A warm sunny morning for the off from
Land's End. Blue skies, sea and cliff
scenery set the tone for the next week. First, the obligatory photo
and the signing in at the End to End register - which at least gave me a feel
for the number of other nutters attempting the trip. I was not even the only walker
setting off that morning. An Australian lady was making a second attempt, camping
and therefore slower than I. I overtook her at Sennen Cove a mile and a half from
the start, and never saw her again.
First lesson of the trip: many people
set off, not everyone makes it. All kinds of things can go wrong, but for most
it is injury, in the Australian lady's case, a knee problem. Well, if I could
at least walk home to Oxford, that wouldn't be bad.
first day was glorious, along the cliffs, across the beach at Whitesand Bay and
past tiny coves. I was pretty knackered by the time I reached the B&B at Treen,
16 miles from LE. Next morning was tough going to St Ives,
the first chance to stock up on Cornish pasties, blister bandages and money. Then
more mundane walking through the outskirts of St Ives, across a golf course and
along the road to Hayle.
Day 3 was breezy. The tide
was out, and I walked for 4 miles along the beach to Godrevy
Point, then back to the clifftops for the rest of the day to St Agnes. Getting
into a rhythm now, I managed my first 20 mile day. More beach
and cliff walking took me next day to Newquay and back to the real world: B&B
landladies who wanted cash in advance, people who didn't carry rucksacks, and
my first spot of rain. But also a chance of a curry instead of the ubiquitous
the morning of Day 5 the state of the tide was just right to walk along the beach
beneath the cliffs north from Newquay to Watergate. With no other footprints but
my own, it was a Robinson Crusoe moment. Later that day, at Trevose Head, I could
see right back to St Ives and on to Hartland Point, a week's worth of walking.
These long distance viewpoints gave me a very satisfying sense of achievement,
to look at distant places and say to myself, "I've walked that".
the B&B at Trevone Bay, it was a short morning's walk around the coast to
Padstow. There I took the ferry across the river to Rock, the one and only time
on the whole trip that I used transport other than my two legs. I'm not such a
purist as to think it a good use of time to slog up the river for a day to the
lowest bridge and a day back the other side. Besides, the official route of the
South West Coast Path uses the ferry. That evening at Port Isaac I clocked up
my first 100 miles.
North of Padstow, I met few other walkers. Often I
walked for hours without seeing a soul. The grand scenery continued. But at times
it seemed the route had been designed by a masochist, such as the stretch from
Port Quin to Port Isaac, where a three-mile fence forced you close to the sea
and barred some obvious short cuts across more level ground. At least all those
descents and ascents were good training for the rest of the trip.
seventh night found me at the Riverside Hotel in Boscastle.
Two months later, in Scotland, I watched with horror the TV pictures of the Boscastle
flood, when the residents of the Riverside had to be rescued by boat and helicopter.
But back in June, there had been little rain, and the Pentargon waterfall just
north of Boscastle was reduced to a trickle.
weather changed at the start of the second week. Strong winds called for care
on the clifftop paths. It started to rain steadily on the afternoon of Day 8.
I was soaked by the time I reached the B&B at Upton, but the owners of the
B&B (who turned out to be Brazilian) dried my clothes. The
next day, it was blowing a gale. I struggled north from Bude, but in places the
wind was too strong to stay upright. I was forced inland for a few miles, and
stopped for the night at a farm in Morwenstow.
was back to the fine weather. Back on the coast path, I said goodbye to Cornwall
and climbed up to the first building in Devon, the
poet's hut (the poet in question being Ronald Duncan). There I found Fletch,
the Island Bagger. If you think LE to JOG is a long way, take a look at this:
grand scenery to Hartland Point. Heading
east from there, the going was easier. Wales was just visible across the Bristol
Channel. I stayed that night in a B&B on the cobbled High Street of Clovelly.
Next morning, Clovelly was looking good, warm sun, fishing
boats in the harbour, just like the postcards. From there the path led through
woods and then along low cliffs. I had a quick paddle at the last beach for 1000
miles, then found a B&B in Westward Ho! (not an inspiring town, but I could
not miss the chance of staying in the only place with an exclamation mark in its
Day 12 started wet. I trudged round Northam Burrows
to Appledore to catch the ferry to Instow. But the ferryman had decided to take
the day off ("Too rough", he said). So I had to take the detour south
to Bideford to cross the bridge. At least I found a good pub in Bideford, and
from there to Barnstaple it was easy walking, mostly along an old railway line.
My wife Susan had come to meet me in Barnstaple, with a fresh supply of clothes,
food and maps. We met on the Long Bridge and walked into town.