Dispatch from the Razor's Edge, the Blog of Michael Stephen Fuchs
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2006.09.26, Pt I : "Okay, Devious, Don't Move!" "The Bishop!"
"This was not just the physical restlessness of middle age, she argued; it was the universal desire to see a little bit further, before one surrendered to old age and the blank certitude of death."
- Graham Green, Cheap in August

Morning now, and I am standing on the stairs to the slide of the camp site playground, soaking up the first sunlight. I am not sitting here, nor anywhere, due to the dew, which is just a monster. The surface of the world couldn't be any more drenched if a thunderstorm had stopped five seconds ago.

However, despite the inability to sit, or to get or keep my feet or flops dry – the grass is lush, a bonus at other times – I am a happy guy. This is because, on waking – after an amazing night's sleep (you try walking 13 miles, eating a nine-course meal, then walking another two miles back to bed, and see how you sleep) – I immediately succumbed to the urge to start fiddling with the broken camera again.

I first shook it, trying to identify the source of the rattling. "Hmm," mused I, admittedly over-optimistically. "What if the battery contacts simply . . ." And, sure enough, praise God, when I turned the camera upside down and pressed really hard on the battery cover, it started right up without complaint. Just as always, the camera body had taken the brunt of the blow in the battery compartment – just a little worse than ever before this time. So, it was only bent-in battery contacts – and I can fix that. Think I'll go do so now.

You'll recall that this camp site, while lovely, was 100 billion miles from anything. I decided I'd rather hang out at Kynance Cove – my first stop of the day, and only a few miles down the trail – where there's tea. So, despite the wet tent, I roll it up and head off. It was a light load today (again, despite the wet tent): I had zero food stocks, and water for only five miles.

The day is misty and bright and already warm. And chirpy, too! And, soon, surfy!

I come across a Beware of Livestock sign and, as a result, begin skirting wide of an enormous cliff-top field. I can't believe I'm afraid of cows. Though, as you can begin to make out in these two photos, these could turn out to be some really imposing animals. Big animals.

Nonetheless, I find I'm rapidly losing respect for myself dodging cows, so I cut back inland. And, oh my, those are horns. → I've belatedly learned that some cows (inexplicably, to me, I admit) have horns. Nonetheless, I'm not sure I feel like being gored or trampled today.

I gingerly approach the herd, who are just kicking it on the cliff side, looking pretty relaxed – but are still big and numerous enough that they jut way out into the field I have to cross. Okay, sorry – that one's a bull. I'm now standing pretty far out into the field, and cast around me nervously. Nowhere to run; nowhere to hide. Gulp. And plenty of baby cows, I note, which means the mommies are a lot less likely to give me the benefit of any doubt.

I swing out well wide of the path again, hoping to make it obvious to these guys that I'm going out of my way to go out of their way. My God – those are enormous horns. I feel like I've warped into Texas.

    After a bit, I realise I've cut so wide, I may actually have cut myself off . . . then, I spot a fence on the horizon – with stile. "Yeah! That's what I'm talkin' 'bout!" In minutes, I'm out of the field, down the coast path – and waggling my willy at the longhorns. → Then again, once past the fence, I glanced back to see what the sign on it said: "Beware of Bull". Yowzers.

For some reason, I find myself doing an awful lot of fully fleshed out writing – rather than the more usual short-hand, squiggly memory-teasers. I already know I'm going to keep it all (or most of it) in present tense, which I'm guessing will result in a sort of blogue verité effect – despite that I'll be publishing them weeks after the fact. [Ed. - Ha!]

The area of coast around Lizard Point (or "the Lizard", as it locally/colloquially known) is famed for "serpentine" – a bright, soft green rock, of which local sculptors and jewellery makers make good use. I think this is my first spotting of it here on the face of this steep inlet – which, from the map, I think is called Pigeon Ogo (whatever an ogo is). Other named coastal features in the vicinity include Velvet Rock, Pengersick, Gew-Graze, The Horse, and The Pound. No one can deny the Cornish are colourful. I belatedly realise that what I took for serpentine was just lichen, in deep shadow. Chiarascuro ho.

And, anyway, none of these would be holding a local colour candle to, at Kynance Cove (which lay just around the curve of coast), the triptych of offshore pointies known as: Asparagus Island, Gull Rock . . . and The Bishop. (They really are just taking the piss with these names now.) I catch my first sight of all three from fairly far up the coast.

As I do the last stretch into the Cove, another (or the same) one of those Coast Guard helicopters is . . . hovering. I mean, just hanging out up over me – or even matching my pace, I start to think. For some reason I feel guilty – do I look like an on-foot drug smuggler? – and find I'm consciously averting my gaze, trying not to look up at it. This is really, deeply silly.

But, soon enough, the eyes in the sky have flown off and Kynance Cove has swooped in – and, allow me say, the place just completely rocks. Normally, I'd be very cool on having to walk three or four miles before my morning tea – but, let me tell you, Kynance Cove is worth the schlep. If I've ever had a pot of tea in a more winning spot, I can't recall it.

The funky cafe is nestled right in the nap of cove, the tables looking out over the strand and the three towering hunks of winsome rock. Afterward, since the tide is on its way out, I'm thinking I may go climb on top of the Bishop. ("I'm looking forward to getting my hands on it," as the choirgirl said to the bishop.) The cafe even has bananas (for my food stores) and batteries (for my Lazarus camera). I'm so relaxed, I doff my boots, peel off my socks, and sun my long-suffering feet.

As I sit and sun and scribble, I also find that the skin on my arms is rather bugging me: over-sunned, dried out by ceaseless salt spray – and peppered with the small stab wounds and abrasions that are par for the camping course. It's going to be Moisturizer City when I get back, Baby. So much to look forward to – like proper food, and proper shelter . . . clean clothes . . . critter-free showers . . .

I'm actually beginning to think I now take trips mainly to dispatch about them. Like the trip is just material for the dispatch. Honestly, it's what I really enjoy. I seem to have to turn everything into stories. I think storytelling is probably an inherent aspect of human nature – our oldest artefacts are myths. Perhaps novelists, diarists, obsessive bloggers, etc. are just people who have an overactive storytelling gland – like too much thyroid, or too little dopamine.

And but then again, maybe it's just a flavour of what may be the ultimate human need: to communicate, to convey something, to get through to another person – and thereby break through the coccoon of aloneness in which we are born and which we wear when we go into the light. I'm here. I exist, too. I've got these ideas! These feelings! (And this web server – which means I can now shout out toward a potential two billion other coccoons of aloneness.)

I can't seem to stop scratching my poor forearms – with these overgrown talons of mine. There are still about 145 billion glints of light on the water before me (counting quickly). Ha! There's a guy sitting facing the water (as we all are) and he lights up a cigarette and 100.00% of the smoke curls right around his head and directly into the face of a guy sitting behind him and peering through binoculars. The smoking guy is totally oblivious to this, and the binoculars guy just keeps on peering, though I can't imagine he's getting any oxygen.

Another guy with a huge gut steadfastly keeps his shirt unbuttoned. I can see this is to cool himself and staunch his rather porcine perspiration. It's a bit of a Catch-22: if he weren't overweight, he wouldn't need the shirt open; but if he weren't overweight, the rest of us wouldn't mind him having it open.

I leave the bag – I really should name this guy by now, suggestions invited; it's a black Eagle Creek "Endless Journey" 3-in-1 trekking bag, if that helps – to go to the loo (and afterward to mount the Bishop). But as I start to leave, I suddenly get paranoid and move the earlier two notebooks into my waist bag, alongside the CDs of photos. All irreplaceable.

I emerge from the bio-toilet, and am checking the roof for the promised wild habitat, when the female half of a retired couple emerges and urges her husband – sitting on the bench outside – to go in just for the informational value. I make so bold as to quip, "One doesn't need bring in reading material." Somewhat surprisingly, this sparks a conversation. I take a seat.

The woman – something of a dead ringer for a slimmer Judi Densch, or maybe it's just the hairstyle – is well-spoken and charming and her voice sparkles. She lives in Coventry, which even she says is horrible. Her previous husband, a doctor, got a job there in 1957 and – despite his death 16 years ago – she's never left. Her second husband, who comes out a minute later, is a dentist. She says that, despite Coventry's dire lack of charm, it's provided a good income and a good pension – "and now we're travelling the world, spending our children's inheritance."

Me: "Best thing. A lot of money would only ruin them."
Her: "Yes, I've had to be very self-disciplined."
Me: "I admire your sacrifice."

We exchange fond farewells. Lovely. But now, since the tide is fairly well out, it is time to go frolic on the strand – and to keep my rendezvous with the Bishop. I grab a Diet Coke and flapjack for sustenance, and set out.

Get the Flash Player to see this movie.

After I've had my whirligig out on the sand (I don't know why I have to compare everything to Spitzkoppe; except that I guess it's the sine qua non of stunning outdoor play areas), I start planning my ascent. The first thing I notice is that no one else – no one – is up on top of any of the three rocks. This worries, and excites, me. I work my way around to the flatter side of the Bishop, which the rolling surf has just relinquished from its wet embrace.

I try out a few tentative handholds, scope out an initial route or two, change course . . . then stop dithering and get climbing. The lower sections are still wet, and lichen-covered, and thus awfully slick; but the hand and foot holds are good, and my luck holds with the route, and I never feel I'm in any real danger. Mind, this is going up; going down will be a whole different ball of worms. I reach the top.

"MUA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA!" Now I'm going to sit on the top of this bitch and drink my Diet Coke – while all the little ground monkeys (that would be every single other person in view) look on in awe and envy. Happily, I can even keep an eye on my bag from up here – not that I could do a damned thing other than wave and weep if someone walked off with it . . . I guess I could call the police on my mobile and tell them exactly which way the thief headed . . .

Get the Flash Player to see this movie.
     Here's the bit where I hope A) that the stone and lichen down there have dried up a bit, and B) the tide really is still going out. Coming down – and, by the way, yes, I am pausing halfway to write this – I know it's all about the holds. I simply can't trust to friction on any surface of rock – because most of them don't have much. It's kind of amazing how useful even a tiny bit of rock climbing experience is: A) you learn how to think like a climber, and B) you learn that a lot of manoeuvres – based on tiny holds and unnatural postures – which don't seem intuitively doable are in fact totally doable. Okay, second half of the descent now. (Love to all, if these are my last words.)


2006.09.26, Pt II : "You Guys Are Pigs"
"Indeed, when I try to think back to those days, they lie under the entrancing light of chance encounters, small endurances, unfamiliarity, and I cannot remember why at the time they seemed so grim and hopeless."
- Graham Green, The Lawless Roads

Okay, I've dismounted the Bishop with no problems, you can stop holding your breath. ;^)

Back in front of the Kynance Cafe, as I'm gearing up to head out, the cafe girl, through the window out of which they passed food orders, informed me of her opinion that, "That bag is enormous." Hey, thanks! After walking 123 miles with it on my back, I was beginning to wonder why I was so tired all the time.

Enormous bag notwithstanding – after my tea, a flapjack, and a good romp on the backside of the Bishop – I'm a new man, and I positively glide across the beach, over some boulders, and up an enormous set of stairs back onto the cliffs. Farewell! Farewell!

Get the Flash Player to see this movie.

I think I've figured out why I'm writing fully formed sentences, and paragraphs, and pages, into the notebook: it's all I've got to talk to, since the others left. Back then, I could be part of a fun conversation, and maybe scribble down a quick note about it. Now, the scribbling is the conversation. "This is a good day . . ." I say to the notebook.

Get the Flash Player to see this player.

    I realise I haven't been doing a good job of noting daily internal soundtrack music – and I'm unlikely ever to remember them, alas – but today's is "Big Fun" by Shriekback. In fact, I'm singing this bit aloud, in a passing (well, maybe not) imitation: "Shooby-doop-dooby, shooby-doop-dooby – da da-dat-da, da da-dat-da – Yeah, this is big fun, okay . . ."

So, anyway, last night, while I was enjoying the 3rd-best and 4th-best slightly cool Budvars of all time, I took a gander at the guidebook, with a view toward planning the last four days of walking. (Yes, you heard that right. The end, and there actually is an end, was in sight.) Slightly interestingly, both the Easy and the Moderate itineraries had 13-mile slogs on each of the last two days; but one had an 11-miler and then a 5-miler – and the other had them reversed. I wasn't sure how one of those itineraries was easier than the other . . . but, drilling down a bit, I did realise that pretty much everything militated for doing the short day first.

First of all, it didn't put me in any f&£ing camp sites in the next county from the nearest anything. (As previously ranted, I'd completely had it with camp sites that were their own independent republics.) So, doing the short day first would allow me to camp right in the center of Lizard Village; and, the next night, camp at a centrally-located YHA (which is camping with a kitchen and a cozy living room). Count me in, I thought.

Best of all, I'd realised that the thing about Lizard Village is that it's right in the middle of Lizard Point, which is basically a peninsula (in the critical sense of having water on three sides). And the thing about a 5-mile day is that you get in really early. So, I could actually walk straight into town from one side of the peninsula; make camp; walk back out, totally unburdened, and have time to tour the whole Point at leisure; then walk right back out the other side in the morning. Win City.

So, this was that day. And, with 3 or 4 miles done to get to Kynance Cove, you can figure out how much was left. Not long into this short hop, though, I realise I need the facilities. I start to stop, but then stop, saying (aloud, to self): "I do need to go. But, then again, I'm awfully close to Lizard to stop now and drain the lizard! Bwahaha!!" I do amuse me. Especially when I've got the sensibilities of a guy walking out of the Sahara after his caravan was efficiently ambushed.

Chickens! On the outskirts of town. I soon enter the village proper, and as I dig out the guidebook to orientate myself, I am hailed. It's the nice English couple, from the last camp site, the ones with the not-a-Winnebago. They've well beaten me to the next town. (They didn't take the not-a-Winnebago, they walked.) We have a nice chat; and I learn for the first time that they're actually doing the whole 600 miles of the SW Coast Path (a bit at a time). Corblimey.

They also comment on the profusion of gift shops in Lizard; and as I enter the main square, I see what they mean. Lizard, while still bucolic and charming, seems intent on turning itself into the next Land's End – with so much development, in fact, so recently, that I find I can't place myself on my (2+ year old) map.

I do finally find the camp site – bang in the village, down what can only be described as a back street. Bliss. It's also one of those working camping farms. "Registration" is the house of the family who runs it, and the door is wide open. Inside is a terrifically funkily decorated room, and an equally funky woman. She points me down the path to the pitch, where I find more chickens – as well as a duck, whom I'm sure Mark will maintain doesn't know he's not a chicken. ;^) There's also a horsie! Yip.

I was happily unrolling my still-completely-dew-soaked tent on the soft (and dry) grass, when I'm hailed. It's the funky woman, at the fence at the edge of the field.

FW: "Excuse me! Wrong field."
Me: "Oops. Sorry."
FW: "You can actually stay there if you like. But the other one's prettier."
Me: "Has it got chickens?"
FW: <confers with colleague> "No. But we do have pigs down there."
Me: "Really? Wow! I like pigs."

So I packed back up again, to go and meet the pigs.

Me: "Wow! Hi! You guys are pigs!"
Pigs: "Squonk, squonk, squonk!"
Me: "May I take your photo?"
Pigs: "Squonk, squonk, squonk!" <come forward to look into camera>
Me: "Thanks! You guys are cool! Do you bite? No." <scratches their heads>
Pigs: Somewhat urgently: "Squonk, squonk, squonk!!"
Me: "What are you saying?" In aside: "Probably, 'Get us the hell out of here before we're bacon!'" Aloud: "I'll bring you back some food later! Bye!"

The real camp site is a gem, with partitioned and semi-private little pitches, and flowers, and palms, and a view of the ocean. I set up camp, and hit the trail again (just a lot lighter).

On the way out, I can't resist stopping to visit with the pigs again. They like being scratched behind their ears – so much so that they sort of nose each other out of the way, and complain aloud when I scratch the other one. (I can only really get one hand in there.) One hops up on the other's back, for better scratching access. The other scratches his bum on the stone, in an undignified but very entertaining manner. They really pay attention when I address them, looking me right in the eye.

I stop by the open door on my way out, and there's a man there now, instead of the funky woman. He seems as friendly, but more conversant, than the pigs, so I stop for a chat. (Have I been walking the coast alone too long?)
Me: "Do your pigs have names?"
Man: "Porky and Rasher."
Me: "Which is the bigger one?"
Man: "Porky." Reading my mind: "If you've got any scraps . . ."
Me: "What do they like best?"
Man: "Oh, they'll eat anything . . ."
Me: "Right, they're pigs."
Man: " . . . anything except raw pork."

So, as previously alluded to, Lizard is home to Ann's World-Famous Pasty Shop – which some claim is the three-Michelin-star, none-better-than, gourmet producer of Cornish pasties in all of Cornwall (which means in all the world). I head back toward the town center, figuring I should go ahead and get myself a world-famous pasty while the world-famous-pasty-getting is good. I pass the Funky Woman, who is walking her two daughters home from school.

Ann's World-Famous Pasty Shop is a little bit off of the main square, so I'm a little while in locating it – my anticipation growing by the minute – and by the time its garish yellow facade (it's a shop made out of a house) appears, I'm rubbing my hands together and smacking my gums. You can imagine my horror when I see a small Closed sign hanging beneath the Ann's World-Famous Pasty Shop sign. Quelle horror! This can't be. It's, like, mid-afternoon. Plus I want a pasty. There still seems to be activity going on inside, so I walk up to the counter and try my line on:

Me: "Hi. I've just walked from Padstow for one of your pasties."

The nice woman behind the counter (which is in what used to be the garage) nods and hums sympathetically, but informs me that they're closed – because they're all sold out. Sold out?! They must be good. I ask her when I should come back, and she asks me how early I want them. In the end, I put in an advance order for two veggie pasties, no cheese, for half past nine the next morning. Wow. Custom work. Before leaving, I can't resist asking: "Are you Ann?" "Yes."

Regaining the main square, I settle for a forest fruit sorbet in a waffle cone for the moment, and set out for Lizard Point proper. It's a very pleasant walk down a quiet lane. On the way, I turn my phone on – no service but, wow, it's still only 10 to 4. And before I know it, I'm down and out on Lizard Point – officially the southernmost tip of Britain.

     I'm actually, as I scribble this, just a bit south of Most Southerly House – but just a tad north of the Most Southerly Cafe. And who could be surprised that the cafes win again? I'm just about to shoot a brief video, which I've been rehearsing. Here goes.

As I continue east around the point, a trendily dressed French couple approaches me on the path. As we pass, the man drops his cigarette butt in the middle of the trail. Oooohh, no, that's just a bit too much. Personally, I've never understood why smokers think they have special dispensation to litter – to drop their gross, smelly fag ends wherever they stand. But here? Oh, no. I wade in, buttonholing the insoucient Frog. (Pardon the coarse epithet; I've been living in England too long.)

Me: "Would you mind not littering on the National Trail please?"
Frog: "<stutter,gulp> I was just . . ."
Me: "Cheers."

Forgot to mention, I actually picked up his butt – and handed it back to him as I began to dress him down. (It's kind of amazing how people will take anything you hand them.)

As I march off, glowing with satisfaction, I can feel their cowed eyes on my back. It occurs to me that they may actually think I'm some kind of Park Ranger – what with the hat, and not to mention flipping open my police-style notebook and intently making notes as I walk away. Live in fear, you littering bastards.

Crossing a bridge over a chasm, I pass a lovely old retriever. Just beyond, I begin to descend some treacherous stairs down to the bottom of this crevice-cum-cove. A few steps on, a puppy comes bounding up toward me, looking panicked and moving fast. I make a quick judgment call and scoop it up in my arms. I find its owner near the bottom of the stairs, and her reaction makes it clear I've pretty much saved the day. She turns out to be American – from Boston, married to an Englishman, and living in Gloucestershire these six years.

"Lion's Mouth" –
Not Stickin' My Head In
    I'm not all the way around the point yet. But, you know what, I'm old and tired and I've already seen a whole lot of Cornish coastline. I cut back inland, toward the village – and toward beer and food and blessed sleep.

Get the Flash Player to see this movie.

I locate the general store on the square, and begin depleting their stocks, picking up some shampoo, some beer, some biscuits. I'm actually halfway back to the camp site before I remember. I dash back up to the store and commence frantically rummaging around, finally settling on a bag of white baps (American: "buns") and a tray of fruit tarts.

Me (to befuddled cashier): "Totally forgot. I promised the pigs I'd bring them something back."

Hate to say it, but: these guys eat like pigs.

Me (exasperated): "Rasher! Play nice! Here, now you've each got plenty of your own . . . Rasher!"

From their reactions – they're both audibly smacking their gums and licking their lips – I'm pretty sure this is the single best meal they've ever had in their whole lives. While Porky snorfles up crumbs, Rasher washes it all down with water from the trough – then goes inside their little hut, presumably for a post-prandial nap.

"Security Team to Shuttle Bay Six!"
I note that – aside from very intelligent eyes – they both have what seems rather like human skin. Bad skin – but you probably wouldn't, you know, move down the train carriage if a human got on wearing it. Porky joins Rasher in retiring, and so I go get a shower. On returning to it, my tent looks eerily like a shuttle docked in a shuttle bay.

I have to duck into the "office" again, for some 20p coins for the (entirely decent) shower. I end up chatting with Jo – the prenominate Funky Woman. She tells me that Porky and Rasher have different voices, which I hadn't noticed. One oinks, one squeaks. (I later determine that Porky, despite his size advantage, is the squealer.)

[ I'm writing all this in the notebook, by the way, sitting on the village green, in the center of the main square, with the last orange light in my face, sipping a second bottle of Brahma, after having had an interesting chat – interesting particularly in the enormous gulfs between our worlds – with two local girls who'd been lounging around waiting to meet the boyfriends they've had since age 14.]

Jo also introduced me to the resident Guinea Pig. She is ginger in colouring and called Pasty.

Jo: "We've got a bit of a food theme with animal names."
Me: "At least Pasty's not in any danger of being turning into one – unlike Rasher."

I showered, dressed, clipped my be-bosomed beer condom (the one I got in St Ives, which seems like about a hundred billion years ago), via mini-carabiner to my bag, and headed back into town. (Which is 200 yards away.) And here I sit on the green. And now the sun is down – and I am going down the pub.

At which pub I ultimately get so engrossed chatting and drinking with – and getting sharked at pool by – a Yorkshire lass and a Surrey gal on holiday, that I miss getting in a dinner order before the kitchen closes. Bad show; but at least I'd picked up a few things at the store earlier. I supplement those with three packets of Nobbly's Nuts, in all available flavours (a salt-fest I don't intend to repeat), and make my dark and cold supper back in the tent – with not even the pigs still up to keep me company.

Route Follower Alongerer :

Tomorrow: "Welcome to the Suck"

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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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