12. Portloe to Bigbury

12. Portloe to Bigbury – well under-“Par”, not quite so rural an idyll in Fowey, dodging white van man and a brush with celebrity.

So, it’s back to Portloe, feeling a lot fitter than I did the first time round.

Because I want to walk every inch of the path, I felt it was important to complete the day that I cut short due to the chest infection. I’m so glad I did this, as it purged all the unhappy memories from my earlier visit. 

All I remember from the first time is gasping for breath as I struggled up the most modest of hills. Second time around the weather is glorious and I’m soon passing the phone box in East Portholland where, in the absence of a mobile signal, I frantically tried to summon aid with a dwindling supply of coins just a few weeks before.

Dodman Point seemed to be rounded in no time and I was soon enjoying a pint by the side of the harbour in Mevagissey, while I waited for Pat and my lift home.

The words “hills” and “strenuous” leapt out of the guidebook’s description of the 10.7 mile walk from Mevagissey to Par – and they weren’t kidding. Surprisingly tough in the early stages, the walk was nonetheless very enjoyable until Pat left me at Charlestown, the picturesque harbour featured in “The Onedin Line”.

As the realisation dawned that I wasn’t going to be offered the part of a drunken sea–dog in the next seafaring adventure to be filmed here, I pressed on to Par. The day went gradually downhill from Charlestown and the nature of the path changed completely, traversing a golf course and china clay works – not most people’s image of an idyllic coast walk. In fact, the section between Charlestown and Par was definitely the least appealing of the whole trip.

The one bright spot of the day was the pub in Par. As is often the case in working class communities, the pub was extremely friendly and a good place to savour a well-kept pint while waiting for Pat to pick me up and take us to our B&B in Fowey.

Pat, near Mevagissey

This stopover was not quite what we were expecting from the fulsome description on the website. However, full marks for the owner’s powers of creative writing and for making the most of what she’s got. The web-site mentioned that the establishment’s three hens ambled around the garden. Picturing an old, rustic farm-yard scene, we double-checked our map (and our vision) when we arrived at a modern housing estate. True, the hens – Faith, Hope and Charity – could be spotted in the garden, but they were confined to a small hut, not unlike a dog kennel.

We found a nice pub for our evening meal and I clocked up my 50th different beer – with the crowd’s applause ringing in my ears, I raised my bat, but refused to return to the pavilion while “not out” (cold) and resolved to push on towards the century.

At our B&B we had fresh milk in the in-room fridge and a comprehensive information pack about the local area. Breakfast was excellent and the proprietor bent over backwards to make our stay enjoyable (and its difficult cooking breakfast in that position): I was also very touched when, on our departure, she gave me an envelope containing a contribution to my charity sponsorship. She seemed something of an eccentric, but undoubtedly a good soul.

We returned to Par for the 14 mile walk to Polperro – which turned out to be a “day of two halves”. Par to Fowey started out decidedly “average”, but improved when we reached the attractive cove, beach and harbour at Polkeris. The second half of the walk, from Fowey to Polperro was much tougher than expected, but also very inspiring on good paths, with several hard climbs.

After crossing the river at Fowey, I met Pat at Polruan and she walked with me to Polperro. She had left her car at our B&B in Polperro and caught the bus to Polruan where she related a story that says much about rural life in general and rural bus services in particular. It seems that the driver had made an impromptu stop so that an old lady could pick up some eggs from a farm!

On arrival in Polperro we decided that it would be rude to walk past the “Blue Peter”, an excellent harbour-side pub, but which at 6.30 pm, seemed to be full of drunks – evidence again of the “pissed by six” syndrome observed elsewhere.

The next day Pat walked with me for the first 5 miles, from Polperro to Looe, on a very attractive path where we passed a tanned and cheerful Richard Madeley: I believe the TV presenter lives in Talland Bay. I remember reading an interview where he acknowledged that he is not universally popular, explaining how complete strangers often felt compelled to roundly abuse him in the street for no apparent reason – perhaps it’s his faintly self-satisfied look or maybe folk can’t accept that anyone can be that nice? Anyhow, “speak as you find,” as my granny used to say and to us he seemed as amiable as anyone we passed on the trail.

The path became more dramatic after Looe, with many steep climbs, but soon degenerated through less interesting terrain populated by soulless, unattractive settlements and similar people. The glut of sub-standard holiday accommodation around Downderry was very striking.

I had expected to get progressively fitter as the weeks went by, but the reverse seemed to be happening and I felt weary, making hard work of sections that I would have had no trouble with a few weeks earlier. I felt it was all catching up with me – that, coupled with the generally drab nature of much of this section of the walk, made for one of the very few days that I wished it was all over with.

I experienced one of my lowest points as I sheltered from the rain in a Seaton bus shelter, eating a soggy crunchy bar and struggling to put my over-trousers on. I’d had so very little rain on this trip that it was a bit of a shock to get what was, after all, only typical English seaside weather.

The last few miles to Portwrinkle seemed endless, but in fact I had a lovely end to a day of mixed fortunes after I met Pat and we sat on a bench by the beach watching the sun set over a silver sea, beneath a sky of dappled cloud. 

Things didn’t improve after that though and my journal records that the walk from Portwrinckle to Plymouth was the “worst day of the whole trip”. In my notebook, I recalled “walking along miles of B roads, dodging white vans and busses”. Rame Head is an exhilarating diversion, but no compensation for the dross that has gone before, or what comes just after, as Plymouth is traversed.

Before heading to the station at Plymouth I succumbed to temptation and popped into the “Dolphin” for a pint – a fantastic old pub on the Barbican and one time home-from-home for artist Beryl Cook, who depicted many of the regulars in her quirky paintings. Waiting for the train home to Dawlish, I felt really glad to get today over with: there have been few days when I’ve felt like that.

After a welcome night in my own bed, the 11 mile walk out of Plymouth and on to Stoke Beach began with a great view over Plymouth Sound; however, a long diversion inland then led to a most unattractive walk through a chalet park.

At Wembury things began to look up and improved further by the time I reached Noss Mayo, which was a delight, as was the friendly boatman who took me across the River Yealm. After Noss Mayo the path followed a long, well defined old carriage drive, the “Revelstoke Drive”, which contours most attractively around the cliffs, with the distant Eddystone Lighthouse in sight for most of the way.   

Pat picked me up at Stoke Beach and joined me at our B&B, The Mildmay Colours, in Halberton. This offered reasonably priced, good quality accommodation in a separate barn conversion and a 200 year old pub serving good beer – what’s not to like about that? Well, the group of noisy, unfriendly local golfers hogging the bar for a start.  

Walking out of Stoke Beach on the 9 mile walk to Bigbury on my next-to-last -day, it began to dawn on me that I will really miss the coast path – it’s been my companion for a few months now and has amply filled the gap left by losing my job. Little did I realise at this point just how much impact finishing the walk would have on me and how hard it was going to be to cope with “normal life” as a retiree.

Anyhow, back to the walk. The highlight of the day was undoubtedly wading across the River Erme, which can only be crossed a couple of hours a day at low tide. I crossed the Erme with a retired insurance-man from Cheltenham who was doing the path a bit at a time. I couldn’t shake him off all the way to Bigbury and grew a little tired of his opinionated, right wing ranting – for example, on how much he hated students and benefit “scroungers.” However, I did feel a bit sorry for him when, after I said Pat was picking me up, he sadly reflected “I haven’t got one of those at home.” Once again, a reminder of how lucky I was——  but also of the sexist, right wing attitudes of a typical Daily Mail reader.

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