Saturday, June 04, 2011

Stage 21 -- Marazion to St. Ives

Walked along St. Michael's Way today -- a branch of the great tree-like Route of Saint James that runs all the way from the pilgrimage church of San Juan de Compostela in Northern Spain to, among many other places, Ireland.

Great weather once again, great breakfast, great views of both coasts (at the same time from the Iron Age fort on Trencrom hill). And again the hike was shorter than planned (I've got a bunch of athletes with me right now) -- just over 4 hours instead of 6, but St. Ives is a lovely place, so nobody complained about arriving early. In fact, if I think about it, no-one has complained on any of the days that were shorter than planned... it seems that only I find sub-5 hour hikes a little disappointing!

This was our coast to coast day -- an homage to our C2C hike of five years ago. Much easier, and much quicker this time. Russ and Sally have gone off to swim (in 12C water... brrrr). Thomas is doing laundry, Marcus and Rochelle are walking around town, and after finishing this, I think I'll take a nap. We have a free day tomorrow, so I'll see the town then.

Stage 20 -- Portreath to Marazion

Shorter hike than expected (the current set of hikers is fast!)... but that allowed us to visit St. Michael's Mount after we got to Marazion in the afternoon, which was great, so all was well.

Once again, the weather was perfect -- sunny and warm, little or no wind, shorts and short-sleeved shirt all day. In addition, we all seem to be healed of minor ailments, except for Russell, who overindulged on the alcohol front yesterday evening, pleased as he was to see his friends Marcus and Rochelle who joined us last night.

We left at 9AM because I thought the hike would take around 5 hours (not including breaks) and we needed to be in Gwithian to catch the bus to Marazion by 3:15. In fact it took us about 3.25 hours, so we had a light lunch then took a taxi to Marazion arriving around 2PM. This was actually quite fortunate, since it allowed us to visit hyper-scenic St. Michael's Mount (SMM).

SMM is like Mont Saint Michel in France, except smaller. An island except at low tide, when it is joined by a causeway to the mainland, SMM is topped by a lovely pocket castle. The island has been inhabited since Neolithic times, and seems to have been known to the Romans as a tin-exporting port as early as the fourth Century BC. The current castle is built on the foundations of an 11thC Benedictine Abbey, and is quite delightful.

Since we arrived shortly after low tide, we were able to walk across the causeway, but an hour and a half later, after visiting the castle, Sally and Thomas waded back in water up to their waists (tides here can range up to 20 feet). Marcus and Rochelle and I took the ferry, and Russell, well, he never made it to SMM -- having opted to take a nap in the hotel to recover from the night before!.

By the way, the Mount Haven Hotel, where we stayed, was very nice indeed... excellent rooms, fantastic view over the bay to SMM, friendly service, and very good food. Joins Porlock, Martinhoe, Clovelly, and Padstow as the best accommodations we have had so far.

Last couple of comments. Russell was drinking Coke at dinner this evening, sensible fellow. And I didn't write a timely blog because we were watching the great Federer/Djokovich tennis game before dinner... and afterwards I watched the highlights of the Nadal/Murray game before going to sleep.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Stage 19 -- St. Agnes to Portreath

Half day in St. Agnes and the Blue Hill Tin Mine, half day walking to Portreath.

Dinner last night was a bit hit or miss -- apparently one of their chefs called in sick and the other(s) weren't able to keep either quality or timeliness in his/her absence. The rooms, however, and the ambience in the pub, were excellent. And the cove and bay were great, so I'll give Driftwood Spars a B+.

The visit to the tin mine and St. Agnes this morning was not as attractive to the troops as expected: the only one to partake was yours truly. Their loss: St. Agnes was nice enough, but the tin mine was fascinating.

I think that the Blue Hills Tin Mine is the only one still operating in Cornwall. They don't produce much (around 10 tons / year, I believe), but together with entrance fees and tin jewelry sales it is apparently enough to support the family running it. They use a mixture of medieval and modern technology, although modern is a relative term: there are no computers, or anything, in fact, which couldn't have been built 80 years ago. And they do everything with around 3.5KW of electricity... which seems a surprisingly small amount.

The most interesting machines, IMHO, were the beam engine and the various separators.

The beam engine first: this is powered by a water wheel and alternately lifts and then drops a set of heavy iron rods (the beams, I assume) on to fist-sized chunks of ore to reduce it to the consistency of fine sand. Water flows continuously through the crushing area, carrying away sufficiently crushed ore. So simple, so effective.

The crushed ore and water then flows to a series of separators, the simplest of which is just a helical ramp down which the ore suspension flows: the heaviest grains (tin and other metals, called the heads) stay close to the axis, and the lightest (waste, or tailings) are washed out to the edges. The intermediate grains (the mids) are sent to another machine (basically a tumbler with hard pebbles in it) to be further reduced in size before being run through the helix again. Brilliant!

No chemicals are used in the separation process, and the ore in the valley is so free of toxic substances that trout live in the tailing pond!

There were many other interesting aspects of the mine, the smelting process, and the history of mining in Cornwall, but I suspect I might have exhausted the interest of most readers of this blog by now, so you'll either have to ask me the next time we see one another, or, better, go to the Blue Hills Tin Mine and see for yourself.

In the afternoon we walked along the coast -- as lovely as ever -- for 3-4 hours to Portreath, a rather uninspiring little town. Our accommodation here, The Portreath Arms, makes a similar impression... whereby the food was better than the rooms, and the service was excellent.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Stage 18 -- Newquay to St. Agnes

First warm day... first swim! By Russ, Sally and Thomas B., not me... it's only about 15C to cold for me :-).

After my middle of the night activities, I was a little tired this morning. In addition, I had developed a couple of irritating ailments overnight -- left foot and right buttock, if you must know -- perhaps a touch of gout and a slightly pinched nerve somewhere in the lower back, so today's planned six hour hike was a bit daunting.

Russell also has a few dings -- as he put it at breakfast, he's "a mass of bruised meat". The other two are either indestructible or don't talk about problems short of hospitalization.

But the weather was fine, with little wind, so we set off in good spirits.

The start of the hike was inland along the Gannell River to a tidal footbridge. First time I've encountered one of these -- it is covered at high water, but can be used for a few hours on either side of low tide. We then walked back out to the sea along the south side of the river... quite idyllic, one would never know that bustling New Quay was just over the crown of the ridge to the north.

Afterwards, lots of sand walking -- across some smaller beaches, mixed with heather and turf covered headlands, then past an ugly Ministry of Defense installation, then down onto the immense expanse of Penhale Beach -- almost two miles long.

We had a surprisingly good lunch at a beach cafe in Perranporth at the end of the Penhale sands, then climbed up to the top of the cliffs for the last stretch to St. Agnes.

Once again the landscape changed -- now we were in mining country. I'd guess that there was an igneous intrusion here -- at any rate the rocks were completely different from anything we've seen along the path so far. When you looked at the sea cliffs, they changed color every 30 feet -- iron red, copper blue/green, yellows, greys, whites... tons of different minerals, and holes in the bare rock faces like Swiss cheese. On the surface mine shafts scattered around, and tailings everywhere.

And that's it for now... dinner beckons.

Stage 17 -- Porthcothan to Newquay

Fine hiking weather, easy stage (shorter than expected), marred only by the tackiness of central Newquay.

After a full Australian breakfast with our host Noel (complete with an impromptu rendition of Waltzing Matilda... by Russ and I) at Trevemedar Cottage in Porthcothan we set off around 9:30. Light wind, sun and clouds -- shorts hiking weather. The coast this day consisted of shallow inlets around which the path wove, so there was relatively little up and down and we advanced quickly. Too quickly: we were at Mawgan Porth where I'd expected we would have lunch by about 11:15, and that was too early for hunger. So we stopped for tea and pushed on at noon, arriving in Newquay a couple of hours later.

Before I do the obligatory "Newquay puts the Key in Tacky" (well, phonetically at least) routine, I should note that the coast is really very beautiful around here. One golden sandy beach after another, backed by steep rocky cliffs and with free-standing isolated rocks that are islands at high tide scattered photogenically. Look up Bedruthan Steps for pictures of how it looks. Quite understandable that this was one of the Victorians' favorite places to visit in the Southwest.

But what is it with Anglo-Saxons that they build and, judging by the crowds, so obviously enjoy such classless places as Newquay? Think the New Jersey shore, or old Las Vegas, or any other game arcade studded, cheap souvenir shop strewn, fast-food littered tourist trap area of which there are so depressingly many examples. "Anglo-Saxons" because I can't, right now, think of comparable places in France and Germany, although I'm not quite ready to declare them totally free of similar eyesores -- it might just be that I haven't gone where they are. At any rate, we were pleased to get to our hotel on Pentire Head, in a quiet section of town on the far side of Newquay by mid-afternoon.

After taking care of a little administrative business and watching Federer dismantle Monfils, we walked over to the excellent Lewinnick Lodge on Pentire Head for dinner -- great food, friendly service, wonderful position and views -- one of surprisingly many excellent dining experiences along this hike. England has certainly come a long, long (long, long...) way gastronomically.

Someone wrote to me commenting how this hike seems much less painful (weather aside) than the H2H... and indeed it is. Shorter hikes on average than on the H2H, with much less up and down, and lighter packs due to the availability of a luggage transfer service, make for a much less strenuous experience (although still quite tiring enough for most of us!). And that is as it should be: this hike was intended to be a walking holiday, whereas the H2H was an expedition. Different beasts, different challenges.

Last note and then I'm going back to sleep (it is the middle of the night, and I couldn't sleep because my room was too hot, because I was too stupid to work out how to open the windows, and hoped the room would cool off but it didn't, so eventually I got the night receptionist and he opened them, so now I'm waiting for the room to cool and it is almost there...). And that's a wrap. :-)

Monday, May 30, 2011

Stage 16 -- Padstow to Porthcothan

Spitting in the morning, clearing to sun and clouds in the afternoon. Many more people than has been usual -- partially due to it being a Bank Holiday Monday, partially because there are many good beaches along this part of the coast, so there are lots of holiday cottages and holidaymakers.

Cliffs not as high as has been typical, but with fascinating forms. Something about the way the rock strata are oriented and their differing hardnesses has produced as succession of narrow inlets along this part of the coast. The process seems to begin with the formation of a deep sea cave at the bottom of a cliff, in which waves erode the roof until it collapses forming a steep sided hole linked by what is now a tunnel to the ocean. The holes are surprisingly big -- as much as 30 meters across, and similarly deep. Further erosion then eventually wears away the rock above the tunnel and the inlet is formed. We saw a couple of these holes... most impressive!

I must also report that the new set of hikers are disturbingly fit... I don't think I'm going to be able to wear them down....

Tonight's B&B is close to the other end of the spectrum from the one we stayed at in Padstow. Coswarth House in Padstow was, together with The Old Rectory in Morwenstowe the nicest place we have stayed... large rooms, recently and elegantly redecorated, comfortable beds, luxurious linen, great showers... etc., etc., etc. Trevemedar Cottage is old, has small rooms and smaller showers (shared of course), wonky floors and stairs, and so on. It is also the only place to stay within an hour in each direction, so we love it ;-).

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Rest day in Padstow

After six straight days of hiking (and 12 days in two weeks) this was much appreciated. Thomas and Suzi left, Thomas (of Thomas and Gabi) and Sally arrived.

Padstow was packed -- Sunday of a bank holiday weekend... I saw more people than I've seen in weeks! Went to see the lobster hatchery, which was interesting, and otherwise did little other than allow my legs to rest.

We are off tomorrow to Porthcothan... about 6 hours... weather predicted to be wonderful!

Just kidding.