Welcome to LEJoG Day 5
Day 5 pre-amble
Newquay. Like Proust’s madeleine, the very word brings to mind a cascade of childhood memories:
1978 – a caravan holiday in St Columb Major. My grandad made a navigation error in Devon on the way there and we ended up crossing Dartmoor instead of using A roads. On one of the beaches my great-grandma (who could not swim) thought she was about to be stranded by the incoming tide.
1985 – now I, a big fan of maps since the age of four, was doing navigation in the front seat. We travelled overnight listening to Bridge Over Troubled Water and Atlantic 252 LW. Stayed in a flat above a fishing tackle shop, and it was the hottest week of an otherwise wet summer. My brother and mother got sunstroke midweek.
1988 – overnight again. The family rabbit died the day before we went, which cast a cloud over the whole week to be honest.
1989 – brother had gone to live with his dad . This was my first family holiday without him. 16-year-old me was wound up all week because he was fretting about the GCSE results that awaited him on returning home.
1991 – caravan holiday again. Much more relaxed as, fortunately, it was the week after my A-level results. Also the summer after my brother came back home and before I went to university.
I imagined that this weekend, the first time I’d spent even one night in Newquay since the summer of 1991, would prompt what is often called a ‘Proustian rush‘. The kind that, say, anyone who remembers Italia 90 immediately experiences on hearing this. Perhaps not that vivid, but I thought I’d feel something.
I didn’t. I consciously tried to feel something, but it just wasn’t there.
LEJoG Day 5 (Sunday 18 June 2017)
Perranporth to Newquay (12½ miles)
Cumulative: 66 miles
Facts: Time on walk: 4 hours 5 minutes. Average speed: 3.06 mph. Weather: Hot, cloudless, very light breeze. At least it wasn’t humid.
Practicalities: Bus from Newquay bus station to Perranporth (35 minutes). The walk ended at St. Bernards, so no further practicalities necessary.
Start: Bus stop, Beach Road, Perranporth, 10:45am. End: St. Bernards guest house, Newquay, 3:30pm.
Day 5 was noticeably hotter than Day 4, and the breeze even gentler. It was, frankly, hard work. I did not feel like singing any version of ‘Walking On Sunshine’.
No mistaking the first section of the South West Coast Path today. Just follow Perrans Beach until you can’t follow it any further. Sand may not be the ideal surface for walking boots, but I made rapid enough progress. Up above is Perran Sands Holiday Park. Several times you will see campers making their way down the steps or paths to the beach. Eventually, after 2 miles or so, you reach the climb back to the cliffs. An ideal opportunity to look back at Perrans Beach, as I do in the photo below:
The path to Holywell stays on the cliff top, and it hugs the coastline tightly. No such thing as a short cut here. You can look on the map and think you’re virtually at Holywell once you’ve made the cliff-top. But in fact it took me another 45 minutes to reach Holywell Bay.
During that ¾ hour, I started to feel the continuing absence of sunglasses in a big way, making frequent stops to rub my eyes. I think some of the problem was definitely pollen: I am sensitive in high summer. But it was also due to clumsily rubbing my eye and exposing it to the sun lotion on my cheeks. As anyone who’s endured the consequences will tell you, this irritation doesn’t go away easily. Even applying drinking water to my eye every half mile or so had little effect. Sadly this has since become my dominant memory of the walk to Newquay. It’s a shame, because it was a glorious Sunday.
Between Holywell Bay and the headland of West Pentire lies Kelsey Head, a Site of Special Scientific Interest. I stopped here for a half hour lunch, having first negotiated the Holywell Bay dunes. Nowhere near as many as on the way to Gwithian, thankfully. The path to West Pentire once again runs very close to the coast throughout. The highlight of this stretch is the hidden beach at Porth Joke (locally known as Polly Joke – sometimes spelt with one l). This section of the path was very busy, not with walkers but with holidaymakers shuttling between Polly Joke and Crantock beaches.
Crantock is the only real navigational challenge on today’s stage. The SWCP does not take you down to the expansive and inviting beach. Instead the sand stays in constant, tantalising view while you make your way through greenery and then on to roads which bisect a surf school and a café. From here you’re in more dense greenery where you can no longer see the beach. It’s not a challenge because it’s difficult to follow, but because it’s so unlike the majority of the path so far. This is a quite frustrating section purely because of that. There has to be a reason for this strange diversion, right?
Of course there is. That reason is the Gannel Estuary. All the guides strongly advise you to check your tide times before setting off. If the tide is in, you won’t be able to cross it without a ferry. If, like me, you’re determined not to cheat by using ferries, and you arrive at the wrong time, you will have to use the main road crossing (A3075) near Trevemper. The crossing point is Penpol Creek, which should be visible on the map linked above. Head north and, once across the Gannel, you will see some steps by the Hotel California. Once at the top you emerge on to Pentire Crescent, hopefully with a cool wind in your hair. Not sure if you’ll be able to smell colitas though.
When I crossed it (having checked the times) there were still a few inches of water in places. I stress again: you really don’t want that massive eastern diversion to the main road.
A little bit of road walking in Pentire, and then – quite suddenly – Fistral Beach is visible in its entirety. The Headland Hotel lies in the middle distance. This is undoubtedly one of the defining images of Newquay. I know I said my childhood memories didn’t really come flooding back this weekend. However that view inspired me for the remaining 2-3 miles and enabled me to forget the eye irritation. Fistral Beach wasn’t even part of most of my family holidays. We were usually based much closer to the centre, using Towan, Tolcarne or Great Western. Occasionally (1991) the wonderfully named Lusty Glaze. But I think it’s the best known, especially since Newquay became a mecca for surfers. That’s why I used this picture for my header.
As if compensating for being so rudely interrupted by the Gannel, the SWCP returns to its obsession with tracing headlands as closely as possible. The walker has to perform a near-complete circumference of the Headland Hotel before the path takes the longest possible route to the north-western tip of Towan Beach. Finally it is forced to give up the ghost, joining North Quay Hill and then Fore Street and Bank Street.
By this time I was protecting my face with my over-large black sun hat. An impulse buy from the Coast to Coast a few weeks earlier, it was the only one that fit my head in Reeth. But it was an odd choice of colour because it absorbs heat. And it has drapes at the side that resemble the sideburns of your typical 1970s man-about-town footballer. It’s why I remember feeling self-conscious on what should have been my triumphant parade through the streets of Newquay.
The SWCP ignores East Street and follows a quarter circle to join Cliff Road, near the railway station. For the sake of convenience, I used East Street and ended today’s stage at the guest house. My base was literally two pelican crossings away from Cliff Road and a couple of hundred yards from the point where the SWCP rejoins it.
The evening, Newquay
I got changed, bought a towel and spent an hour or two on Great Western Beach. It had to be done while I was here in summer. I expected to return in September for days 6 and 7 but there was no way the weather would be this good in early autumn. Had a good half hour in the sea. My brother and I used to attack the waves when we were children, so I did feel some semblance of a Proustian rush when the (relatively gentle) waves came this Sunday evening.
Back in my room, I discovered that it wasn’t just my eyes that had been irritated by the sun. Warning to any female readers – control yourselves at this point. My lower abdomen was riddled with red spots, resembling prickly heat rash. I was already more self-conscious about that part of my body than any other. The rapid weight gain after my illness left me with a couple of lovely stretch marks that had never completely gone away. So that wasn’t the best moment of the weekend. I can write about it now with tongue in cheek because both the red spots and the stretch marks have gone and I’m two stone lighter.
Then it was meal time, at Senor Dick’s Mexican Restaurant. About 200 yards from my accommodation and very good indeed.
Drove back home. Traffic inevitably a lot more friendly than on Friday.
Postscript: My listening pleasure (Stage 2: Days 4 and 5)
Not much change in the walking soundtrack since Stage 1: the funk and disco compilation and the Girls Aloud compilation dominated the iPod.
Picture (18 June 2017) shows Fistral Beach and the Headland Hotel: the first view of Newquay proper.
Next: Day 6 (23 September 2017)… in which 24 miles is cut to 17½.