Saturday, May 04, 2013

A long way still to go!

Gorse and rocks

The Coast Path

Mount St Michael

Day 2 -- Marazion to Porthleven -- Fri May 3rd

Short take: the best laid plans of mice and men go oft astray. This was a day that started off well, but then....

After a leisurely five star breakfast at our excellent B&B (the St. Michael's), we go down to the foreshore to catch a ferry over to St. Michael's Mount (the tide not being low enough to allow us to walk across the causeway). The weather is cool, with sun and clouds, and a little wind. The plan for the day is to see the Mount in the morning, then walk a short distance along the Coast Path to Perranuthnoe for lunch, and then we'll have about four hours of walking to do in the afternoon... which is more than I'd usually schedule, but the Mount only opens at 10:30, so a late start on the hike is unavoidable.

First delay: it is 9:50 but the ferries don't start running until 10. No biggy. We'll still have plenty of time to buy tickets, walk up to the castle, and enjoy the views before going in at 10:30. At 10 we tootle over and... second delay: we are informed that the ticket office doesn't open until 10:30. This is a little more problematic, but still we are only talking 10-15 minutes net delay. No reason for elevated blood pressure.

We buy our tickets and walk up to the castle. The walk and the views are impressive; the former because it hammers home the age of the place with higgledy-piggledy stones and steps, hugely eroded by centuries of weather and millions of pilgrims and their latter-day copycats (tourists). The Mount became a stop on the pilgrimage route from Ireland a thousand years ago, it being safer to walk across the Cornish peninsula rather than to sail around it, and the Benedictine Abbey on the Mount (subsidiary to Mont Saint Michel in France), some of whose walls are incorporated into the current castle, was founded to provide food and shelter to them.

Physically, the castle is one of the most dramatic buildings around, and its location on the top of a steep-sided granite tor just offshore surrounded by the grand sweep of Mount's Bay is absolutely stunning. It has been owned by the same family since around 1660, the St. Aubyns, and as Bonnie pointed out in call to Madeleine later in the day, their two sons are as yet unmarried (eliciting a response of "Anyway...!" followed by a change of subject :-).

After walking through the castle, we come out to find that the wind has picked up and it is pretty chilly. So we trot back down to the ferry docks (the causeway is even further underwater as it is now high tide -- tides in this part of Cornwall are normally almost 5 meters (15 feet)) and... no Claudia and Eric. I do a quick circuit of the restaurants and gift shops, but don't find them. And no mobile phone network either, so I can't call them. Perhaps they just took a little longer in the castle. So we find a shelter and wait. And wait. 20 minutes later I notice that Ingrid is using her phone... she has network access... so we send them an SMS. On their way, they say... and five minutes later we see them jumping into a ferry (they didn't see us in our shelter). So we hop into the next ferry... and wait for another 10 minutes until it is full.

By the time we start walking, it is about 12:40... we are almost an hour behind where I hoped we would be. But walking warms us up, and about 40 minutes later we stop for lunch at a little cafe. A side note: here's another example of the improvement of the quality of food in England -- when we ask for salt and pepper, they give us sea salt and cracked peppercorns in little bowls from which we take delicate pinches. However, food service is another question. Six of us are served almost immediately... but the other three have to wait almost a half an hour and so we aren't able to leave until about 2:15PM.

By this time I'm definitely feeling antsy. If we hike at a reasonable pace and if the Coast Path doesn't have too many ups and downs, we'll get there in good time for dinner at 7PM... but those are big "ifs". So I lay out the situation to the others and intimate (OK, it was a bit stronger than that), that we should walk at a brisk pace. Hah. Bonnie doesn't do a brisk pace. Not that she couldn't if she wanted to, but Bonnie is a free spirit and... she just didn't seem to want to.

By the time we get to Pra Sands, which is perhaps 40% of the way to Porthlevan, it is almost 4:15 and time, I decide, for an "executive decision". Those who don't want to run the rest of the way (only a slight exaggeration) should take a taxi -- six of nine choose to do so, and Franz, Mel, and I continue at high speed, arriving, exhausted from the effort, about 6:10. I'd guess we were hiking about 50-75% faster than we had been doing... so the executive decision was a Good Thing.

One shower and change of clothes later, and we walk into the Ship Inn for dinner, to be confronted by a heaving mass of local citizenry, drinking and talking at the tops of their voices. Two thoughts occur to us: that this must be a great place, closely followed by, where the hell are we going to sit? I tell the bargirl that we have a reservation for nine and she looks at me blankly. So I try with the sharper looking barboy. He looks in a book, gets a panicked expression, and runs out the back door. Ten minutes later we are shown to an empty room in the building next door. Bonnie, who is a social soul and who has been wandering around tasting the ales (by drinking out of other people's glasses :-), almost cries. And when the rest of us realize that the temperature in the room is almost 30 degrees colder than it was in the bar next door, we feel like joining her.

But there is a fireplace, with wood and paper stacked next to it, so we order food and drink and Lidia and Bonnie light a fire. Ummm... try to light a fire. The wood is green and there is no kindling. The food arrives slowly (the drinks have to be fetched from the bar), and throughout the evening various groups try to get the fire going... without much success. The only result appears to be having dried the wood somewhat, but even that questionable achievement is rendered pointless by the owner's comment at the end of the evening: namely that they weren't planning on lighting the fire again until the autumn, because it was too warm.

Shivering, we walk back to our inn, arriving to find a party in full swing downstairs, and thoughtfully provided earplugs on the bedside tables.

The best laid plans of mice and men....

Sent from my iPad

Thursday, May 02, 2013

And now a camelia!

And now for a rhododendron!

More azalea goodness

Hallucinogenic azaleas

Where are we?

Day 1 -- Mousehole to Marazion -- Thu May 2nd

We are all sunburned. Yup, the weather gods have seen fit to bless us with a wonderful beginning to the hike -- sunny pretty much all day, comfortable termperatures, no wind. On top of that, two very nice gardens were visited, the first cream tea was consumed, and we saw dolphins in the sea this morning. Yup, a good day.

Backing up a bit... last night's dinner was very good -- another gourmet experience in Cornwall -- and everyone was up bright and early this morning. We hiked up out of Mousehole... and promptly got lost. Well, not lost exactly, more like unable to find the way... a theme that was repeated a number of times during the day.

You see, I was trying to navigate using minor paths on my (high quality) map... but the map is indeed not the territory, and in this case Cornish farmers appear to have decided that common law public right of ways are a nuisance and to be ignored. Paths and even field boundaries just didn't exist in reality where they were indicated on the map. So, we did some zig-zagging and a little back-tracking, and probably walked about 25% further than expected. But it was a beautiful day, so nobody was particularly perturbed.

We reached our first garden, Trewidden, at around 11:15 instead of 10:30, and walked around it for about an hour and a half. Some absolutely monster magnolias (in several cases the largest in Britain), beautiful camellias and rhododendrons, the occasional hallucinogenic splash of azaleas, and a dell full of tree ferns that would not have looked out of place in a dinosaur movie.

Then we walked on to Trengwainton, arriving at about 2:30, and went straight into their "Best Cafe in Cornwall, 2010!"... and very good it was too. The aforementioned cream tea having been devoured, we walked through their gardens. Absolutely lovely... more "stately" than Trewidden, as befitted the superb residence that we saw from about 50 meters away across a formal lawn. And with a couple of stunning views down over the ha-ha (look it up :-) down to the sea. We decided that if we really had to, we could live there.


By the time we were done it was going on 5PM and we decided to take transport to Marazion rather than walking and arriving just before dinner. And anyway, this was what I'd planned. One bus ride and one taxi ride later, and we were in Marazion, checking into our friendly B&B. Dinner will be in a local pub and I'm not expecting there to be much unhappiness around the table tonight!

PS Forgot to mention: Mel's limit for gardens in one per day, so he and Jan walked from Trengwainton to Marazion after lunch, arriving 10 minutes before us. The tide was out, so most of the way from Penzance they walked barefoot along the sand... also not bad!

PPS It will be difficult to choose a couple of photos to post later this evening... there were just too many beautiful images today.

Sent from my iPad

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Mousehole humour!

Mousehole harbour (tide out)

Lidia and Bonnie in the train

Day 0 -- Arrival in Mousehole, Thu May 1st

Just a short note because (as planned) we didn't actually do any walking today. We are (almost) all in Mousehole at the delightful Old Coastguard Hotel (the exceptions being Franz and Ingrid, who are coming in on a ferry from the Scilly Isles about now). Eric & Claudia & Bonnie & Lidia & I all arrived on the same train to Penzance around 3PM, took taxis to the hotel, and found here Mel & Jan.

After a pot of tea we walked off to Mousehole harbor along the Coast Path (all of about 100m) and spent a couple of hours wandering through the streets and along the quays and getting to know one another. I have a couple of photos giving an impression of the village and the villagers' humor that I'll post after this.

Dinner is in 30 minutes, and I'll be expected to explain tomorrow's schedule (and no doubt to defend it against change requests ;-), so I'll sign off for now. Tomorrow we'll see two gardens, walk a few hours, and at the end of the afternoon arrive in Marazion opposite the beautiful and atmospheric Mount St. Michael!

Sent from my iPad