This August, I walked 66 miles (110 km) from St Ives to Padstow on the west coast of Cornwall, over 5 and a half days. This is part 6 — go back to part 5 (Newquay to Treyarnon Bay).
Treyarnon Bay to Padstow was my final walking day. I went to bed the night before with trepidation about the weather — for several days, everyone I’d spoken to had commented on how nice the weather had been, and how “Monday’s supposed to be really hot, like 30 degrees!” Great news for beach-goers, less appealing if you’re walking 11 miles (18 km) in full sun.
The best I could do was to get up and get walking as early as possible. Instead, I fell into my usual sleep pattern of restless sleep, a lot of lying awake at 4am, and then oversleeping in the morning. I was dreading a hot afternoon, and put my bathers on under my clothes so I could go for a swim if I needed it.
I was sluggish that morning, and was still sorting out breakfast at 10am. The options at the hostel didn’t appeal, but the beach carpark had a food truck where I got a bacon bap and takeaway cup of tea. “Are you walking?” asked the lady there as she fried my bacon. She was more optimistic about the weather, pointing out there was already a nice breeze off the ocean. I hoped she was right, but anyway, the miles weren’t going to walk themselves so I set off along the beach.
The tide was still low and I walked on the sand, wondering about the patterns left by the receding water. I took a graduate course once, about 6 years ago, in non-equilibrium statistical physics, and for at least a week I think I actually understood something about pattern formation and coarsening. Did I ever really understand any of it, or was I just catching glimpses of someone else’s understanding? If I really understood it, shouldn’t I be able to tell you now how those ripples work?
(In other important news, I also walked along a beach called Booby’s Bay.)
Near the lighthouse at Trevose Head, I passed a couple, she sitting on a rock looking slightly bored while he looked intently down the cliffs with a large camera, trying to get photos of seals. They were certainly there, but I don’t know how you’d get a photo that distinguished them from the rocks they were sitting on.
I was walking past farmland again, with small fields bordered by hedges and stone farmhouses with slate roofs. It was strange to turn one way and see wheat ready for harvesting and turn the other and see the ocean. It was even stranger that I was also passing popular beaches. I’ve lived in a wheat farming town, I’ve lived on the coast, I’ve lived (briefly) in a popular tourist centre. I’d never expected to see all those things in one place.
The breeze had lasted and even at midday the temperature was bearable, but I was getting hot wearing bathers under my clothes. Just before Trevone I found the solution: a semi-artificial rock pool. It was the size of a large backyard swimming pool, deep enough for kids to do bombies in from the rocks, cold enough that their parents and aunts and uncles had to coax each other into the water. The water was clear and still. With no waves pushing against me, and aided by the buoyancy of salt water, I glided around the pool in lazy slow laps.
After lunch I continued through farmland. Signs at the stiles asked walkers to keep their dogs under control because they could startle the sheep, causing them — and possibly the dog, the signs noted, threateningly — to run over the cliffs. The path was hilly, and I enjoyed stretching my legs on the uphill parts. For a while I leapfrogged with a couple, me going faster on the uphills, they going faster on the downhills.
As I was going up one of the hills, I got my first glimpse of the Camel Estuary, which has the whitest sand beaches I’d seen in my walk that week. As I got closer to the estuary I could see sail boats out racing, and I thought about the times I’d watched similar races on the Swan River from the roof of the Physics department back in Perth.
The Camel Estuary is also the estuary that Padstow sits on. I couldn’t see the village yet, but I was already starting to feel like I’d nearly made it. I wasn’t sure I wanted my walk to end, but at the same time, the finishing point being close made me speed up a little and on the next downhill I overtook for good the coupled I’d been leapfrogging with.
In fact, as I discovered at Hawker’s Cove on the outlet of the estuary, I was still 2 miles from Padstow, which was hidden behind a hill. It was finally getting hot, and I stopped for a cream tea from a tea gardens 50 yards off the path. “Put jam, then cream,” the man at the counter told me, “We’re in Cornwall after all.” I looked at him, puzzled. Apparently in Devon they do it the other way around, which never would have occurred to me.
Padstow was bustling with visitors as I arrived in the late afternoon. Like St Ives, where I started, it’s a fishing town that now has a thriving tourist industry — in the case of Padstow, one of the big players is Rick Stein the celebrity chef, who has at least four separate ventures in town that I counted. While a fancy seafood meal had some appeal, I didn’t have a booking (or frankly, an appropriate outfit for a restaurant — I didn’t think they’d appreciate a sunburnt, salty-haired walker in a quick-dry tshirt and shorts that still had a bird poo stain on them from a seagull back near Hayle) so I ate a pasty down by the harbour and people-watched as the shadows got longer and the breeze got cooler.
Would I do a walk like this again? Absolutely.
I loved the scenery, I loved watching it slowly change over the course of 5 ½ days while always being distinctly Cornish. I loved having so much time to think and daydream. Possibly I would pick something more physically challenging next time — the physical walking itself was cruisy (aka boring at times) — but then, maybe not, since it was the cruisy walking that gave me so much time for reflection. I would definitely try a route that was more remote, with fewer dog walkers and joggers and day trippers, although considering I was walking in Cornwall in mid-August that’s not a hard bar to clear. But I’m already daydreaming about possibilities for next summer…