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Posts Tagged ‘Camping’

The eyemask really works and I wake at 8am instead of dawn as is usually the case when camping. A peak outside at the weather turns to a moment of panic all the other tents have been hastily packed away by people fleeing from the zombie attack. Ten seconds later the sleep has cleared and I realise it is Monday so presumably everyone went home last night while I was out. Besides, the sun is breaking through and you never see zombies out in good weather – it’s the law.

Deserted campsite after zombie attack

Deserted campsite after zombie attack

The 2 second tent takes only a minute to pack away this time – shame there is nobody to see – and I’m northward bound where the peaks seem higher and the valleys greener. Grasmere is a lovely village consisting of one winding main street, a lake (Grasmere) and surrounded by brutish peaks and ridges. On a weekend or during the school holidays the weight of tourists shipped in by coach makes it unbearable but today it is pleasantly unpopulous. The first challenge is to park. There is no on-street parking anywhere – fair enough – but for me to complete my planned walk I it will cost £9 to park in a car park.Yes £9 in a small village – not London. Since the walk is circular I don’t need to start from Grasmere and half a mile away a wide unregulated road allows me to park next to the footpath I need to follow.

Tim on the hillside path

Tim on the hillside path

Grasmere below

Grasmere below

It’s a steep climb but I am soon rewarded by views over Grasmere lake and the village is framed by imposing hills that my map shows but fears to name. £9 – how do they justify this?! The walk is a photocopy of a map my mum lent me with the route highlighted by marker pen. The problem with this is that there aren’t really many landmarks en-route to tell you which of the multitude of trodden hillside paths to take. My compass comes out and I realise it has been @# years since I actually had to rely on one for navigation. A couple coming the other way have GPS and assure me I’m on the right path. The ascent steepens and the view somehow manages to become yet more spectacular. Now I have a toy town view of Elterwater which marks the furthest point of yesterdays walk.

Elterwater below

Elterwater below

Langdale below

Langdale below

Something unexpected happens. My legs should be stiff and tired after yesterday but I’m bounding up the hillside overtaking all-comers young and old. Bring it on! I only stop climbing at 500m because that’s as high as it gets, Langdale – as magnificent a glacial valley as you will see south of Scotland – lies far below in miniature, my plaything. I spare it my godly wrath and opt for lunch, ready to inflict a hoard of locusts upon it if it misbehaves.

The world at my feet

The world at my feet

The trek across the peaks here is simply awe inspiring. A rescue helicopter passes below in the valley as if to remind me that when the weather turns this can be a dangerous place. Today the only danger is getting my boots wet in the boggy areas. Navigation is a bit of a lottery as there are many choices of route including footpaths that could actually be dry streams and streams that could be waterlogged footpaths. If in doubt head north, which is convenient since that’s the direction my compass needle always seems to point in. Easedale tarn is a large high altitude lake containing run-off from the boggy fells and one immense boulder stands alone on the shoreline as testament to the forces of nature, dumped there by commandment of some long melted finger of glacial ice. This provides a peaceful place to chill for a while though I attract odd looks from a couple sat nearby because I’m laughing to myself at a Danny Baker podcast on my MP3 player.

View down to Easedale Tarn

View down to Easedale Tarn

Easedale Tarn

Easedale Tarn

The descent back into Grasmere does not punish my knees as I feared. The centre is busier now but I pass right through back to my car which is now accompanied by three others. A handwritten note under my windscreen reads “What fool parked here? Your car has nearly been written off twice. Next time use the car park”, tellingly with the writing facing outwards for all to see, aimed to shame this lunatic motorist as walkers pass by. It’s amusing because I’m parked legally and safely. The road remains side enough for 2 narrow vehicles to pass or one to give way, while visibility for the low level of traffic coming either way is at least 40m. There is only one house nearby so it’s likely the owner simply objects to walkers parking nearby and keeps a pile of pre-written signs eagerly ready for daily dispatch. “There’s nowt as queer as folk” is the Derbyshire saying and I wonder what the Cumbrian equivalent is.

Luxury awaits at the northerly metropolis of Keswick – a bed no less in a B&B. My landlady can’t do enough for me (OK – I didn’t ask her if she could retro-fit an en-suite) and a shower without 20p slot or daddy long legs feels like regal treatment indeed. A clue to my character – I can’t resist catching up on the news via teletext, because I’m wired into the age of constant news feeds. It’s been 2 days since I heard any and it seems like an age. The issues are all mundane and predictable (no zombie attack). My mind goes back to my Inter Rail travels when I would come home after a month away and catch up with several weeks of news (well, footy scores) in the papers that had piled up in my absence. Today there is rarely any “news”, rather incremental disclosure of fringe information concerning existing events accompanied by endless analysis, opinion and media invented speculation. There’s an old joke about the media creating the news but to a certain extent that is precisely what they do.

A night out in Keswick reveals the news that I’m irresistible. While evaluating a pint of Jennings Cumberland Ale (excellent) a French couple sit at my table despite most of the other tables being unoccupied. Is this a cultural difference (in which case thank god we still have them in these bland days of global assimilation) or is this a prelude to a threesome invitation (in which case thank god for… etc, etc) ? Come to think of it the whole “this is my table / place in the queue / colony” thing is a peculiarly British stance.

I had planned to try the Thai I saw earlier but a glance through the window reveals just two awkward looking diners and one waitress busily removing place settings from all the other tables. Perhaps somewhere busier would be more appropriate. An Indian looks OK so I enter and am ushered to a small table nestled beneath an impressive volume of clutter – 2 place settings each with 2 knives and forks plus spoons, plastic flower, salt and pepper, toothpicks, wine glasses, menu, desert menu, wine menu, napkins and presumably a table cloth somewhere beneath. Who knows where they slotted in the ashtray pre-smoking ban. Once I have ordered the table is stripped bare aside from a knife, fork and napkin. I feel less special. The food arrives with alarming speed and when I’m done with the forgettable fare the waiter rapidly clears up and brings me the bill without asking if I want coffee or desert (no – but you might have asked). This sort of scenario is just one of the down sides of solo travel, although on the plus side I can leave no tip without feeling guilty.

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A light morning mist hovers above but the sun is fighting through to reveal the nameless peaks that surround the campsite as I emerge from my tent. The forecast is good and my abused walking boots beckon from beneath the peak district mud I that failed to clean off them last time out.

It’s 9:30am by the time I stride out into Coniston. There’s a smothering of people about but the ascent up towards Yewdale Fell is a solitary affair aside from the guy that ran up the hill past me. Later I catch up with him near Coniston Fells YHA and feel a little better about things given that I’ve found the modest 300 metre climb a bit of a shock to my system.

YHA in Coniston Fells

YHA in Coniston Fells

Stream at Coniston Fells

Stream at Coniston Fells

Truth is I’m still stiff after an impromptu beer soaked midnight jog around Nottingham City Centre 3 days ago so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Once beyond the quarried hillside the fell is level and boggy in places. It’s cooler up here which is welcome.

Yewdale Fell

Yewdale Fell

The walk is 13 miles and should take 6 hours without stops but I’ve taken 2 hours to cover the first 3 miles due to the climb and constant stops for photos, although there is no hurry. There are a lot of old quarry workings in these hills but for the most part their modest scale makes them feel a natural aspect of the landscape. How did people mine and transport slate from such inaccessible areas 150 plus years ago?

View near High Tilberthwaite

View near High Tilberthwaite

The descent takes in Yewdale Beck which consists of a deep chasm and several waterfalls. The landscape opens up at Low Tilberthwaite and there is flat and green farmland – presumably the fruits of an alluvial plane. A woodland stretch here is home to many small birds and more old quarry workings.

Path through Fletchers Wood

Path through Fletchers Wood

A footbridge spans the river Brathay to Little Langdale where I fight every instinct and walk on by the sun soaked pub that beckons so temptingly. I have decided to hold on until Elterwater, my half way stop. (It’s a little known fact that Wordsworth refused to mention Elterwater in his writings because he was frustrated by his inability to find a word to rhyme with it). The charming little Brittania Inn pub here is well known to me and it is worth the wait for a prize winning pint of Coniston Blue Bird consumed out front in the sun on the green.

Brittania Inn at Elterwater

Brittania Inn at Elterwater

Like me the beer has travelled from Coniston (it is brewed at the iconic Black Bull pub I walked past at the outset) though presumably via a more lorry friendly route. The sun has drawn out a great many visitors though only a handful have walked any further than the adjacant car park.

The food isn’t inspiring so the somewhat classier Elterwater Inn just up the hill wins my vote with its panoramic views and tasteful garden furniture, though the clientelle are more drop-top daytrippers than sweaty hikers like me. The 6 miles back to Coniston are blessed with unbroken sunshine and characterised by light woodland paths, burbling streams and sheep happily munching the fell grass oblivious to their date with the ubiquitous Lamb Henry – a staple offering on menus at pubs in the area. The exception to this landscape is the remarkable Hodge Close Quarry I came across – obscure enough to walk by without noticing it but when viewed from the edge it reveals itself to be 100m x 70m and 100m deep with sheer unfenced sides and a water filled base. I later learn that the water is another 100m deep making it popular with divers and that it was a slate quarry from the 19th century to the early 1960s. Some climbers are tackling one of the improbable looking faces while a dinghy floats on the water far below. A vast tunnel near the base provides access to those inclined to enter.

Hodge Close Quarry

Hodge Close Quarry

It has been a fabulous walk and my energy levels feel higher than when I set off. A local pub would be the logical choice but they are all packed and besides they are unlikely to serve anybody in my disheveled state. Showered and rehumanised in the campsite portacabin unit I drive over to Ambleside for the evening. The setting sun on the surrounding peaks provides a cinematic backdrop to the towns austere Victorian persona. When you only have one night in Ambleside it has to be spent at “Lucy 4s” – part of the “Lucys” catering empire, which over the years has transformed itself from local institution to a nationally acclaimed business. It is starting to feel as if the tipping point may have been exceeded in the growth of this portfolio, rather like Rick Steins stranglehold on Padstow. Lucys now comprises a bistro, funky tapas style restaurant (Lucy 4s – sounds devilishly like Lucifer’s), deli, fresh produce shop and a cookery school. Lucy has thankfully yet to turn up on our TVs as a celebrity chef and it is this combined with the enduring integrity of her outlets – both in terms of food quality and staff ethic – that ensures her reputation remains intact at least for now.

Oh – the food was great. Just a shame I was driving or their Chimay stocks would have taken one hell of a beating.

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For somebody traditionally organised I find myself in the unprecedented situation of starting my holiday today having made precisely no arrangements. It’s all laid out in my mind, a 5 night walking tour of the Lakes taking in some known and treasured areas and (unsurprisingly) pubs, but when I tried booking accommodation last Wednesday everywhere I rang was full. Thursday night I got home past midnight and Friday evening was another night out so here I am hoping availability has somehow improved in the last three days. It hasn’t, but what has improved is the weather forecast meaning I can break my promise of roofed nights only. In the space of an hour and a few phone calls everything is booked – 2 nights camping in Hawkshead, 2 nights B&B in Keswick and 1 night at the sublime Kirkstone Pass Inn. The car is packed and three hours and 2 seconds later I’m standing in a field in Hawkshead next to my erected 2 second tent. Can it really be this simple? Have I lived my adult life under a code of regimented planning and organisation for no reason? Is this how spontaneity feels?

The omens are good. It was a painless journey, the sun a constant and the landscape improving every yard further from Stoke (obviously). I decided to take a short cut to Hawkshead taking in the Sawrey car ferry, bisecting Windermere and taking 20 minutes off the landlocked alternative journey. It bothers me not the least that I just miss out on a crossing and have to wait the 20 minutes in the glorious sun watching ducks and dinghys while the ferry turns around. The sun, panoramic splendour and a sense of freedom have insulated me against almost anything that might otherwise attempt to take the shine off proceedings.

Ferry across lake Windermere

Ferry across lake Windermere

Hawkshead, if you are not familiar with it, is the epitome of a Lakes village. Framed by rugged peaks that beshadow the village from the late evening sun it conveys an authentic charm throughout. This is exemplified by the impossibly quaint church that sits perched atop a small hillock, and the perfect slate flagged winding footpaths that radiate gently away skyward – to who knows where – between peaceful sheep filled fields and ancient hedgerows alive with birdsong.

View of Hawkshead Church

View of Hawkshead Church

View from Hawkshead church

View from Hawkshead church

It has four pubs, the best for drinking being the Kings Arms but none less than great. The KA is a no-go zone presently as it is packed with young families winding down for the evening with the shouts, tempers and physical outbursts that young kids have when they are tired and have had enough for the day. Perhaps a return after their bedtime…

A Hawkshead street

A Hawkshead street

A silky pint of Hartleys Cumbria Way at the Queens Head (traditional pub names are alive and kicking here) anoints my arrival and I start to write this blog. The inevitable Man Utd fans are enjoying “their” team beating Spurs on TV (the digital switchover has finally brought decent picture quality to Cumbria) and tired Daniel on the next table is being implored to have one last fork of food but cannot be drawn away from his plastic pterodactyl that climbs the exposed stone wall in a way that is both historically inaccurate and scientifically impossible. Surely mum and dad need to put Daniel straight on this before getting hung up about one last mouthful. Then it’s onto the Sun Inn, the pub I rate least but a kid free zone, where my first three choices of food have all sold out along with the Jennings Cockerhoop I had in mind. The trade is non-stop and the bar staff stressed out but a pint of Landlord  is a good second best and I expect events will be more civilised after tonight as the weekend sun-seekers depart the area.

Two couples on nearby tables have struck up conversation and discovered they are both from Leeds. Couple A describe their neighbourhood (well – mostly pubs) in detail and after they leave I enjoy listening to couple B slagging off “common” Couple A. I entertain the notion that Couple A are simultaneously chuckling about snobbish Couple B as they trudge back to their lodgings. My walk back to the campsite a quarter of a mile away is cinematic. There is no man-made light and the cloudless sky would put any planetarium to shame. The stars are are numberless, bright and vivid and it becomes profoundly obvious why our ancestors would routinely navigate by the night sky. Sat nav and GPS are great inventions but hardly beautiful or romantic. That said, when I want to get somewhere I’m more interested in the accuracy than the art. Back at the campsite it’s too dark to see where I left my my tent and I resort to using my car remote to flash the lights and guide me home. Lets call that a scoredraw: Technology 1 – Nature 1.

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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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The eye mask I was given on a long haul flight does the job and I wake at a respectable 6:20am and not the break of dawn. A tentative peak outside reveals the sun glistening off the morning dew, but no obvious black clouds. A quick shower and breakfast then I’m off down the hill with the smug feeling only the early bird knows. Padstow is barely awake and I traverse the deserted harbour to catch the early ferry to Rock. It’s not there and more concerning it appears to be moored up and unmanned in mid channel. A quick call to the harbour master tells me they are refuelling. In the river? I feel a little sheepish for my misplaced cynicism therefore when the other foot ferry chugs out of the harbour and up to the boarding slope. All the same I suspect the “refuelling” had more to do with bacon sandwiches than diesel. It’s just me and a guy in a Chelsea top on the way over to Rock. He tells me he is staying at a hotel on the other bank and had already popped over on the first crossing to pick up a paper. Out smugged.

Tim on ferry

Tim on ferry

Black Torr ferry at Rock

Black Torr ferry at Rock

The walk up the coast from Rock towards Polzeath is captivating and my camera barely gets a rest. Extensive grassed sand dunes offer a tangle of routes between the beach and the links golf course. Pairs of butterflies dance together in the long grass that offers perfect habitation for them.

Dunes

Dunes


An apple tree sits incongruously next to the footpath. Is this the result of some once discarded apple core? I resolve to chuck my own apple core later on and check on its progress in a few years time. A few golfers are enjoying an early round, some dogs are being walked and the occasional sweaty jogger lugs by.

Daymer Bay

Daymer Bay


One particular jogger floats by with a broad healthy smile, perky dog in tow and I wonder whether I have drifted into a Special K advert. The ambience is spoiled only by the man taking a leak behind a solitary windswept tree. I couldn’t wait.

The first few beach goers are setting up stall in Daymer Bay, parent hammering in wind shields and kids happily splashing around in the water oblivious to the temperature. It’s high tide and a rocky outcrop forces me to take the headland walk over to Polzeath. A black cloud looms ominously. Is this the shower I was warned to expect? Coffee on a bar balcony offers views of the bay and shelter if the rain materialises. What can I see? Polzeath is a surfer’s paradise with an expanse of beach and guaranteed surf.

Surfer dudes

Surfer dudes


Hundreds of wet-suited hopefuls are out in the bay, some salt crusted regulars and others under tuition at one of the surf schools that trade in the bay. Some eastern European conversation drifts over from the next table to remind me that the cove is not the well kept secret it once was.

Armed with a pasty I head for the hills and cross the headland to Pentire Glaze. Last time I was here “The Rumps” were sunbathed and deserted and I decided there could be no more striking coastline in Britain. This time the predicted rain arrives and I take shelter beneath a small rocky outcrop and watch trawler PW20 laying lobster pots in the frothing soup far below. It is still awe-inspiring.

Tim sheltering

Tim sheltering

After 20 minutes the rain eases off and I strike up a purposeful march anticlockwise along the rugged coastal path towards Hayle. As the estuary comes into view I have the perfect view of a massive black cloud unleashing a squall as it blows down the Camel from Bodmin Moor. There is nowhere to hide this time and I know I’m going to cop it so there is nothing to do but keep walking. The unwaterproofed parts of my attire get drenched, the salty water stinging my eyes but in no time it’s over and a following westerly breeze starts the drying process. As the beach comes into view it becomes apparent that the surfers have been not the least deterred by the rain and it occurs to me they probably welcome it because it clears the shallows of bathers who block their routes to shore. The tide is out now – Polzeath Beach assumes massive proportions – and it is possible to walk the two miles back to Rock on the sand without using the coastal path. And what a walk! The sun returns with a vengeance and I have a seemingly limitless expanse of pure sand almost to myself (wait until school breaks up next week though).

Tim on sunny deserted beach

Tim on sunny deserted beach

I am struck by the great tidal range as the Black Torr ferry at Rock departs from a point several metres beneath its arrival point this morning. I decide to spend a couple of hours in the balcony bar of the Waterfront Inn overlooking the Rock waterfront lined with small sail boats and dingys. Time to read and also I will catch the ferry once it has restored Padstow as its destination – at low tide it drops passengers off a mile out on the beach. The return trip when it comes around sees the boat packed out and two cyclists struggle to fit their bikes aboard.

The rain is done for the day and so am I. No swanky quayside eatery for me. It’s a much needed shower and a couple of beers in the tent, plus whatever Tesco have to offer.

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