UK

Geocaching is my new favourite travel companion

During my recent travels in the UK and Morocco, I was pretty damn excited to add geocaching to my list of activities.

As I wrote last August, geocaching is my new hobby. It’s a global activity, whereby people hunt for secret caches hidden pretty much anywhere, located by GPS coordinates and often a bunch of clues as well. It’s all about the thrill of the hunt/discovery and being introduced to places you might not have otherwise visited.

Which all makes geocaching an ideal travel companion.

Many ‘cache owners’ spend a lot of time researching the history or significance of the location where they hide a cache for others to find. (For example, I learnt a fair deal about Cornish tin mining from caches I looked at both before I left and when I was in Cornwall.)

Geocaching gives you something fun to do pretty much anywhere you happen to be… and will often lead you somewhere interesting.

In London, when I had a couple of hours to kill at Paddington station before taking my train down to St Ives in Cornwall, I took a walk down a picturesque canal in the Paddington Basin and picked up my first UK cache (and the UK digital souvenir!).

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London, Paddington Basin

I also grabbed the SideTracked – London Paddington cache, which is part of a series hidden near train stations throughout the whole of the UK. The Paddington one is found by geocachers approximately once a day, and is apparently the most frequently found SideTracked cache of them all. I guess many people find themselves killing time at Paddington!

Hunting for geocaches also gave me something fun and positive to do in the Cornish village of Pendeen, when I found myself there ahead of schedule after replacing my broken boots. It was a good substitute to walking the Zennor-to-Pendeen leg of the South West Coast Path.

There are, in fact, HEAPS of geocaches in Cornwall (and the UK in general). They’re in pretty much every town, along most walking paths, in parks, on top of hills… They’re everywhere.

Such has been my recent enthusiasm for geocaching that I factored it into all my travel planning.

I spent hours perusing the many caches along the section of South West Coast Path in Cornwall I intended to walk (St Ives to Falmouth). In fact, when booking I decided on the ‘relaxed’ pace for the walk, so I’d have more time to look for geocaches along the way.

And they’re in Morocco too. Not nearly as many, but they do exist, particularly in the tourist spots. I wasn’t sure how much opportunity I’d get, since I was travelling with a tour group, but I was determined to find at least one!

The other thing I did was purchase some ‘trackables’ for me to release on foreign shores. These are a little like keyrings — but each one has a unique code on it. Once activated, they are designed to be left inside caches for another geocacher to pick up and take somewhere else. As long as everyone who moves a trackable logs it digitally in the system, we can see their travels around the world! So cool.

In the end, geocaching promised to add a whole new dimension to my travel adventures. By the time I left Australia, armed with a new powerbank to ensure my phone wouldn’t die while hiking, I was chomping at the bit to get over there and start hunting!

And so, after a brief dalliance in London, the fun truly began in Cornwall!

First, I had scheduled a travel recovery day in St Ives, where I combined exploring the gorgeous town with hunting for geocaches. My favourite thing when travelling is to explore a new place on foot, which matches perfectly with geocaching. They are usually to be found in all the best spots and make an ideal tour guide.

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There’s a geocache on the end of St Ives pier!

Also, at home one doesn’t always have time to indulgently hunt for geocaches (what with work and commitments and stuff). But travelling solo, with the absolute freedom to do whatever the hell I wanted, I could go nuts.

Having said that, this was a holiday, so I didn’t really set any goals. I was simply free to amble along, find a geocache or five, eat cream teas, enjoy the atmosphere.

I had fully intended to find geocaches all along the coast path between St Ives and Falmouth — a walk of some 100 miles over around two weeks. But —

I learnt fairly quickly that trying to combine hiking with geocaching was a bit of a challenge.

Geocaching actually takes up a fair amount of time… there’s the navigating and there’s the hunting. If I stopped to hunt for every one I passed, it could add hours to each day — which I had anticipated. But I had underestimated how long it would take me to actually walk certain sections. Or how knackered I would feel!

So it wasn’t long before I scaled back considerably my geocaching ambitions. I limited it to first thing in the morning, if there happened to be any located in the village where I stayed. Then, if there was one near where I happened to take a break on the path, I would search for that too. (But by the end of each day I was too footsore and tired to be bothered.)

I walked right past so damn many! (Including, accidentally, several puzzle caches I had pre-solved — argh!) Nor did I find every one I looked for — I was only interested in relatively quick finds. It seems a shame now I skipped so many, but at the time I did as many as brought me joy. And that was the most important thing.

I also released my first trackable In Cornwall! Many of the caches I found were too physically small to fit a trackable inside, but I found one near Pendeen that fit the bill and, being not too remote, was found fairly regularly. It was located near (not in) a dry stone wall, near an ancient fogou (I think), with a view of fields and the sea.

And so Hetta the Hippocamp was released to travel the world…

 

In the end, I found 30 geocaches in Cornwall — a much more modest total than I would have expected after more than two weeks. But the hiking was beautiful. Here are some views from (or near) some other awesome geocaching locations in Cornwall:

 

After Cornwall, I spent a week introducing UK friends to the fun that is geocaching. Caches were found in a couple of corners of greater London… then around the midlands town of Evesham and on top of Bredon Hill! (Another 17 finds for the week.)

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Hillfort with geocache on Bredon Hill, UK

And now we come to my geocaching adventures in Morocco!

I am yet to write any posts about my travels in Morocco… The short version is I spent two weeks with an Intrepid Travel group doing the “Highlights of Morocco” trip. It was wonderful. Great people. Amazing scenery. Fascinating cultures. (Stay tuned…)

And geocaches! Since I was with a group and our itinerary was heavily scripted, I didn’t have a great deal of time or opportunity to hunt. But I managed to scrounge time enough to find 11 in total across six different locations — not too bad at all!

The most important thing is that I figured out how to hunt for geocaches offline. You don’t need data to operate the GPS in your phone, but you do need data to access all the information about each cache — description, instructions, images, other peoples’ logs in case you get stuck, and the ability to log your own finds.

In the UK I had a travel SIM, which gave me 3G and 4G mobile data (when it was available — which in Cornwall along the coast path was frequently not the case!). But the travel SIM wouldn’t work in Morocco. The only other option for mobile data would have been to buy a local SIM.

Not needed! Upon recommendation, I had been using the Cachly App for iPhone (instead of the official one). I didn’t have issues at all with the official app, and still find it fine for normal use. But the Cachly app allows you to save caches to an offline list — not only the GPS coordinates, but all the associated information.

So all I needed to do was look ahead to where we were going and, while still on WiFi, save any geocaches to an offline list for the day in case we went anywhere near them. There are not so many in Morocco that this is unwieldy. And there is free WiFi everywhere.

Once I figured this out I was quivering with excitement!

The first Moroccan cache I found was in Casablanca near a fountain, the next a couple of days later at the stunning amazing incredible Roman ruins of Volubilis (favorite point!).

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Roman ruins at Volubilis, Morocco

Then I released my second trackable at a cache on top of a hill overlooking the stunning kser of Ait Benhaddou (another favourite point).

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View of Ait Benhaddou (Morocco) from geocache location

In the mountains around Imlil, I was ecstatic when we happened to walk past another I’d saved (Berber Secret), and almost killed myself clambering up a cliff to locate it. (I’m actually not joking.) My travel companions all thought I was crazy. Finally I found four in Essouira on a free afternoon, and a couple in Marrakech on my final day.

All in all I found 61 geocaches while travelling in the UK and Morocco.

This included my 100th cache found in Badsey, UK. (As of writing, I have now logged 142 finds.)

While I love hunting for geocaches locally (preferring parks and bushland to urban areas), it’s even more fun when you’re somewhere new and different and far away. (Which is also why I tracked some down in Broome WA last July, and why I got up early during a work visit to Dubbo NSW to find just one…)

Geocaching really does appeal to my love of discovery and adventure, and is the perfect element to add to my travels. I just wish I’d come to it years ago, before I went to Mongolia and Nepal and China and Spain and France… Guess I’ll just have to back to all those places again!

South West Coast Path: Mullion Cove to Falmouth

After walking from St Ives to Falmouth along England’s South West Coast Path (in Cornwall) last October, I’ve written some posts about each of the stages — mainly as a way to share photos and remember some of the detail.

This is the third post, detailing the final four days of my walking itinerary. The first two posts cover the first week (St Ives to Penzance) then the next two days of walking (Marazion to Mullion).

Mullion Cove to Cadgwith (~11 miles)

This was one of my favourite legs of my entire coast path walk, despite the fact it was also the longest at about 11 miles.

I think the favourite points were partly because of the beautiful scenery as I went around the Lizard — England’s most southern mainland point. Partly because it was very pleasant and easy walking — much of it along grassy cliff tops. And partly because I took some ibuprofen, which made a huge difference to all my aches and pains.

I felt awesome for pretty much the whole day.

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View of Mullion Cove from Higher Predannack Cliff

The first mile of the day involved walking down from the town of Mullion to the adorable quay at Mullion Cove. I took a few minutes to look around, then headed up onto the clifftops — Higher Predannack then Lower Predannack Cliff. (The image above shows the view back to Porthleven.)

From here it was gorgeous walking south through grassy fields towards picturesque Kynance Cove (which was teeming with day trippers) and its green serpentine rock.

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Kynance Cove towards Lizard Point

Unfortunately for me, the Kynance Cove cafe wasn’t open, so I kept going towards Lizard Point, another couple of miles away. Luckily there were a couple of cafes open at the bottom of England, and I enjoyed a delicious toastie with coffee at the Polpeor Cafe.

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Lizard Point (with cafes and seals)

By this stage I’d walked six miles along the path (seven in total) and still had four miles to go! The afternoon was getting on, so I couldn’t linger too long at the cafe to watch the seals before heading to Cadgwith.

This next section of the path wasn’t as spectacular, being more heavily vegetated, and I was (needless to say) extremely happy to arrive at my destination, the Cadgwith Cove Inn. Cadgwith is a gorgeous little village, with plenty of thatched fishermen’s cottages, nets and boats.

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Cadgwith – with the historical Cadgwith Cove Inn

Cadgwith to Porthhallow

Ibuprofen or no, I’d previously decided not to walk the 12 miles from Cadgwith to Porthhallow. Too far. After three days walking (two of them more than 10 miles), I was ready for a rest. However, I still needed to get to the village of Porthallow, where my luggage was being deposited and my room was booked.

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Cadgwith in the morning sunshine

It ended up being quite a fun and relaxed day. First I whiled away some time with my kindle in the very pretty village of Cadgwith. Then, a friendly holidaymaker I met the previous evening gave me a lift to the town of Coverack (eliminating seven miles walking).

Coverack is renowned for displaying a geological phenomenon on its beach; that is, it shows the exposed “moho”, which is the boundary between the earth’s mantle and crust. The Serpentine rock to the south (foreground below) would have once been part of the mantle, while the gabbro rock to the north would have once formed part of the crust. I wandered along the beach trying to identify the transition zone. Ha.

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Coverack and its ‘Moho’ on the beach

To avoid walking the next five-mile section of the coast path (which was diverted inland due to floods last year and quarries), I caught a local bus from Coverack to the nearby town of St Keverne. I chose St Keverne because the bus went there and it was only two miles from Porthallow via a well-marked pubic footpath (which also had geocaches along it). So 12 miles of walking became two miles, with extra time to grab a few geocaches. Win-Win!

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Porthallow

Porthallow was a sleepy little town with not much going on, although it is the official half-way point of the entire coast path. I had a great view from my bedroom window — I think that’s Falmouth in the distance.

Porthallow to Mawnan Smith (~7 miles)

This particular leg was something of an adventure, as it involved two river crossings and, although I was hopeful, I was by no means certain the ferries would still be running on 30 October. They were, as it turned out, but had I arrived two days later I would have been out of luck.

It was easy walking for most of the day, the path taking me north from Porthallow to Nare Point, which gave good view of my ultimate destination, Falmouth!

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Nare Point – Falmouth in distance

From Nare Point, the path turns west into Gillan Harbour (Gillan Creek) and Helford Passage.

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Heading west towards Helford Passage

Crossing Gillan Creek was the first challenge. The advertised options were wade/ford (if low tide), stepping stones (if low tide) or maybe, if you’re lucky, an on-demand ferry…

It was not low tide. Fingers crossed, I signalled the ferry. Woo hoo! It cost me five pounds, but I didn’t care. (Otherwise I would have had an extra two miles of walking and by this stage of the walk I was cutting corners wherever possible.)

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Crossing Gillan Creek

After crossing Gillan Creek, the path ventured partway around Dennis Head, before doubling back west towards Helford, where there was a more substantial river crossing. It was the second last day for the season, but Helford Ferry was still in operation and I was very relieved. Even if I was surprised it was such a small boat! (The alternative was an expensive taxi ride the long way around.)

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Helford Ferry

I sat down for lunch at the Ferryboat Inn, enjoying the autumn sunshine. Then I walked for another hour or so — first along the coast path a little way, then inland to the town of Mawnan Smith.

Mawnan Smith to Falmouth

For my final day of walking, I elected not to rejoin the coast path where I left it (south at Porth Saxon), but instead headed east from Mawnan Smith to rejoin it at Bream Cove, thereby cutting out a short section. From there it was not long before I passed by Maenporth beach, followed by the outer reaches of Falmouth, such as Swanpool and Gyllyngvase Beach.

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Falmouth coast

Needless to say, I did not walk the long way around Pendennis Point, but instead hightailed it across the narrow peninsula to find the shops and restaurants of Falmouth. As a result, my final day of coast path walking was pretty short. Not that I was complaining.

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Falmouth harbour

I wandered along the streets of Falmouth for a bit, checking out the harbour, before I found Dolly’s! Hands down, my favourite place in Falmouth. I wished I was there with friends so I could do a proper gin tasting. (It’s really not the same on your own.)

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My own heavenly haven – Dolly’s

The following morning I explored Pendennis Castle. The history of this Tudor gun tower, built by Henry VIII, and its subsequent role in the defence of England’s southern shores — as recently as World War II — was very interesting. I spent quite some time there, looking at all the guns of different eras.

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Pendennis Castle

My final afternoon in Cornwall was spent relaxing, wandering the streets of Falmouth, before heading to Dolly’s again for an early dinner. Falmouth is a lovely town. I could definitely live there quite happily!

This marked the end of my South West Coast Path walking expedition. From Falmouth I caught the (very expensive) train up to London to visit a series of friends… and after that I went to Morocco.

But that’s another story entirely.

 

Travelling in the 90s – Of Stratford peregrines and Welsh cockerels

I’m continuing with my Travelling in the 90s series today… Excerpts from my travel journal kept during my 1993-1994 grand adventure in Europe and the UK.

We pick things up in the Midlands, where H and I have been staying with family friends and touring the region with a hire car. But two is about to become three, as we head to Stratford upon Avon to join up with another of our friends from university…

***

[Sunday 9 January, 1994] Yesterday we went back to Stratford-upon-Avon, where we met up with another of our friends, M. We went to Anne Hathaway’s house first – it’s set in a lovely garden complete with orchard. There was also a recently planted tree-garden containing trees mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays.

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Anne Hathaway’s Cottage

I loved AH’s house, but the pick for me was Mary Arden’s house — primarily because of the falconry display. They fly birds of prey all day (weather permitting, and thank God it did) and the minute we got there I bolted down to see. Lucky I did too, because a man was flying Henry the peregrine falcon. I nearly died (or wept with joy). He was using a lure to tempt Henry, and the poor bird flew around quite a few times before he finally grabbed it. I could get really close for a photo too.

Peregrine falcon at Mary Arden's House

Peregrine falcon at Mary Arden’s House

We watched Henry tear ruthlessly into a baby chicken (dead of course) while we talked to the guy who flew him. He said they flew all the birds each day, and that two were out hunting that day. (They actually take people out falconing for 40 pounds a day!) Apparently peregrines are not the easiest birds to hunt with, as they require large open spaces (expensive to hire) and sometimes take their prey a long way so it’s hard to catch them. The idea is to ride with the bird, so you can steal its prey before it’s eaten. You also need pointers to find the birds (grouse for example) and flush them out. Also, peregrines don’t always come back! Hawks are far more reliable.

After this ever so interesting chat, we watched a woman fly an eastern eagle owl for a while, before deciding our toes were too cold and we needed warmth. Mary Arden’s home itself was also interesting. The tour included all sorts of anecdotes such as the origin of “turning the tables” which derives from the fact that a table top was reversible — the rough side was used for eating, then was flipped so that all the mice and rats could clean up the remains. Also “upper crust” because the most important people got the top of the loaf of bread.

[Monday 10 January, 1994] Sunday, we three headed to Wales. We spent the afternoon in Chepstow, seeing the castle which was rather large and impressive with 5 separate defensible sections. It also featured an interesting video on the use of siege engines and an exhibition dealing with the Civil War in England started by Oliver Cromwell. We arrived at our destination – a dairy farm in St Fagans (near Cardiff) belonging to family friends – in time for dinner.

Chepstow Castle - trying on Civil War helmets

Chepstow Castle – trying on Civil War helmets

Today a promising beginning (early morning farm stroll) turned a little sour when I was attacked by the farm cockerel, Ceiliog. I was saying hello to the horse when Ceiliog (who happens to be a game cockerel) decided to launch himself at my shins, tearing my pants and drawing blood! Pain! I wasn’t too impressed (need I say) and everyone else just laughed. (I wasn’t too impressed with that either!) Anyway, it’s now covered in elastoplast and doesn’t hurt unless I knock it. We then heard the story of Ceiliog who has recently lost(?) his mate and second generation children, and has been deposed by his first generation children who’ve given him the cold shoulder. Now I feel sorry for the poor bird.

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Ceiliog and the barn

We went into Cardiff and wandered around for a while — seeing the highly decorative public buildings and civic centre — before going to see Cardiff Castle, which was very interesting. It has a Roman wall and a Norman keep and a Victorian (?) palace built by a man who was then one of the richest men in the world. We didn’t see the inside but apparently it’s very elaborate. There was also a Welsh army regiment exhibition which was mildly interesting for H and I, but exceedingly so for M, who is keenly interested in all things military.

Cardiff Castle keep

Cardiff Castle keep

The Welsh Folk Museum (where we went next) was excellent. The inside exhibition occupies a modern building and shows historical articles of daily life (laundry, house cleaning, education, sport, music etc). However, outside is an extensive village — full of reconstructed farmhouses, shops, craftsmen’s workshops, and even a “castle” or old manor house. They even had a toll gate and toll house. I wish we’d had more time to spend there.

[Thursday 13 January, 1994]  Tuesday morning we set off for the national mark of the Brecon Beacons. Our route took us from Merthyr Tydful through a green valley of reservoirs towards Brecon. We detoured up to the mountain lodge — a sort of tourist centre for the region. It was drizzling slightly, but we went for a short walk anyway, with rain coats, scarves and gloves on. Our destination was a Roman road, but we also just wanted to get out and walk around some of Wales.

Well, the drizzle worsened dramatically into a vicious downpour and gale-force winds — FREEZING! In all, it was rather a memorable experience; however, we got soaked, and I mean really wet! I’m still not really sure what exactly the Brecon Beacons are, but we did find the ruins of a Roman road.

We surged back into the car — rosy cheeks and chattering teeth — and set course for the nearest pub. Our selection criteria were steak pie (as close to an Aussie meat pie as you can get in the UK) and open fire. We were successful in neither of these (!), but found a pub called “The Wheat Sheaf” where we ate lasagna and chips and coffee. By the time we came out (1.5 hours later) it had stopped raining.

We drove then towards Hay on Wye, passing a fair dinkum toll gate (Whitney on Wye). Thrilling!!! For 50p we had the gate opened for us by a man sitting in his little toll house. It totally made my day.

So did Hay on Wye. It’s a town of a million second-hand bookshops. (Well more than twenty-five anyway.) Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately for our backpacks) we only spent an hour, managing to find a shop that specialised in Sci-Fi Fantasy. Even an old cinema has been converted into a bookshop. An hour was definitely not long enough.

***

Thus ends a nice little jaunt into Wales. The next installment will see us heading northwards. Oooh, Hadrian’s Wall… Edinburgh! Can’t wait!

As a side note, The Cranberries’ song, Linger, was massive around this time. We heard it on the radio constantly during our UK road trip, and for me the two experiences will be inextricably linked. (I love that song, by the way.) Here it is for your viewing and listening pleasure…

From Corfe Castle to Brighton

Let us journey back to the UK for a short while . . . Soaring high on a hill above a village in Dorset is a ruined castle. It’s a strong, defensible position and the crumbling edifice dominates the lush green landscape all around.

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This is the 1000-year old Corfe Castle, built by William the Conqueror in the 11th Century, blown apart in 1645 by Parliamentary Forces when it was betrayed from within.

We made a special trip from our base in Bournemouth to visit Corfe Castle — hired a car even, because it would have been a challenge to get there by bus. And we were not disappointed. It’s a spectacular setting, and a cute little village to-boot. Straight out of a fantasy novel, really (except for the cars, of course).

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The village is called Corfe Castle too . . . and I thought maybe I should move there, so I’d always have the address, Corfe Castle. Wouldn’t that be awesome?

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Being midterm holidays, the castle was teeming with families and it was a challenge to take photos without them getting in the way. Nonetheless, there was much stone and rubble and canted walls and sheep and grass and blue blue sky. Definitely a castle worth the effort to visit.

***

Other highlights of our three-night Bournemouth stay were visits to

  • The cemetery where Mary Shelley is buried with other members (and parts thereof) of her family. This was the main reason we visited Bournemouth, I believe.
  • The village of Wimborne Minster, where there’s a gorgeous old medieval church. We mainly went to see the chained library, which has illuminated manuscripts, but in this we were thwarted, as the library was unfortunately closed.
  • The old port town of Poole, next town along from Bournemouth. We checked out the ancient log boat in the museum — really cool — and then wandered around the town on a self-guided walking tour.
  • The ‘Great Storm‘, although it seemed to skip over us completely. There was much hype about the storm on the news, but we didn’t really get to see any of it. It might have hit Bournemouth in the middle of the night, but there was little evidence of this. I felt a bit ripped off, to be honest…

Bournemouth itself was nice enough, if unexciting. We managed to find decent coffee at Espresso Kitchen, a tiny little coffee shop in the central shopping district.

***

After Bournemouth, we drove to Brighton, the location of the World Fantasy Convention and the last stop on my trip. I got around Brighton to a small extent — it being a lot warmer than the last time I was there. We wandered out along the famous Brighton Pier, meandered through the Lanes (where there is much shopping to be had), toured through the garish Royal Pavilion. That was about it.

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I did find a great cafe in Brighton — Cafe Coho. I found it by accident on my first day, and went there every morning for breakfast thereafter. It has a breakfast menu like we have at home, and great coffee (with at least one Australian barista). On our first morning in Brighton, I spent several hours there as I worked on reacquainting myself with my WIP before hitting the convention.

Anyway, this wraps up the tales of my recent UK adventures. It’s been fun to share them here. I guess it’ll be a while before I go anywhere this exciting again. Until then, I guess it’ll be back to regular programming…

Ancient monuments and a lighthouse on the Penwith Peninsula

One of the essential areas of Cornwall to visit is the Penwith Peninsula — essentially the glob of land at the very south west of England… You know, Penzance, Lands End etc. So of course we did a day tour down there in our trusty little red car.

Our first stop was St Michael’s Mount, that distinctive island connected by a causeway to the village of Marazion. We didn’t pay to tour the whole site (chapel and house I think), but we did wander across the causeway and ramble about the quay in the sunlight taking photos. An added bonus was the cafe/kiosk where coffee could be acquired.

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That’s St Michael’s Mount above… When we arrived the tide was out and we happily strode across the causeway — way cool. But we stayed there so long, the tide came in! We had a narrow window of opportunity when we could have taken off our shoes and socks to wade back over… But we missed it due to indecision, and had to pay £2 each to the boat man to convey us back. Oh well.

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We lunched in Marazion — fabulous fish and chips from the King’s Arms hotel — and then forged our way around the coast, squeezing through the quayside area of Penzance, towards the Merry Maidens — an ancient stone circle beside the road. Beautiful.

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Despite the tackometer warnings, we headed then to Land’s End. Just because. It’s tourist city, although I confess not as bad as I expected (though for some of my companions it was worse). We grabbed a coffee and took some photos of the sign. Enough said.

It was mid to late afternoon by now and we decided to make one last stop before heading back to base. On the way we tried to find the impressive Lanyon Quoit… Actually we did find it, but there didn’t appear to be anywhere to stop, or in fact reach it through the blackberry hedge, so after a couple of drive-bys we abandoned our intention to check it out and photograph it. Disappointing.

We headed then to St Ives, but changed our mind at the last minute to go check out Godrevy Lighthouse nearby. It was supposedly the inspiration for Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse. I’m sure St Ives would have been lovely at a different time of day, but the lighthouse was perfect in the setting sun.

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We had a delightful hour or so rambling all over the grassy Godrevy Point, taking many photos of that lighthouse and all the birds.

It was a fabulous day, although I would have liked more time to find more ancient monuments and visit St Ives. But as one of my companions said: must save things for next time!

South West Coast Path: Instow to Westward Ho!

The South West Coast Path is a 630 mile walk around the coast of SW England, from Minehead in Somerset to Poole in Dorset. As soon as I heard about it, when planning my current trip, I resolved to hike a couple of legs. Today the plan was to hike from Westward Ho! in north Devon to the picturesque village of Clovelly. However, we left it too late to arrange our luggage transfer, so we had to delay that a day, leaving a day up our sleeve.

[Tip: In the off season, contact the luggage transfer people before 6:30pm on the day before you want the service, even if it says you have until 7pm…]

With our extra day, we decided this morning to catch a local bus to Instow, the start of the previous leg according to some guidebooks, and walk the 18km back to Westward Ho! in the interests of ‘training’. It is described as an easy leg, and we might as well have been walking as not.

The walk mostly follows the estuary of the River Torridge, down and back, so we had views of our destination for most of the day. We began in the hamlet (not even a village) of Instow — where there is nonetheless coffee — and a pretty view of Appledore.

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The walk from here follows an old rail trail, shared with cyclists — which I dislike intensely. It was long and straight and flat, and I thought there was much to be said for the high-tide ferry between Instow and Appledore.

But then we would have missed Bideford, which is a pretty little port town with all the amenities, including banks. Little was open on a Sunday, but I can recommend historical Cleverdons Restaurant and Tea Rooms for a range of meals, both light and more substantial. We both had soup (choice of several) for just 3.25.

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Bideford marks the turnaround point, and we headed back downriver towards the sea and Appledore. The track here got much more interesting, but I still think the ferry a good option if it’s high tide. Low tide is very interesting, though, as the river estuary is essentially a massive mud flat with beached boats. This is the view back to Instow from near Appledore.

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The village of Appledore was the highlight of this leg. It’s largely 16thC: narrow twisty laneways, old houses with interesting name plates, gorgeousness plus. We had promised ourselves a cream tea, and found the perfect spot in Susie’s Tea Rooms.

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We had been walking for about 2.25h up until this point (1h Instow to Bideford, 1.25h Bideford to Appledore), and judged we had about 1.5h to go from Appledore the long/coastal way to Westward Ho!. As the crow flies, they are quite close, but the coast path takes you out around Northam Burrows Country Park, which feels a little, er, pointless at times. Nonetheless, we ploughed on around the point, and battled a ridiculous headwind on the approach to Westward Ho! along the beach. It took a little longer than expected. We did, however, enjoy this stunning view of Appledore in the late afternoon sun.

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Westward Ho! itself is a new village, filled with holiday accommodation and surfers. Our B&B — Brockenhurst B&B — is very nice and centrally located, right opposite The Village Inn Hotel, where I am currently enjoying a quiet one while I use their WiFi. It’s fine and comfortable, but not in any way historic, which I have come to expect from England. We are staying here a second night, and tomorrow it’s on to Clovelly!

Tintagel – craggy castle on the Cornish coast

Next stop on our Cornish adventure was Tintagel castle – possibly the birthplace of King Arthur, definitely a really cool place to visit. Its vast sprawl atop a rocky promontory, surrounded by stunning views of the wild and rugged coast, way surpassed my expectations.

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One approaches Tintagel down a valley, then around a headland to cross a narrow bridge onto the promontory (which is connected by a causeway). One then climbs up to the remains of the Great Hall and associated buildings, which cling to the edge of the cliff. The ruined stonework is still very impressive and I easily could imagine the Earl holding court here.

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Beyond this stonework, the remains of the castle sprawl across the top of the grassy promontory. The wind is strong, the jackdaws wheel in flight, the waves seethe and crash against the rocks below. I scrambled over just about every inch of the craggy promontory, explored the ‘dark ages’ ruins, stood at what felt like the edge of the world, letting the wind toss my hair all around…

I spent a deal of time stalking a kestrel (identified later), which hovered perfectly still in the roaring wind — amazing. I took a few bad photos of it, before capturing this one, just before leaving the main promontory. In the background is the wild coast, and the south-west coast path…

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We had amazing weather for our visit to Tintagel, including a sudden squall, which rolled in off the sea with rapid ferocity, only to roll on by to leave this rainbow in its wake…

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The above was taken from some ruins on the opposite side of the bridge to the main promontory. I think the garrison was once stationed there.

We spent a fair few hours at Tintagel, and lunched afterwards at a local pub. On our way home we visited the little town of Port Isaac, which was closing down for the day, but was still lovely to wander through.

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Cornwall has certainly proved something of a challenge from an internet connectivity point of view… and we haven’t had wifi in our cottage this week. But I am hoping to post more frequently over the next couple of weeks as I find accommodation with wifi, especially since I have a few days backed up now! The next posts will cover the Penwith Peninsula and our wonderful day on Dartmoor in Devon.