Corn Buntings and Surfers – South West Coast Path Day 15

Mawgan Porth to Newquay, 21,000 steps

To be honest, it’s really Day Fourteen and a Half. A short hike to Newquay, a long journey home.

2017-04-03 08.14.18I set off just after nine, already wearing shorts in the brisk morning sun. I climb the Path out of Mawgan Porth, making my way around Berryl’s Point. The sky is the watery blue of a baby’s eyes and there are very few clouds.

The Path doesn’t want things to be too straightforward, recommencing its switch-backing in and out of the crenellated shoreline. Luckily, I’m more rested than yesterday afternoon, and I find it less annoying.

I soon reach the broad expanse of Watergate Bay, a long beach backed by modern holiday developments. From the clifftop, I watch half a dozen surfers in the water. I’ve never surfed, and (like recognising birdsong) it may now be too late to learn. I’m not too bothered; I don’t mind the water, the cold, the wet-suits and waves. It’s just that the actual surfing looks a bit duller than surfer dude publicity would have you believe.

The guys in the water spend fifteen minutes lying on their boards, paddling out through the breakers, often making very slow progress. Eventually, a wave meets their mysterious and exacting criteria and they mount their boards to ride it for five or six seconds before falling off. Then repeat.

2017-04-03 10.00.03I walk down to the beach and have a coffee sitting on a rock, watching the first surf school of the day go through their training. Then I climb back up to the clifftop.

The guide book says this is an easy stretch, but with “fine cliffs, little headlands and rugged coves.” This is true, although Newquay is already visible along the coast from the first headland, and the surroundings become increasingly urban as I get nearer to the town.

There are signs on field fences, telling me that corn buntings are nesting. Maybe the auctioneer bird yesterday was a corn bunting. I wish I knew these things.

2017-04-03 11.24.24

It’s late morning when I descend into Porth Cove, past a pitch and putt course. The scenic Coast Path has faded out, gone from my life for a few more months. Half an hour more, across increasingly built-up coastal bluffs, and that’s that: I’m in Newquay, suddenly surrounded by Domino’s Pizzas, Bargain Booze, numerous tattoo parlours and a 24-Hour “Surf Hotel”. Newquay is a reminder that this country, for all that it retains some glorious countryside, has a lot of towns outside London that are looking shabby. There are some venerable Victorian churches and grand (but faded) hotel facades, but it’s drowning in a sea of tat.

The walking is over, but it still feels a long way home. On the single car train to Par I listen to music on my headphones and gaze blankly out of the window. I’ve had enough of solitary coastal walking for a while. I feel scourged, drained. I see a single magpie swoop over a field of rape. It makes me feel sad, and eager to be home.

I listen to Kate Bush on the journey, from her album, ‘Aerial’.

"We tire of the city
We tire of it all
We long for just something more

No one, no one is here
We stand in the Atlantic
We become panoramic
The sky's above our heads
The water's round our legs"

When I finally reach home, I check the South West Coast Path website. In arriving at Newquay, I have so far walked 183 miles, making it as far as the website envisages you reaching after the second day of week three. It has taken me a year.


If I keep up this excellent progress, I look forward to arriving in Poole some time in the summer of 2020.


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