Date: Wednesday 24th September 2014 Distance walked: 10 miles Total distance: 286 miles
Woke to showers which cleared to a brisk wind from the north-west, bright colours, cloud-shades indigo on the sea and crisp white waves. There were sharp shadows on the double peak of Cambeak to the west of Crackington Haven. I climbed the first hill, 100m or so above the dusky pink beach and handful of dwellings in the crease of the valley mouth, and could see Lundy for the first time since Pentire Point on the Camel Estuary.
Ahead was a familiar-looking valley after yesterday’s walk: steeply down and steeply up the sloped mounds of sandstone cliff-mounts that I felt in the creak of my knees and stiffness of my thighs. I’d been so weary last night that it was almost tempting to cry off today’s walk and have a rest, except I know that sitting around doesn’t actually ease stiff muscles and would only make it worse when I attempted to start back up again. I reached Castle Point above St Gennys, due north of Crackington Haven, and from there I could see far back south-west. Through the gap before the inner-peak of Cambeak I could see Tintagel’s church. Then framed in the dip of the Cambeak, Stepper Point on the other side of the Camel estuary. Further out and further away was the low rise of Trevose Head, the sunlight glinting off the white shaft of its lighthouse as the clouds moved across the sky.
I walked the ridge of the high cliffs back towards farmland and cows, torn between being too hot from the two high ascents and a wind-blustered need to zip my coat up. Steps led down to the bottom of the cliff valley between Tresmorn and Dizzard to a nearly-beach of grey striped rock littered with debris that suggested recent camping. Halfway down the steps I saw the black shape of a seal like a dead body in the incoming waves. It didn’t surface. Then one more precipitous cliff stairway up the next 125m to Chipman Cliff and that was it: I was up for the time being, amidst fields, cows, cowpats, stiles, clifftop breezes and easier walking.
The clifftop Dizzard coastline was wooded with little twisted-oak lichened copses at the sides of the fields, with cow-paths and heavy cloven hoof prints leading down and in. At Bynorth where the next stream cut down to waterfall off the cliff-edge to the sea the path led down into the wooded valley. The trees were still green as summer, light dappling through sinuous branches strung with briony bead strings. The brook babbled.
Then out again onto the open heathy scrub of Millook Common where Exmoor ponies munched away at the roughage and watched as I passed. The path followed the steep road down to Millook and across the river stream where a hand painted sign instructed me to put back any bass below a certain size or they can’t breed. The bare cliff face at Millook Haven showed an impressive cross-section of zigzagged interbedded sandstones and shales – which has apparently been named one of the top ten sites in the UK for faulting and folding by the Geological Society. It certainly is quite mind-boggling to think of the geomorphological processes and pressures required to fold rock in such extremity, and fold again and again, like making geological puff pastry or stress-folding a piece of paper as small and tight as it will go. A cormorant on top of the scrub half way up the cliff slope looked like he was in the wrong place. Then there was one more hill: just one more hill to conquer before Penhale Point where I’d arranged to meet Cee at the viewpoint car park for lunch. I had thought I was going to be there early but the last hill’s always the hardest.
It was too windy up on Penhale so Cee and I sat in her car and ate cheese and salad sandwiches looking out towards Lundy. It was so good to sit down in a comfy seat – especially knowing that I’d got the worst bit out of the way for the day and the afternoon would be a gentler warm-down for my aching legs. I even had a sneaky power-nap for twenty minutes before I set off again.
I followed the cliff-top road again after lunch before taking a footpath down through a ‘conservation area’ that led into brambles, so I did what it appeared others had done before me and took a get-out over the fence back to the road down to Wanson Mouth. The tide was on the make but still fairly far out at Widemouth – pronounced Widd-muth – so I took the opportunity to walk along the beach. Children in multicoloured hard hats were learning to abseil down the low cliff at its southern end.
Here the striations were near vertical like books lined up on a shelf. A wave-cut rock platform gave way to flat taupe sand backed further on by a low dune. On the northern horizon the satellite dishes on Harscott High Cliff caught the sunlight as the shifting fair-weather clouds moved shadows over the coastline. The sea was a sort of marine camouflage mix of deepest blues, pea greens and teals with an underwash of browns in the water from the stirred-up sand.
It was a good beach – very much a wide mouth after the sharp and narrow stream-vales I’ve been traversing since Port Quinn. The sand was the colour of fishy sandwich paste. Quartz-veined slate pebbles were deep-set into the sand. One with a broad, near-perfect white cross on black like St Piran’s flag was revealed to be much larger than the small dome exposed when I tried to excavate it as a keepsake. I chose another satisfyingly stripey one instead. It’s sitting on my mantle piece now next to some coloured granite from the Scillies.
I left the beach before Lower Longbeak where the cliff-line re-emerged. It was a pleasant cliff-top grassland walk then all the way to Bude, the road running alongside. It felt, for the first time since then, like the Freathy stretch on the first day except I wasn’t walking on the road itself and I wasn’t remotely in a hurry.
At Compass Point right before Bude itself the unusual Victorian coastguard lookout hut, which appropriately was based on the Temple of Winds in Athens, has the compass points carved into each of its eight sides. Bude itself was a popular Victorian resort and was once serviced by its own railway branch line which unfortunately did not survive the Beeching Axe, leaving the town with the dubious distinction of being the further from a rail link in the whole of the UK. I went down to the shore at the harbour mouth where a spit of paved causeway heads out to the small rock islet of Coach Rock with steps up to a lookout. Waves were breaking high and bright in the wind. The sky was laced with cirrus feathers. People were fishing off the back of Coach Rock. Boats all bright coloured in the sunlight bobbed in the lee of the causeway’s arm as the tide deepened the harbour. On the other side a sea-filled lido against the cliff-side was crossed by wetsuited figures gamely doing lengths.
I found a seat out of the wind and had thermos tea and a hot cross bun while I enjoyed the warmth of the sun and took it all in before I went to meet Cee by Bude Lock where the canal joins the estuary of the River Neet. I couldn’t really contemplate that it was the penultimate day. Before my holiday I’d had my last day at work at my previous job but it hadn’t really felt like I was leaving, more like I was just going on holiday and would be back in a couple of weeks – though partly because I was trying to ignore the fact that I wouldn’t be going back at all. I had a similar feeling there in Bude, like after the next day’s walk I’d be off to work for a few days or weeks and then back for another expedition on another stretch of Cornwall’s coastline, not that I was coming to the end of Cornwall’s coastline altogether.
But of course the coast won’t go away, even if I do. And I’ll still be living fifteen minutes from the coast path in Falmouth…
[coastlining [′kōst‚līn·iŋ] – the process of obtaining data from which the coastline can be charted]