Walking from John O'Groats to Land's End in the winter of 07/08.

Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Porthtowan to St Ives

Another day following the intricate north coast of Cornwall, with the simple daily routine of breakfast, bit of walking, a break for lunch, bit more walking, find somewhere to stay, get some supplies, fall asleep and repeat. It may seem like a bit of a grind, but on the good days, like any day this week, it is a fantastic way of life.

A steep climb out of Porthtowan returned me to the blasted grassy cliff tops, where the path was contained within a narrow strip of land between the crumbling edge and an ugly military fence. All the usual coastal features were present, such as the sandy cove of Sally's Bottom or isolated stacks thrown out by rocky headlands. It was an easy walk to Portreath, a little town that ticks all the tourism boxes with a sandy beach sheltered by tall cliffs, lighthouse, long curving pier, harbour and rows of white terraced cottages. After a few steep ascents and descents the cliffs level out again and lead onto the unspoilt gorse headland of Knavocks, looked after by a team of roaming Shetland ponies.

The most noticeable feature for the next couple of miles was a gleaming white lighthouse on a rocky island just offshore, alone but defiant. As this has some kind of literary significance, the path was quite popular, and when I saw an opportunity for a short cut and some solitude I took it. I scrambled down some rocks to cross a sandy bay but was stopped by a quick flowing stream running along the beach. Unable to find anywhere to cross I was forced to climb back up, which wasn't very elegant in big boots and a destabilising rucksack.

I soon found myself lost in a vast maze of sand dunes. Paths led all over the place with some having prickly gorse dead ends. Quickly confused, I slid down a sand chute to emerge on the beach and was soon making better progress, returning to the path when I reached the thin neck of the estuary. Although the opposite bank was in spitting distance, I had no choice but to use roads and bridges to get me there. Busy roads and industrial estates made this a little unpleasant but before long I was following hidden paths through steep vegetation and looking back at my morning's work.

Leaving the coast path to head to Tesco, I did one last big shop to keep me going to the finish line. The main road led into St Ives and I found a little B&B amongst the old fishing cottages and steep narrow streets. A little over twenty miles left, achievable in a single day, although the fact that I might just finish this thing hasn't sunk in yet.

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