Ok, maybe the title is a bit dramatic. It wasn’t anything like a complete failure, unless you only measure it against the original plan to walk as far as Falmouth over 7 days rather than to Par over 4. Indeed, the irony was that in some ways this trip was the best of the 5 SWCP sections so far…
Last Minute Hiccups
Every year when I’ve planned this trip, there’s been a nagging concern at the back of my mind that if for some reason we had to change something at the last minute, then it would turn out to be an expensive disaster. This year’s trip tested that premise, and although it was certainly far from ideal having to make eleventh hour changes, it wasn’t the unmitigated disaster and “cash flushed down the toilet” scenario that I’d envisaged.
The night before we were due to go, my dad pulled out of the trip completely, because of the need to provide logistical support for my grandad’s stay in hospital. We decided at that point that as long as the weather was looking ok and as long as Grandad himself was holding up, that I’d still travel, but would cut the trip short by 3 days walking, and even so would be able to bail out at a couple of points if things at home went awry. Having worked a 13 hour day though, I arrived home at 9:30pm to begin packing and cancelling accommodation for the second half of the trip.
Luckily I was able to cancel the last night’s accommodation completely and get a refund because it was booked through a booking website rather than with the B&B directly. The penultimate night was part paid so the deposit was forfeited. And with me returning on the tuesday afternoon rather than staying overnight and travelling back on the wednesday, I saved another night as although I’ve lost the deposit they haven’t (yet) tried to get me to pay the rest of the stay I didn’t have.
This is one of those situations where being paid by the day is beneficial, and because I would now be able to return to work for a couple of days rather than take the whole week off, the additional income also meant that I would cover any lost costs, although clearly that meant being in an office rather than on a cliff top.
The walk itself
As it turned out I really enjoyed the walk this year and I struck a fortunate combination of weather, scenery and distance that suited me well. My dad was a bit concerned about the planned 15 miles of the first day (which actually turned out to be 16 miles), due to lack of walking recently and the fact that it’s longer than any other day we’ve down on the SWCP. With me left to do it by myself, I had a walk which I knew was within my capabilities but I fully expected to be suffering towards the end. The weather was forecast for about 12C but felt warmer, and my softshell and waterproofs stayed in my pack the whole time.
It was great the first day ferrying across to Cornwall and there was some pleasant and reasonably level walking on the way through the Mount Edgecumbe estate and out to Kingsand. I found I made good time and was averaging about 3mph on this stretch – which is my everyday urban walking speed. So laden with a pack that was quite acceptable. As the day got warmer and especially as I found myself weaving through those chalets halfway up the cliff near Freathy, I started to flag and the day ended with a long slow slog along a road. But you don’t mind it too much on the first day of a trip as you’re just glad to be out walking.
Day 2 was probably the worst day. The weather was about the same as day 1, and the walk was shorter. But I definitely felt the effects of the previous day and the scenery didn’t really get going until Looe itself came into sight. The time-consuming slog through the wooded area below the Monkey Sanctuary reminded me in places of the worst day of 2009 when we spent hours weaving around and up and down through a wood. Thankfully, this time it wasn’t nearly so long. Arriving in Looe was a relief.
Day 3 was when it got hot, but it was also arguably the best day. It was hard walking due to the constant up and down, and in increasing heat became even harder. But the scenery was there pretty much the whole day.
Day 4 was a piece of cake. Another warm day but by now some fitness had crept in and I killed the walk off reasonably quickly. The scenery was ok until I got to Par, which was a bit industrial due to the China Clay works.
Given that Dad missed out the whole walk, it’s quite likely that next time we’ll pick up the path in Looe and repeat (for me) the best part of the walk.
The accommodation and meals
Poppy’s Guest House in Plymouth was fine considering how much I paid. At £50 for a twin I didn’t expect grand luxury and I got a fairly bog standard B&B. Even so a selection of fruit at breakfast that had more than just bananas would have been a good idea. I found that the price was a better indication of the standard than the website is on this occasion.
That night I walked to the Barbican to find somewhere to eat. Seeing the menu outside the Ship I went in, ordered a drink and then tried to order food only to be told it had finished. So I ended up in the chip shop round the corner. It was ok, nothing more.
The Liscawn Inn at Crafthole, is set in its own grounds in a dip below the B3247. This was the most luxurious place I stayed and at £80 for a twin is right at the top end of what I would pay. But it was good. I was the only person in the bar on a Saturday night but this was most likely due to the Olympic torch or simply a reflection that it maybe peaked the previous night when it was apparently packed. Whatever, I quite like quiet bars and I had a good natter with the landlord, and we sat together and watched the Champions League final. I ate in having steak, which was ok, although more cooked than I had ordered. The star of the show was the pint of Cornish Buccaneer that I drank.
The Pencarrow in West Looe was easily the best service. But it was a bit too much like staying in someone’s house. A nice selection of tea and cakes on arrival (in the family lounge), there were family members staying in the room next door (including some singing in the bath), and generally it was most un-B&B like in many ways, not helped by my being the only guest. But the breakfast was excellent, which is a big plus. The room was kitted out with so many extras too. A full first aid kit and clothes horse to name but two. It was a good choice, and I think my dad would have loved it – except for the walk uphill to get to it.
That night I ate in Ye Olde Salutation Inn and had lovely fresh-caught plaice washed down with Doom Bar.
The Well House in Fowey is apparently Fowey’s oldest building, dating from about 1430. Which meant lots of creaking and the ability to hear every word said in the tea room downstairs. For all that it was good, and with the upstairs being renovated, I found myself upgraded to the family room. Cost was £70.
For this trip I carried everything in my recently acquired Golite Jam. Capacity-wise it worked well but I think I overloaded it as I managed to get a kink in the removable foam pad that I couldn’t get rid off.
It was a mistake to take as much food as I did. I took enough cereal bars for 3 per day – not unreasonable, but I ate about 4 on the whole trip. I simply don’t stop for lunch when walking – I simply have two or three coffee break type stops, and this year I made good use of coffee shops along the way. For that reason my flask was a bit redundant, and I might not take it next year.
I overdid the weather protection by taking both a softshell (Haglofs Viper) and a normal waterproof. Neither came out of my rucksack, and that goes for warm hat and gloves too. In 5 years of walking the SWCP I’ve only worn hat and gloves once and that year I knew the weather was going to be crap before I left. More opportunity for being ruthless next year.
I also took quite a heavy pair of shoes for the evening and can do better next time.
For some reason I took a bag of art materials – just a sketch book, a few pencils and brushes, a water pot and my palette. It didn’t leave my rucksack – not for lack of opportunity, it was pure laziness. So I’ll think about that carefully for next year.
Concerned about my phone battery, which actually seemed to grow in longevity during the trip, I took my powermonkey as well as a spare battery. Probably didn’t need to do this. I also took my Kindle instead of relying on the app on my phone, but I used it heavily and don’t regret taking it at all.
So my thoughts about the gear I took are largely regrets about the excess weight I carried and I’ve resolved that next year we either use baggage transfer or I get ruthless with it. The star piece of gear this trip was easily my Samsung Galaxy Note which I only recently got. But I had a signal most of the time which meant I could tweet etc. as I walked and upload pictures (although I still have to get the hang of preventing them rotating when uploading to Twitter).
Weather-wise the trip was great, and although warm it wasn’t as crushingly warm as the first chunk in 2008 or the couple of warm days last year. I’d describe it as perfect as it brought out the colours of the terrain and sea without being totally unbearable to walk in.
The distance walked was comfortable overall, although I’d ideally have lopped a bit off day 1. But there are no easy walking days on this part of the SWCP, and the walks are as much determined by where you can book accommodation as how far you want to walk in a day. Luckily this year the river crossings were not a major issue – last year they determined the schedule for the whole trip.
Could I have avoided the problems that came from making arrangements so far in advance and having nowhere to go when they needed to change at the last minute ? Probably not. Accommodation is difficult to find every year, even starting in February, and unless I can persuade my dad to camp (it’s not going to happen) then I have to accept that booking well in advance is going to have to be done. Not that it helped for the travel – I booked tickets at the end of February and still couldn’t get a seat reservation.
So I look forward to planning the next leg which will either be picking up where I left off in Par, or retreating to Looe so that Dad can also do the most worthwile parts that he missed this time around. Whether we’ll do that later this year or it will be next year, we’ll have to see.