Dispatch from the Razor's Edge, the Blog of Michael Stephen Fuchs
(← home page for Beyond Land's End Dispatches)
2006.09.22 : Six Minutes in the Mousehole
Plus Fuchs Fights a Thorn Bush
And Gets Hot For Flora
Also For Butterflies (and For Snails)

"Just weariness shot through occasionally with flashes – not exactly of beauty, but of consciousness, consciousness of something simple and strange and uncomplicated, a way of life we have hopelessly lost but can never quite forget."
- Graham Green, The Lawless Roads

Upon checkout, the nice innkeeper man, Terry (*) , gave me a replacement pen, gratis. Hard to argue with that. The least I can offer in return is some free, and much-deserved, publicity: http://porthcurnohotel.co.uk/.

Walking down the main drag, toward the ravaged coast, I managed to perform a minor bit of pen surgery – cutting the new ink-filled nib down so it would fit into my old contoured, clickable housing. Score.

    On my way out of Dodge, I had to pass the Minack Theatre. A bit of a local attraction, this is an outdoor theatre carved out of the cliffside. (Apparently the work of some one really obsessed person, who completed it in 1932.) I saw from a handbill that The Tempest was on. (I learned later that the prior evening's peformance had been, unsurprisingly, cancelled. Pre-empted, we might say, by a more literal tempest.) I saw from another flyer that I'd be expected to pay £3.50 just to enter and view the theatre. I refuse, on principle, to pay NOT to see a play. Instead I carried on – and got this shot of it from further round the coast. Stretching my zoom to the full, I felt not the least remorse.

Ghost Ship
    But, before that, I had some coast to traverse. I descended the terrifyingly steep stairs behind the Minack to the trail, then started putting some of it behind me. It was still early, and misty, and I saw – or thought I saw – this ghost ship gliding along off the coast. Had it sunk in the storm last night?

And Back; And Back; And Back

I passed above a beach, upon which someone had already had his or her morning jog. Nice spot for it – but a pretty stultifying route! Shortly after that, a fox – or a damned big and rangey cat – darted out in front of me on the trail. (My notes actually say: "homba".)

Non-Wuss MDD-HT
    Shortly after that, at a crossroad in the path, the mother/daughter/dog hiking team (aka Debi, Alex, and Dylan) darted out in front of me. It's kind of amazing how you keep running into the same people. More amazing than that? The three of them, they reported, had camped last night. Outdoors. In a tent. God, I'm a wuss.

I remorselessly quizzed them about the circumstances of their wussifying of me. They said they had camped in Treen – where they were not the only ones in the camping field. Apparently, a head-height hedge had blocked a lot of the force of the storm – but, nonetheless, before long people with taller tents were packing it in. Trying to raise my voice above a shamed whisper, I took the above photo, and bid the MDD-HT adieu, until next time.

Post-hurricane, the weather had actually turned really lovely: bright, breezy (as opposed to galey), fresh, perfect temperature – beach weather, really. I passed a big white pyramid of stone – with a plaque marking the endpoint of the underwater telegraph cable which first "linked England with the American Continent." The same company who did this was also responsible for the undersea cable from Bombay to Suez, and then via Malta back to England. That one had been laid by Brunel's steamship the Great Eastern – the world's first ocean-going steamship.

We think we live in an amazing technological era. And we do. But imagine what the Victorians experienced: the first instant (versus months-taking) global communications; Darwin's explanation of where we actually came from, and how; Edison lighting the darkness, and recording and replaying the human voice; railroad track spanning continents, and ocean-going steamships bridging them, making long-distance travel unimaginably safe and fast; Louis Daguerre capturing the human face; Freud plumbing the vast hidden depths of the human mind; Maxwell and Faraday creating the science of electromagnetism (on which is based little things like TV, radio, all wireless communication, anything that uses an electric engine or generator, etc.); Babbage's analytic engine, the first notion of a computer; the industrial revolution, urbanization, canals and bridges, anaesthetic and antibiotics (without which few of us would be here), the periodic table, the telephone, the skyscraper, the motion picture, the airship.

Hey, but now we can publish our travel journals, and holiday snaps, for two billion web surfers. Woot.

Speaking of which, while mindlessly eating up path, I had the kind of grandiose idea of trying to collect some of the better dispatches into a volume of travel writing. I did come up with what I thought was a rather good title: That Had Better Not Be A Spider Crawling On My Nuts - The Selected Travels of MSF. The problem, of course, is that the material is already in the exact perfect format to convey what I want to convey. Shoehorning it into book form would degrade it, not to mention constitute a base money/fame grab, and never mind that it would never get published anyway. Heigh ho.

I passed what appeared uncannily like shrink-wrapped crops. They were under some kind of taut, sheer netting, which spanned the entire field. Useful for keeping your cabbages from blowing away in the gale, I suppose. Then I passed what looked for all the world like a pumpkin patch; as I got closer, it turned out it WAS a pumpkin patch. Halowe'en was coming up, I remembered.

None. None More Steep.
Climbing another monstrous up-and-down – and using it to test my theory that rocky slows you down more steep – I came to my very last memory card (the tiny one). I deleted a bunch of shots of an ex-girlfriend lounging around my flat in black lingerie – praying to God I'd remembered to transfer those to my home machine at some point. Even with those gone, I had only 20 frames left for 8 miles of walking.

The first thing I refrained from shooting was a herd of enormous, lovely snails – all migrating right across the trail. All glistening and healthy-looking after the rain, their little antannae (eyestalks?) were just so cute! While admiring them, I grew concerned for their safety: crossing this boot-trodden thoroughfare was going to take them hours. But perhaps I was just feeling an especial affinity for guys who go around with their lodging on their backs.

From Notebook:
    "I really am afraid I'm turning into a wuss. 6 mile days are starting to seem long, 11 mile days endless; steep hills, of only moderate duration, are causing me to huff and grunt, rather than pant happily w/my tongue wagging out.
    "Sun continues to shimmer on the Atlantic very winningly. Like a lustrous, silver-shot fabric rippling over a sleeping girl's gently beating heart. It looks positively liquid.
    "Over stile into damp-leaf-strewn path through forest of ivy-bedraped, gracefully thin hardwoods. Supermodel-like hardwoods, thin and graceful and curvy, leaning at elegant angles, with perfect clear luminous skin-bark."

I'm sure you'll agree I must have been doing this too long, if I was now producing prose that cringe-inducingly purple. In fact, I can't even quite believe I included it here. It's a sad, lonely, scary man who gets turned on by trees.

Heaven is a Tea Garden
    So: marked on the map, alongside the path leading back down to the beach, was the cryptic and enticing phrase "Cream Teas Available Here". No other info. But enticing. I stopped in, and found nestled in a forest glen overlooking the beach the tea garden – serving coast walkers "seasonally" (read: when we feel like it) – of the Cove Cottage, St. Loy. I'm not sure if the chirping birds (chirping birds) got into the video, but otherwise the video says it all. My notebook adds, only, "Wow."

I'd be saying "Wow" in a different context, shortly after, when I tried to make my escape from Lamorna Cove. I exited the glade easily enough (it seemed), crossing over a stream into an area of subtropical-esque vegetation. There were curving fronds, bamboo, and slick mossy rock – the last of which caused me to fall into an iron fence post, bruising my bicep and scraping my forearm – both moderately badly. Ouchers.

Moreover, it soon became apparent that I'd taken a big wrong turn somewhere – so much so that I soon got my compass out, and left it out. It was very much a "which way is the bloody ocean?" kind of situation. I ended up backtracking – all the way to my original assailant, the iron spike. On this second pass, I saw I might easily have fallen all the way into the rusty barbed wire attached to it. Moreover, I still had no idea which way I should be going.

From Notebook:
    "Totally freaking stumped."

Resigned and desperate, I headed down the last possible path of any sort from this vicinity – which rapidly became so overgrown that I ended up in a vicious street-fight (trail-fight?) with a large thorn bush.

The bush and I were about evenly matched in size, if not weight. Though I'm pretty sure he had at least 12 inches of reach on me.

Like many street fights, it was fast and ugly and over in seconds. (*) The thorn bush scored first blood with a deep slash on the outside of my wrist. I moved in for two quick stomps of its head into the dirt. My move was successful, but my opponent got in a lightning rake of the back of my left calf as I performed it.

I'd have to say it ended in a draw; though, before I broke free, I was certainly bleeding more then ever previously on this trip. That's just the price you pay when you lose your way in the jungle.

Obviously, I wasn't going any further down that path. I eventually decided that, on leaving the tea garden, I had actually headed right back the way I'd originally come in – and one of those wacky every-which-way-but-loose arrow signs had convinced me I was going forward. Still, I had no recollection of the steep, slick stairs I had to descend to get back to the tea garden. Perhaps I'd been delerious for tea.

Ooh – Smoove
I finally emerged back onto the beach – but, immediately, a totally unmarked path up this field of boulders made me think I'd navigationally sodomized the canine again. (By the way, if you're wondering how long the sea has been doing its thing on the Cornwall Coast, check out the smoothness on those boulders – formerly "rocks".) Doubling back again, I found myself on the stretch of beach overlooked by the tea garden. The tea garden again. Criminy.

    While dragging myself, from sea level, back up onto the cliffs, I encountered more of these surprisingly coherent-looking blackberry craps. I'm not sure they were agreeing with whomever had been eating them. Nonetheless, I seemed to have gotten a bit of my mojo back for that next big climb. Maybe I just needed some adversity to get my juices up . . . Hey – lighthouse!

And butterflies! This one and his mate led me flitting down the path. Together, we disappeared into a bit of forest path – which, at a certain point, had been almost totally collapsed to impassibility by the storm. (I wondered if that had been my problem when lost earlier – absence of path on the path.)

    This led into a tiny stretch of nature preserve, a sign upon which rather airily declared itself "A Place for Solitude". Aside from being naff and pretentious, this proclamation seemed redundant. So this place was for solitude – as opposed to where? I hadn't seen a single soul since the tea garden. Moreover if they were successful in promoting this scheme, wouldn't it destroy itself? How many people, actually, can a place for solitude support?

Exiting the PfS, the terrain continued all up and down – and rocky as heck. I checked the map. Crikey! It was 6 miles from Lamorna to Penzance. And I wasn't exactly on top of Lamorna. Also, the terrain was continuing murderous; and the sun wasn't exactly any longer at the top of the sky . . .

At long last, I rolled into Lamorna. Time: 15:08. I scored a banana and an apple, and ate both over my Betjeman. (*) On my way out of Lamorna, I pretty much decided to get the bus from Mousehole (pronounced Mowz'l – may as well get that right now) to Penzance. According to the book, between the two was a starkly crap stretch – 4 miles of tarmac; it was late, and getting more so; and I was bone-tired. Also, with 35 buses a day running between the two towns, it seemed a fait accompli. The realistic alternative was probably a B&B in Mousehole – if they had anything available – and that would be, frankly, just a more expensive form of wussing out.

Ah! – rain coming in now. Fab. Just fab. I hesitated before gearing up for it, then gave in – then, just as I finished, it looked like blowing over. Feckers. But, switching up again, the rain then came pelting down – huge slanting drops of it. (Luckily, slanting toward my back.) Another stretch of forest offered some, but not a ton of, reprieve. The terrain under the trees was decent – but finally segued into a ludicrously steep, treacherous, stone – and now soaked – descent. Good God. Re: adversity – be careful what you wish for.

What I got next was a long, steep uphill stretch. I decided this was the single toughest day of the whole walk. I might have wished the book had mentioned that. Really, I was totally mentally unprepared for this. I thought: What I wouldn't give for a bit of civilisation right now.

    It was some compensation that I shortly met the world's sweetest butterfly – and a perfect model. She just posed, and posed – her and her friend, I swear, were sunning themselves. (The sun had finally come back.) Who's got a fuzzy wuzzy tummy?! YOU do! Yes, YOU do!

Moseyin' Into Mousehole
And at long last Mousehole. The name is said possibly to derive from the tiny entrance to the tiny harbour, which pilots of incoming boats found, well, like trying to manoeuvre into one. It's also said the village never really recovered from being sacked by the Spaniards in 1595. (??!!) In any case, it was a pretty descent into town, but one I wasn't in a position completely to appreciate it. I just wanted not to be walking.

Earlier resolutions aside, I took a turn around the narrow and higgledy-piggledy streets, gunning for a room. Results:

  1. First place I passed: booked up.
  2. Second place, picked out of book, and searched for: no longer in existence.
  3. Third place: booked.
  4. Fourth place, picked out of book, and phoned: no longer existed as lodging.

These flailings left me situated down by the waterfront, right beside – the bus stop. There was a bus at it. There was a sign on the bus for Penzance. There was a driver of the bus – who, when questioned, informed me that the bus left in 4 minutes, and that the trip to Penzance cost £1.50. As I paid and boarded, I thought: Well, six minutes in Mowz'l will just have to do me . . .

Route Follower Alongerer :

Tomorrow: Some Nice Shopping and Errands in Penzance, Followed by All of 3 Miles Down the Beach To Marazion, For the Purpose of Seeing St Michael's Mount, Which Was Closed

  technology     camping     cornwall coast path     danger     humour     people     photography     video     walking     wildlife     women     graham greene  
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.