Day 6: Camel
Mawgan Porth to Wadebridge. 17 miles. Miles to date: 86.5.
If today's walk had been back-to-front it would have been a fine day. As it was, I started out among some of the best rock scenery of LeJog to date and ended with a sole-destroying five mile plod that concluded, fittingly, at a sewage works.
It all started so well.
A stroll across the sands took me onto the rolling clifftop path above Trenance, and without even the usual morning dog-walkers to greet I had the path to myself. Even the relentless on-shore breeze and heavy squalls weren't enough to dampen the magnificence of the sea stacks, cliffs and caves - best of all the goliath buttresses around Bedruthan Steps (all 120 of them).
The 120 steps. A Buchan novel waiting to happen.
Then it was more of the best scenery the South West Coast Path has to offer: secret coves, narrow inlets, rocky headlands - and everywhere sea thrift. The path was a joy too: the cliffs here are generally not too high, meaning the ups and downs needed to cross streams are never arduous.
Porthcothan Bay: They had lifeguards even though there were only two people on the beach (not swimming). The number of patrolled beaches - even tiny coves - on the walk so far has been really impressive, particularly given we're nowhere near peak holiday season yet.
Wedding arch, in the middle of nowhere.
To avoid unnecessary mile wastage Andy Robinson in his 'End to End Trail' recommends cutting off a couple of headlands en route to Padstow. By the looks of things the headlands in question mainly comprise caravan parks and golf courses so I wasn't sorry to take the short cut from Constantine Bay, but leaving the SW Coast Path for the first time since the walk's start served to show, almost immediately, how well maintained the long distance footpath is.
Within minutes I was knee deep in nettles and creeping gingerly through bush tunnels that probably haven't seen a walker since the last person with Andy Robinson's book in their hand. After that the paths - across fields, along country lanes studded with flowers - were easy, gentle and pretty. But already I was missing the cliffs.
I tried to unpack the grammar of this PERMANENT NOTICE for a while, then gave up.
At lunchtime I descended into Padstow, a kind of up-market Newquay with chocolate-box cottages surrounding a lively harbour full of shops that are only allowed to sell Cornish Pasties and Cornish ice cream, unless you're Rick Stein, who's allowed to sell anything he likes in his harbour-front fish and homeware emporium. And quite right too.
This busker was very good but only seemed to know songs written by Coldplay.
Then it all went wrong.
The problem for the end-to-ender is that Padstow sits on the south side of the significant Camel estuary. And because you're not allowed to use the ferry to continue northwards on the coast path, you're forced inland (and, painfully, south) five miles along the Camel Trail, an 18 mile trail that links Wenfordbridge, Bodmin, Wadebridge and Padstow along what was once a thriving railway line. The trail is mainly used by cyclists.
At the risk of unfairly damning what is apparently "one of the most popular recreational routes in the country", I am no fan of walking along disused railway lines (I tend to think railways are better suited to them). Nor do I particularly love walking beside estuaries ("Look, some mud!"; "Look, mud!"; "Over there... some marsh!"). And given my morning had been spent looking down on staggeringly cool cliffs, the monotony of the Camel Line (which has no humps at all) scored low points. It didn't help that I was now 15 miles into the day - my longest yet - and my spirits were flagging.
I knew things were bad when I started looking forward to tandems passing so I could listen in on the arguments over who was doing least work.
So partly to alleviate the boredom, and partly to drown out the voices of kids asking their parents when the trail ended (which felt like a very good question), I did something I've not yet done on the trail - unpacked my headphones and fired up some Irish jigs. It put a spring back into my step for the last mile or two - which was just enough to get me to the sewage works on the outskirts of Wadebridge, then under the flyover and into town.
Tomorrow I return to the sea.
I can't wait.
The Camel Trail. Probably OK if you're on a bike. Probably.
Notice board detailing the highlights of the Trail.
Padstow Harbour: the SW Coast Path continues on the headland across the water.
Finally. Welcome to Wadebridge.
Next: Day 7 – Wadebridge to Boscastle.
Previous: Day 5 – Perranporth to Mawgan Porth.