Well I did it! The walk today was less important than the emotional battle going on inside my head as I really started to realise the impact this adventure has had on other people.
Back at Zennor to start Cath and I met the breakfast chef at the Tinners Arms who revealed she had lost her husband to Prostate Cancer 3 years ago, so I set off already with a lump in my throat. The coastal path was wetter due to rain overnight but there was little wind so everything seemed very still. Time seemed to pass quite slowly at first as I climbed round a series of small headlands and coves, past the Gurnards Head and some wild poniesbefore reaching the rocky cove at Bosigran where some important filming was taking place. Several security staff, some cameramen, spotters and a couple of “action men” getting ready for the shoot. All I could obtain was that it was some sort of cliff and rock climbing safety video, so decided not to hang around – then as I left the helicopter arrived, presumably with the reason for the security inside. Very exciting but I had to make tracks so it will remain a mystery.Sometime later as the day got warmer I made it to Pendeen Watch lighthouse and stopped for a short break.With no phone signal I decided to leave the coast path and head inland for a few miles through Pendeen to St Just where I managed to get my blog up to date. My phone then started to explode with texts, mails and FB messages wishing me luck on my last day – I began to wonder how tough it was going to be emotionally over the last few miles. I hit the coast path again near Cape Cornwall and almost immediately got my first sight of Lands End on the horizon. Significantly I reached the last of my printed OS route maps – another moment which brought home the scale of this adventure and the unavoidable fact that I was nearly there.
I got to Sennen Cove and stopped with about 1 mile to go to try and compose myself for what was to come. I was fine for the next half mile until two unknown gentlemen stopped, congratulated me and presented me with a couple of Prostate Cancer UK balloons. I realised then that something had been planned for my arrival and knew it would be very hard to manage my emotions from there on. As I crested the final brow I could see a group of people gathered by the signpost and as I got closer the applause and cheering started. There was even a klaxon going off. I began to recognise the people I knew (Cath, Shirley, Cazzy and Penny and Mick Howard all wearing PCUK t-shirts holding a banner with a montage of photos from this trek) and a crowd of tourists and visitors all cheering me home. Those last 100 yards were amongst the hardest of the entire trek – the tears welled up behind my sunglasses, I walked to Cath (my rock of support for the last 9 weeks) hugged her and just cried as the raw emotion took over. (I just re-lived all of that as I wrote it, by the way, and it took a while to get that down…). When I managed to compose myself it was time for photos and introductions to Mark and Joanne Travis who had come welcome me on behalf of Prostate Cancer UK and helped Cath organise the balloons, t-shirts etc. After a celebratory drink I took a moment before leaving LE to try and just savour this last experience alone by the First and Last Inn. I’m sure I’ll re-live parts of this walk over and over and will carry with me memories for a lifetime. I’ve done 1211 miles End to End on foot in 63 days, my GPS tells me I’ve climbed over 200,000 feet but I don’t believe that. Anyway I’ve probably done at least 4 Mount Everests. I don’t have all the step data as I was phoneless for several days through the middle but it’s going to be about 2.5 million. What is most important though is that we (that’s everyone involved) have managed to raise in the end over £5000 for Prostate Cancer UK, and hopefully done our bit to help generate more awareness along the way. I have a massive list of people to thank (they will know who they are) and will deal with that separately. Time to celebrate!!!
Incessant overnight rain made for a soggy and late start as I mulled over possible routes and helped to make sure Betty wasn’t bogged down at the camp site. I took roads through Boscastle then decided to head for the coastal path at Tintagel – as much out of curiosity to see what it’s really like. As I climbed up onto the clifftop it became apparent how windy it was and only a few die hard tourists at the castle.I followed the SWCP along the cliff top until it dropped down a steep and often slippy path to Trebarwith Strand. There were some good views but at one point I had to stop and brace myself against the strong gusts.A hot coffee was in order at the Strand Cafe and I decided then to go for country lanes rather than back on the cliffs. I would anyway be leaving the coastal path at Port Isaac to get to Wadebridge. A combination of AA roadmap, my printed OS pages and some GPS planning plotted a route which took me along lanes through some little Cornish villages like St Teath, Pendoggett and Amble. The final mile or so was back to the Andy Robinson book route and resulted in some boggy overgrown fields with dilapidated stiles and dodgy footbridges – felt like being back in Staffordshire! Got to the camp site safely and found Cath had made a rallying call which meant loads of messages of support and encouragement – quite overwhelming, but much needed as the mental strain is tough to manage and the weather shows not sign of improvement.
The rain is back with a vengeance – a drizzly start from just outside Bude along lanes at first and through the town centre before picking up the coastal path for an easy few miles to Widemouth Bay – where I took my only photo of the day.The path went through sand dunes – not really needed – and then a mixture of lane and cliff tops before a steep slippery descent into Millook. As I climbed up the lane back onto the cliffs the rain got heavier and the cloud descended. To be honest I am not the biggest fan of coastal paths, and right now my main objective is Lands End in one piece, done checked my route and decided to avoid some more “dangerous” ups and downs by following country lanes from Dizzard to Crackington Haven – these were pretty steep as well but nowhere near as slippery. I stopped for a coffee and wifi and decided to continue along lanes as the terrain got higher and into the clouds at High Cliff. After missing a couple of paths I ended up on a B road and after less than 5 minutes Cath came past in Betty on her way to the campsite. I took a slightly longer route but got there thoroughly soaked. The rain just continued all night so I am reassessing route options to get to Wadebridge and more concerned about whether Betty will manage to get out of this field which is now completely saturated!
The temptation to sink a few extra beers in the hotel was resisted with the prospect of a long day in store today. More rain overnight and still getting wetter this morning. Fearless I set off on the Two Moors Way to climb back up onto Exmoor, although an easier road option may have been wiser. I had a map misread blip after less than one mile and wasted about 15 minutes choosing the right route, disturbing 2 wild campers in the process! The moor was bleak, windy and wet (not quite Pennine Way but pretty tough). In the mist I managed to disturb a group of bullocks and had to dodge around them fairly briskly. Next I had to navigate with no paths to Exe Head where another group of cows were guarding the way. Almost by chance I stumbled back onto the right track and had to negotiate some slightly boggy terrain to reach Pinkery Pond before turning south to say goodbye to the moor.
By now I was soaked to the skin and needed to make up time and get dry so I chose minor roads and country lanes to get all the way to Barnstaple via Challacombe, Bratton Fleming (watched a bit of village cricket) and a nice viaduct at Chelfham.
By the time I got to Barnstaple the sun had come out and although getting tired I was feeling good about finally reaching the coast.
Another 3 miles to the chosen campsite at Great Knightacott Farm in the North Devon Hills to discover that Cath had got lost and had to negotiate some very narrow lanes – Betty had the scratches to prove it! She was aided by a 92 year old lady at a nearby farm and arrived some later, pretty stressed. Meanwhile I had a nice relaxing chat with the resident llamas!!
SW Coastal path beckons!