13 June 2008

Day 11 - Views, sun and an increasing sense of optimism

Bridestowe to Venton - 31/5/08

I've actually quite enjoyed today. I know that shouldn't be surprising, but this first week or so has been pretty tough on my feet/legs/shoulders/knees etc and the discomfort has somewhat lessened my enjoyment. Today however has been the first day where (apart from the last mile or so), I've felt reasonably fresh throughout and as a result, I've been able to relax and enjoy the scenery so much more. This might also have something to do with me taking more rest stops than usual (every hour as opposed to just one for lunch) and whilst it may make the day slightly longer, I still think it's worth it.

Some would argue that the reason for happy feet is that my route today was for the most part, cross country. They may well have a point and certainly the scenery was much more pleasant, though any change from the now over familiar hedgerows is exceedingly welcome.

The day started with the usual lanes replaced by field crossings and a riveting game of "dodge the stampeding cows". I'm sure they were only curious and that if I had shouted "boo" they would have scarpered in the opposite direction, but several tonnes of incoming beef is still a tad unnerving. Having escaped the perils of my bovine friends, it was time to tackle the perils of Dartmoor.

To be fair, I did little more than skirt the edge for an hour or two but even from this relatively lowly vantage point, it was easy to see how people get into difficulty out there. It's bleakness makes it an attractive place to wander on a sunny day but this is a place where the weather can change in an instant and unless you have considerable experience with compass navigation, you might find yourself having an uncomfortable night on the moors.

It seems the weather had some sympathy for my own level of compass skill and the skies remained blue and clear for the duration, though in my route, the paths were well trodden and hardly made for taxing navigation. This meant that I had some truly excellent views of the surrounding countryside, which was so pleasant after the claustrophobic lanes. It was almost a pity to leave, but leave I did, along the Two Castles trail which again coincided with my route and provided and handy way into Okehampton.

The entry into the town itself was made more interesting by the crossing of the local Golf Club. I certainly got some odd looks from the golfers when I stumbled out of the woods, looking like a vagrant and proceeded to plod myself and my pack across their manicured fairways. As a side note, it must be said that 11 days of stubble growth is not really helping me look any less like a tramp, though I'm hoping that by hanging my map around my neck people will get the idea that I'm a long distance walker. This plan doesn't seem to be doing much to disperse the funny looks but perhaps when I hit the Cotswold Way and get into walker territory, I'll feel more accepted. For now though, I grabbed a quick sandwich from the town centre and the scurried back off into the countryside.

In fact scurrying was quite appropriate as I spent the afternoon following the path of the Tarka Trail, which takes in locations visited by the Otter of the same name in the famous book. However, having never read the book, this meant little to me although it would appear that said Otter was rather better at navigation than me (hardly surprising) as I spent much of my time on the trail getting lost (again).

Ah well, at least I made it to the campsite here at Venton eventually and who knows, perhaps by the time I reach John O Groats I might even have developed a sense of direction!

Day 10 - Something, something and a lack of inspiration

Roadford Lake to Bridestowe - 30/5/08

I've been trying to write this blog for the last hour or so but its one of those nights where my creativity appears to have abandoned me and I'm left with little idea of what to write.

To be fair, today has hardly been full of adventurous exploits. that's not to say that it hasn't been enjoyable, it's just not been particularly eventful. Given that the distance for today was a little under 11 miles, it's not surprising that there were few surprises (Does that make sense??). I shouldn't complain though as I have three very long days coming up in a week or so and I shall be wishing I was back on the afternoon stroll that today became.

Knowing that my route was hardly taxing today, I made the most of a nice long lie-in which, despite being under canvas (in the world's soggiest field), was actually very pleasant. When I did finally drag myself out of my sleeping bag, most of my fellow campers were already up and out on the lake in/on their various contraptions. Given how humid it was this morning, it was all I could do not to grab a wetsuit and join them, but being the dutiful LEJOGer I reached for the boots instead. As if to reward my dedication, when I went up to pay for my accommodation they refused to take my money and told me to donate it to my charity instead.

Buoyed by this act of generosity, I left Roadford with a veritable spring in my step. This probably wasn't the best day however for such exuberant movement as the combination of humidity, pack and exertion meant that 20 minutes down the road I was absolutely drenched. Apologies here if I have put any of you off your dinner, but as I have said before I have (and always have had) a tendency to sweat profusely at the best of times and this morning was bad even by my standards. Helpfully, the high hedges lining the road did a sterling job of blocking all and any breeze, which meant that I continued to dissolve as I meandered down the lanes.

Around the time I was re-joining the Two Castles trail, I stupidly started to think that a bit of rain would be quite welcome in order to clear the air. I should know by now that you should "be careful what you wish for..."as no sooner had this thought crossed my mind than the first rumble of thunder was heard. Despite the continued lack of breeze at ground level, said storm somehow managed to follow me all the way to Bridestowe. It then hung around long enough for me to enjoy pitching my tent in the rain (yet again) before disappearing to, presumably, harass some other poor hiker. I'm beginning to think that I've offended the weather in some way as, since setting off on my journey 10 days ago, I've failed to have a single rain free day. I wouldn't mind but I always thought that the South was the warmer and drier part of the country. I'd expect this sort of weather back home, but not here. Ah well, got to love the British summer haven't you!!

Day 9 - Beasties, a Castle and a re-charged battery

Pipers Pool to Roadford Lake - 29/5/08

What a difference a day makes. More specifically, what a difference a day spent lying in bed, watching TV and eating lemon bon-bons, makes. On my arrival at Pipers Pool I felt like death warmed up, but thanks to spending a very lazy Day 8 and another fantastic cooked breakfast (going back to porridge tomorrow will come as a bit of a shock), I'm feeling much much better. My feet are still a little bit tender but at least they are back to their original colour again, which is a considerable improvement.

Before I start on about today's walk, I just have to mention the Rudona B&B where I have spent the last two nights. If you're ever in the area of Pipers Pool/Launceston you really should consider spending a night at the Rudona. It's run by Barbara and Roger and from the moment I stepped through the door they were offering me cups of tea and sandwiches (they must have heard about me) and generally making sure that I was as comfortable as possible. As you can imagine, after a week under canvas this was exactly what the doctor ordered. This morning however, the trail once again beckoned and so after breakfast I said my farewells and set foot once again on my journey North.

The morning consisted of the all too familiar lanes although these did appear rather more abundant with wildlife than usual. Before reaching Launceston I had disturbed countless rabbits, two foxes (which takes my lifetime count of foxes seen to 3!) and an entire family of pheasants complete with tiny baby pheasants.

After the menagerie of the morning, Launceston was somewhat drab by comparison. To be fair, I had already spent a couple of hours there on my day off wandering around and hence I had no desire for a repeat performance today. That's not to say that I disliked Launceston - the Castle sitting proud in the middle of the town was certainly worth a look as was the little coffee shop I had visited, but there was nothing spectacular about the place that would draw me back or detain me. Still, it had served its purpose well in allowing me to re-supply and that's all I could ask for.

With the silhouette of Launceston Castle behind me, I set off along the path of the Two Castles trail - a waymarked route of winding lanes, bridle ways and footpaths that links Launceston Castle with its counterpart in Okehampton (hence the name). As I will be passing through Okehampton in a few days time the trail provides a useful route for me to follow until then - that's the theory anyway. I'm actually staying at Roadford Lake, which is somewhat off the prescribed route but given that it is the only campsite nearby, a detour is the only option.

Before veering off lake wards though, the trail proved pleasant enough if a little boggy in places, though with the weather recently, it is hardly surprising. It was nice to have something other than tarmac to walk on for a change, though the trail does have its fair share, and I know that my feet certainly appreciated having a softer surface for a spell.

From the trail to the lake was a simple succession of roads, which would hardly be worth mentioning if it wasn't for the fact that on one of these roads I (finally) made the transition from Cornwall to Devon. Leaving Cornwall behind has confirmed to me that I am making progress, which is great but it also reminds me that I still have a long long way to go.

Day 7 - Ups, downs and colourful feet

St. Breward to Pipers Pool - 27/5/08

It dawned on me gradually this morning that for once I wouldn't have to bother with my usual ritual of dismantling camp. It was a nice feeling and even nicer to be in a comfy bed rather than my normal 5 star canvas accommodation. Despite the lack of chores, it was still almost 10-o-clock before I finally loaded myself up and staggered back onto the trail. Most of the blame for the delay (besides pure laziness on my part) was down to the fantastic feast laid on by my hostess for breakfast. It turned out that she was actually the head chef over at the pub I had eaten at last night and given how good my meal had been there, I didn't want to waste a single morsel this morning.

Such a filling start to the day turned out to be a very good thing as today turned out to be another long one. It was also probably the trickiest navigation I have had to do so far, as my route took me right across the middle of Bodmin Moor. In fact I not only walked right across the moor but I also did it via the highest point, Brown Willy, which at 1,377 feet, also happens to be the highest point in Cornwall. This means that for the 20 minutes that I spent having a break at the summit, I was higher than anyone else in the whole of Cornwall, which is not something you get to say everyday !!

The downside of bagging the peak before lunchtime swiftly became apparent as, by the time I had scrambled up to the summit and down the other side, I was already thoroughly worn out. Sadly, at this point, I still had some 10 or so miles to go, so there was nothing to do but suck it up and press on. The pressing on went fine for about an hour but upon seeing the sign for Jamaica Inn, my will power crumbled and I found myself suddenly inside this atmospheric little tavern. Being something of a tourist trap due to its connection with the novels of Daphne du Maurier, I ended up paying somewhat over the odds for my afternoon refreshments. Whilst this was a little irritating, the food was fine and the drink was cold and at this point in the day both were exceedingly welcome.

Suitably refreshed, I left the old coaching inn behind me and took a series of lanes to the wide open spaces of Hendra Downs, where I promptly got lost. I've noticed a slightly devious nature in some of the Cornish rights of way. On more than one occasion, I have been lured away from the roads with the beginning of a well waymarked trail, only to have the said trail vanish. It's almost as if the person responsible for waymarking has lost interest after marking the first couple of points and wandered off to do something else. I therefore found myself in the middle of an expanse of common land with only a vague idea of the direction I needed to be heading in. Fortunately my compass came to the rescue and with a bit of common sense (not to mention following field boundaries looking for exits) I did eventually get myself back on track.

This was the last thing I needed at this point to be honest. I was already feeling pretty tired and an extra hour trying to exit the downs all but finished me off. The last hour to Pipers Pool was a nightmare. Everything hurt (it still does) but special mention must go to my feet which felt as though they were being steadily crushed into two large pancakes by the weight of my pack.

Eventually I made it into Pipers Pool and to the front door of the Rudona B&B and a welcome from Barbara and Roger, which started to ease the pain. I've decided to take an unscheduled day off tomorrow to try to give my feet a chance to return to their normal colour (right now they are literally black and blue). It's actually good timing, as I'm running low on supplies and as I should be back to camping again for the next few nights, I really need to stock up.

12 June 2008

Day 6 - Moors, Camels and a typical Bank Holiday

Trekenning, St. Columb Major to St. Breward - 26/5/08

Hurrah for the great British Bank Holiday !! As with every bank holiday since the dawn of time, the weather today consisted of a non-stop downpour. Added into the mix for this particular holiday were gale force winds, which it has to be said, made the conditions far from ideal for a nice long hike. However, that's exactly what I have been "enjoying" all day, but on the plus side, it makes the evening visit to the pub all the more pleasurable (I'm writing this in The Old Inn, St. Breward)

Even better news is that tonight, after four nights under canvas, I've finally got a real bed and a roof over my head. Of course, all of that pleasure has to be balanced by the considerable pain, which takes the form of my increasingly blistered feet. My little toe on my right foot has a blister three layers deep, having blistered, burst, blistered again, burst again and today has managed to blister yet again. Bandaging doesn't seem to make any difference - I think I might just leave it "au natural" tomorrow and see what difference that makes (only joking).

Anyway, I must stop moaning and concentrate on the positives, as reading about the deterioration of my body scarcely makes riveting reading. Today's walk started like every other so far, with a delightful trundle down the side of a road. Mercifully, it wasn't long before I left the asphalt behind and struck out along the path to the ancient hill fort of Castle an Dinas. If I had thought it was windy down the road, then up on the hill it was blowing a gale. It did make me think just how bleak life must have been when the fort was in use, especially seeing as they would not have had a comfy "Gore-Tex" shell like myself. Still, even with the "Gore-Tex" I was getting a touch on the chilly side, so I left the windy summit and headed off across the surrounding moor. Sadly, I managed to head off in completely the wrong direction, though after much head scratching, I did eventually make it back onto the road; just not quite where I had intended.

Fortunately, navigation for the rest of the day proved to be a doddle, with more lanes to follow before joining the Camel Trail at Boscarne Junction. The Camel Trail was an unexpected pleasure after so many days of road walking. Following the path of an abandoned railway, the trail passes through picturesque woodland alongside the course of the Camel River. Probably the best thing about the trail (besides the lovely setting) is that, being an ex-railway, it's almost completely flat. Given how hilly Cornwall has been thus far (surprisingly so), a bit of level walking is just what the doctor ordered.

Alas, in order to reach St. Breward and my room for the night, I had to abandon the trail and set foot again on the all too familiar roads. Perhaps it was a form of protest about my previous abandonment, but the road had one last dirty trick up its sleeve. This came in the form of a dirty great hill, which reduced my last half hour to a painful, back breaking slog. Luckily, I have a real bed tonight in which to recover, which, given the continuing downpour outside, is a very good thing indeed!!

10 June 2008

Day 5 - Showers, blisters and a walk in the woods

Carnon Downs to Trekenning, St. Columb Major - 25/5/08

After a day off (Day 4) seeing the sights and sounds of Carnon Downs (not sure a whole day was really required for this), it was up with the sun this morning and back on the trail. The route for today was around 17 miles and, for the most part, along Cornish lanes again. This being the case, I was fully expecting my feet to get another hammering and unfortunately I wasn't disappointed. It seems that I now have more blisters than it is actually possible to plaster, which led me to wonder, at one painful moment, why they don't make blister plasters large enough to cover your whole foot. Hmmm seems to be a gap in the market there !!!

Apart from the blisters, today has actually been quite pleasant (apart from the last hour where I was dying on my feet - but nothing new there). This is something of a surprise as today is the longest day I've done thus far. Even more surprising is the fact that my niggly knee (which was becoming particularly tiresome) behaved itself pretty much all day. There were a few exceptions, such as on steeper slopes, but any improvement on the pain front is exceedingly welcome.

What of the walk itself then? It started off, as ever, with a good drenching from the maddeningly inconsistent weather; it's blue skies and lovely now. Sort of expecting that this was going to be the case, I made sure to transform myself into "Gore-tex Man" before setting off. This of course was the best way to ensure that immediately on setting off, it stopped raining, but having just started out on the road I was reluctant to stop to remove my "cocoon" only to have the drizzle re-commence.

First stop, of sorts, was the city of Truro, though given that it was a Bank Holiday Sunday and still early morning, the whole place was deserted, save for the few folks hurrying into the Cathedral in time for morning service. Seeing little point in hanging around an empty town centre, I took a couple of photos for posterity and headed along the road out of town. After a couple of miles of the now familiar lanes, I finally got a chance to bid farewell to the asphalt for an hour or two and threaded my way through Idless Wood.

I've done coastal paths, moorland and country lanes but woodland is a new one on the terrain list for this walk so far, and I must say that the change was very pleasant. It reminded me a little of my rambles through Cannock Chase back home and though I enjoyed it, walking through dense forest for two hours without seeing another person felt a little creepy at times. I admit that on occasions, I found myself stopping to glance down the trail behind me, though quite what I was looking for, I've no idea.

Upon finally escaping the woods, it was back to the lanes once again for the remainder of the day. The problem with Cornish lanes from a hikers perspective is that they are invariably lined with tall hedgerows, which means that your view of the countryside is usually restricted to whatever happens to be growing by the roadside. There were occasions when the hedges relented and the views over the rolling hills were decidedly pleasant, but these seemed to be the exceptions rather than the norm. This is a little sad as I can't help but think that I am expending all of this energy walking through Cornwall, but somehow not seeing very much of it. Ah well; one benefit of a trek this long is that there are plenty more opportunities to see things, I suppose.

08 June 2008

Day 3 - Hunger, thirst and a well earned pint

Pengoon Farm to Carnon Downs - 23/5/08

Phew. Today was another tough day for me. Mileage wise it wasn't too bad (though I suspect we may have under-estimated the distance of these first few days). It was just a combination of little things that made the afternoon a bit of a struggle.

Things started out poorly, with an early morning downpour soaking my camping gear prior to me trying to pack it away (for the second morning in a row). The rain also meant that the surrounding countryside was a touch on the soggy side, which was fine until I turned onto an old bridle way and discovered that the shrubberies had decided to reclaim the area. Not particularly wanting to force my way through waist high vegetation first thing in the morning, I had a "shufty" at the map to see if I could find a reasonable alternative.Alas, the only one that took me even vaguely in the right direction would add another couple of miles to the journey and hence was equally unappealing. In the end, I had to rummage around in my pack and donned the waterproof trousers and gaiters I had brought for just such an occasion. It was hard going, but fortunately after a mile or so of dragging my poles through the surprisingly clingy flora (imagine walking along with a miniature anchor on each arm), I emerged back onto the smooth open road.

Roads then swiftly became the theme of the day, which was great for navigation (roadsigns made my map and compass somewhat redundant for the day), but I can attest that the unyielding surface is pretty hard on the feet. I was more annoyed than usual then when the chance to rest my weary legs for a spell at the pub in Porkellis was snatched away. Apparently the landlord had figured that Friday afternoon would be the best time to close the establishment in order to frustrate passing hikers. And frustrate he did. I had intended Porkellis (being a decent sized village) to be a good place to stop, but the closure of the tavern meant that by the time I reached the next village, some two hours later, I was absolutely starving.

It was at this point that I made a fundamental mistake. So glad was I to finally find some sustenance, that I totally failed to take into account the status of my water supply. Despite the gloomy start, by this point the weather had turned fair and hence I was getting through my beverage somewhat faster than normal. Of course, such a thought failed to cross my mind until I was about an hour from my destination, when I tried to take a swig from my, now completely empty, Camelbak. It's one of those laws of the universe that when you can't do something, the desire to do it increases a hundredfold. Suffice to say that before I finally made it to camp, I was seriously contemplating flagging down random motorists to see if any of them had any spare beverages.

The upside of this is that I shall be unlikely to make the same mistake again and at least it took my mind off my niggly knee for a while. To compensate for my privations, I'm now sitting in the Carnon Inn, supping a cold pint of Cider and eagerly awaiting the arrival of my Steak Pie. One of the best things about a hard days walking is how much better the evening meal tastes when you know you've really earned it; and I think it's fair to say that this one has been well earned.