If you’re planning to walk the South West Coast Path from St Ives to Looe you may get something out of this day by day account of what we saw, what was good, who we met, where we stayed (mostly in a tent) and where to find – well, arrange in advance – vegan and vegetarian food along the way. Long, detailed, and primarily intended for us when the Alzheimer’s is setting in. Because to be honest, coves can look pretty similar even the second time round and it’s good to pin them down with memories. For descriptions of the terrain see the website – suffice to say it’s a lot of up and down and worth it for the views. I’m not sure how much our packs weigh but they’re heavy enough to destablise us and since we like our knee joints we have walking poles.
At 23:30 we boarded the Night Riviera Sleeper from Paddington to St Austell. Had we not been visiting the Eden project we could have stayed on to Penzance and slept longer. We’d missed the double berths and had decided to shell out for singles, which luckily had a connecting door. We had a complementary drink in the lounge car at some time past midnight, washed in our wash stands and turned in. It was lovely being swayed to sleep – such a good night’s sleep, then lifting the blind, seeing dawn over the Plym, realising we’d just crossed into Cornwall, getting back into bed and watching the landscape scroll past the window. The nice man overseeing the sleepers woke us with our chosen breakfast at 06:15. I hadn’t given any notice of being vegan and there was no vegan complementary breakfast, but Matt had two croissants. Will this change in my lifetime?
On top of the ticket, the price of a berth is potentially about the same as a B&B – but if you can afford it I’d say the experience is worth the extra.
Day 0: St Ives
At St Austell rail station I bought an unexpectedly vividly written slim book on Cornwall geology by Robert Westwood. It’s published by Tormark Press in Redruth, part of a series you see in all the tourist places. There was one on wild flowers I regret not getting because I never saw it again. We walked to Eden, which was well worth the diversion, got the bus back to St Austell and then the train to St Ives. We stayed at Ayr Holiday Park, a campsite with sea views about 10 minutes walk from the middle of town. It was quality, and by quality I mostly mean views, level soft ground and nice shower block. An unforeseen bonus was use of the pool in the hotel next door (£2 unlimited), which we had to ourselves including sauna. Dinner was at the vegetarian restaurant Spinacios. We had the curry, which we slightly regretted because we’re spoilt for it in Ilford and, if you ask me, unremarkable desserts for the price. But I’d always, always, choose the veggie place, and if the tides are right and you’re a couple with seats in the window you see the harbour fill up or drain over the course of your meal.
Day 1: St Ives – Pendeen
Some of this section is marked as severe in the book because of boulders, gradient and no amenities on route. Breakfast was three hot cross buns each from the Co-op where we’d also bought next day’s lunch. West of Zennor we didn’t get lost in the boulders – we think this is because we were climbing down rather than up and the route was clearer. There was a cruel and unusual north-east wind so we ate a lunch of hummus, salad and pita hunkered down behind a rock. Getting up we noticed a lot of rubbish wedged down a cranny including a rusty soup tin. People deliberate enough to hide rubbish. I would love to know what goes through their heads. Then came a lot of crossing contour lines. On OS Explorer maps if you see FB on the coast path it often means steep climb down and up again. We dozed by a wall with our sun side hot and windward side cold and were woken by a zooming sound very close above as some big raptor tried to raptorate something in the next field. Near to Pendeen Watch we washed (well, I washed both of us) in a numbingly cold stream because we thought we might want a drink at the North Inn before putting up our tent in their back field. They have a massive home made curry menu. A university climbing club was staying at the same time so we listened to them tell stories of safety failure cover-ups, and later discussed how university clubs are meeting places for passionate geeky kids and rich kid dabblers. And one girl, nearly silent. Last time we were there we’d met two genial civil engineers who’d almost got sucked into the sand of the innocent-looking Hayle when they tried to ford it at low tide. They were drunk and it was funny.
As a walker rather than a long stayer I like that campsite. Odd showering in the pub, and best to put your coat over your stuff to keep it dry, but hot enough and no draft. There’s a shelter for the pub smokers where you can get yourself together if it’s raining, which it wasn’t.
Day 2: Pendeen – Sennen Cove
The North Inn weren’t doing breakfast that morning due to too many campers and not enough cook so I had a bean salad and two bananas from the Spar and Matt had a double fried egg sandwich from Lil’s Chippy next door, which opens for breakfast. We sat on a bench in front of a sunny window full of older gents, and Matt observed that Lil’s Chippy is a bit like a community centre. We passed the maginificent Geevor tin mine museum where we spent most of a rainy day a few years back, and bit further on had a coffee at the Levant mine and beam engine museum shop. The engine had succumbed to boiler trouble, which the woman left in sole and unaccustomed charge that day attributed to the old adage that women bring bad luck to mines. I looked for the Tormark Press book of wildflowers but she thought it was out of print. From Levant we passed the many abandoned mines on the St Just district UNESCO world heritage site. The north east wind was still going and a couple in woolly hat and gloves commented on our bare arms and sandals. We carry enough to warm up quickly simply by walking but it’s a different matter when we stop, sweat drenched in the wind. We found a relatively sheltered bench in a convivial shallow V shape half way up a high cliff with a beautiful view and ate lunch we’d bought from the Pendeen Spar, including delicious granary rolls. We came across the body of a slow worm – Matt saw a live one some days later. Other than that, mostly herring gulls, larks, the odd buzzard. The flowers were beautiful – thrift, kidney vetch, birdsfoot trefoil, sea campion, sea carrot, stonecrop, the odd pyramid orchid and squill, and – my favourite – lots of sheeps bit. When Matt got up we saw that 50 or so ants had been enjoying the microclimate under his bum and now didn’t know what to do. We spent a bit of time on the sunken lane from St Just to its cove, whose high rubbley sides looked like they were going to disintegrate at any moment. The geology book left me guessing about this – I don’t think it was turbidite. We sat in the wind in the National Trust carpark at Cape Cornwall eating peanuts among the rubbish tourists leave and watching a man in a cove boat navigate rocks to the beach below. After a while we reached the first beach of Whitesands Bay, where we noticed that if you got down low with a rock between you and the wind it was wonderfully warm. I went for a paddle and Matt fell asleep.
There was a dog with a sock who would bury it, sit expectantly by the hole, and then do a move like a bear trying to break ice when there’s a seal underneath. Trevedra Farm is a great campsite with two drawbacks. One is that it’s very exposed and the second is that the showers don’t warm up. If it’s light you can walk to Sennen Cove along the coast path, a mixture of rock, dune and beach. We walked round the village and ate an OK meal I don’t really remember at the Old Success Inn. The staff looked like a summer intake and weren’t very attentive. We managed to get out of them that they did have a vegan dessert – champagne sorbet with rasberries. We walked back along the road and had a good night’s sleep because the wind had dropped.
Day 3: Porthcurno to Mousehole
We had an easily vegan and veggie breakfast at Trevedra’s Ocean Blue Cafe and from the campsite shop bought peanuts and Nairns mixed berry oatcakes (discovery – these are delicious). Then we took the community bus to bypass Land’s End, on which we met a Brummy Methodist preacher. The driver had a cove boat at Cape Cornwall and told us it was three years before he attempted to pick his way through the rocks on his own. At Lands End we got the 1A (I think) to Porthcurno where we sat on the beach, leaving just before a very large school party. Then I almost got my cheek nibbled by a welsh pony whose nostril I was blowing into because most horses love that. We rested on a bench and had a chat to a cheerful man with a tired-looking young son and a mid-atlantic accent. Before Lamorna Cove we found a very unfit man slumped dejectedly in front of a style while his very overweight companion maintained a chirpy front for our benefit. Full credit to them, I have no idea how they managed the squeezes and clambers down the cliff to (up from, in their case) Lamorna Cove, which took forever, but they did. Lamorna Cove cafe is over priced, (offer roasted Mediterranean vegetables in ciabatta and serve up something like ratatouille) and do not care about vegetarians or vegans. Avoid if possible. However, a high point was watching a man in the sea trying to swim first backstroke then sidestroke in flippers. Between there and Mousehole was Kemyel Crease, once a series of walls and hedges to shelter potato plants during the war, which had grown into rare bit of deciduous woodland and been designated a nature reserve. In Mousehole harbour at low tide we snapped a low dark beast festooned with seaweed trotting through the moorings. It must have been an otter (update – now confirmed on iSpot), but that was the first the salty seadog types propping up the bar had heard of it. Somebody said ferret. The relevation was dinner at the Old Coastguard Hotel, a restaurant with rooms, which was Matt’s favourite meal to the extent he became quite giddy. The price was not commensurately more than anywhere else. No campsite at Mousehole so we’d booked at Tremayne B&B which, comparable to other places was poor for the price. The room was noisy and cold.
Day 4: Marazion to Porthleven
The Tremayne breakfast was remarkably poorly provided and executed, especially for the vegetarian. The next table had a choice of bread and how their egg was cooked, but we didn’t. No cereal and no fruit either. Mushrooms and tomatoes, watery. Based on our other B&B stays, Tremayne was more expensive, too. We took the bus to Penzance to miss out a familiar stretch to Marazion. 09.30 is when the bus passes become eligible and the bus became a sardine tin of mostly pensioners, half of whom got off at the surgery. I would have stood but I’d moved to the back corner. Matt had to put his pack on his lap. Lavenders which used to sell vegan pasties in Penzance had shut so we diverted to Archie Brown‘s for a coffee, where I picked up two vegan pasties and Organica faux white chocolate bar. Then a taxi ride to Marazion cut out another boring bit. The driver had a story to tell – he was about to move to marry an woman he hadn’t yet met in person and set up a Cornish pasty business in Washington State. A rather boring walk round fields from Marazion gave us too much time to become infuriated by the way tourists bag up their dogshit and drop it all the way along the coast path as if somebody is paid to collect it. Then Praa Sands where I happily kicked up surf for half a mile. This is the beauty of tevas.
We lay down on one side of a warm sand dune to get out of that wind and ate the pasties. We weren’t alone – the whining sound above was a hovering drone. It remained for some time before whirring off very fast out over the sea and then down the beach. Then I had to apply Germolene New Skin because wet tevas were rubbing my feet for some reason – they hardly ever have before. A long and strenuous walk took us through the handsome estate of Prussia Cove, a cliff face swarming with climbers, more ruined mine heads and finally to Porthleven. Porthleven is one of my favourite Cornish places. It’s on the Lizard and often has exciting seas, but that evening was unbelievably still. The Mill Lane campsite (no website but don’t be put off) was really comfortable – small, quiet but close, with proper shower cubicles inside changing cubicles, adjustable temperature and natural light. It was low tide and we walked out on the unfenced pier which had waves breaking over it last time we were there. The sea often breaks over the church clock. That evening the water was clear and we could see all the plant life on the harbour floor. A pint at the Harbour Inn, then not-great pizza and salad meal at Amelie’s followed by another good night’s sleep. I like Porthleven.
Day 5: Porthleven to Lizard village
A sunny start and a good, reasonably priced cooked breakfast in a little cafe at the harbour end of Fore Street whose name I forget, next to a more pretentious cafe. At Costcutters we bought some lunch stuff including dried apple slices which are light and both sweet and fibrous, meaning that when you eat some it sticks with you a bit longer. Before long the weather turned dark. We were scoured by sandy wind on the Loe Bar. There was less rubbish than last time we were there, but the levels of rubbish left all over Cornwall by the sea and by tourists is appalling. At Mullion Cove we ate lunch (rolls, humus and salad again) on the same harbour bench as last time, but slightly better weather. We talked to members of a diving club from Milton Keynes hoping to see basking sharks. Today they’d seen spider crabs, jellyfish, green and purple sea weed and different starfish. It began to rain and the wind was bad so I put on my boots, coat, goretex socks and waterproof trousers. The Lizard nature reserves boast Mediterranean and alpine plants in close proximity but I’m no connoisseur. After signs for the alluring Jollytown we arrived at Kynance Cove in the rain once again. The bridge connecting the row of cottages to the cafe and toilets had been condemned, the coast path diverted, the houses boarded up, and the cafe was closed for the evening. The place had a bit of an atmosphere and our wet bodies were rapidly chilling in the wind, so we had a quick something to eat, tried to feed the birds dried apple, and left for Lizard. We ended up in Henry’s campsite again, which I’m ambivalent about. I love the central location in the village, the little hedged-off sheltered mini fields with different entrances and exits through covered areas, the visiting ducks and the general hippiness, but we bent our push pegs in the hard ground, there was a dog shit near our tent and I don’t ever seem to find that junk makes good art or even decoration. I used the shower in the toilet block rather than the ones opening onto the outside with gaps above the door. I’d definitely go to Henry’s again. At the Top House Inn they didn’t have a vegan meal so we had salad and chips. It rained very hard but luckily not while we were outside. That night it rained a bit and the tent flapped, which meant I could only sleep with earplugs.
Day 6 Lizard to Coverack
Overcast. We tried the tent as best we could and then decided to eat breakfast in the Regent Cafe rather than in a bus shelter like last time. This was a great idea because small adapted vegetarian breakfast was bounteous for a very modest price (Trip Advisor suggests they’re famous for this). Linda McCartney sausages and three hash browns, tomato, mushrooms, good coffee and just a nice place. Then because of the weather, the length of the section, and the fact we’d already seen that bit of the Lizard, we decided to take the road to Llandewednack passing Ann’s Pasty Shop on Beacon Terrace. Too early for vegan, but they did have a vegetarian one. The next place we stopped was Cadgwith Cove Inn where we perused a photo book about Cadgwith centrered on the fishermen. Not much in the way of fish was featured though – mostly crustaceans. The kids’ water races looked fun though. We met a friendly Coventry man. He told us his brother was set to move his family down after child abductions which the press covered up. Cornwall’s coastal businesses seem to be mostly run by enterprising Midlanders who left in search of a more traditional life. Matt and I speculate about what that means, especially in the context of a high turnout for UKIP in the Midlands in the last general election, but it’s not really possible to ask. You don’t see much dark skin in Cornwall or hear any accents apart from the vast numbers in search of the landscapes of Rosamunde Pilcher adaptations on German Sunday night TV. If there’s any substance to my hunch, isn’t it ironic that anyone would even consider migrating out as a response to in-migration, but there you go. I suppose they don’t see it that way. They cite personal security and press coverups. And they don’t think they’re in the same league of immigrant. I’ll leave making their excuses to the sociologists of the white emerging middle class (or whatever) rightwards march. On the path north of there we met two remarkable women in their 70s who were doing ten mile days a day and planning to wild camp in bivvy bags. Given the steady rain they were hoping for bed and breakfast in Cadgwidth but there was no signal and no guarantee. Hope they made it. They seemed tired but in good spirits. Bad weather and I don’t remember anything else much until avoiding the slippery route into Coverack and landing in the Paris Hotel. We’d decided to find a B&B rather than camp. The Youth Hostel where we’d planned to camp was fully booked out, because the village had been briefly taken over by American study-abroad students. The Paris was also fully booked. Matt walked up the road to a B&B called Boak House. Bridget who runs it had one room going which we took (for a lower price than Tremayne in Mousehole). There was a balcony overlooking the beach which we soon turned into a drying area. The bathroom also had sea views. We couldn’t believe our luck when we were invited to take a gin and tonic in the sun room (sunny by then), and then another. We talked to the woman overseeing the American students, and to an amusing man from the Paris who’d thrown in the towel on asset management in London, moved to Coverack and become a builder, artist and intimate friend of Bridget’s. We ate vegan tagine in the old lifeboat house, right above the slipway. I think the acrobatic birds on the strandline are swifts chasing insects. For some reason I didn’t have a great night’s sleep (should have opened the balcony door?) but Matt did.
Day 7: Coverack to Helford
In Cornwall the most refined places serve baked beans in a small bowl and so it was at Boak House. It was a very well done breakfast with mushrooms, toast, and tomato. We went briefly onto the roof of Boak Villa which in a bold salute to the miles of cliffs had been left unfenced. Matt had cereal and Bridget pressed fruit and chocolate for the walk. She’s a kind host who takes a lot of pride in hospitality. We tried to buy lunch in the local shop but it had closed down. Meanwhile Coverack Village Stores was a new, pricey deli that sells humus in heavy glass jars, which we passed over. We met my friend Steve from work off the bus at 9.45 and set off in warm sunshine. After a slightly muddy start we came to Dean Quarry which they’re trying to reopen in the face of some dogged and we think successful local objections. Sad, because Cornwall needs a mixed economy. Sad because an abandoned quarry is quite beautiful – in atmosphere not so far off UNESCO landscape around the abandoned tin mines. And a working quarry is lively. Half of Bloomsbury is made of Portland Stone from Dorset. Of course, it only makes sense if it enriches the neighbourhood – if the benefits compensate for the sacrifices. I don’t know what to say about the marine conservation zone or the villagers, except to wonder if it might be possible to move that life somewhere conducive, with compensation for those who expect it. Next was Porthoustock, a charming village with a lawn, hall, beach and toilets. Walking round there’s no sign of the massive quarry hole, bigger than the village itself, at the top of the cliff. At Porthkerris we popped into Fat Apples cafe where Steve got a can and a cupcake. Fat Apples looks like it’s doing well. They let you wild camp and use the toilet. I was tempted to stay for lunch but Matt wanted pint so it was the Five Pilchards in Porthallow where I was given refried beans in a bap. Very nice indeed. Then we carried on round Nare Point and into the mouth of the sea-flooded river Helford. It was high tide so we couldn’t ford Gillan Creek. A boy in a boat took us across to St Anthony when we phoned. Then some miles of pleasant sunny wooded estuary with dogs and kids, to the Shipwright Arms where Steve left for the ferry to Helford Passage and the long journey back to St Austell. A 6 hour round trip by public transport is ordinary for Cornwall. Matt and I were staying inland at Helford River campsite about 3 miles or so away. We crossed one creek by bridge, walked through woods and fields and decided to risk trying to cross Frenchman’s Creek because the footpath on the map looked like it was where it stopped being tidal. Turned out there was an unmarked footbridge after all. Sometimes I think the OS people play hooky and make it up. It was beautiful by that creek – see?
Then the footpath went towards Gear Hill through a couple of farms which had made the field boundaries very hard to cross – we had to crawl and were stung and scratched. The campsite is nice and will be more so when they finish the new toilet block, though I was pleasantly surprised by the beautifully done-up and unspidery interior of the spidery-looking toilet shed. I think I prefer a tidal river view even to a sea view. We noticed that we’d come so far inland we were now equidistant from the coast either side of the Lizard. After a 3x20p shower we walked down a beautiful tree lined, winding, undulating lane to the Ship Inn at Mawgan where they had given the vegan some consideration. Perhaps a bit too much towards the fruit and leafy veg and a bit too little starch and protein for a long distance walker, but they weren’t to know. The flavours were divine and we appreciated being accommodated. On the way back but we didn’t use our torches except on two occasions when a car was coming. The lane was uncannily still and silent and dark. We stopped to listen and couldn’t hear even a leaf moving. Strange to say but this will be the most memorable part of the trip. Another good night’s sleep.
Day 8: Helford to Falmouth
We were woken by an incredible variety and volume of bird ‘song’. We shared a Trek bar that Matt had been carrying uneaten for three trips and then set off down the lane, not wanting to crawl again, especially in the heavy dew. A pleasant, quiet walk slightly marred by some ignorant driving and rubbish and we rejoined the way we’d come at the restored ancient farmstead of Kestle Barton (where there are very discreet refreshments with an honesty box, which we missed) and the good field and woodland path back to Helford. We saw two buzzards on the way. At Helford Village Stores (that term again, ‘village stores’, which tells you it’s expensive and the Cornish are shopping elsewhere) we bought superb Vicky’s bread, humus, lettuce, tomatoes and irritatingly packaged (verbal diarrhoea) habas fritas from Olives Et Al. We sat for some time waiting for the ferry across the creek to Helford Passage. It was the first after an unexpectedly low tide and, unable to pull in closer, we had to slightly paddle to get to it. Lots and lots of mussels round there. I was pleased to get to the other side and out of the public transport and taxi foresaken tidal prison. Two German women photographed our map – they were staying near Helford and reliant on public transport to get to Falmouth and would spend most of the day and a lot of cash travelling there and back. Meanwhile after a coffee at the Ferryboat Inn and the indelibly cute sight of a big-eared german shepherd puppy underneath a mastiff we walked back along the other side of the estuary over some National Trust beaches peopled by happy kids and dogs. Not so different from the previous day on the other side, except for the same two places which stuck in my head last time – the bare earth and very different atmosphere of the (I think) beech woods of Mawnan Glebe and the awesome trunks of the Monterey pines. I rarely want to touch trees, but.
Then not much that I remember before Maenporth which was sunny and unbelievably still. Then a mile on the lane to Pennance Mill, a nice campsite but chilly showers, where we fetched up out of the wind behind an unoccupied caravan. I drowsed in my sleeping bag outside the tent while Matt used the laundry. I didn’t launder anything except knickers for 11 days. The secret of that is deodorant, the extra precaution of tea tree oil on the arm pits (and feet on the rare occasion I don’t wear tevas) and nice-smelling sun cream. And loose airy shorts. Then we walked a couple of miles of lane, road and beach into Falmouth (there are regular infrequent buses from the campsite and another a short walk away, if you plan ahead). Over a pint at The Chain Locker Matt arranged dinner. Pea Souk the very good veggie place is closed on Sundays but we noticed that Amanzi were specific about what was vegan. It was pan-African – I had peanut soup followed by a sample plate including enjera which was startlingly different from Adulis in Oval. Delicious and probably more to British tastes though. It was a hearty meal followed by a home-made liqueur for Matt and for me a redbush espresso with cinnamon – that was a first and I’d have it again. Rather than risk the busy pavementless roads in the dark we took a taxi back – a woman who sounded more Cornish than the Cornish except when she said the word Manchester.
Day 9: Falmouth to Portloe
We took the bus into the middle of Falmouth, forgot to buy dental floss but did find a vegan pasty in Rowe’s. We then took the ferry to St Mawes where we found ourselves tidebound until 11.15, the first ferry to Place. Oops. But I saw this girl somehow managing to squat on a wall and look beautiful.
Waiting for the ferry would have been too long for us to do all we needed to do before our 8pm dinner at The Ship in Portloe (there’s nowhere else at all), so we had a coffee at The Rising Sun (beautiful inside, nice suntrap outside) and took the next bus to Porthscatho where we had chips and salad at The Plume of Feathers and set off. Matt had an ice cream at Carne Beach, where somebody had converted a pillbox into a little room with balcony. When we got up from the bench I realised I’d been sitting over another dogshit in a bag. I was beginning to think that dog owners are the shits. It’s always worth reading the interpretation boards the wildlife trusts &c put up on the stiles – we saw a field which had inexplicably dropped 5 metres, becoming a flattish- bottomed, steep sided bowl. Portloe is a very pretty village squeezed into a steep sided valley opening into a tiny rocky cove. From there it’s up the lane and through three fields, a hamlet, then four more fields to Veryan. There was a diversion over a field of soft soil which is awful in sandals and poor signposting took us into a field of many cows who really wanted to be milked and hassled us. We had to act scarey to keep them away, and this is the most unpleasant memory I have of the holiday since they were clearly already in some discomfort. Veryan is a really well-run campsite with a discount for backpackers. We camped in the same field as before, nearly alone except for the rabbits. Late to the campsite we rushed to get the tent up and shower and walk back to Portloe (the right way this time). Paul at The Ship had made jalfrezi for the vegan but we were stunned to find there was nothing on the menu for the vegetarian. Fortunately there was enough jalfrezi for Matt. We didn’t understand this, but the moral of that story is give some notice. Tasty food, and we appreciated the effort. We met a German couple staying at The Lugger Hotel down the road, and had a long and varied discussion with them. They wanted to know which way to walk, so we suggested our way, to Nare Head. Coming back over the seven fields we saw many little bats chasing insects near the high hedges and trees, and heard an owl. It was still light enough to see our way without a torch at 10.30. Another good night’s sleep.
Day 10: Portloe to Mevagissey
Not much difference between rain and a heavy dew and no wind but the sun was hot so we dried the tent with a mixture of hankies and turning it into the sun. Remembering that the Veryan shop is quite specialist (different kinds of luncheon meat, for example, but not much for veggie walkers) we ate some flapjacks bought at Falmouth and decided to take the lane to West Portholland and have something at Pebbles, the sweet little cafe at East Portholland. The cafe lady was concerned to show me the ingredients on things and we found she could give me toasted teacakes without any spread, which was more than I feared. We sat down outside only to realise there was a dogshit on the ground next to me, which I had to tell the owner about. That said, it’s a lovely, dinky, independent cafe and a beautiful spot in general. We chatted with two couples in sequence. It was the first stop of several – in fact we stopped everywhere that day. Walking up out of East Portholland we saw the German couple from the night before sitting on a bench. They must have passed us when we stopped at Caerhays Castle because the next time we saw them they were on their way back. We had the felafel burger and fries at Porthluney beach cafe, an odd spot but we didn’t think we’d find lunch before we needed it. It was there we saw an active mole hill, quivering in the sunshine as the mole shoved earth into it from below. A gent from Georgia approached us, leaning on a stick, to ask us all about our walk and to tell us about his experiences of bears and having to search for drinking water on the Appalachian Trail. This was quite a coincidence since I’d brought up the AT with the German couple the night before. It scares the shit out of me so I loved hearing about it. Matt and I then walked the next hour and a half in thoughtful silence punctuated with observations about the AT. It’s 2180 miles with ascents the equivalent of 16 Everests, including some steep slippery bits and some prolonged rocky scrambles. You’re sometimes several days’ walk from amenities and have to wild camp, which means carrying food for days and water purification kit. We stopped at Hemmick Beach, a National Trust place with no amenities where we paddled and washed our feed it the stream next to the road. The dogs were cute. We stopped at Gorran Haven for a diet coke on the beach, which was full of older people and parents of very young children. Cheerful spot with sun, shade, lots of seaweed and a quiet sea. A podgy spaniel puppy was sparko on the warm granite pavement. Then we stopped to watch shags on a rock (one flew away very low over the sea for what seemed like ever – where to birds go when they fly off like that, and why?), the stand-offish beauty of the no-go Chapel Point estate and then down into lovely Mevagissey where there is no campsite in walking distance so we stayed at Trennicks Guest House. They really know what they’re doing there and are very vegan amenable given notice. I was given homemade vegan flapjack and since Matt had shortbread I saved a piece for the next day. You never really know where those middle meals are coming from, or if you’ll run out of energy in the middle of nowhere. We walked round the harbour before chick pea patties at The Sharks Fin on the harbour, noticing too that the Portuguese restaurant next door also had an explicitly vegan option. I also had tempura pickled cucumbers, which was a glorious first. Back in bed we watched Primary Colours on DVD and went to sleep.
Day 11: Fowey to Looe
A very well done vegan breakfast with homemade bread and the best fruit salad of the trip. Clare at Trennicks commended our decision to take the early ferry round to Fowey, since later ones can be very crowded. No dolphins today and a very calm sea. We didn’t really care to stop at Fowey, so got straight on the next ferry across the river to Polruan. There wasn’t much for walkers in the shop except nuts and sweet stuff for Matt (I had the flapjack). The walk to Polperro – especially approaching Polperro – would have been almost hilariously gruelling if we hadn’t by then have been fit as fiddles. But we sweated. Somewhere around Pencarrow Head is a buoy with a sonorous bell on it which you can hear for a couple of miles either side.
On a tight timescale we barely stopped at Polperro, which is such a lovely place but was swarming with slow-moving tourists. I have nothing positive to say about The Three Pilchards who were just thoughtlessly crass about vegan food. Go to The Crumplehorn up the road instead, but phone ahead – and drink in The Blue Peter. On the way out of Polperro we stopped to let about 50 Germans from a bus tour straggle past us on the path, which took a long time. The last 10 let us pass them, bless. Then was a diversion to avoid cliff falls which took us past one of two so-called measured nautical miles – pairs of illuminated posts which, by recording the time at which each pair lines up, passing ships can measure their speed. Still illuminated at night, and still used. The diversion, probably permanent, brought us out at Talland Bay where we didn’t have time to stop at the beguiling cafe there. Then it got easier and we were nearly at sea level by Hannafore, the late 1800s estate south of Looe. Along the sea front and then a short walk down the river which we ferried for 50p each (the Brummy driver said he’d hardly had any passengers all day because the tide had been wrong for tourists, or something). Then a shockingly up and down walk to Bay View campsite which seemed far longer than a mile and a quarter. I was unkind and rude to Matt at this point although he was as tired out and footsore as me. Bay View does indeed have great views. We pitched our tent and then discovered a dogshit 5 metres away. The toilet block seemed made by a farmer out of materials from a farm merchant – massive shower and lavatory cubicles which locked with heavy bolts. I liked it, but could have done with the water temperature not to be tepid. Then we walked back, noticing evening gig practice (gig racing is huge in Cornwall), to eat a Thai meal at Ocean and Earth in Looe which we enjoyed but found our red and green curries unusually sweet. The pubs are atmospheric along this stretch of coast – traditional with toilets which are or used to be outhouses. Our taxi back took ages and cost £12 because the road way is miles longer than the coast path. The wind was flapping the tent, so I got out the earplugs which were lost in my sleeping bag by morning, as usual.
Day 12: Looe
The morning was warm, still, and dry because of last night’s wind. We packed up and walked to Looe stopping for breakfast at the Black Rock Beach Cafe in Millendreath. Best breakfast. They didn’t blink at the vegan request, charged commensurately less, and I was amazed to find that the mushrooms were a wild selection. The tomato was deliciously grilled and seasoned. We ate outside on the deck in warm sun, looking at the sea. Then to Looe where Sarah’s Pasty Shop offered to make a vegan one (without egg / milkwash, which frustratingly is the only non-vegan thing about the vegetable pasty) by 1pm for our train journey back. We went to the museum which was quiet enough for the staff to spend time explaining the exhibits to us. I wish every small museum offered a podcast – the explanations make such a difference.
We learned about smuggling, fishing, witches, bossy law enforcers, and why there’s a hump at the join of the roads outside. We learned about Joseph Thomas, civil engineer and an incredibly prolific Brunel type of figure in Looe. We owe Joseph Thomas being able to get the train to Liskeard, via a route I’d already noticed looks weird on the map. We also owe him the road we walked in on from Hannafore, and the free-flowing traffic over the bridge to West Looe. Most strikingly, Joseph Thomas had an idea for the problem of silt in the Looe river, namely to shorten the pier and round off the end. Unable to convince the village that this would work, he offered to take on liability. But it did work and the village paid. Unbelievably, Joseph Thomas has no Wikipedia article, which I’ll do something about at the first opportunity.
Then we got on the branch line with fresh awareness of the gradient-defying loop to Liskeard and from there, home, via pasty.
Looking forward to returning.