Over the past three or four decades, my wife (aka A) and I have walked about a dozen long-distance trails in England and Wales, one in Scotland (with P and B) and one in Ireland. The question that we are often asked is: “What do you do with your car?”
For this first blog post following the summer hiatus, I thought that some of my readers might find it interesting to learn something about what it is like to undertake a long-distance walk. If you are not interested in walking as a pastime, then please feel free to look away now.
In early June, we covered another section of the South West Coastal Past (SWCP). This very long trail snakes around the coast of the peninsula from Minehead to Poole. The section we did this year was from Falmouth to (almost) Plymouth, which corresponded to the route of one of Sir Tony Robinson’s Walking Through History TV programmes in the reverse direction. We walked from West to East in order to follow the guidebook, rather than try to interpret the guide in reverse if we had followed his route from East to West.
The answer to the question is: “We leave it at home.” A long-distance walk, by definition, starts and ends in places that are some distance from one another so public transport gets us to the start and back from the end. The interesting thing about this year’s walk was that, given the geography of the coast of south Devon and Cornwall, there were several estuaries that were too wide to be crossed by a bridge near the coast: hence, completing the walk included three ferry crossings.
A ferry crossing from Falmouth quay took us across the estuary to St Mawes
and the Rising Sun.
It would have been a struggle man-handing our suitcase on and off the ferry without the help of one of the crew and we forgot to put something in their pasty fund tin!
Ah, the matter of the suitcase: why have we got a suitcase when we are supposed to be doing a long-distance walk you may ask. For all previous long-distance walks, we have carried a large, heavy rucksack with enough clothes and whatnot to last as many days as the walk took. This year is the first time that we have used a bag-carrying company, leaving us with the luxury of only having to carry a light day bag, that is a much smaller rucksack with waterproofs, personal stuff and lunch (if there is no lunch stop on the way). In short, the bag-carrying outfit was brilliant. In effect, our bag was transported daily from room to room.
Here is A wondering how long it will take us to get round this long headland.
At the end the first day we arrived at the wonderful Lugger Hotel in the tiny coastal village of Portloe. The Lugger provided exceptional cuisine, truly exceptional.
Day Two: Portloe to Mevagissey, partly in a light drizzle. That’s another feature of coastal walks: the changeable weather. One minute we were wrapped in Gortex waterproof kit from head to foot, then the layers came off as the sun came out. Much checking of the weather app on our iPhones was in evidence.
The Ship Inn at Mevagissey was rather basic but acceptable; huge portions were served for evening meals in the bar. A ordered fish and chips: she got double fish and chips! A couple chatted to us while were sitting at the bar before we ordered. They had just returned from working abroad for a year. Despite it sounding clichéd, the locals were very friendly.
There were several benches placed along the path today. We looked the age of each person mentioned on them: probably something to do with my age. Several plaques gave the dates of people younger than me who had passed away, which was somewhat sobering.
The seagulls in Mevagissey were under orders to keep tourists and walkers awake: they were certainly up to the task the night were stayed at the Ship Inn.
We passed a Ship Inn in most of the places along the entire walk. A suggested that we ought to have contrived to stay in a Ship Inn each night: what a great idea.
Friends like to receive postcards when we are on a walk, so we posted a few the next morning as well as purchasing pasties for lunch.
Here’s A pointing towards Pentewan, where we planned to stop for a coffee break mid-morning of Day Three (Mevagissey to Par).
Pentewan village is a pretty little place. It was here that A and her mum and dad came on holiday over fifty years ago.
It raining heavily all the way from Pentewan to Charlestown. It was one of those mornings when we asked ourselves silently: ”Why are we doing this?” Despite the wearing of Gortex overtrousers and cagoule, it is not fun walking in a downpour. At least the rain ceased when we reached Charlestown in time for afternoon tea and cake.
Tall ships are refurbished in the harbour at Charlestown and episodes of Poldark are filmed there. No sightings of yer man Aiden Turner the day we passed through Charlestown though.
From Charlestown we had what felt like a long four miles to Par, where we arrived at the Par Inn at 5.10. I mention the time because we have a rule when on a long-distance walk: no walking after five o’clock! A long section of the final stretch to Par followed along the edge of a huge clay works, much of which seemed to be derelict while other parts of it nearer the town were still in use. Par is an example of a working town and is in complete contrast to the pretty harbour villages that are usually associated with Cornwall and Devon.
Our suitcase was in our room when we checked into the Par Inn but everything in our day bags was soaked: the bag covers had not worked. When A checked her email when we had settled into our room, there was a timely message from the suppliers of the covers seeking a review. A had fun giving then as poor a review as she could muster.
The Par Inn didn’t do evening meals but the owner gave us directions to a nearby hotel where we could eat. On the way, a group of teens wished us a nice evening; they were genuine about it too: more friendly people.
The Par Inn was heaving when we returned. England was playing Russia at footy. Fortunately our room was out of earshot of those watching the match on a large screen in the bar and we got a good night’s sleep.
Day Four: Par to Fowey (pronounced “Foy” I believe) was quite a short section that began in drizzle (again), which had stopped by the time we reached Polkerris for mid-morning coffee and cake. You’ll notice that coffee stops mid-morning and, if available, mid-afternoon are an important part of long-distance walking. Breakfast is usually substantial so even if there is no place to stop for lunch, you can carry a pasty in your day bag and take advantage of coffee stops if the day’s route passes through harbour towns or villages. It was in Polkerris where we again bumped into the group of walkers we first met at the Lugger Hotel on Day One.
We passed a dammed inlet on the way to Fowey, which, apparently, was lit at night in the Second World War in order to spoof German bombers away from Fowey itself, which was to the east around the next headland.
Our room in the excellent Old Quay House had an estuary view.
At breakfast the following morning, we fell into conversation with an American man travelling on his own. “When it comes to the election,” he said, “there are two types of Americans: those with a brain and those without. The latter will vote for Trump.” (No comment.)
Another ferry ride took us across the estuary to Polruan for the final stretch to the Talland Bay hotel.
Day Five: Fowey to Talland Bay: after a massive climb to leave Polruan and return to the coastal path, the mist rolled in and we couldn’t see more than about twenty yards in any direction. The path took on a dangerous appearance in the mist so we left it and joined a lane than followed the coast to Polperro for a six-mile slog in pouring rain and heavy mist to the village.
We stepped into the first pub that we came across – the Crumplehorn – and squeezed into a corner where we removed our outer gear and generally dripped rain onto the floor of the bar. Several local drinkers were only too eager to recommend which local bitter I should sample and a lengthy debate ensued about which route we should take from Polperro to Talland Bay. Eventually, an optimum route was agreed upon: yet more friendly people.
The Crumplehorn pub lay inland from the main part of the charming village of Polperro, which we reached in dry weather after leaving the pub. Unfortunately we failed to reach the tiny harbour because a film crew was blocking the only access to it. The person in charge was bossing passers-by about, asking them to get a move on and the like. The guy was completely up himself so we didn’t bother to interrupt proceedings merely for the sake of a quick look at the harbour. I don’t think it was a BBC film crew and there was no sighting of either Aiden Turner or, sadly, Eleanor Tomlinson who I notice from the Radio Times plays Demelza in Poldark.
The final stretch of the walk took us up a very long and steep road out of Polperro, then on to the Talland Bay Hotel. The hotel was splendid and was a great place to stay for two nights after a fairly tough section of the South West Coastal Path. The restaurant staff were from Rumania. The receptionist told us: “The locals won’t do the work.” (I seem to have heard that several times on our travels in the UK this year.) Just before we checked out, I sought out Christian and thanked him and his colleagues for looking after us. “Come back soon; we’ll still be here,” he said. I do hope so but I wonder what their status will be in future. (The referendum took place after we finished the walk.)
Now that I’ve given you some idea what it is like to tackle the twiddly bits on a coastal path, often in pouring rain, you might be wondering what we like about long-distance walks. Perhaps the principal reason we enjoy coast paths in particular is that the sound of the sea is a constant presence. You find yourself slowing down to the pace of the countryside with the crash of waves never far away, even when the shore is out of sight.
For A and me, walking along a coastal path is a simple pleasure. There will be more to come; there is an awful lot of coast yet to explore on foot.
Thanks to P for typing up her Egypt notebook after my previous blog, in which I bemoaned the disappearance of mine.