Dispatch from the Razor's Edge, the Blog of Michael Stephen Fuchs
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2006.09.19 : The Michael Show

Yes, of course, I know, it's always the Michael Show here. However, it is about to become All Michael, All the Time / Too Much Michael Is Never Enough / I Want My M(ichael)TV Channel. Walking alone, the dispatches inevitably become more or less the Story of Me. (Or, at any rate, the Story of Me in Cornwall.) Also, because I like figures in my photos, and with the whole rest of Team Cornwall out of the picture (so to speak), that pretty much left me (to photograph). Finally, I should warn you, that with no one else to talk to, I talked to my notebook a lot. That makes for a lot of text. Except for today. Which has not all that much, for some reason. I don't know. On with the dispatch.

Oh, one last note: Today was – I decided on reflection, and on processing the images – probably the single best photography day of the walk. That would probably be because it was the prettiest single stretch. Seriously.

And one more 'last' note: I also started getting more interested in movies around this time. I developed what I thought was this kind of cool technique of panning the scenery behind me, while I stayed stationary and narrated. Which had the small downside that I was essentially pirouetting on cliff edges and little outcroppings and whatever the highest spot I could get to was, while looking at the camera instead of my footing. In fact, you'd hear me talking about just that issue in some of these – except it wasn't until rather later that I developed the technique of shielding the microphone so that the bansheeing wind didn't completely drown out whatever I was saying. Or maybe that was a good thing. For being inaudible, or for later being audible, I apologise.

Rose early – too early for the Old Chapel Backpackers staff, obviously, as I had to break in the back of the completely locked building. Don't know if I mentioned it, but my £4 (or whatever it was) camping fee also got me full use of the facilities. When I could get in. Which was always, as it turned out – with a little ingenuity.

Showered, set my phone charging, dressed, then sat myself down for what my notes describe as a rather "sad" breakfast. The really sad thing was that they started clearing away all the food at 9AM! They obviously didn't know what kind of eater they were dealing with – or perhaps they did. In any case, it was interesting to note that it takes this (physically removing all the food after a short period of time) to make me have a normal-sized breakfast.

I left the Steven Johnson book on page 139, alas, and bid adieu to Zennor (forever). Both the weather and scenery were glorious, and I started off by shooting these lovely willowy things from one side of the sun and then the other.

The path proper began with a ridgetop walk – including the highest point from which I had yet stood looking down on a beach. I, along with my mood, was quite elevated.

Okay, I'm sorry, but I've got to climb that. ← Please. I'm a boy. After shooting my little King of Cornwall movie ↓ , I sat up there for a bit in the sun and (windy) silence. There was not a soul in any direction. Just rocks and sea and me.

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I overtook the couple (who'd saved me) from last night. I'm sure I said hi, though my notes don't go into that level of detail. I walked over a little bridge which was plastered with an advert for a B&B just inland. That was a new one.

So that enormous finger of rock and moss you see me coming up on here is Gurnhard's Head. As you can also probably see, it is, sort of by definition, a detour. You go straight out over the water, then straight back. And, honestly, I'm not 100% sure what my thinking was, maybe I was trying to be pragmatic for once, or maybe the jadedness that would swamp me later was starting to lap at my shore. But I decided to just cut the corner off this one, and bypass it. Carry on. Forward march.

And, and you can probably see where this is going, I got about 100 yards past it down the path when I was stabbed with pointy pangs of regret. I turned around. I propped my bag up against a fence running through some high grass. (*). And I scrambled out onto the rocks for some good old dangerous bouldering.

This excessive series of movies I shot actually tells, reasonably coherently, the story of my (probably ill-advised) progress further and further out on the Head. Or, it would, that is, if you could hear what I'm saying. (There's a lot of brash tosh about how daft I was to go out there and see you guys in the emergency room and whatnot. Best missed, really.) But nice views.

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Once I'd gained the very tip, and turned back around, I realised there was in fact a sort of "low road" – a path back that stayed closer to the waterline, and avoided all the steep precipices and towering rocks and crevices and whatnot. (And but even this had a few dicey sections carved out of the cliffside.) Anyway, wanting to pocket rather than push my good luck, this was what I took to get back to shore. And it was only on my way back that I realised: there was absolutely no way I could have done what I did, and gotten to where I got, if I'd been wearing the pack.

Oh, on the way back, I also came across a really beautiful and intact bird feather, which I thought would make a nice memento. I spent a moment trying to figure out where I should put it, before the obvious hit me. Can I, in fact, stick a feather in my cap? Can this Yankee Doodle Dandy? It actually lasted there quite awhile – but sadly didn't show up in any of the photos, I now realise, for the obvious reason that I could only really shoot myself from the front, while the feather stuck out the back.

My bag was sitting right where I'd left it.

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So, as you can see (and sort of hear), not too long after this, I'd proceeded to clamber out onto this really stunning – how to describe it? – sort of boulder field at the top of the very highest cliffs, by a lot, at the top of which I've ever personally been. And I'd been hanging around up there awhile, enjoying myself immensely, when – as you can also see from the last photo – a guy unexpectedly climbed up to join me.

I suspected that the guy (and his buddy) I saw climbing up were military, and I sort of felt like I should stay out of their way. Also, probably needless to belabour, it was pretty spectacular up there. So I just kicked around on the other side for awhile. (I was ultimately slightly disappointed to learn that A) taking a picture over the side of a 100m-high sheer cliff doesn't really capture the drama, or the height; and B) lying on my back on the rock and shooting myself straight down with the bottom of cliff below/behind me doesn't really look like what it is either.)

It was when the first guy – he'd been lead-climbing, clipping in for about a half-dozen guys following behind – pulled himself over the edge and just walked right off (cooler than cucumbers, not even looking back once to savour his gobsmacking achievement) that I learned they were Royal Marines, on a training exercise. I also learned, from the book, that this here was called Bosigran Cliff.

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    There were some perfectly pleasant ruins of something facing the cliff on the other side.

    It was also only when I was on the other side that I realised A) that the cliffside was lousy with Marines; and B) the stupidly huge scale of the whole, huge, bleeding thing. →

It was also here that I decided that – pace the guidebook – this stretch made yesterday's look like a bad section of turnpike.

Oh – while I'd been up on the edge of Bosigran Cliff, I had also been joined by this Swiss woman I'd met earlier, and would meet once or twice again. (The fourth Swiss person I'd met so far! ??) She was hiking solo. She was a biologist, and worked for some Swiss biotech that had actually discovered L-carnatine – the synthesised amino acid that is now wildly popular with weightlifters worldwide. They'd found it growing under an apple tree behind their labs.

Even more interesting was what she told me about how D.H. Lawrence used to live in Zennor (where we'd just walked from), with his wife. This was during the Great War. And because his wife was German, and probably more because he was widely known to be publishing smut, it was believed by the villagers (totally baselessly) that he was there on the coast sending signals to the Kaiser's submarines. He and his wife were both run out of the village.

    Oh, yeah, like I'm not gonna climb that. → Okay, well, maybe I'm not. As I got closer – and as you can kind of see in the photo – the path out to it was extremely dodgy and overgrown and thorny. Also I was getting a bit knackered. This seemed to be turning into one of the longer 7-mile days of my career.

But, nonetheless – to think I would have missed seeing and enjoying all this if I had pushed on through the day before. It would have been a race against the coming dark – with no time for dicing with death on Gurnhard's Head, or hanging my own head over Bosigran Cliff, or seeing these vistas. Lesson learned. I'd been keeping my options open, but now I decided to stop in Pendeen – the next town on, only seven miles from Zennor. And I kept firm to this resolution until about five minutes later, when I checked the time on my phone and it was still only 2:30. Heigh ho. Everything was permitted; nothing was forbidden. I was walking solo.

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    Mine shafts! Hmm, that's a new hazard. Plus, as depicted below, the last stretch turned out to involve a detour all the way down to, and all the way back up from, a beach – a very pretty one, but it was getting hard to care. My legs and feet were pretty well done.

    And to top it off, the damned camp site turned out to be out on the far side of town. (Bastards! My camping/camp site rant is still brewing, don't worry.) I turned on the phone again just to check the time – and found I had a signal, so I left it on. And the texts started rolling in – starting with Paul's daily weather forecast, depicted here. As I was smiling at this, and composing my effusive thanks… I belatedly realised that I was actually texting while walking on the literal edge of a cliff. Not very clever. Texting while navigating a train platform, or the heaving crowds of Oxford St., is one thing…

So, it seemed I could go through town to get to the camp site, or I could detour around, staying offroad. I decided on the latter, and had gotten a couple hundred yards down the overgrown and thorny path when I realised: by the time I made camp, showered, and got back into town, all the shops would be closed. (And I was completely out of trail food.) Blast. I reversed course. Could this end up being a 10(+)-mile 7-mile day?

Getting into town, I shopped like the damned. It was one of those tiny little dry goods shops – and of course I had my full pack on – but run by one of those sweet English matrons: "I'm sorry I'm taking up so much room in your shop." "You're not taking up room, love."

Halfway along the long walk to the location of the camp site, as described in the guidebook, I happened to pass the North Inn Pub. In addition to stones, ivy, and a welcoming character, it also had an inconspicuous 'B&B / Camping' sign hung up outside. I figured 'What the hell' (thinking, actually, of camping in the pub backyard in Shap); walked in the front of the building and straight out the back, found the pitch – and I found it sumptuous, huge, and empty. I walked right back in and button-holed the man behind the bar. He had spikey hair and a van Dyke beard (which did not quite seem like what you'd find on a provincial publican) – and granite-solid, ocean-deep, steel-blue eyes (which did). I asked him about camping.

Steel-Eyed Publican: "Have you seen the pitch?"
Me: "Is it that huge, gorgeous, green pasture just out back?"
Steel-Eyed Publican: "That's it."
Me: "That'll do."

I did check the price (£3) and that the showers were hot (I was well-reassured on the topic), and then got busy pitching. Actually, to my personal gratification, I staked the tent so taut this time that I was barely able to string up the lining inside. Nice. Then a hot (hot!) shower, toilette, clean clothes, and back inside for… well, for what may be guessed.

S-E P: "Better?"
Me: "Human again. And that's just about the nicest pitch I've ever camped on. Ah – and I see it's after 5pm. Only one way life can get better now: pint of Tribute, please."
S-E P: "Coming up."

"Now I sit on the light and airy window sofa," I scribbled, "scribbling this, sipping ale, and enjoying the ambience." Reaching, by and by, for the menu on the table, I found it absurdly veg-friendly, the listings festooned with green 'V' emblems, – plus a whole separate veg section. I ended up ordering the black-eyed bean curry w/mushroom and tomato, rice, naan bread, and pickles; homemade (and, as it turned out, world-beating) split-pea soup w/huge hunks of granary bread; onion rings; and another pint. I finished up by putting in for a full breakfast in the morning. (It was not entirely clear when I was going to fit in eating the huge bag of food I'd bought at the shop.) I love these walks. That is to say, I love eating. And it really was an awfully sweet little public house.

I crashed early. I found the bathrooms really were open all night (the outer door left unlocked), the publican as good as his word. And more stars. Lots and lots more stars.

Route Follower Alongerer :

  camping     cornwall coast path     danger     food     hiking     mountains     people     photography     video     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.

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