Awoke at, yes, half-seven again what is it with this St. Ives campsite reveille? to, yes, another glorious morning. I packed up much of my stuff, tried to shake some of the overnight dew off the tent (in anticipation of packing and carrying it later), showered, and dressed. In addition to the surfeit of disposable razors, I'd restocked a little more shampoo than I cared to carry on my back over long distances. I do hate waste. ("Free to good home" it says there.)
Shortly after waking, I also discovered that Paul Prince among Men had texted me the day's weather forecast for my walking area. What a guy. Also, what a good argument for getting a decent wireless device for these trips: weather, e-mail, restaurant reviews…
I was back into town by the crack of nine. None of the cute girls in the cafe this morning, but I was still able to ask for "my usual" and get it. I chatted awhile with the non-cute-girl cafe counter guy. I scribbled all this down.
Just before leaving, I offloaded my Yellow Canary loyalty card which I'd mostly but would never completely fill on some sweet people at the next table, who thanked me effusively and wished me happy travels. Then I swang by the Fore St. Deli up the street for trail supplies. Nothing left then but to get out of Dodge.
As I ambled for the last time down Fore Street, I bid farewell to things. Farewell, Seafood Cafe! Farewell, St. Ives Camera Co! Farewell, Off-License! Then I was back on the front. Farewell, surfers! Farewell cafe patio with tea and pizza and beer! Farewell Tate Gallery!
Then I chugged a very last time up the hill, broke down the tent and, just like that, my home for the last nearly a week had collapsed and condensed into a not terribly large, and not really heavy at all, backpack.
Now, here I sit in my traditional stall, for the last weight mitigation operation before departure. Introspecting, I find I'm equal parts apprehensive and exhilarated. Walking solo will definitely be a brand-new experience and the next level of self-testing and self-reliance. Just a man and his pack, walking around the SW coast of Britain. Doing it for no other reason than to do it.
Coming back that last time from the bathrooms, I found that my erstwhile neighbours had struck camp as well. They were a nice mother/daughter/dog backpacking team (which I thought was a sweet line-up), and they were eating blackberries off of the bushes that ringed the field. "Nice they provide breakfast with the pitch."
You may recall the camp site was up high, west of town. Happily, there was a backdoor to the coast path, reachable without descending back into town. Yip. I found it, slipped out and then farewell St. Ives! I was walking right out of it, and might never lay eyes on the place again. But I was pretty sure I'd never forget it.
I swung into a brisk pace, including maybe especially the uphill sections. I suppose this was the first thing to relish about walking solo: my pace was utterly my own. As I found my rhythm, I began feeling like a machine again. With all the kit on my back, a cyborg, really: half-man, half-camp site.
I realised this was actually the fourth time I was covering this terrain. However, only the second time in this direction and the first fully loaded.
I passed a nice Swiss girl, from near Lausanne, who was on a photo stop. She said she was staying in St Ives, and walking out from there, and maybe we'd see each other in Zennor. This, I discovered, was the second nice thing about soloing the greater ease of meeting other walkers (particularly other solo walkers).
Everyone really did seem friendlier/more talkative suddenly: two twenty-something blokes asked my walking time from Zennor to St Ives from two days before, in the hopes of beating it; a couple lunching on a triangulation point told me about their seal-watching expedition to the rocks from the day before; later, an elderly couple inquired of my destination, and told me I was in for amazing scenery "just close your eyes as you pass through Land's End" they amended. (More on that later.)
Finally, I paused at a small turn-out, just past where Paul and Nicole and I had turned back the day before (and at which I finally felt like I was putting some ground behind me), for a stretch break. Not a single person passed me while I did a whole stretching routine. Suddenly, increasingly, I seemed to have the path to myself.
A bit further along, I took my next break, sitting on a rock while the moving clouds turned the light on and off, a lovely effect that had been the pattern all day. Passing the stretch where I'd gone billygoating around in the heights, this time I took the low road. It offered a nice view of the light on the boulders.
And Then Came The First Parlous Decision
Actually, first came me getting slightly lost. How can you lose a coastal path? Part of it was probably that I thought I should know where Zennor was, but of course I didn't. I veered inland early or something, or rather I started to be afraid that I'd veered in early, when I probably really hadn't. Another nice couple, with another nice dog, passing me on their way out, advised that Zennor was only just up ahead.
They also advised me about the path further along the coast. And about the weather.
The man told me that rain was indicated for that evening. Paul's morning forecast had actually called for rain by 3pm, but it didn't look like happening yet. In fact, the forecast had been for rain pretty much every night, and it had hardly ever happened.
As I was pretty visibly ruminating upon whether to carry on past Zennor, to stretch to the next town (seven miles further along), the guy brought up the matter of the terrain on that next stretch. A bit desolate, was the take-home message. "Yeah," he said genially, but distinctly ominously, "there's just nothing between here and Pendeen Watch. I mean, if you have a map, you can get yourself off the coast. But then you're just on a deserted road." Gack.
I checked the time. It was only 1:21pm not quite 3 hours since I'd left St. Ives. (You really do make better time solo.) But, then again, I was walking solo for the first time. Should I happen to get hurt, there was no one barring passing Samaritans to come to my rescue. It was really awfully early to check in for the night; but I also figured it would be a shame to die on my first day solo. And, if that guy's comments weren't foreboding enough, I'm not sure what would be. Oh, maybe this bit from the book, actually:
O-kay. It looked like I'd be amusing myself in Zennor for the day.
And, who knows, I might meet the Swiss girl.
So unapparent to us on our brief swing-through the other day, Zennor is also home to the Old Chapel Backpackers a totally lovely and funky lodge, camp site, cafe and movie lounge. And, as the name suggests, previously a chapel. I quickly concluded I could have found a much worse place to kill an afternoon and evening. Inside, I checked in, which involved a young woman taking my, I don't know, £4 or something, and showing me the showers and laundry and taking my breakfast order for the following morning!
I then effectuated my first solo tent set-up of the trip. It was a bit tense; but I relied upon the tent-spot-picking skills I developed during my apprenticeship to Mark and, despite a few snafus with mildly rocky soil and my dodgy geometry sense, the results I think speak for themselves. Just as I was finishing, the clouds rolled in as did (visible in photo) the mother/daughter/dog hiking team! "We're following you!" "I thought as much. Though, I don't know if you can get breakfast in this field." I directed them to the spot I had nearly taken myself (before finding one slightly better). And then I made for indoors.
On my way in, I also re-met the older, dog-walking couple and thanked them for the good, forboding advice: "I think now I made the right decision which I would not have but for you. So thanks!" "No problem," they said, "The pub here's not bad, too." I said I'd see them there. Also, they, or someone, my notes here are inconclusive, let slip here, or somewhere along here, that they had done the next section of walk a day or two before and it had taken him from 9:45am to 4:45pm. In other words, if I'd carried on today, I would have gotten in well after dark assuming I wasn't led over a cliff in the mist and rain. Good call. Really good call.The cafe was totally winning. And, as I sat waiting for my pot of tea, I grimaced trying to identify the end of a hauntingly familiar heavy metal standard playing throughout. I initially misidentified it as Iron Maiden. When I picked up my tea, the counter guy set me straight it was early Metallica.
Overhead, the specials board offered home-made veggie chili in a jacket potato, home-made potato and onion soup and orange juice you could machine-squeeze onsite yourself. The skies were still holding, so I ambled outside and finished my tea at one of the picnic tables. Nice. My mood was coming along nicely, as well.. I thought to myself: After tea, I'm going to take a big dump! Then maybe read on the comfy couch! And perhaps nap! Watch a movie if I want! Nice. And, really, should the rains come down, having this whole welcoming, homely place to hang out in as opposed to the cold, exiguous tent was a major boon. Only one wrinkle: like all "youth" hostels these days, the place was overflowing with old people. But not to be age-ist. And of course the Swiss girl might yet turn up!
And then with apologies to Iron Maiden down in falls came the rain. I ducked back inside, where Guns and Roses were now playing. I checked the combo video and book shelf in the lounge and immediately found they had the one Steven Johnson book I hadn't read! I settled on the couch, read the introduction, and fell asleep with the book steepled on my tummy.
I awoke how much later I knew not, nor much cared, and ambled outside. The rain was coming down lazily, the cows were on the move, and I found the church (the one with the mermaid) locked tight. Hmm, the backpackers . . . the church . . . as far as Zennor went, that pretty much left: the pub. I had been planning to try and wait until 5pm but, hey, my hand was forced. What could I do?
- Nicholas Lezard, in the Guardian (G2)
And a very lovely pub it was: a dim, wood-beamed, low-ceilinged, cosy room; a vegetarian section of the menu; and, perhaps best of all, Skinners Cornish lager on tap. You might, or might not recall, some hand damage I mentioned taking in scrabbling around on the cliffs the other day, which were heavily and sharply vegitated. I'd picked up a few thorn splinters, one of them kind of unbelievably deep, and I carried that one with me all the way here. Sitting in the pub, with lots of analgesic on tap, and all the time in the world, I got serious about getting it out. Kind of horribly, but also kind of deeply gratifyingly, it finally squeezed smartly and decisively out of the tip of my finger long, sharp, and straight, and rising straight out of the flesh like Boticelli's Birth of Venus. Man was that good to get rid of. I felt as happy as Androcles' lion.
That accomplished, I sat and sipped (drinking halves, as I still had so very much evening to get through), and scribbled. It was rather lazy and sweet and slow being marooned this way in Zennor. Finishing my half, I rose to amble back to the Backpackers. I retrieved the Johnson book, read some more (good stuff), got listless, and went back to the pub again. There I had another half over the book, by which time the joint had cleared out. I went back to the backpackers again to see about a shower and thence was confronted with: the Towel Catastrophe.
I suddenly, and horror-strickenly, recalled how I'd been all cool that morning, confidently breaking camp, and smartly showering, and bantering with my tent-pitch neighbours, and hanging my travel towel out on the fence so it would be totally dry for my day's walk . . . and how it was in fact surely totally dry now, in large part because it was still hanging there on that fence at the St Ives camp site. Son of a BITCH. It took about 12 seconds of thinking really hard about it to realise there was no really realistic way I was going to retrieve that towel at this point.
And so then a whole school trip full of students, most of them seemingly hot 18-year-old females, spilled into the backpackers, and so I escaped back to the pub (not so much to escape them, as not to seem like I was hanging around scoping them), where I tried a half of the Zennor Mermaid Ale (how not?). This going back and forth from the backpackers to the pub was going on an awful lot, but as you can see there was nowhere else to go. You can see in this photo, behind the stone pub, the stone church, which as I mentioned was the only other thing of any sort in Zennor and was shut. After my half of Zennor Mermaid I couldn't any longer resist going back to the backpackers, to scope the prenominate 18-year-old females.
And then, a bit later, from their chattering chatter, it became apparent that all the 18-yo girls had plans to hit the pub, so I raced back to the pub to beat them so I could get a seat and a pint (or, rather, two more halves) and my dinner order in, which I did. And then who should walk in but my once and future neighbours, aka the mother/daughter/dog hiking team, henceforth to be known as Debi, Alex, and Dylan. (They'd henceforth be known that way for awhile, because I kept seeing them.) We all sat together and had nice conversation and a huge dinner. After that, I stumbled back to the backpackers, where they incidentally had this map on the wall, and where I liberated a couple of biscuits from the kitchen cupboard for dessert, then fell into the tent and slept the sleep of those who've been drinking halves all of a very long afternoon and evening.
Later, in the dark but twinkling, and still but still sort of throbbing, night, I awoke and emerged from the tent into the very centre of the glorious overhead dome of dazzling stars. It's cliche, of course, but living in the city you really do forget that there are so many of the darned things. It might further be said that you forget your place in the cosmos. London is, in a sense, pre-Copernican it seems very much to be the centre of the universe. (If not the whole universe itself.) It's a funny, cute kind of self-importance.
Route Follower Alongerer :