To the Lighthouse, and other stories

For my third, and final, day of coastal walking this trip I planned to walk from Portreath back down to Hayle, about 11 miles, beginning with a long stretch of cliff paths and ending with three miles of beach walking. I was feeling increasingly antsy about it as the day approached due to the rather complicated transport arrangements required to get me to the start – two trains and a bus – and the fact that however early I started I could not get to Portreath before 1148. Throw in a bust knee and you will see why I threw in the towel on that over engineered plan.

Although hours of stretching had worked like magic on my leg, I didn’t fancy being stuck up on some cliff if it went again so I began to rethink. Somewhere in my planning I recalled coming across a bus which occasionally calls at Gwithian, close to the far end of that sandy beach I had originally planned to cover. Could I jump onto that and at least do part of my planned walk? A quick peruse of the splendid Traveline website (www.traveline.info – How do I love thee? Let me count the ways) and it was all sorted. Train to St Erth and then the 515 from outside the station to Gwithian. Perfect.

Here’s a map to give you an idea of the lie of the land.

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Map kindly released into the community by Wikimedia

So I skipped off the train at St Erth and went in search of the bus stop. And found – nothing. Just a very small station forecourt. Not a trace of a bus ever calling.

I went back and asked the man in the railway ticket office. The 515? Haven’t seen one of those for years.  He intimated that a unicorn was more likely to turn up than a bus. This was not what I wanted to hear. Mind you, he went on, in a valiant attempt to be helpful, being in here I can’t see anything anyway. So if it does come, it’ll just come in out there. You’ll see it if it does.  I could not fault his logic.

So back out into the forecourt I went to await the mythical beast. For a long time nothing moved and then – bang on time – in rolled a large minibus. It didn’t actually say 515 anywhere on it but this had to be it. And if it wasn’t, I was going to jump aboard anyway. The driver got out, walked around to open the passenger door to let down the steps, helped a couple out, and then rooted around to find his ticket machine and his money bag. There was, I perceived, no hurry. We don’t usually have people get off at the station, he remarked conversationally. Or get on, he added. The front seats were taken by a trio of passengers who were deep in conversation. They fell silent as I clambered in. I greeted them with a Good morning; they greeted me back and then ignored me convivially.

The phrase all around the houses was no doubt inspired by the route this Age UK community bus took around St Erth, Hayle and other hamlets. Some people got on just to reach the top of the hill and as such it is a great resource for the less mobile. Add in the socialising that was going on between the passengers and the extent to which S, the chatty driver, knew all his regulars, who would be waiting for him where, who knew who and what they’d been up to since he last saw them, and it felt like I’d stumbled into some boisterous coffee morning. I reckon I’ll be buying you a wedding bouquet soon teased one man as his fellow passenger, a woman well into her seventies, waved at a dour man waiting on the pavement for her in Hayle. I’ve got lots of man friends, not just him she bridled, adding hurriedly but I’m not a slut.  I watched as the pair walked briskly but awkwardly away. Probably not marriage material that one, I thought, but who else did she have on the back burner.

Eventually we picked up speed – just me and another walker who’d joined us in Hayle now – and we reached Gwithian. I was rather enjoying talking to S but he had a schedule to keep and off he went, all around the houses again in his circuitous way back to Penzance. Gwithian may well have been worth a look but, as it had taken me 1 1/2 hours to get this far, I was keen to get walking. Down the road, along a footpath over land that became more and more dune like, and there it was – Godrevy Island.

And the lighthouse.

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Godrevy Head, Island, Lighthouse, Beach etc etc. Take my word for it, there’s a lighthouse on that rock.

And not just any lighthouse either. This is the lighthouse which inspired Virginia Woolf’s eponymous novel To the Lighthouse.  I haven’t read it so I’ve done a bit of Wiki cribbing. Apparently it’s

a 1927 novel… [which] centres on the Ramsay family and their visits to the Isle of Skye in Scotland… Following and extending the tradition of modernist novelists… the plot of To the Lighthouse is secondary to its philosophical introspection… the novel includes little dialogue and almost no action; most of it is written as thoughts and observations. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/To_the_Lighthouse)

Doesn’t exactly sound like a ripping yarn to me and there’s no clue as to why she moved the (in)action from Cornwall to the Isle of Skye, but I tipped my hat to the site of literary inspiration nevertheless.

But what was interesting around here (to me at least)  are the adhoc settlements of cabins up in the Towans (or dunes) which stretch from here down almost to Hayle.IMG_5419 (2)

Here’s a look at some at the Gwithian end. Can you see what an informal arrangement of dwellings has somehow evolved here?

Take a closer look

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There are a brace of basic wooden huts, an odd conical stone built structure, one that looks like a repurposed school terrapin building, something rather modern and fabulous (back left) and, in front, isn’t that an old railway carriage?

Feast your eyes on this 1920s/30s shot of the chalets down at the Hayle end

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I found this postcard in a junk shop and have been bizarrely fascinated by it ever since.

It appears from the map that the homes are scattered about like weed seeds.

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From the Ordnance Survey Explorer map 102

I haven’t been able to find out much about these Towans settlements. (Anyone able to fill me in?) Today they look as though they are holiday lets but, from the odd notes I gleaned from local reminiscence websites, I think that they might once have been family homes for the men employed in the mines hereabouts, although there’s little trace now of the copper, silver and lead extraction that once went on around here. Or the explosives factory. I don’t imagine these were comfortable places in which to live but I was still charmed by these organic communities.

But enough of that, let’s get onto the beach. Straight past the Lifeguards’ Station,

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Bet Virginia would never have moved her oeuvre to Skye if she’d met Barney, Tom, and Tarryn. They sound like a cheery trio.

and on to the sands.

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Three miles of golden sands is the tourist office claim and I cannot argue with them. The tide was out and the enormous expanse of beach was lightly populated with walkers, dogs and intrepid surfers. There wasn’t a lot to see, being a misty day, although obviously the potential for moody shots was enormous. (I’ll spare you).

The odd stream crossed the sands, this one showing the residue of the copper deposits. It is said that the river at Gwithian – the Red River – was so called because of the colour of the water as a result of the copper mining operations. See also Redruth.

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The dampness in the air, the crashing of the waves and the emptiness was soporific and I drifted off as I walked, occasionally looking around, but otherwise lost in my thoughts.

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Ever seen Zulu?

Eventually the low cliffs turned inland and with it the beach.

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The Hayle River gently scouring a way across the sands. See the posts marking the channel?

As I turned the corner, the far side of the estuary, over by Lelant Church, looked perfectly easily accessible but the River Hayle is deceptively deep.

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A few minutes later and I was alongside what had very obviously once been a busy commercial port.

IMG_5526 (2)Although closed to commercial traffic in the late Seventies – coal in, copper and other minerals out back in its heyday – a little non recreational shipping continues to use the harbour.

The tide was rising and a few fishing boats were preparing to set out, but otherwise nothing moved.IMG_5541 (2)

Hayle has, it must be said, seen better days but a programme of redevelopment of the quaysides is underway and the place was busy, with at least two unrelated outlets claiming to offer visitors Cornish pasties made to the oldest/most authentic recipe. From the bus I saw some rather impressive old buildings at the head of the harbour but unfortunately they are rather obscured by this.IMG_5545 (2)

It is a fine railway viaduct, but unfortunately it is rather obscured by a giant Asda. So let’s file Hayle under Not a looker, but probably has a very nice character.

And that was pretty much it. I ploughed on for another 20 minutes to Lelant Saltings station, gritting my teeth as the path took me over an historic causeway, albeit now a very busy road,

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Making progress

to complete the missing link in the chain from where I started two days earlier – Gurnards Head – all the way to Gwithian.

It’s a beautiful part of the world and I am sad to be leaving it behind as I move up the coast. Not sure when I’ll next be able to squeeze in a few more days on my Cornish Camino but one thing’s for sure…

I’ve got to stop walking like a duckIMG_5464 (2)

A day of bays

Day 2 of my Cornish walks and this time I’d planned a route along the next stretch of the coast path from St Ives to Hayle, about 8 miles. Looking at the map I  thought that the path would be pretty flat all the way round, but the reason there didn’t appear to be much in the way of contour lines at the water’s edge was because they were so close together that they all merged into one. Plus much of the first half of the way was so built up that I couldn’t make them out. Hmm, excuses, excuses but at least I had only myself to blame when I found that the walk featured quite a few heavy breather hills.

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Porthminster Beach with St Ives harbour in the background.

Straight after breakfast I loaded up my packed lunch and headed out, down to the station and onto the promenade along Porthminster Beach. Although it was the Easter holidays and the streets of St Ives had been crammed with families the day before, at this hour only a few strollers were out on the gloriously empty beach.

This  natural landscape is in complete contrast to what has been the norm since Land’s End. At St Ives, the coast turns a corner. Gone are the rocky coves and sheer drops, replaced by great expanses of sand and still steep but not impossible cliffs. Gone too are the remote, wild and unpopulated spaces of yesterday’s walk, and the crumbling industrial remnants of earlier outings, to be replaced by what I can only call suburbia.

It was the railway which first brought the crowds to St Ives in the late nineteenth century with the creation of a short branch line from St Erth on the main Penzance to Paddington line. A train shuttles back and forth all day but even though it is a standard issue three carriage GWR version that can be seen anywhere else on the network there is something magical about stepping off the big train (from, in my case, Bristol although time it right and it could be Aberdeen) and over onto the platform 3 for the St Ives line.

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St Erth station, platform 3. In the corner is a café crammed full of homemade cakes and visitor information and presided over by a chatty woman who happily minded my bags for me.

Before the railway came, St Ives was just a small fishing village, but there are not many working boats in the harbour today

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although some vestiges of the industry’s past do remain.

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Rose Lodge – one of three fishermen’s lodges on the harbourside,  built by a wellwisher as places of respite from the weather and – nowadays I imagine – the tourists.

Then there were the artists, drawn apparently by the light which is particular to St Ives. And it being a safe, cheap place to sit out the war, I muttered, if what I gleaned from Tate St Ives is correct. Anyway, here’s an artist’s impression of the place a while back

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1943 – 45 (St Ives) Ben Nicholson in the Tate St Ives

and here’s an artist at work

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From a display in the Tate. Mrs Bradshaw looking very chic for a day on the beach. Commander Bradshaw won his DSO in the First World War so I exclude him from my snark.

The old centre of St Ives is very picturesque and yes, if I was a painter, I would be tempted to get out my easel too. It’s all narrow streets, whitewashed walls with orange lichen covering grey slate roofs. It is very pretty indeed and it’s not surprising that the town is still a Mecca for artists and offers painting schools, art supply shops and galleries in abundance.

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It’s also a magnet for other visitors too with streets full of cafes, restaurants and  upmarket shops.

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You know it’s classy when you see Artisan. (But leopard print with Helly Hansen, madam? Really?)

Anyway, St Ives – somewhat unreal but very, very pleasant.  I’ll go back.

Back to the walk. The trail hugs the coast, as does the railway line, with the one hopping over the other from time to time. The views are spectacular from both. Such panoramas have attracted more permanent residents and so wherever anyone finds an inch of space on which a foundation could be dug, a property will rise. Some are delightful – Victorian or Edwardian homes or 1930s colonial style bungalows sitting amidst cared for but not overly preened gardens – others were impressively modern, all slate and wood and cleverly designed to sit within the landscape rather than stand out. Wonderful. Others were monstrous, unsympathetic, and deserted crass demonstrations of wealth. Not so wonderful.

The path snaked between the houses, and I realised that I could foretell the type of property from the level of malevolence of the gates. High, impenetrable barriers, festooned with Keep Out/Private/Go Away signs, always heralded something brash.  I passed an old bungalow perched on the cliff edge, overlooking the rail line. It looked rather ramshackle but there was something very attractive about it. Before it stood a bulldozer and an operator whose control of the jaws of the armature was so precise that he was delicately picking staves of wood the size of a school ruler off the roof. Almost as if he didn’t want to hurt the old girl.

When I passed by on the train the next morning, there was nothing left. Just a building plot overlooking the sea.

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Carbis Bay

Builders were about in force in Carbis Bay too, busily extending the upmarket hotel’s premises onto the beach in time for the season. Full marks to them for clearly marking an alternative way when their construction work made the official route impassable.

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Oh I see, they really did mean me to walk through the swimming pool. Past the guests in the hot tub who clearly wondered what on earth was going on.

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This has to be my favourite footpath diversion of all time

Suburbia began to thin out as the way turned towards the huge  expanse of  Porthkidney beach at low tide.IMG_5352 (2)

It was just stunningIMG_5357 (2)

I wandered along very contently. It was muddy in places but, after my baptism of boulders yesterday, this stuff was just entry level. My mind was wandering about pretty happily too. All was good in an uneventful way. I spotted this piggy backing of another trail onto the South West Coast Path. St Michael’s Way, part of a pilgrim route to Santiago? Heck, I’ve stumbled onto the real Camino. Where’s my scallop shell?

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Hard to tell but those vast expanses of sand are actually divided by the estuary of the Hayle river  which at low tide looks so insignificant that you believe you could paddle across it. But it’s deeper and faster flowing than it looks so the path must turn inland to find a crossing point upriver.

Cue the return of suburbia with a golf course

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… the preserve of golfers from whose swing very serious defensive protection is required. Behind the golf course is the distinctive tower of Lelant Church which must be a major point of navigation from out at sea as it can be seen for miles around (the more official light tower in the foreground notwithstanding).

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The Church was attractive and well cared for with pretty post Easter decorations in the porch. IMG_5382 (2)A notice on the door announced that a service was in progress but that the welcome would be warm. Mid morning on a Thursday seemed like an odd time for worship and, though I could hear people talking inside, I decided against going in and instead sat on a bench in the churchyard gazing out at the view of sea and sand dunes. Lelant Church is the real starting point of the St Michael’s Way pilgrimage route and with hindsight maybe I was tempting fate by not going in, and by taking pictures of signs that amused me instead.

Just as I left the Church and began what I knew would be a last couple of miles of tarmac lanes to Hayle, something went wrong with my knee. The strenuous walk the day before had taken its toll. On the flat it was fine. Going uphill there was not a twinge. But going downhill? Excruciating.

I had a short, steep road down to the shoreline to negotiate. I knew that once I was down  it would be flat all the way but getting there took forever. Two steps and a break to stretch, two more steps and another break. I could see a station at the bottom and that decided me. No pushing on to Hayle, straight onto the train and back to my room for a rest and some proper stretches.

Except at Lelant Station there wasn’t a train due for five hours. There was just a notice board and the old station house now converted into a private residence. Lelant Saltings station was only a mile away and I knew that the train stopped there every half hour so that’s where I headed and everything worked out fine. But why, I asked the GWR man at the Saltings station (built as a park and ride for St Ives in 1978), did the train seldom stop at the original Lelant station up the line? Partly due to the lack of passengers, was the reply, and partly due to the vociferous barrage of complaints from the owner of the old station house. About the noise of the trains stopping and starting.

So he bought a house next to the track and was amazed to find that there were trains? Who would ever have seen that coming?

 

 

 

 

Zennor phobic

A half price offer from a St Ives guest house I was eyeing up, a few free days in the diary and a forecast of fairly fine weather? Well, it would have been rude not to have hopped aboard a train and taken myself down to Cornwall for a few days.

I was aiming to notch up a few more miles along the South West Coast Path in my bid to walk home from Lands End over the course of the next however many years it takes. Last time I left the path at Morvah and grabbed a lift to a very lovely lunch at The Gurnard’s Head pub at Treen (the one on the north coast, not the one on the south). (https://wordpress.com/post/womanwalkingblog.wordpress.com/4993)

Let’s re-orientate ourselves with this handy teatowel.

close up

Logistics and the lack of the summer bus service saw me taking a taxi to the start of the day’s walk at the Gurnard’s Head, aiming to finish at St Ives, ten miles away. So I’ve got a gap between Morvah and Treen. Just a few miles of lovely scenery in a beautiful part of the world with the prospect of a good meal at the end of it. Sounds like I’ll have to make a return journey one day to fill in that bit of the map. Shame.

The day started on an unusual note with the taxi driver, a charming Italian. Possibly my conversational opener of What brings you to St Ives? was ill advised for he launched into a lengthy exposition of the sudden breakdown of his marriage and his inability to see his children about which he spoke volubly and with increasing passion, frequently taking his eyes off the narrow lanes to turn to me to make a particular point and – national stereotype alert – gesticulating wildly.  Naturally as we moved into the more remote countryside a thick mist descended and there was not another being to be seen. Just as I was thinking that this set up would make the perfect opener for a murder mystery – lone woman, angry  man, deserted wild country, fog etc etc – there came an announcement from the taxi controller Listen up, all drivers need to hear this. My driver was having none of it. I caught I’ve just heard from the warden that… before he reached over and switched it off. Warden? What warden? Where do you find wardens? Prisons? Secure hospitals? That’s it, I’m definitely in one of those Sunday night whodunnits. He’s probably an escaped convict (something in the air made me come over all Daphne du Maurier) and the real taxi driver is tied up in the boot. But in the event, I had barely any time to wonder who would play me on screen – might Haydn Gwynne be free and would she mind padding up a bit?  – and we were there at The Gurnard’s Head. Where my man charged me £3 less than I had been quoted, told me that it had been good to talk, shook my hand and wished me a happy day. Phew.

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The Gurnards Head, paint colour chosen to match the gorse, says @thefrustratedgardener. Just checking

I set off past the pub, head reeling from what had sounded like an insoluble and tragic situation (I only got one side, I know), in the direction of the rocky outcrop known as, yes, the Gurnard’s Head. Because it looks like a gurnard. I’ll take their word for it.

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It was only just after 9am and still misty but I was so ridiculously happy to be out on the cliffs again that I practically skipped through the meadows down to the coast path.

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I mean, just look – not a soul about.

I strode along very, very happily. It was all so picture perfect. Who could resist this view?IMG_5240 (2)

Or this arrangement of photogenic remnants?

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Streams tumbled to the shore,IMG_5243 (2)

and the sea turned turquoise.

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Now you can see the full gurnardness of the eponymous headland. It’s a fish but no, me neither.

Birds probably sang a happy song too, but I couldn’t hear them above the roar of the crashing waves.

It was all going terrifically well.

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See the path snaking up the hill to the right of the rocks?

I mean, there were lots of steep ups and downs but nothing a little gritting of teeth and pauses to admire scenery couldn’t cope with. I was making good time and reckoned I’d be back in St Ives by early afternoon, ice cream in hand, fighting off the seagulls. IMG_5270 (2)

But then came Zennor.

The first signs of the place did not bode well.

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In proud and happy memory of the friends whose love has sustained me. AB.  The same inscription has been placed on a large rock on the headland a short distance away to commemorate the donation of Zennor Head to the National Trust by AB in the 1950s. As to the identity of AB I have found nothing.

On a bench overlooking the most beautiful seascape, a couple chose to cast aside their ice cream pots, lids and spoons the minute they were no longer of use, finding it too arduous presumably to carry them back the way they had come. The arrogant selfishness of this lazy stupidity infuriated me, contrasting as it did with the gentle and generous dedication on the bench. I was only slightly mollified when I worked out that, given that the litter had yet to blow away, it had probably only been there a day or two, but this was still a fortnight after the best before date stamped on the tub. While I would not wish anything too debilitating on anyone, surely a bit of an upset stomach would not go amiss ?

I’d met a couple of walkers coming in the opposite direction but as it was still early they were few and far between at this stage. After Zennor, this section of the path is very remote with no dwellings and only a handful of footpaths offering to return the walker to the road and thence to civilisation in the whole six mile stretch. There is a definite sense of being cut off from the world.  I did meet a trio of young American women, lithe and athletic and striding out like gazelles. 18 miles today they cried as they briefly paused, adding that it was a bit muddy up ahead. They pointed to their mud caked trousers, one girl being plastered from thigh to ankle. We’ve taken some of the mud a bit too fast and fell over they joked. Ha, I thought, better watch out for that.

From Zennor onwards the path itself changed. Gone was the rough trail and in its place was a scree of large boulders, choked with mud and washed with spring waters. I took only a few photos for I had to focus all my energy on finding a way through the obstructions, clambering and sliding, trying to avoid the wettest parts whilst remaining upright. I have, at the best of times, a terrible sense of balance so this was tortuous.

It looked a bit like this, although this was just a nursery slope compared with what came after.

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Sometimes the ground was flattish, sometimes steeply sloping, but every step had to be thought through, every path evaluated. Cross waist high rocks – risk of slipping and falling – or bog trot amidst smaller stones and vegetation – risk of slipping and falling. Crash down onto rock or crash down into muddy wetness?  If my left foot goes there, where can my right foot go after? A crack team of dolphins could have been performing a synchronised swimming routine down in the bay, for all I knew, with a few juggling seals thrown in for good measure because I never lifted my eyes long enough to look.  The boulders went on for miles. And miles. I don’t know how many as I gave up looking at the map. Three perhaps, maybe four? The further I went on the more embedded I became – with no escape inland the only option was to continue to plough on. And on. Going back the way I had come was too exhausting to contemplate.

Every now and then passing walkers would strike up conversations. I fell in with one family who caught me up. A father and his three student age offspring. We walked together for a mile or so and I was glad of their company. For them the Zennor to St Ives hike was a ritual of every single one of their holiday visits. The father, a donnish man of about my age, said he knew every stone of the way and he recalled that, when each of his children were very little, he had carried every one them all the way on his back. Not all at the same time, he added. Once we’re up the top of there, that’ll be the worst bit over he announced as a particularly challenging pile of rocks with no obvious way through presented themselves. His sons sprang up them like goats, his daughter was slower even than me. What is your name? Where do you live? What do you do?  The man was very direct, so I could be the same. He was not an academic but a priest who had come down from his London parish to rest after the busy round of Pascal services and devotions. His elder son, an intense young man, picked up on something I had said. So is it true that PhDs are easier than Masters?  We fell to discussing the different demands of each. He had a Masters under his belt and a PhD place lined up for the autumn and seemed relieved by my answers. Then, having completely forgotten what had happened when I asked the taxi driver a seemingly innocent question, I ploughed on with So what are you thinking of looking at in your PhD? 

If it were up to me I’d give him his funding immediately because he certainly was passionate about his subject. Which was the interaction of Christian religious practice and hallucinogenic drugs. Two subjects on which I have absolutely nothing to contribute. I battled on bravely – at least it was taking my mind off the blasted boulders – and we all of us had an interesting side discussion of faith – if you have faith do you have more questions than answers, whereas if you don’t do you have more answers than questions? Discuss.

But eventually this earnest chap, well intentioned though he was, wore me out. Straight to no 1 on my top ten list of things I never thought I’d hear on the coast path will go his comment I gave my bisexual Pentecostalist friend some MDMA and he said he’d never felt closer to Jesus. Time for lunch, I decided, as I spotted a good dry rock on which to perch and wished the family well for the rest of their walk. They bounded off and left me in peace.

Now I don’t want to accuse a man of the cloth of untruths but his promise that the worst would be over when I’d reached the top of that particularly slope did not quite match up with my reality. I struggled on and on, making myself stop every hour for a snack and a drink just to keep my energy up as my woeful balance deteriorated and my progress grew slower and slower. The language of my internal monologue grew fruitier. I began to wonder just where those American girls had found so much mud into which to fall as I, clumsy as I am, had managed so far to keep my muddiness fairly well contained. I became quite obsessed.

And then I found itIMG_5288 (2)

Plough straight through or cross the electric fence and splosh through a stream sodden field? Ankle deep mud or ankle deep water?

I think that this marked the end of the boulders but it’s all a bit of a blur now. Certainly the path became easier, still rocky, still needing to be closely watched but no longer requiring the chesslike two steps ahead thinking. Every time I rounded a headland or reached the top of a hill I expected to see St Ives; every time I was disappointed when what I came to think of as Shangri-bloody-la was not there. But by great good fortune interesting people with life stories to tell at the slightest encouragement seemed to have been stationed upon the path at regular intervals to help me along.

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At this sign, I met a man who told me his granny’s recollections of the event. The sea takes what’s ours – our fishermen, so when it gives then that’s ours in return. That’s what people round here think. Trouble is the customs men don’t agree. He was, he told me, a 14th generation St Ives man; his father had done all the research right back to the time of Henry VIII. The dissolution of the monasteries came into it. (Please don’t ask me to talk about religious practice again).

It was getting on for 3pm and so I asked how far he was walking, as surely it would take him a good while to get to Zennor, where he could have picked up a bus. I’m going wild camping. I’ve found a little hidey hole just this side of Zennor.  In April? I do it all year round, I’ve got a hammock and a tarp and a quilt and an underquilt. And only a small backpack I couldn’t help remarking. Doesn’t it get unbearably cold? And how to manage without a morning cup of tea?  I’ve got a stove for that and some noodles for my tea… and a bottle of wine, of course. I’ve got tomorrow morning off work, so why not? And off he went to watch the sun set from his hidey hole on the cliffs.

A while later and still no sign of St Ives. A woman and her dog were sitting on a large rock by the path. Again a conversation. You’re from Bristol? I did my training there. And so followed another life story. We moved on to talking about the BBC programme which saw a random group of media faces walking the Camino de Santiago. We each agreed that while we liked the idea of making the trek ourselves, the final 100km as shown on TV looked as busy as a Saturday High Street and not very pleasant. Plus there was the Spanish heat in which neither of us felt we would fancy walking. Maybe I’ll just call my walk my Camino instead. I have no idea where that came from but suddenly it seemed absolutely the right thing. The woman agreed. Camino de Cornwall it is then.

You look very tired, she added, but it’s not much further now. Once you get to the causeway you’re practically there.  She was a kind woman and I sensed that we had much that we could have talked about but she wanted me to keep moving. By chance I saw her again a couple of days later as we both got off a train, she to go one way to her next train and me to head out in search of a bus. It’s you, she cried, did you make it ok? I’ve been thinking about you.  There was no  time to chat but only a fleeting moment to recognise a connection that might have been.

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Eventually – what bliss – the causeway appeared. A line of rocks laid across the kind of mudfield I’d just spent hours clambering through. How utterly delightful to be able to step out with confidence that what was underfoot was not going to shift or let me down. My spirits began to rise and then – finally, eventually – I turned a corner and there it was.

Shangri-bloody-la.

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Just above Porthmeor, the first of St Ives’ beaches, the path had one more gift for me. A brightly painted pebble caught my eye.

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A young couple just behind me explained that it was a Kernow Rocks pebble – part of an informal project involving people painting pebbles and then hiding them to be found by others who were then to post a photo on Facebook and rehide the stone. It had clearly gripped the imagination of a great many as the Kernow Rocks FB page was crammed full of collections of freshly decorated stones about to be hidden or of smiling children holding the pebbles they had just found. One from an offshoot – Truro Rocks – was there in front of me on a ledge at Plymouth Station as I got off the train on my way home (I left it by the harbourside in Bristol) but my favourite posting is this one…

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A fitting end then to a day’s walk which had demanded way more than I had expected. My 10 mile jaunt took 7 3/4 hours to complete and for a while I had hated it. But as the screaming in my muscles began to quieten in a hot shower I began to realise that while my day’s Camino had taken a great deal from me it had also given me way more than I had expected. It’s not a day I’ll forget.

Just don’t mention Zennor, ok?