The Rover didn’t turn a wheel on its first day, enjoying a well-earned kip after getting us there safely and in comfort. No, today the sun was shining, the Cornish seaside was but a few miles away, Nicola and I would walk, dammit. There was always the bus we could take if we didn’t fancy the walk back, plus we wouldn’t have to pay for parking.
You’ll have to scroll down a good few paragraphs before any more driving happens, it’s rare that we get a chance to explore England at its most picturesque by foot, usually rain stops play. On my CV I actually quote country walks as a hobby, and it is. But Nicola and I rarely get the chance to walk somewhere both interesting and sunny at the same time.
It was a refreshing change, our footsteps not being drowned out by the rustling of Gore-Tex cagoules. We were decked in only our lightest of shorts and thinnest of T-Shirts. Not even walking boots, just lightweight sneakers. For the first time in ages, my wallet was the heaviest thing on my person. The walk from the campsite was rural in the extreme, but the path was well trodden and thus easy to follow. After a few undulating miles the narrow road took a more downhill aspect as we began the descent into town.
The famous town of St Ives is built on hillside overlooking three separate bays divided by headlands. As a result, choosing not to use the car to get around is quite an energetic pursuit. But it does allow you to move at a slower pace, to drink in more of the details.
Our route into town took us past a busy beach we would later fail to visit, a railway station I had never previously known existed, and some fabulous views. Gradually more and more shops appeared, the usual low-rent places you get on the peripheries of any business district; including those strange businesses that you wonder if they enjoy any patronism at all. Also; charity shops.
There’s a shop in my home town, run by the St Helena Hospice, which is an Aladdins cave filled with secondhand books of all kinds. I’ve found all kinds of strange titles there in the past, from government promotions about the construction of the M25 motorway, to old Observers books; you never know what somebody will have donated. And everything is well priced.
Oxfam bookshops see things a little differently; their books, while all nicely presented and clearly well looked after, are priced at what seems little less than you might pay in a high-street store. I’m dead keen on giving to charity, despite my reputation as a skinflint, but I want to feel as if I’m getting value. We left the St Ives branch empty handed and continued on our way.
Tonight, we would be catering for the mob with one of Nicolas quite excellent barbecues. Part of the mission during our walk was gathering meat for this big occasion, so we noted shops as we passed them; the Butchers (closed) the Bakers, (closed) and the Co-Op (never closes. Not ever.) We also passed an (open) beer and wine shop, which seemed to specialise in brews from Cornwall’s local breweries. In the corner of the store we noticed a bottle of wine, called “Shite”. We made a mental note to return to these excellent premises for further investigation.
Our walk took past the ever-growing throng of lifestyle oriented shop hawking surfwear to fashion and marketing-conscious teenagers, through the quaint harbour with its beached fishing boats awaiting the next tide, and out onto the headland beyond, with its lighthouse, coastguard look-out and magnificent views over the town.
We then continued onto the final bay the town enjoys, Porthmeor beach, the widest and longest beach with the St Ives Tate gallery standing proudly at its head, and still we didn't stop on. We passed the slowly bronzing or reddening bodies laying herringboned on the beach, up onto the promenade and onto the soaring headland above, past the rockpools and caves that merge into its shoulders.
A kindly passing lady pointed a seal out to us which was lazing on a rocky ledge, raising its head and tail as it let the waves break over it. I’m a sucker for a seal, I think they’re among the most unthreatening, loveable, righteous animals on the planet and I’m reduced to a dewy-eyed wreck whenever I have one as company. Nicola has arranged a speedboat trip later in the month to go seal-watching, and I can’t wait.
What the bloody hell has happened to this blog? A few months ago you could come here to read about Quattroportes and GT-Rs. Now it’s all seaside walks and lovely, cute, cuddly seals. Hey, I’m on holiday. Time to get some oxygen back in my veins in place of the hi-test.
Time stood still when we reached the rocky escarpment atop the headland, we just peered out to sea, and along the dramatic cliffline, for what felt like ages. It was certainly long enough for the first vestiges of sunburn to develop on our shins, and Nicolas hunger level was approaching grumpiness. Time to return to the town for food and, we had decided, a pint.
Pasty time. The Cornish pasty is a delicacy of world reknown, not for any particular merit but for its uniquity. Every shop in Cornwall claims to offer the most authentic pasty experience. We just plumped for the nearest, and each score a large traditional Cornish pasties, and, for me, a sausage roll too; because I’m a glutton.
They were delicious, and always taste best when consumed on a park bench looking out at sailing boats bobbing gently up and down. When we stood, ready for the “and a pint” part of our lunch, tiny flakes of pastry remained on our neckline as telltales of the culinary event that had just occurred.
The Sloop Inn is an imposing and very traditional pub beside the harbour, and we had every intention of having our first proper pint each of the holiday. Last year, after a lengthy walk from Looe to Polperro, Nicola had enjoyed a Pint of Cornish Rattler cider, a potent liquid indeed and one that, on contacting her largely empty stomach, left her wondering where the ends of her legs were. She was certainly unable to walk the journey back, so a bus was employed to whisk us home.
Today it was time to revisit this revered beverage, we sank a pint each at an outside table which was in the shadow of the pub and started to get a bit chilly. This time, our recently devoured pasties served to lessen the effect of the cider, though we did both still experience a pleasant light-headedness as we explored the harbour before we set off for home.
Taking a dawdling, indirect route we passed various ice-cream parlours, pottery and art specialists (St Ives has played host to various visionaries from the art world over the years, the Tate here was opened largely to celebrate the life works of Barbara Hepworth, who lived here), and by the time we reached the main shopping street and the Co-Op, we were all arted out.
The choice of refrigerated meats on offer wasn’t vast, but there were enough sausages, burgers and chicken breasts to cobble some kind of barbecue together, so we paid and toddled off back up the hill with our plastic sacks bulging. We were still compos mentis despite the cider so we chose not to take the bus. Besides, we didn’t honestly know where it left from anyway.
Our earlier difficulty in slowing our descent into town should have provided a clue that the climb back up the hill was going to be quite a hard slog. There must be locals who take this walk every day, we reasoned. But Essex legs aren’t raised on Cornish inclines, and soon our thighs and ankles were burning with anaerobic juices. But we returned to the campsite as heroes. My parents had embarked on a similar visit while we were away, they had taken the bus both ways, from campsite to town and then back. We had phoned from town to check that there wasn’t anything they needed, at which point they were about to catch the bus. Astonishingly, they only beat us back to the tent by a matter of ten minutes or so.
We were wearing a film of sweat that they weren’t, so Nic and I stripped down and headed straight to the on-site heated swimming pool. Heated, you say? By what? The suns rays? The wind? Human movement? Piss and farts? It was bloody freezing, to an extent that simply couldn’t be denied under calls of “It’s lovely when you’re in”.
Neither Nic nor I are confident swimmers. I can probably do a length or so if given enough time, but by technique is so rubbish that I tend to flail around without a lot of forward movement. As a result I loose interest and tend to just bob around in the pool, occasionally launching myself from one side to the other. Today I couldn’t even do that, so loose were my shorts that anything too energetic could result in my member being exposed to all the cheerful, innocent families, and the police inevitably getting involved.
After half an hour of determined bobbing, we threw in the towel and left the pool to the kids, who had clearly dined heartily on Ready-Brek. We went straight through the showers and back to the tent, where we could prepare for the evening banquet of cremated offal.
Actually, it was nicer than that. Actually, it was superb. Nicola had had the presence of mind to buy a red pepper, which she sliced and used in chicken kebabs. The burgers were confidently the right side of ash, and the sausages were still flexible to the bite. It was, we all agreed, a delicious dinner, and a fitting end to a delightful day. We relaxed, read and drank beer until the sunlight disappeared, then retired to our nylon sacks for the night.
OK, I lied. There was no driving whatsoever in this entry, yet you read it right until the end!