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Archive for the ‘Cornwall’ Category

What makes for travel adventure in this day and age? I reflect upon this over my holiday reading: “The Sudden View” – a literary classic written by Sybille Bedford in 1953. This account of an extended visit to Mexico relates the tale of 2 women travelling by steam train through the southern US states, across the border to a land they know only through reputation and tenuous recommendation. It’s a journey not just into the unknown but into a bygone age of travel.

The Sudden View

The Sudden View

Today’s world feels distinctly smaller. Travel has become more of a commodity and destinations a marketed product. At least that’s how it feels sometimes, but the truth is that a sense of adventure always comes down to personal experience. There may be few untrod paths these days but there are many untrod by us individually.

Imbued by the spirit of discovery I set out on a circular coastal walk from my quaint holiday cottage in Fowey. The sun is out and my weary knees are not complaining for a change, or maybe I’m just not listening as I head out through the fields of corn.

Correctly spaced

Correctly spaced

Having recently planted sweetcorn in our allotment I’m very pleased to observe a 40cm gap between rows as this is pretty much how I set out my own planting, albeit on a rather more modest scale

There’s a very rural feel to this walk so far. With no sea view yet I could be in Shropshire but for the faintest taste of salt in the air. Gradually there are more clues. The path gradually descends and a lone seagull hovers briefly before gliding back over the tall hedgerow. Am I imaging it or are herring bone walls a coastal thing?

Herring bone wall

Herring bone wall

It occurs to me how relaxed I have become. Walking is brilliant for emptying your head of all that everyday nonsense you carry around unwittingly. I’m in the moment and ever so slightly blissful.

In the moment

In the moment

My first human encounter givs cause for concern. A jogger running toward me stops to ask me which direction the sea is in. I had rather hoped it was in the direction she had come from…

Fifteen minutes later the verdant passage takes a sharp left and drops reassuringly towards an imagined coast. And there – out of nowhere – is a sudden view.

My sudden view

My sudden view

I can see a grand country cottage set in immaculate grounds across a placid lake. A duck paddles into view. I hadn’t expected this. When the path reaches the shoreline things begin to make more sense. The small lake sits behind the arc of Polridmouth Cove.

There are two sides to Polridmouth Cove

There are two sides to Polridmouth Cove

This scene is enchanting. The southwest coast path intersects a manicured postcard cottage view to the right and the rugged Cornish bay to the left. The effect is quite intruiging. There’s not another soul to be seen and I spend a couple of minutes absorbing the view in a world of my own.

Tranquility

Tranquility

Unlike the relentless crashing waves of the north Cornish coastline this southern sea is flat and inviting. There are countless flat stones and I feel compelled to skim some. I skim some. The beach is mine alone. I long to be a resident of the adjacent cottage, just a stone skim behind me. This is a bubble I wish to remain in.

Nothing says Joy like dogs on a beach

Nothing says Joy like dogs on a beach

The bubble bursts. Three scallywag friends race across the sands, their excitement palpable! A lady, their owner, hoves into view with a look of mild exasperation. One of her hounds is joyfully playing with a ball that belongs to a dog in the adjoining cove and now she will have to take it all the way back and apologise to the owner. Such a British scene.

Onward and upward

Onward and upward

It’s time for me to move on. Gribben Head beckons. The path heads up onto the cliff over a lush carpet of grass that appears to have been meticulously mowed. I’m reminded of a similarly idyllic climb some 15 years ago upon suspiciously perfect spongy lush grass atop the commanding chalk cliffs on the Isle Of Wight towards The Needles. That was a hot summer dream of a walk, capped off by the king of cream teas at a remote farm cottage. That cream tea…

Do look back

Do look back

Over my shoulder the coastline unfolds past Polridmouth Cove to the Fowey Estuary and the hilltop extent of Polruan, then beyond. The land of smugglers. The land of Poldark, if you are a BBC marketing executive or an employee of the Cornish tourist board.

Not a lighthouse

Not a lighthouse

The monolithic Gribben Tower has been on my radar since the descent into the cove, but only now do I realise it isn’t a lighthouse. In fact it’s an 84ft tall “daymark” intended to help sailors pinpoint Fowey harbour. An information board tells me I have visited at the wrong time of month to go up the tower. It also claims that regional author Daphne du Maurier framed many of her novels around this headland, with Rebecca specifically set at Polridmouth – a mere stroll from her latter years dwelling in Menabilly.

No seals today

No seals today

As the path continues due north it flattens up and offers clear vision over the wide bay to Charlestown – if only I could recognise it. I hope to spot a seal basking on the rocks below but today they must be out fishing. The walking is easy and broken only by the passing of a comically endless train of ramblers. I start of with Hello, and transition through Guten Tag to Grüß Gott as I realise this is a German, no – Bavarian walking party. I have encountered a lot of Germans enjoying this part of Cornwall. They get it.

Polkerris Bay

Polkerris Bay

The miniscule harbour at Polkerris Bay provides a peaceful sanctuary for the few who are visiting today. Limited access and parking mean that the beach can never become too crowded, while a pub and hip beach café mean visitors are well catered for. There’s time to pause for a coffee whose mediocrity is forgiven by the friendliness of its serving.

My route breaks from the coast at this point to return inland across farming country. A mercifully brief steep climb leads to a farmyard with outbuildings that I want to nose into but there are workers about so I pause only to admire the tractor.

The mighty Ford 3000

The mighty Ford 3000

Tractor enthusiasts (they do exist) would share my appreciation for the beauty of this beast. As a child I had a die-cast model just like this. This is either a modern clone or really just that old, though it looks in good nick. The surrounding fields hum with activity as machinery works the land. My path is cordoned off for a detour around a field of crops being harvested today, before crossing the Saints Way – a 27 mile walking route from Fowey on the south coast to Padstow on the North.

The divine path

The divine path

This strikes me as a fun 2 day trek for some future visit, to be topped off with fish and chips plus a pint of Doom Bar overlooking Padstow harbour.

Every inch of land on the path back to Fowey appears to be cultivated. Where is the fallow field? After half a mile two cottages flank my way and outside one stands a trestle table bearing surplus produce beneath a hand written sign that says Help Yourself. I liberate an oversized cucumber with lunch in mind. But the walk isn’t quite over yet and there’s time for one final sudden view.

Happy as pigs in mud

Happy as pigs in mud

I love pigs. Any creature that is happy dozing in a puddle of mud has my admiration. This small holding is home to a couple of sows and a litter of not-so-thin piglets. One of the mums sniffs her way over to see me. What can I give her? I have nothing … oh, the cucumber.

Feeding time

Feeding time

Poor mum. One of the piglets is pestering her for milk and she doesn’t seem in the mood. Eventually she gives in and is besieged by little snouts all wanting a feed. So much for the easy life.

Ten minutes later I’m sitting in my cottage garden with a cool drink. The GPS tracker records the route at around 6 miles over a leisurely 3 hour period. I pick up my book to find Sybille is getting to grips with Mexico City but all I can think about are the images and sensations of this morning’s mini-adventure. Reading can wait for a dull day at home. There are more untrod paths to discover here – starting with one that leads to lunch…

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Cornwall and Surfing. I’ve never thought of one without the other.

My earliest associations go back to family holiday visits to the rocky inlet at Trebarwith Strand where each year I would look on as wetsuit clad figures would crash into the water for better or worse.

Nothing epitomises this life aquatic more than the three young Trebarwithian brothers, bronze skinned and blond curly haired, who would play out each carefree summer in red neoprene between rock and sea. I wonder where they are now.

Trebarwith spectacle

Spectacular Trebarwith

It remains a mystery as to why I never made it onto a surf board myself. Frisbee and frenetic games of badminton on the golden sands were my distraction at low tide and once the beach was reclaimed by the sea we would scramble high up onto the rocks to watch the waves smash in below in the hope that some thrill seeker would get a soaking on the edges. And then to the long departed and sorely missed House On The Strand for cake and familial ribbing. At least we still have that.

Roll on innumerable years. St Ives lies south of my teenage memories. This picture postcard harbour town is best known for its artisan credentials as underpinned by the prestigious Tate Gallery. The westerly beach at Porthmeor may only provide a subplot to the town’s story but it attracts a small but dedicated chapter of surfers who plough the waves from dawn to dusk.

Early sun over Porthmeor

Early sun over Porthmeor

A daily vigil from the expansive ocean facing window of my hilltop holiday loft apartment is educational. With binoculars on full magnification I am able to sit in on a beginners surf school at the sheltered far end of the beach. An instructor demonstrates the transition from prone through to standing in a single fluid movement, now a well rehearsed reflex. He is almost encircled by a crab-shell arrangement of students who lay restlessly on their land-stricken boards with half an impatient eye on the rolling froth that begs their entry.

First surfers of the day

First surfers of the day

This afternoon I don sandals and make a steep descent to the beach with some camera gear. There are perhaps 20 independent thrill seekers in the water at the closest extent of the cove. To my untrained eye the conditions look a little hairy.

Hanging on

Hanging on

More experienced surfers bide their time. If a wave is too premature they ride over it. Too fully formed and they dive under it. There seems to be a lot of discussion between groups friends. Some barely attempt to ride any waves – their immersion in the rolling brine of Porthmeor purely social.

Doing it right

Doing it right

On this October weekday I have to wonder how surfing fits into people’s personal schedules – work, study or family. I guess if you really want to do something you find a way.

Making it look easy

Making it look easy

For every sculpted ride there are several wipe-outs, some spectacular! I’m traversing the beach with a temperamental zoom lens and the closer I get to the action the more I can smell the adrenaline. There’s a palpable sense of energy in the waves and I completely identify with the urge to connect with it.

It’s not easy!

It’s not easy!

Drawn further towards the breaking surf on a rising tide it’s not long before my sandals become soaked. At least now I can stop trying to dodge the water, but it is colder than I realised. The autumnal sun is frizzling away and my body temperature has plummeted but I still can’t drag myself from this scene. I’m forever holding out for one last action shot.

How can you turn away from this?

How can you turn away from this?

The waters are almost empty now and I catch a few words with one of the departees as he drags his board up the beach. Despite suffering with a cold has he been unable to resist the lure of the surf. With a broad smile he tells me that conditions today are brutal. Those entering the water have done so in spite and not because of conditions. “It’s all good!”.

Until tomorrow...

Until tomorrow…

I’m told to keep an eye on one young guy who is “the one to watch”. He’s confident for sure – out some distance beyond the rest. I reposition myself behind a rock out of a gusty wind that is throwing up white caps of foam in the bay, and zoom in on the maestro at work. Twenty minutes later it is becoming decidedly dark and I am chilled to the bone yet star child has done nothing but tread water.

Lassie go home

Lassie go home

The final stragglers are packing it in for the day and I follow suit, retreating through the gloom towards the faint warming glow of the Porthmeor beach café lights. A waft of stale frying oil floats my way and I’m not holding out much hope for a high quality cappuccino. Warm and wind-free will suffice.

Inside my lack of expectation is met. It’s quiet here now, just a lonesome well-wrapped holiday-maker sipping a hot chocolate and a couple of sandy surfers, their mandatory long hair wet and tangled from the day’s encounters.

Just one more wave...

Just one more wave…

From my window I watch the hillside lights of Porthmeor dot on one by one. The seaward view has assumed a bluish hue of monochrome, broken by the distant lamps of small fishing vessels and crabbers.

One human spec bobs on the surface 40 yards from shore. He’s still out there! Waiting for that perfect wave. The dream that won’t die.

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Ideally a holiday should end before or when you want it to but I’ve another day booked and wake up stiff and tired due to yesterdays exertions plus the poor quality of sleep you get when your air matress goes flat in the night. Combine this with the ongoing drizzle and the 10 mile circular walk to St Agnes is not selling itself to me today. I need a Plan B. I need a challenge!

Plan B goes like this… Find a cliff top viewpoint where I can sit in the car, listen to the cricket, read a paper and stuff my face with a home assembled cream tea. Now we’re talking! Yesterday I noticed a take-out cream tea shop in Perranport (what a great idea for a franchise) and they should sell all the gubbins I need. It’s disappointing therefore to discover that today they are out of scones, jam and clotted cream. I didn’t think to ask about tea. Next I visit the Co-op where I get a paper and the clotted cream. The scones have raisins in them (wrong for a CT) and the jam shelf sits behind a large stationary roll cage that I can’t budge. With no scones and the preserve harshly imprisoned a solution comes to mind. When I was walking through Crantock yesterday I popped into a farm shop that sold everything I need. The 5 mile drive yields results and the final piece of the jigsaw fits into place as a pub carpark at Pentire point allows me some fantastic, albeit soggy, cliff top views. Cricket, paper, cream tea. Perfect!

The beauty of a good quality cream tea is the sheer calorific value you get from it. Yes – the chlorestoral probably takes a day off your life but what a way to lose it. Much better and more memorable than a limp and tasteless burger in some squalid fast food place, regretted and then forgotten in an instant. Last year I gorged myself on a truly epic cream tea on the Isle Of Wight and the memory of it still bring me pleasure now. Hmmm…

That’s that then. What now?

Newquay is around the corner so lets find a Wetherspoons (not so much “a” as “the” since there is only one in the town and only one further south of here and that’s in Penzance) where I can upload a blog or two and grab a drink. Note: My campsite has Wi-Fi but at an eye watering £3 per hour it would make more sense to buy a dongle. I find the pub surprisingly easily. It’s rammed due to the rain but I buy a coffee and manage to cadge a table. I love what Wetherspoons do. It is what it is with quality cheap beer, coffee, edible food and where conversation rules. They tend to come in two formats – tasteful conversions of interesting old buildings (eg: old cinemas, banks, etc) that draw in a varied but inevitably vibrant crowd, or formulaic refurbishments of dark featureless boxes that act as a magnet to pallow faced all day drinkers who say little and only move to slope outside for a fag. This branch errs towards the former but the building has no great architectural merit so perhaps my theory is looking a bit tatty.

I spend three hours arsing around with blogs, photos and email – not because I have that much to do but the network speed is so slow it feels like somebody is rattling out the ones and zeros with a morse tapper. Sundays and Mondays blogs go live but the rest will have to wait until I have more stamina. Anyway, it’s brightened up a bit now so I’ll take in the sea air and find out if Newquay has any hidden charms beneath its predominantly low rent surface.

It hasn’t.

I will take away two distinct memories though. Firstly the measures some people will take to avoid their neighbours…

Most famous house in Newquay

Most famous house in Newquay


…and also that of a busy high street like one you might find anywhere with a car packed tarmac road lined with the normal high street stores, but crawling with bare footed dudes in sand encrusted wet suits heading down to Fistral beach with their surf boards. You don’t see that in Derby.

On my return to the campsite I can’t help noticing a very large dead badger at the side of the road. I know that if I stopped to take a closer look I would find the clear indentation of a size 10 walking boot.

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Last night was windy and I emerge from my tent to find sodden guy ropes dangling from the sides free from their anchors. Moorings restored it’s my first chance to take in my surroundings clearly. There are some ugly clouds but a strong wind should blow it over and past in due course. I’m becoming something of a weather forecasting expert this week. My neighbours pitch is like the Marie Celeste. Their car has been absent since I arrived yesteday and their camping chairs sit outside laden with soggy beach towels suggesting that they popped out yesterday for a brief errand only to succumb to some dark tragedy that saw them never to return. More likely they got sick of the rain and booked into a B&B.

I’m going to walk today whatever the elements throw at me and with head to toe waterproofing I set off across the sand dunes looking like some cross between Scott of the Antarctic and Lawrence of Arabia. The footpath leads through a deserted caravan sales park (no salesman is good enough to shift anything on a day like today) and a squall hits me face on with horizontal rain stinging my eyes. I’m Scott of Arabia and hence undeterred. Onto Perranporth beach which is devoid of people aside from a man walking two decidedly reluctant collies. It’s high tide and the beach must be vast at low tide. The rugged conditions only serve to bring to life the views and by the time I reach the end of Penhale Sands the rain has departed and I can peel some layers off.

I have been following the dog walker under the principle of Zen navigation, whereby I just assume he knows where he is going and follow blindly. When he climbs into his Range Rover where the beach meets a looming cliff and drives the 2 miles back to Perranporth the way he came this is looking like a flawed strategy. After a little exploration it turns out there is a coastal path after all which climbs steeply before hugging the cliff edges around Ligger Point and then Penhale Point, which both offer yet more sublime views. Here the wind threatens to lift me off my feet, which doesn’t happen or there would be no blog today, but it’s good news for me and bad news for the blogging community.

Perrenporth Clifftop

Perrenporth Clifftop


Ligger Point

Ligger Point


This stretch of coastal path skirts a military base that looks as if it has been slowly deteriorating since the end of the cold war. Some rusty razor wire looks a little menacing but this comes to an abrupt halt and an eminently scalable wooden fence takes its place. A series of foreboding no-entry signs are then somewhat undermined by the massive wire mesh gate which has been left open so that anybody can enter the compound. The winds of change have left this place behind. Meanwhile a flock of birds are propelled inland by the easterly gale, probably involuntarily.

It’s 11am by the time the path descends into Holywell Bay and time for a pot of tea at St Pirans Inn. I’m their first customer of the day and by way of welcome Phil Collins retches out of the speakers. It is beyond me how after all these years neither he or anybody from his record label have had the decency to come out and publicly apologise for his solo career. Even a written statement read out on his behalf by a solicitor would be a start.

A visitation to the local store for a postcard yields another interesting chat with a local, who seems quite impressed that I have walked “all the way” from Perranporth. He has lived here 8 years and done it once but he doesn’t go there because it’s not as nice as Holywell. There’s probably a little truth here in the sense that Holywell is prettier and less commercial but tonight it will be sonambulent while I will be Disco Stu at Perranporths finest night venues.

Disco Stu

Disco Stu


A deviation inland sees the dunes make way for fields and it’s onto Crantock for lunch. The Old Albion is a sturdy stone Inn with a smuggling past that promises fine food and ale. It is therefore depressing to enter and find that not only do they have no food on but the beer is Carling and they have Sky Sports in the main bar.
Old Albion

Old Albion


A few steps opposite sits the Cornishman and this has an extensive menu including daily specials as well as some interesting tipples. Here though the chef has popped out (for lunch?!) and any food order will be at least half an hour. Fortunately a nearby tea room comes to the rescue and the ploughmans I order materialises suspiciously within 90 seconds of my order. There be odd things afoot in Crantock.

The worst part of a day walk comes after a pub lunch when cooled limbs and preoccupied digestive systems are rudely stirred into life to lug ones body up a steep hill. I am incentivised however because I want to see the brilliantly named village of Cubert at the top of the hill (see google is this makes no sense)…

Church at Qbert

Church at Qbert


Cubert yesterday

Cubert yesterday


…and also there is a wonderful looking pub called the Smugglers Den Inn that lies in an innocuous hollow (I know about because I drove passed it yesterday in the rain). It is an oasis of character and real ale.
Smugglers Den Inn

Smugglers Den Inn


My choice of Skinners “Smugglers Ale” is an obvious one and it goes down all the better because of the miles of walking through the wind and rain it took to get there. To cap it all off the sun is out and I take the opportunity for a photo. Self portraits have become trickier due to the transformation of my camera tripod into a bipod after a screw came out. I myself am almost a monopod having jarred my knee earlier scrambling down a dune. I’m hoping that the beer will help the healing process.
Tim at Smuggers

Tim at Smuggers


One of the major natural assets I have yet to mention is the extensive network of mature hedgerows bounding the fields and narrow lanes. This ecosystem supports a wide range of wildlife and today in particular I have seen countless birds winging from one hedgerow to another as well as butterflies, bees, colossal dragonflies and a few shy & nervous hairy things. I say “natural” asset but there is a certain amount of landowner custodianship involved in the protection and extension of this network. I know that in the Peak District there is a formal management program to cultivate and renew hedgerows and I wonder whether a similar scheme exists locally.

In stark contract to todays meteorological pot-porri the evening has put its neck on the line and opted for blazing sunshine above cloudless skies (doubly gratifying as the test match at Lords is now off for bad light). After a much needed shower it’s time to seek out and indulge in the finest Friday night entertainment that Perranporth can offer. This is not quite the lottery it might seem as I know there is a band on at the “Watering Hole” bar which is situated directly on the beach. Getting there is the first obstacle as the footpath signposted from the clifftop dumps me in the golf course and then I’m on my own. Not a major dilemma on the way down as it’s light & I can see the bay but I shan’t be coming this way back up in the dark. The next obstacle is the beach itself due to the full blown sand storm that forces me to navigate with my eyes almost closed. Once inside the real ale is superb and I settle down at the only free table only to be chucked off 10 minutes later because I’m sitting where the band are going to play. So that’s why the table was free.

The venue is soon packed to the gills with mostly locals winding down for the weekend and the covers band soon has the dance floor packed, save for the occassional break to restock with beer or to re-attach the bands’ promotional banner that habitually drops off the wall onto the drummer. Several beers later I trudge over the flat sands and up the mile long hillside road in the pitch black. This route prevents me from the possibility of falling into a bunker but unfortunately does result in me stepping “in” the large roadside carcass of a recently deceased furry thing.

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I’m woken by a cargo plane buzzing over the campsite as it prepares to land at the adjoining airstrip. It’s mercifully dry and I prepare to undertake the activity I have dreaded most, before the other campers wake and are able to watch. Yes, it’s time to put away the “2 second” tent that I pitched yesterday in 2 minutes (I opted to attach the optional guy ropes). It was perfect for one night but far too pokey for anything longer, and not for claustophobes or (laughably) the second occupant they suggest it would additionally accommodate. My only previous attempt to wrestle the tent back into its bag was in my back garden. It took 15 minutes and lots of industrial strength swearing. Progress – today its back in the bag within 5 minutes with only moderate foul mouthed mutterings. Next time I will challenge myself to 2 minutes and light cussing.

Next on todays agenda, in as far as there is one, is breakfast at Jamie’s “Fifteen” restaurant at the beach. It’s first come first served from 8:30am whereas lunch and dinner require booking months in advance. Out of sheer optimism (in retrospect that’s all I can put it down to) I decide to trot down hill without any waterproofing or umbrella. It will stay dry by the power of positive thought. For such a high profile restaurant (google it if you don’t know about it) it’s very hard to find the way in! There’s a sign in the general beach car park pointing in the wrong direction and that’s it. Turns out you have to walk to the dingy far corner of the car park and descend some unheralded staircase which I only found after 5 minutes. Perhaps this is some deliberate ploy to deal with the over-demand, by ensuring 50% of their potential customers just give up trying to find it in the end. There is still plenty of space when I arrive and I am ushered to a window seat though most of the tables are window facing due to the open plan design. Full English doesn’t appeal today – though it looks “pucka” – so I go for a cereal / yoghurt / fruit compote thing which is very nice, although the Beach Hut Café downstairs does something similar for half the price with views almost as good. In fairness it’s a pleasant environment and the staff are great. It would undoubtedly be a special place for an evening meal as the sun sets. Instead I’m about to leave and it’s cats and dogs outside.

A 20 minute walk up a steep hill in the rain doesn’t appeal so I wait for a bus under the canopy of a surf school. A couple of young families are getting suited up for a lesson and today is probably a good day to jump in the sea. When the Newquay to Padstow bus finally arrives I’m almost too embarrassed to ask to travel one stop up the hill. Fortunately the driver is too embarrassed to ask me for a fare so he lets me travel for free in return for me clearing the mist from his window that is obscuring his wing mirror.

What do you do on an unremittingly wet day in Cornwall? Well here’s what I did – drove to some pretty coastal villages, saw some great looking gnarled old pubs (from the outside only) and parked up in Newquay in an effort to find shops that didn’t sell surf gear. Fat Face and Animal would go bust if Newquay iced over. Eventually I found a gentlemens outfitter stuck in a wonderful Grace Brothers style musty time warp where I purchased some ludicrously cheap waterproof overtrousers. Suits you sir! The weather forecast is for rain forever so at least with the final element of body waterproofing in my armoury I can go walking in the face of whatever is thrown at me.

Onto Tollgate Farm campsite at Perranporth where I pitched my large tent for the final time this week, and then sat down to incongruously listen to the first day of the second ashes test match at sunny Lords. The farm sits on a hill and apparently has a range of animals for visitors to visit & feed, though my only sight was of a soggy llama with a look of bemusement if such a thing is possible. I wonder whether this is a sign and I should start building an ark.

Tollgate Farm - today

Tollgate Farm - today


Quick camp stove food does the job but only just. It’s mid evening and further canvas internment will only lead to death by dampness so I conjure up the image of a cosy country pub with an open fire and see what my OS map has to say on the subject. Many of the pubs in Cornwall are hundreds of years old and full of character – the sort of places you could happily spent an evening. The first two I find however have full car parks and the notion of a 50m dash from some space further afield is not tempting. I’m pulled over to check the map again for barely 15 seconds and the passenger door is opened by a single toothed man materialises from nowhere to ask if I am lost. In Nottingham this sequence of events is a prelude to car jacking, soliciting or a drugs score but I think this is a selfless act of kindness to a stranger from a local – something that used to exist further north. He advises me about where to go and I advise him never to visit Nottingham. The Plume Of Feathers in Penhallow is a marvellous eatery, except I’ve eaten. Luckily it has real ale, 80s music, cosy seats and a roof. Confusingly it also has a covered pool table with a sign stating “please do not use this pool table” and a dart board sporting the notice “sorry no dart games”, but despite these paradoxes I’m sold. I sit down with a yummy pint on Magik ale from the local Redruth brewery and it occurs to me that after taking 190 photos in the previous 4 days I have taken none today. Tomorrow I will walk and take photos regardless of the weather. And drink beer. Hmmm beer.

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It’s time to up sticks and for the perennial camper you just hope for dry weather when unpitching. The omens during last night’s storm were not good but the morning breaks calm and sunny, the brisk wind having dried out the tent. Packed, I head off down the coastal road signposted Newquay on the lookout for a nice secluded beach. After a mere 2 miles Trevose Head entices me. It is a picture book Cornish cove village consisting of a mix of newish holiday rentals and old local stone houses. There is a combined store/post office, a socially active church and a minuscule village hall. Equipped with a take-out mocha I plant my fold up seat in a prime spot on the beach allowing me a complete view of the bay from a wind-shielded location.

Trevose Beach

Trevose Beach

This small sandy inlet provides a perfect bubble for young families who can keep an eye on the kids while soaking up the sun. One such family nests next to me and their youngest (James) sets about gleefully transporting shovels of sand to the base of my chair. Mum admonishes him but James is enjoying the game too much for that to stop him. A couple of hours drift by as I read a book and capture the odd gem of dialogue from my neighbours. My favourite was one father suggesting to another that they dig a pool – “for the kids”. Yeah.

It’s lunchtime and my stomach navigates me to the Tredea Inn with its great views down a valley to Porth Cothan beach. They have WiFi and I can help myself. When I ask them for the network key they don’t know it. “Don’t I know it?”. Fortunately the tourist trade is booming and the surrounding cultivated fields suggest a significant local farming economy so shortcomings in the IT skills market won’t keep too many people out of work. Apparently Orange are the major player down the coast as in many places they provide the only coverage, enabling roaming users to access broadband and with it such luxuries as streaming digital radio. For some the “digital switchover” will actually just be the “switch on”. Insights like these really interest me on my travels and locals seem only too eager to spare some time to talk.

It’s easy to forget that tourism is only one (albeit major) spoke in the Cornish economic wheel. Cross country journeys through unheralded small towns like St Eval reveal only minor concessions to tourists with schools, community centres and affordable housing the more prominent landmarks. This presumably is where the disenfranchised locals live, priced out of their ancestral coastal villages and reliant on tourism, farming and – decreasingly – fishing. None of this is headline news but it’s interesting to see how the community is re-inventing itself. The local papers dedicate many column inches to future economies (eg: renewable energy) and as you drive through villages it is common to see hand painted signs along the lines of “Pengelly – building work, car mechanic, calor gas”. People here are resilient, flexible and entrepreneurial.

It’s a one night stay at Watergate Bay Touring Park. I’m not sure when Tregurrian Bay was subsumed by Watergate Bay – maybe around the same time Jamie Oliver opened a trendy restaurant there – but the rebranding exercise is an example of re-invention in action. The bay is – oh dear, I promised myself not to use this word yet again, but here it is – stunning. Vast, golden , vibrant, powerful and made for the big screen.

Watergate Beach

Watergate Beach

It has clearly gone upmarket and there is a slightly different vibe here to the other beaches on my travels. There is a more affluent feel about the visitors with car parks full of Audis and more trendy single sex groups hanging out together. A group play boules nearby but probably call it “petanque”. There are also kite surfers and large groups playing cricket. If there is such a thing as a lifestyle beach this is it. It’s different but I like it because despite some airs of pretension it has soul and life. Like me then!

Afternoon becomes evening, the heat of the sun is on the wane and I decide it is beer o’clock. Doom Bar on a pub balcony – gorgeous! It’s named after an infamous sand spit at the mouth of the river Camel. Legend has it that many a sailor has found his vessel beached on this spit and had no option but to head ashore and get bladdered until high tide. The North Cornwall Guardian I’m reading is to be recommended if you want a grasp of local affairs. For starters it’s a daily rather than a weekly like some of the competition. Also it provides journalistic nuggets such as the major problem with under age drinking in Cornwall. Really?! Also a youth group is looking forward to a visit to Alton Towers. Is there really nothing similar a bit closer? A new cinema has been criticised as being vulnerable to terrorist attack. Let’s hope that Osama hasn’t picked up the Cornish Guardian from his local newsagent in the Pakistan border region (or Iran / Saudi / Texas depending on your conspiracy theorist tendencies) or you’ve just offered him an open goal. There’s nothing as entertaining as self important journalism in local papers!

As the sun sets I return to the campsite via the coastal path and the cliff-top views are breathtaking.

Watergate Cliff

Watergate Cliff

I really do need to work out how to set the camera mode for this kind of photography. It makes point and click easy but there are several menu drill downs to get to the interesting stuff. Back at camp a sign tells me about an apparently “unmissable” band in the bar tonight. Presumably they couldn’t make it and the mulleted 50 year old blokes twanging out soft rock are stand-ins. Unless of course they meant unmissable in an ironic sense – now I get it!

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Arthur Dent could never quite get the hang of Thursdays. For me it’s Tuesdays. There’s plenty to be indecisive about. I’m awake later than expected (welcome, but no early getaway), the weather forecast is intermittently apocalyptic and I’m not sure whether my limbs will protest about another full days walk. Sod it, I’m off to St Merryns for a circular walk of the headland west of Padstow – an area unknown to me. I park up at the imaginatively named Cornishman’s Arms and slip on my walking boots. The publican is out trimming his hedges and I offer a cheery wave intended to suggest I will pop in after my walk but which may have been interpreted as “thanks for the free parking sucker”. I’m equipped with a compass and a print-out of an OS map. There are some immediate concerns as regards navigation. I’m not sure of my starting point on the map and my printer ran out of black ink making the blue sea unnervingly similar to the blue fields.

Harlyn Bay should be North so I head Northish breaking out at the coast half a mile west.

Coastal Cove

Coastal Cove

Harlyn is a true surfer’s beach with few concessions to tourists that might stumble across it.

Surf School

Surf School

An unannounced downpour sweeps over but I dodge it by popping into a shop. Retracing my tracks west back along the coastal path towards Mother Ivy’s Bay I spy another black cloud and this time a rocky outcrop keeps me dry until it passes. My luck has to run out soon. The coastal path is quite level and easy going and around each corner there is another rocky cove below. As I reach the edge of the natural bay a large life boat station appears mounted extremely high up with a very long slipway. The proportions set against an improbably dramatic series of free-standing rock stacks give it the look of a thunderbirds prop.

Lifeboat Station

Lifeboat Station

I cut across the headland now partly to shorten the route and partly in my impatience to get to Stinking Cove! The land crossing is a scant half mile wide and the view from the middle takes in the sun, sand and blue sea of Harlyn to my left and the dark storm lashed maelstrom of Constantine Bay.

Storm over Constantine Bay

Storm over Constantine Bay

With the wind pushing the bad stuff my way I break into a jog to reach a cliff-side quarry for shelter arriving just in time only, to find my hide-out pre-occupied by a family sitting out the rain. The grandparents are seasoned walkers and the least phased by the weather but the younger generation – well they’re nesh. It stops. We bid our farewells and I follow the coastal path South to Constantine Bay – another surfing mecca. It’s then an easy and uneventful stroll back to St Merryn save for my failure to find the pub again, until I realise the Cornishman’s Arms is actually in a neighbouring village. Doh!

That’s enough walking – the rain is winning the battle today. In a moment of inspiration I know just what to do. I drive to Port Isaac where I know “The Crows Nest” pub will allow me to read a book with great views of the sea from inside or outside. It’s sunny but the rain inevitably arrives so I sit in the cushioned window and now have the benefit of being able to listen to the locals chatting about all and sundry. An 80s rock balad compilation loops through a few times and it’s the right soundtrack to the heavy raindrops blatting off the deserted decking outside. The landlord tells me he hopes it is a really bad storm because we may get to see dramatic lightening strikes out at sea and the thunder echoes around the bay. The days when the local folk prayed for their sea-faring brethren have clearly gone!

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