Day 7: Clunes
Wadebridge to Boscastle. 19 miles. Miles to date: 105.5.
Today was a looong day. With clifftop highs, and thicket lows.
It all began with a bad night's sleep.
I knew it was coming. I'd read the Trip Advisor reviews. But I had no choice other than book.
Here's the thing. When you're walking a long-distance footpath using accommodation other than a tent you can do it several ways. At one extreme are those who book every night's accommodation before they set foot on the trail. At the other are those who trust wholly to serendipity and turn up at their destination hoping for the best.
I had been planning to take the second approach. But my zen optimism lasted all of one night, when, arriving in St Ives with nothing booked, I spent the best part of an hour traipsing the streets looking - ever more desperately - for a bed. What I found in the end was OK, but it was pricey. Since then I've got into the habit of booking at least one, and usually two, nights ahead. It has helped that I'm now getting a pretty good understanding of my fitness and how many miles my legs'll take me before protesting.
Which is all a long way of saying that last night I ran out of options, so ended up at the The Swan Hotel bang in the centre of Wadebridge, whose latest Trip Advisor reviews at time of writing are "Absolutely awful" and "Worst atmosphere, worse staff". Actually as it turns out the room was fine, and clean, and the staff were perfectly pleasant to me. Plus I can hardly blame the owners for the fact that it was a busy Saturday night and they'd booked a Def Leppard tribute band. But it made for a night of limited and fitful sleep ,and I knew I was in for a long day ahead when my dreams started being soundtracked by 'Let's get rocked'.
And get rocked I did, right royally, over the course of the first eight miles of today, when Andy Robinson's 'Camel bypass' returned to the coast via the worst 'footpaths' I've yet had on the trail. It started OK - some meadows, a little jaunt down a sunken lane. Then it went from bad (wheat fields with no paths) to worse (broken bridges, unusable styles) to downright silly (unpassable thickets). Andy describes this first leg as 'pleasant fields and meadows'. Respectively, I couldn't disagree more.
Some bits were nice.
The countryside was so lush.
Then the problems started...
Spot the path...
The thicket that nearly finished me off. There was a path there once, according to Robinson.
By this stage I had developed a wheat intolerance.
Not that it was all bad. Towards the end the route entered a beautiful enclosed track, which was a haven for butterflies.
Finally, legs covered in nettle stings I dropped down into the picturesque fishing village of Port Isaac.
Port Isaac, as any fan of Sunday early evening TV will tell you, is the setting for long-running ITV medical 'comedy' drama 'Doc Martin'. I hadn't actually realised this until I started wandering around the village's pretty streets and seeing images of Martin Clunes (aka Doc Martin) everywhere. There were posters, T-shirts, postcards, figurines, and - best of all - a clock with Martin Clunes' face as the face, munching a large fish.
After being attacked by vegetation for most of the morning I treated myself to a pasty for lunch, followed by some Martin Clunes-branded jelly babies. I then sat by the quay and listened to a steady stream of tourists from every nation walking past and pointing to a whitewashed cottage excitedly and telling each other that that was the medical practice! That really is it!
Port Isaac: honeypot village.
The clock: if weight wasn't such an issue I'd have bought one. Maybe more than one given they tell different times.
As seen on TV.
(Fans of sea shanties will know that Doc Martin - despite his clear merchandising muscle - is not the most interesting Port Isaac export. That honour goes to the Port Isaac Fisherman's Friends, an all-male a-cappella group comprising fisherman and their mates from the village who were catapulted to fame, and a Top 10 album spot, in 2010, after a Universal Records producer heard the group singing at the harbour while on holiday.)
With my award-winning pasty finished (every pasty company seems to have won at least one award), I continued on my way, pleased to be back on the well-trodden South West Coast Path.
And what an afternoon it was. The scenery was (almost) as good as the rugged beauty of Day 2, with soaring cliffs, rugged sea stacks, coves full of interest, meadows to stride across and everywhere flowers.
The stone-styles - built into the walls - are lovely details.
Steep switchback ascent... there was a lot of up and down today.
River in valley bottom.
The couple in red give an idea of the scale of the cliffs. The ruined building below them is part of an old slate mine.
Discarded slate from the quarries was used to make walls, like this one in zigzag 'curzyway' pattern.
Slate quarry. The upright stacks were considered too low grade to extract - although they're still standing.
By the time I reached mile 17 I was definitely feeling the distance. But unlike yesterday's will-sapping purgatory along the Camel Way, there was interest everywhere, including the ruins of Tintagel Castle with its mythic connections to King Arthur, atmospheric Valley of the Rocks and the huge sea stack of Gull Rock.
Tintagel Castle and The Island.
Firebeacon Hill is the stack on the left.
Whitewashed lookout point atop Willapark.
At around 6pm I rounded the last headland of the day to the sound of squeezeboxes. Not the Port Isaac Fisherman got lost but a couple who let me listen a while and take some photos.
They were just enjoying the sea, the sun and the music. And as I dropped into Boscastle Bay - a tiny slice of heaven on earth - I thought they'd probably got the right idea.
Boscastle's tiny harbour.
Boscastle: without a doubt the village highlight of my walk so far.
The wicker pan.
Next: Day 8 – Boscastle to Bude.
Previous: Day 6 – Mawgan Porth to Wadebridge.