Day 8: Beeny
Boscastle to Bude. 18.1 miles. Miles to date: 123.6.
By the end of today's walk the battery on both my camera and phone (which is my GPS) ran out of power. I felt equally drained.
But before that there was lots of good stuff.
Starting with the youth hostel.
The first time I used a youth hostel was 20 years ago. I was on a stag do in Matlock Bath where the Best Man snored so loudly every bunk in the dormitory vibrated. The only person who got any sleep, other than the Best Man, was my friend Jamie who is both profoundly deaf and had bought an air mattress to sleep on.
The second time was a few years after that. I was staying at the fantastic YHA in Eskdale, Cumbria. Although the warden had been clear that the doors were locked at 11pm, the valley's farmers were celebrating after a winter gathering and before I had a chance to consider the potential outcomes, I found handling a yard of ale. It was to prelude a long night at The Woolpack Inn. By the time myself and my friend returned to the YHA at 2am it was locked and in darkness. When he finally awoke the warden, speaking to us from an upstairs window Romeo and Juliet-style, had lost his sense of humour. A lengthy back-and-forth ensued, in which our case for being allowed to bed was carefully dismantled. It was only when snow started falling - and sticking - that the warden relented, albeit in a considerable (and justified) grump. The next morning I was brushing my teeth in the communal bathroom when an elderly gent strode out of the shower and, without pulling on any clothes, started chatting with me about the best way to climb Great Gable.
That was the last time I went to a youth hostel, until yesterday, when I checked into the delightful Boscastle YHA to find that you can now hire private rooms, that they give you linen, the wi-fi's fantastic, there's loads of hot water and - most importantly of all - the communal showers have been consigned to history. (They're cheap too: £35 for a big riverside room with the sound of Boscastle stream gurgling through the night.)
So impressed was I that I booked a second night, meaning I could walk today's long stretch to Bude and then bus it back to Boscastle to resume my route northwards another day. Even better, I could leave most of my pack at the hostel.
So far, so good.
Lovely Boscastle. The YHA is just behind the wonky-roofed building.
Boscastle harbour. It is sheltered in a tiny creek - which gives boats safe harbour. But getting into it back in the day was a risky business, requiring help from teams of rowing boats and men on shore tugging at ropes. Even then plenty of vessels were wrecked on their way in.
Born of water.
With an early start and another day of perfect walking weather - patches of sunshine, breeze - I made fast progress on the South West Coast Path, which offered fine scenery. Gone were the sandy surf-coves of the past few days and back was the wilder scenery of Day 2. The cliffs were grander too. At times I felt like I was walking fells rather than cliffs, with heather at the pathside, slate underfoot, and over 1,000ft in ascent.
For stretches of today you were enclosed with Cornish hedgebanks on the right and thick vegetation on the left, flowers filling the gaps.
There were loads of ponies. This one looooved the camera, baby.
Buttercups and foal.
My significantly lighter-than-usual pack, and the route ahead - you can see it zig-zagging up the cliff. You can also see the landslip and verdant undercliff.
Of particular interest to me was the first big cliff of the day, Beeny Cliff, namedropped in one of my favourite Thomas Hardy poems, Beeny Cliff. The countryside around these parts, including Tintangel, Boscastle and Bude, were haunts of Hardy and first wife Emma. After her death, his poems, particularly those of 1912-13, recount the joys of their early days, alongside the loneliness of the same scenes without her.
After 'old' Beeny, the cliffs came one after the other - each requiring a stiff ascent and heavy-going descent. The ups and downs, which earn the SW Coast Path its rollercoaster reputation, haven't bothered me so far – not least because the valley bottoms are often so lush – but today was gruelling.
The compensation was that the countryside varied so much. There were meadows, tree tunnels, airy ridges and rich scrubland - even a remarkable ancient dwarf oak wood at Dizzard which looked like it was a Lord of the Rings set. And though there were no sandy bays, little Millook, with its understated pebble beach, was a gem, and you could see why so many geology students make a pilgrimage to the rocks of Crackington Haven.
Stairway to Devon.
Relentless uphill stretches...
The sessile oak woods around Dizzard Point, stunted and twisted into unreal shapes due to the coast winds. These are woodlands with multiple protections, rich in moss and lichens, and are one of the few remnants of the prehistoric 'great wood' that once covered Britain.
Rise of the Ents.
Millook boat and house.
Photographic erotica for geologists. Or should that be erratica?
The walk - which kept delivering good things - would have been the best yet had I not made a couple of rookie errors.
Firstly, I misread the route's refreshment options. Secondly, I'd eaten all my supplies.
This meant that as the treadmill ascents and descents started taking their toll I found myself, for the first time on the trail, with dwindling food reserves. Not even a Doc Martin jellybaby. I had it in my mind that Millook would come up trumps, but I was wrong. That meant another mile to a pub marked on the map. When I couldn't find that and realised I needed to persist for another mile, I was not only getting tired, I was also frustrated and angry at myself.
By the time I finally dropped down into Widemouth Bay (15 miles and counting) I was so weak I ordered two bottles of coke, a sandwich, crisps and chips - I won't be winning any healthy eating awards for this trip, that's for sure. Then I couldn't find my wallet.
Drained, hot and frustrated I took everything from my pack to find no cash anywhere. Not only was food no longer on my menu, but without a bus fare I was facing a 15 mile walk back the way I'd come.
Thanks then, to the waitress, who offered to give me £10 from her pocket which I could BACS-transfer when I got back to the youth hostel.
In the end I found my wallet - exactly where it should have been, but I was so low on energy I hadn't checked properly.
Shortly after that my camera's battery died.
Then my phone gave up too.
From that point the walk became nothing more than an eyes-down march to finish. One foot in front of the other until Bude came into sight.
And though it's not the prettiest town in Cornwall I felt as happy about reaching the harbour and canal as I had walking over beautiful Beeny six hours earlier.
The final stretch requires some road walking as the coast path has been washed away.
Hook-Ups? Tinder for caravaners?
Christmas tree plantation on sand dunes: an idea the Dragons rejected.
Widemouth Bay: after a day or two of relatively flat seas, the swell was looking good.
Bude harbour... at last.
Over Bude lock.
I'm now over 120 miles into my walk, which I started this time last week.
I'm pleased with progress. I had no idea how my body would cope with this relentless drive onwards.
But my feet and legs are now hurting continually - both during the day and at night.
So I've changed my plans and am resting up tomorrow.
I want to reach John o' Groats. That will mean looking after myself as I go. I will break for a day, chill and then return to the cliffs again on Wednesday for the toughest day yet on the South West Coast Path.
Next: Day 10 – Bude to Hartland Quay.
Previous: Day 7 – Wadebridge to Boscastle.