Padstow to Mawgan Porth (32,000 steps)
Padstow is a shock, after the vigorous solitude and scenic beauty of the walk so far. I am in another world: Holidaymaker Cornwall turned up to eleven. Ice creams, pasty shops, buckets and spades, crowded pavements and car parks. I suddenly feel very conspicuous and out of place in my muddy boots and trousers, with my wind-blown hair and my rucksack and stick.
I adapt, of course. A shower, tea, and clothes that don’t smell have a transforming effect. By happy chance, my football team are on the television this evening. I find a seat in the Golden Lion and pass a splendid couple of hours watching Reading beat Leeds. There are a surprising number of Leeds fans in Padstow (or at least in the Golden Lion), but they are friendly enough.
I am up and away early. I head west out of Padstow, initially along the road. My plan is to pick up a cross-field footpath that the map shows will take me into Trevone, cutting off a mile or so of the Path around the headland. I don’t feel too guilty: I saw a lot of the Camel estuary yesterday, from the other side. True, I will miss a closer look at the Doom Bar, the legendary sandbar downstream from Padstow, which has sunk many ship. But, on the other hand, I have already sunk many of the beers named after it.
“On foot everything stays connected…one lives in the whole world rather than in interiors built up against it…When you give yourself to places, they give you yourself back.”
– Rebecca Solnit, ‘Wanderlust’
Today’s walking is quieter, more reflective, than hitherto. The Path has calmed down, lulling me into something of a walking trance. There are no extremes of terrain or weather, and fewer prominent landmarks. I have lost the freshness of the first two days and I plod along with a mind strangely emptied. Walking is supposed to be good for thinking, and I make occasional efforts to prod my mind into a productive track; think about the next scene of the book I’m working on, flesh out the structure of a new story. But within minutes my thoughts drift away and I’m stolidly planting one foot in front of the next, listening to the rhythm of my breathing, as mindful as a hiking robot. It’s a day without much in the way of profound thought; instead, my attention flits from one small observation to another.
I walk along a two-lane road, passing occasional cottages. There are very few cars this early on a Sunday morning. The day is already warming up, the sun emerging from behind scattered clouds in a sky the colour of elegant Delft pottery. After about ten minutes, I find the footpath. It heads across a field that looks like day five of the Battle of the Somme. I decide to walk a bit further on the road.
I rejoin the Path at Trevone, a small village by a tidy bay. I see three young girls run into the sea in swimsuits. No wetsuits! I am seriously impressed. I have been in the sea on this coast on April. I thought I would never warm up again. And I was wearing a wetsuit.
There are more people in the sea at Harlyn Beach, mainly surfers. A camper van is parked with its open back to the sea. As I pass, I am greeted by a young man and woman lying in the back of the van, elbows on the sill, coffee cups in hand. They appear still to be in bed.
Further on, the Path runs along the beach for nearly 400 yards, following the high water line. Since the tide is in I have to scramble over rocks to avoid getting wet feet. I stop to take off my fleece. I am tee-shirted for the first time on the walk. After the miserable wet winter of the Tintagel to Port Isaac afternoon, I seem to have leaped within 48 hours into summer, bypassing spring.
At Mother Ivey’s Bay, I turn inland through a caravan site. It’s my last short cut, I promise. I wonder who Mother Ivey was, and whether she knew Quin and Isaac. There’s a sign at the entrance, fiercely insisting that the holiday park is ‘Family owned and family run, for families’. As if to confirm this, I hear the sounds of a typical family Sunday morning as I walk beside the fence. A small girl bangs on a caravan door and shouts, “Let me in, I need a poo!”
I stop at Porthcovan for a pasty and coffee at the beach cafe. This is the end of the guide book’s recommended walk from Padstow, and it’s only midday, so I must be motoring.
The coastline is gentler and tamer than before, although still attractive. But inland there are more caravan parks. And increasing numbers of dogs. Many Cornish beaches have dog bans from Easter to October. I get the strong impression that this weekend is some kind of last doggy beach hurrah before the summer begins.
In one small cove, two women have five dogs between them. I hear one woman say, “Doughnut, here boy. Muffin, where’s Muffin?” I really want to know the names of the other three dogs, but I don’t dare ask. Apple Turnover? Jam Tart?
I become irritated with the Path’s pedantic insistence on precisely following the line of the coast. Several times, it takes me out towards the sea, and then along a headland, before cutting back in again. After ten minutes walking, I find myself only a couple of hundred yards further from where the Path started this pointless manoeuvre.
I know it’s a coast path, but you can take these things too literally. Maybe I’m getting tired.
I stop for a rest on the top of Park Head. There are fine views south, over the jumbled rock stacks known as the Bedruthan Steps.
I am lying on the grass near a bird sanctuary. One bird is very noisy and persistent, with a cry like a high-pitched auctioneer, running words together into whole paragraphs without punctuation. There is no discernible pattern, except when the bird occasionally loses inspiration and rapidly repeats one note, like a CD that’s skipping. I know very little about bird species or birdsong. I can’t name many wildflowers or trees. Maybe it’s too late to learn, and I feel there’s a gap in my education.
As I approach Mawgan Porth, I notice a crowd of wind turbines a couple of miles inland. I am sure I have seen them from the other side, driving towards St Ives on the A30. That seems like a very different Cornwall, only a few miles away.
The bay at Mawgan Porth, like so many others I have crossed today, is busy with children and dogs. The Merrymoor Inn is crowded and noisy. I get to my room and shower before an over-large meal and an early night.
There’s a lovely sunset.