Friday, June 10, 2011

Stage 26 -- Lamorna Cove to Penzance

A short hike, mostly in rain, but ending in sun.

So, that's it: one month along the SWCP completed pretty much as planned. The SWCP goes on from Penzance along the southern coasts of Cornwall and Devon to Poole but for me that will have to wait for another year.

I feel... like I could continue hiking but I don't feel unhappy to stop. I don't feel any great sense of accomplishment... perhaps because on the SWCP the journey really was the goal. The beautiful coastline, the lovely villages and towns, the conviviality of good friends, the excellent food and mostly excellent places to stay... all of these were parts of the journey. And on the other hand there is nothing particularly special about Penzance as a goal... even from the perspective of the SWCP, for which Penzance is one town of many along the way.

So, just as each day's hike along the SWCP was lacking the preeminent goal of a summit or a pass, so too did the SWCP (or the part of it I hiked this year) lack a preeminent goal and concomitant sense of achievement upon completion. But on the other hand, here each day's hike was a richer and more varied experience than a day in the Alps because the coast changes continually and thus the day is full of many different beautiful vistas, whereas in the Alps hikes are usually much more static -- often you'll have one view as you climb, and one other as you descend. In sum, very different experiences, and for me each has its attraction.

The journey was the goal... I like that. And I liked this hike too.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Stage 25 -- Sennen Cove to Lamorna

Lots of up and down today, a few light showers, ending in sun, sauna, drinks by the (heated pool), in short the Lamorna Spa experience!

As usual we walked a little faster than planned -- 5.5 hours instead of 6. Also as usual, the coast was beautiful -- lots of natural arches and boulder stacks today. We had a picnic lunch on a headland overlooking the English Channel... yes, we passed Land's End this morning. We watched a hawk hovering 8 meters away for a couple of minutes until it became aware of its audience and moved on. And around 3:30PM we arrived at The Cove at Lamorna, our luxury spa accommodation for the evening.

I know what you are thinking: pretty cushy, this hiking life. Well, not so fast. Russell limps in the morning and has swollen knees after each hike (as does Rochelle). Thomas takes a couple of Voltarene pills (diclofenac) each morning to manage some tendinitis in one foot. My buttock pain (probably due to a pinched nerve) resurfaced today. That's a walking wounded tally of over 50%. Perhaps it is just as well that tomorrow is the last day... and a short one at that.

What else to tell? Well, there's the new tongue-twister I came up with on the hike today. It goes like this.... You know the Cornish bird called the Chough? Well, choughs could have ticks, right? And ticks are tough and ticks are chicks (at least, the blood-sucking ones are... hmmm, just like mosquitoes... there's a lesson here somewhere, but anyway back to the mainline), and if a chough tick had stuff it might keep it in a trough (hang with me here with the vernacular pronunciation), and if that tick were a witch, she might keep a magic wand with which to do tricks in that trough... in which case you'd have a Tough Chough Tick Chick's Stuff Trough's Trick Stick!

As I said, maybe it's just as well the hike is coming to an end ;-).

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Stage 24 -- Pendeen to Sennen Cove

It poured with rain at various times during the night, and the forecast for today was showers, so although the morning started off sunny, I was a little leery of committing to a long hiking day. Instead, therefore, of the optional visit to Chun Quoit and Castle in the morning, we decided to head towards Sennen Cove directly after breakfast.

It was probably a good decision, since although we saw numerous showers, both ahead of and behind us, we only caught a couple of edges... not enough for me to put my raingear on.

The coast was at times spectacularly rugged today, and the path at times almost Alpine in character... which didn't appeal at all to Rochelle, who has a little vertigo. But with great focus and determination (and more than a few groans and curses!) she persevered and gets today's Good Soldier award. Not sure how much of the coast she saw, however!

One funny thing along the way: on the headland of Cape Cornwall (which is where the Atlantic currents split to either head up to the Bristol Channel and the Irish Sea, or down into the English Channel), there is a monument that looks like an old-style Ketchup bottle. For a good reason: it was built by Heinz (and I think the headland was at the same time also purchased for the National Trust by Heinz) on the occasion of the company's 100th anniversary. Since Heinz is based in Pittsburgh, PA (USA) and Marcus and Rochelle live in Pittsburgh, it was an amusing coincidence.

Sennen Cove is just before Land's End and very nice -- a lovely broad beach and some good restaurants, including the Old Success Inn, where we are staying and had lunch, and the Beach Restaurant, where we had dinner. In the afternoon some of us played games, others relaxed and read or wandered around the village.

Second to last day tomorrow... and the last serious hike (probably around 6 hours) since we'll only need a couple of hours to get to Penzance on Friday. A month on the trails goes by quickly!

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Stage 23 -- Treen to Pendeen

Sun, clouds, showers... twice, then sun. Breezy. Short hike (3.5 hours) then the afternoon at the very interesting Geevor tin mine.

First, a couple of errata:

o the pub yesterday, the Tinner's Arms, was in fact 13th Century, and was built to provide accommodation for the masons who built the next door church of St. Sennara (which we looked around after lunch, and which was charming).

o the water-powered ore crushing device at the Blue Hills tin mine near St. Agnes that I referred to as a beam engine is nothing of the sort. I'm not sure what its proper name is, but it isn't a beam engine.

Dinner at the Gurnard's Head Inn was excellent, as were the rooms and breakfast, and we set off this morning in good spirits. Such good spirits indeed that we immediately took a side trip down the Gurnard's Head itself -- a promontory that from the side looks like the head of a Gurnard, a type of fish. We, all except for Rochelle, who has a touch of vertigo, went along the Striding Edge-like spine and then did some impromptu rock climbing onto the top of headland some 60 meters or so above the sea... whereupon it promptly started to rain. So we put on our raingear and walked back to the main coast path... and by the time we got there the rain had stopped and the sun was shining again. Clearly the Gurnard prefers to be left alone!

We got to Treen and the Geevor mine around 1:30PM. It's an interesting area, this extreme end of Cornwall -- much less well kept and twee than most of the coastal areas we have been walking through. There are mine workings all over the place and it has a distinctly blue-collar feel to it. I don't think that it has ever quite recovered from the end of mining -- no other economic activity appears to have sprung up to provide a new basis for the local economy. There are no large beaches to attract tourists or the builders of second homes. The land is granite, which weathers to an unattractive dark grit, and there are few trees. All in all, and especially in the rain, it feels a little like Newcastle, the depressed post-coal mining, post-ship building, town where I grew up.

The mine was fascinating. They have a room-sizede three-dimensional model of the shafts and tunnels and stopes that were mined in the immediate surrounds of Treen... stunning. There must have been two hundred shafts, with a myriad of underground levels and tunnels, up to 600 meters deep and stretching over 1.5 kilometers out under the sea. All of this dug through granite, following seams of tin that in this area were rarely more than 1 meter in width. And the model is almost certainly incomplete -- there has been underground mining going on in the area for a thousand years or more, and when a mine was closed because of depth or water or inadequate quality or quantity of ore, it was more often than not forgotten.

A good example of this was the mine we went into and spent a half an hour underground in -- the Wheal Mexico. It was dug out around 300 years ago, closed, forgotten, and then rediscovered by chance in the late 20th Century shortly before the Geevor mine closed. There must be thousands more like it.

It is sobering to think of the conditions under which those early miners labored. Working with hand tools, in the hard granite of this part of Cornwall they could drive a tunnel (sized to their own bodies -- which makes them pretty narrow and low for someone like me) less than a foot a day, their working area lit only by a tallow candle or two. At least they were largely spared the problems of explosive gases and cave-ins that plague coal-mines, but it was tough work and the life expectancy of a miner was around 45 years up until the beginning of the 20th Century.

One last interesting statistic: after the collapse of the tin and copper prices due to the development of alluvial (i.e., cheap to mine) deposits elsewhere in the world in the mid 1800's, 20% of the male population of Cornwall emigrated each decade for four decades in a row... a higher rate of exodus than Ireland. I think that level of emigration marks an area and a people for a long, long time.

Well, enough of mining. The sounds of boule outside -- yes, there is a boule court here for some reason, and Russell and Sally despite wind and intermittent rain have managed to convince Thomas and Marcus and Gabi to play with them for the last couple of hours -- have faded, so dinner must be imminent. And while I'm not expecting a gourmet meal like last night, the pub apparently prides itself on its curries... Cornish cuisine at its best ;-).

Monday, June 06, 2011

Stage 22 -- St. Ives to Treen

Early morning museum visit in St. Ives, followed by a pleasant walk along the coast to Zennor, lunch, then a last hour to the Gurnard's Head Inn at Treen. Very nice weather once again!

Everyone is in good spirits today. The hike was relatively short (at least at our pace :-), but at around 4 hours long enough to leave with the impression that we had done something. Most minor ailments were improved or had disappeared over the rest day and energy levels were higher. Just a great day.

The museum in St. Ives was pretty interesting. They had some working models of mine equipment that were fascinating, and some pictures of pilchard fishing that were stunning. The amounts of fish that were landed back then were astounding -- they had 100,000 hogsheads of fish at a time in the St. Ives cellars... and each hogshead held 3,000 fish that were kept and pressed for 6 weeks before being shipped. Those are massive numbers....

Lots of people on the trails today... more than we have seen before. The stretch from Zennor to St. Ives seems to be much travelled. The pub in Zennor where we had lunch -- the 14th Century (?) Tinner's Arms -- was very good, and tonight's dinner in The Gurnard's Head promises to be excellent... #1 Dining Pub in Cornwall a couple of years ago.

Yup, we are having fun....

Rest day in St. Ives

Nice place, St. Ives, particularly when the weather is as fine as it has been the last few days. The little beaches scattered around the headland are charming, the tangled little backstreets the same. It feels, despite the presence of a fair number of weekend visitors, peaceful. A good place for a rest day.

Dinner in The Loft restaurant just along from our B&B the evening of our arrival was excellent, with the added bonus of three nests of baby seagulls on wall- and roof-tops visible about 15 feet away outside the window next to our table. Cute little speckled beasties with stubby winglets... Sally in particular could hardly take her eyes off of them.

I thought, however, less positively of the species at 4:15 the following morning when a group of adults greeted the dawn outside my open window! Not that I was sleeping (I had once again made the mistake of having coffee after dinner), but they made such a terrible racket that even repose was impossible. I got up to try to shoo them away... but they just stood, two feet from the open window, and looked at me. I did not have the sense that appropriate respect was being paid... so I went back to bed and eventually they stopped, and some time later, the coffe finally metabolized, I got a couple of hours of sleep.

The nights are, even when coffee is not a factor, short here at this time of the year. It is still light after 10PM, and dawn breaks as said around 4:15. Made me think of growing up in Newcastle, 350 miles or more north of here, where at the solstice you could still read outside towards midnight and it started to brighten again around 3. One paid for it in winter of course.

In the morning some of us walked around St. Ives, visiting the Tate (a uninspiring set of temporary exhibits in an uninspiring building) and failing to visit the local museum (closed on Sundays... but we'll go before the hike on Monday). Russ and Sally volunteered to do laundry for anyone who needed it in the local laundromat. And a few errands were run, phone calls made, email answered and so on.

In the afternoon we watched Federer conspire with Nadal to lose the French Open, Gabi, Thomas' wife arrived, and then we all went out for another nice dinner in a 14th Century pub down on the quay.

Nice place, St. Ives.