Follow one crying eye on

Adventure up north

Preamble (note, this is not the cheeriest start, but I’ll get to the fun bit eventually)

My mum was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in her early seventies. She completely forgot my dad, her husband of 51 years, within a year of his death. She soon became unable to live at home even with a full-time carer and reverted to a childlike or teenage approximation of her former self: she climbed out of windows when she felt trapped; she was once picked up by the police when walking into town (4.5 miles) when the bus didn’t come, (because it was 4 in the morning and not the afternoon as she had thought); and she finally attacked her carer in Tesco’s café prompting hospitalisation (for Mum, fortunately not the carer) and the sad but sensible advice to look for a nursing home where she deteriorated gently (and mercifully fairly happily) for a further five years.

Mum had always feared dementia because her own mother and at least two of her aunties had succumbed to it. She practised puzzles and word-games, and was physically active; she often walked more than five miles a day. But her fears were well-founded and it seemed that nothing could prevent her decline, particularly after my father’s illness and death.

Do I have that gene? I don’t know, and despite my occasional worrying forgetfulness and intermittent general stupidity, I push the thought away and try to make the most of life ‘in the now’ – because after all, I could go under the proverbial bus tomorrow with or without a diagnosis.

So, I walk and I sing and I travel. I go to the theatre and meet friends for meals and of course I drivel into this blog when I can find the time between all the above and the endless daily puzzles that I make myself do.

Just now, I am pushing myself harder – learning Italian and trying to wind myself up to concert pitch for a singing holiday in Cortona in a week’s time. On the singing front I can honestly say I am working harder than I have done since the last mega-translation I took on a few years ago and I think this may have to be a one-off – they will either write me off as a bad job if I’m not good enough, or if I triumph I will baulk at such commitment a second time around. I fear that, be it Alzheimer’s or simple ageing, my poor brain is resistant to concentrated learning these days. Or maybe I really am not as musical as I thought? Hmm, I think I’m trying to prove a point one way or the other – to myself – having dodged serious challenges thus far.

It was therefore a delight to find something else that challenged me, provided some sociability and would benefit research into and support for Alzheimer’s. I signed up months ago to walk 13 miles on an Alzheimer’s Society Trek, choosing a far-flung location by the sea which I had never previously visited and persuading three of my old friends to come with me. As it was such a long distance from home, we decided to make a long weekend of it and booked a convenient-looking Airbnb (‘sigh’ – I know, evil takeover of property everywhere), plus the cheapest train tickets available. And we thought no more about it for a while.The Alzheimer’s Society pestered us good-naturedly by email from time to time and even succeeded in making me more aggressive in my self-publicising, ensuring an early hitting of my basic target which then ticked up gently.

The weather and the rail strikes conspired somewhat against us, but we are made of stern stuff. With the train refund in my bank, I drove my lovely new red car all the six hours up to Yorkshire. My London-based friend B sat in the passenger seat and operated the Sat-nav, heating/aircon and audio choices for me, while I concentrated on missing turn-offs and failing to use cruise-control.  He had brought home-made ragu and lemon drizzle cake – a precious cargo, which we steadfastly left in its protective bag whilst we snacked on motorway service-station sarnies and biscuits which, sadly, shed crumbs in the beautifully valeted car (mea culpa here, B being clearly less dexterously challenged – or messy – than I am. I’m going to have to pick some of the more enduring crumbs out of the tiny air-con holes in the leather when I get round to it).

The 199 steps down into Whitby

It seemed not to matter how many turnings I failed to take off the motorway; there was always another one in a few miles. We eventually found a gloriously sweeping A-road which led to Whitby and, with little bother, we reached a small car-park at the famous Whitby Abbey. The Sat-nav told us we had arrived at our destination and we laughed. Really? Up here? Our property’s website gave some vague arrival instructions and a link which led to somewhere 20 minutes’ walk away. We set off on foot – ragu and cake in hand – to see if we could magically locate the property in our immediate vicinity next to the abbey ruins before driving elsewhere. The magic worked – we found the place and worked out which narrow stone archways (marked Private) we needed to navigate to park the car safely in front of it.

And so began a wonderful weekend away from reality. Yes, it rained more than half the time, but our stern stuff prevailed. In the interests of brevity (not one of my strong points!) here are random highlights.

  • We may have stolen a bottle of wine from Whitby’s fine Co-op on Day 1. Too complicated to explain, but if we did, then it was not for want of trying to pay.
  • The 13-mile walk was easier than expected. The outward half took us along a disused railway (flat) to Robin Hood’s Bay and, apart from a few slippery ups and downs on the cliff path back, there was nothing as strenuous as much of the South West Coast Path with which all four of us are familiar. It rained on and off, but not too heavily. Lunch was in a village hall – everything provided. The organisation of this event was excellent.
  • My nearly 20-year-old left walking boot decided to shed part of its sole at the half-way stage. I believe this is because I had made the ridiculous decision before this event to clean my boots and treat them with an ancient waterproofing spray I found under our sink. Clearly, they had been held together with Cornish mud for so many years that the shock was terminal.
  • I hopped the rest of the way. (Ok, that’s an out and out lie, but I did have to be careful that the flapping sole didn’t catch on rocky bits. I had no wish to take a tumble again. My left knee is still not right. (Sorry))
  • We visited the Dracula Museum, which provided a few scares especially for those of us (me) who see extremely badly in the dark. Without Mr J to hold on to, my fear levels were higher than normal, but I managed not to cry or cling pathetically to my friends, and only screamed once (I think).
  • The museum, whilst mostly corny, did include a short film explaining the myths behind Dracula (Whitby stories and also the Bram Stoker history). The cottage we were staying in was situated at the top of 199 steps up which we were informed the ‘black dog with red eyes’ had galloped. We thought little of this until, at midnight, we finished watching an unexpectedly bloodthirsty film on Netflix (or some other streaming site) and all looked nervily at each other before retiring to our respective rooms, checking the windows for signs of fearsome canine antics as we went.
    Whitby’s wet abbey
  • The Magpie Café is rightly famous for its fish dishes. Pre-booking was a good idea – thanks S. Best light batter I’ve ever had. (Can’t call it ‘batsman’ any more – apols, irrelevant cricket reference.)
  • Nearby ‘brewery and pizza’ outfit were doubtful when we rang to enquire for a table, told us that they were very busy and didn’t take bookings so we would just need to turn up, and then – when we did turn up – sported a sign on the door saying they had run out of pizza. At 7pm.
  • Deciding it was too risky to sample a whole brewery without pizza, we rushed down our adjacent 199 steps to a much-praised Pie ‘n’ Mash joint … where we were informed that they had just run out of mash! Short of nipping to the Co-op (but afeared lest we were on their Most Wanted list) to buy them some more potatoes, at 7.20pm we were now unsure what to do. However, we were assured there were plenty of pies left, so we opted to have those anyway and as it happened, they found some mash lying around somewhere and gave it to us on a sharing plate, which we struggled to finish between four of us. Lord knows how much they had expected to serve! This still left us room to try their jam roly-poly though, three portions between four of us, which may not have been the best fuel for the walk back up the 199 steps, but at least a 13 miles walk made some inroads.
  • The day after the walk it rained unrelentingly and soakingly ALL DAY.
  • S wanted to swim. She has a wetsuit. I don’t have a wetsuit, but fancied going to the beach anyway. We walked for 15 minutes in the unrelenting and soaking rain to reach the beach. It was too windy for my umbrella. By the time we knocked on the lifeguard’s car window to ask if S could go in the sea, we were both in wet suits anyway.
  • S was immediately swept to the edge of the ‘safe’ area between the lifeguard’s flags. Any feelings that I had made the wrong decision to avoid the swim were immediately lost on the wind, as was her swearing.
    Bandstand nuptials – in the rain
  • S’s sea ‘dip’ achieved, she quickly wrapped herself in various voluminous garments (here, I was much more envious and indeed properly coveted her dry-bag rucksack which, honourably, I resisted the urge to purloin and sneak into my car boot later that night) and we set off back to the cottage, but as we passed the harbour bandstand, it became clear that a raggle-taggle gathering was in fact a wedding-in-waiting. We sheltered in the lee of a nearby burger shack, and I positioned my inadequate umbrella against the worst of the unrelenting and soaking rain (and wind), and watched someone’s big day unfold.
  • Whitby, with its Dracula associations, is a magnet for all things goth and Steampunk. This was a Steampunk wedding, but with a rather mixed congregation. Some guests were in full Steampunk regalia, but others were in Sunday best plus anoraks, cagoules or plastic capes and many looked as bewildered as they were windswept.
    The perfect wedding day – at least there were facilities to hand
  • A cream convertible Morris Minor arrived and disgorged not one, not two, but three gloriously attired ladies. With much heaving and flounce-coordination, the bride and her chief bridesmaid – both of a certain age and in fearsome bodice-grippers with enormous bustles – emerged and were sheltered (inadequately) under billowing brollies while the third occupant – in a less showy outfit altogether (and about half the circumference of either of her fellow passengers, possibly the adult daughter of the bride) – stepped miserably in her first puddle of the day and failed to raise any sort of a smile as they all prepared to walk the 10 paces to the bandstand steps.
  • For some reason, S and I were unable to drag ourselves away and stayed in place throughout the short service which ensued. About halfway through, the local tourist open-topped bus arrived, half full of passengers, and parked up alongside our burger shelter. We noticed the driver was in full Victorian uniform. Perhaps that’s normal round here, at least for the visitors’ sake? Once the ceremony was over, the guests seemed keen to move on and to our surprise, most of them scurried in our direction and formed a queue to climb aboard the bus. Indeed, eventually all but the bride and groom were accommodated on board (perhaps it was chartered, but there was no sign of that). This left the bride and groom, having a couple of final photographs taken beside the wedding Moggy – with the TOILETS sign unavoidably prominent behind them. As S and I took our leave, we caught the bridegroom’s anguished “How the f*** am I supposed to get my gut in there?” as the bus pulled away and his only option to get out of the rain was to squeeze his enormous dress-uniform-clad self into the tiny ceremonial car with his radiant bride.
  • After the excitement and romance of the wedding, we remembered how chilly and damp we were and (not-so) hot-footed it back up the 199 steps to our cottage, where we stripped off much of our dripping clothing in the large glazed entry hall. S was still decent in her wetsuit, but I am ashamed to say that I caught myself practically mooning at the Abbey – my comment as such to S prompting our complete dissolving into shrieks of laughter at which the chaps (who had remained in the cottage throughout, no doubt busy with their assiduous musical studies – or Sunday morning snoozing more like) became concerned that we had perhaps spent the last two hours in the pub. As if!
  • We all ventured out a further two times on this Sunday and as a result most of our clothing was still damp for our return journey on the Monday. No-one cared. We had a proper laugh and all vowed to return to Whitby again someday, and also to participate in another Alzheimer’s Trek because we had been so impressed with it. In fact, we raised over £2000 between us which was satisfying. There’s always that nagging doubt when asking people to sponsor me for something I’m clearly going to enjoy doing, but in fact, we’re not asking for money for us but for the charity and in this case, it was close to all our hearts for our own personal reasons – and no doubt our family members gave particularly generously because, of course, those reasons are the same for them too.
    On the sunnier first day. Our cottage just to the left.

Haha – So much for brevity. Using bullet points makes no difference at all. Ah well.

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. 







My last post ended on a hope that my Fitbit would win out, and I would continue to achieve a high step-count.

Perhaps this is an unfair analysis, but I’m doing pretty well so far. Having reached the grand old age of 60, I immediately set off on a trip which encompassed:

  • the visiting of an old friend who has somehow transformed himself into the lord of the manor in rural Worcestershire (a very grown-up position),
  • the wedding of my nephew, including the gender reveal of the happy couple’s expected infant at the reception, and
  • a walking holiday in Cornwall.

The first two of these did not assist my step-count much at all, although yomping around the Worcestershire estate went some of the way towards it, but they made me feel that I was at the more senior end of the population. However, the walking has been spectacular and will keep my averages up for some time to come.

Hurrah once again for retirement.

Pounding pavements

I’ve spent the last few days using an App to track my walking trips. Whilst I’ve been a slave to Fitbit for years, I thought I’d like to see those little maps of my walks, like I see friends posting from Strava on their Facebook pages. I do not want to post mine anywhere (er, probably…), but am keen to have a record of my perambulations around the neighbourhood in these continuing strange times for my own reference.

I am using Endomondo – the free version. I don’t need bells and whistles – just so long as I have a map and it creates a nice one plus some simple stats.

I’ve also already been awarded two gold cups. These leave me cold, to be honest, although sometimes prompt me to share with my husband so he too can be suitably unimpressed that I went further than ever before (on Day 3 of use – hahaha). Fitbit has given up awarding me things – I reckon I’m past it now, but no doubt I will soon have walked to the moon and back so perhaps they’ll let me know when I do.

In addition to checking my progress mile by mile – which annoyingly interrupts my podcast or audiobook whilst I’m marching along (note to self, there must be a way of switching this bit off – research needed) – I have an extra distraction this week: spotting all the different inspection covers in the pavements! Oh dear – I really wish I was not doing this, but one of my friends has taken to posting pictures on social media of these covers in unusual places (well, in Richmond Park where you might expect it to be more wild). Someone commented that there should always be an indication on the cover of what lies beneath – hence I keep glancing more closely at the wretched things as I go past. I will stop this soon (I hope).

Anyhow, I am pleased to report that I have achieved the following*:

  • Thursday 5.07 miles in 1 hour 31 minutes
  • Friday 4.74 miles in 1 hour 27 minutes
  • Saturday 6.18 miles in 2 hours 1 minute
  • Sunday 4.63 miles in 1 hour 50 minutes (split in two ambles)
  • Today 5 miles exactly in 1 hour 41 minutes (some of it hiding under a tree in the rain – yes I know that’s not a good idea but the thunder didn’t arrive till later)
  • In total I have seen 473** manhole or inspection covers

*I promise not to share this again

**this is a completely made-up number (otherwise known as a lie) but I have certainly seen a lot.

Am I going just ever so slightly…?

Out walking. Suburban roads and not the park, for ‘tis the weekend and I must leave the open-space greenery to those without gardens.

The film ‘A Star is Born’ is mentioned in passing on one of my regular podcasts. Perhaps tiring, and certainly becoming a little footsore in my unaccustomed sandals, on a whim I switch to Spotify and hurl myself into the depths of ‘Shallow’, risking a return to the madness of March 2019 (remembering this). No, no, no – I will not go there! I am stronger now, maybe? I wrench myself from the shallows and – because I read in the paper today that Graham Gouldman will be 74 this weekend, oh lord how can that be? – I switch to 10cc. ‘I’m not in Love’, ‘The Things we do for Love’ – Eric Stewart had the sexiest voice (so I thought back then, and it still sounds good to me now).

Then I move, teenage-chronologically, to a Genesis track that I recall listening to endlessly on headphones lying on my bedroom floor. And yes, the refrain of ‘Undertow’ can still reduce me to tears even whilst marching perfectly happily towards home. Or rather, limping slightly with a massive blister – maybe it’s that?

Whatever. Typically, I immediately encounter a neighbour and, still with tears in my eyes, we discuss – six foot apart – the social distancing arrangement in the local pet-shop.



Follow one crying eye on