What a bloody stage. There is no other description for it. Everything you hear about it is true and then no-one mentions the real problem – that you are scrambling over rocks for the entire day. There is probably not 50 yards of straight, flat path between St Ives and Zennor, and the guidebooks don’t tell you exactly what to expect – perhaps they should be a bit more explicit.
We leave St Ives eventually – it’s an extraordinarily sticky town, although not as bad as Newquay. Despite the fact that we are staying high above Porthmeor Beach, we feel we must return to the harbour and walk around the edge of The Island. Half-way along the harbour, still sandy from last night’s high tide, we realise we need to visit a cash till – it could be some time before we are in range of another one. So it’s back to the centre of town. Leaving our B and B hosts was also a very sticky business – we had a lovely chat that we wouldn’t have missed for the world, but this stage has been a worry almost since we started out on the path, and this has not been the best beginning for the day – we must have been talking about life, the universe and pets for at least an hour, ending with a discussion of websites and the iniquities of search engines.
Finding our way onto The Island is an unexpected navigational challenge and Andy isn’t certain we’re really on it until we are actually half way round. When we trudge down onto Porthmeor Beach under grey skies we can see the B and B roof and sign just above the gallery. What with the cash till hunt and everything else, it is pushing an hour since we left it and we have travelled a net 20 yards. We leave the beach and the road in front of the Tate and head into the country towards Clodgy Point, past some toilets and a municipal bowling green which give little indication of what is to come. We are accosted by a lot of friendly older people, and they are not too bad to talk to. The people we avoid are competitive, take your walking as a challenge to them and either want to explain all about the testing walks they have done or seek to bring you down with sarcastic questions or comments. Or otherwise people who want to talk about outdoor gear. The ones we have just met are the other sort – friendly and interested. One couple sees us preparing to take a photo of the milestone saying ‘Zennor 6.5 miles’ and offer to take it for us, with both of us in it. We gratefully accept – after all, we may never be seen again.
Past Clodgy Point the terrain gets tougher and the drizzle really sets in. It is very boggy underfoot and quite a tough climb up to the clifftops. It is definitely raining, we can no longer pretend otherwise, but luckily the direction means we are being protected by our rucksacks and are not being bothered too much by it. Waterproofs are never quite necessary but gaiters are essential to keep our legs and feet passably dry. The landscape is very moor-like and the cloud is so low that you can hardly see into the next bay – we expect the Hound of the Baskervilles momentarily. Up on the cliff top is a series of posts set up by Trevalgan Holiday farm which offer personal anecdotes from the owner and also point out a badger sett which we are delighted to spot. The gaiters, though silly-looking, have proved their worth already – some parts of the path are so boggy that they were boardwalked. We charge on through the damp bracken towards Trevega Cliff and its triangulation point feeling quite pleased. There is lots of scrambling but we aren’t doing too badly on this difficult stage and already have a mile or two under our belts. However, for a couple of reasons, Andy is unable to do his usual point-by-point navigaton. The visibility is too poor to get a fix in comparison with the rest of the coastline and anyway these headlands all look much alike. Andy finds this very unsettling, but is still confident of getting off the path in the right place. At last, Treveal Cliff offers us the chance of getting a fix on our location thanks to some distinctive headlands and The Carracks offshore. We realise that we are quite unmistakeably looking at Zennor Head and it is a moment of elation.
Just Tregerthen Cliff, past the Gala Rocks then Tremedda Cliffs and we’ll have reached Zennor! Granted, we have made progress, but this is flawed thinking, of course. This section is the toughest of the day and made worse by the fact that the destination is in sight. It is an awful slog over rocks on a path which doesn’t stay level for two feet together and which is very boggy. It seems to go on for ever – definitely a stage to separate the sheep from the goats. Which are we…? The path is not altogether clear so, in waist-high bracken, we cut off Zennor Head by accident, walking across the back of it instead. Now for something Andy says has been casting a long shadow over him for around a decade. Between Zennor village (what there is of it) and the sea is a steep little valley called Pendour Cove. We visited this on one of our wandering trips around the south-west with a tent. Andy remembers it as a nasty precipitous drop which he has been worrying about. For some reason, a garden gate mark ‘private’ and leading nowhere also stuck in his memory. Lisa remembers a lovely lush spot full of sub-tropical plants, albeit with a couple of exhausted walkers slogging round, which helped to inspire the whole idea of the walk. Luckily all memories can be proved right as it is both lush and precipitous. There are wild fuschia bushes, palms and giant rhubarb and a little stream runing through the middle. There is also a handrail, which proves the bit about precipitousness, and the gate, seemingly leading nowhere, is still there.
We’re well past the turning for Zennor now (the church tower behind us is the clue) and we are pressing on for Boswednack, two headlands away where we are staying at a B and B with a barn conversion. We must walk inland down the spine of a headland, containing a dwelling with an owner who has apparently hidden the footpath sign – useful information from our landlord. He has also provided a very helpful map with a landmark building on it, which we were expecting to be a ruined mineworking but was in fact a house very much in use. It looks worryingly private but we are armed with secret information about paths and access rights. We walk inland down a track only to see a horse shunt a dog walker into the hedge some 50 yards ahead of us – apparently, claimed its rider, because it was spooked by our rucksacks. Forgive us if we don’t apologise for having the temerity to be using a public footpath. Boswednack cannot come soon enough and, just for once, it does.
This proves to be a really good choice of B and B. It’s a tiny barn in the grounds of the owners’ house, all white-painted stone walls, slate and pine. No telly (thank God for the radio) but warm, comfortable and relaxing with a separate bathroom. The owner, who Andy thinks is a pretty fair representation of what would happen to us if we moved to the country, also offers to drive us to Zennor in the evening so we can get some dinner. Pretty exhausted after the long walk, we eat some of our trail rations, have a shower and a lie down and listen to the radio.
Later we eat at the Tinners’ Arms, which is very small and dark and looks like it can’t have changed all that much for the last 200 years. We are the only people there and spend our time after eating watching The Bill with the landlord on the TV behind the bar. As we leave the evening rush begins – four teenage girls who tell the landlord “Dad says he’s coming soon”, and a few other people we pass in the street as we wait for our landlord to sort his car out. We wonder whether the landlord will be pleased by the custom – he seemed to be about to close up. We learn later that sometimes he doesn’t bother to open at all, so a 9pm last orders is probably quite normal for him.
And so to bed…
Start: 11.35am; lunch: n/a; end: 4.55pm; time on path: 5.5 hours.