed.
The following day I rose at about 6.00a.m. in order to stretch my muscles in preparation for the journey ahead, which would be the most arduous part of the Scottish section. Brora was the target town – 37 miles in all, with little else en route save the odd small village, and a substantial place known as Helmsdale. I could only manage a light breakfast, as I was still anxious about the walk. I had yet to find rhythm, and felt that we both would have benefited from a proper rest before starting the mission. The landlady was kind to us, charging only £20 for the two nights, and giving Dougie assurance that his car would be safe on the premises. We departed around 8.00a.m., both caped up, ready to be greeted by showery weather. Once again, the A9 provided a coastal setting for parts of the day, though the sea was more rugged in appearance than previously. The wind blew fiercely, and the rain poured down as we tackled the largely downhill road with its sharp, curvy bends surrounded by forestation and Scotch mist. We sighted occasional road workers on this desolate trail, which contained only small pockets of life. In fact, there was one shop between Lybster and Helmsdale.
On arriving at Helmsdale, I took shelter in a traffic warden’s hut, using the opportunity to attend to my feet, whilst waiting for the appearance of Dougie. I had lost sight of him around midday, and it was now 4.00p.m., and Brora was still a further 11 miles. Being soaking wet, I began to feel cold, and having pondered over whether Douglas was in difficulty or not, I decided to investigate the town for possible accommodation. It was a brief assessment in view of the fact that Helmsdale, though classified as a port, was still quite small. There was an hotel at the bottom end, a Youth Hostel at the top, and a guest house and shop close by. I stopped at the hostel to enquire about drying facilities, where it became apparent that there was little other than a bed available, after which I sauntered back to the hotel and booked two rooms for the night. It was only £16 per head, and the maid was very helpful, offering to wash and dry our clothes, as well as keeping a vigil for Douglas, while I enjoyed a nice hot bath.
By 6.00p.m. the maid reported his arrival – by now, he was scarcely moving, and soaked to the skin. His first words were “There is no way I can move another inch, I’m absolutely knackered”. I’m afraid that all I could do was laugh, though watching him walk those last few steps soon registered the work load that lay ahead. Humour could never be dismissed however, as I reminded him of the experience over a pint of Guinness that evening, only to point out, still with raucous laughter, that I had been there myself on past occasions.
Dougie was convinced that it would need a miracle for him to walk any substantial distance following the ambitious task we had attempted the previous day, in fact he said he was ready to quit. By breakfast time however he had recovered satisfactorily enough to present himself again to the road that was fast becoming the bane of his life. With our usual issue of surgical spirit and Fiery Jack our bodies were stabilised enough to cope with the mandatory dose of pain which was now inevitable.
Fiery Jack was an additional member to the party, whose role was to treat our ailing bodies, in effect loosening up stiff muscles and providing relief from pain, in a similar fashion to Deep Heat and other such remedies. The orange-coloured ointment was contained in a shoe-polish size tin with a portrait of Jack and his fire grate on the lid, and by now the daily ritual of rubbing it on our injuries had become almost as important as the Guinness session in the evening.
Fiery Jack was to be a loyal companion throughout the entire journey, making his presence felt in one’s hour of need. There were times too when he commanded much respect, displaying the occasional act of violence when excessively using his services. Once I liberally applied the substance to my lower back and gluteus muscles, after which, only half an hour into the day’s routine, I had to exit the road to spend the next few minutes with my backside immersed in a stream. It was often difficult to find the correct measure; trial and error was the name of the game, and more often than not we had to live with the error though usually, because we were in such burning agony, we were oblivious of the initial problem. Dougie was tempted to rub the substance all over his feet, just to see what the response would be, thus illustrating that insanity can creep into the mission in times of duress.
So, armed to combat pain, or at least provide it with a good alternative, we braved the weather, which had become full-blow torrential rain. We marched out of Helmsdale, where sheep ran across the road, diverting traffic into the verges, the first test of the day aimed at our awareness and concentration. The road, even at its quietest moments in the youthful stages of the journey, requires eagle-eyed vigilance to seek out the many hazards that the day provides.
We still had sight of the coast with a railway line now present situated by the sea and running inland as we progressed further in the direction of Brora. I think that if I had been alone, I might have been tempted to have pushed on to Brora the previous evening, though I felt sure at this stage, the effort was a satisfactory one. Dougie was amazed that he was walking so freely, following the previous day’s experience, but after all, that’s what it was – experience. I can remember being in that state myself, and not able to find accommodation, and having to force out a further 4 or 5 miles to get to the next village. I suppose I owe much to the Parachute Regiment for the profound way they instil the self-belief that is required to make these goals attainable, often in the face of adversity. Dougie is a tough bloke who could benefit and achieve a good deal more as a result of that second day, though perhaps with assistance from Fiery Jack.
A BRIDGE TOO FAR:
As I drew near to Brora, I lost sight of Dougie in what was now a major downpour. I hastened towards a bank, only to find that it was closed for lunch, causing me to dash to the next option of shelter – a chemist, which allowed me a chance to gather further supplies. Dougie knew that the chemist was an important aspect in both our lives, now patronised as frequently as a public house. I inquired after the location of the nearest tearoom, advising the staff of a possible visitation from Dougie, to whom I requested they should relay my whereabouts.
Soaking wet, but sheltered in warm surroundings, I was able to put fluid back into my body as I waited in anticipation for Dougie to appear at the top of the hill. This never occurred, so after a pleasant break of roughly an hour, I left warm shelter to embrace the wet, still puzzled as to how I could not have seen him. He must have found another exit from the town, for as I passed some road works nearing Golspie, one of the workers stopped to inform me that Dougie would meet me at the inn over the Bridge at the Dornoch Firth near Tain – our target for the day. With this knowledge I felt inflated enough to jog to the next place, where I had at last caught sight of what appeared to be another bank. I was correct in my assumption, though not a mirage itself, the staff inside it were at first reluctant to provide me with funds. I had recently travelled the world on my Visa card, which I was told would be accepted anywhere. Anywhere that is but Scotland – unless you have a driving licence and passport.
In a moment of anger, I accused them of discriminating against sponsored walkers and non-drivers, adding that I would hardly need a passport to walk from ’end to end’ of the country, nor would I risk its destruction in such horrific weather and have to pay for its renewal. I refused to move and eventually they decided to cough up.
Relieved that I had money in my pocket again, I found another tearoom, where I enjoyed further refreshments in the company of two lady packpackers heading for John O’Groats. We were able to exchange a few travellers’ yarns before parting in opposite directions with only the weather to remind us of the occasion. On the next stage of the journey, I walked into a thick blanket of fog, more loosely termed as Scotch mist, which provided an eerie setting on the lonesome road, surrounded again by forestation . In the distance I could see the shape of another walker nearing an old telephone booth.
Owing to the opaque conditions, it was difficult to make out which direction the person was moving in, but as I closed in, it transpired to be the figure of Mr Douglas Kirkpatrick. He hadn’t stopped at all, pressing on regardless of the weather, in an effort to make the bridge by nightfall. I said ”do you bloody realise I waited in that cafe for over an hour for you to appear?” He chuckled heartily – I suppose it was a payback from the previous evening, anyway all was well once again as we set about the final push to reach the bridge.
I had found some reasonable form at last which enabled me to shoot off down the road giving Dougie full assurance that accommodation would be organised on his behalf. After ten minutes he was invisible again, with only the smell of his pipe lingering in the mist, though I hoped he hadn’t loaded it with Fiery Jack in an effort to dispel an established cold.
As I neared the bridge with the light still good, I immediately registered the fact that it was no mean construction; this was displayed not only in terms of its length and size, but also the years of skill and workmanship required to put it there.
Crossing the bridge was a task of its own, an interesting experience, though one I felt better reserved for the motorist. At the roundabout Tain was exhibited on the signpost as being 3 miles and directly to my right was a caravan site linked to the grounds of the inn. I hurried down to the inn in anticipation of finding food and shelter. There was plenty of food, but to my horror, I was told that there was not one single room available. I had to question the validity of such a statement with a field full of caravans. The answer remained the same, so I reluctantly plodded off up the road knowing full well that Dougie would stake his all on resting here.
I stopped the caretaker of the caravan site who assured me that there was definitely no chance of accommodation and that the nearest inn was at Tain. I realised that it had to be done – there was no choice, I would head for Tain without further thought, asking the chap to inform Dougie of the change of plan. On leaving the roundabout I noticed a car in the ditch and two men standing by the roadside. I asked them to keep a look out for Dougie, should they still be waiting there. I decided to change into my fluorescent coat as nightfall was upon us with 3 miles still left to do. As I did so the rain fell as if from a tap, soaking me within seconds, spurring me on and leaving me with little thoughts other than those connected with warmth and shelter.
In what seemed a very short time I arrived at Tain, where my first port of call was an hotel. As I approached the entrance I noticed a building operation surrounded by signs, but as I moved to avoid the area I fell down a hole, where my boots disappeared beneath the mud. Much to my disgust, I dragged myself out and found my way to the reception area, only to be asked to leave the premises, due to the state I was in.
By now I was thoroughly cheesed off, but managed to make my departure without commenting on the overwhelming hospitality and safety regime. My next bid for shelter was a successful one, with the landlord of the guest house observing me with pity, rather than worrying about the mess on his carpet. He immediately offered to dry my clothes, and listened tentatively as I poured out a detailed account of the day’s events. He could see my concern over Dougie, and made numerous telephone calls to nearby guest houses. It was a fruitless task, which finally prompted him to take me back to the inn to see if we could locate him.
There was no sign of him anywhere on reaching the roundabout, which left only one thing to investigate – whether or not he had made it to the inn. He had in fact arrived there, but could manage no further ground thereafter. That bridge had become a symbol of sanctuary – a switch-off point, preventing any further activity. This had induced him to order a taxi to Tain, where he would be certain to find accommodation, and have time to gather his thoughts. At least he was safe, though the gap between us was beginning to increase, this was the first time since we had been parted at the close of the day, and I wondered whether he still planned to continue.
I did not sleep at all that night, feeling shattered as I sat down for breakfast, only able to manage some scrambled egg on toast. A Canadian girl sat opposite me, showing interest in my cause, but because I was suffering from tiredness, I was scarcely able to communicate with her. She had seen me walking the previous day and was herself hoping to visit John O’Groats after tonight’s intended stop at the Helmsdale Youth Hostel. I was anxious to get back to the road, and hopefully find Dougie, so I bid the landlord and his family farewell, thanking them for their help. They were amazed at the distance I had travelled already, stating that, of the many walkers who attempt this journey, none had come anywhere near this far is such a short time.
I had a premonition of a pain barrier, and needed to attack the day aggressively in order to remain positive. My first intended stop was to be the chemist, though at 8.00a.m. it was still closed, leaving me little choice but to continue up the hill, where I eventually arrived at the Scotchburn Road, leading to Alness. This was to be the first of the back roads chartered on the route, and featured in a tranquil background of forest and farmland, with only small pockets of life along the 12-mile stretch.
I had looked forward to this section, having been informed of its scenic qualities over breakfast, but although inspired by the occasion, I was now suffering discomfort with my footwear. It appeared that one of my feet was larger than the other, a problem which I suspected after the “yomp” round Cornwall. My boots, which were size 9, caused pain to my toes, and after the Helmsdale episode, I lost some toenails. My walking shoes however were size 10, which was fine provided I could compromise with extra socks and insoles. This was the main source of concern – getting it right for each foot. The supposedly modest 12 miles took over 4 hours to complete, though I was rewarded with some excellent scenery and the opportunity to visit a chemist, where I received a ward welcome from Fiery Jack.
I drank 3 pints of milk and adjusted my footwear for the sixteenth time, before heading off towards Evanton. This was also a pleasurable hike along a solitary B817 – a reasonable walking road, which was again encompassed with forest growth. Evanton was not a large place, though it was adequate enough to support accommodation for the passing tourist, in fact not too dissimilar to the towns previously visited. I walked straight through it and ventured back onto the A9, observing the formation of the railway lines, which passed from left to right of the carriageway, with a background view now dominated by water.
As I neared the Cromarty Bridge I caught sight of seals playing in the water, whom by now had attracted many spectators from the A9. I as fortunate enough to photograph these marvellous creatures before making another memorable crossing over the sea, only to be reunited with the hazards of a busy dual carriageway.
My evening target would be near Inverness, leaving me bang on schedule; I had separated Scotland into three segments, using Inverness as stage one, so this was to be my first major landmark.
Whilst contemplating this imminent milestone, Dougie pulled up on the other side of the road, my first thoughts on seeming him in the car were that he had thrown the towel in. This was not the case, but as he was now so far behind he thought it best to hitchhike back to Lybster to get the car and find me to let me know the score. I urged him to continue the walk at his own pace, and explained there was no reason why he couldn’t have a day off to fetch his mother back to Lockerbie, providing he reengaged himself at the point where he had left off. He was happy to do this and would return to Tain that evening in preparation for tomorrow. In the mean time he would drive up to Charlestown near Inverness and book me into some “digs” to avoid the previous night’s dilemma. Before he departed I gave him my boots, explaining the size problem, relaying instructions to pick up another pair from my house in Oundle and deposit them at his mother’s house in Lockerbie along with my other gear. My feet were sore, causing me to limp gingerly as I renewed myself to the elements of traffic and weather, still with a further 10 miles to crack. I had 6 miles to do when Dougie reappeared to leave me with a card from the Bed and Breakfast and the knowledge that on current form, I had roughly a two-hour journey left.
As darkness drew in, I was relieved to exit the carriageway and enter Charlestown, where I was able to use a path for the final moments of the day, The B & B was excellent and provided a Jacuzzi, a novel but welcome experience for the man-of-the-road. After a period of recuperation, I ambled up to the pub for some refreshment, but sadly not any food, as it was after 9.00p.m. I enjoyed 2 pints of ale which substituted a meal, whilst pondering over the agony of sore feet and the 30 miles to Carrbridge to follow – at least that left me with food for thought!
With Dougie now at large, I was able to make greater demands on my body, looking to boost up the mileage after week one. It had been a fierce baptism for him in appalling weather, which I had grown to believe Scotland owned the franchise of. He believed, in all honesty, that we could complete the journey in 9 days, even after I had assured him it would be closer to 12, and that was pushing it with England to follow.
Today’s effort would realise 30 miles aimed at a possible stay at Carrbridge, a little tourist town 2 miles off the A9. I had to endure the dual carriageway for the first party of the journey, crossing the bridge at Inverness, where shortly after I cracked my toe on one of the ribbed kerbstones. From then on it was a painful experience with little respite from the traffic. I stopped for a break at a park, where I soaked my foot in a stream, the fast-flowing water soothing it momentarily, as I absorbed the peace and tranquillity of the surrounding area. At this stage it was a necessary break from the road, which for the best part of the day was a monotonous serge of oncoming vehicles.
By late afternoon, following a tea break at a Little Chef restaurant, I was able to enjoy a detour away from the carriageway, where I passed through several small villages, one of particular interest, known as “Slochd”, before eventually linking up with the A9.
I felt certain that there were parts of the old A9 that could be adapted for pedestrian use, though this was difficult to define with the many rocks and protrusions interrupting its flow. I persevered on the now very wet, main road with the intrusions of blasting horns and waving passengers. I suppose they thought me mad, even with my mission printed boldly on my jacket and cap.
The day was still young as I entered into the final 2 miles of the leg, completed on a quieter country route, taking me into the middle of the small town. The inn was full, but I was able to obtain a bed at the guest house next door, and as I left the inn, with my promise to return, the barman promptly donated to the cause. Later that evening whilst relaxing at the bar I was joined by an English couple Ron and Babs, who took an interest in my crusade. We exchanged delightful conversation, with many interesting views concerning life in general and the impact of change created by the modern world. The contemporary world has suffered many sickening blows struck by greed and industrialisation. The pollutants and man-made poisons, including cigarettes, provide revenue to the government, who are in effect managing a self-destruct society. In weighing up the odds from an ecological perspective, a depleted ozone layer and a few million cancer statistics indicate the harsh reality of change. I personally see little hope of improvement in terms of these changes, once a discovery has been made it is there for ever. I am interested in observing change, and would like to walk around the British Isles before the turn of the century, this drawing a comparison from the previous hundred years. It is time the country had its temperature tested, even though a sick society is not always a willing patient, and may well lie in waiting for the last rites from its leaders.
As the Guinness session drew to a close, Ron and Babs made tracks to their accommodation, and on departure donated £5 for my efforts, so far – a wonderful gesture from two very fine people. Social activity is often the key to success on the road, leaving one with a satisfying experience of being able to summarise the events incurred over the course of the day.
A SPANNER IN THE WORKS:
Once again I appreciated the hospitality, acknowledging the extra chores I had bestowed upon the landlady in particular, who ensured that my clothes were dry for the start of the day. I finished breakfast at about 8.30a.m., my normal start time, and commenced walking on the B9153 road to Aviemore, once again blemished by the usual wet conditions.
At first my feet were sore. I had used a ‘second skin’ on the ball of my foot, which took the brunt on the downhill stretch. One of my heels had suffered a blister and was still tinder, so I resorted to running tactics for much of the day. I reached Aviemore without too much drama – at least that was, until I arrived at the bank, where I was subjected to the usual hassle of trying to obtain money, resulting this time in a half-hour wait.
It was only planned as a short day, allowing for some rest in preparation for the heavy duty days to follow. Newtonmore would be the last significant stop before embarking on the desolate highway which provided little other than an odd farmhouse for 30 or more miles. It was not to be a stressful day in terms of mileage, so I took the opportunity to write some postcards and enjoy a spot of lunch in a café.
I strolled out of the town putting the cards in a postbox, by then caping up ready for another wet session. I felt sure I could finish the day’s walk within a couple of hours, but when I resumed running my toe was in agony. I could hardly walk on it and after the crack I took the day before – perhaps I shouldn’t have attempted to run. The pain had started to cause cramp in the bottom section of the foot, and like Saturday, I went through the ritual of changing socks and insoles. By the time I arrived at Newtonmore I was particularly concerned, for if I had fractured that toe, it would surely mean the end of the walk. It was a chilling sensation, one which I was powerless to evade.
There was nothing much in Newtonmore, other than accommodation and tourist shops. I had no problem in finding an inn, and was able to enjoy a hot bath. I discovered a shoe shop, thinking maybe if I had trainers I might cope a bit better with the injury. It was a difficult time, but I was able to enjoy a proper mean before taking an early night to view some television, by which time I managed to drift into some form of sleep.
It was Tuesday with almost a week of walking behind me, yet much work was still to be done to procure a departure date from Scotland. Today would require plenty of character to overcome a troublesome toe complaint on a long stretch of road, offering little in the terms of stop points for either refreshment or accommodation. The largest town from here would be Pitlochry, though there were smaller places after Calvine which would support accommodation. Calvine however, was at least 30 miles and the only other place providing refreshment would be Dalwhinnie, which was ten miles from Newtonmore. First however, I had to deal with the most significant pain barrier as yet on any walking occasion. I was convinced that I now had a cracked toe and the pain had extended to the arch of my foot.
After a nourishing breakfast I paid my bill and visited a shop which advertised footwear. It was however very basic regarding its products, and in the end I convinced myself that I would manage with my walking shoes. I did however purchase a couple of pairs of insoles in order to create some form of comfort throughout the day.
It was a bleak start – wet and windy, and progress was slow with discomfort leading to regular stoppages on the trip to Dalwhinnie. There was a back road leading to Dalwhinnie which was a pleasant detour from the A9 and offered the visual sundries usually associated with a tourist route. Dalwhinnie was only a small community, the distillery being its main product, with other buildings amounting to a shop, hotel and a garage. The shop was my first priority, then I opted for a rest beside the war memorial where I felt I could draw strength from the great warriors whose names were inscribed upon it. It was the right place for me to gather fortitude – reminding myself of the bravery shown by these men, most of whom had been trained to die. I had merely trained for a job, which I had taken 4 years to nominate myself for, and a cracked toe is a minor issue compared to the suffering of these great men.
I could not relinquish this task, and two cartons of milk later, I was up and gone, making my way through the village and back onto the A9 which was as intense as ever in wet conditions. I enjoyed the occasional stroll along the old A9, now procured for cycle use and pedestrians, though available only at intervals. I couldn’t get used to the discomfort in my toe, desperately trying to adopt an improvised step. I believe that day all told, I must have stopped over 20 times, sparing the odd necessity of filling my water bottle from a stream, which helped break the monotony.
Once, when filling my water bottle at a cascade opposite a lay-by, I was offered a couple of tins of lucozade and a bar of chocolate by the owner of a Range Rover. We talked for a while discussing my mission and the troublesome injury which was hampering my progress. He could only offer sympathy and wish me well for the rest of the journey, as he headed off to Inverness, leaving me to admire the mountainous scenery fading rapidly beneath a blanket of mist. The mist was accompanied by another patch of wet weather, but as I had taken to the cycle route again, I was able to enjoy my walk in a country-setting, devoid of traffic. Even as the rain poured down upon me, I became free and relaxed, observing all the details of an environment which had given nature the opportunity to thrive. The railway line was in view on my right as I passed over a bridge with a stream below, and shortly after a village came into view. There was a sign reading ’Cycle route to Blair Atholl’ – a place I was not familiar with. The little village was known as Calvine, represented only by a few houses and a signpost indicating a hotel half a mile down the hill on the right.
All the signs that preceded Calvine highlighted Blair as the main town accentuating that there was a strong possibility of a night-time base. The only other place that I knew to be on that trail was Pitagowan, which turned out to be a very small area – one I chose not to investigate as darkness approached. I was now fired up for Blair, with the pain in my toe subsiding – giving me the will to continue. In any event I had little choice as Blair was the only place of substance left en route. It was now totally dark as I scurried alongside the railway line, pushing hard in an attempt to find human life and some leisure resources.
By 9.00p.m. I achieved that satisfying goal arriving at an hotel just inside Blair Atholl, it was however £27.50 per night, though the bar tender informed me of a guest house location further ahead. I was successful in finding it beyond a public house and hotel at the far end of the village, where to my elation the landlady had one room left, and into the bargain offered to dry my kit for the morning. My foot was feeling quite good despite an absence of flesh caused by the removal of a ’second skin’ covering which left only raw tissue. Surgical spirit was liberally applied to stave off infection, but at least I could walk, and to end the day I strolled into the pub for a quiet Guinness. I slept well that night reassuring myself that light was seeping through the tunnel on a day when I had conquered pain.
With week one complete, I could target myself for Perth, the next main stop point. I was feeling good in myself – it was a sunny morning and I enjoyed the company at the breakfast table, whilst consuming some of the finest cuisine. On hearing the details of my mission throughout the course of breakfast, the landlady kindly dropped the charge of my evening stay as a contribution to my effort. After expressing my gratitude for her kindness I strolled happily up the road, viewing the river below, now reflecting the morning sun. Blair had been a marvellous experience displaying the authentic character and scenic attributes associated with Scotland, thus defining the qualities sought after by tourists. The heat of the day was a welcome change, but progress was slow throughout as my feet were very sore particularly on the areas previously blistered.
Pitlochry was a busy town equipped with all the amenities for the traveller, though aimed at attracting visitors and tourists. I ate my lunch whilst sitting on a park bench, and afterwards I used the opportunity to write a few cards before making ground to Dunkeld. It was slow-going to Dunked – a painful journey yielding only a few miles. I decided to have fish and chips for my tea and sat by the bridge where I viewed fishermen standing in the shallow water in an attempt to catch salmon.
It was a beautiful town, inviting me to extend my visit, but sadly the road beckoned, owing to the little ground covered over the day. I would ain to get nearer to Perth before settling for the night. There were a couple of villages on the way, and I felt confident of finding an inn or guest house.
As I reached Bankfoot, I felt the presence of a storm. The humidity had risen along with intense black cloud moving threateningly into a position above with a trace of its voice bellowing in distant areas already at its mercy. The stage was set for its arrival, and I didn’t relish the thought of walking on open ground – I certainly would not endeavour the 9-mile trip to Perth. There was only one inn at Bankfoot and a guest house – neither of which had vacancies. On leaving the village I passed a man who was working on his garden – he offered me some advice regarding accommodation at the farmhouses en route to Perth. He chatted about the other walkers he had met going through to Land’s End, but was anxious about the storm and my need to find shelter. Whilst consulting his daughter, he discovered that the Hunt’s Lodge 1 mile out of Bankfoot, now catered for travellers. I continued along the road to where the inn was situated. It was a nice place with only a few residents using chalet facilities outside.
It has been a miserly day regarding miles walked, but there could be little gained by trying to walk on sore feet, so an early night at the sanctuary of a warm inn was a welcome reward following the previous day’s effort. It was time to unwind and I did so with the resources available – namely Caffreys, Guinness, and roasted peanuts.
THE INDIAN SUMMER
The storm had made little impact the previous evening, merely paving the way clear for the sun to interrupt the usual wet weather. I resumed on the main road during the morning, signposted at 9 miles to Perth itself, which I had chosen to bypass in order to make use of the back roads., the first of which would take me through Dunning, then I would use the old B road to Yetts ‘0 Muckhart. It was a strenuous trek as I had set my sights on Kincardine Bridge, totalling 40 miles for the day. It was incredibly hot – at times similar to the August weather. I kept thinking that perhaps summer had returned to its final hour, to grace us with its presence.
It was necessary to take regular fluids and keep plenty in stock for the journey to Yetts o’Muckhart. I remembered the long trail from when we drove up, unable to imagine that we passed through here just over a week ago. It was a touch “hack”, yet beautiful with an escarpment of mountains and forestation as my arrival was heralded by an orchestra of barking hounds, heard echoing through the canyons. You certainly got value for money walking along this road, inch for inch one could never contest its distance being less than the premised amount. It offered me a peaceful opportunity to reflect on the task so far, and examine the overall workload. The itinerary itself was hard to reconcile. 30-40 miles a day for a month, is a stiff quota of penance, served with 30-40 lbs on my back.
Eventually I reached Yetts o’ Muckhart, promptly taking the country lane was as to avoid Dollar, putting me bang on target for Kincardine, a good 8 miles away. On reaching the “main drag”, darkness was imminent, so I changed into fluorescent gear before getting into some overtime. I moved at great speed in the dying light, as traffic hurtled towards me with the blinding full beam.
I passed by the small communities set back from A977 before eventually arriving at the town around 9.00 p.m. Kincardine at first struck me as being a large place, but in fact it was quite small, with its bridge standing firm as the main feature. I enquired after accommodation at the garage where I was informed of 3 possible places. I headed first to an inn and located a fish shop in the town. The landlady at the inn took me down a road where there was a possibility of obtaining accommodation. The people had just arrived back at their home and indicated that they weren’t an established guest house, but owing to the fact that I was on a walk for Cancer Research, they would help me out. The lady’s name was Ursula, whose normal occupation was nursing, but as their two sons were now living away from home, they had an opportunity to use the bedrooms for a subsidiary income. At present there were two contractors staying at their home, and I was able to sleep in the spare room.
Ursula repaired my damaged feet, whilst I described in detail how I had progressed to date, explaining that Douglas would follow in a few days time. She had suffered family losses though cancer and was keen to help out, using her nursing skills and providing me with a tin of iodine and some fresh dressing for future blisters.
At 10.00p.m. I entered the pub which was hosting a now well-established karaoke. Some of the singers were a little bit better than my cousin John – but not much ( that is to say if you had a karaoke at a funeral service it would be more dignified to let somebody other than John do the singing). Anyway, it was a swift 2 pints and a fish supper before retiring to revise my thoughts on what had been a very prosperous day.
It was an early start the following morning – not that I minded ,with another testing journey, destined for Biggar. I breakfasted heartily laying the foundation for the day ahead, with my knowledge of a probable 50 miler. I had enjoyed my stay, and as I produced my cheque book, the gentleman insisted that there would be no charge, in view of the work I was doing. His wife had replenished my first aid box the evening before, so I was now fixed up for a big day. I was delighted to have received their warm hospitality, and it is encouraging to know that people care about what I am doing. The morning was crisp, showing promise of another hot day to come, as I confronted the great suspension bridge of Kincardine. The first big target was Falkirk, where I would need to obtain money before heading for less-established places on the map. Most of the morning’s walk was completed on A roads, with some fiddly bits on the dual carriageway. Falkirk was the most substantial place I had been to so far, yet the banking problems still continued. The woman at the counter was totally incompetent and refused access to money, without even fetching the manager, or making a telephone call. I stormed out, angered by her attitude, but was quickly aided by a girl who had seen the whole affair. She explained that the other banks were more helpful, and indeed they were – in fact I entered a similar type of bank, but wasn’t interrogated in the same fashion as before, The woman knew the procedure and set about her job efficiently, as well as asking about my welfare and how the event was taking its toll on my body.
The drama continued however, when I chose the wrong exit from the town, taking me onto the Stirling road. A doughnut salesman was able to give me directions back through the town via the canal, up along Windsor Street. At the junction adjoining Windsor Street was a garage, which I remembered from last week’s trip, then of course, there was the massive uphill climb out of the town onto the B8028 to Biggar. Biggar was still a long way from here – my first targets would be Armadale and Carnwath, the latter was a possible nightstop if required.
I took the B road for most of the journey but fell foul of malicious mischief just 3 miles from Armadale where the signpost had been turned round, thus leading me onto an incorrect route. I wasn’t aware of this until I arrived at Westfield, when it was indicated to me by the post woman that I was 3 miles from Armadale having just walked that distance from the suspect signpost. In anger I ran to Armadale and onto the next town known as Whitburn. I did not know at the time, but Dougie was breaking his journey to go back to Oundle to collect his mother, and had attempted to find me en route. He had suffered a similar fate with the signpost, though it would have been earlier in the day, and probably whilst I was trying to sort out my finances.
I wasn’t too despondent, though by now the heat of the day was taking its toll, as the rejuvenated summer continued to flourish, with the prospect of wearing a turban in weeks to come. I had no complaints at all on that front, after being at the mercy of bad weather for the last week.
As I was leaving Whitburn I found a cyclist who had been knocked over by a car – he was unconscious with head injuries. Trying to stop the flow of traffic to gain assistance was damned nearly a lost cause. Eventually a car stopped, causing a domino effect with mobile phones appearing from all sections of the road.
Fortunately a young girl know the victim and offered to stay with him until the ambulance arrived. Some guy claiming to be trained in first aid, and eager to impress the crowd, tried to move him, but we quickly insisted that it was wrong to do so, especially with head injuries. By the time the police arrived, had had gained consciousness. With the knowledge he was in safer hands I expressed my need to continue walking and promptly departed from the scene. I was marching at 4 miles per hour, and had maintained this throughout the day, reaching Carnwath at around 6.45p.m. It was still light, and I needed food and fluid so I indulged in fish and chips and a bottle of lucozade. I had a brief chat with some local lads then made tracks for Biggar. As the night drew near I was once again on the back roads, where I struggled to read the signs. The last three miles to Biggar were quite unnerving as I became engulfed by the darkened cover of forest and wooded-countryside where animal activity was now predominant,
Biggar was of moderate size, not greatly endowed with accommodation, but I finally found shelter at a guest house close to an inn. It was a cozy place owned by a friendly couple, and I was soon showered and installed in the inn with a good hour of drinking time available. It had been a premium effort, though not paying full dividends, owing to the sundry miles completed a the expense of being lost. The pub visit was brief as a much-earned sleep beckoned, with the last two days of the Scottish leg still to be completed.
I appreciated a lovely breakfast, as waell as having a good chat with the owners. They had treated me so well, and also refused any payment towards my stay. The hospitality was outstanding, filling me with inspiration as I prepared for a shorter journey of around 30 miles to Moffat.
Once again it was a fine day for walking as I stepped out into the bright sunshine, now united with the cool morning air that is warmed by the sound of resident birds. The first part of the day consisted of 5 miles to Broughton, where I would pick up supplies before continuing on what was in fact another desolate trail to Moffat. On arriving at the town I asked a woman to take a picture of me standing under the signpost to Moffat. She did so and after informing her of my activities she place £10 in my hand to put towards the cause. The lady lived at Shap, a small town in Cumbria which I was soon to revisit. I was less fit today, sporting a cold, resultant from loss of body temperature – a problem frequently suffered on long-distance walks. Mid-journey I stopped for a cup of tea at the Crook Inn – the only place en route. From then on it was something of a drag, despite attractive countryside, now with a totally green complexion broken only by streams and the odd farmhouse, the main focal points seen from the road.
The view of Moffat some 4 miles away was astonishing, as was the presentation of the town itself, proudly displaying its honourable name now accredited as the finest county town in Scotland, one which boasts much tourist support.
Accommodation was posted everywhere, but I quickly settled for a little guest house next door to an inn. The landlady was a warm person ensuring that I had every requirement including a hot bath. This ritual was a rare luxury with the implementation of compulsory water metering, I suppose I had grown in admiration for these friendly people who remain so generous, despite the financial impact of privatisation. Nobody can expect to live in a utopian world, but at times it becomes distressing to watch folks continually working to survive, only to have their profits consumed by the martial law of capitalism.
In England this system appears to be popular owing to the evidence of the many millions who vote for its existence. In fact they are willing enough to support it and in doing so, sentence themselves to long-term imprisonment at work in an effort to stave off the increase of charges, taxes, and V.A.T. I have seen many situations on my travels which would question the need for such a trend in a world where people are simply wanting a piece of the action and a bit more security. As it was a comparatively early day, my night was taken up with ’phone calls, postcards and visits to many different inns.
By the next day my cold had subsided adequately enough for me to enjoy a breakfast before departing for Lockerbie. The lady knocked a couple of pounds off what was a very small amount for my evening stay, and again I was pleased to be reunited with the morning sun. I took a wrong exit from Moffat, which led me up to the A74 dual carriageway, but I knew where to reconnect myself to the proposed country road at the expense of a couple of miles. It was a very short trip to Lockerbie along a typical country road, supporting mainly agricultural machinery and Sunday drivers. I managed to find Dougie’s mother’s house where a message was pinned to the door to say he would arrive at 3.00p.m. and to ‘phone the neighbours for access. It was marvellous that we would meet up like this as we both had so much to talk about. When he eventually arrived, we enjoyed the rest of the day, relating our experiences as well as preparing for the secondary part of the journey, changing over my gear with the inclusion of new boots. In the evening we visited an inn where Dougie’s mother treated us to a lovely meal before we retired with hopeful thoughts about the day to come.
A FAREWELL JOURNEY
At 8.30a.m. Douglas and I had finished our breakfast, bidding farewell to his mother, and then to each other as we parted in different directions. Dougie was to hitchhike up to Perth, where he would resume the rest of his walk back to Gretna, a journey of around 5 days.
My first place of recognition was to be Ecclefechan a 5-mile introduction to the day, which would renew me back to familiar ground. The bottoms of my feet were very stiff, a complaint of which I had suffered throughout this walk. I can’t remember ever having the problem before, but was able to wear boots rather than walking shoes used on the best part of the event so far.
Ecclefechan was only a small place, as was Kirtlebridge and Kirkpatrick Fleming, where most of the attention was focused on road-building operations, which would produce a new bridge and alternative road. This was excellent for me as I could walk uninterrupted owing to the reduction in traffic. I was able to enjoy the final few miles of Scotland on the B road, stopping at Gretna Green for a tea at Smithy’s café. It was very quiet compared to my last visit where Annie and I had spent a cold afternoon prior to the Hadrian’s Wall episode.
Today however was still very warm but clearly indicating the decline of the summer in terms of tourist interest. It was a sweet feeling crossing onto English soil, yet a sad farewell to what had been a wonderful experience created from beautiful scenery and overwhelming hospitality. It was just over 12 days on the road, and I found difficulty in equating the amount of work that had been done in that time, even though I had given a forecast to the effect that it was quite feasible.
As I progressed towards Carlisle using the A74, it transpired that I was at fault with my route. I should have opted for the longer A7 road through to Longtown and Blackford – a place that I knew very well.
The carriageway was abysmal as the A74 accounted for all the motorway traffic. I had to walk on the grass all the way until I reached the hard shoulder on the countdown markers – I was now technically on the motorway as the A74 would join with the M6, thus rendering me an outlaw on the highway. The police were soon down alongside me and I expected them to make me turn back, but realising what I was doing they just pointed out that I could exit 2 miles down and walk onto the A7 which would lead me straight into Carlisle.
I remembered the roundabout and the lengthy walk into Carlisle on my last encounter whilst feeling ill. At least this time I was fit, and furthermore eager to recapitulate the journey and improve upon it, having been lost on occasions before.
I started to feel strong though I had planned 4 steady days using the same itinerary as before for much of the journey. I wanted to observe change and hopefully see some of the people I had met previously. I felt a little sad on missing a visit to Blackford, though I had planned to base myself at Carlisle with the added hop of finding an English bank.
On my arrival at the town centre, I had missed the bank by half an hour, but managed to cash a cheque at the Nicholas Arms near my evening lodge. It was here that I celebrated my arrival in England, and gave a farewell toast to Scotland, with a good measure of Guinness to wash down a fine meal. I paid my twelve pounds to the Polish couple who owned the lodge, and made my final journey of the day up the stairs to bed, where I slept with ease, feeling satisfied with the state of affairs.
A TOUCH OF NOSTALGIA
The next day was soon upon me, filling me with pleasure and excitement over the prospect of retracing my footsteps covered on the epic Hadrian’s Wall to Land’s End walk. Pain was of minor consequence with myself now reconstituted for the rest of the task, taking up the challenge of the A6 with the alacrity of a youthful athlete. The sun did not present itself until late in that day, but the air was still warm enough for me to acknowledge the Indian Summer whose stubborn behaviour was showing signs of a season reluctant to move on.
I remembered the garage situated by the A6, and stopped to purchase a pint of milk before encountering a small portion of dual carriageway, which crossed above the M6. I passed by a second garage where I noticed my first signpost to Penrith registering 14 miles. I continued marching at full speed, observing the many prominent landmarks which were opening up the memory, banks greeting me with nostalgia. There were moments when I looked back with a certain ambivalence, reminding myself of the frustration endured at the hands of a virus – but now I was strong and would allow nothing to oppose me or interrupt my impetus.
I recognised the little pub where I had stopped for a lunch interval though on this occasion if was only 10.00a.m. and therefore closed. I was making my ground quickly and appreciated having paths to walk on, allowing suitable time to take a rest at a café directly beyond a caravan site. One must salvage the opportunity to stop periodically so as not to burn out, and on this particular day it was quiet, allowing me a relaxing half-hour break spent conversing with the proprietors. They recited details of the many travelling heroes whom had passed through over the years, there was one guy who walked from John O’Groats every year with a pram, used to collect money. He hadn’t been seen recently, though other walkers still attempt the journey – often appearing exhausted, only to be reassured by the owner that they still had half the job left to do! This delightful piece of information was not always accepted joyfully, although I was exuberant after hearing such news.
It was a cheering interval, one which inspired my return to the road, where I would enjoy the last part of the day – a 7-mile trek through picturesque terrain concluding at Penrith, a major town in Cumbria. I passed by a familiar hotel and a few farm-buildings on the remaining 4 miles, before eventually looking down onto a valley displaying a red-brick environment, to where a bustling train was now destined to arrive. I followed the road into what was currently a busy town which hosted an abundance of market activity. I stopped to buy some postcards and use the banking facilities before attempting to find the guest house where I rested through illness on my previous walk. This was an unsuccessful bid, and as I wanted to make use of an early finish ,so as to wash clothing and write letters, I opted to stay at an inn called the Druid’s Arms. It was adequate for my needs and once I had attended to the administration requirements, I enjoyed a stroll around the town, stopping for a meal and a couple of pints. By 9.00p.m. I was in bed relaxing with an hour of television and a few encouraging thoughts after the day’s journey, which had been completed 4 hours faster than in 1993.
I had scarcely closed my eyes as morning came round once more to greet me in the presence of the sun proclaiming good tidings for the day ahead. Kendal was to be my destination using the A6 through Shap Fell, a notoriously desolate area with an ambience of mountains and greenery, with the valleys beneath. There was indication of many historical attributes associated with the area, particularly on the stretch between Penrith and Shap. Shap itself was quite a small town, situated in the heart of Cumbria, offering enough in terms of basic amenities, though after which there would be nothing until arriving at Kendal. I simply picked up a few provisions and headed off up the hill to enjoy some rewarding scenery. I did however stop at a caravan sales depot to replenish my water supply and attend to my feet. It was after this point where the countryside was phenomenal in every department, capturing many traits and focal points reminiscent of Scotland.
The latter part of the journey appeared to drag on a bit, although it was clear that I had most certainly ameliorated in walking terms, reducing the time spent on the road quite significantly when related to my past efforts. It wasn’t long before I was in the confines of Kendal Youth Hostel – an old building harbouring people of all types of nationalities. I cooked myself a meal and did more washing before an evening visit to the pub, which was a lively place patronised mainly by young people. At least I had allowed myself the opportunity to unwind properly, knowing all too well that the full impact of my workload was yet to come and with it, the promise of bad weather.
I enjoyed the refuge of the hostel which enable me to dry my clothes properly, was well as cook as required, using my army ration packs. It was a calm crisp morning as I slipped briskly out of town back on to the A6 where I thoroughly enjoyed the opening session which reacquainted me with the Lancashire countryside. I was able to travel on footpaths for the rest of the day, relaxing my mind as my body moved up a gear. I was fuelled by euphoria as nostalgia crept into the day, reminding me of the many products of nature which have survived since my last visit. The deer were still grazing near the sanctuary of the woodlands with an absence of shyness, stationed only metres from the road. Train activity was present throughout most of the day, as was the odd shower. I even experienced confusion concerning my route, which had occurred before – though remedied on both occasions.
There were some lovely little towns on the way to Carnforth and the people were extremely friendly, showing great interest in my walk; one old fellow in particular voiced concern about my feet, offering me advice on a special ointment used by himself after long walks. Not only did he lead me to the chemist that sold it – he actually purchased the item for me as a contribution towards my mission. It was nice to stop a while and talk, sometimes the road is a lonely place offering little other than the noisy intrusion of vehicular activity. I stopped again at Carnforth, enjoying a break at a café before setting off to complete the allotted 22 miles to Lancaster. It was now raining very hard, as several cyclists passed me by, I didn’t mind the weather, it was still fairly warm, and soon I would be at Lancaster and able to appreciate another early finish.
Lancaster was a large town with many road-crossings to cope with in what was now the peak time of the day. I plodded through the rain eventually finding a place of rest at the Duke of Lancaster Hotel, where I was charged a modest fee for the accommodation. I was soon able to enjoy the privilege of a hot bath, followed by ration-pack soup which livened my appetite sufficiently enough to warrant an additional walk to a Wimpy bar in the town centre. I was satisfied with the progress and felt prepared enough to boost up the mileage from here on.
It was now Friday morning and with the weekend ahead, I made an early exit from the hotel with a spring in my step, eager to confront the increasing demands. I recall struggling with sore toes whilst tackling this particular stretch, so I experienced a sense of relief at being fluent in my stride reclaiming the miles at a good hourly rate. It was only 11.00a.m. when I reached Garstang, so I allowed myself a substantial break to replenish supplies and participate in a spot of lunch. Before resumption, I decided to employ the use of Fiery Jack, who in fact was never redundant, with my back playing havoc all the time. I took the B road out of Garstang, and with my cape hauled over my rucksack in an effort to stay dry, I set about the task of reaching Preston. Parts of the journey were quite fulfilling, showing signs of a quality environment, but as I neared Preston, I became overawed by the road-crossings and the pollutant aspects relating to the growth of industry.
I spent the next hour or so dealing with the peak time on the dual carriageway, eventually linking up with a more subdued A49, where I was now poised to complete the final quarter of the day. Again I soaked up the nostalgia, stopping to photograph prominent points as well as observing certain changes that were taking place, as major building operations were progressing with stunning consequence. It was almost profane to bear witness to the construction of such ugliness in the ambience of rural prestige. Bit by bit our countryside is being dismembered against nature’s will, only to be replaced by the monuments of industry. The towering pylons and smoking chimneys overlooking the busy motorways can only accentuate the presence of an ailing society that is highly resistant to any positive environmental change.
Once away from the construction site, I was able to enjoy the finer aspects of the country, walking through the many small communities still clinging firmly to their agricultural roots. By 6.30p.m. I arrived at a small haven known as Charnock Richard, a place where I had stayed previously. I elected to seek accommodation at the inn, though the guest house used before was excellent. The landlady of the inn was a good person and allowed me to pin my sponsor form up in the pub under the direction of the bar girlie. Although I was tired, I managed to enjoy a home-cooked meal before retiring to my room.
I rose as normal at 7.00a.m. which allowed me to participate in yoga exercises that would prepare my muscles for the day, as well as ensuring that I was adequately alert. I was the only resident at this lovely old inn, so I was able to converse with the landlady over breakfast. They were good people who, like many others, were struggling to a tied house, which badly needed repair work and the brewery reluctant to intervene. With winter months now imminent, much would depend on food custom to keep the business intact. I can remember the days when the pub trade was a thriving enterprise, sadly now tenants in brewery-owned premises often work long hours with little personal gain. One could certainly run the risk of being financially disabled as a result of taking on a pub – I have known couples to lose all their assets, including their own homes, leaving them with only the street to confront.
The lady bid me farewell, issuing me with a couple of ham butties for the journey, as I stepped out on to the A49 where I was left to tackle the prodigious task of reaching Tarporley, a small town in Cheshire. My attitude was simply that it had been achieved before and that I was feeling good, but my first significant place would be Wigan, which presented the road-crossing problems associated with all places of substance.
Wigan was only 6 miles and I arrived there unscathed, in time to view the rugby players warming-up at the ground in readiness for another big game. On my departure from the town I took the opportunity to photograph some of its more distinguished areas before making tracks for Warrington – another large town, situated in the county of Cheshire.
I found myself walking for most of the day in a built-up environment, where the towns seemed to merge together with tricky slip roads to follow, increasing the risk of getting lost. My arrival at Warrington was something of a relief, and as I sat nursing my feet on a bench overlooking the canal, I was questioned by the local chemist whilst he watered his plants. Intrigued by my feat (and of course my feet), we conversed for almost 20 minutes after which he used my camera to take a picture of me in a now relaxed pose. He gave promise of a scenic journey throughout the county, where wealthy little villages were dissipated at regular intervals along the A49. I could now gain salvation from past memories as I recalled the welcome transformation of township to rural life.
Mid-way, with still 10 miles to account for I took a break at the Little Chef, where I spoke with a woman who had endured 12 operations to address the symptoms of breast cancer. She was a cheerful sort with a warm heart, adding considerable weight to the importance of the walk. If I was to stamp my authority on the road, now was a good time as any, I focused my mind on the job and set about it in true military fashion.
I passed many stone buildings and Tudor-style pubs whose titles usually depicted various gaming rituals and country tradition, walking my final 2 miles for the day in total darkness.
I purchased some fish and chips before seeking sanctuary at the Forester’s Arms – the pub I stayed at previously when the owner had to reform his office room in order to accommodate me. He was pleased to see me and on this occasion was able to supply me with a dormer room at a reduced rate. As it was Saturday night I felt obliged to sit in the bar for a couple of hours where I found the Guinness highly commendable. I did not in fact retire until after midnight as I sat entranced in the atmosphere of the inn now filled with people enjoying the coin of fun.
It had been quite exacting to complete the distance in such good time, having already walked over 500 miles in 16 days . Although largely empirical, consulting the memory banks to prove self-belief that I could perform the task, I was still uncertain about whether or not I could maintain the present workload. Nonetheless I bid a confident farewell to the landlord, adding that I would hope to see him again on a future mission, as I left the pub in pouring rain, which had emerged beneath a blanket of dark cloud.
Walking to Whitchurch I noted the beautiful countryside, distinguished by its canals and bridges, where even on such a raw day, boating activity still presided over other leisure pursuits. I admired the many impressive churches, to where people were struggling against howling wind and rain, to make their weekly service. Autumn had announced its arrival with an opening hymn, and promise of a lengthy sermon to follow.
In the plight of a major downpour I took shelter in a pub, making the most of the break by consuming a pot of tea and a bowl of soup. On completion of lunch, I was able to continue my journey under more refined circumstances with the rain subsiding enough to allow the sun to peep through the dense cloud cover. As I neared Hodnet, I was accosted by a familiar character, namely Douglas Kirkpatrick, who had just finished his assignment in Scotland. I was so pleased to see him as we exchanged greetings and recited our adventures and achievements since the previous week, with a comical account of Dougie sleeping under a hedge en route to Yetts o’ Muckhart, I was able to commandeer fresh clothing for what was now assimilating a military operation with overwhelming deadlines to make. I had only intended to use the previous itinerary as a guideline, and was now in fact aiming to increase the daily mileage, using country roads in preference to primary routes.
As we parted company, an accident took place at the bend on the road, nobody was injured but Dougie stopped to ensure that things were in order.
I sampled some fruit at Hodnet, then continued through to Crudington, where the pubs were just opening, indicating the time was around 7.00p.m. I pressed on with darkness creeping in on a narrow road, encompassed only by grass verges and open fields. It was a stressful session, where I was required at times to cross the road to avoid heavy traffic. I was dreading the encounter at the roundabout, which brought about my downfall on the last visit, though it was technically a formality to reach Wellington. In fact, aside from some minor confusion, it was relatively straightforward, and I was soon situated near the town centre.
I was uncertain about Youth Hostel facilities and decided to ask at a hotel reception. I quickly announced who I was and the purpose of my mission, in order to dispel any belief that I may have been an ambitious tramp. The manageress, whose name was Sharon, said that she would like to assist in my cause by allowing me a free night’s accommodation. I was over the moon, expressing my gratitude with mixed feelings of elation and relief after another arduous examination set by the road. After a hot bath, I rejoiced at the bar in between intervals of using the ’phone to relay my position. Tomorrow I would attempt to reach Ombersley on a much lengthened route, and hopefully manufacture a chance meeting with my aunt and uncle who I haven’t seen for 6 years. I also ‘phoned Chris Hopkins of Severn Valley Catering Company to analyse the prospect of walking through Bristol instead of Bath, along with his support. I felt in need of some company, and there were times too, that I wanted a walking partner to share my burden – 40 miles a day is excessive, and I wanted someone to experience that sensation by accompanying me for a few days.
The next day I was awakened to the sound of the telephone – it was Chris, ensuring me a stopover at Saul, just west of my route along the A38, where I forecasted my arrival in 2 days from now. It was a dull Monday morning as I departed from the hotel, thanking the staff for their help. My first problem was finding the correct exit road to Ironbridge; there was a little uncertainty, but I eventually made passage along a subsiding road, which prohibited heavy goods. Ironbridge was a fantastic place, and having missed out last time, I was eager to absorb its characteristics, photographing the unique creations. The B road leaving Ironbridge was under heavy reconstruction, courtesy of Wrekin and Forest.
The nature of these circumstances enabled me to progress unhindered by traffic, and passage to Bridgnorth became an innocuous task. Bridgnorth was a beautiful site, with its gated entrance and Elizabethan structures, encouraging me to stop long enough to enjoy some fish and chips, whilst admiring its splendour. I walked past the Severn Valley Railway just in time to photograph a steam train shunting out of the station. I then made my exit from the town, taking a longer route to Bewdley in preference to the more direct A442 to Kidderminster, in the hope of avoiding the dead badger syndrome.
The route was furnished with tree-life, but was largely open, exposing typical rural England, with the occasional appearance of a tractor renewing itself to autumn tasks. The prodigy of life was present in an infinite manner as I almost expected to see a horse and cart appear at the next bend. The country air had a sweet smell which was pleasing to the nostrils, in contrast to the foul air of the city environments and the larger townships. This increased my momentum, stopping only to ask a farmer for the use of his water supply. I experienced some pain at the back of my heels, incurred through blisters, resultant from wearing an extra pair of socks, which was aimed at cushioning the bottoms of my feet. I ignored the discomfort, continuing through Bewdley and on to Stourport, where I ’phoned my mother, indicating my position. She was to ’phone my relatives, and advise them of my forecasted arrival. I told her that Omersley was only a stone’s throw away, and that I would be there shortly – it was in fact 7 miles!
Darkness was upon me as I had to encounter a few miles o dual carriageway and roadworks for the latter stage of the day, finally making my way up to the quiet little haven where again I took residence at the village inn. I managed to shower and change by 8.30p.m. at which time my aunt and uncle had arrived in the company of their good friend, whose name was Ken. For the next 2 hours, food and drink were plentiful amid the flow of exuberant conversation. It was a joy to see them, giving me fortitude for the last third of the journey, and to aid my cause, they paid for my evenings expenses and nightly charge.
I felt rejuvenated by my visit to Ombersley – the inn that gave me sanctuary was traditional in every element, with the English breakfast being no exception. Once fuelled for the day I set about the task of reaching Gloucester on a very gloomy, wet morning, and with the added discomfort of blistered heels. I was fresh and eager to press on, but my heels were a constant burden, causing me to stop frequently. In an effort to remedy the problem, I used some emulsifying ointment to prevent the friction.
It was a dramatic episode, with the weather and traffic keeping me on my toes. I was able to use some footpaths along the A38 though it seemed an age to get to Tewkesbury, where I stopped to photograph the Severn and its Tudor background.
Shortly after my departure from the town I was acknowledged by Chris Hopkins, who was keeping vigil for my anticipated arrival. He was able to instruct me regarding my exit points from Gloucester and arranged to meet me at the roundabout adjoining the A38 to Bristol.
I eventually met up with him around 6.30p.m., but not after walking the entire length of the city, though a pleasant detour, I felt relieved on sighting Chris at the roundabout, where I was given further instruction to progress down the A38 to Hardwicke. It was difficult to pinpoint my location in the presence of nightfall as I plodded cautiously along the carriageway. After an hour on the road I spotted a pub and garage in a lighted area, no sign of Chris. On arriving at the garage a voice bellowed across the road, and within the space of 2 minutes, Chris was beside me in his Range Rover, and I marked the end of the day by the Hardwicke signpost. I was then whisked off to Saul – my place of rest for the night.
It was a quick bath and straight down to the local pub, called, oddly enough, the Ship Inn, owned by a member of the M.C.C. whose name was Arthur. I don’t recollect spending a penny the whole time I was there, and in addition, I was allowed to gather £50 from the patrons, in a bucket handed to me by his wife. Chris collected a further £100 at a later date, to which he added £50 of his own money – an excellent gesture from a good man. I enjoyed the day and Chris offered to pick me up at Bristol, so as to benefit from another night at Saul.
Saul was an interesting place, dominated by the sheer expanse of the River Severn, whose tidal qualities have aspired to reclaim parts of the village, forcing the authorities to construct a sea wall. I managed to photograph the view from the house, before Chris whisked me back to Hardwick where I could continue my walk to Bristol. The weather was deliberate in its manner with heavy downpours of rain, so fierce at times that I had to seek shelter. There were only small villages on this stretch of road, but I was able to rest for a while at a mobile service stop near the border of Avon. As I approached Bristol, I could see the Severn Bridges on my right, it was now quite sunny as I embarked on an eventful passage through the city. The A38 wound its way through the city with a boundless expression only to display many incidents that are commonplace in built-up areas. I was constrained by the usual traffic ordeal initiated from junctions and crossroads – on top of that, there was an armed robbery which appeared to attract the entire Bristol police force. Certainly the New York sirens gave that impression, causing further disarray with the traffic situation.
Not only was it a problem crossing the road, but also difficult to maintain a clear indication as to where I was heading. The ring road was very confusing, but I managed to find my way to Temple Meads, where I walked onto Long Ashton near to the Bridgwater road.
It was 6.45p.m. when Chris picked me up, he was delighted at my effort, despite using a different route to the one he proposed, saying that he was confident that I would complete the walk. Three quarters of the job had been done – to think that a couple of days from here, I would lunching on Cornish pasties.
That evening Chris and his wife Sue took me out for a meal at the Ship Inn, where I enjoyed steak, complimented by a bottle of red wine, sanctioned by the M.C.C.
It was a late night, and I suffered the effects of it, feeling loathe to renew myself to the task, but the road still beckoned, awaiting my return to Ashton. Chris dropped me off at the tree which marked the start spot, where I conveyed a message of gratitude to him and his wife for all they had done for me. He was full of equanimity, assuring me that that I would make my goal as I prepared to set off along the Bridgwater road, which now featured Taunton at 40 miles.
The old West road, though reasonable enough, still harboured a busy traffic flow, which had inflicted death on its native wildlife. There were many beautiful badgers lying dead on the side of the road, as lorries rattled by, forcing me on to the grass verge. It was proving to be a painful test, still hampered by blistered heels, and boots that had now worn down on one side, as I struggled toward Highbridge. On my way there I noticed an old gypsy fortune-teller near the roadside – a rare sight these days, as gypsies tend to be superseded by the modern day equivalent known as the New Age travellers. I had no desire to seek a prediction as to whether or not I would complete the walk, and so ventured a few yards further to gain a much-needed break at a mobile café. I consumed tea and sandwiches before leaving the unit to repair my feet – this was prompted by an unsavoury discussion taking place between some youthful drivers. One guy was bragging that he was driving so fast that he nearly knocked an old lady over – this brought raucous laughter from his mates and total disgust to me, as I left before reacting to the situation.
The walk was now a struggle as the blisters continued to hinder my progress. By the time I reached Highbridge it was too late to use the banking facilities, though luckily I had some money for a meal of fish and chips. As I left the town, a tramp passed by on the opposite side of the street – he was a real man-of-the-road, yet sadly another dying-breed of a contemporary society. The birth of the motorway has outlawed the man-of-the-road, and excessive use of primary routes have stalled the revival of many other travellers, with tramps in particular showing signs of decline. Walking down the A30 or the A442 for instance, would be the equivalent of playing Russian roulette, testing concentration levels, rather than fitness, in order to stay intact.
The section to Bridgwater wasn’t too bad, but I knew I’d had enough for the day and settled for just 30 miles. I was not prepared to face the dangers of the road in the dark, and quickly opted for a night’s rest. This wasn’t such a straightforward task, owing to the arrival of Bridgwater Fair – I was down to my final options on the Taunton road, where I located a guest house.
I had felt drained throughout the painstaking day – exhausted to the point of instant sleep. At least I benefited from the early night, arriving at the breakfast table refreshed and restored, with knowledge that I would soon be walking in known territory. Taunton was only 10 miles and would be my lunch stop, after utilising banking amenities to cater for the weekend expenses. It was a different story today, as the road offered little resistance, and I was soon on well-trodden soil. It was my third visit to Taunton, resultant from sponsored walks, and although I modified the rest of the route to counteract the traffic problems, most of the major towns were now place of familiarity.
After dinner I departed for Wellington, using a cycle trail near the river to reconnect me with the A38. At least there were paths to use, giving me an opportunity to examine the surrounding countryside throughout the 6-mile journey. It was around 3.30p.m. when I sat down on my favourite bench, where I half expected to see Richard Sumner, as I dwelled there for a while enjoying a tub of yoghurt and a pint of milk. I was now hyped-up for the last session of the day, which would finish at Tiverton – this would be dealt with on some of the country lanes, so as to put in perspective the true value of rural Devon.
I hardly saw a vehicle on the country lanes to Samford, where I stopped momentarily to speak to a farmer and a lady. I appreciated the country villages with their little lanes, contributing to a harmonious setting. It was dark on arrival at Tiverton, though I had managed to elude the trickery of the road before the process reached peak capacity. The accommodation front looked bleak again, as my efforts appeared to be constantly hindered by the presence of fairs now sprouting up in every town. I eventually found a place just over the bride – much to my relief, with Crediton the next stop and a good 12 miles away. As it was Friday night, I felt justified in participating in a customary Guinness session, with the task now diminishing to one remaining county to confront.
AN ASPECT OF REVISION
On Saturday morning I set off to Crediton, a major town preceding Okehampton – my stop for the day. The weather had proclaimed the arrival of autumn, yet the days were quite mild and the characteristics of the trees dispelled any such theory. Rain was ever-present though, seeping through my depleted cape, as I now struggled under the onslaught of a cold.
The A3072 was busier than usual, adding to the unfavourable odds that were currently stacked against me, as I relied on sheer willpower to carry me to Crediton. I sat exhausted in a café trying to cope with a pasty and chips, as I contemplated how I could reconstitute myself adequately enough to continue the mission.
Needless to say there was a visit to the chemist, in this instance to purchase vitamin C tablets – the dizziness was a problem, but I did manage to continue, and in fact appreciating a spot of revision in walking terms. The previous walks had merely served as a dress rehearsal for this event, though it seemed apt that the final days were to be staged at this end of the map, allowing myself another chance to grasp the virtues of a land forsaken by industry. The fields now ploughed were unable to disguise the seasonal transition, displaying the reddish-brown soil, complimenting the green hills that typify the county of Devonshire.
I enjoyed viewing the old railway lines and hilly terrain with the formation of the road still fresh in my head. The effects of my cold were now transcended at the sight of a quality environment, unblemished by industrial intervention, leaving me with a note of satisfaction as I descended upon Okehampton.
It was a moderate town with most amenities, as I stopped to buy a card from an old lady in a shop opposite an inn. We chatted for a while, as she explained that age was forcing her to relinquish her business though she still desired to remain as active as possible – a healthy response I thought. I then crossed the road to obtain a room at the inn, which gave me shelter 2 years ago. Leisure was denied as I was in favour of an early retreat to my bed in an attempt to postpone a full attack of ‘flu.
I certainly felt rough at first light, leaving Okehampton on a dull Sunday morning, but on reaching the old A30 I had improved, knowing for certain I had profited from an early night. I had walked once on this road when it was the primary route, now it served only as a tourist road, providing suitable passage for my weekend stroll. The villages were small indicating that change may have been destructive from a business viewpoint, highlighting the many shells of places which once flourished the well-worn tarmac.
BACK IN THE BASEMENT
The vision of Launceston at the Cornish border heightened my awareness that tomorrow I could be sitting at home awaiting the final day. Fortified by this, I decided to build on what had been an optimum performance, and take up the challenge of walking along my extended route to Camelford. Originally I was going to opt for an early night at Launceston, owing to the attach of ‘flu, however I was keen to examine newfound territory within the heart of Cornwall. I walked up the hill to St. Stephens, viewing the narrow gauge train service at Launceston Station on the way, eventually locating the country roads which offered a further passage in a peaceful setting that would take me to within 6 miles of the North coast.
The views were magnificent as I relaxed within the confines of a county that appeared to express defiance against time. On nearing the main road, I met a farmer, he was anticipating the arrival of some runaway sheep. I had not been confronted by these unlikely escapologists, sighting only those that had been securely incarcerated in fields close by.
The main road was a dramatic transition, proclaiming a different code of driving ethics, which could more suitably be sustained on a Grand Prix circuit. It was an unnerving trip in an hour of darkness, displaying only the conventional white windmills that are now commonplace in Cornwall as a source of power.
I was relieved to reach Camelford, which was a typical Cornish town, supporting a wonderful old inn called the Mason’s Arms, which was alive with character, even the toilet seat was Edwardian, but most importantly I was able to relax in a hot bath. I paid for the cost of my room and a hot supper after which I thoroughly enjoyed some Guinness, whilst explaining to the landlord that I had walked over 40 miles with the prospect of equalling that target tomorrow.
I woke up early and pondered over the decision to try and make it to Carharrack; if I could not manage this, there would be little sanctuary obtainable on this section, after Wadebridge there were only small communities skirting the A30.
I finally arrived at the breakfast table, where I received positive greetings with one woman announcing that she had seen me several time yesterday, marching with fortitude, explaining that the distance I had covered was phenomenal. At this point the landlady arrived with my breakfast served upon a meat dish, and next to the tea urn was a twenty pound note – a donation to the cause.
I was so happy now feeling able to lift myself enough to attempt the epic march across virgin land, I also had an added incentive to finish before the 4th October in time for my father’s birthday party. I expressed my gratitude and hastily made my exit from the town with the memory of the inn now transcribed in my mind.
I had conspired to make this journey with an effort to see new places and be rid of the A30, however at some stage I would be required to join the carriageway which is the only direct route to Redruth. I persevered on the A39, which was a typical Cornish highway, winding itself through the countryside with its fields encased within a dry-stone cladding. It was often necessary to cross the road to be clear of traffic, which was a greater hazard in the absence of a grass verge on a narrow, bending road.
Wadebridge was smaller than first imagined, and I only dwelled long enough to draw some money for food and a possible stopover. The only other significant place, before joining the “main drag” was St. Columb Major, which I never really investigated, with the day quickly diminishing.
I made every effort to avoid the hassles of the main road, but by the time I reached Fraddon the game was ready to commence. I made a brief ’phone call to advise of my arrival before joining the formidable A30, now riddled with traffic. I am afraid I have never been one of its greatest supporters, and with darkness approaching, knowing the fearful aspects that lay in waiting, I alternated to run. I stepped up a further gear, pumping out the miles, pushing myself to the limit. This was often met with frustration, as inaccurate signposts continued to elude me on a boundless journey, the lorries spared little mercy as they swept past, missing me by inches. I was so relieved to find salvation on a stretch of roadworks, which gave me safe passage to Scorrier – 2 miles from home.
It was 2 miles of total darkness, as I continued to run along the country road with its engulfing woods, where only wildlife is resident. I passed St. Day on my right, as I trotted downhill into the village, where I finished for the day at around 9.30p.m. My brother had been to look for me earlier, explaining “you should have been here at 8.00p.m. – what took you so long?” There was plenty of time however for a hot bath and a good home cooked meal, in any case I stayed up quite late reciting all the details of a walk now drawing to a close.
THE JOURNEY’S END
I was exhausted the next day, having fought against the strong north-westerly wind prevailing against me in a final attempt to sabotage the mission. All my resources were drained, leaving me to slog it out with the wind and rain. In addition, there was the stress of a deadline of 5.30p.m. to meet, in order to obtain a lift back. I set off accompanied by my brother Anthony, who walked with me to Redruth, after which I travelled on alone to Camborne, where I was joined by press correspondent Phil Monckton from the West Briton newspaper, who photographed me in transit.
The journey thereafter was endured in horrendous rain and the ever-present wind, which had succeeded to decrease my walking speed. It was 3.30p.m. when I arrived at Penzance, causing me to attempt running in the hope that I could make that deadline. Again, I was frustrated at the inaccuracy of the signposts, only present to benefit the tourists.
At this point I was greeted by Roger, an employee of Chris Hopkins. He had been sent along with a bottle of champagne to convey a message of congratulations. Sadly he could not hang on to give me a lift, due to a college appointment in St Austell, so I lumbered on, eventually arriving at Land’s End at 5.30p.m.
My arrival was immediately documented in ’The Hall of Fame’, where I was greeted by the staff of the John O’Groats to Land’s End Company, who awarded me with a certificate for my efforts, which was later complemented with a photograph by the signpost. I managed to unwind at the bar, feeling pleased with myself, and received praise for walking with all my kit, further more it was the 3rd October – the day before my father’s birthday.
It was difficult to imagine that 26 days ago I was still coming to terms with the idea of walking the length of Great Britain. In an effort to acknowledge the feat, I sat for awhile gathering all my thoughts about this new achievement, which appeared to eclipse all others.
I had much to reflect back on since my departure from John O’Groats. I had judged myself incessantly in terms of fitness, though my approach was always positive, enabling me to rise and overcome pain, as I did at Blair. The build-up walks had laid the foundation for this event, removing any doubts concerning its completion, clarifying my mind as to what was required.
All four walks had provided an opportunity to assess the country in terms of change, this was ‘the big one’, and had incorporated Scotland into the programme.
It was a pleasure to walk beneath those stern mountains, which share its landscape with cascading streams that tumble through the wooded glens; and the clear, calm lochs dominating a countryside where only a walker has any chance of penetrating its solitudes.
I enjoyed the cycle route and the many country lanes and roads, where each destination is a reminder of the past. Time may have eroded much of England, but traditional aspects still remained untouched in Scotland with plentiful access to explore its attributes.
I live in hope that one day the cycle route will extend through England, hopefully to terminate at Land’s End, and with it a chance to rebuild our dying countryside and preserve its wildlife.
Change is slow in England, a country blighted with industry and at the mercy of the capitalist. The pollution aspects alone are detrimental to the environment and the health of a Nation, but show no signs of diminishing; the absence of wildlife and their habitats is resultant from the construction of additional roads, which can only emulate an unsuccessful trend set by America. The dangers of the road must never be concealed as it is no longer a place for cyclist or pedestrian, who at times struggle to share a path – a situation once considered illegal and dangerous.
It is easy to reveal the dark side o the country, but one must not forget its finder points that still exist and need to be preserved. Rural England has much to offer, with the birth of new parks and the renewal of many rights of way now paving the way clear for people to appreciate their homeland.
My journey on the back roads through Devon was a special treat, exposing me to a countryside that had prospered in the absence of industry. My encounter with the romantic North Cornwall revealed to me its wild countryside and rich associations with the legendary world of King Arthur. It may be a forgotten land with the demise of its tin mines, but still attracts many tourists who are captivated by its mystical enchantment of ancient lore and legend.
The grand finale at Land’s End was as peaceful as the beginning, with only the waves crashing against the famous granite mass, as I sat contented at the bar.
WALKING AROUND THE KINGDOM OF CORNWALL
Based on Robin’s first walk for Cornish Hospices, this story is both enjoyable and informative. The adventure comprises of a challenge of endurance along one of Britain’s toughest coastlines as the journey weaves in and out of estuaries, visiting towns and villages inland as it links from north to south.
At the bottom of the map lies a rugged little kingdom rich in antiquity and mystical enchantment. It is a country shaped by centuries of geological turbulence and historical events, including the industrial development of the 1800’s that helped change the face of the land. Entering into Cornwall on the Tamar Bridge, one can witness Brunel’s epitaph, a modern triumph of Victorian engineering, that is still proclaimed as the greatest feat of its time. It was during this era that Cornwall enjoyed prosperity and prestige, resulting from its tin-mining industry.
Beyond the River Tamar, the Cornish landscape portrays a picture of its past, inviting one to step back into ancient times through patchwork fields bordered with weather-worn boulders, charged with Celtic symbols. Adding flavour to any historical influence, natural erosion of volcanic rocks have given birth to great myths and legends in a kingdom that has immortalised its heroes. Churches and monasteries stand in honour of eponymous Saints from Irelandand Wales, who have drastically changed the culture of the land. Even on the clifftops engine houses and mine-stacks remind us of how Cornwall once extracted a living from its rocks. Tin has since traded with tourism as visitors colonise the fishing villages and resorts in the summer months to taste the mystery of the Cornish World and relax in its sandy bays. The sea has also provided for its people, bringing prosperity to fishing causes and illegal ones too! Dig deep into the diverse land and you will find prehistoric tombs,Norman relics, amphitheatres, ancient wells and castles. You can walk the dramatic clifftops, witnessing spectacular scenery ranging from the industrial white Alps of china-clay to the sub-tropical backwaters of the Roseland Peninsula. Enjoy the serenity of Frenchman’s Creek, once a haunt of smugglers, though now the scene of artists, and the contrast of The Devil’s Frying Pan amidst the craggy landscape of the Lizard. Beyond lies Granite Country and the grandeur of Land’s End leading to the geological wonders and industrial past of Cape Cornwall, followed by the creative world of St. Ives. Like the journey around this rugged kingdom, the diversity is endless and every day is the start of a new adventure. Whatever your experience of Cornwall you may rest assured you will take something away that will stay with you forever.
Wildlife thrives inCornwall, where it can be viewed from many excellent vantage points along the coast. Seals and otters can be found by the shore and in the woodlands badgers and foxes roam freely. Different voles and shrews inhabit the estuaries but watch out for the mink, especially if you have a dog.
Bird watching is among the prime activities in Cornwall, where the coast path has lured ornithologists from all corners of the globe. My favourite bird is the Osprey, first seen at Trevince Woods, near Carharrack. Others in Cornwall include the Curlew, Sandpiper, Razorbill, Redshank and many varieties of Gulls and Grebes. Birds of Prey abound on the North coast and include the Kestrel, and Buzzard. On the estuaries look for Kingfishers and Warblers, whilst in the forest you will find the Jay and the Cuckoo. Information boards around the coast path may indicate what can be found in the immediate area.
Reptiles are also prevalent throughout this kingdom. Adders are often found sun-bathing on the path, but retreat hastily once disturbed, finding cover amidst gorse and ferns. Do not try to catch these zigzag serpents as they are poisonous. Unlike the adder, the grass snake is harmless and found in most parts ofBritain. One reptile you will frequently encounter is the Slow Worm, a thin, silver creature that lives on insects and slugs.
Otters are famous in the South West, they have trails and places named after them and parks dedicated to them as well. It is encouraging to see this little chap return to the rivers and tributaries, in particular the Tamar and also the Camel estuary. They can grow quite large, sometimes a metre long, helped by a diet of eels, which are known to be the otter’s favourite meal.
THE CORNISH COAST PATH
Possibly the most difficult coast walk in the country, which according to the National Trust, stretches 268 miles(I believe it to be more and don’t forget the estuaries – you may wish to walk them), between Marsland Mouth near Hartland, on the North Coast, to Cremyll at Plymouth Sound. It forms part of a longerSouth-West Waywalk starting at Poole in Dorset, and finishing at Minehead in Somerset, making up a distance of over 600 miles, (excluding estuaries) which is reputably the longest footpath in Britain.
ROBIN MOORE’S WALK AROUND CORNWALL
This more recent journey shows an extensive picture of Cornwall, encircling the whole Kingdom and walking some of its estuaries. A brief overview of each day has been set out, outlining the journey and terrain, also giving alternative routes. The story itself is packed with detail about day to day adventures, showing insight into the Cornish world.
It starts at the Hayle estuary, heading north on the Atlantic coast, where surfers parade the sands and tumultuous waves terrorise the rocky shores. Progressing to St. Agnes Beacon the path shows a poignant insight into Cornwall’s extraction industry, displaying old relics of engine houses, that once worked tin and copper.
Beyond the graveyard of mines lies a world of enchantment, full of fables and legends about Celtic descendants, portrayed in effigies and Iron Age buildings. Cornwall’s adopted saints of ancient times have also helped shape the land with monasteries and churches, instilling traditional elements that exist to this day.
At Bude the journey trails the hinterland of Cornwall along a network of country roads into valleys and farmlands, broken by wooded glades. Rejoining the coast path, the South provides a calmer version of the sea, which has been a friend to both fisherman and smuggler, though monuments and gravestones remind us of those it has failed. All along the Cornish Riviera colour-washed villages, and fishing hamlets line the seaboard, while river banks and drowned valleys expand in sub-tropical growth. Nearing the serpentine rocks of the Lizard one can envisage the hazards that awaited mariners, where the tranquil beauty of the coast, viewed from the cliffs, could easily become a source of terror. Heading west towards Granite Country one can marvel at the grandeur of St. Michael’s Mount and explore the last outposts of the fishing world at Newlyn and Mousehole. Dramatic scenery and mighty headlands dominate once more as the trail passes Land’s End on its lonely journey to Cape Cornwall. Ivy-clad mine-stacks stand empty on the cliff-edges as the Atlantic breaches its rock pools to hammer relentlessly against the granite coast. Finally the obstacle course subsides and the bustle of resort life emerges to break the solitude. From here one can enjoy a gentle epitaph above golden sands that lead back to the estuary at Hayle, savouring memories of Cornwall that most people could only dream about.
THE ATLANTIC ANVIL
Day 1. Hayle to Perranporth. 23 miles.
Departing from St. Michael’s Hospice at Hayle, around 8.30am, I braced the windy conditions, and the dampness of sea mist. I had a mile or so to walk before reaching a coastal route, realising that this was one of the few occasions that I would be walking on flat ground until reaching Perranporth. Following the course of the estuary I began to marvel at the wonders of nature that thrive by the shore. Over the course of time the estuary has adopted much bird life, becoming a focal point for many ornithologists.
I was soon to leave the town behind, advancing past the ageing boat sheds, with the distant 15th-centurychurch ofLelant barely visible beyond the opposite shore. Taking the beach route to Godrevy in lieu of the Towans footpath was quite exhilarating, though the experience was not shared by many. In summer months these golden sands would be stifling with activity, giving Hayle prosperity as a resort town. Today it harbours only dog owners, dedicated fitness fanatics and the odd madman wishing to walk roundCornwall! It was a 3-mile initiation against the incoming surf and already I had gambled on beating the tide. I could not see beyond the steep Towans flanking the beach, and so, was unaware of any danger the journey might pose. As the waves thrashed about the shore nearby I leapt across rock pools, and streams, fearful of being cut off by the tide. Luckily there were steps leading from the beach to the safety of a sandbank. I walked the open ground, crossing a stream via a footbridge, then followed a lane to the top of a hill, where I noticed a cafe.
Rain fell as I strove on towards the coast path at Godrevy Point, leaving behind an empty beach, and a sea only welcome to surfers. The fury of the waves beating the rocks around Godrevy Island conjures up a fearful vision to all at sea, reminding mariners of the constant perils that exist on this Atlantic anvil. As well as the obvious importance to seafarers, the unmanned automatic lighthouse, which was originally built in 1859, earned fame in Virginia Woolf’s novel ‘To The Lighthouse’. I was simply grateful not to be on the island today: once more, I was away from the sand, and looking forward to the clifftop journey.
The coast path to Portreath was relatively easy despite wet muddy conditions, passing great points such as Hell’s Mouth – a 200 foot sheer drop to the rocky shore. The lighthouse at Godrevy had faded behind the misty haze, and it was only in the latter part of the morning session that I could clearly decipher the distant coastline of Portreath. On my right lay the towns of Camborne and Redruth and their neighbouring villages, which were once part of a great mining empire. The engine houses and mine stacks dotted around the countryside are now just hollow reminders, left to tell a sombre tale of what once used to be. Below lies a collage of rock shapes and pools, carved by the sea: a result of centuries of geological turbulence and erosion that defines this rugged North coast.
After making a couple of steep descents near Basset’s Cove, I followed the path across clifftop pastures cropped by farm animals. At last I had sight of Portreath and dropping between 2 houses situated at the foot of the beach, I passed a large signpost that read, ‘North Coast Footpath’. From here I proceeded across the shore, coming to a standstill at an ice cream van. Dispelling thoughts of cold refreshment, I sat on a bench and changed into a pair of dry socks. The rain had stopped and I enjoyed a quiet moment watching the surfers take on the mightyAtlantic. It was a brief interval with my next objective aimed at refuelling with milk and chocolate to encounter the less populated areas of coast that lay in waiting. The beach shops were now quite desolate, patronised largely by contenders of the surf brigade, and other bad weather enthusiasts! Ordering my provisions I made polite conversation with the vendor about the tourist trade, which she indicated was at an ebb. Encouraged by the fact it was only 12 noon, I scampered off towards the coast path, whilst swilling down a pint of milk.
Climbing the hill away from Portreath I was rewarded with an excellent view of the harbour, a legacy of the Basset family, who provided the land for building the pier. Though looking somewhat withdrawn, it was in the 18th century, a busy location for exporting tin and copper, often in exchange for Welsh coal to fuel the engine houses. Turning away from the seaward views momentarily, I was able to locate the North coast footpath with additional signs advising of danger due to erosion. The fierce wind prevailed, but at least now it was dry and I could progress more comfortably.
Laden with wet clothing the trek across Nancekuke Common proved a little tiring, as I tackled the undulating terrain. The man-made steps that run alongside the military boundaries take their toll, reminding walkers of their mortality as the North coast journey begins to honour its reputation. I remembered Diamond Point, my brother Anthony’s favourite fishing spot, where as a youngster, he spent hours of pleasure landing Mackerel and Sea Bass. Beyond the point the roller-coaster trail hugs the military fence, as the cliff edge draws near in places, leaving little room to pass. Gradually the journey eases and once again houses and chalets decorate the distant landscape, heralding my approach to Porthtowan.
The surfers at Porthtowan were also enjoying the challenges of the hostile sea, though the greater population had sought comfort from a local beach cafe. Resting by the beach I consumed another drink, inquisitively watched by a dog. Many visitors were savouring the late summer views, seated on clifftop benches, courteously provided by The National Trust.
The steep exit from Porthtowan gives way to level ground, providing a pleasant passage to the diminutive Chapel Porth, whose name is derived from a church situated in the valley close to the sea. These valley communities punctuating the clifftop journey are a welcome sight for weary walkers, and this place is no exception. Framed by great cliffs and sandy ledges, Chapel Porth is a noted sun trap in summer months and an inspiration to all its visitors. Many had gathered to obtain refreshments from the cafe facilities: other walkers had temporarily sidelined their waterproofs, stopping at the shore to ponder in awe over the power of nature. It was a tranquil affair, composing me with positive thoughts about my adventure. I was now beginning to absorb the atmosphere of the North coast, and invigorated by its undying energy I was again ready to champion the human spirit.
Stimulated by the experience, I pressed on in the shadow of St. Agnes Beacon, where the distant Wheal Coates mine stands idle near the footpath. This old relic of a bye-gone industry worked copper and tin until1889 with shafts extending to depths of 600 feet. With so many reminders of its past it is impossible to forget that tin and copper were once the hallmarks ofCornwall’s trade.
Not far from here is Trevaunance Cove near St. Agnes, now heavily populated with late season holidaymakers as the afternoon is transformed into summer array. Encumbered by the rock pools, I crossed the shore, slippery in places, but ensuring my link with the coast path, which would otherwise be beyond the village from the road. A delightful outing now lay ahead: full of diverse scenery, which included capped mines and man-made shelters, enjoyed by clifftop artists and European travellers. A kestrel hovers attentively above the indigenous flora, capturing the interest of a hiking-family: before disappearing beneath the cliff edge only to reappear moments later in a background of blue sky and rolling surf.
By late afternoon the golden sands and rock scenery of Perran Bay lay before me as I made my descent into the busy town of Perranporth. Peaking in 1874, Perranporth was once a prosperous mining village, though the evidence of its industrial life is less conspicuous compared to St. Agnes Beacon. These days it is more of a hostage to tourism, and despite living in the shadow of Newquay, it has grown as a lively holiday town, noted for its long sandy beach and golf course. The streets were bustling with activity, largely contrived by end of summer sales and meal deals, offered by many cafes and pubs. I pondered over the prospect of a fish supper, but denied myself, first wishing to locate my accommodation at the Tides Reach Hotel on Ponsmere Road. This I found near The Ponsmere Hotel, arriving at 5pm. My hosts were pleased to see me, offering a discount on my room, which was a lovely gesture. Having showered and with the evening young, the beautiful weather soon lured me back to the busy streets to sample one of Cornwall’s popular seaside resorts.
Day 2. Perranporth to Newquay. 12 Miles.
I was made most welcome by the hoteliers, who purchased a copy of my book ‘The Millennium Challenge’ – A Walk Around the Kingdom. Many of the guests were interested in my activities, a couple of whom bought copies of my books. The breakfast interval lingered on, delaying my departure until 10.30am. I now hastened towards Perran Sands with hope of walking the 3-mile beach in preference to the inconsistent path along the sand dunes above. It was a windy morning offering little to promote any beach activity, though other walking enthusiasts were enjoying the occasion. Further down the beach I came across a water-sports group donned in wet suits, preparing for action. To the right, below the clifftops, workers were servicing an exit point, presumably leading back to the coast path, east of which lies a caravan site and golf course. It was on this beach that an Irish Saint, known as St. Piran, later referred to as the Patron Saint of Tinners and all Miners, landed around the 6thcentury, bringing Christianity to the kingdom. There may be plenty of mystery surrounding his sea journey here, though the secrets of the sand have at least revealed the remains of the St. Piran Oratory(half a mile east of the coast path): an epitaph to a man great enough to be hailed as The Patron Saint of Cornwall. The ancient centuries may have passed but this lovely expanse of beach still remains, and has since become popular with many famous surfers, and holidaymakers from all corners of the globe.
At the end of the bay I met up with the army who were just completing a training schedule along the dunes. We exchanged greetings as I left my low-tide route to continue on the high ground, where I deduced that cap-wearing was not a suitable option. The wind blew fiercely as I skirted the military perimeter of Penhale, territory known to me as a child. In fact, my first visit toCornwall was resultant from the Army Cadet training, organised by Oundle School, way back in 1973. It hadn’t changed that much: I even remembered the billet I lived in for that week. Scarcely nostalgic but worth savouring, even though more pressing thoughts came to mind as I strove to make my deadline in accordance to the Charity. I had arranged a rendezvous with members from Mount Edgcumbe for 2pm, in order to initiate a fundraising march through the town ofNewquay. We would walk as far as the Charity bookstall where I was destined to spend the afternoon signing my personal books and talking to members of the public about fundraising.
It was something of an added challenge making these deadlines as the path dictates the tempo of the journey and does not offer a straightforward route compared to road-walking. The road plays a limited part in this event, which is predominantly footpath, except at nightfall. There will in later days be the coast lanes and canal walks of The Cornish Way as well as the country routes to Launceston and the South coast. On this occasion there were no other options: first walking the sand dunes and beach at Holywell Bay, then rejoining the path atWest Pentire. From Penhale Point I descended to thevillage of Holywell. The beach here was named Holywell Bay by pilgrims who claimed that the cave on its north side induced healing elements, hence derived from holy powers. There is a stream running across the shore, which is a welcome treat for the youngsters or those with very sore feet (maybe I should visit the cave). Once across the stream, the path can be reached from duckboards leading to the sand dunes, though initially I followed the beach as the tide was out. This was a novel experience for me as I do not trust beach walks inCornwall, where usually there is little chance of escape via the towering clifftops. It is always advisable to acquire information regarding tides and beach access when walking the coast: in most cases it is best to stick to the traditional routes and coast path signs. From Kelsey Head and West Pentire I pushed on between the tufted sand dunes above Crantock Beach, where I faced the prospect of ‘somehow’ crossing the Gannel Estuary to keep to my deadline.
The path retreated from the beach to autumn fields, soon to be encompassed by woodlands. I had noticed, however, 2 people crossing the water, ankle deep, in what seemed to be a man-made causeway. On arrival at the area it became apparent that there were wooden slats spanning the water. I hastily removed my socks and boots, fastened my rucksack and nervously began the crossing. It was quite an ordeal, demanding much concentration. The wind was still blustery and bits were missing from the wooden structure, which was also slippery. The depth of water each side of this narrow causeway would have been great enough to cover me thus soaking all my equipment. Nonetheless I managed it despite the burden of my rucksack. Once more I had saved myself from an hour of walking to reach the main road at the Trenance Boating Lake, from where I would have to return along the other side of the inlet.
Asking for directions, I was soon able to locate the footpath along Fistral Bay, whose magnificent white crests have given it international status as a surfing tournament venue. A young lady had pointed to a large hotel, known as the Headlands, which I had believed to be my rendezvous. This was a misunderstanding on my behalf and once confirmed by the manager of the establishment, I continued under his instruction, beside the golf course, later finding my associates at Red Lion Cross. They were both armed with buckets and banners and so the fundraising bonanza began. Most people were helpful but the biggest blow was struck at a busy pub, where patrons in the beer garden were eagerly scraping together coins, only to be told by the bar manager that fundraising is banned from this establishment. I was devastated to think that a local business was against helping a vital cause in the community, especially when so many people were willing to help. The process of fundraising is seriously undermined by these people, who should at least support the community and their local charities.
On reaching the bookstall I was able to change into dry clothes and enjoy some hot tea. Towards the end of the event I visited the tourist office to check on other book sales. Whilst discussing the matter with the officer a voice yelled across – ‘ I’ve got that book’ – referring to the Walker’s Diary – a copy of which he bought in Oundle, in Northamptonshire. It turned out that the chap and his wife, called Mick and Evelyn Sadler were on holiday in Cornwall and in fact live in Titchmarsh – a suburb of Oundle. After a hasty greeting, I mentioned the possibility of meeting later in the evening at the Red Lion Inn, near Red Lion Cross.
After my fundraising duties had finished, I located my hosts for the night who were situated at the top of a hill at the Terraskane Lodge, Mount
Wise. I also required a trip to the chemist to treat a persistent chest infection. The town, once renowned for its pilchard fishing industry, is now largely served by leisure and tourism. Today was a perfect illustration of a place submerged by the spirit of tourism, where streets are bustling with activity of carnival flavour. As a resort Newquay has grown in stature: born from the Railway Era of the late19th century, and further developed in the 1920’s and 30’s, becoming a jewel amongst holiday resorts. Unlike the lavish appeal of Eastbourne, and the bully-like elegance of Scarborough, its strength lies in its natural resources. The alluring quality of the clear blue sea and its golden beaches, which create this Atlantic playground, have won admiration world-wide. The firm sands punctuated by rock pools are a continual source of exploration to youngsters, whose safety is monitored by the watchful beach patrols. The harbour at Newquay may still have a tale to tell, though the waves that were once cursed by fishermen are now a Mecca for surfers.
Day 3. Newquay to Sladesbridge. 30 Miles.
After a sleepless night incurred through a chest infection, I decided to visit the local surgery, where the doctor prescribed a week’s course of antibiotics. Making my way from the surgery, I stopped at the chemist to collect the medicine. Whilst indoors I changed into suitable clothing to encounter the wet and blustery weather that lay in waiting. Facing me was the massive coast journey to Padstow: followed by a walk up the Camel Estuary along the old railway route, known as the Camel Trail. There would also be some roadwork, which would take me beyond Wadebridge, to the unknown destination of Sladesbridge.
I felt awful and initially it was not a fun outing. My feet were soon wet and the clifftop conditions were quite misty with constant drizzle. Despite being muddy the path provided a relatively easy walk, though the mist concealed the breathtaking views that are usually the highlights of such a journey. I remembered the spot where I had camped above Watergate Bay, during the 1996 campaign. I could just see the beautiful beach below, where the sands extend back towards Newquay for 2 miles or more. I also enjoyed a brief visit to Mawgan Porth. I had stayed at the Merry Miller back in 1994 when walking the coast for Imperial Cancer Research. There was much to reflect on as I marched across the golden sands to rejoin the ascending path, embroidered by gorse and ferns. There was also plenty to look forward to with many great landmarks ahead. I was reminded of one by a Danish couple, who were seeking the Bedruthan Steps. Sadly for them they had walked straight past the site and were now bound for Newquay. Bedruthan Steps is the title given to the huge rocks rising from the sea, once claimed to be stepping-stones used by a giant Bedruthan. Cornwall has always been a land of ancient lore and legend, giving birth to many great myths and fables: this story may simply refer to those Celtic colonials who were taller than the native inhabitants. The point lies between Mawgan Porth and Porthcothan and I passed it about half an hour later. It was still misty, but I managed to take a photo of the steps, not able to remember their individual names: I know that one is called Queen Bess, believed to be an effigy of Queen Elizabeth 1. The site is a natural habitat for birds and seals, but I am uncertain whether people are allowed access to the beach these days, owing to the dangers of erosion. I also realised that there is not a sign indicating the Bedruthan Steps, which is a great disadvantage for any tourist not familiar with the tale and its representation.
I struggled on through the blanket of mist, hoping to reach Porthcothan where I could purchase some milk and chocolate. I had also intended to stop by at ‘The Bay House Hotel’, to say hello to the owners whom I stayed with in 1997, when walking the coast towns of Great Britain for the Macmillan Nurses.
I was tired but relieved to reach Porthcothan, where other walkers were resting on the seats at the little grocery shop. I collected my provisions and scurried off towards the Bay House Hotel, which to my astonishment was closed and up for tender. I sat despondently beside the hotel, wringing out my wet socks, then indulging in a pint of milk and a banana. My mind momentarily strayed from the coast path as I pondered over the whereabouts of the proprietors, who had been so kind to me on my previous visit.
Eventually I collected some positive thoughts and continued along the road, rejoining the trail at the bottom of the hill. From the clifftop I had a clear view of Trevose lighthouse, only 5 miles west of Padstow, yet the journey to reach it was quite formidable and painstaking. I stopped again at Treyarnon Bay, where at least the rain had subsided, and a few more people were venturing out to sample the beach. As well as a shop or two, there is a Youth Hostel here, priced at £10 a visit. It is apparently open to organised groups all year round, making it an ideal location for the water-sports activities, that have been consistent throughout the tour.
When I eventually arrived at Trevose Head, I stopped to take a few pictures, thus savouring the moment, knowing that I had completed the greater part of today’s journey. I was joined briefly by a couple, who were heading off towards Bedruthan Steps, the next stage in their weekly walking itinerary. What a lovely pastime I thought: walking the footpath in stages allows a wonderful opportunity to seek out the coastal attributes, and absorb them in greater depth, as well as experiencing seasonal transition and the mood changes of the weather.
After a 10-minute interval we parted in different directions: my journey taking shape along the farmland that skirts Harlyn Bay, the first part of which is Mother Ivey’s Bay. The bay is aptly titled, referring to a formidable old lady who used to collect salvage from the rocky shore below, claiming it as her own. An interesting story, although on a day like today, I doubt anyone would have even noticed her!
It had remained dry but the sky still cloudy as I drew near to the Camel estuary. Now I could see the small communities on the opposite shore as I followed the path across fields and forest land, finally walking a huge expanse of beach to the penultimate point. Sailing vessels were also in view as I turned towards Padstow with less than a mile to go. The harbour looked beautiful, with coloured craft wobbling to the motion of gentle currents, in a background of medieval buildings, which were soon to be the focus of my camera. It was only 5.30pm, and so I took time out to explore the town.
Sir Walter Raleigh’s Court House is a prominent building, though history retreats even further to the 6th century, and the arrival of St. Petroc, who founded a monastery and church. Cornish towns have enjoyed their long association with their adopted saints, and Padstow is no exception: its Parish Church being one of several in the area dedicated to St. Petroc, who is also referred to asCornwall’s Patron Saint. So it may not come as a surprise to know there is in fact a famous trail known as the Saint’s Way, starting in Padstow and finishing at Fowey on the South coast of Cornwall. Once a great trading centre for tin and copper, Padstow as a port later suffered from the effects of the sandbank suitably named the ‘Doom Bar’, which has visited death upon many ships of the old world. Today, fishing remains part of Padstow’s working life, though it relies more significantly on tourism, reflected by the restaurants and refined establishments that line the streets around the harbour. On my way through the town I entered the bookshop to pick up a copy of my Millennium Challenge, which had been put to one side for me to collect. In the shop were two ladies who had seen me breaking through the mist during the early part of the day. I did in fact recall seeing them, though they were part of a big group at the time. They praised my efforts, telling how they had “chickened” out as the wet weather drifted in.
Dusk approached as I set off on the final stretch of the day, taken up on the Camel Trail. This famous path was once a mainline train route from London, but with its fate sealed in 1967, now offers cycle/walking access to Wadebridge, and beyond to Pooley’s Bridge near Bodmin. As well as being a footpath in its own right, it also forms part of the Cornish Way. It provides an easy, enjoyable passage along the estuary, which has been designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It still has the look of a railway route with bridges intact, affording excellent views of the Camel estuary, a scene portraying both work and leisure.
It was dark when I arrived at Wadebridge, where I had to cross the old bridge and turn right to face Sladesbridge. It was a place I knew nothing about, situated in the opposite direction to my route, adding an extra couple of miles to my total. After confirmation at a farm house from a lady, who once worked at the Slades House Country Inn, I eventually reached my destination at 9.30pm – with I must say a great deal of relief!
Day 4. Sladesbridge to Camelford. 30 Miles.
The breakfast chat was reassuring, having heard the landlady tell of great fundraising events over the past year with her efforts realising £800. A lady on the adjacent table was kind enough to give me a donation and after a lovely meal I departed from the premises, eager to renew my encounter with the coast.
First I had to return to Wadebridge, where I stopped momentarily to photograph yet another bridge,( the town possesses 3 in all) beside which stood a signpost indicating the direction of my journey to Rock. It had been my third visit to Wadebridge, the first was in 1995 when walking from John O’ Groats to Land’s End, the latter in 1997 when trekking around Great Britain. The town is larger than first thought, making it an ideal night-stop for Camel Trail and coast to coast walkers. It has shops, banks, pubs and plenty of character, accentuated by its 15th century bridge, (acclaimed to be the finest medieval structure in the country) built to overcome the dangers of wading across the tidal Camel. Subsequently the town may have derived its name from the act of crossing the infamous ford, though this 13-arch bridge was called ‘The Bridge On Wool’, after, it is believed, sheep farmers helped to fund its construction.
Once away from the town, the coast road narrowed considerably, bearing the usual hazardous bends. There was also the odd shower to contend with, though I avoided the use of my poncho, which was green, and against the foliage could serve only to add to the dangers of traffic.
I passed a farm, which the landlady had mentioned in connection with a fundraising clay pigeon shoot, held earlier this year.
Occasionally I had sight of the Camel estuary, but for most of the time it was encompassed by woodlands, which at least offered peaceful country scenery. There appeared to be a short cut via a caravan/holiday centre, though I was uncertain as to whether access was permissible. I strove on, passing the signpost to St. Minver, eventually finding a small community, 2 miles from Rock. I made use of the Spar shop, then photographed the Rock Road sign, which is also the title name of my home address. It was a novel experience walking down the hill into Rock – normally I would simply catch the ferry across from Padstow, a service that has been in use since the 14th century.
Though modest in size, Rock is in fact the main centre for water -sports in the area, and is also a tranquil place to reconstruct one’s thoughts. Stopping at the shore I changed my socks and drank a pint of milk. Many were gathering at the ferry point, waiting to continue their coast path journeys, or perhaps find an inn or restaurant, where they could enjoy the more leisurely pace of Padstow. I had little time to dwell over the leisure aspects of the coast as my itinerary presented great demands, which today would include a detour inland to the town of Camelford. Initially the footpath from Rock is easy, skirting the golf course above the shore. The sandy beach at low tide makes a superb alternative to the path, though I decided to stick with the latter. I progressed comfortably along the trail beside the golf course, later returning to the shoreline of Daymer Bay, where activity was at a peak. Sailing and kite-flying were among the beach pastimes, though many lay motionless on the sand, content with the more passive aspects of leisure. Walking too, remains popular in these remote parts ofCornwall, and throughout the day people emerged from different points to join the coast path. As the sun broke through it projected a magnificent clifftop scene, glowing gold with gorse against the backdrop of the shimmeringAtlantic. In addition to the beautiful landscape, the journey is broken by many charming bays and colourful resorts. New Polzeath, I found to be one of the liveliest, but thereafter I could sense the journey becoming quieter as it grew more arduous. After leaving Pentire farm to tackle Port Quin the sections seemed to take a lot more out of me. I passed a fine castle on the clifftop, before walking the most difficult ground to date, which lies between Port Quin and Port Isaac. This I recalled from 1996 as one of the most severe parts of theSouth West Way. It contains many man-made steps of differing heights to test the knees, and its winding course stretches the journey way beyond its apparent distance, eventually falling into Port Isaac: the descent of which contains about 84 steps.
Having reached the peak of endurance, I was deflated by the fact that I still had a huge journey ahead in fading light, shared with footpath and road. In the past Port Isaac had always signalled the end of the day, and was a welcome sight from the clifftop. Knowing the day could get no better, I had to lift my spirits and walk on to Delabole, turning inland to the town of Camelford.
Passing beyond the labyrinth of white-washed stone buildings and slim alleyways, I continued on the path to Port Gaverne, which seemed little more than a coastal appendage of Port Isaac. I have friends in Oundle, notably one, Richard Vic, who appreciates the antiquity of both these little ports. Richard spends many an hour painting and sketching the wonderful scenery, that aspires to bring out the artistic qualities in a person. Still respected working towns, though more dependent on tourism, both these places capture the semblance of Cornwall’s seafaring heritage, borne from the glut of pilchards, and their connections with Delabole slate.
As shadows fell along the clifftop I exchanged the tormenting footpath journey for a more logical road one, allowing me to progress inland to Camelford. I met another lad walking towards Port Gaverne and we exchanged views about the North coast journey, which for both of us had proved to be a formidable challenge. The famous slate quarry town of Delabolewas my next objective, where the smell of fish and chips almost lured me away from the task. The time deterred me from such action, not wishing to finish later than the hour of 10pm.
When I eventually arrived at the Camelford sign, I had still to walk another 3 miles in what was now total darkness. It seemed a remarkably long time to get there but at least I made the supper deadline. The meal was more than welcome, and after, I sat with a group of people, whose lively conversation diverged from global travel to modern genetics, which included men having babies, (lucky men!). The landlady, Jo, was pleased to see me, remembering my previous visit, when walking from ‘End-to-End’. To remind her of the occasion I gave her a copy of myWalker’s Diary, which describes that particular adventure.
Day 5. Camelford to Bude. 21 Miles.
Opting for an early start, I crept stealthily out of the inn, ensuring I did not disturb anyone on this quiet Sunday morning. There was little activity on the road but the sun was giving signals of a hot day to come. Laden with wet gear, I struggled up a country lane via Slaughter Bridge, passing the famous Camelford Station. The town Camelford derives its name from the River Camel, and is said to have been King Arthur’s Camelot. Slaughter Bridge, is believed to be the place where he died in his last battle. Though I was not entirely convinced that the town is adorned with Arthurian magic: not far from here, rising above the North coast, is Tintagel Castle. This is yet another site steeped in historical uncertainty, giving rise to more legends and myths from the Dark Ages. With the assistance of modern poets and writers, the gaps of ancient time have been adequately filled with great tales of King Arthur and his brave knights, who once ruled in an era of chivalry. However, because the details of Arthur’s existence are a little vague, they merely serve to add more mystery and flavour to this ancient tale that has captivated the world for centuries.
I was now destined for Boscastle with several miles to walk before pursuing any coastal routes. I had a serious deadline to make today: a scheduled liaison at 4.30pm with Jean Corne of the Mount Edgcumbe Trust, and a few of her ‘Rambler’ friends. Any route that I chose would pose difficulty given the hilly terrain. As well as the coast path I would be able to use The Cornish Way, which is a cycle/walking route also following the coast to Bude.
I did not reach Boscastle until 11.30am: feeling hot and tired I stopped to nurse my feet on a wall near a grocery shop. Whilst resting, a Welsh chap from Cardiff, aged in his eighties, sat beside me, asking about my adventure. Once I explained who I was he enquired if I had a copy of my book to sell. There was only one Millennium Challenge book, which I let him have as he went on to explain about his own walking experiences. Sadly his son had died at the age of 40 – a terrible blow to any parent. He too had followed in a long line of walking enthusiasts. The gentleman was heading off to another coastal destination and so we said our farewells, departing in different directions amidst a bustle that would indicate the height of summer.
The weather was a clear influence on all pursuits today, which could easily be mistaken for the middle of July. With the early deadline ahead of me I continued on the coast road to Crackington, which although hilly, was easier than the coast path, and thus allowed me to progress more efficiently. Sadly this meant that I would be denied some of the dramatic scenery, including High Cliff, which over 800 feet is one of the most precipitous points inCornwall.
Descending from the village of Crackingtonto the shore below, I found the beach a hive of activity, owing to the many people who had gathered to enjoy the novelty of a September swim.
I quenched my thirst, swallowing a couple of pints of water, and after re-filling at the toilet block, I continued uphill towards St. Genny’s church. It is at this famous churchyard, filled with mariners’ gravestones, that one can comprehend the enormity of the sea. These sad epitaphs are a grim reminder of a coast that is beautiful to behold yet menacing to all within its grasp.
As soon as I was able I joined the cycle paths associated with The Cornish Way. At least now I had a slightly more even course, though the hills remained steep, providing a stern examination of stamina. I also found the road tough on my feet, causing blisters and after a while I rejoined the coast path, feeling confident that I would meet my deadline. I could see Widemouth Bay, though it took several sections of coast path to actually reach it. Once again the beach was heavily patronised by sun-worshippers, clinging dearly to the last remnants of the holiday season. I was by this time desperate to leave it and embark on the more important quest of obtaining fluid. On satisfying my great thirst, I enquired at the shop, if by chance any Ramblers had stopped by, as Widemouth Baywas the chosen rendezvous. After a substantial break with the time now at 4.30pm, I decided to continue, returning once more to the clifftop. Half a mile into the trek I was approached by a group of people announcing that they were in fact my walking escort into Bude. After a photo-session orchestrated by the press I continued with 2 members of the party along a gentle footpath leading to the breakwater at Bude. As the evening temperature dropped I bade farewell to the mighty Atlantic, which along this stretch alone had wrecked more than 80 vessels during the 19th-century. Even with this knowledge the white-crested sea appeared little more than sparkling ripples in a paddling pool, filled with bobbing surf boards, and wet-suited adrenaline addicts, who seem drawn to its seductive power. The destination was in sight as we approached Bude Canal, which is also the Start of The Cornish Way. I then booked into the Falcon Hotel where I was made most welcome with a buffet supper held in my honour.
WALKING COAST-TO-COAST OF CORNWALL
ROUTE: Initially along the Cornish Way, following the Bude Canal as far as the thatched village of Marhamchurch. Continue on the back roads to Week St. Mary: a more substantial place with adequate facilities – the only one until reaching Launceston.
You will now walk the desolate back roads passing only Clubworthy until reaching the B3254 near the Countryman Inn, 4 miles from Launceston. Proceed cautiously to Launceston, this road is very busy, linking traffic with Bude and Stratton. Launceston, dominated by its medieval castle, was once known as the gateway to Cornwall. Walk through the town and continue on the B3254 toSouth Petherwin, and finally Upton Cross. Ensure that you have adequate provisions, as you will be walking through the rural hinterlands for most of the time. Apart from Launceston there are no substantial towns between Bude and Liskeard along this chosen route.
HINTERLAND OF RURAL AMBIENCE
Day 6. Bude to Upton Cross. 30 miles.
Despite being very tired after a punishing day, I had a wonderful evening at the Falcon and woke this morning, feeling refreshed and rejuvenated. Bude has so much to offer, and before retiring the previous evening, I had visited the Star Illusion point near the breakwater, which I found both relaxing and fascinating. Bude has always thrived on its natural resources, bringing prosperity to the fishing industry in predominant years and later prompting the development of its 35-mile canal, where barges shipped sand to Holsworthy and Launceston for use as fertiliser. Only the theme has changed in the last hundred years: sea and sand remain the prime requisites that breathe life into this colourful seaside town, which has become the focus of families and travellers worldwide. Before departing I photographed the breakwater, once the site of a chapel, where Bedes lit lanterns to guide approaching vessels into a port, which in those days was scarcely navigable. It was the altruistic behaviour of the holy men which assured the town its name of ‘Bede Haven’, which in turn became Bude.
Starting with confidence on this fine sunny morning, I set off alongside the Bude Canal, using the Cornish Way footpath as my route. The Canal was completed around 1823, linking with the Tamar as a means of transporting calcium-laden sand from local beaches to inland farms for use as fertiliser. The path is also a recognised cycle route and is a gateway to the Cornish world. There were others enjoying a stroll along the banks, where fishermen sat vigilantly beside the calm waters. In contrast to the voice of thunder echoed by the tumultuous Atlantic seas of previous days, these still waters emanate tranquillity, amidst Cornwall’s rural hinterland. Here life drifts aimlessly without disturbance of solitude, other than the plopping of a float and the antics of waterfowl retreating from urban life.
Crossing a bridge I continued along the west bank, eventually finding the appropriate exit at the next bridge. Crossing the road away from the canal I found another trail that led to the village of Marhamchurch. Reaching the top of the lane I entered the thatched village, immediately finding a shop. Here I collected food and water for a journey, taken up on solitary back roads that would reveal only modest village life with few amenities. Having confirmed my route with the village shopkeeper, I was on my way to Week St. Mary. The road was full of twists and turns, and at one stage cattle, who, left to their own devices, would no doubt have escorted me all the way to Launceston! However, they were under strict supervision of the herdsmen, who ensured that they roamed only as far as the farmyard.
By the time I reached St. Mary I was a little dazed by the heat and suffering slightly with exhaustion, incurred from the previous day. I stopped at the village green where a gardener was mowing the grass. This idyllic little place is an epitome of old-world village life, still anchored to traditional elements. I suspect there were many listed buildings, some dating back to the Norman Invasion, and the site of an 11th-century castle, lies north of the Parish Church. Taking the opportunity to eat some lunch I tried to focus on the great task that lay ahead. It would require a monumental effort to reach the outskirts of Liskeard, and my proposed stop, which was slightly west of my course.
I needed confirmation from the gardener that I was actually on the right road, given the fact that there was a choice. The network of minor roads caused some confusion, though I stuck rigidly to his instructions, which were plain and clear to understand. Avoiding all junctions, I continued virtually in a straight line, sighting little traffic other than a tractor leaving the village of Clubworthy. I was feeling a bit better having enjoyed the harmony of the countryside in contrast to the indomitable rigours of tourism. Despite occasionally hearing the main road traffic, the mud-track road never allowed any sight of it. I was at times enveloped in woodlands, later emerging to silent fields, that echoed only the motions of rural isolation. Inevitably I arrived at a small junction where country roads linked together, indicating imminent primary routes, and I was now gleeful at the prospect of soon reaching Launceston. I joined the B3254 just beyond the Countryman Inn, near North Petherwin, (I had stayed here when on my 1994 walk of Cornwall) and proceeded along a much busier, but still narrow road. My concentration was immediately tested to capacity by an impetus of traffic, that remained constant until my arrival at Launceston.
All activity at Launceston had ground literally to a halt, which was something of a revelation to any pedestrian. Having not seen or heard the news in latter days, I did not comprehend the situation. I was totally oblivious to the petrol strike, which had brought the traffic to a complete standstill. Crossing the road, I hopped between angry drivers, who queued despairingly for the last few drops of petrol left at this garage.
After a snack I treated the public to a sock change, illustrating that even in the 21st century, much could still be gained on foot! Moments later I started my ascent through the town, passing the Launceston Narrow Gauge Railway Station, leaving behind the widespread furore caused by the tailback of stationary vehicles.
Despite appearing to be an exile of tourism as well as a hostage to the perilous A30, the ancient town ofLauncestonhas many distinguishing traits, once being the County Town of Cornwall with castle and wall. The hilltop castle dominates the place and although little more than a shadow of former years, retains a remarkable depth of history, dating back to Norman times. Finally I reached the top of the hill, looking back at the town one last time before accelerating towards the roundabout. For once I was moving faster than the traffic, and I quickly made the decision to rejoin the B3254. It was 5pm and I would need to press on as light would fade after 7pm, owing to misty conditions.
I passed throughSouth Petherwin, where traffic was at a teatime peak. The roads were narrow, but still provided a typically Cornish rural flavour, enhanced by alluring river scenes and beautiful stone-built bridges. As the journey lengthens, the villages diminish, becoming more secluded as life retreats beyond the wooded boundaries of the road. I ran the odd mile to build up the momentum as darkness fell, bringing with it the voice of the night. The quiet roads were now filled with the cries of native fauna, waking from their daytime slumber. There were exit lanes from the road, which I felt certain would shorten my journey, though I declined knowing full well the risks that await one in darkness. An hour passed, by which time I had reached Upton Cross, and with confirmation of my position made at the pub, I walked to the nearest phone box and called Mrs Bunny. Mrs Bunny lives at a farm house near Siblyback Lake, west of my route, and had kindly offered to put me up as a donation to the campaign. As it was a few miles west of my route, she would pick me up and return me to Upton Cross the next day. This ensured I would not lose valuable time on the road and could therefore keep to my timetable, which tomorrow included a fundraising tea party at Downderry.
ROUTE: From Upton Cross the journey continues along the back roads, avoiding Liskeard.
For coast walkers the journey begins at Cremyll and trails Mount Edgcumbe CountryPark. The park was developed in 1970, offering opportunities to visit Mount Edgcumbe House, restored after the blitz of 1941. The 800-acre park acclaimed to be the most beautiful inEngland, provides an easy walk to the twin villages of Kingsand and Cawsand. There are excellent views of Plymouth Sound, and beyond Penlee Point you will see the monks’ ancient chapel, (dedicated to St. Michael in 1397) perched upon Rame Head. The path runs from cliff road to beach, but beware of Tregantle, an area requisitioned by the military as a Firing Range. Also note the tides before charging off up the beach! The path skirts the seaward perimeter of the golf course at Crafthole, and then descends to the beach at Portwrinkle. Pass beyond the hotel to the end of the shore, locating the public footpath on the right. You will pass the old route to Downderry, which is closed off. Continue on the public footpath to the road. Then follow the road for about half a mile. Hopefully you can (if you locate the sign on the left) rejoin the path, which will lead to the shore at Downderry.
Day 7. Upton Cross to Downderry. 16 miles.
I enjoyed my stay at Siblyback, having had sufficient time to unwind and appreciate some wonderful home cooking. At breakfast I chatted with other guests, who were also spending their vacation exploring the Cornish countryside: in particular the moorland scenery had stirred their interest. Although captivated by the misty lake land my attention was focused on the East coast ofCornwall, and by 9.30am I was back at my marker, ready for a brisk march. Bidding farewell to Mr and Mrs Bunny, I departed from Upton Cross with hope of reaching Downderry along a network of farm lanes.
Unfortunately the journey was hampered by the lack of signposts that consequently made the day more complex. My initial instructions were to turn left before the gypsy site, which unfortunately I did not see. I suppose my early memories of gypsy life were ones of authentic horse-drawn wagons, parked in the roadside with log fire and tea in the background. The last time I had witnessed such a spectacle was on my John O’Groats to Land’s Endwalk in 1995, when ambling along the A38, known as the old west road, to Bridgwater. The modern day gypsy appears to be more elusive than his predecessor, and my illusion of hedgehog meals by the roadside promptly disappeared back to the 20th century. Not by choice, owing to excess miles that now lay before me, I was now bound for Liskeard. I managed to win a slight reprieve at the next junction, where two local lumberjacks, who were clearing a residential garden, directed me to the hamlet of Merrymeet. The pattern of slender roads remained synonymous with rural life, scarcely allowing the room to manoeuvre a tractor, but luckily there were few encounters. I met two other hikers following a circular route, and we stopped to chat for a while. When I informed them about my task they replied saying -‘ You must be that chap who walked round Britain’. I explained who I was and that I had recorded the events in diaries, which I am in the process of publishing. They listened with intrigue and after wishing each other well, we parted in different directions, now beneath the blistering sun. The next problem was finding a source of fluid in a countryside so rural and sparse in terms of village life.
Soon I found myself on the A38, an experience that did not exactly fill me with euphoria, though nonetheless it was another stepping- stone in the great journey east.
Locating a garage near Catchfrench GardenI attempted to get a drink. Innocently forgetting that there was a petrol strike, I ran into a closed door patrolled by an attendant, who refused access to anyone, however desperate their plea. Advancing a few yards further, I found a Little Chef café, where I was able to purchase some Cola. From here I progressed along the A387 to Polbathic, noting signs to St.Germans and Looe. None of these were relevant today, and at the next minor road junction I enquired at a nearby house, as to whether I could reach Downderry along this course. The lady confirmed my assumption, explaining that vehicles are prohibited on this lane, which a mile or so up the hill would link to the Downderry road. This I managed successfully, but then foolishly tried to locate the coast path into Downderry. Most of the path is obsolete, though in 1996 I recall walking a small section of it, however I did not manage to locate it this time. The misconception led to a late arrival at Tremorran House, where I was to be the Guest of Honour. Punctuality was never my finest attribute, but despite my poor time-keeping I was made very welcome indeed, and the tea party raised over £100 for the Hospices. The rest of the day was now mine to enjoy, and after writing up my diary I went for a drink in the hotel bar. I was staying at the ‘Inn on the Shore’, a place I knew from a previous expedition in 1994. I was surprised to see it had changed significantly, catering more for food clientele, yet retaining pub facilities, including pool table and Sky T.V. The views from the inn are also outstanding, overlooking the beautiful sand and shingle beach, caressed by the gentle rolling tide. Before retiring I met a chap called Nigel who is a missionary, recently back fromAfrica. He showed an interest in my crusade, and later bought a copy of my ‘Walker’s Diary’ book. He has dedicated his life to God, and believes that everyone should have a purpose: indeed he is right, but so few people look at life in this way. At least I had unwound enough to sleep, although my thoughts drifted momentarily to the heavy workload of tomorrow, which would yield over 30 miles of coast walking to Mevagissey on St. Austell Bay.
A FISHING WORLD ENDOWED WITH SMUGGLERS CHARM
Day 8. Downderry to Mevagissey. 30 miles.
Today is a big one: a journey of about 30 miles of coastal walking, initially taken up along the shore. Descending from a steep path adjoining the inn, I walked the beach of shingle and sand to Downderry’s twin village Seaton. It was a refreshing, yet tranquil sensation, walking beside the sea early in the day, where activity is usually minimal: today it was confined to boat maintenance, fishing and playful canine commotion. As the elegant clifftop houses give way to Seaton I exchanged the beach for the road in hope of walking the ‘monkey trail’. The actual coast path is a difficult and time-consuming experience and so I planned to walk the trail by the Monkey Sanctuary,(an orphanage for Amazon monkeys) which later joins a public footpath leading to Millendreath Beach. It is an excellent route and given my timetable was an important link in the journey. Unfortunately I had not walked it since 1994, and instead of continuing uphill at the sign, I followed the road round to the right and missed the sanctuary altogether. In my haste I absent-mindedly passed the sign and continued on the coast road. I could have returned to the sanctuary at another point, but pressed on feeling sure I would find a suitable route back to the coast. This did not happen or at any rate not until arriving at ‘No Mans Land’, appropriately titled on a morning now full of dismay. Further on I managed to divert myself onto a satisfactory quiet back road entering Looe, later finding a downhill lane into the main town. Filing through the narrow streets, now choking with people, I stopped at a chemist and purchased some ‘Build-up’. I find this meal replacement substance useful on endurance marches, especially as it is usually unethical to eat bulky food.
The ancient fishing towns of East andWest Looeare most definitely places to visit if you are in search of a traditional family holiday location. Separated by the River Looe, both towns are lively and picturesque without being stretched to commercial limits, offering clean beaches and ample restaurants serving local fish.
After a short break I crossed the old stone-arched bridge that links East toWest Looe. Progressing to the top of the hill, I found the view of the crowded harbour and the shoreline back to Downderry quite rewarding. At this point I realised it may have been possible to continue along the shore from Seaton, in which case I would have arrived at Looe at least an hour ago. From this I reckoned that I had selected the poorest route out of at least 3 options available. This was quite demoralising given the length of the day that was scheduled, and the fact that it was already 11pm.
Despite feeling somewhat enervated by the misfortune, I gained solace from a lovely stretch of footpath extending aroundTallandBayto Polperro. I now had a clear view of St. George’sIsland, owned by Miss Atkins, whose sister I met in 1998, when visiting Looe. Later I passed through the tiny inlet of Talland, where a few people had gathered by the rocky shore. In contrast to the resplendent weekend the sun had retreated beneath a dull cloud cover of intense humidity. The path tumbled through the wooded glades, woven by native flora, where the sticky heat had aroused an insect population of pandemic proportions.
Polperro is another place thronged with life: the hilltop view of the harbour sprinkled with whitewashed houses, reveals why it is such a powerful magnet. Tourists cannot disguise their fascination for these quaint Cornish villages, where under a spell of ancient charm, they wander almost dazed in an inspirational time zone. Much of the interest with this picturesque harbour lies in its furtive smuggling past, said to have rivalled any legitimate cause of that era. Presently at low tide, it looked beckoning to the artist’s eye, and I took several photographs before marching through the narrow winding streets, amidst the mixed idioms of its European visitors. At the top of the hill I veered right, away from the village to follow a tough section to Lansallos. I slowed down to accommodate the difficult task but was unable to obtain water, which left me feeling drained. I fought through the barrier despite a bleak spell of weather, which made the journey linger.
It was 3.30pm when I arrived at Polruan: thankfully I had time to buy a king-size bottle of water before catching the ferry across the River Fowey. I had drunk most of the fluid before reaching the other side, but saved enough for the leg to Par. Fowey, though younger than its river companion Polruan, has enjoyed a greater affinity with the sea, forged from diverse activities, ranging from smuggling to boat-building: the latter remains a reputable profession in the area.
The air was cooler now as I set off towards the Gribbin. I noticed theSaints Wayfootpath sign as I passed St. Catherine’s Castle on the left of the woodland path. Years ago I had followed the Saint’s trail by mistake, but somehow managed to reach Polkerris by marching across a field. It was a steep climb to the Gribbin, where I spotted an elderly couple checking out the history engraved on the Mariner’s monument. The striped beacon was built in former days of wood and sail, marking the eastern tip of St. Austell Bay. It was an important milestone, though I would not be happy until I reached Par, and the easier footpaths along St. Austell Bay. There was some confusion over the woodland path to Polkerris. After employing the tactics of trial and error I managed to locate the exit, emerging beyond the curving breakwater, once a shelter for its fishing fleet. It looked cold and desolate now, unlike summer months when it is a welcome sanctuary for bathers and sun lovers.
At last I could see St. Austell Bay, where broken communities sprawl across the coastline. Soon I would be walking through these little ports and fishing villages, though some I would not reach until dusk.
Stopping at a shop in Par I gathered basic provisions of milk and chocolate, whilst chatting briefly to the shop assistant. Pressing on through the streets, which represent the coast path, I finally located the mud-track beneath the railway line, situated opposite Par docks. Passing beyond the fenced boundaries of the china-clay works, the trail follows the golf course aboveCarlyonBay. Thankfully it was easy and I managed to reachCharlestownat the point of darkness. Charlestownwas originated by Charles Rashleigh, who developed the port in 1800 for exporting china clay and copper. It still evokes a commanding portrayal of the Georgian era with the authentic tall ships displaying old naval anchors and huge cannon guns. Owing to total darkness it was now more expedient to follow the coast roads, which I had already chartered as an alternative route. Departing from the harbour I asked a young couple for instructions to Duporth road but their dog protested bitterly at my intrusion. Had he not been on a lead I know for sure I would have been on the way to hospital. Certainly one of us would have been, and it soon became apparent that they had no control over the beast. I fear for youngsters who own these monsters, as it seems that so few of them are capable of instilling any discipline. I managed to escape from the creature, and using my initiative I followed the line of the coast in somewhat unfavourable circumstances. The Duporth road offered no light and it was difficult to read the signs, but I eventually emerged at the Mount Edgcumbe Head Office. This was encouraging and it simplified my journey as I knew I was only a couple of miles from Pentewan, another town born to serve the china-clay industry. Running for a while I kept up the momentum, reaching the village at the bottom of the hill at around 9pm. Shortly after, Simon and his family had emerged having patrolled the area in anticipation of my arrival. After exchanging greetings I passed him my rucksack and continued to run along the road, which also happens to be part of the coast path. I kept a good pace and finished the day at Mevagissey at 9.30pm, celebrating with a Chinese meal and a couple of pints.
Day 9. Mevagissey to St. Mawes. 24 miles.
Meeting Simon and his family the previous night proved to be a morale-boosting liaison and it was evident that they all appreciated what I was doing for the cause. Owing to the late finish I did not see much of the town: so I gave myself a brief tour of the place, and visited the picturesque harbour, which makes Mevagissey a paragon of Cornish village life. Although it has become a popular tourist haven, Mevagissey has always been recognised as a key centre for fishing, with its first harbour pier dating back to the 15th-century. The pier is a popular point for beach-casting too: I have two friends from Oundle, Nick Hornsby and Pip Weatherington who enjoy a fishing trip here. Even wet days fail to dampen their enthusiasm: probably due to the fact that sanctuary lies but a few yards west of the harbour at the old Ship Inn!
Beginning the day at 9.30am I set off up the hill towards the hamlet of Port Mellon. It was a dull, wet, muggy sort of day, initially hindered by traffic, as I scrambled past the modest bathing beach, which signalled the end of easy walking. Despite my elation of eluding the busy road, it was the clifftop path that would now become the menace. Initially it was easy, passing Chapel Point and its inspiring seascapes to traverse fields separated by stiles, where I would occasionally stop and glimpse back at the attractive buildings dominating the distant shore.
Rain fell heavily on arrival at Gorran Haven, where beach relics of its fishing past remind us of a once thriving port deemed greater than its neighbour Mevagissey. Today it has expanded to suit the needs of residential growth, which thankfully meant that there was a shop. I was relieved by this, as the greater part of the journey now lay before me, presenting desolate clifftops, interspersed by solitary bays and beaches now subdued by the advent of Autumn. Once I had gathered my provisions I set off across the road, joining the path near the beachfront. Less defined than before, I struggled to find my way through the bracken, stumbling periodically on the rocky ground. Following the trail through the escarpment above the graceful sweep ofVault Beachwas a tasteful reminder of this beautiful stretch of coast, embossed with a mariner’s monument at Dodman Point. The Dodman, fortified during Iron Age times to preserve its territory, also became the demise of fishing fleets that sailed this magnificent headland. The Point, now owned by the National Trust, occasionally evokes the seafaring spirit of sail, relived during the meritorious crusade of the Tall Ships Race.
After a tricky section to Hemmick Beach, where the lane leads up to Boswinger Youth Hostel (about half a mile from the coast), I marched on, passing Greeb Point and Black Rock. Then with some relief I descended through fields of cattle to Porthluney Cove, which lies humbled by the grandeur of St.Michael Caerhays. I stopped to savour a view of the castle, the centre piece of lush green fields, built in 1808 by John Nash. As predicted the solitary scene of a desolate beach and boarded café now gave a bleak picture of the summer twilight giving way to seasonal change. Winter is the nemesis of all coast life and this bleak caption of blustery weather, had ensured that even the boldest of holidaymakers were forced to retreat inland. Departing from the scene I ambled uphill, engulfed by woodlands, eventually finding the coast path, which turns left away from the road. The path provided an easy journey, and looking back in the distance behind me an eerie cloud cover hovered above Dodman Point. I pressed on hastily towards Portholland, where I was able to pass over the beach: once again activity was at a low ebb: in fact confined to a couple and their dog, enjoying the peaceful rolling motion of water. I struggled alongVeryan Bay, feeling the effects of dehydration, owing to lack of fluid. I felt as though I was never going to reach Portloe, walking the rocky ground and man-made steps of differing heights. Often I stumbled on jutting rocks concealed in the over-grown vegetation, that has luxuriated throughout this damp humid summer. I was also still bewildered by the presence of insects, in particular large swarms of bees that had colonised the tunnels of bracken, which I nervously encountered.
Finally I descended to Portloe, where it was quite a relief to obtain water from the post office, though I still had over half the journey left. Taking a detour away from the path I attempted to follow a public footpath only to end up cut off by hedgerows. I returned to the road and queried it with a lady who simply replied ‘This isCornwallwhat do you expect’. Basically I think her abrasive reply meant that a right of way simply means you have access to a field, which does not necessarily adopt a walking trail.
From here on I witnessed some beautiful countryside with thatched houses, built in round style to leave no corners for the Devil to hide! Returning to the cliffs I negotiated some difficult points, later entering a farm, patrolled by geese, and then dropping to Pendower Hotel along a slim gated-road. With Portscatho in the distance I crossed a smaller beach, where to my horror I saw a man swimming! I very nearly joined him as the advancing tide swept over my boots, soaking me as I narrowly escaped up the clifftops away towards Portscatho.
Portscatho is an inspiration to the East coast and I rewarded myself with a chocolate bar, gazing back at the day’s effort so far. It was by now 4pm and there was no sign of the Ramblers who were supposed to escort me to St. Mawes. Little wonder I thought with this horrific weather. After chatting awhile with some tourists, I left the harbour and walked back to the village shop, stopping to ask the attendant if he had seen any other walkers. He was a walker himself and had made the same journey aroundCornwall, curious to know whether I would be doing the section to Place. This would require a pre-arranged ferry crossing to St. Mawes, and was not on the itinerary owing to the difficulties in planning. My route from here would follow the road back towards Trewithian to link with the A3078 to St. Mawes. On leaving the village I asked a lady in her garden for advice. She pointed to a track opposite: it was not sign-posted but would take me to within 3 miles of St. Mawes.
This was encouraging and I enjoyed a tranquil journey to the main road. Walking the A3078 was a little disconcerting as teatime traffic sped by along the narrow highway. A car had broken down at the top of the hill beside the estuary, causing a few problems for other road users. My main concern was the intrusion of more wet weather as a storm looked menacingly imminent. I walked past an estuary and on reaching St. Just-in-Roseland the heavens opened. The session that followed was a fierce one leaving me somewhat bedraggled and by the time I reached the Rising Sun it was difficult to distinguish any view ofFalmouthowing to the deluge. On entering the hotel, John Milan and his staff raced into action ensuring my needs were tended to and later I received a visit from the Mount Edgcumbe Hospitality and Rambler’s organisations. Luckily I had resurrected my old army sweatshirt, usually re-commissioned for these events, and so had something dry to wear for the occasion.
Day 10. St. Mawes to Carharrack (via Truro). 19 miles.
In contrast to the previous day, this morning paraded clear blue sky as the sun beamed brilliantly above Carrick Roads. Striding out towards St. Mawes Castle, I stopped to photographFalmouthdocks on the opposite shore withPendennis Castle rising above. Both castles were built by Henry V111 as part of his sea defences against the French and have stood for over 450 years. Initially created to protect the Carrick Roads entrance, both castles were actually besieged from land by Oliver Cromwell during his civil war against the crown.
After a close-up view of St. Mawes Castle I proceeded along the coastal trail, which led to the sparse settlement of St. Just-in-Roseland. It was a lovely journey: slightly muddy in places but much easier than the sections walked on the clifftop coast. The journey crossed several fields as I looked back at Falmouthand out towards Penryn. In the distance I could see a church and within half an hour I was making my way down to the quay at St. Just. I had a lovely view of the estuary, now a picture of serenity. There was a workshop nearby with modest activity capturing the interest of a tourist group. A lady from the group shouted across to me, explaining that we had met at Portscatho Harbouryesterday. Suddenly I remembered and spoke briefly to them before advancing uphill to the 13th-century church, situated above the tidal creek of the River Percuil. This picturesque church is a popular monument, immortalised by Cornish writers and artists, giving it status as an important landmark on this secluded Roseland Peninsula.
The transition of rolling patchwork fields and glinted waters to tranquil estuaries and creeks was in some ways more of a relief than an elegy – at least I could enjoy the sensation of walking on level ground. Sheltered from the sea, these Mediterranean backwaters allow nature to be more indulgent as tropical vegetation luxuriates in this warm damp climate. Leaving St. Just I engaged in a brief burst along the B3289 road, which led to the King Harry Ferry point, where I awaited my crossing toTrelissickGardens. The ferry is a platform connected to a chain link – a bit like a transporter bridge, becoming a necessary integrant for vehicles and pedestrians, extending their travels beyond the estuary to the city boundaries. The service has existed for centuries: one of its first mechanical ferries operated in 1889 when the craft was steam operated. I was now within 5 miles ofTruro, where I would be attending an interview with Cornwall Radio, later this afternoon. People were admiring the elegant Trelissick Garden, owned by the National Trust, which is suitably positioned at the head of Carrick Roads, allowing panoramic views along the estuary towardsFalmouth. I marched nonchalantly beyond the point, noticing other well-kept residential grounds nearby. After stopping at the shop at the top of the road for a pint of milk, I continued, turning right along the old coach road in the direction ofTruro. Parts of the road are now deemed the Cornish Way, and well-established as a cycle route toTruro. I occasionally needed some confirmation of its course but I enjoyed the experience, arriving in good time for some lunch.TruroisCornwall’s city and despite its excellent pedestrian shopping centre, remains unspoiled by the rigours of modernism. It is more of a vibrant town than a city, though it is difficult to ignore the three-spire cathedral, which took 30 years to build, eventually finished in 1910. I had ample time to prepare for the radio show and so explored part of the town before arriving at the BBC Radio Station for the 3.30pm deadline. It was fairly brief -15 minutes in all and I was soon on my way again – this time in the direction of my mother’s home in Carharrack. Luckily I had missed the downpour of rain and although there was threat of another I continued unscathed. I passed the villages of Threemilestone and Chacewater as teatime traffic emerged with growing intensity. I had only to endure an 8-mile hike, of which the last 2 miles were walked on the back roads, passing Crofthandy, finishing at Carharrack at 6p.m.
ROUTE BACK TO THE COAST
ROUTE: Follow the footpath from Carharrack (down past Sparry Lane) through Trevince Woods (on the right) to Gwennap village. Do not confuse with Gwennap Pit, which lies southwest of Carharrack.
At Gwennap Church climb the hill until locating the Perranwell road on the left. Continue to Perranwell and its neighbour Perranarworthal. After a short blast on the A39 you will be able to join the coast cycle trail, on the left of the road, to Penryn andFalmouth.
Day 11. Carharrack to Falmouth. 12 miles.
Leaving home around 10am on a fresh dry morning I took the country footpath through Trevince Woods, leading to thevillageof Gwennap. Not that long ago the woods were condemned in favour of a landfill project, but hard-fought campaigns have saved the site and its wildlife. It is hard to imagine that such an exchange was ever contrived. In fact it is totally unethical in today’s world that has endured the ailments of global warming, highlighting the disasters of a modern age. To think this planet is now dying at the hands of the rich and powerful, whose greed has ignited the blue touch paper.
After the forest experience I pressed on through Gwennap, walking to the top of the hill, opting for the less tedious, country route via Perranwell and Perranarworthal. There were many roads branching off to village destinations, and I had to keep a close vigil for the appropriate signposts. It was a simple journey, only skirting Perranwell as I walked downhill through Perranarworthal, where I briefly encountered a busy A39. This is the Truro/Falmouth road, which fortunately I sampled only for a short while before joining the cycle route to Penryn. This was an old road serving small villages such as Mylor and Flushing. Traffic was obviously less frequent so I enjoyed a modest journey to the ancient estuary town of Penryn, finally emerging on the coast road. The harbour looked like a postcard portrait with small boats anchored all round the shore, adding flavour to the town’s charm and character, conveyed by its buildings and courtyards. Its maritime history stretches back to the 15th-century when it was a prestigious port. Continuing beyond the marina I joined theFalmouth road, where I stopped at a shop to buy milk. Walking intoFalmouth was scarcely a novelty, having been here on numerous occasions, though I still took time out to savour the moment. At least I had arrived in good time to visit the shops and have a quick soda water at the Grapes Inn whilst writing a few postcards. I stopped at the bookshops to say hello then continued towards the Docks and Pendennis Castle. I have worked on Cross-Channel ferries at the docks in winter months andFalmouth is said to be the third largest natural harbour in the world. The clifftop point above the docks affords some of the best panoramic views of Falmouth town: a charming combination of old and new, prospering from a blend of industry and tourism. Rows of colourful buildings set in an ambience of palmaceous growth are tantalisingly seen from Pendennis Point. Above lies the castle that has survived a colourful era of smuggling and rebellion, protecting our shores for over 450 years. Its Discovery Centre retains a strong grasp of its history, and its Tudor gun-deck is one such powerful reminder. Rounding the point, the coast road is transformed into a source of wonder as the seaward views extend acrossFalmouthBay, where the sea plays host to many anchored vessels. This tranquil scene will soon be a distant memory for many mariners, who by tomorrow, will embark on a new voyage across tumultuous seas to foreign shores. My journey concluded gently as I ambled casually away from the promenade to register at the Poltair Hotel, where Malcom and his wife were eagerly awaiting my arrival. I had stayed here during the winter months whilst working on the P&O. ships in refit.
Day 12.Falmouthto Cadgwith. 30 miles.
I felt tired in the morning, resulting from the previous night’s social activities. I had planned for a meal and an early night but by chance ran into a friend from Redruth, Carol and her companion Mary Anne, who is a member of the Rambler’s Association. After a couple of pints at the King’s Head I was dragged off to a club to indulge in more social revelry, which unfortunately is not always the best preparation for a 30-mile coast-hike. It is good to unwind and lubricate the soul with a spot of liquid libation, though this course of treatment does have its side-effects! Despite feeling a little bewildered, Malcom introduced me to the other guests and I chatted for a while, eventually departing around 9.30am.
It was a refreshing morning: calm and still as I skirted Falmouth Bay, feeling a little worse for wear. Gyllyngvase Beachwas quiet, attended in military fashion by dog walkers and the occasional swimmer wishing to gather some zest for the day.
My body was still partially asleep but I tried to remain focused and motivated, owing to the intense work load ahead. Today’s journey included a ferry crossing at Helford Passage, and I hoped that there would be no delays. Initially the path offered easy walking, with few surprises, though thankfully there were signs of some extensive maintenance, which enabled me to progress more efficiently. The trail has looked in good shape throughout Cornwall and I have seen some significant improvements since my last visit. Although the route is more easily defined, I suffered a slight mishap through the woods, joining a different footpath to Mawnan Smith, where I could hear the sound of a football match in progress. I recalled having this problem a few years ago, when I at least took the opportunity to visit its lovely church. I did not get to that stage this time, retreating through the hedge-growth, where I sought help from a couple picking blackberries. A good activity on this fair-weather day: no wind nor rain to blight the event, and further more they assisted me, pointing to a broken trail across the fields.
The adventure continued with the path traversing grazing pastures, woodlands, many small bays and private grounds, eventually halting at Helford Passage at 11.45am. There was a 15-minute interval, which was a blessing in disguise as it forced me to appreciate a proper rest, having reached this point in only 2 hours!
The ferry service at Helford Passage has been active since the 15th century, and the inn by the shore, called The Ferry Boat Inn, which serves coffee and food to waiting travellers, is at least 300 years old. It was a gentle crossing in the small vessel that carried eight of us at a cost of £1.50 per head. In a matter of minutes we were on the opposite shore, and marching nonchalantly through the little village of Helford. I passed an inn and managed to obtain a few items, including milk from the village store, which I drank in readiness for the next stage of the walk.
Scarcely covering a quarter of the journey, I resumed with hope of building up the momentum along a relatively easy track. On firm mud I continued through the woodland glades to St. Anthony, where a small group of people were attempting to ford Gillan Creek. I stopped to photograph the lovely 12th-century church before crossing the low-tide stony beach in trainers, thus avoiding an extensive road detour to Nare Point.
The course of the footpath was difficult to follow and took 4 attempts to find the correct exit from the woods. The monotony of forest life continues, though more frequently broken by sandy bays and fishing coves, which in the smuggler’s hey day would have proved a nemesis to the Revenue. The remains of a wooden boat beside the shore is a scene that typifies South Cornwall, adding flavour to this comprehensive and diverse journey. This rugged yet fervent landscape, carpeted with sub-tropical vegetation, now provides a sharp contrast with the awe-inspiring North coast clifftops, clad in gorse and heather. Despite the serenity of the coastland, I had no difficulty in obtaining drinking water, as there were public conveniences and shops at many of the bays. Stopping at Porthallow, I asked for directions around the Dean Quarry. The lady replied, saying that there was in fact a path through the quarry, which I would be able to use, in any case it was a Sunday, and they would not be blasting. This was good news as I had not been through the quarry before. First I had to reach Porthoustock: the journey commencing initially uphill by road, and a mile or so later rejoining the footpath through farm grounds, eventually descending into the little bay. At the beach, I saw the warning signs, prohibiting access to the quarry, where only meters away divers prepared for their Sunday afternoon sub-aqua encounter with the Manacles. The quest for the sea is endless as is the curiosity surrounding the demise of other marines; some whose epitaphs can be found locally in the graveyard of St. Keverne. Many a seafarer has sealed his fate on this dangerous reef, which in turn has become a fascinating project for those wishing to explore the wreckage below.
Leaving the site I continued to the top of the road, passing the quarry entrance, finding the coast path sign further uphill on the right. The route led me diagonally across three fields and into a small village, where I found a farm trail on the left of the road. People were busy tending their gardens as I ambled across more farmland, eventually descending to the shore at Godrevy Cove. After some apprehension I followed the shore, which soon revealed the quarry footpath. Again warning signs were displayed, threatening fearful retribution to those who do not adhere to the rules. The expanse of the quarry was greater than first imagined though easily negotiated. I caught a glimpse of two fishermen below: one was reeling in a substantial sea bass, witnessed by an approaching female audience.
I was now on course for Coverack, pursuing a grass track beside the rock -strewn beach, where the main inhabitants were cattle. The trail was easy and by 5.30pm I was again sampling village life. Coverack seemed at its busiest with many visitors milling about the village, enjoying their ice creams, and taking photos of white-washed cottages jostling above the cove. Once more I stopped for milk and chocolate, as I prepared for the final session of the day. I passed other walkers on my way back to the clifftop, most of whom did not envy my remaining journey. Despite some confusion over the footpath I managed to find the correct route to Black Head, which at times was strenuous and resembled an obstacle course. The cloud cover had brought darkness, and I was relieved to reach Kennack Sands, where my journey across the golf course was something of a wind down. Though light was fading I knew that I had only a mile or two left along a straightforward stretch of clifftop. Even after sunset the light remained good enough for me to catch a glimpse of the old pastel-washed cottages ofCadgwithBay, arriving there at 8p.m – 10.5 hours in all. I was staying at the Cadgwith Cove Inn, famous for its Friday- night choir of fishermen, who at the end of each week celebrate life on the rolling sea. Despite its mood swings, the sea still remains the foundation of life to many small fishing communities, anchored to their traditional ways. This small fleet has gained much recognition from its coast, landing record-breaking catches of Pilchards in the early part of last century, though today it is more likely to harvest Lobsters and Crabs. Sunday seemed clearly designated as a day of rest and prayer, with all imbibing parodies banished until the end of the week. I was silently happy about this as I sat enjoying my meal under the gaze of 4 customers, none of whom looked destined to break into song, though a few strong words were uttered in a political debate over fishing rights. As the night grew old, bad weather swept over the harbour, and with the mellow atmosphere of the inn dwindling away, I climbed the stairs to my room. After a few moments of listening to the patter of rain, I sank wearily into bed, wondering what joy and adventure tomorrow would bring.
DAY 13. Cadgwith to Porthleven (Helston). 23 miles.
Leaving Cadgwith in sunny weather I looked down on the rows of boats nestled in the arms of this quiet bay, where only fishermen sought any interest in motion. Only moments away from this minuscule fishing cove lies the Devil’s Frying pan, the fearful title given to the collapsed cave roof, where the sea spits and froths like a violent cauldron. The momentous journey continues beyond the Lizard lighthouse to Britain’s most southerly point, where I was able to take snaps of the old 1914 lifeboat location. I did not visit the village on this occasion as there isn’t a Bank, which I needed so desperately: it is however endowed with serpentine craft shops, refreshment facilities and a very nice inn.
I was progressing swiftly despite suffering the effects of a strenuous weekend, and the present endurance along an uneven path. Descending to a beach café, the journey reaches a geological climax at Kynance Cove, where many had gathered to explore the caves and arches of this famed beauty spot. The Devil’s Bellows is one of the dramatic features, where the sea roars through a cleft in a spurting fury. It seemed appropriate that the Devil has gained recognition in the basement of the country, where the coastline is perceived as a formidable entity. High tide had prevented any close encounter with the serpentine rock, repelling disappointed visitors back to the nearby café. After exchanging greetings with an Australian hiker, I climbed the steps away from the beach and continued my journey to Mullion Cove.
I arrived at Mullion Cove around lunch, descending to the working harbourof Porth Mellin, presently occupied by a few tourists and a solitary fisherman. The sun was shining brightly as I removed my socks to enjoy a moment of comfort. The tranquillity served as a tonic, revitalising me for the next session: as I ascended to the clifftop location of the Mullion Cove Hotel, where I once stayed on my tour of Great Britain. The trail continues past the Marconi monument near Poldhu Point, and on to Church Cove, where an elderly couple were enjoying a spot of refreshment. The afternoon sun had intensified enough to draw people away from the path to sample the warm sandy shores. Beyond Gunwalloe the path expands across the Loe Bar on its approach to Porthleven. This great sandbank blocks the mouth of the River Cober, severing its sea link with Helston, which was once a port, transforming it into the largest freshwater lake in Cornwall. It was an energy-sapping process, walking the trail of sand, which had now become a haven for sun worshippers. A mile or so beyond the Loe Bar lies Porthleven. This town of rendered rooftops, waterfront shops and inns, is distinguished by the granite quays and piers of its 19th-century harbour, born from an era of boat-building. The dearth of industry has not led to a decline in the town’s social behaviour, evident from summer months, where the harbour is a popular location for regattas and lively ceremonies. Veering right at the chemist I advanced uphill towards the town of Helston, using the B3304 as my route. Helston’s days as a port are long gone, and in contemporary times is best known for its famous Floral Dance in May.
Its social connections with the Royal Navy have livened it considerably, but it also contains some fine places to visit, including the excellent Museum and Cornish Bookshop. Not far from the town is Flambards Victorian theme village, notably acclaimed asCornwall’s Family Attraction of the Year. The main attraction for me at this moment in time was the Chy-An-Gwyn Guest House,19 Godolphin Road, which I found opposite the police station. It is a lovely place, and Mrs Jackson, the owner (also a keen walker), made me most welcome. She was hoping to join her son abroad on a walking venture in October, and shared a keen interest in charity funding. Later that night I linked up with Selina Tressider, a lovely lady who has worked extremely hard to raise funds on behalf of the Hospices. Her own family have been victims of cancer: her sister had recently died, and her brother had been diagnosed with a liver tumour. Despite the enormous strain on her life she had pledged to help out during this event, and that night we set off on a massive fundraising pub-crawl, covering over 12 pubs!
Day 14. Porthleven to Newlyn. 12 miles.
In contrast to the previous day of sunny array the weather was now quite deplorable. The coast path had become a deluge of mud and water as defiant nature attempts once more to chase away the remnants of summer. Stepping away from Porthleven with water splashing over the tops of my boots, I trundled beside turf walls and the carpet of ferns. Workmen were desperately trying to repair the path, though some of their efforts proved more detrimental as I slipped trying to cross some boards, which they had laid. I stopped to talk to two ladies out for a refreshing stroll, realising they were getting more than they bargained for. One had a child in her backpack and I promptly advised her of the slippery surface that awaited them on the boardwalk. After cracking a few jokes we parted in opposite directions, acknowledging that my sense of humour was all that remained dry amidst this saturated landscape. A wetsuit was the only garment suitable to aid a performance that was better reserved for a monsoon. I wasn’t the only one struggling: marooned in the mud before me lay a wounded serpent. In fact it was a slow worm, which had ground to a halt and now faced with the prospect of swimming as its only option. In an effort to help the creature I removed it from the mud, transporting it to the rich vegetation beyond the path.
At least I maintained a steady pace over the wide sweep of Mount’s Bay, reaching prominent points such as Rinsey Head: below which lies a cove of geological wonder, inspiring me to make good use of the camera. Beyond this point stands the skeleton of Wheal Prosper Mine, whose brief existence ceased in 1860, though it has been preserved as a monument of respect to the industry. Remains of Wheal Trewavas are also exposed by the coast path: it once mined copper ore from under the sea until ultimately overcome by its force, bringing about a closure, due to flooding, in 1850.
Advancing through the ferns at a good pace, I could now see Praa Sands. The sandy beach was a welcome contrast to the sodden bracken, but although a popular location in summer months, it was now totally abandoned without even a surfer to commend its worth. I continued to Prussia Cove: water-grave to Cornwall’s largest wreck, H.M.S Warspite, destroyed by the rocks in a savage storm in 1947. The cove also derives notoriety from its smuggling activities during the 18th century, pioneered by the infamous John Carter – a self-styled King of Prussia. Mist was clearing above St. Michael’s Mount as I walked beyond Cudden Point. The path was little more than a stream, but offered no serious threat in terms of endurance. Soon I emerged on the lower ground, passing small communities that overlook the shore. I was now entering Perranuthnoe, known locally as Perran. I photographed the 15th –century church before hastily returning to the path. Fully aware of the time, I was now considering my social duties, which today would involve a meeting with the Deputy Mayor. Also at the Town Hall I would hope to see Liz Anderson from Mount Edgcumbe, and of course the press. It was a great relief to reach the town of Marazion, Cornwall’s oldest charter town, and once the main trading port, later superseded by Penzance in the 16th century. Across the water lies St. Michael’s Mount, once thought to have been the lost land of Lyonesse, embodying all the enchantment of Arthur’s world. This 14th- century castle towers above the granite island, founded by Edward the Confessor, who gave it to the Monastery of Saint Michel. The site, now owned by the National Trust, can be reached by a stone causeway trailing from theshore of Mounts Bay. Leaving Marazion I followed an easy footpath, surprised to see ice cream vendors trading near the seafront. Then crossing the railway line I entered the town of Penzance. The town still thrives on an atmosphere of fishing life, housing a Maritime Museum, and a promenade that extends to Newlyn, the most affluent fishing port inBritain. Near the terminus railway station is a helicopter port, and there is a ferry service to the Scilly Isles – top location for ornithologists. My next location was the Mayor’s office, found beyond the busy Market Jew Street, where small lanes and roads branch out into a web of architectural delight. Thankfully I was punctual, reporting to the office where I awaited the Deputy Mayor’s arrival. At least I had ample time to discuss my journey, and I was able to benefit from a useful history lesson about the area.
enuous. Difficult to complete in a day. Sennen offers good amenities, and there is a Youth Hostel at St. Just.
Day 15. Newlyn to Pendeen. 24 miles.
Dark clouds loomed above Mount’s Bay but thankfully without the fury of a storm. Setting off along the promenade offers a different view of St. Michael’s Mount and before long I was skirting Newlyn Harbour. Despite colonial battles fought in the area, Newlyn rose from the ashes of war to becomeCornwall’s most productive fishing town. The whole element of the trade is alive in Newlyn, celebrated in museums and interpreted in fine arts displayed at its galleries. It was an amazing experience watching the tide roll in, extending the harbour boundaries beyond its shore-built houses. The powerful aroma of fish hung in the air as lorries passed by with consignments of a catch, which would be distributed to local dealers. Reaching the top of the hill, I looked back at the lively harbour, lined with hillside cottages, and its colourful fleet that looked a picture of delight. From here I was able to enjoy a recently constructed footpath/cycle route, which forms part of The Cornish Way. It was nice to view the coast without the intrusion of traffic, in fact I didn’t even see a cyclist!
I was now approaching the last major outpost of West Cornwall’s fishing industry. Tourists warm to the archetypal scene of Mousehole harbour, once the prime fishing port inCornwall, whose timeless beauty still has the power to ascend one to creative heights. I had to settle for a few photographs, though I noticed a couple of contenders armed with their sketch boards at the ready. Mousehole is another port that has survived the turbulence of the Spanish War, having been burned to the ground in 1595. Today it is a forest of life, thriving on visitors who travel from all parts of the world to enjoy its craft shops and galleries, still portrayed in former glory. I drank a pint of milk then continued uphill in search of the original coast path. I had no trouble finding the route: The Cornish Way carries on uphill, but I veered left beyond a few houses. I passed through the wooded glades, and despite the mud, progressed with ease to Lamorna Cove, another famed beauty spot, sandwiched by the rocks of Mount’s Bay.
Leaving on the quarry footpath, which was something of an obstacle course, I now endeavoured to reach Penberth Cove. In the distance I could see the Tater Du Lighthouse, built in 1965, to help prevent further shipping disasters. The journey was becoming a little tedious and certainly more strenuous as the sun warmed up the autumn air. The sea matched the blue sky as I scrambled through the bracken that typified a jungle scene with an almost tropical approach to Penberth. Here I stopped for a sock change, and relaxed for a few moments, enjoying the tranquillity of the bay, which I shared with just two other people. Ascending above the point the path provides a magnificent view of the bay as the clifftop journey grows in stature. The climate change had managed to revitalise some of the primary destinations along this route, and the path had once more become a source of interest. I was surprised at my good progress to Porthcurno, home to the Museum of Submarine Telegraphy, which promises an informative excursion, showing insight into its secret past. At present the beach was a scene of summer delight as the turquoise sea breaks into glinted white lines, dotted with surf boards and sun-tanned bodies. It was a more refreshing sight than the Minack one, which indicated a steep climb of many steps to reach the cliff-side amphitheatre. This authentic clifftop stage, founded in the 1930’s by Rowena Cade, is paramount to the modern performing arts in a kingdom that thrives largely on summer attractions. Two weeks from now, my friend Clare Wilson, a Macmillan Nurse Executive, will be hosting a charity event at this site: one can only hope the weather does not have another tantrum as has been accustomed throughout the year.
Descending away from the popular scene I followed the path to Porthchapel, where I photographed the Holy Well of Saint Levan, which I believe is still used for Baptisms. Not far from here is the villageof St. Levan, which derives its name from a 5th-century Breton saint called Saint Selevan. Stopping near the shore at Porthgwarra I took a short break as other walkers passed by in the direction of Minack. I could sense the journey nearingLand’s End, the evidence of which is revealed in its changing landscape. The inexorable work of the sea has not gone unnoticed. Magnificent granite rock scenery emerges in a portrayal of bizarre effigies and human shapes that could so easily have been carved by hand.
The lighthouse at Gwennap Head now heralds the approach toLand’s Endand its scenes of dramatic grandeur. I photographed the point, waving to the keeper before descending to even ground, ready to tackle the next summit. It was here that I lost my way, taking the wrong footpath angling to the right of the coast. Realising my mistake I had to retreat back down the hill and start again. I delayed my arrival at Land’s End still further by chatting with a local lady over the matter of reaching Pendeen. Despite a demanding session along boulder-strewn terrain, she forecast a trek of about 4 hours fromLand’s End. I felt anxious about the distance still left to walk as it was 3.30pm when I arrived at the great landmark.
Once more the insurmountableAtlanticreigns supreme as tumultuous breakers crash against the Longships lighthouse, captivating an audience that remains mesmerised by the spirit of the Cornish coast.
The sea holds a fascination with the visitors atLand’s End, but now with added attractions, including a new museum, the place has become internationally recognised. It is a vital tool in the mechanism of leisure and tourism inCornwall, which as an industry has grown rapidly since the 1980’s. This will hardly compensate for the industrial menopause inCornwall, though it could help treat some of the symptoms of recession and prevent it from regressing further by offering an alternative solution. In this way Land’s End has at least put Cornwall firmly on the map, providing a passage to leisure and recreation as well as a gateway to discovery. It is also the most famous destination for walkers, one I have been to on numerous occasions throughout my charity crusade, today being no exception! As I lined up to have my photograph taken at the post, the camera ladies reminisced about previous journeys, which included walking around the whole country and End-to-End encounters. After a few moments I prepared for the next stage of the walk, which I can only describe as being a perpetual obstacle course, filled with megalithic remains.
THE GRAVEYARD OF TIN MINES
A compelling journey now begins amid the graveyard of derelict tin mines, that leave an indelible mark on this granite landscape. Initially it wasn’t too bad and the scenery added inspiration, though I was a little perplexed on reaching Sennen Cove. I had no complaints about the view of the beach and its turquoise water – just the problem of getting to it!
In the end I walked down the hill and back to the harbour, stopping to obtain further refreshment. The path now trails the beach along the splendid sweep ofWhitesandBay, returning later to the clifftop for a more exacting version of the North coast, where the distant skyline remains haunted byCornwall’s mining past. The path trailed above the spectacular rock pools, climbing steeply in places and at times becoming elusive, which can be a bit scary at summit points. Not one to do in the dark – and this would soon be imminent.
I met with the usual problem atCapeCornwall, first having experienced the frustrating journey to the Youth Hostel, only to cross the road and double back towards the coast. On my approach toEngland’s only cape, I could see the towering chimney pointing out towards the great Atlantic skies, now filled with the air of dusk. After reaching the point, I was unable to find any drinking water, noticing that the toilet facilities did not supply a suitable source. Activity and light were both in decline. The last of the Cape’s visitors were disappearing in a car as I made my departure beyond Kenidjack Castle to commence a journey in the dark to Botallack. The cliff-edge mine of Botallack drops hundreds of metres below the sea, where men once toiled against the sound of thunder as ocean waves uncurled above them. The stark remains of the mine, rising above the Atlantic, appear almost defiant on the edge of the world! Like all other relics it now stands tirelessly against the tide of time, and the inexorable quest of the sea: marking a tribute to a brave workforce, who once risked life and limb to make Cornwalla prosperous kingdom.
Breaking away from the coast path I could barely make out the shape of Levant, the oldest beam engine in Cornwall, which offers the public another incisive insight into the hazardous occupation of mining. Geevor is another local tin mine that pays continual homage to the eponymous Richard Trevithick, Cornwall’s most acclaimed engineer, whose knowledge helped shape the country’s social and economic history. Now in total darkness I concluded the journey along the road, and a public footpath leading to the village of Pendeen. The lighthouse at Pendeen sits on a dramatic stretch of coastline known more for its deleterious elements than its beauty: when in days of sail it reduced sturdy ships to sunken wrecks. However, since the 1900’s the Pendeen Watch with its beam range of 27 miles has become a sentinel for all shipping near the Head. Tomorrow would allow the opportunity to photograph the site, which is to be one of the final points in the journey. As I neared the end of yet another big walk, I sat at the bar in the North Inn savouring a few quiet moments. The landlord and his companion, ‘Boot’, were kind to me, making me feel welcome. The landlord’s brother, Andrew Coke actually thanked me for what I had done to promote this good cause: that above all meant as much to me as the achievement today.
JEWELS OF THE KINGDOM
Day 16. Pendeen to St. Ives. 13 miles.
Today’s weather is an epitome of autumn as wind blew fiercely across the lighthouse path. It was a tempestuous display causing great concern as I scaled the slippery clifftops, and the many obstacles along the way. I saw other walkers arrive from Morvah, equipped for the day as they set off towards CapeCornwall: my destination was St. Ives with my first stop targeted at Zennor. This was by no means an easy task, climbing clifftops riddled with granite boulders, along a zigzag course bearing only solitary residential buildings and decaying mine-stacks. I came badly unstuck near Porthmoina Cove, having taken a farm route above the path: in an effort to regain access I fell stumbling into the marshy ground concealed below the ferns. In the end I retreated to a farmyard, and then having consulted the farm hand, I continued past an old mine-stack re-routing myself at a stream below the clifftop. The course was now straightforward, though still strenuous, accentuated by the rocky impediments that are consistent with West Cornwall’s landscape. By the time I reached Zennor Head, I had completed the bulk of the journey, and stopped to talk to a couple of tourists. Mentioning that I was thirsty after some doggy footwork, they explained that the villageof Zennorcatered for travellers these days, and had recently opened a Youth Hostel that provided refreshment. I hastened towards the location and to much relief I obtained a drink, which I enjoyed despite being sodden wet. There were others gathered around tables sampling food and outside people were taking photographs of the 12th- century church. The village is also the home of the Mermaid of Zennor, whose alluring spirit is said to have claimed the life of the Squire’s son at Pendour Cove. Another place of alluring spirit, though possibly a safer venue is the Tinner’s Arms. For although a visit here might leave one feeling a bit strange, the consequences are usually less harmful! I remembered there are several routes to St. Ives and noticed a new one starting at the church. At least it was new to me, and feeling adventurous I immediately rose to the challenge. The proper coast path follows a course of dramatic rock-pool scenery affording excellent Atlantic views when visibility is good. Today was not an exceptional day and one could be forgiven for thinking that perhaps summer has been well and truly exiled to foreign shores.
I welcomed the idea of discovery and the opportunity of recording an alternative coast route to the traditional version. I found it much easier and well sign-posted thus making an ideal nighttime trail or one that is simply less time-consuming. In fact it would make up an excellent circular day walk from St. Ives, using the coast path initially and then finishing on this easier version. The route, which runs between the coast path and road, crosses farmland and many hamlets that would otherwise remain anonymous. There was one tricky area where I misread the path and came to a standstill in front of woodland. As I retreated to grazing quarters I met a retired couple who were also heading for St. Ives. They had walked the difficult coast path and were using a map to guide them back. We agreed on a diagonal route to the next field, where fortunately there were signposts to simplify the journey. We were all relieved to be on course again as I bade farewell, leaving them behind to enjoy a more leisurely pace of life. At least the weather had brightened up, giving some inspiration to the world of weary travellers, whose journey in this region consists entirely of farmland. I crossed farmyards and country lanes, eventually linking with the road, where town life gradually emerges uncovering the coastline below. The downhill journey into St. Ives runs past the caravan site until reaching Porthmeor Beach. From here I continued around the Island, passing Porthgwidden Beach, where a young man had skilfully created the shape of a horse in the sand. There were people fishing on the pier by the harbour and the Sloop Inn was thronged with spectators as I made a difficult passage through the cobbled town, finally coming to a standstill at the Western Hotel. To my astonishment the streets were a carnival scene of imbibing ceremony extending down to the harbour, where even the seals had come to rejoice. The town was adorned in flags, and people in fancy dress sang songs beneath an echoic frenzy of wheeling sea birds. This must surely be the last celebration of summer, hosted by a town deemed as a jewel in Cornwall’s crown. I was soon informed that it was the St. Ives Folk Festival week – what a lovely time to visit! I was in fact here last year, enjoying the displays of innovative and inspiring works of art that evoke a scene of quaint Bohemianism. The hotel staff at the Western were pleased to see me as I have become a regular over the last 2 years, always enjoying my stays here. We had hoped to host a coffee morning but in view of the current festivities there would be little point as the week was already packed with entertainment.
Day 17. St. Ives to Hayle. 9 miles.
Setting off from the Western Hotel in bright sunny weather I used the last of my film on the harbour. Legend dictates that St. Ia, who founded the town, sailed here on a leaf from Ireland in the 5th century, (St. Piran went one better, making his voyage on a stone!). Today St. Ives is a prime holiday location, vigorously animated by the surfing fraternity who occupy Porthmeor Beach, yet softened by the presence of its art galleries and tearooms. Equally endearing is the town’s labyrinth of slim lanes and cobbled alleyways with unusual names such as ‘Sellubrious Place’ and Bethesda Hill, flanked by stone cottages that tumble to the popular harbour. Unlike yesterday the harbour was presently a scene of tranquillity, broken only by the squabbling birds, keen to cash in on the remnants of the town’s festivities. The footpath journey was excellent, viewing all the prominent points and lovely beaches, stretching back to the Eddystone Lighthouse and the 15th-century church of St. Ia. Below, the gentle roll of sea caressing its shore had managed to lure some of its visitors away from their deckchairs. Most, however were still getting used to the idea of a warm autumn day.
The trail follows the terminus branch line, changing from left to right according to how the land lies. At times I was encompassed by woodlands, often walking adjacent to private accommodation where gardens extend to the path, now vivified by the drone of nature. Insects patrol the corridors of bush growth, becoming less conspicuous on my arrival, which forces bees and abseiling spiders to retreat from dew-glistened leaves. Occasionally the harmony is broken as a train rattles by and the distant bark of a dog signals the approach of a fellow walker. The gentle undulations posed little threat, differing from the granite-strewn moorlands with bracken and ferns of previous days, as I advanced unimpeded to Carbis Bay. This is another summer location, overflowing with charm and character, enjoying the serenity of its surroundings. After crossing above the train line, I marched up the hill to rejoin the path, where the view extends from St. Ives Bay to the sweeping desert landscape of Gwithian Towans. To my right is the Carbis Bay Hotel, and below lies the beautiful Porthkidney Sands that make Cornwall so appetising on a sunny day. It was an inspirational section, possibly the easiest on the North coast, given the absence of precipitous cliffs and man-made steps. Beyond Porthkidney Sands the journey ebbed away beneath the railway line to Lelant Golf Course, from where I gingerly followed the exit lane to the village’s splendid St. Uny church.
Annoyed that I had run out of film I pondered over the thought that I should return at a later date to obtain a picture. Before continuing I spoke with a lady about the possibility of walking to Hayle alongside the estuary. She advised against it and after a pleasant chat I walked up to the village. Lelant is a lovely village with most amenities, situated comfortably between Hayle and St. Ives. My journey would now be completed by road with the last remaining 2 miles walked beside the Hayle estuary. I passed by the amusement centre near Lelant Saltings and there was also an inn at the side of the road: shortly after the River Hayle sign came into view. From here I climbed down onto the mudflat and walked round the edge. In the distance opposite, the train was making its way into the mainline station at St. Erth. I could now see the birds picking scraps from the low-tide water as my journey neared its end. Using the estuary footpath, which comes out at the viaduct, I finished my coastal journey, leaving only a few steps to the hospice at St. Michael’s, where I could report my achievement to the fundraising staff.
Walking around Cornwall has always been a great experience as well as an education, matching its historical influence against a geological landscape of dramatic cliffs and rocky coves. Above all I enjoyed visiting the quintessential fishing villages that embody the traditions of smuggling and tales of the untamed sea. Sea and sand still play an integral part in Cornish life, which in terms of the economy has become paramount to the tourist industry. The spirit of Arthur still reigns in this land of enchantment, where myths and legends are part of ancient lore and towns derive their names from saints.
My fascination for Cornwall grows ever-strong as I look back on this recent journey with eagerness to retrace my footsteps and hopefully acquaint myself with new territory. I can only hope my walking experiences in Cornwall will benefit all those that read about them as well as the charities I represent. It is an adventure that cannot be over-looked by any walking enthusiast: one that I note as the most challenging and enjoyable in the country. Enjoy it half as much as I have and you will not be disappointed!
DURATION OF THE CORNWALL 2000 WALK
It took 146 hours of walking to complete the marathon, which was scheduled over 17 days.
The distance in miles walked amounted to 358 miles.
Average distance walked per day was just over 21 miles.