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What I did on my holidays, pt.1 - The Lyorn's Den

Tue May. 26th, 2009

12:59 am - What I did on my holidays, pt.1

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I have considered transcribing my travel diary into entries for the right dates, but unfortunately I do not have another four weeks of vacation (if I had, I'd still be travelling) and it's not that interesting to anyone else anyway, I guess.

Short summary:
- What I did: Hiking on the South West Cost Path in Cornwall for two weeks, and then being fangirly for a few days in Cardiff.
- Fun? Yes
- Other: Need to do that more often.

Longer Version
Worrying too much

I need to do that more often. I was more nervous and less sure of my ability to have fun travelling abroad without any planning ahead than I had been when I was 18, short on cash and not fluent in English. How can you be nervous about a not-plan not working? I blame lack of practise. So, note to self: Do that more often.

Also, I was doubtful about how I would cope with a long distance walking path. Longest I'd done so far was three days in Sweden, and that was a long time ago, and I haven't become any younger, fitter or less clumsy since then.

But as I am habitually afraid, I habitually ignore it.


Getting there

I'd have loved to go by train, because I enjoy trains. You can watch the world move around you, and feel the distance you cover, the changing places, but do not have to do anything about them. They come to you.

But going to Falmouth by train would have taken 24 hours and about 9 changes of train, and the cost would have been scary. So I decided to fly to Stanstead and take the train from there, as a compromise.

That worked out quite well, except for a moment of me standing in the London Underground in the middle of the rush hour, having forgotten how to do this, and having trouble figuring it out again, with only two hours of sleep the previous night. But I'm good at this, and not only did I get to Paddington in time to catch my train, I was 50 minutes early.

Paddington station (just as, I suspect, the other major London train stations) has no rubbish bins. None at all. It's for safety reasons. You are expected to dump your trash on the floor. Which is harder than looking to the right side first when crossing the road. Littering is something that's so much Just Not Done that I carried my empty paper cup around for 50 minutes, until I got on the train where it sat in front of me all the way to Truro, where I could finally conveniently "forget" to take it with me.

Similar with left luggage. When I was 18, the IRA was still throwing bombs, so the left luggage office was in some shed, five minutes brisk walk from anywhere important or vulnerable. This time, I hardly found any left luggage office anywhere at all, which made "get there and explore" a lot harder. But, well, the terrorists have won and we just have to deal.

Whining aside, I enjoyed the train journey a lot. When approaching London in the Stanstead Express, I saw this building, which I hadn't believed to be real when I saw it on TV.

During the ride west, the landscape got prettier and the weather got worse, and when I got off the train in Falmouth it was raining.


First week: Falmouth to Porthleven

Falmouth is a very pretty little town with a deep water harbour. In the age of sail, it was the first harbour when you came from the Atlantic, the place to find out where to go next with your cargo. Today, the bay is full of small boats, and the town is full of bakeries and sweet shops. Falmouth also has a very interesting maritime museum where you can play with toy boats, a nice little art gallery which was running an "inspired by Darwin's work" exhibition, and a very helpful Tourist Information Office that was not where my guidebook said it was. They found me a place in a B&B where from the breakfast table I could overlook the bay. The owner was very friendly, helped me call ahead for the next two nights' accommodation, and that set the tone for my first week.

I spend two nights in Falmouth, and then, carrying a 8 kg backpack, including a guide book for the coast path and a map, set out on the coast path: clockwise. Which is not the way the guide book describes it, so you really need a map when you do it in that direction.

I had not yet found my pace, walked way too fast, and was in Mawnan Smith in (for me) record time, completely exhausted, and with my knees telling me to very carefully reconsider the whole enterprise. Still it had been fun. What I love about walking is to be alone with the road and the wind and my thoughts, and in that regard it had been a very good start.

Mawnan Smith has a great pub, the Red Lion: A suite of cosy, low-ceilinged rooms in an old building. Good food, too. I had a very nice dinner, and then found out that my debit card did not work. Which was a) embarrassing and b) set a pattern which would persist through the week. Rule of thumb, if my mobile had no signal, the card did not work. Fortunately, the credit card did.

In the night it rained again, and the next day I had mud up to here. I lost the point of one of my walking sticks in mud that was so deep that I did not bother to even try to get it back. And to make things more interesting, a part of the path north of Porthallow had been closed, and the diversion went through muddy cow pastures, muddy fields and muddy paths between high hedges, and made so many turns that I was starting to doubt if I hadn't been turned around and was heading north again.

Fortunately I had time to spare: Both of the ferries that I needed had run: One over the Helford River, the other over Gillan Creek (you can just walk through the creek on low water, but when I arrived, the "creek" was several hundred metres wide). However, after Porthallow I didn't even try to get back on the path, which is running inland for the next three kilometres or so anyway, but stayed on the non-muddy road to St. Keverne.

In the B&B I had an opportunity to do washing, which I was very happy about. So, the next day I could set off in not-muddy clothes.

Third day was pretty hard. It started out nice enough, along a disused quarry, and then into marshland close to the sea. The marshland became wetter the farther I went, until the path played a game of "find the stepping stones hidden in the puddle". It's a fun game as long as you win, but it requires agility and concentration.

After Coverack, the path was just a dream come true. High up on the cliffs, blooming heath and flowers and shrubs all around, everything wide and open and the sea close by, and sun and wind. Great going.

And then the ground kind of opened up in front of me, and the path went nearly straight down the slope line 50 metres of height difference on steep steps which went downhill exactly the same way as the water did. That was Downas cove, and it was beautiful and amazing and I never want to climb down those steps again. A few days later, the owner of a B&B I was staying in told me how she used to walk there and how dramatic it was before they put in the steps. I could imagine! Going back up on the other side was far easier than going down.

That night, I stayed on a farm in Poldrowian, where I got an excellent evening meal, a tour of a garden, a place at the fire, as much tea as I wanted and a room where I could see the light from the Lizard Point lighthouse on the wall. The owners suggested that I might want to have my backpack sent ahead to my next accommodation, instead of carrying it all day, and I did that.

I wasn't in good shape the next day. My achilles tendon was hurting and making strange sounds, I felt like a wet dishrag, and I do not remember much of the day. In the end I got to Lizard Point, the southernmost point of the British mainland, found the Youth Hostel not yet open, and shambled down to the café to have chocolate cake. I fervently believe in the restorative power of chocolate.

It was cold in the Youth Hostel. I had a room to myself. In the common room I talked some with some nice ladies from Plymouth, who recommended a B&B in Mullion. Mullion meant a very short walk on the next day, and that seemed like a good idea.

That night, I dreamt of fighting zombies.

Next day, the fifth, was brilliant despite lacking breakfast and being somewhat cloudy. The path was going through access land, wide and open where you could see forever, and ran nearly level, except for two small coves. One of those was Kynance Cove, with its beaches between rocks large enough to be islands, and turquoise water that could act as a stunt double for a Caribbean beach if you did not mind the temperature. It was pictures of these rocks and beaches and waters that Ceridwen had shown me after her holiday some years ago which had made me want to go to Cornwall. I spent an hour at Kynance Cove, keeping a cup of tea company and watching the tide come in, and later sat in the sun a Mullion harbour, looking at the waves.

The B&B in Mullion turned out to be next to a chocolate factory, so I had chocolate for dinner.

Next day I walked on to Porthleven, with its high tower right on the pier where the waves of winter storms break around it dramatically enough to make it onto postcards. The walk itself was nice, but not especially memorable, except for Church Cove with it's tiny church hiding against the cliff wall. My achilles tendon hurt badly and especially disliked the sands of the Loe bar, where the sea had decided to make Helston an inland town by blocking the Loe estuary with more sand every winter than could be dug through in summer. Much of the sand is still soft and has not overgrown yet. The lake that the estuary has become is dark, with wooded banks, and has swans on it.

In Porthleven I stayed in a nice little hotel that was very comfortable. From my window I could look over the harbour, and that was what I did that evening, and most of next day (except for a short bus trip to Helston), giving my feet some time to recover and watching the rain fall.

Part 2
Part 3

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