From: Pendeen to St Ives
Distance: 14m / 22.4km
Cumulated distance: 24.5m / 39.4km
Percentage completed: 2.38
Before I even opened my eyes this morning, I knew what sort of weather was waiting outside. At times during the night it felt as if the whole prefab was going to take off, so strong were the gales. And yes, as I made my way across to the pub for brekkie, I could barely keep upright! But there was a silver lining .. much of the snow had been blown away and the temperature was at least 4 degrees. Maybe I could tackle the South West Coast Path after all.
I put the idea to the landlord. Sharp intake of breath. ‘I wouldn’t be doing that if I were you .. people have lost their lives out there on that path or at least broken ankles’. Not totally put off I asked a couple of dog walkers as I ventured along the road. Lots of tutting and shaking of heads. I decided to walk along the road until the point where it almost converges with the path. And this is what I found ..
And what you can’t see is just how windy it was! So reluctantly I turned tail and headed back for a day of road walking to St Ives.
The road was uncannily quiet which made for easy walking. I was bitten by the bug of long distance walks when I did the Thames Trail a couple of years ago. I started in the East End of London and finished at the source of the river, near Cirencester. It’s a lovely, flat 184 mile walk which meanders through London and then through many delightful villages and mellow English countryside. I had thought my next walk would be any one of the UK’s national trails .. The Cotswold Way or The Coast to Coast, perhaps. But as I thought about my options, it became startlingly clear that next up should be the longest, while I was at my youngest. And so the End to End walk started to come into focus.
The walk I’m doing is my own cobbled together route. There is no way-marked End to End. Everyone chooses their own path, linking together national trails, bridleways, canal towpaths, country roads, footpaths and occasionally where unavoidable, roads. Starting out, I read numerous blogs and books written about other walkers’ journeys. Gradually it became obvious that what dictates your route is how quickly you want to walk it and whether you need a bed and a glass of wine at the end of each day. I’m very fortunate that I don’t have to crunch out 30 mile days, taking no rests. I’m even luckier that I don’t have to wild camp .. although I know this is the accommodation of choice for many Thru Hikers. I have to say I can’t imagine too many people relishing the idea of wild camping on a day like today though. Unless we have any of Storm Emma’s sisters coming through over the next three months, my route will take in as many National Trails as possible, avoid as many roads as I can and each day will end with liquid reward and relative comfort. Bliss. How lucky am I.
Pretty hot on my decision to walk the length of UK were meetings with Australia’s Black Dog Institute and the UK SANE’s Black Dog Campaign people. I couldn’t imagine doing another walk as long as this one and so I wanted to give it my all and get as much sponsorship as I could for charities that mean a lot to me. Both Black Dog charities on either side of the globe, do phenomenal work in the area of mental health. Their websites describe what they do at length (click on the buttons above to see more), but the aspect that has the deepest resonance for me is the work they do in raising awareness of depression and their work in suicide prevention.
It still makes me shudder when I think that in Australia more young men take their own lives each year than die in traffic accidents. I want this walk to raise as much money as it can to help us understand depression better and to reach out to young people who find themselves in the darkest of places, alone and unsupported. More on the good work of the collective Black Dogs later .. but for now, back to the walk ..
There were lots of tin mines to see today. Mining tin began in Cornwall and Devon in the Bronze Age, a staggering 4000 years ago and ended as recently as 1998. I’d read that going north of Pendeen, well into Devon, the landscape will be littered with evidence of tin mining. Even a brief glance at today’s map, has the word ‘shaft’ repeatedly scattered along the edge of the coast. I don’t really know a lot about mining but did find out that tin was an important commodity, not only in its raw state but also when it was mixed with copper to become bronze. Hence why Cornwall came to prominence in the Bronze Age, a couple of thousand years BC.
Carn Galver mine is right on the road-side. I suppose it made it easier to transport the tin away quickly. Mining was a family affair, with the men going underground down the shafts to chip out the rock containing the tin. They’d use hammers, chisels, gunpowder and later, dynamite. At the surface of the mine, women and children would be employed to ‘dress’ the ore, making it ready for the smelting process. Conditions were pretty ghastly, with cholera and typhoid constant companions of the miners. However, it paid better than agriculture or fishing, so it continued to attract workers despite the threat to good health. Life expectancy barely exceeded 40 for men working underground in the 19th century.
I know that there will be a lot of links to famous and even infamous people, as I wend my way north and the first is today .. DH Lawrence, he of the scandalous ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’. Lawrence came to live in the little village of Zennor during the Second World War. He wasn’t a man to care about what other people thought of him .. for example, he didn’t give two hoots about Lady Chatterley being banned and he also spoke out at length against the war. As he walked the cliffs around here, with his German wife, they would sing in her mother tongue .. upsetting the locals big time. Pretty soon he was accused of using the clothes on their washing line to signal to the enemy. It can’t have helped either that his wife’s cousin was none other than the infamous German WW1 fighter pilot ‘Red Baron’. Pretty soon after coming to Cornwall a new law was passed which had them thrown out of the county. Lawrence wrote about their time in Cornwall in his book ‘Kangaroo’. The chapter is called ‘The Nightmare’!
The road from Pendeen to St Ives was much, much hillier than I had anticipated. But it meant that there were some fine views across the snowy landscape. The emptiness also meant it was a haven for birdlife and I loved seeing all the lapwings flitting across the bracken.
Simple pleasures in life are often the best and the cappucino at The Gurnard’s Head pub, halfway between Pendeen and Zennor was just such a pleasure. It was a delightful place, with open fires, artwork from local artists and the best coffee! I got talking to a lovely bunch of Italians, over on holiday to enjoy the English spring! And also to a wonderful elderly regular who had written several books about Spitfires. It was quite the nicest pit stop.
Spurred on by the shot of caffeine, I headed back on to the road. The second half of the walk was rather sleety .. painful on the face but at least not settling on the ground. There was another 6 or 7 miles to bash out before I reached St Ives. I’d been relishing the idea of visiting St Ives for years. After the second world war, the tiny fishing village was transformed into an influential art colony and it became the epicentre of the British Modernist movement. In fact it continued to gather momentum for decades, attracting artistic interest until even the Tate opened a gallery. The Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden and the St Ives Art School helped to establish St Ives further as the art Mecca of the South West. There are also numerous little commercial galleries dotted throughout the village and I’m keen to see as many as I can .. although I suppose the weather could well mean they’re closed. I’ll head off to see as soon as I’ve pressed ‘publish’!
Before I sign off .. a huge thank you for all the lovely messages people sent through in response to the first day’s blog. It was fabulous to read them all and made me feel all warm and fluffy!
Black Dog Tails
One from the past .. this was the magnificent Newfoundland, Gander. He won the Dicken award for bravery during the Second World War. The Dicken medal is the equivalent of the Victoria Cross but for animals.