Sunday, 25 July 2010

South West Coast Path Slog Blog Pt 3

Heading down the M5, the wipers were already on when test match special broke off for the shipping forecast,

"Lundy: force 6 gusting Force 9" was the message, and heading north for the coast it was easy to see why the squat trees trailed their branches to the prevailing wind.

It was the summer before last when I'd made it to the Hunters' Inn at Heddon Mouth, an impressive steep sided stream valley leading down to the sea. I had arrived at 3pm, fortified myself with beer and scratchings before retracing my steps to arrive back at my car by 1oish and eventually home by 1.30 am. Although I had 48 hours to play with the free time had come at a price: in the spirit of family compromise I had pulled out of the Snowdon mountain race the following weekend. There weren't too many regrets - the Snowdon's a great race, but just a bit crowded for my taste.

Faced with torrential rain, high winds and the prospect of a wild night in a coffin-shaped tent that cost 25 quid, I did what any self-respecting backpacker would have done. I fortified myself with beer and scratchings and enquired after a room for the night.

The next day's ramble was long and memorable on a clear, windy and sunny day interspersed with short heavy showers. I covered 22 miles, passed through the settlements of Coombe Martin, Ilfracombe and (the very charming) Lee before making it to Morte Point, the easternmost bit of this part of the coast.

I wild camped on the peninsular in a sheltered spot with a view from the door of the tent across Rockham Bay to the Bull Point lighthouse (three flashes every ten seconds). The crap tent held up well during the night as the heavy showers continued.

I went for a run the next morning out to the tip of the land and was impressed by the force of the ebbing tide as it passed the point. The onshore wind and waves gave rise to some turbulent waters.

The walk back again was steady and a delight as the sun lowered to the horizon. I will remember a combination of images of yellow gorse flowers contrasting with purple flowering heather, brown grass seed heads - illuminated by the sunlight - dancing and waving together in the gusts above the crumpled silver foil surface of the sea. Surprising a female perigrine on the cliffs above Elwill Bay and hearing her wingtips clap as she flew before turning and coming back past me on the wind to join her mate maybe a quarter of a mile behind.

Before I turned inland for the last time, I sat a long while below Peter's Rock and looked across to the Gower, over to Lundy and back along the series of headlands where I had walked, each set one over another, fading in tone into the distance.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Whacky racers

With a furtive glance he drops down off the path through undergrowth and into a small hollow. Inside the small hollow - or 'depression' as it's known in the game is an orange and white flag with a number on the top. He dibs his dastardly dibber and returns to the path wearing what he imagines to be a 'straight face'.

He realises that he's maybe slightly more competitive than he'd previously thought.

His compadre comes charging back down the path, sweating so hard that his waterproof map is in danger of becoming papier mache-ised.

"... er yeah, it's back there..."

As Muttley would have said:


Mike and I had joined the North Glos Orienteering Club for a free have-a-go session at Crickley Hill. Not exactly a mountain marathon, it was easily enough to expose shortfalls in out navigation skills.

First, I hadn't got me compass out out of the boot of the car because I didn't want to look too keen and second, it took me a while to realise that an orienteering map is a bit like a photographic negative of an OS map. Woods are shown as white whilst open ground is shown as dark. This led to a bit of a kerfuffle with dense scrub when I tried to take a short cut.

The NGOC seemed like a friendly bunch and were far too polite to laugh at how pleased we were with ourselves.