Dispatch from the Razor's Edge, the Blog of Michael Stephen Fuchs
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Go West, Young Men
"Cornwall and the sea are synonymous. Smugglers, wrecks, fishermen, storms and lighthouses have all characterized the Cornish coast. Also to be found are seals, surfers and sunbathers, all making the most of turquoise and ultramarine blue seas rippling in the sunlight. By walking the coast path you can absorb the atmosphere of the place and treat yourself to some of the best sights to be found in Cornwall."

And so I had this other idea. (Yeah, I know.) But the Coast to Coast walk had been, everyone involved had to admit, except maybe you, pretty completely spectacular. And the UK has got something like a dozen national trails. And the first one hadn't killed anyone. Quite.

Moreover, my thinking was sort of along the lines that between my current contract and the one before it, I had taken a bunch of time off, and burnt through a lot of cash, and not really done anything (except sit around and be depressed and take long runs and read Graham Greene) and I thought it would be a nice idea to make sure I actually did something with the time between contracts this time, something that would be worthwhile and memorable. And a sequel to the C2C seemed reasonable, and the Cornwall Coast Path seemed like the next greatest thing, long-distance-walking-wise.

This particular 160-some-mile section of the Southwest Coast Path (which at 600 miles is the UK's longest national trail) goes from Padstow on the rugged north Cornwall Coast, passes by St. Ives and around Land's End and through Lizard Point and ends at Falmouth on the very slightly less rugged south Cornwall Coast. Sounded like just the thing.

Very mindful of the tensions caused by the death-march mentality of the C2C, I took an intentionally relaxed attitude toward the whole thing this time. I allowed 3 weeks to walk 160 miles (versus 2 weeks for 192 miles on the C2C). I invited all kinds of folks; invited them to join in wherever they wanted – and hop off wherever they got tired. Figured we'd do short days. Lie on beaches. Pop into art galleries in St. Ives. Sit in pubs everywhere. Your basic stroll on the clifftops.

The first person to commit to coming along was the ever-adventuresome Tim Corrigan. This is the estimable friend of mine who biked the End-to-End (Land's End to John O'Groats) solo. He's also an IT contractor and thus, like me, able to take off obscene stretches of time basically at will. Plus he's gay. More on that later. Our friends Charles and Meeyoung would jump in for almost a week there in the early going; and Paul and Nicole would ultimately heroically race out for a lovely weekend in St. Ives. It ended up being kind of like shift work, with me the only constant.

Disappointingly, despite much cajoling and blandishments, neither Darby nor Mark were able to say yes to this one. (I'm reminded of the priceless New Yorker cartoon where the guy's standing in front of the desk with a placard on it that says "We Never Say No" and the guy behind the desk is saying "Fuck you.") Here's where they see what they missed.

But that's all assuming I can remember what they missed. I've let it slide quite a few months obviously, so memory is likely to be fickle. Also, and I know this seems unlikely given file timestamps and 'Date Picture Taken' meta-data and whatnot, but the photos have actually gotten rather jumbled. Also, I lost an entire day's worth of photos, from the first couple of days, in another of those bizarre CD-burning accidents. (Actually, due to the stark raving incompetence of the ass clowns on staff at the photo shop in Newquay. But I've forgiven them now.)

And but then again, on the other hand, the walk did encompass quite a lot of the most stunning scenery I've ever even heard about. And I took a lot of pictures, some of them quite decent. And not a few movies (fewer of them decent, but still). And there were also some darned amusing episodes and comments, mostly due to the extremely fine people I was privileged to walk with. Finally, in the last 10 days or so, which I did solo, there was some compelling narrative – mostly bits about me running into absurdly extreme weather, nearly getting blown off of sheer cliff faces and, ultimately, giving up on the whole damned thing and taking a bus.

But not to ruin the story for you.

Anyway, here goes.

So I met Tim inside Paddington Station of an early Friday morning. We were both feeling quite jaunty and in fine form: monster bags lightly packed, unstoppable hiking boots and cushiony socks and comfy technical clothes swaddling us, tickets in hand. Energized with anticipation. Free.

Our comfy Virgin train was to take us from London Paddington to a place called Bodmin Parkway; there a rumoured bus service would cover the last leg to our official starting point: Padstow. Padstow, a cutesy little half-touristy/half-working-fishing village, is otherwise known as PadStein - due to UK celebrity chef Rick Stein being in the process of buying the whole place up, opening a fish restaurant, a bistro, a cooking school, etc. Anyway, Tim and I – who were relatively new friends, and sort of bit players in each other's lives up to this point – spent much of the train ride swapping life stories.

And thusly did the rails carry us into the far southwest of England. We were to learn that Cornwall is a bit of a different world – the Cornish still cling to their regional (previously separate national) identity, nearly as much as do the Scots and Welsh. The Cornish flag – a white cross on a black background – could be seen flying many places beside the Union flag.

But it wasn't so foreign that they didn't have smoothies, as we were gratified to find within 20 steps of getting off the bus in Padstow.

From there we made our way into town, gawking around the working harbour, snapping a few shots, and enjoying the loveliness of the day.

I only found out Tim was gay when we checked into our B&B. I could have sworn I'd reserved a room with two beds, but the sweet B&B matron admitted us to a cosy little room with one double bed. Now, I never can keep straight which is a twin room versus a double room, but I'm pretty sure I'd made myself understood in this case. I can only assume Tim called ahead and changed the reservation. At any rate, I was briefly tempted to try and clear up the error and ask for something with two beds, but my adopted English unwillingness to make a fuss got the better of me.

After showing us the amenities, the landlady, swear to God, closed the door on us with these parting words: "Well, I'll just let you get on with it . . ." We figured that any protestations of our heterosexuality after that point would have fallen on deaf ears. We gave it up as a fait accompli. And, so, instead, Tim made me model the pretty kimono we found in the closet. Sometimes you just have to embrace the gay.

For instance, under normal circumstances, if I'd locked the door, and hooked the room key into my bag, and realised I'd forgotten something, I might have declined to try to open the door again with the key still hooked in, and thus appear to be humping the door. But it was unlikely our hostess was going to be shocked by anything at this point, so Tim just made sure and took a picture, cackling.

We set to exploring the town in the late afternoon. Noting the pub at the end of our B&B's street, Tim commented, "So this is the end of the pub crawl."

We sat half-shaded on the patio of a cafe sipping tea, and chatting with a nice couple who had recently made their home nearby. (Tim looked so grim for the first picture that he smiled enormously goofily for the followup. I'm going with the initial version.)

We explored a medieval church and its yard and centuries of gravestones.

After a brief siesta, we headed out again for the all-important pub crawl. We quickly developed the ambition of sampling all of the regional ales on offer. We decided this plan would better mesh with our other ambition, the one about walking 17 miles across rugged terrain with heavy packs in the morning, if we drank half pints.

Me: "I wonder if the locals will think less of us for drinking halves."
Tim: "Yeah – those weirdos."
Me: "Those damned gay vegetarians."
Tim: "Wait a minute – I'm not vegetarian!"

We had a happy night, laughed a lot, and stumbled back along the waterside to our, erm, shared bed.

Tomorrow: Day 1, 17 miles to Mawgan Porth (nice warm-up!)

  cornwall coast path     humour     photography     travel     veganism     walking     tim  
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.

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ARISEN : Operators, Volume I - The Fall of the Third Temple by Michael Stephen Fuchs
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