Saturday, May 18, 2013

Day 17 -- Polperro to Portwrinkle -- Sat May 18th

Short take: laissez les bons temps rouler! Fine weather, good hiking.

Not too much to report this second to last day of hiking along the South West Coast Path. Sunny, warm, little wind. Mostly cliff-top hiking with a few ups and downs but none that were particularly steep. A few more walkers than we have been seeing, especially around Looe, because of the fine weather and it being a Saturday.

Looe itself was potentially nice but actually a bit tawdry. The potential was given by the estuary of, as our ferryman tongue-in-cheek said, "the mighty River Looe" with sloping hillsides rising beyond the banks on either side, and many old buildings on twisty little streets in the old town center. But in reality it seems the town fathers took the decision a long time ago to cater to a slightly lower class of tourists than perhaps they should have, with caravan parks on the outside of town, too many small bungalows, and too many tourist-oriented shops and other businesses.

We stopped around 1:45 for a light lunch (I had a coffee and a little cake) in a cafe next to a beach, and then continued on to Portwrinkle, arriving around 4:20PM, having taken about an hour less than planned. Without rushing, I hasten to add -- it just seems that we are all pretty fit.

We are staying the night at the Finnygook Inn, a nice old pub in the village of Crafthole, 10 minutes walk up the road from Portwrinkle (there being nothing available in Portwrinkle itself). Gook means ghost, and Finny was apparently a smuggler who betrayed his fellows to Her Majesty's Customs, which so little endeared him to them that he was subsequently murdered, and his ghost is supposed to still haunt the area.

There we found Marcus, Rochelle's husband, who had arrived about an hour earlier, surprisingly chipper for someone who had been travelling for the last 24 hours coming over from Pittsburgh in the States. He'll be hiking with us the rest of the way, and with him the last but one of the hikers has appeared as planned. The last hiker will be our cousin Oliver, who will join us in Ivybridge a few days from now.

Tonight we'll eat here in the inn, and tomorrow we walk to Plymouth, where we'll spend a couple of days seeing stately homes and gardens in the villages around about.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Polperro high tide by night

The props!

View from my window in House on Props


There are worse days and places...

Beautiful hiking today

He's famous!!

Fowey from Polruan ferry

Day 16 -- Fowey to Polperro -- Fri May 17th

Short take: a beautiful day... a happy day.

So, at dinner last night the lucky hikers recounted their day. Basically, it was as good as I imagined that it was, with one difference: they seemed to lose the trail a lot. As one described it, they only looked at the map when they thought that they had gone wrong. And when this happened, as another said, they all looked at the map and came to a democratic decision as to what to do... which was mostly wrong :-). They weren't unhappy, but clearly things didn't run as smoothly as they had done on other days.

I'm just sayin' :-)

This morning I awoke with just a minor soreness in the foot and so I returned to the hike. It was a beautiful day... even nicer (because warmer) than yesterday, and the coast path was a pure delight... going up tall cliffs, down into little valleys where streams ran into the sea across beautiful little beaches, and with almost no signs of human habitation along the way once we left Polruan (the village opposite Fowey across the river, to which we went by a short ferry).

My foot ached a few times, but overall it was fine... with a bit of luck I'll be fine for the rest of the trip.

Polperro is just a gem. A small harbour, tucked in behind a headland, with narrow streets and ancient buildings. Apparently in the summer up to 25000 tourists a day visit... an astounding number... but when we arrived it was fairly quiet. Most of us are staying in an old building called The House on Props (a picture will follow), which may have a vertical wall or a horizontal floor, but if so I haven't seen them yet. It is built partially over the stream that runs into the harbor (hence the props) and right next to the Roman bridge. It is that kind of a place.

We arrived just after 3PM, and since I had a conference call that had just started, I ran upstairs and dialled in... not even changing out of my sweaty hiking gear. With no heating (it is summer, after all!), by the time the two hour call was done I was shivering. A quick shower, a game with Russell and Rochelle, dinner at an excellent local restaurant, and I'm in bed just after 10 writing this... and being thankful for having been able to hike today.

And one last thing -- we said goodbye to Jakob and Aline today... and hope that they enjoyed the hike and our company as much as we enjoyed spending time with them!

Sent from my iPad

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Day 15 -- Mevagissey to Fowey -- Thu May 16th

Short take: a beautiful day... a sad day.

Cool, but sunny most of the day, and next to no wind. A roller-coaster walk along the coast, with only an hour or so in the middle of the day that was less than beautiful. In other words, a nearly perfect hiking day.

Unfortunately, I didn't hike :-(

I was defeated, for the first time in ten years of Swissikes (two, each 2 weeks long), C2C (2 weeks), H2H (91 hiking days), SWCP (4 weeks), H3H (26 hiking days), and now the first half of the CMT, I was unable to hike when others did. A fitting punishment for my stubborn refusal to take meds, perhaps.

As to the hike, you'll have to ask the others. I took a ferry (with Suzi, who kindly offered me company) from Mevagissey to Fowey, sat in a restaurant on the waterfront chatting and watching the world go by, and snoozed for an hour in the afternoon. It would have been a pleasant day... if I hadn't planned to hike.


Sent from my iPad

Day 14 -- Free day in Mevagissey -- Weds May 15th

Short take: errands, gardens, games, and another good dinner.

First thing in the morning we said goodbye to Lidia and Bonnie, who were returning home after 15 days of hiking and sightseeing. Probably needless to say, but they will be missed.

Then I wandered off to the Halloween-themed Mother Boswell's Laundrette (complete with a witch on a broomstick) to do a clothes wash. Easier said than done. First I found that I didn't have any pound coins. One visit to a nearby bank later that was solved. Then the soap dispenser didn't dispense (although it was quite happy to eat my £1.50). There was a number on the wall to call for help... no response. So, I wandered off and found somewhere to buy detergent. Then back to wash the clothes and put them in the dryer. 20p for 10 minutes it said, so I put in two coins and sat down to read. A short time later I realized that it was quiet... too quiet. The dryer wasn't going. More like 2 minutes for 20p. Sigh.

Eventually I made it back to our B&B, rounded up the others (minus Russ & Sally) and we set off for the Lost Gardens of Heligan. I should mention at this point that I was limping... badly. Another gout attack, I'm afraid -- too much rich food over the last several days, probably. I promised myself (again) to start taking the medication against gout as soon as this attack was over. But I wanted to see the gardens, so off I limped.

45 minutes later we arrived at the entrance. The gardens at Helligan fell into ruin as a result of the general impoverishment of the country due to the two world wars (hence "Lost"), and only started to be restored in the 1990s. They are thus a strange mixture of order and disorder. For example, there are many neatly manicured paths where you have to duck under low-hanging rhododendron branches that grew wild in the years of abandonment.

Some things I liked (in particular the Jungle garden, with the largest rhododendrons I have yet seen, and some massive trees), but overall I was a little disappointed. There were at least three reasons for this: for one, yesterday's storm had blown off countless flowers and the azaleas and rhododendrons looked somewhat the worse for ware. For another, the gardens seemed less advances (from a seasonal perspective) than others we have seen (perhaps because they are less well protected). And lastly I had the general impression that the rescue/renovation project was only half-finished. And maybe there's a fourth reason: it would have been difficult for any garden to profoundly impress me after seeing Trewithen two days ago.

Afterwards Russ, Sally, Rochelle and I played a couple of games, then we all had dinner again at the excellent Salamander restaurant, and eventually I limped off back to the B&B for an early bed, hoping that my foot would feel better in the morning.

Sent from my iPad

Greetings from non-hiking family members :-)

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Day 13 -- Portloe to Mevagissey -- Tue May 14th

Short take: awful weather, heroic hiking achievements.

The weather forecast the previous evening hadn't been good, but given its unreliability and tendency to change often, we allowed ourselves to hope for improvement. Alas, by morning it was worse. Rain all day (totalling over an inch... 3cm) and winds peaking as strong gales in the early afternoon. So I laid out the options: taxi, hike, or hike part of the way to one or other of the villages and stopping places along the way and then taxi from there.

First heroic decision: Bonnie, who clearly wasn't overly enthusiastic about hiking in the wind and rain, said that she would do what Lidia did.

Second heroic decision: Lidia, who was as unenthusiastic as Bonnie, said she would nevertheless start the hike and see how things went.

And everyone else decided to do the same, so at 10AM off we went. At first it wasn't too bad... just rain with a little wind, although the slippery trails caused a couple of spills and everyone's boots were soon wet with water streaming down our legs from the rain and the soaked vegetation. But with each half hour the wind strength increased, and when we arrived at the hamlet of Portholland, Lidia and Bonnie decided to call it a day. There were no pubs or stores, but a resident appeared round a corner and they went off with him to arrange a taxi.

Third heroic decision: Suzi decided to continue, despite having had doubts from the outset.

Up and around another couple of headlands with the weather continuing to worsen, and, about an hour and a half after we had started, we arrived at the impressive Caerhays castle. In better conditions we would have stopped for lunch and to look around the gardens or the house, but walking around gardens in the wind and rain didn't appeal, the cafe was shut, there was no way we'd be let inside in our bedraggled and muddy state. Moreover the general mood seemed to be in favor of pushing on. At the last moment Lidia and Bonnie appeared in their taxi and Suzi, coming to her senses, decided to accompany them.

Fourth heroic decision: Aline, despite being cold and wet, decided to continue as the sole female representative (other than the rocket frogs, of course, Sally & Rochelle, who were, as usual, marching out in front).

The wind was very strong around Dodman point, where we walked atop exposed cliffs 120m high, and when we arrived in the village of Gorran Haven around 2PM, I for one was feeling in need of some food. Luckily a little shop was open, with some warm pasties and cakes, and we scarfed them down while sheltering from the rain, which, if anything, was only coming down harder. Seats were offered, but turned down... I think no-one was confident of having the willpower to continue if they got too comfortable.

As we were getting ready to go, Aline started to waver. Her fingers had been numb for a couple of hours, and she had been running to keep up with the rocket frogs, who were setting the pace. Sensibly she decided that she was already pleased with what she had achieved, and went in search of a taxi while the rest of us soldiered on.

Aline's decision turned out to be a good one, since the weather got even worse once we climbed out of Gorran Haven. The wind was so strong that we were literally knocked off the path many times. Fortunately it was blowing from the sea, so when we stumbled, we weren't driven towards the cliff. And the rain became at times hail, striking horizontally with such force as to be quite painful. Russell said it was one of the two worst weather experiences he had had while hiking (the other being on the H2H... and I agree).

Everyone who arrived in Mevagissey at 3:30PM had reason to be proud of their achievement, but the grand prize must go to Rochelle, who, amazingly, hiked the entire way in shorts. Respect!

We were staying in a couple of different B&Bs, so we split up once we arrived, but I suspect most of the others did what I did after arrival: hot shower and then a couple of hours in bed sleeping or otherwise recovering. And then at 7:30PM we met for dinner at the Salamander, an excellent local restaurant, and celebrated noisily until 10, when we all went to bed.

Sent from my iPad

Flora and fauna

Aline & Rochelle oohing and aahing

Jakob overwhelmed by rhododendron

Colour combinations

South lawn at Trewithen

Leaves not flowers

Day 12 -- Free Day in Portloe -- Mon May 13th

Short take: best gardens yet!

We have established a good pattern: our rest days are sunny, our hiking days it rains. And so it was today. In the morning those of us who are so inclined played a game, and I'm not sure what the others did :-). Around lunchtime most of us hopped in a taxi and went to Trewithen House and Gardens near the oddly named village of Probus.

The house has been in the same family for almost 300 years, and the superb gardens were laid out over successively over the last two centuries and are very well cared for. The gardens were, IMHO, the best we have seen so far -- filled with many winding paths, corners and nooks -- clearly designed and laid out with care. Many of the azaleas and rhododendrons were in full bloom, with wonderful colour contrasts and combinations. Huge old beech trees and magnolias, many other interesting plants and shrubs, and a stunning long vista down a lawn from the house. We could have wandered around there for much longer than we did.

The house was a funny combination: grey and unprepossessing from the outside, warm and interesting on the inside. Built in the early 18thC, it is still lived in and only open for a few hours each week. Our guide for the hour long tour, who was only a little younger than the house, gave us history and anecdotes, and the rooms, furniture, paintings, etc. rewarded closer inspection.

Afterwards it was back to Portloe for dinner. Thomas and Suzi arrived just before we ordered, and so there were 10 of us around the table for a noisy and pleasurable meal, marred only by the desserts in which the otherwise stellar cook had put salt instead of sugar. Amusingly, it took a while for us to notice... which shows how much we were enjoying one another's company!

Sent from my iPad

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Day 11 -- St. Mawes to Portloe -- Sun May 12th

Short take: nice walk, light rain.

The day dawned grey and it felt like it would probably rain some, but despite this morale was high. Fresh meat (i.e., new hikers) will do that to a group :-). We were now eight, of which for five this was the first day.

We crossed another arm of the Fal ria in a small outboard boat and were dropped off at the hamlet of Place just before 10AM. We walked around a lovely little manor house and looked in at its church (OK, perhaps the house wasn't that small) -- a little gem! Wood-beamed roof with cleverly designed and integrated skylights along the center ridge, candles in chandeliers and ancient memorial plaques and burial stones... one of the nicest I've ever seen.

Then we started the walk in earnest, going around St. Anthony's head with its lighthouse and WWII-era artillery emplacements, and walking up and down along a varied and pretty coast. After a short while a light rain began to fall, which continued for most of the rest of the day. The only time it got a little heavier was while we were sitting in the atmospheric Plume of Feathers pub in the village of Portscatho having lunch, so my bribes of the weather gods must have worked in a small way.

We saw a deer, some cormorants, a herd of madly mooing cows, and a half dozen of the thus far very rare hikers along the Coast Path (I don't know where they all are this year... we saw many more two years ago on the Northern section of the trail). Other than that, it was all lovely coastline, culminating in the high cliffs of Nare's Head about an hour before Portloe.

We came down into the village about 5:45PM, some of us pleasantly tired, some of us (including Rochelle and Sally, who I baptized the rocket frogs due to their speed and neon green clothing) seemingly as fresh as they were first thing in the morning. Nobody had any particular physical complaints, and our hiking time was about what was predicted (the rain having inhibited Bonnie's unique stop/start/wander slow-motion hiking style :-).

The village is a single street of mostly old houses in a steep sided little valley parallel to and behind coastal cliffs... it looks a little forgotten by time. Six peeled off to stay in the Ship Inn, and Lidia and I continued another 200m up the road to our nice little B&B.

After showers we went back to the inn, meeting the rest of the group for a pleasantly raucous and good dinner. Heard a funny tale from Sally that I'll recount here. After cleaning up they came down for a drink in the bar. While sitting there an old and somewhat odd-looking gent came in, walked by their table, and said to Sally, "Hello Beautiful." He then turned to Russell and said, "Hello Ugly." And Russ, without a moment's hesitation replied in a cheery voice, "Hello Twin!" The guy was speechless. I cracked up... funniest story I've heard in a long while. Nice group we have here.

Sent from my iPad

Under rhododendron trees

Two kids in a tree

Monday, May 13, 2013

Ship in Fal river

Much bigger than it looks here!

Cupressus macrocarpa

Pinus patula

Cryptomeria Japonica with Eric and Claudia

Colours at Trelissick

Day 10 -- free day in St. Mawes -- Sat May 11th

Short take: goodbyes, hellos, and Trelissick Garden.

We returned from our walk to Saint Just in Roseland yesterday evening to find that Rochelle had arrived. A friend of ours from Pittsburgh, she was the first of our American contingent, the others being Russell and Sally, who arrived just before dinner, and Rochelle's husband Marcus, who will join us in Portwrinkle in a week's time.

Despite, or perhaps because of, jet lag, all three were in fine form and there was much laughter around the dinner table. One of the nice things about this sort of hike is the shifting constellations of people as some come, others go, and all get to know one another. It is a pleasure to observe and participate in.

The following morning we said goodbye to Franz and Ingrid, old friends, indefatigable hikers, level-headed in all situations, and the one a superb player of games, the other a conversationalist who can approach Lidia-esque levels of variety and stamina ;-). They'll be missed!

Then we went out to catch the 10:15 ferry to Trelissick. Or tried to... unsuccessfully: it had been cancelled. So we called the water taxi, an inflatable Zodiac with an impressive looking outboard and 4 double motorcycle-like seats, put on life jackets, and took off... at times almost literally. The wind had been blowing all night, and even in the protected waters of the Carrick Roads the waves were at times 3 feet high, so at high speed it was exhilarating. What the ferry would have done in 30 minutes we did in perhaps 10.

Trelissick Garden was delightful. More for its trees than its plants, although the latter included some more azalea explosions and amazing rhododendrons. But it was the former, and in particular a huge Cryptomeria Japonica in the middle of the main lawn that impressed the most. And the location, on a pensinula with the Fal River on one side and a flooded valley on the other was also dramatic.

The Fal River and the Carrick Roads are, like the Helford River described on Day 6, not really a river but instead a ria -- a flooded valley system. As a result the river and side "creeks" are much deeper than you would expect when looking at their width. Because of this they have been much used as a place to park big ships, and this is still done at times today. It is a strange experience to come around a corner of a woodland path and see through the trees a short distance away in a small channel a massive vessel... and we were fortunate that one was anchored in the Fal just off of Trewithen.

Afterwards we took the ferry back to St. Mawes, greeted our next new arrivals, Aline & Jakob, friends of ours from Munich, played an inaugural round of Royalty (Russ, Sally, Rochelle and I), and had an excellent dinner at the Watch House restaurant in the village. Then it was off to bed with admonitions to all and sundry to be up on time in the morning, ready for our 6.5 hour hike to Portloe.

Sent from my iPad