Welcome to LEJoG Day 8 (and Year 2!)
Day 8 pre-amble
Some years ago I was best man at a wedding. The groom and I have a number of long-standing in-jokes. One of them relates to my superhuman ability to find a puddle and slip in it. I think it goes back to me falling over in a Paris subway about 20 years ago, when the puddle I somehow found was surrounded by dry ground. It has also happened after gigs by Radiohead and the White Stripes, much to his amusement.
I am also a veteran of Glastonbury 1997, which was round about when the festival ‘crossed over’ with the general public. For example, it was the year in which the BBC took over coverage from Channel 4. It was also the most infamously muddy Glastonbury of modern times. Just to dispel one myth while I’m here though: it barely rained at all during Friday to Sunday. The damage was done by an unseasonably cold and extremely wet June, with the Wednesday and Thursday before the festival being particularly atrocious.
And here we have a similar story. The last week of March 2018 was wet, with the 29th and 30th bringing especially heavy rain (and some snow) to the south-west. In 2017 I completed 195 miles of the Coast to Coast without slipping once. On 1 April 2018 I walked just 13½ miles from Port Isaac to Boscastle, after the deluge of late March, and slipped over – properly, right on my arse, sometimes in areas that weren’t even that muddy – seven times. Hence the title of today’s blog.
LEJoG Day 8 (Easter Sunday 1 April 2018)
Port Isaac to Boscastle (13½ miles)
Cumulative: 109 miles
Facts: Time on walk: 5 hours 20 minutes. Average speed: 2.53 mph. Weather: Cool, overcast, windy. Non-stop rain after Tintagel. Very muddy underfoot, as you may already have gathered.
Practicalities: My aim in 2018 was to walk from Port Isaac to Edale, so I could plan the Pennine Way for 2019 and Scotland for the 2020s. For a single walking season (April to October) this was quite a big ask. LEJoG took up most of my statutory holidays.
Once again I drove down to Cornwall, this time for a seven-day section of LEJoG built around the Easter holidays. At the third attempt I learned my lesson and stayed in Bristol on the Friday night. The hotel was on the Gordano services complex and was being refurbished. Nothing spectacular, but much better than being stuck in traffic and trying to beat the check-in time.
On Saturday morning I drove to Bude, which would be my base for six nights. For those following My Listening Pleasure, the soundtrack on the Friday and Saturday drive was a 64-song hip-hop compilation (c. 1979-2014) which grew out of the funk/disco one I used for walks in 2017. Once again, a disclaimer: it was not meant to be definitive and I am definitely not a hip-hop aficionado.
It was the sort of compilation that aims to touch the obvious bases, e.g. it starts with Rapper’s Delight (yes, the full version), Rapture and The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel. Because the third track interpolates both of the first two. Yes I know it’s Good Times, not strictly Rapper’s Delight, but that’s taking pedantry too far. Anyway Good Times is already Side 1 Track 1 on the disco compilation. Public Enemy and De La Soul dominate the golden age section, Dr Dre the 90s section. You probably get the picture.
The lucky hotel was The Edgcumbe. Now, my room was a decent size: the shower was very weak but I’m not a complainer. The real treat, though, was the fabulous restaurant attached to the hotel: The Deck. Breakfast was great; the evening menu was magnificent. I don’t think the place needs an evangelist, as it was clearly popular with non-residents every night. But really, I can’t recommend it enough. The Deck was the main reason I was sad to leave for Barnstaple on Friday morning.
Here’s a taster of the Saturday night menu. Main course of lamb shank with chorizo, asparagus and mixed vegetables in a red wine and shallot sauce. Followed by raspberry and strawberry cheesecake with chocolate mini eggs. Just thought I’d tell you, a propos of absolutely nothing.
Obtained bus timetables from Bude’s tourist information centre on Saturday afternoon. Sunday morning I drove to Port Isaac, which took nearly an hour. Started from the same car park I used in September. No cheating.
Start: St Endellion car park, Port Isaac, 10:30am. End: Boscastle bridge, 3:50pm.
So what’s changed since September 2017? The change most relevant to me as a walker is that, in February, I acquired a Fitbit Charge 2. I’m not here to advertise, but this thing changed my life. First of all, it records your walking routes through GPS. This will help with recalling route details on here when I leave the South West Coast Path and diverge from Andy Robinson’s End to End trail. Days 8 to 14 inclusive use only the SWCP and Robinson, so just as with days 1 to 7 I won’t be going heavy on the detail.
Second and most importantly, it enabled me to track my calories and macros. I learned where I’d been going wrong in doing plenty of exercise but never really losing enough weight. Between February and November 2018, I lost over two stones. In July I returned to my pre-illness weight (and waist size) for the first time since 2005.
Today’s walk starts by heading to nearby Port Gaverne by road before climbing past the Pink Cottage holiday apartments into fields. There is little sign of the coast itself until you reach the end of the field and bear NE towards the cliff tops again. This is another fiddly stretch of coastline which the path does its best to follow for several miles. For the first 2-3 miles the trend is uphill, with several of those tough rise and falls up to and including peak elevation at Bounds Cliff. This eases off only slightly for the remaining miles to the beach at Trebarwith Strand. This is one of the highlights of the walk, although perhaps not so appealing on a grey April afternoon as it would be in high summer. The toughest climb of the day follows, up to Dennis Point.
The route between Trebarwith and Tintagel stays mainly on the cliff top. I looked forward to absorbing some of the mysticism of Tintagel Castle, and staying a while to read up on King Arthur. This is one of those rare places on the SWCP where I thought I might “get a bit touristy”. But. But. This is where it started to rain: drizzle at first but heavy enough by the time I reached the castle to keep my hood up. I slipped twice in the half mile before reaching the castle, and had to focus just to stay upright on the steep stone steps. Also, it was much busier than the rest of the walk, and I didn’t even cross the bridge to the island that houses Merlin’s Cave and the sculpture of King Arthur.
I’m afraid I now recall Tintagel as one of the most dismal few minutes I spent on the SWCP. This is clearly very unfair and something I hope to rectify one day. Below is my only photo from Day 8: it does not show the mud underfoot. Believe me when I tell you that the rain must have started coming down within minutes of this being taken.
The rain refused to go away for the remaining five miles to Boscastle, about which I remember little. The last third of this walk (from the SWCP guide, heading the other way) corresponds roughly to the last section of my Day 8, but even that jogs few memories. The elevation profile tells you that the hardest part of LEJoG Day 8 is over (and my Day 9 is far more severe). And the reference to Bossiney Common and accompanying satellite map suggests that it was more or less all just fields, as Harry Enfield’s Old Gits used to say. However I do remember Rocky Valley, just before Trewethett Farm Caravan Site. Here the path takes a sharp right and there is a very rocky zig-zag descent and ascent to negotiate.
Finally you descend into Boscastle and arrive at the harbour. I stopped at the bridge you see in the photo below, as Day 9 starts on the opposite side.
The view of Boscastle on completion of this stage
For those of us not from Cornwall, Boscastle is probably best known for the flood of 2004. I didn’t know until linking that Wikipedia page that the flood also affected my next destination, Crackington Haven. The explanation for that lack of knowledge is in the third sentence of the article. There is information available on the extensive recovery and flood defence work done since then.
Postscript 1: My Listening Pleasure
Going daily for this section because it varied so much. Today was just podcasts: Kermode and Mayo, and episode 4:19 (Angel Maintenance) of the West Wing Weekly.
Postscript 2: My Disrobing Displeasure
I spent a grim hour in Boscastle before catching the bus back to Port Isaac. Nothing to do with the place itself: indeed I found it charming and welcoming. I bought a delicious Cornish pasty from a shop recommended by Trailblazer, and washed it down with some old fashioned fizzy pop. Probably dandelion and burdock, but I don’t remember for sure. No, the problem was it was so bloody cold.
First of all, because the bus driver and passengers really wouldn’t appreciate me boarding in this state, and I’m not a selfish, obnoxious person, I had to take my muddy trousers off in a public convenience. This is the sort of gruesome task which may put “normal” people off distance walking immediately. OK, maybe it’s a few steps up from, say, nappy changing, which many “normal” people have to do on a regular basis. But not many steps. On this occasion, I had no replacement trousers packed. This was an embarrassing rookie error, particularly given the recent weather. It’s not going where you think. I had (purely by luck rather than careful planning) chosen a pair that could easily be turned into shorts by unzipping at both knees. The muddy bottom legs could be stashed deep in my bag. No-one on the bus would be any the wiser.
However, it was only a few degrees above freezing in Boscastle, or at least the wind chill made it feel that way. The available shelter near the bus stop had already been taken by the elderly and families with young children. I sat shivering in shorts for a bit before deciding to try and warm myself up by walking around the village (to the bridge and back). It didn’t really work. Even the Cornish pasty didn’t really work.
And then it started to rain. Rarely have I been more pleased to see a bus. I should be grateful that, at least, I didn’t slip over into a puddle.
The bus back to Port Isaac takes one hour. Another hour driving back to Bude, and it’s three hours between completing the walk and being back in your hotel room and able to shower and relax. Worth bearing in mind if you’ve decided to take a central base for the week rather than carry your full pack from town to town.
Picture (not by me or of me!) of a man sliding in the mud on his bum taken from muddyrace.co.uk.
Next: Day 9 (2 April 2018)... in which Ben remembers he packed some waterproof trousers and they might come in useful.