Things do not go as smoothly for us this year; things go wrong; in short this is the year when we have hassle. This year is officially known as Sodde's Year - a recent discovery in the hall of the ancient calendars. It didn't start out like this.
The initial planning looked good, then Roger's Number 1 daughter informed us that her Graduation Day would be in the middle of our selected week. So instead of driving to Guisleley on the Thursday, and catching the train to Plymouth on the Friday for a Saturday start; we have to leave a week later and travel on the Friday/Saturday. Because of the later start and other complications we have to return the following weekend instead of the Monday or Tuesday. In short our 8-9 days walking is cut to 6. Not a good start!
We have not used public transport on a Saturday before. Train tickets are duly booked for travel to Plymouth in April, but seat reservations are not available - "please try later" is the refrain at each telephone and e-mail enquiry. To cut a long story short we eventually get our seat reservations about three days before we are due to travel. One good thing does come out of the seat reservation fiasco - we find out our route is not on the direct train from Leeds to Plymouth, which is cancelled, but via Manchester, departing an hour earlier, [change] and Birmingham [change]. Apparently the Fat Controller is digging up the railway between Leeds and Birmingham.
Of course the journey is not trouble free. The first bit to Manchester is OK, and with an hour or so to wait we find a cafe just outside and settle down to a coffee. Even this simple act requires great will power on our part. A steady steam of people order late breakfasts and bacon sandwiches. Not content in tempting us to get fat they seek out the nearest seats to ours to maximise the torture as alluring aromas of grilled sausages; fried bacon and eggs with fried slice and tomatoes [or beans] make a bee line to our table.
When we wander back to the station our train will depart from one of the through platforms that are situated as far from the station entrance as is possible. Then we find out that the Fat Controller is not only digging up the railway in the Midlands, he is also digging up the tracks somewhere in Lancashire and our train is late. Even when we do get underway the first 10 miles or so are taken at a crawl, except when we are stopped.
Amazingly we eventually arrive in Plymouth only a little later than expected. We then have a rather interesting walk through the city to the Cremyll ferry. Part of the route past the docks is some sort of heritage trail as there are plaques and artefacts stuck all over the place - including an enormous spanner with some connection to Isambard Kingdom Brunel.
The ferry across to Cremyll is quite busy, and the pub we are booked into is within a stone's throw of the landing. Despite being comfortable and serving
good food and beer, we are left with a feeling that the prices are 10-15% too high. After dinner we go for a stroll and spend a nostalgic ten minutes gazing
across the Sound trying to pick out last year's route along the far shore.
Cremyll to Portwrinkle
At last we are down to business. Our path will take us through Mount Edgecumbe Country Park. The entrance is quite imposing and at first we wonder whether the path runs inside or outside the park's perimeter wall. We soon work things out and head off into the park and past the Orangery. The path follows the coast quite closely and gradually becomes more wooded. Our steady progress is interrupted however by a path closure. There appears to have been a landslip, but the alternative route is poorly signed. After a bit of a scramble up a steep path we find the new route and leave the park. The views across the sound are much more impressive from this somewhat higher viewpoint than from the pebbly beach of the previous evening.
After about an hour and a half we reach the tiny village of Kingsand. It sets the template for many of the places we are to pass through - narrow, quaint streets, small cottages and its only sop to the modern day is the plethora of flats & cottages to let to the holiday makers.
We stop for a cuppa in a cafe, which has some pretty original decorations in jars - like mouldy sandwiches .... as to the others it's probably best not thought about. That said the cafe was a very pleasant and friendly place.
We leave the village and head for Rame Head. The weather starts to close in and before long there is a steady drizzle. The visibility closes in quite dramatically from the 15 - 20 mile range of an hour earlier to about 5 miles. After Rame Head the terrain changes slightly. There is a pronounced sloping shoulder to the cliffs with a road about two thirds of the way up. The footpath meanders up & down this shoulder past scattered huts on the cliff just below the road. The huts are obviously little retreats for holiday makers and there are scores of them. Part of their charm is in the way they are scattered like confetti over the cliff side, and no two are exactly the same. The problem for us walkers is that the path seems determined to go past most of them, so its down 20feet, along a bit, up 15, along a bit, down 50 and so on. After a while this meandering up & down gets on our nerves and we opt for the road, which at least has the merit of cutting out most of the ups & downs.
The weather plays tricks with us with the on/off drizzle and on /off waterproofs, but eventually by mid-afternoon there is a watery sun, although the hills inland are wreathed in cloud.
We are spared a long detour inland around a firing range because the path through it is open. There is a commemorative plaque near the entrance informing one and all that the site has won a prize for being walker friendly in opening its doors to the public when the ranges are closed. The path goes right up to the central fort and past the firing positions for the ranges.
As we leave the ranges behind us we are back on the cliff tops on the last leg into Portwrinkle. We do not know if there are any B & B's here - as ever we are trusting to good fortune. The first sight we see is a large hotel and golf course. We make our way into the hotel bar and order the first orange squashes of the walk. We are both feeling a little tired. Our search for accommodation can wait while we recover. A few discreet enquiries reveal that a room at the Hotel will set us back £110. However the receptionist is a friendly sort of chap and he knows someone in the village who does B & B. One quick phone call later we are booked in and armed with instructions we set off. Portwrinkle is a strange place. It seems to have been originally a very small collection of houses; then the golf course and hotel were built some time before the First World War - I would guess late Victorian or Edwardian era. Then the village was probably doubled in size during the 60's and 70's by the building of a small housing estate on the cliff side. Our digs are in the middle of this small estate and we would never have found it unaided.
The bit we are staying in more is like a self catering flat except there is no cooker. There are two rooms with a shower room. A table and chairs occupy
the far end of one of the rooms. We have our own entrance as well. We shower and change and then find out that the hotel is the only place in the
village doing evening meals - a bit pricy though. There is a pub that does good meals about 500 yards past the hotel. We decide to go there. What we are
not told is that the pub is at the top of the hill and it is more like a mile past the hotel. The walk is worth it however as the pub stands on a saddle of land
giving super views inland and down the coast past Portwrinkle. The food is good and the beer even better. The sun, having played the coy maiden all day
comes out in all her glory to provide a wonderful evening. As we go back to our digs we look into the little coves and bays at Portwrinkle and the setting
sun shows the many colours in the rocks - chiefly purples and golds - very unusual.
Portwrinkle to Polperro
The day starts out with a debate - do we need to go down to the cliff-top road, which then swings inland and uphill at the end of the village, or can we save the climb and get out through the estate? Our reconnaissance the previous evening suggests we might have to go down to come up, but I feel there must be another way. Our hosts come to the rescue and there is a footpath through the estate that will save us the climb.
That is perhaps the only real victory of the morning. The next six hours see us dealing with some of the toughest walking so far. It doesn't start out too bad as we get some lovely views from the cliff tops to the west of Portwrinkle and there is a reasonable mix of up; down and flat. The weather is pretty kind as well being a mix of cloud and sun. After Seaton the path takes us through woodlands and we get only occasional glimpses of the sea. At the same time the flat sections become shorter and less frequent, the climbs and descents steeper. The abiding memory is one of a succession of climbs and descents with barely 100 yards of flat land anywhere.
Shortly after lunch we arrive at East Looe and enter the town via a series of narrow streets. We stop for the obligatory orange squash at a pub in the town centre. The place is bustling and we have to weave our way through the tourists that pretty well fill the narrow streets. We walk inland a little way to the bridge over the river to West Looe. We could have taken a ferry across the river, but somehow it gets missed in the crowd, although Brian later admits he did see a sign. The ferry would not have saved a great deal of distance, and anyway the walk will do us good. Looking back it is surprising how many tourists there are considering the school holidays are yet to start.
After East and West Looe the going becomes a little easier. Even a mile or so of gentle uphill counts as flat after the morning session. My daily notes record "v.tired" and a little later "R f****ed".
Our target will be Polperro and we still have a couple of miles to go as a large group of walkers heading East pass us at the west end of Portnardier Bay. They are the first we have seen today. We finally reach Polperro at about 6.30pm.
Today has been very tough. We have walked about half a mile less than yesterday, yet it has taken us more than two hours longer to do it [about
80minutes actual walking time]. Polperro is a very pretty little place nestling in a narrow valley. We eventually find digs about three quarters of a mile from
the town centre. There is a horse drawn carriage service but we don't use it now, or later when we return from our evening meal in the town.
Polperro to Fowey
Tuesday dawns bright and sunny. We are in a much better mood to appreciate the town's setting. The valley is very narrow and steep sided. The town is little more than one long street with narrow lanes and alleys off to the side. Before setting off in earnest we visit the pasty shop we spied the previous night.... when in Cornwall ....
Suitably provisioned with Cornwall's finest pasties [or so the poster in the shop said] we set off. Problem is that there is a very long flight of steps - 168 to be precise - we counted them - to get out of town!
The day is very peaceful. My notes record the gentle lap of the waves on the rocks; warm gentle breezes. Even the gulls are getting into the mood as their raucous screeches are replaced by an almost musical song. We even hear the tolling of a bell out to sea as its buoy rocks in the swell.
After lunch the temperature starts to rise and it becomes very hot. We are passed by a large number of walkers heading East. At one of our post lunch breaks the peaceful conditions become soporific and we both fall asleep for a while.
Whilst the conditions are grand, the distance relatively short - only 7 miles or so - and the views are superb, we still have some serious walking to do. Several of the climbs are quite steep and strenuous. We are both feeling tired, even after our nap.
We decide to quit the coast as we approach Poltruan, and take the more direct road into the town to the ferry that will end our day's exertions. The descent is very steep, and with no proper footpath we have to keep a watchful eye for the traffic that is just infrequent enough to lull one into forgetfulness. When we reach the riverside we have a few minutes wait for the ferry to Fowey.
There is something special about taking a ferry whilst out on a walk. The contrast and enforced rest are refreshing. Depending on the location, weather and size of the boat, the crossing can be placid [Noss Mayo] or lively [Felixstowe to Harwich] or downright tempestuous [Yarmouth, IOW to Lymington]; views can be superb [Noss Mayo - again]; interesting [Plymouth & Felixstowe] or downright ugly and boring [Hayling Island to Portsmouth]. This one was especially pleasant, not only for the scenery - it also marked the end of our travels [or should that be travails] for the day.
It's been a day of surprises really. It was the shortest walking day of the week, and also the slowest. We head of for the tourist information office to find some digs. Fowey is a pleasant town, and is full of tourists. The tourist information office is successful in finding us some digs, and as usual we have to climb out of town a little way to reach them. Our route takes us up a fairly steep footpath past the church. At least we don't have to dodge the traffic that threatened to clog the town centre.
Our digs are rather good, with a pub just over the road. We debate about having our meal there, but decide it is a little pricey. We end up sitting by the river
side eating our fish & chips from the paper as the sun went down. The pub does provide us with a nightcap however......
Fowey to Mevagissey
During the previous evening we had a fairly long review of our progress to date. In some ways we are a little disappointed, but put that down to the terrain. We both feel that the walking has been the most strenuous since North Yorkshire. We have had individual days that have been as tough in recent years, but not three days on the trot.
The upshot of our deliberations is that we will not go to Polkerris round the coast via Gribbin Head. We decide to leave town on the main road to Par before taking the footpaths past Lankelly Farm. Our route over the hill will save several miles and probably two hours or more.
The morning starts damp and grey, but the road walking is not too bad. Traffic is fairly light and the road is not too steep After half a mile or so we leave the main road and head down a quieter suburban street and eventually reach the footpath past the farm. It is really quiet now with the dew soaked grass deadening our footfall and the grey low cloud casting its mantle over the countryside. As we reach the "summit" the cloud is really low, and wisps of mist blow across our path.
There then follows an uneventful descent to Polkerris, a very small collection of houses along the coast. After half a mile we pass Little Hell and can see Par Docks across the eponymous Par Sands. We would like to use the beach again and so shorten our route a little, but the maps and visible geography suggest it will not be possible. We are confused by the road system we can see in the distance. There is a dock road and a main road just a little further inland. Both run the full length of Par Sands, and from our vantage point it is not at all easy to work out what road is connected to which one or where. In the end we stick to the path and eventually follow the main road toward the far end of Par Sands.
It is just before 11.00 am when we reach the outskirts of Par. We decide to buy our lunch from the green grocer and pasty shop [also selling the best pasties in Cornwall]. There are several customers in front of us and each is greeted with a warm "me luvly" and "me dear" as they are served by the shop assistant. It all sounds so sincere unlike the "have a nice day" that is invading more and more of our daily lives.
When we leave the shop we notice that this part of Cornwall has become gridlocked. There is a long line of traffic tailing back from the railway bridge on the road to St Austell to our right which has blocked the road junction. Nothing is moving in either direction as we adjourn to the pub for our ration of orange squash.
Fifteen minutes later the traffic has cleared as we head towards the rail bridge and St Austell. After a few hundred yards we take a footpath to our left and walk alongside the industrial complex on the edge of the docks en route to Spit Point. The mass of silos and pipes we can see has a certain charm as we try to work out what they are doing here. We think it is something to do with the local china clay industry. The spoil heaps from the diggings in the adjacent hills were clearly visible on the horizon as we approached the docks an hour or so earlier.
The industrial scenes are soon replaced by the manicured lawns of the local golf club. Not a course to play if one has a propensity to slice or hook. The course is squeezed between the railway line and the coast. We wonder how many balls have inadvertently caught the 4.15 from Paddington, and whether they had to pay a penalty fare.
We make steady progress along Carlyon Bay, past Gull Island and Landrion Point to the harbour at Charlestown. This is another of those pretty little Cornish harbours, and with a pub on the western side overlooking the small boats it is better than most - especially as we are due a stop. The pub makes an excellent vantage point to watch the people going by as we sit outside in the sun drinking yet another orange squash.
The afternoon session turns into something of an endurance test. The relatively easy stretch from Portkerrie is soon replaced by a much more strenuous
section onto Trennarren. We didn't visit the fort at Black Head, but skirted just inland. We continued to plod deeper into Cornwall, experiencing some good
views, but really feeling the strain. On the final mile or so into Mevagissey Brian is getting concerned and asks me more than once if I am OK. By this time I
have got a second wind, but in the light of what follows the next day it is a hollow victory. We eventually find digs over a
chippy and across the road from a pub in the town centre. All we could wish for [apart from rejuvenated bodies] on the door step so to speak.
Mevagissey to Portloe
Thursday starts badly. My legs are shouting that I should stay in bed, do not pick up a ruck-sack and do pass Go or any where else come to that. This sort of bodily rebellion has happened from time to time over the years, and usually evaporates as the day goes on. Today will be different.
After the usual provisioning exercise and a fruitless search for a new Tee-shirt we set off out of town. There is a gradual climb out to Portmellion and on to Chapel Point. Something is definitely wrong in the state of Denmark, or more precisely my legs and lungs. The next 3 and a half miles are very unpleasant, every gentle incline is taking me much longer than it should. I feel as though I am slowing us down quite dramatically.
When we reach Gorran Haven I decide to call it a day. I have concerns that we may be very late reaching our target if I continue. After some discussions Brian decides to walk on to Portloe. Over a cup of coffee we agree a rendezvous point in Portloe and a reasonable estimate of arrival. Brian sets off as I finish my coffee and get the phone number of a local taxi firm. As I plod slowly up the hill to meet the cab I pass Brian coming down - he has missed the path!
As I sit on the grass in the sun shine waiting for my cab I feel a pinch of regret. The afternoon promises to be fair with gentle breezes and sun. Good walking weather, yet my morning's walking has been a misery. Brian and I are at a loss as to why I should feel this way. Perhaps the bill for the last few days walking has finally been presented?
Shortly before the taxi arrives a couple pass me climbing out of the village. They see my cab- more of a mini bus than a cab - and they hail it, but the cabby ignores them. I load my gear into the back of bus and we set off up the road. As we pass the couple I ask the cabby to stop and we find out that they are trying to get to Portloe. It's all aboard time as Roger sees an opportunity to halve his costs.
We twist and turn our way along the country lanes and I rapidly lose all sense of direction. The cabby regales us with tales of drivers getting lost, having to reverse back to passing points and effectively do three point turns as they misjudge the sharpness of some of the bends.
We eventually arrive in Portloe and I wish farewell to my travelling companions. The driver knows of a couple of places that do B & B in this small village. We get off to a bad start as the first one is all shut up and the second has a No Vacancies sign out. We strike lucky at the pub on the edge of the village on the road to Veryan. There is a twin available so I take it. I dump my traps in the room, have a quick shower [sweaty work being driven around in a mini-bus don't you know] and a bit of a rest before going down to the bar at about 4.00pm.
Whilst having a quiet drink I notice that two lots of travellers are turned away from the inn. The landlord asks me if we will be dining in that evening and suggests that booking would be a good idea. I agree and pick a time at random, hoping it will give Brian time to recuperate from his afternoons exertions. With this in mind I set off to our rendezvous on the eastern edge of the village. The late afternoon is glorious and I set off a little way along the path towards the East and Brian. Once again there is a twinge of regret at not having walked this afternoon, but I think the romance of the setting and the light is waxing strong and putting a rosy tint on everything. In reality the short walk from the pub out onto the headland guarding Portloe's small bay has been more tiring than I expected.
After a few minutes I see in the distance a white blob over the tops of the head high bracken and shrubs. It is moving inexorably towards me. There is only one white blob that moves like that - Brian's sun hat! Some 10 minutes later Brian rounds a bend in the path looking hot, but pleased. He has enjoyed a good afternoon's walking, and apparently the summit he crossed was the highest point of our week's walk.
After greetings we head off to Portloe and the pub. Across the little harbour we can see the line of the path as it snakes up and over the headland - it is perilously close to the edge in places.
After the usual ablutions we repair to the bar for our evening meal. The place is crowded. I am more than pleased we have booked a table. Various
customers decide to look elsewhere when they arrive on spec. and are told there will be an hour or so's wait.
Portloe to Falmouth
The glorious sunshine of Thursday afternoon and evening has been replaced by rain and mist. This prompts the first decision of the day - we will take the inland route out of Portloe to Pendower Beach. The coast path heading west out of Portloe appeared to be very close to the cliff edge, and with all the rain and mist we feel it is a risk not worth taking.
We also strike another problem - we can't find any where to provide the sarnies for lunch. Armed with a good breakfast and Micawber's philosophy of life ["Something will turn up"] we set off along the road to the west.
Our route involves a couple of miles of road walking, which in the conditions is not too bad. As we reach higher ground we don't catch glimpses of where the landward side of Nare Head should be. All the high ground to the South on our left is shrouded in low cloud and mist, even after the rain stopped.
When we reach Pendower Beach we look back along the coast towards Nare Head and whilst its foot is clear, the tops are still covered by cloud scudding in from the sea. We've made the right decision for once!
After two miles or so on the road we clamber down onto the deserted beach. We are not the first ones to use it that morning as we soon encounter footprints in the sand - human and canine. Our exit from the far end of the beach is not at all clear, but the footprints are reassuring - they are coming from where we want to go.
At the far end we can finally see our escape route from the beach and a quick glance back across Gerrans Bay reveals an impressive vista. The view to the East, especially now as Nare Head has finally taken his hat off and the sun is filtering through the clouds, is far more impressive than the Westward view..
We continue under overcast skies with only occasional glimpses of the sun to Portscatho where we stop for a welcome cup of tea. Portscatho also solved our lunch problem by providing a shop selling sandwiches.
To reach Falmouth we have to catch two ferries. The first from St Anthony's to St Mawes, and then St Mawes to Falmouth. The coast path goes right around the coast to St Anthony's via Zone Point and Carricknath Point, whereas by following some tracks and roads we can take a more direct inland route that will save an hour or so walking.
If we miss the last ferry we will be well and truly stuck, not so much up the creek without a paddle, but on the wrong side of the creek. Driven by the imperative of needing to be in Falmouth today so we can get the train to Truro and all points North tomorrow, we head off along the inland route.
The afternoon's walk is all very pleasant and the weather has finally relented. The clouds begin to lift and with them the temperature. We see nothing of the sea, but we have the roads pretty much to ourselves as we head towards the ferries.
We reach a small landing stage hidden from the sea in a small bay of Percuil River where a small gaggle of people are standing around enjoying the view. There area few small boats tied up just off shore, but no indication of where the ferry will land - or a timetable to tell us when! One of the gaggle informs us that they don't know when the ferry leaves, or where from, and they are not that interested as they are not waiting for it anyway!
Somehow we don't feel as though the ferry leaves from this jetty, and we notice a fairly well trod path disappearing to our right, and a look at the map suggests that the ferry might land in the general direction of the path. A quick exploration is rewarded by the discovery of a small pier jutting out into the water and a sign with a timetable - we will be in time for the last ferry to St Mawes.
A few minutes later we are joined by several people and after about a 15 minute wait a small boat is seen heading in our general direction. The ferry to St Mawes takes 10 minutes or so as it weaves its course through the dozens of small yachts and cruisers moored in this leg of the estuary. When we land it's a brisk stroll along the quayside to the much larger ferry to Falmouth. St Mawes' harbour side is typical of the British day tripper town with lots of souvenir shops, cafes and pubs.
The trip over to Falmouth is very interesting - it is the third largest natural harbour in the world - with a couple of naval ships and freighters in dock. The entrance to the river is protected by Pendennis Castle, which we see on the headland in front of us as we cross the shipping lane. There are yet more small craft moored on the river and the marina.
The first job is to find the tourist information office, digs, the station [a choice of three - Falmouth Town; Falmouth Docks and another whose name I
can't remember]. Our enquiries are successful as we book into an hotel overlooking the waterfront [a room with a view] and situated conveniently for the
station in the morning. After a rest, shower and change we set out into the evening sun to find a place suitable for our last night carouse. After about 45
minutes exploration we pick on an Italian restaurant at the other end of town. We get settled in, but, thankfully the service is slow. There is something
about the place that doesn't fit our mood so we decide to leave. Where we are to go is not too clear as this place seemed the most likely of a poor
bunch. As we walk back towards the centre we glance in at a place we had rather ignored on the way up. We decide to give it a go even though there is
only one table occupied. We have struck gold! The restaurant is recently opened and delivers us good food - including a scrumptious sea weed
concoction as a form of nibbles before the main event. The place rapidly fills after our arrival and a lively atmosphere builds. Although we have to wait
between courses it feels so good - a great evening.