Dispatch from the Razor's Edge, the Blog of Michael Stephen Fuchs
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2006.09.15 : Zig Zagging to Zennor

So – you'll recall from our previous (two) dispatch(es) the devious plan we had conceived: with limited walking time, we'd cabbed it the crappy stretch from Gwithian to St Ives, checked in, and spent the night. And now we'd cab it again further down the coast to Zennor, and walk right back again – along what was reputed to be the most dramatic stretch of the whole north Cornwall Coast. (And a good job cabs are so cheap in the Provinces.)

Awoke ten minutes before my alarm was to go off (I know – but we were meeting for breakfast, and generally wanted to get an early start) to an absolutely glorious morning. While languorously performing my toilette in the sparklingly lit mirrors of the immaculate bathroom, the radio reports: "Twenty-two degrees today, clear skies, cool breezes – and plenty of sunshine!" Yeah, booey. This might be a heck of walking day.

Without any possibility of doubt or demurral, we met for breakfast at the Yellow Canary. I usually don't like to be this way, but I couldn't help but be a bit tickled that the entire breakfast spread was vegetarian. Perhaps I was having an effect? "No," Charles set me straight, "I just felt like having a cheese omelet." Right-o. I had a duplicate of the best vegetable pasty of all time, which because I was on holiday and could have any damned thing I liked for breakfast, plus we were walking a long way and I could use the calories.

Our cab to Zennor picked us up in front of something or other, and we zipped down the coast, tongues flapping out the window, I for one convinced today would be the new best day ever. Surprisingly quickly, we were dropped in the "center" of Zennor.

"Zennor is a tiny granite village that seems to emerge from the landscape itself, surrounded as it is by rocky granite tors and outcrops, boulder-strewn fields with their high stone walls and the slate and granite cliffs of the coastline. The church is worth visiting for its carved wooden mermaid chair, an unusual symbol to be found in a church."
- Trailblazer Cornwall Coast Path guide

We did in fact tour the church, which did have a very striking interior, even aside from the mermaid. Tim – who, wildly surprisingly, it turns out used to be a choirboy and organist, travelling all over the place to perform with his church choir – gave us a short-form lecture on the workings of a church organ. Quite an educational bonus. We then wandered back outside, and got serious about this walking business. For starters, Zennor was actually a 10-minute inland detour, so we had to get back to the coast. Along the way, I started to get melancholy – about the great change that was hurtling down upon me.
Me: "Gonna be strange with you guys gone." <sniff>
Tim: "You might hook up with someone…"
Charles: "Blonde, five-foot-eight."
Me: "Sexual appetite of a 13-year-old boy."
Tim: "On the End-to-End, I rode for half a day with a guy I met on a ferry in Scotland."
Me: "Hey, if you want to pick up guys, we won't judge you."
Tim: "…"
Me: "You probably met him in the gents. Boy, this really is the running joke that runs on and on."
Tim: "Even strangers are getting in on the act. Like the girl at the pub: 'Are you GAY?!'"
Me: "Totally unprompted by us."

And then we'd hit the coast again ←; and were really totally awed once again →; and then we got on with the serious business of walking once again. (And, once again, there are virtually no notes between you and a lot of pretty pictures. I must have been, for once, too busy enjoying the experience to spend a lot of time cataloging it.)

We did at one point pass a guy with binoculars, tirelessly scanning the coastline.

Me: "It's one of us – a birder. He probably has the field guide to Cornish females."
Charles: "Hoping perhaps for a rare sighting of the Lesser Spotted Big-Breasted Bertha."

Forgot to mention explicitly that we were very lightly loaded – it was a day hike, ending where we were already checked in – so day packs only. And oh the difference.

Me: "It's like floating up these climbs, isn't it?"
Tim: "You could always get your pack transported after this."
Me: "Yeah."
Tim: "You're not going to, are you?"
Me: "No."

And but then of course I did what I seem invariably to do, which is to start scrabbling up into the land-side cliffs, bouldering around and having a grand old time, and feeling superior to the little ground-creepers below. I also sustained some hand damage on the way down from this one, but that's the price you pay for glory. Don't miss the shadow of me in the photo on the right there.

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Somewhere along here we took a break – and basked on the rocks in the sun like lizards. Like gloriously relaxed and contented lizards.

Tim: "In my next life I want to be an iguana."

By and by, St. Ives hove into view. → As we descended on into the parkland on the outskirts of town, I started to become aware that I'd pretty much done the walk without food. During the latter stages, I'd been rather too-keenly gorging on plucked blackberries. I think only Charles and Meeyoung had taken care to bring any real provisions. So it was not, perhaps, surprising when – just as we were on the edge of civilisation – those two veered off to some not-entirely-on-the-way overlook to cast around.
Tim: "I'm hungry."
Me: "Me, too."
Tim: "I don't want to hang about."
Me: "Me neither… They can meet us at the pasty shop."

Like refugees, we piled into the other pasty shop (the one dedicated heart and soul to Cornish pasties), picked up fresh-baked, head-sized pasties, drinks, and (in my case) a flapjack, and plunked ourselves down on the nearest bench-like thing anywhere within sight of the water. →

Here it was I also made a new, very good seagull friend ← whose modelling services I paid for in pasty crust. A bit later, I was trying to explain to Tim that the gulls were so striking and pretty, and the light so good, that really all you had to do was just get any reasonably tight portrait shot of a gull, with any kind of a decent camera, totally brain-dead, no thought or skill required, and you'd end up with an amazing photo. I fired one off, with my last free frame. → QED.

We then did another bit of dividing and conquering for gift shopping. While out of sight of the others, I couldn't resist trying out a, erm, banana and chocolate pasty. (Yum.)

I also picked up what I had thought I was going to go without for the duration: razors. A 10-pack of disposables, actually. (Nine of them are still going cheap.) But the grimy stubble situation had just gotten out of hand. I took myself on (what I mistakenly thought to be) one last epic voyage up the hill – where I somehow managed to mislay the camp site. Boy was that a lot of tromping around in people's back gardens. "Have you seen, erm, a very large camp site?" I finally recovered it, and revived myself with a siesta – plus the classic 3 S's, after which any man is a new man. (I also have a fond memory of walking from the tent, up the hill to the showers, in flip-flops, travel towel, and sunglasses.)

We all met up again for tea at our original beach side spot, laden with gifts and souvenirs. Lamentably, along with pasties, Cornwall is rather famous for its fudge. More lamentably, Tim had bought some to carry home. Inexpressibly lamentably, he admitted same. Wait for it… wait for it…

Charles: "So now you're packing fudge?"

And thusly did we close out the gay jokes. Also, while we're relaxing, Nicole calls: she and Paul are coming! They had been threatening to jet down and meet us for just a weekend in St. Ives – Nicole had been needing a bit of a holiday – but only now was it final. Awesome. I'd have an excuse to hang around this lovely berg a bit longer; and I could put off, a bit further, the inevitable time when I would carry on walking solo.

We divided again so the B&Bers could shower. I wandered around and played a bit of Time Crisis 4, until that got too expensive. (1 a go!) I wandered into a little bookshop and bought a volume of John Betjeman – the much-loved former Poet Laureate who also spent his final days living and writing in Cornwall. While paying, I managed to spill my camera out of my day bag – and it crashed to the floor with an ugly thunk, batteries scattering across the floor. When I got it put back together, it wouldn't boot up. Uh oh. Was this the end of the Africa camera? Would we be faced with 12 days of photo-free dispatching?

We reunited again at a waterside blues pub – and mooted a discussion about which had been the best walking day. We agreed they all sort of blur together – but that the dispatches, when I got around to writing them, would clear all that up!

And that left only dinner, in the basement room of the upscale seafood place. Over a winning spread, Charles modestly let slip some more of his back story: his mother is South African (though of English descent, so it hardly matters), but Charles was born in Kent, where his parents still live. He read geography at Cambridge, and subsequently spent two months working in Alaska, and a year in Kenya (previously mentioned in harrowing malaria/Jeffrey Archer story). I suspected there was a lot more.

But I was not to get to hear much more of it: on the morrow, at various times in the day, all three of my travelling companions of the last however long on the Cornwall Coast would pack it up, hop trains, and return to civilisation. Only I would carry on around the lonely coast – to Land's End, and beyond.

Route Follower Alongerer :

Yeah I actually couldn't remember the walk from Zenor to the coast at all - must have been eclipsed by the amazing scenery to come! Good memory Michael (or good notes!).         (hide)
Thus the workings of a church organ lecture was exchanged for a photography lecture! Hooray for learning stuff from your friends! (wish I'd took more in now - next trip?!)         (hide)

  cornwall coast path     food     hiking     humour     mates     mountains     photography     tim     walking     wildlife  
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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