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Posts Tagged ‘Padstow’

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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There’s a point on the five hour drive from the midlands where the road peaks over a hill and the view opens up magnificently to welcome you into Cornwall. I don’t remember the exact location but in 25 years of visiting Cornwall it is that same vista that always makes me feel that the journey is no longer a necessary haul but an adventure beginning. This is the first time I have made the journey solo and so the visual embrace is perhaps all the more welcome.

My plan is to get some coastal walks under my belt starting from three different campsites. My rationale for Cornwall is that I had a week to plan and book something and the area is largely a known quantity with guaranteed scenery, plus you can’t get too lost on a coastal walk. Get wet and you’ve gone wrong. That’s not to say that there have been no risks. I could have been too hung over from last nights beer festival to travel today but somehow this hasn’t materialised. It could rain all week. The Met Office forecast has been typically non-committal suggesting there could be sun and rain this week. Thanks guys. I think it stems back to the 87 hurricane that they failed to big-up enough, so now all predictions have to state all possibilities regardless of probability.

It’s been dry for the entire journey south and the rolling West Country hills look enchanting in the early evening sun. I’m now experiencing the second phenomenon that Cornwall always seems to deliver – namely that whatever your coastal destination (and generally your destination in Cornwall is coastal) you don’t get your first proper sea view until you are practically on the harbour front. That would be true for my destination of Padstow except that what you ultimately get to view is not the sea but the Camel estuary. Either way the journey from north of the county to quayside unfolds like a cinematic opening sequence.

I have arrived at my second choice campsite. My first choice – Dennis Cove – was a lovely quiet little home from home at the bottom of a hill 5 minutes easy level walk into Padstow. Then the Guardian featured it as one of their hidden gems since which the prices have gone up and they are always fully booked. If ever there was a self-destructing prophecy… Instead I’m at the laughably expensive Padstow Touring Park up a steep hill from Dennis Cove and 20 minutes yomp from the harbour. I manage to pitch my 3 man tent in the same time it normally takes two people (less arguing?) and without undue fuss, much to the disappointment of my neighbours who have been keeping an eye on me over a cup of tea presumably hoping to witness some kind of cock-up or mental breakdown so that they can satiate their closet schadenfreude.

Tim in tent

Tim in tent


A quick look at the facilities and the cost is looking less outrageous. There’s a good laundry room, free freezing of ice blocks and the toilet block is essentially a series of en-suites with self-contained toilet/basin/shower unit arrangements. I’ve not seen that before. The other feature I have never seen at a campsite is ANPR (automatic numberplate recognition) to control entry to the site. All this for less than 100 pitches.

Time to head out and the site guide handed to me at reception indicates that there is a footpath into Padstow, so off I go. People think (rightly) of cliffs and breaking surf when they picture Cornwall but if you turn 180 degrees the inland views can also be jaw dropping. And so it is for my journey along a trodden path amidst a golden sea of wheat blowing gently in the breeze like an inland tide beneath the cloudless blue sky.

Crop field

Crop field



Wheat

Wheat


I reel off the first photos with my new camera and realise I don’t know how to use it properly. I’ll point and click for now and read the manual tomorrow.

A long steep descent onto the Camel Trail gets me thinking that I’m going to have to walk back up the hill later and negotiate the muddy fields in the dark.

View of Camel Estuary from hillside

View of Camel Estuary from hillside


Whatever. Padstow (or Padstein as it is known since Rick Stein is slowly but surely converting it into his personal commercial empire) is as busy and popular as I have now come to expect and yet it remains tasteful and thoroughly charming. As if to remind me that it still has soul a local Brass Band strikes up at the harbour and I might be stood here watching the scene 20 years ago for all that has changed.
St Brewards Band

St Brewards Band


In fact it brings a lump to my throat and I decide to walk away. I head west up the hill to the WWII memorial cross which lends me wonderful views back to Padstow and also across the Camel to the village of Rock and the deserted beaches at Daymer Bay and Polzeath.
View from Padstow War Memorial

View from Padstow War Memorial


Strains of the brass ensemble can be heard even here beyond the harbour walls and even with your eyes closed this could only be England. The final stragglers are returning from the beach and I turn back with them and head for the Shipmakers Arms and an indecently fine pint of Tribute ale – the product of the local St Austell based Tinners brewery although you can find it nationally on the supermarket shelves now. That’s one less mystery for the traveller to discover.

The pub has a varied mix of clientele. Three generations of a family sit around a large table pointlessly trying to appease a tired young child. Couples discuss their day and plans for tomorrow while a two local men sit silently sipping their pints and watching everyone just else like me. Who needs reality TV. A glance out of the window opposite and I realise the sun is going down and that’s my cue to leave. The harbour is transformed. The meandering masses of tourists, feet dangling over the quayside with pint glasses or chips have either left for home or headed for the pubs and restaurants so that they might put more even money into Rick’s coffers. There is a hush and you can hear the gentle lapping of water as moored boats bob up and down beneath the dim harbour lights. It has also turned chilly and the steep climb up hill provides welcome heat generating exercise. I manage to negotiate the moonlit fields without incident other than the flitting by of the odd bat. I’m hoping to sleep well. Tomorrow I walk.

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