«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 ...»
We make it to Truro, Cornwall’s only city, my leg again very sore. On inspection I can see huge deep purple black bruising covering my whole calf and I am quite concerned. I must finish the walk, we are so new and have so far to go. I refuse to give up.
Truro is representative of an English County Town. Locals and those from the surrounding countryside stride along its cobbled streets and tiny alleyways, known as "opes" (one has the name of “Squeezegut Alley”) and there is plenty of scope here in the way of shops for us to stock up our backpacks.
The weather is abysmal, so damp and so cold, therefore no camping but B & B is hard to find. Now, here we are at last in an annexe of a B&B establishment and it is very pleasant. A pink building, very pink, like a lolly house. Our wet washing soon decks every spare hanging place in the room and our bodies sprawl in complete repose on the bed.
In this poor weather we are spoiling ourselves while we can. “It has to get better” Philip says “the weather will get warmer and we will get stronger and then we will fly along”. That’s logical, I think, but then of course it could just keep raining.
Everyone we meet is so interested in what we are doing. Earlier in Truro we were stopped in the street by elderly couple would have chatted all day about our adventure. I suppose we do not fit the stereotype for the archetypal back packer. We are both in our 40’s, and neither of us has a beard! I think we will come up in a few people’s conversations tonight.
Spoken about by strangers, our descriptions and doings are words tossed in the space between them. People we will never see again nor they us but they have recognised us and we them.
7 Day 5 Truro to Boswiddle
The trees are still bare of leaves and the winds are cold and from the north.At this time of year the prevailing winds are supposed to come from the SW but for 5 days now the wind has blown in from the north in icy gusts. This morning we leave our B & B in Truro quite late and walk through the back streets of the town and under the viaduct to Idless and then through Idless Wood. The path is clear and well used although somewhat muddy underfoot. It is a pleasant walk by a chattering, bubbling stream. We take our break early. It is good to be out of the cold wind for a while and eating a warm bowl of soup in a pub at St. Erme. St. Erme has ugly houses but a lovely old church.
I am sitting on the side of a hill in the shelter of a thicket overlooking patchwork rises and dips of the land which spreads its swathe of green to the white clay hills of the St. Austell district. We are waiting for the evening to draw in before we put the tent up. It is a clandestine affair. No farmers appear to be home this Sunday afternoon so we are unable to ask permission to camp in their fields. So we sit in secret and wait for the cover of the gathering dusk, I believe farmers around here are somewhat pernickety and may well say “move on” if their eyes happen to take us into view.
My leg, trouser pushed up, lies across Philip’s lap. “We’ll have to do something about this” he observes as he tries to gently rub away the bruise. My huge bruise covering most of my lower inside leg, is now an even deeper black-grey. Rest helps but it is difficult to understand why it is happening. It was too painful for me to walk any further today and anyway there is nowhere to stay, we are really out in the country miles from a village.
Tonight it is a cold meal and then we will snuggle down together in our sleeping bags and hopefully my leg will be better tomorrow. We will be up to see daybreak peek over the hilltops and on our way before the farmer appears on his big tractor with his big red voice shouting out at we who are strangers.
Day 6 Boswiddle to Ruthenbridge
We lie in our sleeping bags listening to the rain and with a groan begin the unpleasant task of packing up a wet tent. The fields lie wide and quiet and free of farmers. Maybe they are still in their warm kitchens leaning over their steaming porridge as they plan their day. Our stomachs though are empty as we head off 8 along country lanes into the soft light of an early and grey day. This is to be a day of walking, walking, walking.
We are walking 18 miles today. A mile is so long, this I have found out. They seem even longer when you are tramping through farmland and over hills. Public footpath signs become dwindling paths blocked with barbed wire and electric fences. The right of way is on the map and so we go on. We take turns to hold down the electric wire with Philip’s walking stick for the other to climb over. Packs come off and are tossed over barbed wire and then the delicate task of climbing over without catching our clothes. In places we have to push through hedges and we are scratched and disheartened by the sheer effort it takes to walk these miles.
We come to a steep hillock laced with barbed wire. Philip takes the lead but catches his foot and catapults down the embankment into swampy grassland. “********” he swears.
The landing is soft and he is unhurt. The rights of way don’t seem very well observed around here.
My leg is again paining terribly so we need get to a campsite for we care not for another night in a field. Fortunately the day is cool, clear and still and although the walking is far from easy, we are determined to reach our goal. Philip’s neck is very sore, ‘map reader’s neck’ we call it from constantly bending his head forward and we are plastered with mud. 7.00pm and the campsite is in sight, such relief. Now for a hot shower and a cold comfort meal of cracker biscuits and peanut butter. We are too tired to cook. We just need to rest. Then to curl up in our sleeping bags and drift into thankful but fitful slumber of lucid dreams. Interestingly we both experience such dreams these nights in the tent, it seems the way when your head is so close to the earth of a million stories.... “They say that the dead die not but remain near to the rich heirs of their grief and mirth.....”.
Day 7 Ruthenbridge to Dunmere
Today is an easy day. We wash and dry some of our clothes, sort out all our gear and air everything in the cool spring sunshine. We are the only campers on the site, not surprising given the temperature and the weather over the last week. We are already beginning to feel comfortable in our gypsy style life. When I think of our affluent life in Australia I am amazed how quickly we have adjusted. Perhaps we are wanderers at heart.
I wonder whether this freedom will have a price. Maybe we will be unsettled for the rest of our days.
“I’ve been thinking” Philip said “about your leg - let’s chop it off, no really, are you sure you have the weight evenly distributed in your pack?” I think it is but together we repack it. It seems a clear solution as only one leg is sore. Now I will hope, for this pain is a burden to me.
The electricity pylons match the map but where is our path through this dense wood to the river and the trail? At the bottom of the hill Philip decides we need to cross the fields to the river. There is a bridge there for us to cross, he tells me pointing to a tiny line on the map.
Another hillock heavily barbed with wire stands between the field and us. “I’m sorry, but we have to go through there, I don’t want to either, but the compass never lies”, he declares.
“Groan”, I take a deep breath and begin to pick my way. “Surely the Camel Trail would be easier to locate than this, we shouldn’t have crossed the river back there” I say, looking sideways from my eyes. Philip goes first. His head stands proud of his bent shoulders as he strides purposefully up the bramble-covered hillock. A barbed wire fence reaches half way up the other side of the small hill. Philip flexes, then jumps, clearing it easily but momentarily forgetting the pack on his back. I wince. His body skews right as the weight unbalances him. The earth beneath the grassy field is disguised. As Philip lands he discovers it is thickly liquid. ‘Splat’, He sways then tips into a fall. His demeanour darkens and his voice is deep with disgruntlement. More swearing. I maintain a smooth face as he helps me down, but it isn’t easy. I say nothing as I know that now he has had two falls, there will be no more. Philip also says nothing. And so we are quiet.
More barbed wire on the other side of the field. It looks as though there is a picnic site beside the river, small stone table and seats, a few sheep and goats and a tiny wooden bridge. We cross but find ourselves in a maze of islands amid ponds and streams. Out of the house on the hillside blasts a yell of derision. Here is the red-faced farmer I have dreaded meeting. He stands shouting from his verandah. Down he marches, his chest puffed out before him, his face simmering like a saucepan of tomato soup. He strides down to confront us, his expression showing suspicion and hostility and pompously demands to know what we are doing trespassing on his property. We explain, but he doesn’t believe us so I smile a small smile, look him straight in the eye and with friendly calm tell him of our journey and that we are sorry to be lost on his land but we really want to find the Camel Trail. Philip also smiles and apologises. The hard lines ease from his face and he explains his love of otters and other wild creatures. Here in these pools such creatures flourish and his need is to protect them. His home is not a tourist adventure.
We smile, he smiles and a few minutes later we are walking along the even surface of the disused railway line, now a sandy track overshadowed by lovely trees, towards Dunmere.
This is the Camel Trail.
The Camel Trail A few or four miles of easy walking, meeting the Converted from a disused railway The occasional cyclist, is it all takes to reach Dunmere Camel Trail runs for seventeen miles through some of Cornwall's most pleasing on the River Camel. We walk down the hill landscapes. It links the fishing port of looking for the campsite but it is now just an Padstow to the market town of empty field without even the echo of a camper’s Wadebridge, the County town of Bodmin and continues to the outskirts of Bodmin Moor passing through unspoilt countryside.
The area is home to an abundance of wildlife. You will have to tread lightly and 10 look carefully to see the wildlife.
call, so Philip heads into the pub to ask about B & B’s. We are directed up a lane to a cottage by the river and here we met Jill and Roy. Jill is in the garden in her waterproofs and wellies and what a happily organised garden it is, falling in neat flower filled terraces to the dancing, tree lined River Camel. Whilst we are out at the pub for dinner Jill goes into our room and tidies it. She notices we have some dirty washing so she takes it and does it for us. On our return it is dry and neatly folded on our bed.
We join them in their living room and have a glass of red wine with them. Jill says she hopes we don’t mind but she went into our room and took our washing. No we don’t mind
- in fact we think it quite wonderful. All help gratefully accepted. We sit with them and a young man named Robert. Jill has taken Robert under her wing and encouraged him to a job in the quarry and a worthwhile life. Robert has a significant intellectual disability. I like this woman who, from her stories of hardship and loss has borne so much but has so much to give and gives it willingly. Tonight I can sleep in this lovely comfy bed and drift off to the sound of rushing water at the end of the garden. What bliss!!
Day 8 Dunmere to Bodmin Moor
Jill and Roy are the perfect hosts. After breakfast this morning Roy, under firm instruction from Jill, drives Philip to Bodmin town to get some methylated spirits for our stove. What makes people like this? We are strangers and they offer an abundance of friendship and help. Life has sometimes been very unwelcoming to them but they have no sharp edges. They seem innately good.
The Camel Trail, following the River Camel is then our companion for 9 miles of absolutely delightful walking. Sunshine and blue skies, an encounter with a spritely 87 year old woman full of the joy of spring and the company of an old walker for a mile or so, the inspiring scenery of tall trees, multicoloured hedges and crystal water rushing over stones all contribute to a good start to the day. Inevitably though the grey washes in again and the rain becomes persistent and cold.
We leave the Camel Trail at Merry Meeting and climb hill after hill, until finally we arrive at St. Breward, the highest village in Cornwall. This must be its only claim to fame as I find it a dreary village of grey stone cottages that straggle over the cold hill like so many wintry stones. We purchase a few provisions in the village shop and chat with the more than adequately fatted keeper who leads us to a little bubbling spring which bursts from the paved ground beside one of the cottages. Here we fill our bottles with the pure water and we are on our way. Adjacent to the church en route out of the village we come across The Old Inn which dates from the 11th century. “This looks interesting” says Philip “let’s have a pint”.
We walk through the low door into the past. Solid granite walls and slate flagstone floor with two huge granite fire places each leaping with the bright warmth of a real open fire. A grey haired, rosy woman sits with a fat rug of a dog on her wool-skirted lap. She is 11 lunching with two elderly gentlemen wearing country garb, warm tweed jackets and grey trousers tucked into green wellington boots, each absently fingering the pipe smoking at the corner of his mouth. The conversation is a gentle well-educated hum interspersed with deep chuckles. Interesting though how we all wear the uniform of our identity group.
Several other similarly styled people relax on chairs of old dark wood and the well-rounded girl behind the bar serves them as so many have before her. We wonder if outside the hounds are on the moor for we feel in the world of story.