In which: this year’s journey really begins ● I get battered by gale force rain ● the beauty of the Cornish coast is shown to me ● I reach the end of the day’s walk before one o’clock ● I visit a museum ● a lone walker finds himself with lots of companions in the pub
Date: 21 March 2008
Time of walk: 0905 to 1250
Today’s walking: 14.7 km
Progress along SWCP: 10.7 km
Estimated ascent: 700 metres
I had a good night’s sleep but when I was briefly conscious through the night it was to the sound of rain lashing against windows. When I woke properly at ten to seven it was to sunshine streaming through the windows, but by the time I’d got up and washed, the blue sky had largely gone, though there were still a few small patches of blue as the clouds scudded rapidly across the sky. It seemed likely to be the pattern for the day. I couldn’t see any landscape from my window, only roofs, the rapidly scudding clouds and a few seagulls.
Breakfast at Cornerways Guesthouse was excellent – after the cereal came three rashers of really excellent bacon (locally produced, but equally importantly truly tasting of bacon), sautéd potatoes that tasted of potato, and marinated tomatoes that really tasted of tomato. I’m not normally that much of a fan of cooked tomatoes, but these were really good. The male half of the owning couple looked after me very well, and was very friendly – I was the only person in the breakfast room. He reckoned it would take me about 3.5 hours to get to Zennor.
I left my suitcase behind in my bedroom, which was a weird feeling, and walked a short way in the wrong direction back into St Ives where I picked up a newspaper once the shops opened at nine o’clock. This, the first of my four days of walking, was to be the shortest, but I still was very unclear on how long it would take, and (particularly as there would be few facilities in Zennor) thought it prudent to have a newspaper to while away the time if I got there early.
I then set off in the right direction, first visiting Smeaton’s Pier which shelters St Ives harbour, and then walking around what my Ordnance Survey calls “The Island or St Ives Head”, which is a peninsular which one might describe as being surrounded on three and a half sides by water. The wind was blowing fiercely, and when I reached the Lookout Station and thus reached the sea coast (as opposed to the estuary of the River Hayle) it was a challenge to stand up against it on the edge. I walked across Porthmeor Beach: halfway across, the rain started, and I changed into my waterproofs, which I kept on for the next two or three hours.
The rain was blown very hard into my face – whether there was hail in the mix, or sand being blown, or just rain being blown very hard, I couldn’t tell, but certainly something was hitting my skin which was distinctly uncomfortable, but after the second shower, the skies cleared and the rest of the journey was spent with perhaps 80% blue skies, albeit with fierce winds. The weather forecaster I’d seen on the BBC this morning had predicted that it would be “quite breezy” while behind her there was a 37 mph symbol, and she was right: it certainly was breezy.
The scenery was spectacular, and I had a thoroughly enjoyable morning. At the top of a few of the coves, where the wind was funnelled, it was rather hard going, but otherwise the route that the South West Coast Path Association had described as including sections that were “severe” wasn’t that demanding. It was no worse than many a Lake District path: yes, there was a fair bit of up and down, and yes there were rocks and uneven ground that necessitated watching where you were putting your feet much of the time, but the up and downs were fairly short in duration and the going was nowhere especially taxing.
I was passed by one chap with a bright yellow rucksack rain cover who I was able to watch gradually pulling away from me for quite some time; I passed an artist drawing in chalk the cliffscape with the constantly foaming water; I passed a couple going the other way, who were nearing the end of their walk from Penzance to St Ives; a chap passed me running the other way; and near Zennor I passed two other couples.
I found myself making reasonable time, averaging about two miles an hour, and so decided to press on to Zennor and see if I could have lunch at the Tinners Arms. I had a corned beef roll with me, but that would be useful on Saturday. The pub was busy inside, but I was sufficiently warm, with my skin hot from the windburn, that I decided to sit outside where I had a sausage roll, beans and chips while reading the newspaper I’d brought from St Ives. Afterwards I asked whether my room was free: the information from Contours had said that rooms would be available from 2pm, but it was only 1.35pm. The room was free.
Tonight’s was the only room without en suite facilities, but the barmaid who showed me to my room told me that I was the only visitor in a single room and thus that I had the bathroom to myself.
I rested for an hour or so, then went out. There were three possibilities that suggested themselves to me: a visit to the museum, to Giant’s Rock, and to climb the hill. I managed one and a half of these. The successful visit was to the museum, which was effectively a museum of Cornwall, combining a great mixture of exhibits of local artefacts in describing how life was in the past. I decided against climbing the hill and went to find the Giant’s Rock, but turned back before I got quite to the end due to the amount of mud I was encountering on the farm track.
Back in the annex to the pub that contained the four bedrooms, I found my suitcase. I was glad that it had arrived safely, though slightly dismayed that it had been left in the communal areas without any supervision. I had padlocked it, but it wouldn’t have been difficult to steal.
I rested for an hour or so, then went back to the pub. Friday night was curry night, and there was only a choice between curries. I got myself a drink and read my book for a while – Nicholas Crane’s Great British Journeys. As there was no alternative (except an ignominious retreat to my room for that corned beef roll) I ordered myself a chicken korma. A couple joined me on my table, then quickly moved elsewhere, but soon afterwards I was joined by a local (well, nearly), with whom I chatted for more than an hour during our meals. When he went I was thinking of going to the payphone to call Lucy (there being no mobile phone signal here) when the chap behind me engaged me in conversation, and I chatted with him and his wife for an hour and a half, joined for the last half hour or so by the woman who had earlier sat on my table. The couple had also walked from St Ives today, taking five hours (compared with my three and a half), and we talked about today’s walk and the walk ahead – they were only going to Pendeen tomorrow. We also talked a fair bit about animals and vets, but also other things – they have an aeroplane which they fly in the summer months. They have a dog which they rescued from Italy. We also talked about universities with the woman who’d been at my table. All in all, a surprisingly convivial evening, with me being on my own for only fifteen minutes out of more than three hours in the pub.