Thursday, January 18, 2007

Day 1 : Land's End to Penzance

Monday 15th January 2007

Distance Walked: 18.8 miles
Start Time: 9:25
End Time: 15:16
Weather: Cold and sunny early on; overcast and drizzly later
Distance walked so far: 18.8 miles

Weekly Audio Update: Dave on The Steve Show - Day 0

"So, you're really doing it then?"
"It's not a wind up?"
"Bit of a cry for a help, isn't it"
"Y'know, if you're lonely, you just need to say"
"You don't have to put yourself through all this just to get some attention"
"They have help groups and everything these days"
"Oh really"
"And drugs"
"Yes...look, I don't mean to be rude, but who the hell are you and will you please get out of my house?"


There was no one at Land's End when it started. Just Nikki and me. In January, Cornwall is closed. The small tacky theme park on the edge of this westernmost cliff was deserted. It was so early that the man who owns the official Land's End sign (and charges people to take photos, a nice little earner!) had not yet surfaced. Only the landmark's stump remained. In an attempt to avoid analogies, metaphors and similes in this account I shan't analyse the significance of this.

I'm not the first person to have attempted this of course, to walk from Land's End to John O'Groats, and some of those who have succeeded have organised themselves into a little club, to bask in their own achievements. They have badges and merchandising, and there is a form that prospective applicants have to get stamped at Post Offices en route to validate their walk. Their clubhouse sits amongst the theme park attractions. As it as closed I was unable to obviously snub them. No form for me. That's not why I'm doing it.

So why am I doing it, people ask? I have no idea. Maybe the real reason will dawn on me as I go. All I know for certain is that I can see no reason not to do it, and right now that's good enough for me.

I haven't prepared much for this. I haven't definitively decided on a route. It's been a spur of the moment decision to attempt a forgotten long-held ambition. I've jacked in the day job in the hope that the time that this walk will take will allow me to think about what I'd really like to do with myself. As far as fitness is concerned, I've done some walking, and I've done some running. I've consulted the excellent website of Mark Moxon and I've purchased the book by Andrew McCloy. I've got the gear. I've got the time. Everything else I'll discover on the way.

There are three routes from Land's End. North along the South West Coast Path; centrally alongside the A30; or south along the Coast Path to Penzance. I like the coast, and having a vague idea of what's to come later on I like the idea of a path so I head south east, into the rising sun. No need for maps here, as everything is clearly signposted. Don't underestimate the coast path though. The views are fantastic, with bay after sandy bay coming into view, but it's hard work. Pounding up and down sharp cliffs takes its toll. Someone tells me that walking the entire length of the coast path is the equivalent of going up and down Everest three times. It's the kind of stat that I would struggle to disprove so I accept it as fact and pass it on to you, unquestioned.
I pass all manner of tiny fishing villages, all of which appear to be closed. I eat my flapjack and sing to the seagulls. As the drizzle starts, I approach Mousehole (pronounced Mowzel, to be awkward) and the impressive sweep of the Penzance harbour comes into view with the silhouette of Saint Michaels Mount in the distance. Even on a grey evening it looks good, but typically it's not quite as good as Mont Saint Michel, the French equivalent, which is altogether bigger, better and more flamboyant (and has a bigger car park to match). I rattle past the fish warehouses of Newlyn and I'm done. I sit in a shelter overlooking the sea, and try to work out what percentage of the total distance I've just completed. It's tiny. I'm joined in the shelter by four dishevelled men of East European extraction, drinking litre bottles of Stella. Maybe a true adventurer would've engaged them in fractured conversation, accompanied them in their descent into brain mushing numbness, and awoken four days later in a ditch in Riga but, not yet quite brave enough for such an experience, I slink away and sidle back to the B&B to celebrate a disaster-free start.

I was thirty two today.

Song of the day:

Jackson Browne
"These Days"

I've been out walking /
I don't do too much talking these days /
These days I seem to think a lot /
About the things that I forgot to do /
And all the time I had the chance to

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