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

Wednesday, 30 January 2008

St Ives to Land's End

It was dark and frosty as I walked the empty streets of St Ives; an early start due to warnings about the toughness of the final section as well as having no cooked breakfast to hang around for. The path traverses along the sloping cliffs, a carpet of deep green and light brown grasses dotted by boulders. Rocky headlands restrict the view and at each crest a completely new coastline emerges, making the walking constantly engaging. Foaming white reefs lie offshore while waves rush into narrow inlets and break in sandy coves beneath me. Many miles and hours passed by in this way, conquering each newly discovered peninsula underfoot until the final one is reached, crowned by a white walled compound with tall lighthouse and elegant fog horn.

The coast path now spends a bit more time on top of the cliffs and I found a route through the confusing tracks, slime tanks, shafts, slag heaps and winch houses of a well preserved tin mine. After this, the line of cliffs was broken by a sheltered, green and pleasant valley, a little steam bubbling past an old mill. The usual steep climb was required to regain the cliff tops where I looked out over Cape Cornwall, jutting out further than any of the nearby headlands and looking like the end of the world. Not quite though, so after another valley the national trail continued onto the open sands of Sennen Cove. Many people were wandering along the little path and some even wanted to shake my hand when they heard where I had come from, although they might not have been so keen if they had known that my gloves had recently been used to deal with a runny nose.

After the sand dunes and the streets of the village I knew the end was approaching, the isolated collection of buildings ahead was my final destination. It was late afternoon when I arrived and everything was closed, with some shops boarded up for the winter. Signs creaked in the breeze and there was nobody to be seen. It was a slightly surreal ending, but a fitting finale for a lonely and deeply personal journey. I checked into the hotel and looked back over the last two and a half months while enjoying a lovely hot bath.

Relief is my main emotion, not that the walking is over but that the outcome is no longer in doubt. I have made it from one end of the country to the other and that will never change. After the perfect days on the coast path, any memories of being soaking wet and cold, or suffering from any number of aches and pains are fading fast. I have experienced a lot over this journey and those wide open spaces in Sutherland, or that high pass through the mighty snow capped Cairngorms, or those crisp days on the Pennine Way are now distant memories.

I find it hard to believe that I am in any way special, and feel that this challenge is something that almost anyone can achieve, whether it's doing it in small sections at weekends or struggling a few miles a day before retiring to a motor home on the roadside. There will be people who will stoke my ego with praise, and will claim that they would love to do similar but it is beyond them. I'd be happier if they just got out there and experienced it for themselves.

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