Last night had included lots of hilarity. As Nancy said, one of those ‘had to be there’ moments, but these are times worth savouring. A combination of booze, happy walking fatigue, pubs with slightly dodgy live folk music (and I’m quite partial to a bit of fiddle-dee-dee) and your best mate can lead to all manner of giggles. Nancy and I do a lot together – work, walk, study, dance, travel, party – and what (usually) flavours it all is laughter. Often until bent double and crying. It was so lovely to have that back this walk given the more emotional gravitas that had punctuated the end of the last, an escape from stresses elsewhere in so many ways. So important to have and we are so lucky to have this and someone as daft as you to do it with.
I’ve said it before, but I’m a sentimental old fool, but this walk is just pure gold to me.
Not quite as golden weather-wise as the day before, but for the most part clear and dry. We were set up for the day with a big breakfast at the pub with amazing views and an encounter with an older man who had walked there the day before from Bude (so like us) but hadn’t intended to stay. He seemed to be craving escape as well -it makes you wonder what from… We also met Treacle on our way out, a teeny tiny dog (don’t ask what breed – I’m rubbish at recognising them) who is apparently best buddies with Shere Khan – talk about opposites attract!
We made our way down past the church and back to the SWCP, only to face an immediate diversion which led us back along the river for a bit until the first bridge. I am always keen to know how many killer hills are faced in a day (today had 7 of note), and this allowed us to shave off the first due to crumbling unsafe peaks. On the one side you could see up towards Morwenstow and the church at the top, the other was populated by twisted trees forming skeletal ribs over the water and the odd little waterfall. There were a few dog walkers about, their canine companions took a shine to us and kept looping back thinking we were part of their pack. It took a bit of encouragement to get them to go back to their owners! I have very few pictures of the day, but the picture below shows our general trajectory…
We rejoined the path and it was, as expected, up and out. And up again. The hills still kill, but I find them so much easier now. Or my mindset has changed – I have grown to love them more than not and feel a little robbed of coastal walking along the flat – it is just not the same. It did make me think of Raynor and Moth, the couple in The Salt Path (this walk’s book) who started the SWCP at Minehead and so had the north coast early on – I’m not surprised they found it so hard! And the fact that they were doing it with no money, carrying their camping equipment and with Moth so ill really made us appreciate the luxury in which we do this walk. We both quite like the idea of wild camping, but in our fantasy version, Matt and Ben have already set up camp by the time we get there and ideally have caught fresh fish to cook on the open fire (total fantasy – Matt doesn’t eat anything that may have swum at any point). We did mention it to them and funnily enough they are not that into the idea…
And… drumroll… we left Cornwall.
The county shift happened rather more quickly than anticipated. We had just had our first rest of the day and thought we had a couple of miles before the border, but we dropped down into a dip at Marsland and there we were. Dyw genes Kernow!
I thought I would find it rather traumatic as I have fallen so deeply in love with the place (I was already but the walk has just made my pull to the place even more powerful), but it was ok. All good things must end and all. That and we didn’t cross into a drear, bleak landscape devoid of shape and life, far from it! (This stems from a rather disastrous camping holiday in North Devon a couple of years ago where we literally camped in squelchy mud for a week – hence my rather unfair nickname of Disastrous Devon.)
But no, it remained gorgeous. Green topped cliffs and shards of black rock like witches’ fingers into the sea. A little brutal, but all the more beautiful for it. Definitely not a swimming-friendly landscape (so my plans of getting a sea swim in every day was laid to rest – along with losing my swimsuit anyway!). It is unsurprising that so many ships have met their watery end along here (and also why it appealed as a place for smuggling). We were to stay at The Wreckers later and the rocks round Hartland certainly gave the name justice!
Soon after the border we found another hut, this time belonging to the poet Ronald Duncan. Not quite as tiny and hidden as Hawker’s, but with breathtaking views nonetheless. I know very little about Duncan, but on a subsequent search on his work and in particular on this hut, I found the quote below, which I think responds beautifully to the landscape it describes (thank you Literary Places):
Then I sat down by that shore, the abyss above me
The unfathomable all about me. And I stared out at the sea
Realising: that I could not see the waves
Nor any part of the ocean
Independent of the process of observation;
that Laws of Nature were laws of thought,
And even Reason needs reason as method,
As the will, the will, before it can reason.
Then I peered out at the horizon
Where I myself sailed by oblivious to my signal,
And I stood up and shouted hysterically
Into the abyss before me, above me, and about me:
‘Order is what I seek.
From the chaos of my mind,
Order is what I will impose upon you.’
And the indifferent waves broke on the deserted shore
Echo alone answered. Then I wrapped that terror
which blew across the loom of space
closely about me like a scarf;
fear is not what I will fear,
it is indifference which frightens me.
Excerpt from ‘Canto Twelve, Kosmos’, from Man, Part One, by Ronald Duncan. Published by the Rebel Press, 1970.
A busy day for walkers. In Duncan’s hut, we met an Australian backpacker whose wife and child had ‘left him to it’ and were meeting him at Morwenstow. I love the odd little exchanges you have out on the path. It also made me chuckle that whenever we told people where we were headed, it was almost always accompanied by a sharp intake of breath as if to say ‘ooh good luck’. We even met our doppelgangers – a pair of ladies, probably about 10 years our senior, out with their dogs. It was a bit like looking though the glass darkly, a mirror of ourselves in a parallel universe (though I’d wager they did not punctuate their walk with nips of whisky).
The afternoon revealed much more gentle walking with a few miles along the top of cliffs. I used this time to listen to Nancy’s playlist which had a rather, um, obvious theme from the outset but as it also transpired, another more autobiographical layer. Sightings of gargantuan mushrooms accompanying Shonen Knife kept making me laugh.
Hartland Quay was another one of those places which appears and disappears from view with alarming regularity (a little like the amorphous Lundy Island out to sea) – one minute it is right there in front of you, then next, nowhere to be seen. St Catherine’s Tor just before our destination gave me cause for concern – I thought Nancy may insist on walking up it for completionist reasons, but no. We found another amazing waterfall, Nancy braving her vertigo to get a closer look.
The Wreckers at Hartland Quay was certainly positioned at a scenic spot, out on the rock almost in the sea with constant crashing waves on 3 sides. So bleak, so stunning.
More folk music, but for us, bed by 9.30.
Miles walked: 9.6
Since the start: 720.6