«il to 27th June 1998 88 days i The planning stage of this journey encompassed a period of 12 months. Fitness We set ourselves a fitness program to ...»
1 Cornwall has its own distinctive character. Its landscape encompasses great variety. The coastal lands, often edged by cliffs hiding secret caves and coves, have been shaped by strong winds and a battering sea. History, from prehistoric times through to the romance and villainy of pirates, has been imprinted into the landscape and lives in the ancient standing stones, old pubs and narrow cottages. Cornwall can be bright, blue skied and summer tourist trampled or misty and empty to its horizons with only the crashing of the sea for company. On a cold and misty day it is easy to imagine walking through a portal of time into the past. It is a county of colour and mixed topography with ancient woodlands, golden, green or bare in tune with the season; dark and foreboding, mist swirled heath lands; and streams hidden in wood and wold.
On a rise just above the jagged cliffs a signpost stretches its wooden arms showing direction to many far-flung places of the globe silently stating in black and white the miles you would have to fly in a straight line to reach them. Who flies in straight lines I would like to know? We take turns in posing, rather seriously, beneath the sign. Now we have photographs to record this momentous occasion. We both look so fresh and neat in our new gear and no doubt our inexperience shows.
Next we march down to the cliff tops so our toes can tickle the edge of Britain. Our eyes peer warily at the seething, crashing Atlantic below, its rolling grey waters lash the rocks sending cascades of spray into the wind. Philip stands much closer than I do, for heights give me the heebie geebies. I bend and pick up a small stone and place it carefully in my pocket. Philip smiles and shrugs his shoulders. We both silently wonder if that stone will ever see the harbour at John O’Groats.
The man with the staff turns out to be another prospective ‘end to ender’, a walker named Peter Pope from Skegness and the thin scruffy one is not very communicative but plans to hitch lifts to John o’Groats. Our hopes and aspirations for the journey are shared with Peter. He offers a pen. “Would you both sign my t-shirt?” We do. “Are you walking the Pennine Way” he asks “good, then If I get to Greg’s Hut first, I’ll write a message for you in the book. If you beat me there then you do likewise” he says. We have never heard of Greg’s Hut but sense the mythology in his words and agree, not wishing to appear without the correct knowledge for what lies ahead.
Peter’s route will not initially mirror ours and so he turns his rather ample form towards Penzance and with a smile and a wave he is gone. Each of our journeys will be a time of reflection but he will be alone. I wonder at the variety of souls this challenge draws and think it would be interesting to wait and watch over a year as each begins his or her journey.
So, formalities over we turn our backs to Peter’s disappearing form and face the sea wind, striding confidently out along the coastal path to Sennen Cove. We have begun. Ahead Whitesand Bay leads into the distance to meet Cape Cornwall and casting aside the doubts and mixed emotions we had felt this morning our minds give sway to exhilaration and a great need and wish to do this “thing” and do it “all”. The path follows the cliff edge 2 and soon Sennen Cove comes into view, its sandy shore sweeping away in a great curve, cottages gleaming as bright squares on its eastern hill and meeting untidy cliffs to the west. Well now.....the best laid plans......Sennen Cove we find, no problem - it is after all part of the coast. But then we have to turn NE and are very quickly lost. Philip, perplexed, studies the crisp new map and moves his compass around knowledgeably.
Hmmm. Confusion!! A farmer strides towards us. Will he be friendly? We have heard that walkers are unpopular with farmers. “Excuse me mate”, calls Philip is Sancreed this direction?” “Aye” is his curt reply, but it is all we need. En route, southwest of Madron we pass an ancient wishing well, Sancreed Holy Well, and the remains of its baptistery, its deep pool clear and full of mystery. Remnants of weather washed rag offerings hang limply in hope from the surrounding trees and bushes.
In 1879 Sancreed Holy well was uncovered by the then Church vicar. He discovered it beneath a covering of brambles. The well has 7 stone steps leading down to it and the overhanging tree wears garlands of rag offerings or "cloutie", an assortment of rags, items of clothing and other oddments, once intended to assist healing, though now probably hung there for the preserving of an a old-world tradition or perhaps a token to the spirit of the well. As part of the healing ritual, pilgrims leave a strip of cloth or ribbon on a nearby tree or bush so that the spirit of the well will perform a healing act upon it. Both the church at Sancreed and the well itself are said to be dedicated to St. Credan, a 7th Century bishop from Evesham. People have puzzled as to why a Cornish well should be dedicated to a 7th Century bishop from Evesham, but this remains a mystery. The earth mysteries investigator, Paul Deveraux, has stated that radiation levels found at Sancreed Holy Well are the highest found in Cornwall. They have been measured at 200% higher than background levels.
Philip smiles widely. 25 years I have known this man and his smile still makes my heart sing. He will be in charge of map and compass and direction and me, well, I am responsible for the journey plan, oh, and the food, of course the food. And so we share, it has always been thus.
On we go one foot after the other and it is amazing how much distance you can cover in a very short time. As we walk we talk and constantly look around absorbing as much as our senses will allow....this land that is Cornwall is old, older than the many ages of man and is riddled with Bronze Age stone circles and other prehistoric relics.
Life is a brief affair.
We stop at the Iron Age settlement of Carn Euny and light our Trianga stove for our first break and It all works well. As we sit on ancient stones in the misty morning sipping coffee, we feel rather pleased with ourselves. There is no one about but through the mist comes the muffled hum and hump of a tractor ploughing the earth. Sigh! Wild, rustic Cornwall, lacking in trees but the mottled colour, somewhat scratchy texture and distinctive character of the land bring expectation of the many secret corners we may stumble upon. Already I am in raptures, but I mustn’t be too hasty, there is a long long way to go.
Carn Euny was a small farming hamlet established around 500BC. The site was discovered by miners looking for tin in the 1860’s. The outlines of the huts that formed
The weather holds all day but we are absolutely worn out when we find our B & B for the night in one of Madron’s granite cottages. I wait by the gate and Philip goes to inquire about a room. My pack and walking stick lean against the gate and my legs throb with a deep ache. I feel a wave of relief as the stocky, dark haired Cornish woman shows us to an attic room decorated with floral prints and soft frills. I am beginning to doubt our sanity and this is only our first day. After settling in we walk across the road to a delightful little pub, the King William IV Inn and thoroughly relish a hot, English roast dinner by the fire. This is more like it!! Then it is back to the B & B and to bed.
Weary feet,weary legs,weary bones.
I wake in a cold sweat at 3am and my mind flashes with the thought of my expensive walking stick leaning against the stone wall. Bare feet feel the floor and softly step towards the door. All is hushed. The house creaks and groans beneath my weight and the Cornish woman meets me with suspicion on the stairs. Does she sleep with one eye open I wonder? It had not occurred to me that there could be mistrust about my actions and I don’t think I look like a thief, but of course, what do they look like? She escorts me outside looking with disapproval at my bare feet, but my walking stick is gone. Back in bed my disappointment and weariness bring the wetness of tears but Philip’s gentle voice in the night and his warm shoulder soon settle me to slumber.
Day 2 Madron to St. Erth
Bacon and eggs, lovely hot tea from a big brown pot and then out into the sunny day.
An English ‘Famous Five’ start. Things are looking good, yesterday’s aches and pains have vanished and the day is ahead. We follow a metal lane out of Madron and clamber over green hills, through farms and across desolate gorse-covered moorland. Morning tea is on top of a gorse-covered hill by a stile with wide views over Cornwall to Mounts Bay and the sea. As we are following the central route through England, this is the last time we will see the sea for over 1,000 miles. It is a day of daffodils, hedgerows crammed with them and fields of them everywhere. We walk through a flower farm and are intoxicated by the acres of nodding golden daffodil heads that shift above the soft dark earth in a torrent of yellow. Further on up the hill we pass rows of glasshouses full of the promise a zillion carnations. What a lovely life, living with flowers.
Lunch we have in a small wood behind a stone wall and then on we trudge to St Erth, a straggling village with a few shops for buying supplies. Our first real taste of mud
We enter the campsite through a gate by the river and proceed to put our tent up. Whoops, we are not yet familiar with English tent protocol. A very officious man with a face you could strike a match on barks at us that we are in the wrong place, we have done the wrong thing, we are wrong wrong wrong. As if in answer to his mood large grey clouds come rolling across the sky threatening rain. I go to pay, Philip takes the tent down. The angry clouds loom lower and a wild wind sweeps in. By the time the tent is erected in its proper location the rain is lashing the countryside with a crazy vengeance.
So now we sit in the small unheated laundry room of the campsite amid washing machines and tumble driers, feeling grey and trapped as we look out at the wet bleak world. Cold food tonight and then, sigh, a race against the raindrops to get to the tent without getting too wet.
Pleasure is walking.
We hardly see a soul as we criss cross the countryside using a network of public footpaths and tiny lanes.
We are using Landranger Ordnance Survey maps with a scale of 1:50000. These maps are very detailed and are a delight to study. Every feature of the countryside, even rocky outcrops, trees, farmhouses, etc. is shown on the map. The map is intricately webbed with the tiny dotted lines that represent the public footpaths we follow, many of which date back centuries to Roman times and the Stone Age. The right of way remains regardless of what the land is used for. What a fortunate country.
We have had advice that when walking through this area of Cornwall we should keep to paths and not wander randomly. There are many old tin mines. Tin was being worked in the gravels of the Wendron and Porkellis Valleys before recorded history and these valleys are the most important source of alluvial tin in West Cornwall.
Due to the weather, camping is out of the question. Porkellis, a very wee village winds up and over the green hillside ahead and the white Star Inn is prominent on the hilltop. A few stone cottages with smoking chimneys and windows leaking the golden light of homeliness line the lane. Involuntarily our pace quickens in anticipation of the hope of shelter from the wind. The angry rain beats at us as we walk the perimeter of the Star Inn’s white washed walls. All closed up, not a sign of life. But we do not give up, we are too cold and too wet. Warm visions of food and comfort float in my head and my leg pains. Philip knocks loudly on the window and a little girl smiles brightly through an opening door.
“B & B, mum they want B & B”. Mum appears looking worried. Well, yes they plan to do it in the summer but they aren’t ready yet. Too early in the season it seems. We must look so wet and worn that she suddenly beams and bustles us in whilst apologising for the state of the room she plans to put us in. No, we don’t mind sharing with stuffed animals and stored toys, we just want shelter. So within ten minutes we are before a roaring fire fire, drinking tea while the room is being ‘made up’. Such relief. A most delightfully cosy Cornish pub and the prospect of good company and a night indoors.
Lane walking all day today. Still very windy but there are patches of blue playing hide and seek amid the scudding clouds. My leg feels much better after a rest and our spirits are refreshed.
6 Not a car as we trudge along the up and down of the hedged lanes over green hills with the countryside laid out before us. Nature has painted it just for us today and the colours are bright and fresh with rain and spring. We find a sheltered place by the hedge to boil up our water for coffee. Yes, I know it is only day 4, but I really look forward to our morning break. It’s an ordinary ritual, a fingertip touch with the familiar. Coffee and shortbread.
Yum. Such relief to shed the weight of my pack and put bottom to earth, sit back, stretch out and let the caffeine course my blood and pep me up.
I’m enormously preoccupied with food and am always hungry since starting this walk.
An outdoor one pot meal can taste so good. At lunchtime we climb over the railing of a bridge and slither down to the stream where we sit by the racing, bubbling waters and cook noodles with a spicy sauce of mushrooms, tomato, onion, herbs and garlic. We top it with mounds of melting cheese. This is all washed down with milky coffee. Sounds delicious, doesn’t it?
The hill is high. The hill is steep. We finally reach the top. “Do you ever wonder why when we go the wrong bloody way the path is really steep?” asks Philip with challenge and mirth in his eyes. “Oh no!!”, I say “and I bet the way we should have gone is just as jolly steep!” And so it is. For the rest of the day he checks and rechecks his map. He doesn’t like to make mistakes.