The Lies Told by Waterproof Garments: South West Coast Path Day 19

St Ives to Pendeen

35,000 steps

It’s been nearly six months since I completed section five of the Path. Nearly half a year on, the sense of living in a work of fiction has only grown stronger. The US president hasn’t yet blown us all up, but it appears that the Russians are trying to kill spies on the streets of our quaint old cities with illegal nerve poisons.

On a personal note, my science fiction love story, Fifty-One has finally been published (the world has so far managed to contain its excitement). And the UK is still leaving the European Union, as I expect to be the case for the rest of my life (or until it starts joining it again, whichever is sooner).

I’ve reached the point on the Path that is as far away from London as I can get. And the journey to Cornwall is tiresome. The train takes us to Plymouth, where we are shepherded onto a bus, for the rest of the journey to the tip of Cornwall. It should take five hours, but it takes eight. I’m sure the Famous Five used to get here quicker.

But the journey is made more bearable by having company – my friend the Professor is back for another stretch of the Path. And all is well in the morning, as we set out early. The sky is the colour of a baby’s eyes, the sea is like a Delft pottery plate. The morning air is fresh and clean, and there is a palpable spring in our step.

I checked the guidebook over breakfast. It says subtly that the stretch from St Ives to Pendeen Watch is:

“one of the more difficult stages of the route. A rough and remote stretch, often along narrow and sometimes vague paths…If you have plenty of time and the weather’s good, this is one of the most spectacular parts of the …Path. If you try to rush it, and suffer poor weather, it becomes an arduous treadmill.”

The weather forecast is fine for the morning, but with wind and rain in the afternoon. We don’t let this worry us. How much can you rely on weather forecasts on the Atlantic coast?

The Morning’s To-Do List

The Path takes us out of St Ives and onto a low headland, and then up and down an increasingly challenging series of promontories. It’s about six miles to Zennor, but the Path is rugged and uneven, with sections where it is necessary to scramble over boulders and great slabs of granite. Even where the Path is not too rough, it is slippery with mud, which slows us down. The views are fabulous, but our progress becomes very slow and arduous.

The Path becomes a little uneven….

As the morning goes on, clouds begin to curdle in the sky, and the day becomes cooler and more windy. There are seals in the sea at Porthzennor Cove.

As usual with the Professor, the morning passes with us musing on a bunch of unconnected topics. These include:

  • Plato and Socrates (and how little it turns out we know about either – and others in the Monty Python Philosophers Song)
  • Nan Shepherd, a wroter whom I had never heard of, but she turns out to be on the Scottish £5 note
  • the way it always seems that the Path is going uphill
  • the surprising fact that rainfall in Cornwall tends to be lower in March than in July.

This last becomes a cruel joke. Past Zennor, around noon, the faint breath of moisture on the wind thickens into rain, and soon we’re walking in full over-trousers, and cagoules with hoods up. The landscape dissolves into a grey-green blur and for the last half hour before lunch the walk is an arduous wet slog.

At last, we turn inland and spend a very welcome hour in the Gurnards Head Hotel, where we dry out, and have lunch. Sadly, after lunch the weather forecast lets us down – by being completely accurate. The rain has not eased during our break, in fact it has settled in more firmly. We set off along the road, and soon return to the coast path.

The rain is now constant – sweeping in cold sheets across the hillside. As we continue our interminable trudge, it becomes clear that none of my garments is truly waterproof. The rain soaks through my allegedly waterproof trousers, and soaks me to my underpants. It seeps inside my cagoule, which until now has pretended to be waterproof, so that a wet, cold patch spreads across my back beneath the pressure of my rucksack.

I’m wearing gloves, but they simply soak up the rain, until large drops of water flick from my fingers when I move my hands.

The Actual Path – Actually a River

After a couple of hours of this, I confess that some of the joy goes out of the walk. Everything is cold and wet. We pick our way through a sea of mud and slippery stones. The Professor falls over a couple of times (making me smugly glad I have a stick to preserve my balance).

Every part of the Path that is not flat has become a stream. The flat bits are thick with mud or else submerged beneath dirty pools.

At last, we turn inland and struggle up a gushing field path to the road at a village called Morvah. A gallery with a cafe is defiantly closed, and we hobble along the road for what seems hours, until we reach Pendeen.

Arriving at the North Inn, we are ushered into our small chalet behind the pub. We almost weep with relief. There is hot tea and a hot shower, and I find a few garments in my sodden rucksack that have remained dry in their plastic bags. Everything else – including the rucksack itself – is soon hanging from a radiator or the back of a chair, in the hope that it will dry by the morning.

The treacherous weather forecast has now changed, indicating more rain tomorrow.


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