This was a much heavier day than we expected due to two things; a river crossing and the fact that a mistake was made over mileage. We had calculated distance from the centre of Newquay. But our hotel was right at the start of the town, being only just past Trevelgue Head. This added between two and three miles to the day. Then it was necessary to run all the way to Pentire to make sure we caught the tide for the Gannel. But more of that later.
Breakfast was odd in a venue with a real penchant for portion control – so we ended up with one round of scrambled egg on toast each and a veggie sausage. We’ve had more filling… We set off knowing we would have to race the tide in the river estuary or add up to four more miles to the day. We reached the centre of Newquay, found a shop to buy our lunch and a bank, and another hour had suddenly gone. Newquay was more inoffensive than it might have been, even pleasant in places (a nice harbour and of course great beaches) but it is a town when all is said and done, and that made it the most unpleasant part of this very isolated and solitary walk. It also seemed to go on forever, as we wove our way through the late-season tourists and onto Towan Head with its incredibly ugly hotels – possibly the worst since that one on Tintagel Head.
Past the head is Fistral Beach – surf mecca. There are indeed many surfers in the water, but that’s true of every cove we’ve been in so far. (Incidentally, watching the surfers, they rarely if ever seemed to actually surf, but spent most of their time floating. You think they must be waiting for the perfect wave. But when one apparently comes, they ignore it. Very odd.) Where Fistral is different is the attitude ashore, full of classic model surfer boys with VW microbuses, Billabong wetsuits and loud voices: “Yeah, it was the carpal bone. The hospital set it like that, bent”. Bleached hair is out this year, it seems, but the rest of the surfing lifestyle is not.
Still we haven’t reached the Gannel, and it takes a hike through a housing estate, much of it new build, to do it. Eventually some steps lead down to its estuary and we are on the river’s sandy bed. We have pushed ourselves hard and the tide is still so low that the river is a small channel in its vast bed, crossed by a plank bridge. We cross this at 12.10pm – two hours into the walk – and we meet some other walkers who are delighted by our dedication. This is a minor theme for the day.
We stop for a rest on the far side of the Gannel and realise the miscalculation about distances – 10 miles still to go. Oh well. Grimmer, (“but no less determined…”) we head off. The Gannel crossing, since it went well, has been a high point that we wil look back on as one of the best bits of the walk. What follows will not necessarily also be included. Crantock is backed by difficult-to-walk sand dunes but we plough through. Spirits are flagging as we head out onto Pentire Point West and the next bay Porth Joke is where we decide to have lunch. We spot an escape route (the bed of a spring) that stops us having to go round the back which means we can linger after the tide has cut off the main exit from the beach. That has happened by the time we finish and we scramble up the spring bed.
We are walking the same route as two elderly sisters, overtaking them as we walk, and being overtaken by them as we rest. Actually, elderly is unfair to them since they are putting up every bit as good a pace as we are. We have a conversation about archaeology and discover they are birdwatchers. They approve heartily of our walking. The next we see of them is the younger sister, sans culottes, paddling with her dog while the elder sister marches into the waves in her swimming togs. They leave Porth Joke ahead of us, but we know we will catch them up at some point.
That point comes at the far side of Kelsey Head, just before Holywell beach. The elder sister has detained some other walkers in conversation and the younger has hurried onwards (with the dog). When she stops to wait we chat – this is how we know they are sisters. It was a thoroughly pleasant encounter and we (silently) both hope we are as active later in life.
At Holywell beach the path heads inland to cut the edge of the town. We follow, resisting the temptation to cut across the beach, as nature is calling and the map says “WC”. A brief rest and a call ahead to our B and B to inform them of progress, then Penhale Point which has been rendered an unpleasant walk by the Army, purveyor of “Danger – if you walk here, we may shoot you” signs – and also the unnerving “Danger – non-ionising radiation”. What is non-ionising radiation, as opposed to the ionising sort? We feel a powerful urge to check. It’s not just the Army, though, as there are many open mineshafts. All are fenced off but, even so, they are far from reassuring, especially as some of the signs eschew calming icons and go straight to the point with a skull and crossbones.
As we pass Hoblyn’s Cove the Army funnels us between two wooden fences for a long stretch where erosion forces the walker closer to its base than it is happy with. On the far side of Ligger Point, however, it is more relaxed and how we wished for those reassuring barriers! The path is, for a short while, one of those terrifying experiences that remind us of Highveer Point (the most aptly-named bit of geography on the entire path) in Devon or Fire Beacon Point near Boscastle – the only two previous places where we had experienced real problems with vertigo. The path is about six inches wide – a tiny flat strip of land on an otherwise perfectly smooth slope that promises to send you inexorably towards a horrible death on the rocks below. The person in front dealt with it by walking slowly and staring at the path, the person behind by walking slowly and staring at the leader’s boots until we were through and dropping fast onto Perran Beach. We know the tide will stop us walking the whole length but we want to minimise the time we spend walking in the dunes.
We know this beach quite well and are looking forward to rediscovering old haunts. but swiftly realise that the tide is as high as it goes and that we will be unable to. We plug on, having walked across sand many tines before, and knowing that it can be difficult, and stop for a rest to watch the surfers. Gradually we are coming to appreciate the skill involved, though we still can’t see why they wait so long.
Our exit route off the dunes is ranked by at least one of us as a contender for the worst part of the whole path to date; it is an incrediby steep ramp of soft, shifting sand, a foot of which slides away when you plant your feet in it. Surfers go trotting down past us as we slog upwards with our frame rucksacks. We think: just wait until you’re cold, wet and knackered, and trying to climb back up with your board and no shoes… The dunes are very dispiriting but eventually we are able to drop down to the beach and into the town of Perranporth. The B and B is uphill (of course) but more or less on the path, so we’ll be glad of it tomorrow. In fact we discover that rather than a B and B room we have a little self-catering apartment and we take the opportunity to hit the local convenience stores and cook – cannelloni, garlic bread, ice cream, wine – heaven! – before slathering ourselves in various kinds of ointment and collapsing into bed.
Start: 10.10am; lunch: one hour approx; end: 6.45pm; time on path: 8.5 hours.