Early morning bus to train station in St Austell for our 8:05. Susanne comes with us to station to see us off.
Love taking the trains. Luckily it's pretty empty at this point so we are able to get a table.
As we can’t easily get to the last two hikes on the south coast, we bus to Newquay on the north coast and walk Mawgan Porth to Newquay. Sea very wild up here! Windy and chilly as we walk mostly across the headlands, only a few ups and downs. We have completed 65 miles this trip.
We decide to skip walking today and go back to Fowey. When we hiked here a few days ago there was an art fair going on and it was crowded and we were tired and there were too many damn cars in the tiny lanes not made for damn cars. This time we love it. Old old buildings, little lanes twisting around themselves, and lots of good food. Bob decides it's a day for eating and drinking and that's exactly what we do. We have to roll ourselves up the hill to catch the bus after our cream tea.
Checking out the shops:
Gorran Haven is a picturesque 13th century coastal village. A tiny cafe and even tinier shop sit at the bottom, at the edge of the shore, surrounded by a cluster of fishermen’s cottages, the oldest of which date back to at least the 1400s. Traces of an Iron Age fort can be found on Dodman Point, though we didn't see it. The secluded cove is way off the beaten path and I like it even more because of that!
Today's 6.5 miles seems much more strenuous than yesterday's 11.5. One headland alone has 90 steps down and 164 up. Then came three more headlands. Our original plan was to go to Mevagissey—just two miles away—but we bail at Pentewan because (1.) we are tired, and (2.) we need to make a 2:30 reservation for our only Sunday Roast. This meal is a priority; to hell with our walking plans.
A perfect day. Weather spectacular, walk not as grueling as expected, and Fowey is a charming charming little village—still a working port—with historic buildings and tiny lanes winding up and down next to the quay. Not many pics along the way as it is fairly redundant as far as photography goes.
Yesterday at breakfast we decide to spend the morning in Truro. We'll meet Susanne at the new cottage this afternoon. We know we need to do some grocery shopping and there's a M&S in Truro, plus the city is famous for its "ancient, cobbled and narrow streets with a range of stunning architecture featuring Gothic and Georgian styles", plus there are lots of little shops. What more could you want from a day trip? We learn from our server at the inn that in the UK a "city" means it has a cathedral. Never knew.
We lose track of time in Truro and have to rush through M&S willy-nilly grabbing breakfast and lunch foods for the next few days. We then jog to get the bus from to Truro to St Austell, Bob runs down the hill to get our luggage which we stowed at the inn, then he runs back up and we wait for the bus to Charlestown, where Susanne is waiting for us at the stop!
We walk down to a pub for dinner and cider and then try the water, which is a shocking 55 degrees.
After a four-hour train ride we putz around Charlestown, a beautifully preserved Georgian port. It started out as a small fishing harbor and was eventually built up to export copper from nearby mines and import coal. When the coal mining industry fell, the port was used to transport china clay. The long basin, which enabled larger sailing ships to safely moor and unload cargo, was cut from solid bedrock. As the china clay industry grew, merchants started setting up workshops for curing pilchard, burning lime, making rope and bricks, and shipbuilding.
What a day, what a day. In the middle of the night I woke and thought no way can I walk again tomorrow. Every part of my legs hurt. In the morning though, we decide to go for it even though it's raining and promising to continue all day. After a huge breakfast, we take an early bus to Lynton thinking we can pick up sandwiches for lunch somewhere but nothing is open except a tiny grocery store. We buy bread and peanut butter. Nothing fancy today!
Our goal is to hitch a ride to the Blue Ball Inn, which is where we finished walking in 2019. We’ve already done the walk to the inn and it was wretched. We are not walking wretched sections more than once. After picking up lunch, we stop to say hello to a man we met in 2019. He runs a tiny printing shop as well as the tiny local theatre and is full of fascinating local stories. As we leave we explain that we’re hitching a ride to the Blue Ball Inn and Bill suggests going down to Lynmouth to hitchhike so off we set down the hill to the lower town.
The hill is so steep (25% grade) it has cutoffs for runaway cars. It's wretched, it’s pouring, there are no sidewalks, and no one picks us up. At the bottom we decide to call Andy the private taxi guy to take us up the grueling hill we now need to go up. But then Bill appears and says his appointment canceled and he’ll run us up up to the inn. Nice!
It’s pouring and misty which is exactly what the weather was three years ago in this very spot. There’s no sign of the path but we head in the direction of the cliffs assuming we’ll have to hit it at some point. Except we don’t. Finally we decide we’re a bit lost. I assume we’re heading toward the sea and should keep going but Bob says the sea is now behind us. Just as we’re ready to acknowledge that we messed up, we meet a worker who knows the trail well. It turns out that last February a cliff fell off into the sea and the path has been diverted, exactly to where we are. Bob was right about where the sea is; I would have gone on walking forever and never found it until hitting the English channel.
Culbone church is the smallest complete parish in England. The internal length is 35 feet. The walls are two feet thick. A burial chamber of someone important from around 1800 B.C. was found on Culbone hill. That's B.C. not A.D. There's also a stone from the Bronze Age which they believes dates from when Celtic missionaries came from Wales and Ireland to spread Christianity.
We've been walking for about seven hours now and are BEAT by the time we finish. In Porlock Weir we stop for a cider while waiting for the bus up to Porlock. It's only a 20-minute walk but I am finished!
Porlock is a cute little village but we're too tired to explore even though we have an hour until the next bus. It doesn't help that the restaurants don't open until 5. So all we eat are chips, a tiny pork pie, and ice cream. Sadly, this bus is the second of three we need to take back to our B&B. The bus is an open top scenic one and we go through spectacular countryside.
While on the second bus we realize that we will have to walk back up that dang 25% grade hill again. Luckly, we only have to go halfway and someone picks us up and takes us to the next bus stop. We eat bread and peanut butter for dinner. Thank goodness there's a gigundo breakfast in the morning. What a day, what a day, what a day.
We have two sections to left to connect Minehead (the very start of the South West Coast Path) to Hartland Quay, which would give us a 108-mile continuous stretch. Because of our habit of walking sections of the 630-mile path based mostly on whim, a 108-mile section is an accomplishment! Today we decide to do the section that is the easiest to get to as well as the shortest.
We had a choice this morning about which way to do today's hike. There’s a bus to Combe Martin but not to Holdstone Down. At first we thought we’d take the bus to Combe Martin and call Andy the private taxi guy to take us to Holdstone Down, then walk back to Combe Martin and take the bus back to Barnstaple. On the bus we decide to just walk out the bus and start the walk at Combe Martin then bum a ride back from Holdstone Down. Hitchhiking worked yesterday, right?
It is a windy day that goes from long-sleeves to short-sleeves off all day. The countryside is spectacular.
Now the path heads through switchbacks down to the very bottom. If you look closely in the center of the pic you'll see the path from hell on the other side. At this point we don't know it's the path from hell and we go down blissfully unaware, looking forward to lunch at the bottom.
It starts out benignly enough but turns downright torturous, so steep that every step takes all you have and then some to hoist your other foot up to take the next step, going on and on and on and never ending because every time you think the top is just around the bend, it goes up some more. Here's what we discover: just because you find some cute little cans of 8% mojito and cosmo-flavored gin and tonic at M&S doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to down them at lunch while at the bottom of hell's own. We are forced to walk up not only with a full stomach but also a tad tipsy. Lesson learned. Hopefully.
We reach the end of our hike and start walking along a tiny lane with no traffic and assume that at some point it will join a bigger lane that does have traffic. When a dark VW rounds the corner I put out my thumb hopefully but the woman keeps going. We discuss this rejection and decide that a single woman is probably less likely to pick up hitchhikers. 5 minutes later the VW comes back toward us. Bob and I discuss this also and decide that A.) she was just going on a short trip and that’s why she didn’t offer us a ride, or B.) she is turning around to come pick us up. We have little hope for the latter.
Two minutes later she comes up behind us again and rolls down her window. “I’ve changed my mind” she calls out. Turns out she’s going to Ilfracombe, where there is more bus choice than in Combe Martin. At the end of the ride I ask her what made her change her mind and she said she remembers hitchhiking decades ago and after turning around and seeing us again decided we didn’t look scary. Not sure if this means we look scary from the back. Will have to look into this.
Over the past three days we closed up the sections in yellow. One section left for tomorrow.