Follow one crying eye on

So what’s next? (The end of life as we knew it!)

My whole world view has changed.

Is it perhaps the new and exciting Carolean age we have entered? Is it the pleasing late evening sunshine that has begun to tease us that summer may be around the corner?

Has this defined me in the past few years?

No – it is the fact that I have finally finished my everlasting traipsing around the far-flung west-country cliff paths of England (ie. I have now completed all 630 miles of the official South West Coast Path), proving (a) that it wasn’t everlasting after all, and (b) that I seem to need another project to rumble along in the background of my day-to-day existence.

I have just written up an account of the final 54 miles of the SouthWest Coast Path (see here on my holiday blog) and suddenly it hit me – I am bereft! Nay, I exaggerate, but I am most certainly confused. One of my foundations has shifted. That silly walk has been an ever-present ‘to-do’ on my conscious and subconscious list for the most recent third of my life, always an option when thinking about holidays, an excuse for a short escape on the train (especially since I got my old person’s discount) and sometimes just another reason to beat myself up about how ridiculously slow I’ve been. It has almost been a defining part of me in the last few years at least. And now it’s not there any more.

I am proud to have completed it all, with no cheating and with considerable enjoyment in most parts.

As ever, it seems I can’t just enjoy the fact that I have completed it. I have to write up the holiday blog (tick) of course, and now wring yet more material from the experience here in this blog. I have also determined that I should write an account of the entire walk for submission to the South West Coast Path Association – whose lifetime membership I purchased many years ago (one of my more prescient decisions it seems). They publish Finishers’ stories in their newsletters so, as a writer, it would seem lazy not to contribute my own sorry, but ultimately triumphant, tale.

Everyone to whom I have imparted the momentous knowledge that I have completed the SWCP has asked me what I am going to do next. I don’t have a ready answer, although I will certainly walk more of the Great Britain Coastal Path because I love being beside the sea. I intend to buy a map which I can colour in with each section I complete.

Aside from that, I do of course have endless vague plans for train trips in Europe and the USA, and an addict’s weakness for the British Airways ‘Where We Fly’ web-page.

I suppose we’ll just have to wait and see.

Escape to the country

The looming approach of Christmas always makes me nervous. The dark evenings and colder weather do not, in themselves, upset me as I know they do some people. But I do feel a need to escape at this time of the year, particularly from the relentless cheeriness of Christmas ads and far too early jollity.
So, I’ve had a short manic spell of gadding about before we have to hunker down for the onslaught of festivities. (Or rather, before we have the plumbing company come and refurbish our shower which, like so much else in the house, is currently defunct! – and, unlike the rest of the house, can’t just be cleaned and tidied in the hope that people will be able to turn a blind eye. More than tripling the occupancy for the best part of a week with no shower facilities might not be wise, even if we ARE all related.)
At one day’s notice, I book myself a train to Barnstaple in Devon, and three nights in a town centre hotel at a bargain price so that I can complete two long but completely flat sections of the South West Coast Path. This will leave me with just over 50 miles to complete the path, which I plan to do in the Spring – hopefully with friends and family and, of course, to enormous fanfare!
As with previous short visits, I base myself in the middle of the two-day stretch which in this case conveniently has a railway station and a good local bus service so I can be completely independent. On the first day I take the bus from Barnstaple to Appledore and then walk back (approx 14 miles) and on Day 2 I strut out from the hotel, amazingly refreshed after a night’s sleep, and head for Croyde where I am  able to catch a bus back to Barnstaple. 
Not the most exciting of walks, but possibly the largest number of miles I have covered over two consecutive days on this path. For the first time on the path I listen to pod-casts and music to while away the hours, because much of the route is unremarkable, and there is no wave-crashing accompaniment for most of it. The route largely follows a disused railway line alongside a river estuary. This now serves as a bicycle superhighway according to friends who did this part of the path in high summer, as well as a route for the South West Coast Path. My friends got completely frazzled by the endless stream of lycra passing close by them. Fortunately, late November is not a busy time for cyclists in these parts, even at the weekend, so my encounters with mad bicyclists were few and far between, and almost all heralded by a tinkling bell or gentle vocal alert that they are ‘coming through’. Rather convivial in fact.
Even on the long straight bits, there’s always the sky
The first day I manage to reach my hotel before it gets dark and I have time for a quick shower before going downstairs for a pre-booked early supper. This is good and I’m early to bed to rest my weary, but still functioning, limbs. On day two, my legs are a little less impressed with my antics. Despite some upbeat tracks on Spotify, I am flagging by the time I reach Saunton Sands, a haunt remembered from my childhood. I stop and order myself the obligatory pasty (in fact a vegetable one which is presumably much healthier than the obligatory one) and stagger to some rocks at the nearest end of this enormous expanse of beach. As I munch, I idly watch a nearby bunch of ladies of a certain age (my own age, oh dear) potter down to the sea together in their brightly coloured cossies, bob around for a few minutes and then return to wrap themselves in those newly fashionable oversized drying/changing/warming coats, never stopping their friendly banter throughout. I wait for them to leave the beach before packing away my now empty paper bag and can of pop and attempting to stand. This is harder than I expected and I find that my legs have unilaterally (hmm, there are two of them – should that be bi-laterally? Either way, they did not involve ME!) decided that it is bedtime and they are not going anywhere till morning. This is a slight problem because I have at least one further mile to cover to reach the bus-stop for the return journey, and some of that will involve the only upward incline of the day.
Eventually, I bully the legs into a gentle limp across the sand and up into the dunes – well, I can’t just sleep on the beach because the tide is coming in. Silly legs – the very idea! Once I am above the high-tide line, I proceed to bribe them with a promise of Maltesers and a bath which gets me up onto the headland, which in turn seems to ease whatever muscles had seized and allows me to speed up a little as I realise how soon the bus is due.
Those legs- and the bag full of promised chocolate
At last, the finish is in sight and I throw caution to the winds as I almost hop and skip across a stream on Croyde beach to avoid a detour to a bridge upstream. Finally,  I haul my weary self across the road and towards a capacious and seemingly welcoming bus shelter. Phew! Just ten minutes to spare.
I am suddenly aware of a flick of a towel and a flash of a youthful ankle. My aching limbs grind obligingly to a halt, just in time to avoid a full-frontal encounter as my still lively brain (haha – if you believe that, you will surely believe anything) deduces that this shelter is being used as a changing room for post-dip teenage surfers. Waiting a short distance away and, of course, demurely averting my gaze, I realise that there is a small gang of youths taking turns in the shelter while the rest chat loudly above the sound of hip-hop music blaring from their open-doored car just across the road. 
I resist the temptation to break into song (predictably I don’t know the words) or sway to the beat (even swaying is a little beyond me at this point), and am more than somewhat relieved when the bus arrives on time. An initial pang of disappointment that it is a single decker, which means I won’t get my preferred views from the top deck, is replaced by realism and relief as my legs remind me that they are no longer talking to me and I had better not expect many more steps out of them today, especially not stairs. 
I’m now slightly scared by the level of seized-up-ness I experience on the very short stagger from the bus station to my hotel. I don’t recall ever being quite so incapacitated. Of course, I dutifully remove my boots at the hotel entrance and, rather than sensibly opting for the lift, I sneak painfully up the two flights of stairs to my room. (So there, stupid legs, you don’t win that easily!) Perhaps this helps a little, who knows. By the following morning it is as if I had never done those miles. How the body heals itself can sometimes be miraculous, and is certainly mysterious. And nothing whatsoever to do with the enormous number of chocolate biscuits and Maltesers consumed in bed in lieu of going out for dinner.
A couple of further observations from this trip which I wrote down immediately at the time.
(1) Breakfast at this hotel (Royal & Fortescue, Barnstaple – not as posh as it sounds but a rather nice family business) is served in an impressive former bank building which is a restaurant in the evening, and doubles as the hotel buffet in the morning. Here’s what I wrote in the heat of the moment after my last breakfast there  –
“It being mid-to-late November, the hotel is making the most of the upcoming season and has begun Christmas parties. There is a huge Christmas tree in reception, which looks a little different each morning as they tweak it – it’s certainly still not quite symmetrical to my mind – and last night there was a full festive dinner table laid in the private dining space. Carols playing and everything. This is great for the hotel and I wish them well. Not so sure I agree with the playing of horrendous Christmas tracks at breakfast though. I suspect it was not deliberate and I hadn’t the nerve to challenge them about it. The staff seemed completely clueless today – including greeting me at the breakfast check-in station with a ‘Are you here to check out?’ (Er, I’m not wearing my coat, have no cases with me, this isn’t Reception, it’s breakfast time and I’m in the breakfast area. Just tell me which table I’m supposed to sit at!), then saying « Thank you’ to me as I head for the buffet with the red red robin a bob-bob-bobbin along with me – as though they think I’m finished and off to my room. OK, so it was my third trip – perhaps they were dropping a hint – but who confines themselves to fewer than three trips, especially when one’s table is so small it can barely fit a plate of eggs and bacon and the cup of coffee and the toast they always bring at the beginning when I want to eat it at the end.
Actually, on the first day I was brought tea instead of coffee.  I spent several minutes wondering if perhaps I was so befuddled (it being 7.30am, a time with which my brain is no longer overly familiar) but I can’t imagine my subconscious or conscious mind would ever come up with ‘I’ll have tea please’ – no, not ever. Unless, unless, unless …”
(2) Part of the enjoyment for me in these trips is the journey there and back. I say that, but it is often not entirely plain sailing. Here’s what I wrote as I was propelled back to London by God’s Wonderful Railway. Apologies for the stream of consciousness rant.
Sitting on the train – already a bit miffed because the train is clearly not configured in the usual way (I know, I have done this trip or similar many times) and my reserved seat which is supposed to be in a Quiet Carriage is clearly not (like that worked well on the way down here, with a couple of biddies a few years older than me – probably – nattering at just too many decibels for me not to be able to tune out to read my book. I was actually reduced to selecting a White Noise option on my Spotify for the first time ever, and it was excellent – just like being on a plane, which in turn made me nostalgic for those days of overnight flights. As these invariably ended with a tremendous banging migraine regardless of the number of glasses of vino or complete abstinence, I’m not sure why I loved it so much.)
Back to my point – sitting on the train and trying to read my book now that I’ve settled in a seat which isn’t the one I booked, but nor is it the one that another chap had booked and turfed me out of (note – I didn’t even bother asking the bloke who was sitting in ‘my’ seat to move. None of the booking lights were working, and it was quite clear this was one of those free-for-all days – perhaps the staff enjoy watching the fights and seething power play that ensue.
This time, it’s not slightly-too-loud-but friendly nattering, but a furious woman who wants to complain to the world that the GWR ticket person at Taunton wasn’t very sympathetic when she couldn’t find her ticket, after having a dreadful taxi ride that nearly made her late, and didn’t help her by magically finding her ticket for her or waving her through without a ticket at all, and by the time she eventually found the ticket, which was down the side of somewhere or on her phone or something equally predictable, there were only nine minutes left to make it across the bridge to the correct platform. (NINE minutes? That’s about seven and a half more than most people would actually need – oops being catty now!). 
I hear this story related at length on the phone and then again when the onboard ticket inspector appears. Unlike his evil Taunton colleague he is a veritable paragon of patience and diplomacy. I would give this man a medal, or an Oscar, for his performance in which he does not for a moment acknowledge any actual wrongdoing on behalf of any of God’s Wonderful Railway staff, but manages to appease (and fortunately  finally to shut up) the aggrieved passenger.
And now, because I have stupidly not selected white noise again but allowed Mr Spotify to choose tracks for me, turned up loud in case there are more recounting of Taunton Station awfulness, I realise that one of my more surreal overnight flight experiences is being partially recreated in my ears by the random selection of ‘Shallow’ – oh dear, please let’s not go back there again! (Well, maybe to Australia, but not to those compulsive shallows.)
Sorely tempted to sing along. That’d show them. Give the stressy woman something else to complain about.
Just realised that tapping away at this iPad on the tiny seat-back fold-down tray is probably driving the person in front of me mad. I could already hear her tapping on her laptop, and she has one of those big tables. Actually, I can still hear her tapping in-between tracks of my Spotify playlist, and I could read it if I chose to peer between the seats. Probably writing about the annoying woman behind her who keeps sighing histrionically and is now banging away on the seat back.
Enough. Time for another adventure. More on that another day.


On the buses

What will be the lasting memories of my most recent walking holiday? The grandeur of the Cornish coast? The beauty of the flowers alongside the path? Perhaps the glorious blue skies and friendly (or not-so-friendly) birdlife along the way?

Hedge-hugging Cornish bus

Hmm – it might instead be the Cornish buses.

After a time-perfect train journey from Paddington to Bodmin Parkway (which, by the way, is nowhere near Bodmin town – unless our route was even more circuitous than it seemed, encompassing as it did that most important landmark Castle Asda), I was pleased to note that there was a ten-minute ‘window’ in which to avail myself of the Ladies’ facilities adjacent to the station platform before joining a couple of other taxi-deniers at the clearly marked and easily reached bus stop. The imminent arrival of the Number 10 was forecast on the overhead display and all was seemingly well with my public transport world.

The Number 10 single decker red bus hove into view – and hove off again down to the end of the station car-park at some considerable speed in order to turn itself around. When it finally came to rest alongside the bus-shelter and opened its door, I gathered up my rucksack and delved in my pocket for a credit card to wave at the clever onboard ticket machine. I am an old hand at this, having used Cornwall buses many times previously.

But – rather than welcoming new passengers aboard, the driver emerged at speed from his cab, slammed the access panel closed with an angry flourish and hopped past the expectant queue with a brusque greeting, “Well, you’re welcome to get on, but it’s not going anywhere. I’ve done my shift and the new driver’s not here.” Now, I imagine that if this had happened in London, the retiring driver would have disappeared sharpish to a safe space, but instead he stood alongside the bus with a (presumably non-PSV-licence-holding) colleague and vigorously smoked a cigarette and bemoaned the new bus company management’s lack of organisation (and other) skills. I thought for a while that I would stand outside and await developments, but eventually it seemed more practical to take a seat especially as the bus afforded us a little – although perhaps not enough – sound-proofing from the energetic critique in progress outside.

The more observant of my fellow would-be passengers spotted that the bus shelter’s overhead display now revealed that this service had been cancelled. We elected to stay on the bus anyway, there being insufficient seats in the bus shelter, and I passed the time with my book and my phone in a continuation of the hours already spent on the train. In a frivolous WhatsApp exchange with Mr J, I mused whether I might in fact drive the vehicle myself, having practised on several occasions on enormous camper vans overseas. “How hard can it be?”

Suddenly, and to my slight relief to be let off the hook as a potential substitute driver, a new official-looking chap appeared and leapt aboard – straight into the cockpit (if that’s the correct term) and brashly began adjusting the seat/mirrors/external signage in readiness for departure. The occupants of the bus gallantly formed a nice honest British queue in the aisle to buy tickets. The ticket machine seemed to have got the cancellation memo which the driver was apparently ignoring, and it refused to work properly at first. After repeated jabbing (and a little low-level cursing) the new driver succeeded in tricking it into providing each of us with a ticket which we were prepared to accept – even though some of the fare amounts appeared to be a surprise to the recipients. I was, of course, none the wiser and £3.50 seemed eminently reasonable to me.

It is not in the interests of passengers to point out the apparent cancellation of their bus. We therefore merrily acquiesced in being whisked up the station slip road and off on our way to Wadebridge … probably.

We sped up and around a large roundabout at the aforementioned Castle Asda and popped briefly into the local hospital to do a whistle-stop tour of the grounds in case any patients needed transportation. No takers, and we scarpered ever more precipitously towards what I expected to be the metropolis that is Wadebridge. Before we could get there though, the bus was halted by a meeting with a refuse lorry coming the other way on one of the many roads which were designed for neither normal sized buses nor bin lorries. Normally, I have found, the bus reigns supreme in country lane vehicular face-offs and it is usually the poor tourist in their inevitably oversized SUV that has to back off. (I should know, we have one, although in our defence it is one of the least ‘cool’ or ‘Chelsea’ variety and if left unwashed for a few weeks/months before our holiday, we can get away with being mistaken for a local farmer in it, as long as Mr J’s confident driving doesn’t falter). On this occasion, the pecking order seemed to require the bus to do the manoeuvring. We gaily reversed at a rate of knots and it was mildly amusing to see the hedgerows zipping past in the ‘wrong’ direction for a change. Until there was an enormous blaring of horns behind us and we came to a rapid halt. What fun!

Unperturbed, the bin lorry man waved cheerily as he squeezed his fragrant vehicle past us, and we were once again accelerating onwards. Eventually, we reached the outskirts of Wadebridge and a couple of passengers requested a stop. Just as the doors were closing, a youngish chap charged up on the left as though to board. “Wait, wait – you reversed into me!” he cried. Oh lord, so much for our unexpectedly speedy trip – now there would be fisticuffs. But no, ‘There doesn’t seem to be any damage,” he continued. He just wanted to make a point, and having done so (fortunately to no further ill effect) he made his way back to his car and we all carried on.

In fact, I was amused to notice that Wadebridge bus station was no more than a single stop in a small car park doubling as a turning space for the buses. My connecting bus should be due in just 30 minutes – time enough to nip into the handy Co-op nearby, where miraculously they were selling small bags of Maltesers at Buy 2, Get 1 Half Price – they must have known I was coming.

Essential chocolate purchases made, I returned to the bus station in good time for my next ride, but noticed that it did not appear on the scrolling list of scheduled buses. I Googled the website from which I had devised my detailed itinerary – sure enough, there should be a bus. On the tiny print timetable attached to the bus-stop post, the service I had planned to use was shown in a different colour – clearly subject to some mystifying condition or other, unknown to me. I half-heartedly continued to wait a while, unsure what else I could realistically do in this town which appeared to be far from the metropolis I had expected.

I was just wondering whether an extra hour of waiting might justify the use of a mini-cab, when once more I was greeted by the hoving-to (now, I’m not sure that actually exists as an expression, but I like it so it’s staying) of a double-decker sporting the number 96 and the destination Port Isaac. It was still not showing on the scrolling departures list, but the driver showed no signs of flouncing off anywhere and every indication was that this was the mysterious ‘secret’ bus I had planned to catch.

Apart from the magic of being on an apparently non-existent bus for the second time in rapid succession, this journey was far less exciting than the last, and I was swiftly delivered to Port Isaac, where the bus turned round at the top of the hill – leaving me to walk the last little bit down to Port Gaverne where I was staying. This proved less onerous than I had feared (although the uphill return on my departure in searing heat three days later was perhaps a little more challenging, but I’d rediscovered my walking legs by then) and I was swiftly in my hotel being shown to a beautiful (if somewhat overpriced imho) room comically named the Doc Martin room. I choose to walk in my old faithful Meindl boots rather than DMs, so felt it was a little inappropriate. But then, of course, I remembered that since my childhood visit to Port Isaac the area has risen to great fame as the filming location for the ITV series of that very name, starring Martin Clunes as the eponymous medic. I have never watched a whole episode, so the naming of my room was a little wasted on me and had no doubt allowed a couple of extra quid to be added to the nightly rate which might have been better in the gin fund, but I got into the spirit by tuning in for the last ten minutes of a repeat episode on TV on my arrival day, just to gawp at some of the places I’d just been driven past. I had not the slightest inclination to imagine the esteemed Mr Clunes in my hotel bedroom – a missed opportunity perhaps, but probably just as well as I needed all my energy for walking.

In fact, this visit was a big success on the walking front and I achieved my aim of completing the next two sections which took me from Rock to Port Gaverne on the first day and then onward to Tintagel on the second. My tediously planned itinerary worked perfectly: the buses arrived approximately when expected (no more phantom trips for me); my legs held up fine; my heart/lung health was sorely tested on the endless climbs on day one, but recovery on the even steeper and more frequent ascents was already much improved on day two. 

The path from Rock to Port Isaac is popular and there are several places along the route which can be accessed easily from car parks. The walk was therefore quite busy, at least when close to these spots, and there was a fair amount of cheery ‘halloo-ing’ to be done. The second day’s walk is graded Severe by the South West Coast Path Association and does not form part of any casual rambling plan. So I met fewer people, but several of them were keen to stop and chat, which was a good excuse to catch my breath from time to time. I was warned by one of these fellow walkers about the enormous cost of sampling the new bridge across to the island at Tintagel, so I was happy to do no more than take a couple of photos whilst muttering ‘bah humbug mythical nonsense’ before trundling up to the touristy centre that is Tintagel itself. 

I will admit to some hefty edible gift shopping in the 45 minutes I had to wait before the bus. And also to eating one of the gifts before I reached my hotel – in fairness to me, it was only a small bag of fudge and the journey involved two buses and more than an hour. Somehow, although I am always keen to get back to base after a hard day’s walking, there is a certain satisfaction in a long journey home because it highlights just how far I have travelled under my own steam. I also made friends at the midway bus stop in Camelford with a couple who were walking the SWC Path in the same direction as me and using buses as much as possible. We exchanged stories and recommendations and wished each other happy walking. I think they will finish this epic hike before me, but only just.

I was incredibly lucky with the weather. If anything it was a little too warm and sunny, but there is always something of a breeze up on the clifftops, so I was fine. I had forgotten to bring any heavy-duty suncream, but plastered some of my SPF15 face cream on my shoulders and neck just in case and all was well. (Although, I later realised that my wearing of a headscarf to keep my hair from blowing into my face had resulted in an untreated strip of skin above my eyebrows catching rather too many rays. Not alarmingly so and easily hidden under my fringe, but as I write this now I will admit that there is a slight shedding of skin going on today!)

My last bus trip was from Port Isaac – where I struck up yet another conversation with a very nice walking lady – back to Bodmin Parkway. The revelation on this trip was that the number 96 I was boarding would miraculously morph into the number 10 at Wadebridge, so I would not need to disembark at all – hurrah! I calculated that I would therefore be able to catch a slightly earlier train than originally planned – double hurrah!

We arrived on time and I merrily trundled onto the platform…

…to find that the train was cancelled.

Ah well, can’t have everything. 






IMDb (In My Dreams, baby)

Just back from a three-night break in Cornwall where I completed two more stages of my everlasting South West Coast Path walk, and rounded Land’s End in the process.

I should be feeling energised and pleased with myself, but those feelings have already dissipated after returning home and I fear the next few months of sameness, shorter and colder days, decorating … and bloody CHRISTMAS! – will not be easy, despite my obviously privileged lifestyle. 

Ah well, looking back on my last blog post, perhaps I can hang my battered and jaded hopes on a glittering career in the arts.

Btw, I just idly wondered what IMDb* actually stands for. ‘In My Dreams, baby’ probably best fits the bill right now.

*obviously I can Google as well as the next person. It actually means the Internet Movie Database.

Follow one crying eye on