Dispatch from the Razor's Edge, the Blog of Michael Stephen Fuchs
(← home page for Beyond Land's End Dispatches)
2006.09.10 : The Rendezvous
Plus 6X Zoom Voyeurism
The 'Nearly No Images' Episode
CUSINS: You have me in a horrible dilemma. I want Barbara.
UNDERSHAFT: Like all young men, you greatly exaggerate the difference between one young woman and another.
- Bernard Shaw, Major Barbara

Lamentably, today's dispatch, Day 2 of the Walk, will be the Official 'Nearly No Images' Episode. This is due to some combination of catastrophic incompetence on the part of the CD- (and customer-) burning employees in the photo shop in Newquay; and catastrohpic incompetence on the part of your dispatcher in the way of keeping sand and grit from scratching his CDs to heck and back. Honestly, I can't even tease out which caused what at this point. The bits of good news are:

  1. Tim took some photos from Day 2;
  2. I was able to salvage a few of my photos from Day 2;
  3. While desperately trying to salvage photos from Day 2, using elaborate software tools to pick over damaged CDs, I was able to salvage a few more that had been lost from Day 1 – I've slipped them in this dispatch here and there, and you'll never know the difference, as all the stunning cliffsides are pretty much indistinguishable
Also, Day 3 will also pretty much be the Official 'Nearly No Images' Episode. (Unless Charles and Meeyoung finally get off their duffs and send me their photos . . .)

So, previously on our show, we cut the day's dispatch short, leaving our heroes palsiedly perambulating into the port town of Mawgan Porth – one hobbling and whimpering, and the other cackling and rubbing his hands together: "Yessss… yesss… we will walk futher, we will walk more… we will walk up, and down… there will never be an end to the walking… Mua-HaHaHaHaHa!!!"

Luckily, despite the unfortunate destruction of Tim's body on the very first day, his fine mind was unimpaired. Good thing, as I was doing my usual routine of lying through my teeth about how far, and how steep, the remainder of the walk was. If you care to look at that image just one more damned time (okay, two more damned times), you'll see that A) the main bit of Mawgan Porth (on the far right) is at the very end of that long strand of beach, sort of stuck in the corner of the inlet; and B) there's a steep cliff overlooking, and directly behind, the main bit. From my read of the book and the map, our campsite was actually up at the top of that cliff. Naturally, I wasn't going to admit this to Tim until we were halfway up it.

The intended upside to this plan was of course that Tim would neither have the opportunity to sit down and refuse to go any further; nor to use his last remaining strength to strangle me. The downside was that it turned out I was wrong – the campsite was actually elsewhere, and not at the top of anything at all. So I would have had us do this huge climb at the end of a murderous, 17-mile day, then stumble around looking for the campsite for awhile, then have to come back down and walk further to the actual campsite location. And my subterfuge made it rather harder for Tim to discover and correct my error. But, somewhat amazingly, he doggedly ferretted it out anyway (pardon my mixed zoological metaphor) – and saved us the unnecessary (and possibly fatal) climb.

Campsite: full up. <Cartman>Sons of BITCHES!!!</Cartman> However, the nice campsite lady averred that there was a pretty, empty ridge up above the campsite proper; and we were welcome to pitch up there. This solicitousness on her part might not have been unrelated to the appearance, only a few minutes after we stumbled in, of two tired, serious-looking, and mountain-sized Yorkshiremen, also looking for a pitch. It probably occurred to her, not unreasonably, that these man-mountains from the north might simply decide to squish all the existing campers into bloody mush between their catchers-mitt-sized hands, then blow their tents away with tired exhalations, and then there'd be plenty of free pitches. She led the four of us up to the ridge.

This – the full-up-ness of the camp site – turned out to be another of those great unexpected boons. Not only was the site full, but it was full of those big motorized campers with televisions, and lawn furniture, and whelps. Getting away from them, up on the high lonely windy ridge, was completely brilliant. (Not least when we woke up to the sunrise and the view.)

Very slightly less brilliant was Tim and I having to pitch my brand new tent for the first time ever – in competition, however implicit, with the man-mountains, who had obviously been pitching their (garage-sized) tent in the pitch-black and gale-force winds after 24-mile forced marches every single night for 15 years. We managed; we got the tent up (before the Yorkshiremen were actually bedded down).

Here's a semi-salvaged image of our tent set up. Plus the thumbnails which, oddly, survived. Obviously, I was proud of our first tent set-up.

Two words: kick-ass showers. You've gotta like a good campsite shower. Clean, good water pressure, well-lit, and – as foreshadowed yesterday – with the entire Original Motion Picture Soundtrack from Grease playing on the sound system throughout. I took my time and luxuriated, lathering and grooming to both Greased Lightning and Summer Lovin'. (This is the part where where Meeyoung says, as she did when she saw the Winnie the Pooh wallet I was later to pick up in Penzance, 'You ARE really gay, aren't you?') Anyway, I couldn't think of a better pick-me-up than that after a hard day.

But that was only because we hadn't been to the pub yet. Shortly after, I set two full pints down in front of Tim, who was staying put at the table as we hadn't any crutches.

Me: "Tent's set up. We're showered. Food's on the way. And – glugglugglug – we're halfway through our first pint. We are so sorted, mate."
Tim: Glugglugglug. whimper. Glug.
Me: "No, don't try to stand. I'll go get another round."

Actually, that's not fair. Tim was perfectly conversant, and in good spirits. He just couldn't walk. In any case, thusly did we end Day 1 on the Cornwall Coast Path.

Morning broke gentle and pretty and quiet and misty – and brain-wringingly dehydrated, in my case.

Me: Jesus, Tim. How the hell did you let me drink three pints of beer – but walk away with my pint glass of water still half-full on the table?

I then related the story of how after our too-long, too-hot, under-provisioned hike in Malawi, we got back and Mark said, "I'm going to stand here and watch you drink a litre of water" and then did so, which was not the first time I annoyingly tried to compare this walk to past walks, or current companions to Mark (which, who, really, compares to Mark?). Anyway, I took a bunch of paracetamol and drank all the water in the tent and lay there and had a bit of a lie-in.

Tim, on the other hand, had fully recovered. I'd tried to tell him that he'd be amazed when he discovered how quickly and completely knee-swelling goes down overnight; but he'd assumed it was just more of my lies.

We broke camp and ambled back into town. Of the two or three places, the Fire Bar & Bistro looked like, and was rumoured to be, the winning breakfast place. They weren't open yet – but, to their enormous credit, and probably eventual salvation, they gave us coffee while we waited on the patio. God Himself also appeared, in the form of soya milk. I did the same sad, hopeless routine I did all across the C2C, taking my coffee and murmering, with my eyes cast down, 'You don't, erm, by some miracle, have, um, soya milk . . . ?' 'No miracle,' the very nice proprietress replied, producing a pitcher, 'of course we do!' F*&ing A.

Fortified by the Full English, in Tim's case, and a whole lot of Muesli and fruit in mine, and a lot of coffee and tea all around, and having gotten a nice early start, and having laid in the day's provisions at the general store nearby, we geared up purposefully and moved off smartly to . . . lie on the beach for awhile. Hell, we had only a short walk ahead of us today – and after trudging by all the beach-loungers yesterday, we wanted some of our own back. We lay back and listened to the surf and chatted amiably and watched an industrious toddler bury her infant brother in a hole in the sand. 'Timmy . . . ? Timmy . . . ? Where's Timmy??!!'

We finally roused ourselves from our beach idyll, and began the day's walk with . . . an enormous climb. Back up to the cliffs. As we got walking, Tim and I told each other our respective grandfathers' war stories. After not too long, I checked the map and discovered we were only fifteen minutes from the first village along the way. Speaking of war stories, I borrowed a line from Eric L. Haney's magisterial, and surprisingly damned funny, book Inside Delta Force:

Me: "Hell, I could do fifteen minutes upside down with my head in a bucket of shit."

This was actually a recapitulation of the running 'joke' from the C2C which, perhaps mercifully, never really made it into the dispatches: "Only four miles left? Hah! I could do four miles hopping backwards on one foot, whistling God Save the Queen, while a squad of Royal Marines slapped me about the head and neck with a wet mackerel!" Etc.

This photo, actually, is one of the war memorials that are to be found in every town in Britain. Every town in Britain, no matter how small, lost men in the two world wars. Some of these memorials have five names on them. Everyone is named. (It's also from right outside of Padstow, five minutes into yesterday's walk, but pay no attention to the idiot behind the curtain.)

In the first town, or somewhere along the way, I got a lanyard for my hat. This was a big deal. I'd discovered one thing about walking around the coast of Cornwall versus, say, walking across the moors of North Yorkshire, was the conspicuous presence of unceasing 35-mph-or-worse winds. It had become necessary to keep my hat-strap cinched pretty much full-time – my beloved Intrepid Explorer Hat® hadn't survived a two-day trip down the Zambezi River only to be blown away into the North Atlantic. This resulted in A) the expected result of me looking goofy and B) the unexpected result of the skin behind my ears hurting like hell.

It was slightly frustrating, because my hat sat quite snug, and wasn't really very likely to blow away. But it was a little too likely to risk it when walking along the tops of hundred-foot-high cliffs. One strong gust, and bye bye baby. What I really needed was just a length of something that I could attach to the hat on one end, and me on the other, as a precaution. A fabric sunglass strap, and a mini-carabiner, clipped into my pack strap, proved just the ticket. Major improvement.

We passed a very nice group of four rambling pensioners. We experienced that stupid thing where when you pass people on the trail you don't feel you can slow down or stop for awhile, because you feel silly getting passed right back.

Eventually we said sod it, and stopped for a break on a nice promontory overlooking a beach. I ate some dried apple rings I'd picked up at the general store in Mawgan Porth. It's continually amazing how good food tastes on these walks. And it was a lovely spot.

Tim: "This is great. It's like being on the beach, but you've got a really non-sandy spot – and a view."

Naturally, the pensioners quickly caught us up. They stopped to chat, as ramblers will do. It turned out they'd all done the Coast to Coast a mere two weeks ago. And done it in 13 days! (Mark and Darby and I had done it in 14 and nearly perished from the effort; albeit we were fully loaded with camping kit; albeit we also weren't 70 years old.) This group further let slip that they had taken on the optional 23-mile day from Richmond, which M&D&I had happily given a miss.

When the pensioners had energetically ambled off, but we hadn't, Tim went back to his prone position, on his belly, looking over the cliff edge and down upon the beach. He perked up.

Tim: "Hey. There's a girl down there below us. She's taking her wetsuit off. Quick, get your camera."

However, I was too slow off the mark. She'd already changed by the time I dug the camera out – much less fired up the zoom. I put the camera away.

Tim: "Hey. Now she's taking off her bikini bottoms under her towel."
Me: "Shit. Hang on . . ."

I was too slow again. But her progressive, slow-motion strip-tease carried on through additional phases.

Tim: "This is practically voyeurism."
Me: "With the camera? It IS voyeurism."
Tim: "Hey. We should tone it down – there are people coming down the trail."
Me: "Think we could find ourselves arrested?"
Tim: "This MIGHT be illegal."

The truly amazing thing about the situation was that the poor woman, with the occasional help of her friend, was keeping towels and various screens between her and the beach – and thus perfectly, exactly showing herself to us, who were directly behind and above.

Me: "Jesus, look how she keeps looking around, sweeping from left to right, before she takes something off . . . she has no idea we're here! It's the perfect spot."
Tim: "Hence we got that full towel-flash a minute ago. Then again, she's so far away, for all we know she's completely unattractive."
Me: "We'll know in a second . . . here, check it out."
Tim: "Your zoom is amazing! That's it. I'm getting a zoom."

Particularly as we approached Newquay, and more fully exploited beachside real estate, some of the beaches we passed were rather less nice than others. Some of them were, shall we say, littered with crisp packets – and crisp-packet-emptying beachgoers. As we quick-marched through one of these, I said to Tim (who else?):

Me: "Want to enjoy a bit of schadenfreude? These people we're passing? This is the nicest thing they're going to see all week. And it's the crappiest thing we're going to see all week."

Passing through a channel of foliage up above the cliffs, we came upon the first of what were to be very, very many stretches of wild blackberry bushes.

Me: "Isn't it a wonderful world where you can walk along the cliffs and randomly find some wild blackberries and eat a couple of handfuls and it makes you happy all day?"
Tim: "Welcome to Michael's World."
Me: "Population: ME."

Eventually we tromped across a long, high golf course to get to the edge of Newquay – the seaside holiday town where we were meeting Charles and Meeyoung. We got either a call or text from them right as we got to the edge of town to the effect that they were just getting off the train. This would have been perfect timing, except the B&B we were all booked into was on the far (western) edge of town. Tim and I elected to walk down the high street, rather than descend to the beach. We'd get enough of that by and by.

Newquay: Kind of a hole, alas. A few days later, when we hit St. Ives, we'd learn there really are two ways to do a place that's pretty totally tourist-orientated. This was the bad way. Still, Newquay wasn't entirely without its charms.

We traversed the entire main drag, found the B&B, were welcomed by the nice inkeeper, shown our room (two beds!), showered, washed dirty clothes and laid them out to dry, and ran out to meet our companions – who were waiting for us on the patio of a nearby pub, overlooking the harbor and beach.

We took some hello photos, and caught up – it turned out Charles and Meeyoung hardly knew Tim, and vice versa, which I hadn't realised, or I wouldn't have so blithely invited everyone along – and laughed and drank a couple of pints and had fun and were basically in really good humour and very fine form.

We then went for a walk around, including down to the working fishing harbor. We watched a charter fishing boat come back – trailed by a couple of happy seals, who were being cute in return for thrown fish.

We had dinner, and more beers, al fresco back up in the heights of the town proper. Afterwards, for some reason, the others opted to watch me play a game of Time Crisis 4 at the arcade. (I urged them to go on; but, not all that strenuously, as I do always enjoy showing off my mad marksmanship skillz.) After that the others went out for a couple more rounds at our starting pub – while I did what I do most every night back in London, which is duck out and turn in early.

I sat up reading Tim's copy of New Scientist for a bit (he'd decided it was worth the weight to lug, I was taking advantage) then had a world-class sleep – with epic, vivid dreams. In the morning, the full posse would saddle up and head out in earnest! And we'd see how we all worked, and walked, together as a team.

Tomorrow: Fording the Gannel!

Good thing Michael had (ahem) practiced putting up his tent and knew exactly what he was doing. Yep… ANYWAY.. the worst part was getting dressed after the shower - I physically couldn't bend my knees. Exercise for the reader: try putting trousers, socks and shoes on without bending your knees at all!         (hide)
Tell me about it! - "On the coast to coast" started almost every other sentence! Argggghhhh!         (hide)

  camping     cornwall coast path     humour     photography     pitely     tim     walking  
close photo of Michael Stephen Fuchs

Fuchs is the author of the novels The Manuscript and Pandora's Sisters, both published worldwide by Macmillan in hardback, paperback and all e-book formats (and in translation); the D-Boys series of high-tech, high-concept, spec-ops military adventure novels – D-Boys, Counter-Assault, and Close Quarters Battle (coming in 2016); and is co-author, with Glynn James, of the bestselling Arisen series of special-operations military ZA novels. The second nicest thing anyone has ever said about his work was: "Fuchs seems to operate on the narrative principle of 'when in doubt put in a firefight'." (Kirkus Reviews, more here.)

Fuchs was born in New York; schooled in Virginia (UVa); and later emigrated to the San Francisco Bay Area, where he lived through the dot-com boom. Subsequently he decamped for an extended period of tramping before finally rocking up in London, where he now makes his home. He does a lot of travel blogging, most recently of some very  long  walks around the British Isles. He's been writing and developing for the web since 1994 and shows no particularly hopeful signs of stopping.

You can reach him on .

my latest book
ARISEN : Operators, Volume I - The Fall of the Third Temple by Michael Stephen Fuchs
from email:

to email(s) (separate w/commas):
By subscribing to Dispatch from the Razor’s Edge, you will receive occasional alerts about new dispatches. Your address is totally safe with us. You can unsubscribe at any time. All the cool kids are doing it.