Welcome to LEJoG Day 1
Day 1 pre-amble
OK then, literary types and sub-editors: I know that title doesn’t quite scan, but it’s the best I could do given the irresistible combination of a place that includes ‘Zen’ and an obvious word that rhymes with ‘art’…
A quick word on the blog post titles before I proceed. You will often, as in this case, recognise the inspiration. Where I use the source directly, without amendment, the title will appear in quotation marks. Where I play on it, quotation marks won’t be used but the source will of course be acknowledged.
LEJoG Day 1 (Saturday 29 April 2017)
Land’s End to Zennor (17 miles)
Some facts: Total walking time (excluding breaks) of 6 hours 55 minutes. Average speed 2.46 mph. Weather: very bright all day; sunny but not onerously so; overcast around lunchtime; good breeze.
Some practicalities: Took the train to Penzance on the night of Friday 28 April 2017, arriving at 9pm and staying Friday and Saturday night at the Longboat Inn. Consulted the local bus timetables in advance, travelling from Penzance to Land’s End between 8:45am and 9:50am on the Saturday morning. The bus leaves from Penzance’s main bus station (near the train station) and stops right outside the tourist complex. Weekend buses from Zennor to Penzance are nowhere near as conveniently timed, and I had to call a taxi. This cost £25, which should immediately prove to readers the value of checking your bus timetables or – if possible – staying in Zennor itself.
The route: As with all routes in the first 14 days of LEJoG, this is simply a case of following the South West Coast Path from origin to destination. Consult the Trailblazer guide (linked on the Pre-Amble page) or your own guidebook. Keep the sea on your left…
Start: The signpost, Land’s End, 9:55am. End: Edge of Zennor village, 5:10pm.
As I entered the Land’s End site, a group of cyclists were embarking on their much quicker trip to John o’ Groats. Cliché as it is, my first task was to photograph the famous* sign. After a short wait, another keen tourist allowed me the clear shot from the ‘Pre-Amble” page. The first step in my long ambulatory advance came at 9:55. Only 5 minutes in and I had already stopped to take more photos. Some at Dr Syntax’s Head, including the ‘First and Last House’, and the first South West Coast Path signpost showing 1 mile to Sennen Cove.
Sennen Cove hosts the first beach you come to en route, and very attractive it is too.
The beach at Sennen Cove, looking SW
(Longships Lighthouse in the distance: refer to Land’s End sign on Pre-Amble page)
Even in April it was tempting to dally a while here. But this is a long first day and indiscipline after just one mile bodes ill… So, instead it was straight into the first of many ascents from beach to cliff-top. Compared to those in store in north Cornwall (days 8 to 11) this one barely registers. The rest of the morning was spent negotiating the Penwith Heritage Coast. More beaches, coves and climbs, one of them (from Gwynver Beach) quite rocky. Approaching the top of that climb in bright sunshine, I had to yield to an outstandingly fit young female runner. Instantly felt embarrassingly overdressed.
However, by the time I reached Cape Cornwall (around 5 miles) the cloud had descended and there was slight drizzle. It was lunchtime. I didn’t have to do this, as the official path skirts the base of the hill, but I decided to eat my lunch next to the Cape Cornwall monument (below):
Though you don’t see it from this photo, Cape Cornwall was as busy as some of the beaches I’d already visited.
Between here and my next food stop at Pendeen Watch are the first Cornish tin mines on this section of the South West Coast Path. Some are disused and unmarked, as in the first photo below:
However, a couple of miles before Pendeen is Levant Mine (National Trust sign in the photo below), which also boasts a working beam engine.
Very soon afterwards, and a little more distant from the main path, comes Geevor Tin Mine. Here you can find a museum and, if you so wish, participate in an underground hard hat tour led by ex-miners:
By the time I was looking out at Pendeen lighthouse, it was 2pm and there were seven miles still to go. I had plenty of energy and thought there was an outside chance of completing the leg in two hours. However, this was the first really tough challenge – not physically but mentally. There weren’t many serious ups and downs. The real problem was constantly thinking – or perhaps trying to convince myself – I was closer to Zennor than I actually was. Gurnard’s Head, around two miles from Zennor, is an unmistakable jutting promontory. No problems identifying it, with or without GPS and a guidebook. But those last two miles seemed to take way longer than the 35-40 minutes I expected. I always seemed to be one headland behind where I thought I should be.
The walk itself was excellent: coves, cliff-top paths, sunshine, a brief detour in a field full of horses. One young woman stopped me to ask how far it was to Pendeen. She assumed I’d come from there and was either awed or appalled to hear I’d started at Land’s End… But there’s no doubt that the last two miles made me regret starting LEJoG with such a long day. The thinking was that sandwiching the short hop to St Ives in between two 17-18 mile days would aid recovery. Even with hindsight, I don’t think I’d change that rationale. What I want to get across though is the sheer relief I felt on seeing this milestone at the top of a very long and steep set of steps at around 5:10pm:
Although this was the official end of my LEJoG Day 1, and where I would re-start tomorrow morning, the walking was not over. I was still 5-10 minutes away from the village of Zennor. Passing the pub, I headed for the only bus stop, in the hope of avoiding the taxi fare back to Penzance. This lame attempt to generate suspense was of course spoiled at the top of the page. The last bus left more than two hours earlier.
Back to the Tinners Arms then, with the main aim of getting them to arrange a taxi for me. And then I see it… Leffe blonde. Something I fell in love with during my three months travelling around Europe by train in 2008, the first positive step I took after recovery from my shattering illness. It’s ever so slightly too sweet for my palette to drink it as frequently these days. No matter: it has so many positive connotations that it seemed the perfect way to round off the first day of LEJoG.
And it was… I don’t think it had ever tasted so delicious. Finally relaxed, no more walking to do, in the quiet beer garden, staring beatifically at the Atlantic, with plenty of time to savour each mouthful before the taxi was due, I already knew –
I bloody knew that one day – good health and fitness permitting – I would reach John o’ Groats.
You could almost describe this state of mind as ‘Zen’…
*this is the first of many times I will resist deploying the most over-used to the point of meaninglessness word in the English language, namely ‘iconic’.
Picture (29 April 2017) shows possibly the most delectable bottle of Leffe blonde I’ve had in my life (and I’ve had plenty, including some here), consumed while waiting for the taxi at the end of LEJoG Day 1.
Next: Day 2 (30 April 2017)… in which Ben goes to St. Ives and meets a man with… faster legs.