Day 1 - Lands End to Gurnards Head
A wonderful first day. I thought I’d feel anxious in anticipation, but I was calm
and eager to get going. I signed the register at the hotel, which is part of the End to End ritual - I have a document that will need signing by different places en route to prove my journey. I was then given an excellent send off by friends who arrived with a spectacular banner, and others who joined me remotely. When the owner of the signpost business realised that I was walking for TVAA he refused to take my fee for the photo, saying that the whole community are committed to the charity - ‘it’s everything to us’ and he was grateful for what I’m doing.
The most westerly point is the First and Last pub, so after some quite tearful farewells I set off a little way to make sure I was really starting at the right place. The weather was beautiful, sunny but not hot. It felt fantastic to be setting off on a linear walk again, and although I was emotional at parting, I was not overwhelmed by it, I was ready for the day and months ahead.
The coastal path here is a beauty, and to begin with it was gentle and easy walking. But it soon came into its own, and I was confronted with the sorts of steep scrambling that I remember from the Lakes last summer. Tough going with a big rucksack.
I got to the first accessible beach at Escalls Cliff, and stopped to put my boots in the sea. I could have just walked on to make a good time, but this walk is not about getting there quickly. So as a gesture to what it really is about, and as a statement of intent to enjoy the journey, I took off my pack and relished being by the water.
Then a massive climb up with my heart racing - I’ve definitely not trained enough on hills! I met a couple coming in the other direction and was delighted to take the opportunity to stop and take a breather. We shared where we were both going and they were kind enough to be the first people that I don’t know to give me some sponsorship money. Pauline and Alan, you made my morning!
Having made the steep and long climb up, I discovered I had made a navigational error. This came as no surprise - it’s always a miracle if I make it to my destination without at least one major detour. But having appreciated my mistake, I decided it was opportune - the walking gods were suggesting that I take the flatter path as opposed to the coastal path. So I mentally devised a new route, took the road less travelled, and set off inland. A long straight footpath seemed a good option. It led from a farm yard, so having negotiated a field of cows with alarmingly sharp looking horns, I met the farmer. I asked him if I was on the route to the footpath, and he said he’d only tell me if I had a Cornish passport. I proffered the idea of my Welsh one. He seemed less impressed than I’d hoped, but allowed me to continue. The footpath was also bit of a joke - almost waist high grass and no discernible path.
But I stuck to my map, and climbed over overgrown stiles to make my way to St Just for a sit down. Sitting in the village square, gave me a chance to rest a bit - I aim to stop after 6 miles and then every 3 miles after that, at least in these early days. My resolution to not fall on sweet food during the walking days (I walk much better without the highs and lows of a sugar rush) fell at the first hurdle - a Moomaid ice cream shop. A fantastic rum and raisin cone kept me company for the next mile or so.
I stuck to the old coast road for the rest of the day. Easy clear walking, though not without some steep ascents. I left one little girl very confused when I saw the adhoc stall that she had set up in her front garden. She looked enthusiastically at me as I walked towards her little sign. I smiled back and said that I’d have loved it, but my hair wasn’t long enough. When I saw her expression I realised that what I’d read as ‘plaits’ was in fact ‘plants’. The buildings here, tough looking low stone structures, sit so organically in the landscape. There’s a feeling of timelessness with ancient standing stones seemingly emerging from the soil, punctuated by real reminders of chronology, with the ruins of Cornwall’s mining heritage everywhere.
At my 9 mile pause mark the walking gods smiled again, by presenting me with a community art gallery and tea bar. The old Sunday school building in Morvah was bought by the community in 1999, and is run by a team who provide a service to both visitors and the locals. A memorable conversation with the lady on duty this afternoon discussing the importance of paying back to your community. And an amazing piece of home made Hevva cake (a delicious cross between scone and lardy cake) to take away too.
The final leg was across the White Downs, a remote and wild bit of moorland, on which roam Belted Galloways. I felt really blessed that my error in navigation this morning led me to walk this road this afternoon, it was a joy. And another joy was seeing the lurid orange hues of our pub for the evening at Gurnards Head, and seeing David waiting for me. After a bit of a rest we did another couple of miles together to find Jane’s Chapel, shown on the map nearby. Sadly my chapel is now ruined and returned to the soil. It meant we got to see the drama of Gurnard’s Head though.
Distance: 14 miles
Total ascent: 1600 feet
Calories burnt: 2200
Local tipple: Half of Meor from St Ives
Dinner at the Gurnards Head - exceptional:
Smoked cauliflower with harissa,
Vada pav (Indian potato cake) with tamarind
Cornish cheese plate
Number of hats that I thought I’d lost and therefore couldn’t wear and therefore got a sunburnt head, only to find I had not lost it at all: 1
Video of the day: