A quick run down

When it’s come to walking these past months, torpid has been my leitmotif.

But why?

Injury? No. Pressing social engagements? No.  Sudden new calling? Sort of.

I decided to run a marathon.

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The very talented artist, Eglantine Chesneau, was commissioned to illustrate the marathon stories of a dozen first time marathon runners and very kindly chose me. (http://eglantinechesneau.ultra-book.com/accueil)

So I ran and I ran and I ran.

I ran in the darkIMG_1529 (1) and I ran in the light,IMG_1658 (1) when the sun was coming upIMG_1913 (1) and when the sun was going down,IMG_1348 (1)


when the waters were risingIMG_2083 (2) and when the floods had subsided.IMG_2300 (2) I ran through a vicious hail storm, soaked to the skin with icy water, when the rough, narrow canalside path turned to slippery mudIMG_2224 (1) and I ran through the strong spring sunshine which burned my nose.

I ran with my wingwoman daughterIMG_1601 (1) and I ran alone,

through scenes of great beautyIMG_2297 (2) and some not so great.IMG_2238 (1) I ran alongside main roads and down ways I never knew existed IMG_2242 (2) and I ran across every bridge I could find in Bristol (and still missed a few).IMG_2748 (1)And then I pinned on my number IMG_3082 (2)and I was away.IMG_3088 (2)

Back on track

Here we are again approaching Sea Mills station, my current second favourite railway station, much loved by me for its quiet, single track sleepiness and its pleasantly unexceptional suburban setting. But most of all for THIS.IMG_0814 (2) River – blah, fields – blah, mud – blah. Yes, yes, but look, there’s a boat mired where the Trym meets the Avon. Now if I were to hop aboard, let the tide rise and then cast off, I could drift downstream to where the Avon joins the Severn and then sail away down the Bristol Channel, into the Celtic Sea and on to the North Atlantic Ocean, deciding on a whim to turn left for Cape Town, straight on for Rio, or maybe I’d keep right for New York.

Obviously this would be insane because a) I don’t know how to sail, b) that’s not a sailing boat, and c) I don’t like getting wet. But it doesn’t stop my heart lifting at the sight.

So there we were for another outing for what I persist in calling the embryonic walking group (with some justification, I contend, seeing as this is only our second meet this year). As it was such a long time since our last outing in April we had rather forgotten where we had got to on our circumnavigation of Bristol, but all agreed that an exception could be made and a path traced along the banks of the Avon instead. We set off along the unexpectedly bucolic stretch set between the river, the railway and the last hurrahs of the A4, a remarkably peaceful spot given all that is going on around it.IMG_0824 (3) After a mile or so of loveliness the bank narrows and the path ends. Nothing for it but to climb back up to the main road and to the traffic for a mile of grot. IMG_0878 (3).JPG Eventually the Suspension Bridge came into view, making all things better, and after rather a lot more mud, we left the Avon and headed for the Floating Harbour (which is basically a giant pound with lock gates at either end to keep the water at a constant level). There’s always loads to see on the Harbourside, whether it’s a view across the waterIMG_0901 (2)

or one of Bristol’s sons in a festive landscape.IMG_0908 (2)

And can you spot Morph in this unintentionally tricksy shot through Aardman’s window?IMG_0915 (2).JPGHeading for Temple Meads station and the train back to the start, we left the water’s edge as L, whose office had once been based in these parts, took us off piste down narrow cobbled streets.IMG_0927 (2) We hadn’t intended to stop at St Mary Redcliffe Church though it is undoubtedly a fine and ancient building (Elizabeth I called it the fairest, goodliest and most famous parish church in England. So there. Mind you, she probably said that a lot). However, the prospect of Treefest, a forest of decorated Christmas trees, did call for a detour. There were some beauties,IMG_0944 (2) there were some cannily placed,

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The WI take the festive spot next to St Nicholas

there were some ingeniously inventive offerings,

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Just don’t sneeze anywhere near here.

there were some horrors (I’ll spare you), and there were many from those supporting the suffering.IMG_0950 (2).JPG There were some that made me laugh,

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Handcuffs as tree decorations?

and then there was the one from Asda.

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Would it have killed you to have found a few more lights, Asda?

And finally, at a bakery tucked into a railway arch beneath the station there was coffee and cake. Splendid.

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Never board a train without picking up a coffee and a little something from Harts Bakery (http://www.hartsbakery.co.uk/)

Changing places

The other day the excellent Annie, who writes amusingly, movingly, and thought provokingly at nohatnogloves.wordpress.com, asked if I’d like to chip in with my thoughts on a matter that is currently exercising her.

Well, of course I would, and might she consider returning the shot with a few words of her own? Good grief, she was back within the hour with this splendid piece – a great read. So, in a first for this blog, we’re going for simultaneous publication. I’m over at https://nohatnogloves.wordpress.com/ and she’s got the floor here.

Over to Annie…

Walking: it’s the way forward

When it comes to walking, it must be said that I am a fan.  It was not always so and, when a teenager, I didn’t care for it at all.  I had a very brief stage of trying to walk barefoot – it was 1973, I was a mere child of nature – but found that was extremely unwise.  Litter, broken glass and dog poo was everywhere and, to be frank, I looked like a fool.  Long hair, long skirt, bare feet and a limp.  Very cool.  I rather liked being driven about at the time.  My father, on the other hand, took a view of walking that came into conflict with my own leisurely style.  I used to go to work for him in the summer holidays and we would travel up to London on the early train and then cross the City post-haste, Dad always setting a pace that made me irritable and laggard.  Waving his rolled-up newspaper, he would stride ahead, constantly telling me to get a move on.  But I was wearing platforms.  I might as well have tried staggering with bricks on my feet.


Image from The Diary of a Nobody  on Pinterest. Annie claims Mr Pooter as her stylist

Things did change, especially when I left home and went to live in London.  I would spend days on end walking, walking, walking around the City, crossing the river and back again, getting myself happily lost.  After a while, it became the most sensible way to get somewhere quickly, picking up short cuts and back-doubles, hurrying round slowcoaches and dodging the traffic.  I regularly walked about six miles a day to work and back in the early 80s, sometimes in very inadvisable footwear.  With my friend Carol, I would regularly stagger home in the small hours, teetering on heels and stopping off at the takeaway for chips.  Wonderful way to prevent a hangover and cheaper than a taxi. Back then, wearing special walking shoes was a mystery but my feet never seemed to suffer.  I enjoyed the peace and the opportunity to enjoy my thoughts, often dreaming the miles away as I pounded up and down Wood Lane and under the Westway, heading for work by Wormwood Scrubs.

By the time I had moved to the village where I now live, walking had another very useful purpose.  In the early 90s I suffered from depression – started quite mildly after my son was born, got worse when my dad died, exploded a couple of years later – and walking was a real boon.  I joined up with some friends after we had dropped off our children at the school doors and we strode up hill, down dale (literally, this is Yorkshire), chatting and sharing the joys and otherwise of our lives.  It was very helpful indeed and I began to feel that I could find a way out of this downbeat way of life; thankfully, I was right.  I still walk to loosen up my mind or stave off feelings of anxiety because I know that the moment I turn out into the street, things will start to look and feel different, lighter.

I don’t mind walking in bad weather or fine as long as I have the proper footwear (no more platforms) and the right outerwear (the misery of being cold and wet) and I am happy walking city streets or slogging up hills.  Deserts, mountains, valleys, concrete and tarmac – walked them all.  As I have vertigo I may well get wobbly in certain situations – coming down, not going up is the dangerous bit – and when that happens I transfer to my bottom and a fine array of swearing.  It helps.  Sometimes it startles people.

Some years ago, my friend Astra and I decided to do the Moonwalk night-time walking marathon.  We trained with real intent and bowled up at Battersea Park on a splendid May evening with a golden setting sun.  It was brilliant, if agonizing by 5am.  We laughed ourselves stupid when trying to wee behind tiny bushes and thoroughly enjoyed the reactions of drunken Londoners when they encountered the mass of bra-wearing women who seemed to have taken over the streets.  As dawn broke over West London, we urged each other onward; by the time we got to Kensington Gardens all we could think of was the pain in our backs.  Almost too weary to cheer, we walked together through the gates of the park again and literally staggered into a taxi.  God knows how we got out.  Think Pats and Eddie in Ab Fab.  Pretty close.  We did the Moonwalk a few more times so it just goes to prove that you can forget pain quite quickly, like childbirth.

I do enjoy walking with friends but am mostly happy when walking alone, thoughts running free, setting my own pace and getting somewhere, even if that is just to the local Aldi for a bottle of milk.  There is no technique to what I do and no scheme of improvement, rarely a swinging of arms.  I have seen what happens when you stop moving about and it isn’t appealing.  As the years go by I will probably slow down a bit, maybe even resort to using a stick.  Do I have plans for more walks?  Yes, certainly.  I should like to do at least a part of the pilgrim route of Santiago de Compostela and, closer to home, the Pilgrims Way across the Downs.  Not all in one go, but in stages, stopping off to admire things along the way and having a good lunch.

Things connected to walking that I love:

Stout shoes, fine socks

A snack in the pocket

Never worrying about how I look (not confined to walking)

Getting in a hot bath afterwards or a cold shower, depending on weather

Thinking without pressure

The wonderful film The Way


It really isn’t the destination, it is truly the journey.


Pembrokeshire again

Since I was 7, Pembrokeshire has been something of a constant in my life. Many years have passed since that first trip to Abercastell jammed in to the back seat of the family car, wedged in alongside my brother, my grandmother and my great grandmother (cue a throwing up of hands at the old ways). But still I return. Sometimes I’ve visited every year, sometimes a decade has vanished between visits, but still the place keeps calling me back. (I have no idea why this thing with the font keeps happening – apologies).

Strangely, in what appears at first to be a constant landscape, this place  – Abereiddi – is much changed. From a cow filled, green space leading down to the sea, where days were passed with picnics and playing in the gritty grey sand it evolved into a more organised, sea defended, car park complete with ice cream van which sagely sold hot tea alongside the choc ices, before it drifted towards its current incarnation, sea defences no longer maintained, foreshore denuded of green but instead furnished with a perky woman demanding a large sum to park for the day and gesturing at a cabin offering all manner of fun by the hour  –  mountain bikes, canoes, surfboards, paddle boats and the like,  available to rent.IMG_6498 (2)

This is not how I remember Abereiddi.

Instead I think of the time thirteen thirtysomething friends and friends of friends rented  a couple of those cottages to see in the new year, a year which, though we saw it in together, we saw it out in very different places. New jobs, new partners, new continents even.  And for us – T and me – the next new year’s eve saw us joyfully preoccupied with our first born (whose wedding has had me joyfully preoccupied again these past months).

But it was our second born, E, who was my walking companion this time. It’s been more than a decade since he was last over here so, as we had taken a cottage for a few days and as he had a few days off work, he decided to join me to walk our regular walk once more  (because while Abereiddi doesn’t have a lot to see, over the hill is a much more lovely beach inaccessible by any closer road).

Rather than take the short cut over the headland we decided to go for the full works and diverted off to see the Blue Lagoon. Now this may sound exotic but I must point out that this spot is neither blue, nor a lagoon. It is in fact an old slate quarry, with a sea entrance which was blasted through to flood the pit once extraction ended in the early twentieth century. It is undeniably picturesque and it has always attracted the more daring swimmer (Yes. When I was young and foolish. In April as well as in August). Although now, of course, there are signs to warn dippers that the water is cold (yes) and deep (who knew?) and best approached as part of an organised adventure group. More fun by the hour.IMG_6490 (2)

The location caught the eye of cliff divers and for a couple of years it hosted cliff diving championships but the circus seems to have moved on and left the place to slumber on with fearless sheep the only audience.

We ploughed on up to the clifftops and round the headland with E (who, forgetting just how much colder it is by the sea than at home,  wearing every item of clothing he had brought) bearing a disconcerting resemblance to the Grim Reaper.

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How come sheep can get so close to the cliff edge and never fall off?

As we turned the corner, the much lovelier beach – Traeth Llyfn – began to come into view. But not before this odd sign stopped us in our tracks – the Pembrokeshire Coast Path is now part of the Appalachian Trail?

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Really? I mean, I could just about accept the argument that the St Michael’s Way in Cornwall could be allied to the Camino de Santiago – there are all manner of interconnected pilgrims’ paths and trade routes along the seaboard of Western Europe, after all. But the Appalachians and Pembrokeshire? How? 

I digress.IMG_6527 (3).JPG

Here’s  Traeth Llfyn –  clearly a lovely beach – but how to you get down to it?

Once it was a case of clambering down a path that was not so much cut into the cliff side as lightly etched into the shale.

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You can just about make out the old step in the rocks at the bottom and see the line of the path heading off and up diagonally from the top of the flight. I’d always heard that it was built by Italian prisoners of war but why they carved out this access to a remote beach in a remote part of Wales remains a mystery to me.

Happly a while back the original path was found to be just a little bit too adventurous and this fire escape type structure took its place. Good.

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Once down on the beach we found what – in more rarified circles – might be termed a series of art installations.

Rather lovely, aren’t they?

Then it was back up the stairs, onto the cliff top, round a few bays, pausing to admire the arch and the sea stack along the way,IMG_6599 (2).JPG and we began to approach Porthgain. IMG_6600 (3)

More industrial remnants here – of brickmaking and quarrying – now long abandoned. 

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The Grim Reaper fails to spook the resident sheep.

Around the corner and down another steep flight of steps and there’s Porthgain harbour.

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Not much going on today but once it was a busy port exporting bricks and slate to build Edwardian cities.

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The fish and chip shop on the quay has won high praise but the Grim Reaper was intent upon beer and crisps so we made for the pub instead (which is good but it’s not Michelin).

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Although some commercial fishing does still go on here, Porthgain’s main income nowadays comes from visitors. There’s an ice cream shop and a couple of art galleries too, but I like that there’s still a ramshackle air about the place.

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Maybe it was this which caught the attention of the location scouts for Their Finest, (it’s not), a 2016 film featuring Gemma Arterton, Sam Claflin, Bill Nighy.  

But although I like Arterton enormously, don’t know Claflin, and can always rely on Nighy to play Nighy, for me it’s Porthgain which is the star of the film.


Two genial coves stare into the middle distance and wonder when The Sloop will be open.







Beating the bounds

The thing about walking is that it can be very sociable. As you know, my excellent friend, A, indefatigable in the face of mud or boulders, has joined me on several strolls, and now a further two splendid women, J and L, have picked up their packs to come with us. We have, it seems, got ourselves a bit of a walking group.

Where to walk then? Not too far away and not too short a route, so that once the decision is made and logistics conquered we can look forward to a summer of walks and chat. Step forward the Bristol Community Forest Path. Yes, it must take the prize for the dreariest, worthiest, least enticing path name ever, but on closer acquaintance it looks quite promising. It’s a 45 mile circuit of Bristol aiming, as far as I can see from the map, to guide walkers around the extremities of the city via public green spaces, woodland, farmland and waterways. Some of it looks very suburban, some very rural; some is already familiar to us, some will be foreign fields.

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Sea Mills

I read that since its inception people have wondered whether it is possible to cover its 45 miles within a day.  [Actually that has never crossed my mind, but do continue]. One of the earliest to show that is was possible was Bristolian conceptual artist, Richard Long who completed a circuit in 16 hours in 1998 as part of one of his pieces. Not to be outdone, hearty types apparently continue to attempt the circuit in 24 hours –  the Green Man challenge – in order to be certified as Woodwose.  (http://www.closertothecountryside.co.uk/gmrouteSept11.pdf)

Each to their own.

As none of us feel any aspiration to becoming Woodwose, we are going to take it in bite sized, conversational pieces, navigating from refreshment opportunity to refreshment opportunity. It’s a circular walk so we could start anywhere but I wanted to end somewhere dramatic and that had to be the Clifton Suspension Bridge. Accordingly we set out on our first walk from The Downs, not very far away from the Bridge. The first few miles did not look at all interesting as the route descends through deepest suburbia, much of which is familiar.

We plunged off down a narrow way between the back gardens of Sneyd Park, squeezed between some rather grand Victorian villas with frustratingly high garden fences, together with some more modest infill homes.  I was probably too busy talking but it struck me as particularly insignificant little path and, as we popped out onto the road at the end of the shady gloom of Pitch and Pay Lane, I was hoping that the walk wouldn’t be as dull all the way.

Pitch and Pay Lane? That’s a name that called out for a bit of Googling later on. I have to say I am a little sceptical about the explanation. The first bit – that this path was once a country lane before the spread of the city – I get that.  The second bit – that in times of disease in the town, country people avoided the markets but left food for the starving townsfolk –  I’ve heard of that elsewhere so OK. And I can understand that this may not have been an entirely charitable gesture and so some form of cash exchange would have been involved. But the scene conjured up by Paul Townsend (and others) sounds farcical – at this pre-arranged spot, they developed the practice of pitching their produce at the waiting, hungry Bristolians. . . while the citizens paid by throwing back the necessary cash. (http://www.flickr.com/photos/brizzlebornandbred/2078516414).

Could the air really have been thick with flying turnips and groats?

But before all that, this little backway was better known as Via Julia, the road the Romans built to get from Bath to Caerleon in South Wales. (Inexplicably they failed to invent Bristol and marched straight past without even pausing). Of course, in the way is the River Severn, very wide at this point and with a massive tidal range. Ships were required. And a port. Abonae was its name, after the River Avon on which it stands, just upstream from the Severn itself. Must have been quite a place in its time.

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Abonae today. Better known as Sea Mills

I didn’t know any of this at the time so I happily followed the well signposted way across green spaces, through quiet residential streets, over a golf course,

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Shirehampton Golf Course

and up onto Kingsweston Down, heading for Blaise Castle estate.

Now I love maps and when I am walking on my own I bumble along quite happily but put me in company and tell me to read one and I get cartophile dysfunction. Everything goes to pot. A TV transmitter was marked on the map and we had to make sure we took the path to the left of it. But where was the transmitter? I couldn’t see it anywhere.

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It’s behind you…

Blaise Castle Estate is quite something (yes, Jane Austen does namecheck it in  Northanger Abbey). It’s a council owned site with a 19th century mansion, an 18th century castle, a museum, imaginative playgrounds, cricket pitch and pavilion, cafe and 400 acres of parkland and we all thought that we knew it pretty well.

Except I didn’t know that on three days a week volunteers toil away to create a community plot in the old walled garden, long abandoned. And nor had I ever looked through these gates before and seen that an artist is making use of the stable buildings.

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The small rural Gloucestershire hamlet of Henbury grew up at the gates of the Blaise estate, but today the few historic streets have been overwhelmed by the explosion of twentieth century housing which has turned it into a city suburb. Occasionally there are reminders of a past era, but not necessarily a fair or good one.

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Henbury churchyard

After Henbury, we began to feel on less familiar ground and here the discoveries came thick and fast, green spaces never spotted when driving past, immaculately signposted walks through unknown cul de sacs, pony paddock after unsuspected pony paddock. Then a completely new view of the Filton runway, birthplace – as any proud Bristolian, born or adopted, will tell you – of Concorde, that mighty plane which flew so fast (London to New York in under four hours? Yes, really) and fell from favour so quickly. (The good people of Toulouse may also make a claim as to origins but we’ll share the glory).

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It’s a bit of a blurry photo as we were quite a distance away but just look at the slope at the end of the runway. Never knew that before.

Over the M5, with conversation paused for the duration due to the din, and on towards  a Victorian house turned upmarket hotel somewhat marooned by the twentieth century.

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But what’s all this?

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An industrial site of underground tanks, protected by some very serious gates, high fences and CCTV cameras. Not so unusual, but this is completely and utterly anonymous – not a signboard or any hint of its purpose anywhere.

And there was no mention of it on the map.

Later, after a bit of quizzing of those who might know and a bit of Googling, we discovered that here is stored aviation fuel for both military and civil aircraft. Built in the 1930s in anticipation of War, and officially secret until the end of the Cold War, these so discreetly hidden tanks are linked by pipeline to RAF stations as well as to Heathrow and other civil airports. So when you’re up in London and tutting when there’s a delay in refuelling your plane, spare a thought for how far the petroleum has got to come.  (I think that’s the gist of it; there’s an exhaustive – and frankly exhaustingly acronym laden – explanation at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CLH_Pipeline_System)

After this bit of vaguely disquieting mystery, and with the airfield, the tanks, the motorway and all the other signs of the urban only just behind us,  we crossed a field and suddenly found ourselves deep in the most lovely bluebell wood.IMG_5785 (2)No one about. although well trodden path suggests that this is a popular spot but how come we asked, again, had none of us every heard of it before?IMG_5788 (2)The wood gave onto open fields on the top of what had become a very narrow ridge, overlooking the Second Severn Crossing mired in a slurry of industrial sprawl (no, we didn’t know there had been quite so much development out there either)

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and the rather more bucolic original Severn Bridge.

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Look at all those vapour trails burning up the fuel from the tanks we’d just passed.

Soon we were descending to the River Severn’s floodplain past old farmhouses  and the odd restored cottage. We had the Easter Compton pub (and lunch) almost in our sights when we came upon the village church (13th century origins, major Victorian revamp, currently having a bit of repair work to the roof).

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Curiously, apart from the adjacent Church Farm, All Saints Compton Greenfield stands alone. A couple of fields in one direction is Compton Greenfield itself, now just a couple of farmhouses alongside the old rectory, whilst across the fields the other way is Easter Compton, a mostly early twentieth century settlement despite being on the road to the old ferry points across the Severn.

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There’s a spectacular yew tree walk and rose garden in this immaculate but isolated churchyard, but where are the parishioners? From where do/did the worshippers come in this sparsely populated area? No time to go into the Church to have a look as the cold drinks were calling our names but, from what I did glean later on, there seems to have been quite a sprinkling of gentry families in the area back in the day, names which are no longer familiar living in estates which no longer exist. Perhaps it was down to them and their households?

As we sat in the pub garden in the unseasonal heat, we agreed that we were surprised at not only just how much green space there was in what we had expected to be a rather tedious urban fringe, but also how many hidden spots we’d found in what we had each assumed was overly familiar territory. Despite its less than alluring name, the Bristol Community Forest Path delivered a varied and surprising route which bodes well for all the sections to come.

So – well played BCFP. Big tick.

(Of course, in writing this up, my inner geekiness had to come out. Far from circling Bristol and looking in at the city, as I had expected, this first part of the walk underlined the ways in which the place is – and has long been – tied to the rest of the world through global networks. From the way of Via Julia to the contemporary motorway system, the ferry points on the rivers and tidal waterways to Concorde and the aviation fuel stores, in one morning we had crossed paths with them all.

Except the railway.

Well, maybe.

There was this…

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Standing just across the path from the Old Rectory in hardly a hamlet Compton Greenfield is what I reckon is a tin tabernacle (Wiki helpfully explains that this is a type of prefabricated ecclesiastical building made from corrugated galvanised iron (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tin_tabernacle)). With the Industrial Revolution and all that came with it, there was a mass exodus of workers from the land to the burgeoning cities so missions to the newly industrialised areas sought to support (or, yes, control) rapidly formed communities of the young, mainly single, men (and to some extent women) who had left their family ties and strictures behind. Prefab chapels sprang up to minister to them on land donated by benevolent landowners and this is what I think this is. It’s marked on the 1901 map so the timing would fit. 


1901. Thank you, NLS (https://maps.nls.uk/view/109729246)


Except, of course, Compton Greenfield is conspicuously devoid of any trace of industrialisation, then or now.

I can find absolutely no reference to this chapel anywhere online so it is only my conjecture that it was in fact erected to serve the hordes of navvies and brick makers who set up camp a mile or so north east of here to build the Severn railway tunnel. For 13 years they toiled to dig out what was the longest tunnel in the world in 1885 when it was finally completed. As the map shows, the tabernacle is not exactly on the workers’ doorsteps but it is right under the Rector’s nose.

Why didn’t they just go to All Saints on a Sunday? After all, they had to walk past it to get to their chapel.

Maybe they weren’t Anglican.

Or maybe they weren’t welcome.

Victorian social apartheid anyone?)


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


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.


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.


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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…


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?


Snow, spanners, and starts


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Happy St David’s Day. (Image filched from @megfrombristol. I’ll ask permission next time I see her)

This was not the post I was planning to write today but the not very common (here in Bristol) arrival of snow put a very large spanner in the works.

Yesterday was to have been the first outing with some new walking companions – A, J, and L. A few chance remarks and casual conversations  have led to us forming up, putting dates in diaries, and preparing to set to on the Bristol Community Forest Path. It’s a 45 mile route circling the city of Bristol linking green spaces and replanted and restored community forests and I hope that it will be really interesting. Despite what must be worthiest, dullest, and least enticing name ever.

Bristol is an ancient city which has grown by swallowing up many old settlements in its environs and so I am hoping that even the suburban sections in my neck of the woods (of which there are a lot) will guide us down unnoticed paths and historic rights of way to unknown green spaces which I may have passed countless times without even realising they were there. And then there’s the other side of the city and the places I know vaguely and by name only and finally – because it promises to be the most beautiful part – there are the rural villages to the south. Treading the ground, beating the bounds, invites a very particular knowledge of a space and I am looking forward to learning my place as we circle our city.

So, instead of setting off yesterday, I stayed home in the warm but was transported to the great outdoors by Ursula Martin’s wonderfully written blog, which I have just discovered (http://www.onewomanwalkswales.com/blog). She has a lovely engaging style and I am so enjoying her journeying. And I so enjoy the journeying of many other talented bloggers so my aim for these snow days is to work out how to set up a blogroll to highlight these great writers too.  Watch this space.



March, march, swing you along


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Votes for women. Long delays

Getting a bit late in the day to write about this one (although I’m not quite as far behind the curve as the woman in the crowd who asked why they couldn’t have done it in the summer when it wasn’t so cold), but I joined the Bristol Women’s Voice lantern parade to celebrate suffrage. The date was 6 February 2018, 100 years to the day after the passing of the Representation of the People Act which first gave the vote to (certain) women.IMG_4209 (2)


I don’t have much form when it comes to parades and marches but even so this one must stand out as being both rather ad hoc and orderly at the same time. Ad hoc because – obviously – the organisers had never run one before and had had no idea of how many women would turn up. In fact I don’t think I saw a single person with clipboard, megaphone or anything else which might have signified their being in charge; orderly because everyone was in great spirits and many, I suspect, like me just wanted to be there to mark the occasion and not to make any larger point.

Also it was snowing.

So off we went, into the rush hour traffic which necessarily ground to a halt and logjammed the entire city. I don’t know how many of us there were – hundreds certainly, maybe a thousand or so at the start before the cold felled many. There was no police presence to count us and the inane local newspaper report spoke only of lots being there to celebrate all women getting the vote (They didn’t. Not in 1918. Try Wikipedia next time).


Bristol Women’s Voice image. Bristol University lit some of its buildings in green and violet – suffragette colours – to commemorate the event. When women were first permitted to graduate from this university, the male undergraduates discarded their mortar boards in protest. Which is why my Alma Mater’s form of academic dress still features no headgear. Nice tradition, eh?

The organisers – Bristol Women’s Voice – had run workshops in libraries and museums in the weeks prior to the event so people could make lanterns which were ingeniously brilliant in their simplicity and effectiveness. (Too late I discovered that there had even been a session on the train to Severn Beach – a situation so bizarre that it begged to have been seen.) I cobbled one together from the instructions on the website but came up short when I came to deciding what to write on mine. Votes for Women may have been historically accurate but I felt that the event was to be more of a celebration of achievement than a replication of the struggle, Deeds not Words would have got my vote had I thought of it in time. But there were many and various examples to be seen.

Some women were moved to tears by the thoughts of the suffragettes, they said. I struggled to feel a connection to the undeniably brave women of a century ago. As far as I know I can claim no suffragettes or suffragists in the family so I can not make their battle personal.  I thought about my grandmothers – women I have known – one of whom was 20 in 1918, the other only 5. The former would have had to wait until she was 30 in 1928 before she was entitled to a vote, not then being married or owning property, the latter would have grown up seeing her mother casting her ballot for the first few times. That made it a bit more real.

My younger grandmother did not talk about politics. When asked who she would vote for the most handsome man would always be the reply. With a husband involved in local politics she had to keep her views to herself and this was undoubtedly her way of telling a child to mind her own business. But until now I hadn’t reflected on to what extent her stock phrase  – this faux empty headed, fluttery feminine disinterest – hinted at a female disconnect with politics. Although all women were enfranchised by the time she turned 21, she had grown up in a culture where this had not been the case and early expectations were engrained. And I looked at the women around me and began to wonder what in their lives they had accepted as being just the way the things are. Older women would remember being paid less than their male colleagues, their mothers would have encountered the marriage ban. By the time I entered the workplace the 1975 Sex Discrimination Act was in place and, thanks to earlier women’s efforts,  I was able to enter traditionally male fields, albeit in a minority and always in a skirt. Many battles have been won but many remain.

I’ll leave you with these links to a piece composed especially for the lantern parade which may or may not work. I hope one of them does because it was rather uplifting.