walking

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.

 

South West Coast Path: Marazion to Mullion

Back in October I spent a couple of weeks hiking the UK’s South West Coast Path in Cornwall — from St Ives to Falmouth. The complete distance is 102 miles (according to the South West Coast Path website).

I wrote about the first stage of my journey while taking a couple of rest days in Penzance. (See my previous post: South West Coast Path: St Ives to Penzance.) Even though I was walking at the so-called “relaxed” pace, I really needed those rest days!

I started writing up the second stage of my trek a few weeks ago while still traveling, but phone blogging just wasn’t doing it for me anymore. So I decided to wait until I was home to finish it — apologies if you’ve been wondering where I got to!

Since the first post ended up so big and took ages to put together, I’m going to break down the second stage into two or possibly three posts. This post covers the next two days of walking: Marazion to Porthleven (11 miles), then Porthleven to Mullion Cove/Mullion (6-7 miles).

Penzance

I didn’t do much during my rest days in Penzance. When I scheduled them, I half thought I might have taken the opportunity to do some work (me having aspirations to be a digital nomad), but in fact I was tired after six days of activity, and thankful I hadn’t committed to any work.

I walked around a little, picked up a few geocaches, and sat in cafes. It was good to rest my body — my feet especially. I didn’t get back to Mousehole or undertake any other excursions I had contemplated. Penzance is a nice town and a major centre for the region. It has good facilities and proved a good spot to chill out for a couple of days.

Marazion to Porthleven (11 miles)

I had always planned to start walking from Marazion, cutting off the 3.5 miles along the foreshore from Penzance. It was a straightforward bus ride, but then I stopped for coffee in Marazion (as you do), so I left the town later than intended.

St Michael’s Mount and Marazion

The walking out of Marazion was pretty easy, through market gardens, with views back to St Michael’s Mount. I didn’t stop to visit the Mount, having walked across the causeway last time I was here.

With 11 miles to walk — my longest day to-date — I was a little apprehensive as to how I would manage and kept an eye on the time. The first milestone was the tiny village of Perran Sands, where there was fortunately a toilet, then around Cudden Point to ‘Prussia Cove’, renowned as the former headquarters of the infamous smuggler John Carter, The King of Prussia. Prussia Cove is actually made up of several small coves, including the pretty and quaint Bessy’s Cove.

Rounding Cudden Point

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Bessy’s Cove (I think)

After 6-1/4 miles, I reached the town of Praa Sands in good spirits, with good energy, in time for a late lunch of soup and bread at a restaurant/bar called the Sandbar — which was right on the long, white beach and seemed very popular.

Although I had originally intended to take packed lunches each day, in the end I mostly relied on cafes etc when they were available. I think a big reason for this was the chance to sit down somewhere warm and comfortable for a bit. (Get off my feet!) The weather was cooler in the second week, so the chance for a hot meal and a coffee was usually too good to pass up. Soup became quite a common lunch for me, since breakfast was always so big and it was a healthy option served with bread instead of fries.

On leaving Praa Sands, I then had another 4.5 miles to Porthleven. As suggested by the guide book, I elected to walk along the very long Praa Sands beach instead of the path… which proved a little annoying as it was literally covered with rivulets of water running into the sea (which I had to jump over).

Wheal Prosper Engine House

The path got more strenuous for the last few miles. My destination, Porthleven, was visible for a very long time, but it seemed to take a very long time to reach it. This included some infuriating sections of path that traversed three sides of a square around the cliff tops… twice! (Honestly!)

I was very tired when I finally made it into Porthleven — after my longest day yet. I went straight to my B&B (Wellmore End), where the welcome was hearty and warm — and included hot chocolate sachets, which went down VERY well.

Porthleven

Porthleven is a gorgeous town, clustered around an extensive constructed cove (typically Cornish, apparently). Unfortunately, I didn’t have time (or energy) to look around. I did, however, drag myself out for dinner to a local restaurant and ate something other than pub food.

Porthleven to Mullion (6-7 miles)

After the first week of gorgeous sunshine, the weather definitely decided to turn colder in this last week of October. I awoke in Porthleven to the coldest, dreariest morning yet. This was the first rain I’d witnessed in Cornwall. There was also hail.

Unfortunately I didn’t get much chance to look around Porthleven in these conditions. I had been planning to wander around a bit and grab a few geocaches before leaving — particularly since I had a much shorter distance to walk. It was very disappointing, particularly as the rain soon eased (if only I’d waited a bit). Oh well.

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Porthleven in the drizzle

Porthleven

Although the morning was mostly cloudy, the sun showed its face here and there. I was a bit stiff and sore after the previous long day, and my energy levels seemed down — it felt as though I was walking slowly. This was frustrating, considering how good I’d felt the previous day.

Looking back to Porthleven

The first landmark was the Loe, a freshwater lagoon renowned for diverse bird life. It is also supposedly the lake into which Sir Bedivere cast Excalibur, the sword of the dying King Arthur. Since my grandfather used to tell us the story of “the lady in the lake”, whose hand came out of the water to catch the sword, this was of particular interest to me.

The Loe is separated from the ocean by a strip of sand/shingle called Loe Bar. The Coast Path forges across this bank and passes a memorial to the 1807 Grylls’ Act, which allowed bodies washed up by the sea to be buried in the nearest consecrated ground without being proven Christian.

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Looking back to the Loe and Loe Bar

Then came Gunwalloe fishing cove, where a path diversion due to a cliff fall saw me take the long way around. And then another case of walking three sides of the square around Halzephron Cliff… It was tempting to follow the more direct road instead, but I stuck to the path and was glad in the end since it was pretty.

Halzephron Cliff (behind) and Dollar Cove with St Winwaloe Church

After a while I reached Poldhu Cove, where there is an all-year beach cafe. Although I was always intending to stop for coffee and lunch, mainly I just wanted to sit down and get warm, because the day was really cold and my feet/ankles/knees were aching.

From Poldhu Cove, I had a number of options: 1) Continue walking to Mullion Cove (~1 mile) then walk inland to my B&B in the town of Mullion (~1 mile); 2) Skip the last section of coast path and walk directly to Mullion along the road (~1mile); 3) Catch the bus from Poldhu Cove to Mullion (and not walk any further).

I ended up hanging out in the drafty cafe for an hour or so and catching the bus. Somehow I managed to get deposited right outside my B&B, but I was way too early for the check-in window, so I holed up with my kindle and hot chocolate in a diner across the road.

The Old Vicarage B&B was a lovely old home, and I had a large room and bathroom with a bath. Thankfully, it was only a short walk to the nearest pub for dinner. Because of the aches and pains in my ankles and knees, I decided to try taking ibuprofen for the next day.

That’s it for now… Only four more days until Falmouth.

South West Coast Path: St Ives to Penzance

Hiking the South West Coast Path: I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve said “wow” (out loud, to myself). The scenery — rugged cliffs, sweeping vegetation, sparkling beaches — is stunning. There are ancient monuments and the fascinating and forlorn remnants of tin mining days. And wildlife — seals and birds in particular (haven’t seen any dolphins yet). It’s hard to describe without veering into hyperbole.

The coast path is a 630-mile trail around the coast of southwest England. I first encountered it five years ago, when I walked the sections from Instow to Westward Ho!, then Westward Ho! to Clovelly. Ever since, I’ve wanted to return to tackle a longer section.

So here I am, taking on this solo walking adventure, which will see me complete (more or less) the stretch from St Ives to Falmouth — a total of ~103 miles.

Okay, so I hadn’t added that up until right now… 103 miles! Blimey. No wonder I have sore feet.

I’m currently in Penzance for a couple of rest days. It’s not even halfway, it turns out; but as I limped into Mousehole on Tuesday I was extremely thankful I’d allocated the break. The coast path is TOUGH! It’s very up and down, rocky in parts, muddy in parts, steep in (lots of) parts. At the end of each day my knees ache, my feet scream, and I collapse in a heap.

So two days to mooch around Penzance have been bliss. (Right now I’m in a cafe, using my Bluetooth keyboard with my phone… it’s almost like home. In the last five years England seems to have found out about flat whites!)

St Ives

I arrived in St Ives last Tuesday, after a long journey from Australia. The train ride from Paddington to St Erth seemed never ending. Then the last short train journey to St Ives followed the Hayle estuary — very pretty. My hotel (Regents Hotel) stood high over the town, giving stunning sea views.

I spent the following day exploring (geocaching) the town, completely falling in love with it. It’s a tourist mecca — but I can see why! I loved the harbour, where a couple of seals hung out near the fishing boats bringing in their mackerel haul.

Mackerel haul

Pretty St Ives (with fishermen and seals) — Harbour Beach and Old Town

A stroll about St Ives Head gave views back over the old town with its twisty cobbled streets. I had lunch at the popular Porthmeor Beach Cafe, and found truly good coffee at Mount Zion (where the owner refuses to make cappuccinos… flat whites, espresso, long black or pourover only!). I also hung out in the Cemetery for a while, looking for family names, since we hail from here (Richards, Thomas).

Another view of St Ives — Porthmeor Sands

St Ives to Zennor Head (6 miles/10km)

On Thursday I started walking. This was a “short” but strenuous stage. I encountered many people out for the day, although I seemed to be the only person staying in the village of Zennor. Most availed themselves of the bus to/from St Ives.

Along the coast path…

My approach from the start has been to take my time — take photos, enjoy the views, stop to look and breathe it all in. (I also stopped for a few geocaches along the way.)

Dog or seal?

Trevalgan Ancient Stone Circle

Stunning cliffs

I took a delicious sandwich from a recommended deli, and ate it at River Cove overlooking a beach with seals. Another Australian couple were there too — they pointed out the peregrine falcon perched on the cliff nearby… my jaw dropped. The peregrine perched there for at least 20 minutes and I couldn’t leave until it did.

Lunch with a peregrine falcon

In the afternoon my boots started falling apart. Literally. They were old and I suspect the adhesive had degraded — meaning the soles sheared clean off both boots. I finished the walk gingerly, after taking an alternative path (shortcut) that cut off the final route around Zennor Head. Luckily they didn’t fall apart completely!

At the iconic Tinners Arms pub (where I stayed) I enjoyed a St Ives gin (or two) with tonic in the late afternoon sunshine. I ate dinner in the pub, while chatting to locals. They have folk music there on Thursday evenings, but unfortunately I crashed into bed instead.

Penwith Peninsula Ancient Stones walk (7 miles/12km)

Now, a dilemma. I had arranged for a car to take me onto the moors today, intending to visit some of the ancient stones and walk back to Zennor for a second night. But my boots were dead. I did, however, have my trail runners as a backup, so resolved to keep to the plan and see how they went.

The car took me to Lanyon Quoit, where I clambered over a stile into a field. And immediately my shoes and feet were wet. Not good. The quoit was cool, though. Dated to neolithic times, Lanyon Quoit is one of the best known monuments in the area.

Lanyon Quoit

I then followed a designated route around the moors that took me next to the Ding Dong Mine Engine House (Greenburrow) — its hilltop tower visible for miles around.

Ding Dong Mine — Greenburrow engine house

Next my walking route took me to the neolithic or bronze age Boskednan (Nine Maidens) Stone Circle nestled in the heather. I actually met two different groups of people here and had to wait until they left to take my photos. The circle was quite difficult to capture in full.

Boskednan/Nine Maidens Stone Circle

The Men Scryfa (written) stone stands alone in a field, accessed by a stile. There was more damp grass to traverse (my feet were pretty wet and cold). The stone has writing on it (dated 6th to 8th C AD): RIALOBRANI CUNOVALI FILI (of the Royal Raven, son of the Glorious Prince). It is thought to commemorate the death of a Celtic royal soldier.

Men Scryfa stone

The Men an Tol (stone with hole) is another of the best-known prehistoric monuments on the moor. Apparently holed stones are very rare in Cornwall and it’s likely this one had a specific ritual purpose.

Men an Tol

At this point, I will mention the awesomeness of the British OS Maps App! I downloaded this onto my phone before I left home, and it shows all the tracks, monuments, places of interest etc. It ALSO shows you where you are using GPS. I have used this frequently this past week when figuring out my route. I love it. (You have to buy the maps, though.)

My next stop was the summit of Carn Galver — where there was a geocache. I also managed to stumble and rip my hiking pants while scrambling over rocks. The weather for this day was mostly overcast, although the sun came out a few times.

Carn Galver summit

I was delighted to find the Rosemergy Farm tea rooms open when I descended from the moor. This meant hot coffee and a cream tea! After that I trudged/squelched back to Zennor (couple of miles) where I dived into the shower.

Random standing stone (with hens)

Zennor to Pendeen

Instead of walking this leg (approx. 7-8 miles), I went to Penzance to buy new boots. The bus timetables weren’t friendly, so I caught a taxi there, then a bus straight to Pendeen, once my mission was accomplished. I could have possibly returned to Zennor and walked, but wasn’t sure about the lost time. My walking pace is proving to be slower than I expected. I also thought I should break in the new boots a bit first…

I was sorry, though, to miss Pendour Cove, which birthed the legend of the Mermaid of Zennor.

Once in Pendeen, I checked into my room at the North Inn and then went exploring (geocaching). It was another gorgeous day and, although I missed the coast path leg, I enjoyed my day and got up to the lighthouse at Pendeen Watch. (Had a good view of the path I had skipped.)

Pendeen Lighthouse

The path not travelled

Then I climbed the hill behind the town, where some interesting sights awaited…

Looking down over Pendeen and Boscaswell (beyond)

Bathtub graveyard

By the end of all this I was pretty weary (!) and availed myself of the bath in my suite. So far this has been my only available bath — I’ve wished for one since!

Pendeen to Sennen Cove (9 miles/15km)

Finally back on the coast path! This has been the longest (and possibly my favourite) leg so far. First was the four-mile section to Cape Cornwall, past the fascinating remains of Geevor, Levant and Crown Mines. Geevor has not been closed all that long (1990) and is now a working museum with underground tours. Both Levant and Crown are mostly beautiful ruins.

Geevor Tin Mine

Remains of Levant Mine

Crown Mine (near Botallack)

After leaving the mines, I arrived at Kenidjack Castle, an Iron Age fort. I sat here for a while admiring the view, which included Cape Cornwall. It also happened to be near a geocache, so I clambered down to retrieve it. (I also picked up a couple earlier in the day.)

At Cape Cornwall, the seasonal snack van was still open, so I grabbed a light lunch, plus coffee and cake. To my amusement and delight, this was served on a tray using china crockery.

Cape Cornwall

Then it was another five miles to Sennen Cove, past Ballowal Long Barrow and numerous mine shafts. This was fascinating, since some of the shafts were fenced and signed, but others were not!

Warning: Danger of death!

The walking for this day was rated “moderate”, but I found it just as difficult as the first day. The last couple of miles heading towards Sennen Cove were not hard walking, but I was fairly shattered. At one point, I just sprawled on some grass and rested in the sun for a while, trying to gather my reserves for the last push.

It didn’t help that my B&B was in Sennen village at the top of the hill, with no nearby eating options. My room was also tiny. This was my least favourite accommodation — despite there being nothing intrinsically wrong with it — and I went to bed at 7pm without dinner. (I was just too tired and footsore to get myself anywhere else.)

Sennen Cove to Porthcurno (6-7 miles)

Another “moderate” day of walking, a bit shorter. I had loads more energy at the end of the day, but my feet were still sore!

Soon after leaving Sennen Cove (where I grabbed a couple of geocaches), I stopped to look at the cliff top Maen Castle, which overlooked the fascinating wreck of the RMS Mühlheim (2003). There was a geocache here too.

Wreck of the RMS Mühlheim

I continued along a beautiful stretch of the path to Land’s End, which is a popular route with day walkers. Lands End itself was surprisingly deserted. I had been hoping to find the restaurant open, but I guess I was too early in the day. Instead, I had to make do with a kiosk that served the worst “coffee” in the history of ever. I also picked up a pre-made wrap to eat later for lunch.

Heading towards Lands End

After Lands End, more walking over and around cliff tops with interesting rock formations towards Porthgwarra. I stopped to eat lunch overlooking Carn Guthensbras, near the holed headland (which I totally missed), before heading down to the cafe and a much better coffee — and cake! Any excuse to rest the feet.

Interesting rock formations

Near my lunch stop

Onwards then for another hour or so to Porthcurno,which is famous for its open air Minack Theatre built into the cliff. You can’t see it from the the path, unfortunately, so I missed this too.

There’s a perilous descent from the entrance of the Minack Theatre into Porthcurno by way of cliff stairs. In Porthcurno, I stayed in the delightful Seaview B&B not too far from a pub — where I had a cider and a chat with the proprietor (and later, dinner).

Porthcurno to Mousehole (7 miles)

This was the final leg of the first stage of my walk, and I was feeling pretty well ready for my Penzance rest days! The trail for this day was rated “strenuous” but felt similar in difficulty to the previous “moderate” sections.

Leaving Porthcurno and Minack Theatre

The Logan Rock

It was yet again beautiful walking on leaving Porthcurno, with views across fields of the Logan Rock, which I elected not to visit. (By this stage of the walk I wasn’t taking many diversions.)

The path passed high and low (i.e. up and down) through scrub, gorse and woodland areas. The small fishing village of Penberth was deserted when I went through (although thankfully there was a toilet).

Penberth

Down… to Porth Guarnon (I think)

Through patches of scraggly forest

Tater Du Lighthouse

This section of the path was far less populated than other sections I’ve walked — possibly not such a popular stretch for day walkers; although I did encounter some here and there. There were a lot more wooded sections too.

At Lamorna Cove there was a cafe where I had soup for lunch — with coffee, of course. Quite a few people lurked here, enjoying the sunshine. I stayed for about an hour to gear up for the final stretch of the week.

And then I only had two and a half miles to go. I had always intended to catch the bus to Penzance from Mousehole, which I reached at about 4pm. It’s a quaint village. I would have liked to wander around a bit, but I was pretty weary by this time and looking forward to having a couple of days break.

Mousehole

It’s now the end of my second rest day (this post has taken me quite a few hours to compile on my phone!) — tomorrow I head off along the path again. It will be a bus to Marazion, then walking to Porthleven and the longest distance yet at over 10 miles. Gulp.

There’s more to say, but phone blogging is a bit limited, so this will have to do for now. I still have almost 60 miles to walk in the next 6 days… reckon I’m gonna feel it! (And there’s always the bus!)

I’ll be back with a report on the second half of this expedition in another week or so.

3 Dec: I’ve edited this post a fair bit. Corrected some things, added some detail and tidied up the formatting.

One and only timer shot of me on the coast path!

Adventure in the rain

I like to think of myself as adventurous. It’s probably one of the reasons I love fantasy so much — with its quests and great sweeping landscapes. And it’s definitely what drives me when I travel.

The above photo epitomises adventure for me — I’m sharing for the weekly photo challenge.

Last year my desire for adventure inspired me to tackle a very small section of England’s South-West Coast Path. It’s a walking track that follows the coast around Devon, Cornwall, Dorset and takes weeks to complete in entirety. I figured since I’d be in the region it would be a good opportunity to check out some of that spectacular coastal scenery.

I’ve done a lot of hiking in my time, with and without packs. Trekking in Nepal was fabulous. So I figured a couple of days along the English coast would be a piece of cake. The trail is well marked. You can arrange to have your luggage transferred between bed-and-breakfast accommodation. It sounded a very civilised way to have an adventure.

But of course I upped the difficulty factor by selecting one of the more challenging sections of the path (the more challenging, the more spectacular, right?) and then — as bad luck would have it — chose the rainiest, drabbest, most miserable day of my entire trip to embark on the 18km walk from Westward Ho! to Clovelly.

Drenched on the South-West Coast Path

Drenched on the South-West Coast Path

We got soaked and exhausted. I wrote a full account of the day at the time, so I won’t repeat myself. But suffice to say despite the rain it was a wonderful adventure, and I wouldn’t give it up for anything.

On the move

Today I am on the move... Via train, tram, bus and of course foot!

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Destination wedding — hence the fancy coat. Following the wedding at the very pretty Abbotsford Convent, I might even walk the 3.7km to the reception. These boots are made for walking, baby!

I also figured a post from my phone app befitted today’s photo challenge theme of ON THE MOVE. Just a short post while I enjoy a quick coffee at the Convent Bakery.

South West Coast Path: Westward Ho! to Clovelly

Many walkers might have sat in the pub for an extra day instead of braving the SW Coast Path in the rain… Or caught the bus instead. But they would have missed out on a unique experience (that might have put my travelling companion off hiking for ever…).

Having delayed our plans for a day already, we were keen to walk the SW Coast Path from Westward Ho! to Clovelly, even though it was raining. We knew we would get wet and bedraggled and possibly miserable; but it wasn’t too cold (~16 deg C) and we were feeling energetic and adventurous. Also, I figured it would be good research for us, both fantasy writers, to experience the whole ‘trek in the rain’ thing.

So off we went. The first half of this 18km trek took us over the cliff tops — and up and down them as well. It was strenuous as expected, but beautiful too. I loved it.

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But we did get very wet. And muddy. This is me about an hour in…

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The path is very well marked with signs bearing the SW Coast Path acorn symbol, or else a simple acorn and accompanying arrow attached to a post.

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After a couple of hours of up and down (into a fierce headwind of rain — rain in the face is so much fun… and our glasses fogged up), the track moves into woodland, which spoilt the view, but did provide a measure of protection from the weather.

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Eventually, slightly more than halfway I think, we arrived at the ‘village’ of Bucks Mills. Though cute, Bucks Mills was very disappointing from an amenities point of view. No refreshments at this time of year, not even a pub/inn. We were really hoping for somewhere out of the weather, where we could sit down and have a hot cup of something (hot toddy?). There was not even a toilet. Pft!

Following Bucks Mills the track got easier through more woodland, still up and down, and less slippery and steep. We still had a few hours to go, though. We skirted meadow and woodland (chasing flocks of pheasants — beautiful birds), until we came out to Hobby Drive, the old coach road, which wound around the last few spurs, eventually (after about 45 mins of weary trudging) bringing us to the top of Clovelly village.

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We still had a 15min trek to our B&B in Higher Clovelly [Tip: Stay in the village if you can — there are only about three options though], and by the time we reached it we were beat. We hadn’t sat down all day. But there is nowhere to eat in Higher Clovelly, so our kind hosts at Fuchia Cottage drove us down again to the top of the village, a little later on.

After that effort, we decided not to trek further along the Coast Path, so instead spent today relaxing in the picturesque village of Clovelly. It has been privately owned for centuries (weird) and is very geared towards tourists. It’s quiet this time of year, which is nice. We made friends with several of the local cats, who are very friendly and like to pose for photographs. This is ‘Beau’, who followed us around for a while.

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Down at the water’s edge, we watched some local fishermen (who I’m convinced are hired as a tourist attraction, because they spent a lot of time explaining what they’re doing and posing for photos) gut ‘fish’ (sharks for the Spanish market), and gained a gorgeous view of the village from the old stone quay.

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It’s been a relaxing day after two days of walking. I think we both needed it! The weather has once again been rather grey and rainy, but we did glimpse the sun a few times. I think perhaps autumn is starting to set in…

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!

The beachfront beckons

Melbourne on a Spring evening, viewed from Elwood.

Here in Melbourne, Australia, Spring is well underway after a miserable, wet Winter. As the days lengthen and the evenings grow warmer, the temptation to venture out into the evening is strong. Beckoned by the balmy air and lingering sunshine, I find myself donning track-pants and runners and heading down the driveway.

I’m lucky enough to live only a couple of kilometres from the beach, so it’s little effort to head for the beachfront, especially if I’m accompanied by one of my friends so I can combine conversation with my constitutional.

The above photo of Melbourne was taken on Monday this week as we paced along the beachfront path through the southern suburb of Elwood. I’ve walked this way many times, but I don’t think I’d ever before stopped to notice — or appreciate — this view of the city. The evening light was hitting the buildings just so, and with the waters of Port Phillip Bay in the foreground it looked particularly lovely.

I find evening walks ideal for unwinding after a long day at work — much better than staring at the TV in a stupour. Fresh air and exercise are one of the best things to get those creative juices flowing. And views of the beach — the choppy water, the waves, the sand, the gulls, even the old-ish stone wall — definitely feed the muse.

Evening walks along the beachfront is my inspiration of the week. Who else finds the coast fires their soul?

Of walking (or not) and dodgy pedometers

Once upon a time I walked 100km. In just under 36 hours. I did this as part of the Oxfam Trailwalker fundraising event back in 2010. The challenge was to walk 100km as a team of four in less than 48 hours. It was an amazing experience — and very very tough. (If you’re interested, our Trailwalker team blog is here.)

The reason I bring this up now is because all I can think about is how much I wish I was wearing a pedometer back then. Not only during the event, but during all the months leading up to it. I hate to think how many kilometres I walked from October 2009 and April 2010 as we trained and trained and trained.

I mentioned a couple of months ago that I’m participating in the Global Corporate Challenge — a 16-week event aimed at getting desk-bound workers moving. I’ve been wearing a pedometer for nine weeks now, trying to average 10,000 steps a day. I was managing it for a few weeks, but recently I’ve been struggling (partly, I recently discovered, due to a dodgy pedometer) and my average has slipped.

This is really difficult for me to handle! Just as I set out to walk 100km within 48 hours two years ago and succeeded, I embarked upon this Global Corporate Challenge with every intention of blitzing it. Surely it couldn’t be that hard to average 10,000 steps a day? Even when I determined it was around an hour a day’s dedicated walking, I thought it would be achievable.

Moreover, this weekend, there’s an added challenge to coincide with the start of the Olympic Games… Over four days (starting yesterday) we’re supposed to target a marathon distance. That’s 42km — approximately 65,000 steps — in four days. Or 16,500 steps a day. Show me such a challenge and all I want to do is achieve it.

After all, it’s less than HALF the Trailwalker distance, and I did that in under two days…

It all comes down to time. One of the reasons I probably won’t ever do Trailwalker again is because of the time investment. For seven months the training consumed me — every weekend and most weeknights. I certainly didn’t make any progress on my WIP. But I considered it a worthwhile endeavour.

With the Global Corporate Challenge, it’s been a challenge to squeeze in the exercise required to average 10,000 steps. Despite my fully functioning elliptical trainer — which I love. But invariably, it’s eating into my evenings — which is my writing time. My time. While I believe the Global Corporate Challenge is also a worthwhile endeavour, this time I’m not willing to make the same sacrifice.

It doesn’t seem possible to succeed at everything, all at once. Alas.

So this is why, when I consider the Global Corporate Challenge and my sub-par average of 9,400 steps, I can’t help but think wistfully back to when I did put walking before writing for a brief period of time… Man, I would have nailed this weekend’s marathon challenge back then!

10K a day

Sir Walkalot – team mascot

The challenge is 10K a day — but for once it’s not words that are the target, but steps. I’m currently participating in the Global Corporate Challenge as part of a work initiative. It aims to get slothful desk workers out of their chairs and moving  towards improved health and productivity.

The challenge has been going for about a week and half now, and it’s been quite an eye-opener. I acknowledge my habits are largely sedentary, but in between sitting at a computer all day for both work and pleasure, I’ve always walked a fair bit. I considered 10,000 steps a day achievable enough, and thought to set an example for my team-mates.

Hmm. Turns out I completely overestimated my standard level of activity.

On a standard weekday at home and work without any conscious exercise, it seems I do about 2000 steps. That’s all. Throw in a half-hour walk in the morning before work, and that gets me another 4000 steps. I can squeeze out another 2000 steps at lunchtime… if I have time.

Bottom line: getting to 10,000 steps requires at least an hour’s dedicated walking (or some other form of equivalent exercise) every day.

Needless to say, I’ve been floundering. My average number of steps for the past nine days or so is about 8,500 — which is about 3,000 less than my team average. (The team — Sir Walkalot — I was going to lead to glory… we’re sitting in the middle of the pack.) I’m determined to get my average over 10,000 for the 16-week duration of this challenge — by which time regular exercise should be a habit, apparently.

I guess it’s a good thing I’ve bought myself a new crosstraining machine. I’d been pondering the merits of a treadmill for a while, but I don’t really have the space for one. My new elliptical crosstrainer is more compact, plus more portable, should I need to wheel it out of the way.

To my irritation, it arrived in time for the challenge to commence, but with a few parts missing so I’ve had to wait over a week to be able to use it. All week (as I gazed forlornly at my dismal scores plastered all over the whiteboard in my office) I’ve been telling myself next week will be better… next week, when my crosstrainer is in action… no excuse now!

Finally, the parts have arrived and it’s all put together. I lasted about 10 minutes, before my quads gave out. Those things are tough! I’ve never really used one before, so I daresay it will take a little while to build up. Meanwhile, I’d better keep scheduling in those extra walks!

Many readers of this post could be wondering by now how many steps you do in a day — I challenge you to wear a pedometer and find out. You might be surprised. How much do you think regular exercise impacts productivity?