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5495 miles already walked

Sand, Surf and Scenery

On many occasions this week, gin clear water has almost tempted the Victory Walker away from walking and into the blue seas below.  Perhaps luckily, when the Van was hurriedly packed on a chilly Autumn morning all that time ago, we decided there would be no space for mask, fins and snorkel.  Instead, I’ve remained focussed on my main task - walking towards Land’s End along a coast full of variety.

Like Wales, where numerous place names began with ‘Llan’, in Cornwall I’m never far from a place beginning ‘Tre’ or ‘Port’ – no wonder I forget where I’ve been and where I’m going!  I called into Port Isaac, a typical Cornish village with narrow streets built for horse and cart.  It has become even more popular since used for filming the ‘Doc Martin’ television series.  Thankfully, the crews and makeup artists were nowhere to be seen as I weaved my way in, out and past trippers.

My approach to the gastronomic town of Padstow was via Polzeath and Rock, before taking the flat-bottomed ferry across the Camel river.  It’s an estuary littered with sandbanks; numerous notices warn people about the dangers of being cut-off by fast rising tides.  While walking towards my ferry point I spied two people out on a sandbank, who appeared oblivious of water beginning to encircle them.  I thought about the service provided by the RNLI and how busy they always are.

Padstow had its first lifeboat in 1827, since when the station has moved more than once. Today, the town’s lifeboat is housed in a new building away from the Camel estuary mouth, around the corner close to Trevose Head. The bravery of crews mustn’t be underestimated: Padstow has lost three lifeboats and many crew members over the years.  For inshore needs, RNLI lifeguards provide a service at numerous beaches, nowhere more so than in Cornwall. 

I sense many take these men and women for granted, not appreciating the efforts they make to keep people safe.  Later in the week I chatted with two lifeguards at Porthtowan who explained the detailed training they undertake – in and out of the water.  Passing all water competencies is essential, as is an advanced First Aid qualification. Fitness tests are held monthly which no doubt deter lifeguards from consuming too many ‘goodies’ from beachside cafes!

Paid by local councils, their uniform, wetsuits, boards and other equipment is provided by the RNLI whose headquarters are in Poole, Dorset. All lifeguards must also be competent in using a rescue watercraft (jet-ski), an inshore rescue boat (RIB), an all-terrain vehicle (quad bike) and the four-wheel drive truck.  Local repair and training centres are dotted around the country, though staff do receive some training at Poole too.  Some have been doing the job for many years, but everyone must reapply each year. During this week I’ve passed many surfing beaches including Constantine, Watergate Bay, Towan, Tolcarne, Fistral, Godrevy and Gwithians. – all of which had the familiar red and yellow uniformed lifeguards on duty.

Arriving in Padstow, two things immediately struck me: I’d never go hungry here, and neither do the swarms of seagulls that fly regular circuits, waiting to swoop on any unsuspecting chip eater. I lost count of pasty and ice cream shops in this town made famous by Rick Stein’s fish restaurant. I wasn’t bothered about fish in the middle of the morning, instead I rather fancied the mountain-like meringues in his patisserie. And before you ask – no, I didn’t buy one!

As well as sweeping golden sands and precipitous cliffs, Cornwall’s industrial past has made a prominent appearance this week.  I moved from slate quarries into a wilderness landscape, where mounds of spoil and former mine buildings from tin and copper mining days were all clearly visible.  Later, when I passed through Hayle, I learned that foundries from this once industrial town had been the principal provider of machinery for Cornwall’s mining industry.

The area around by St Agnes was fascinating and I wished I’d had more time to explore.  Much of the area is carpeted in purple heather, which brings the striking scenery alive but can conceal dangerous mineshafts.  The rare Greater Horseshoe bat lives in these disused shafts, which explains why mineshafts are topped with huge conical mesh caps.

On Gwithian’s dunes, winds of 50mph whipped and swirled sand making the air thick with fine grey particles.  Breathing, seeing and walking were all made difficult, while those at our camp site who didn’t dismantle their awnings wished they had.  I was reminded of the sandstorms I’d experienced while serving in Baghdad, Iraq.  In the same way every conceivable ledge, nook and cranny at the camp site was coated with a gritty layer, requiring my Support Team to don ‘pinnie’ and get his duster out!

As always, offers of support arrive ‘out of the blue’, including one from ‘the light blue’ at RAF St Mawgan.  Permission was given for us to park-up overnight in a deserted exercise area.  All alone, apart from rabbits skipping around nearby, we had a blissfully peaceful night’s sleep.  We were also able to enjoy hot showers in the gym. 

Nor would the week be complete without an edible gift, and this was delivered to the Victory Van by an 87-year old former Wren, Jane, who popped by for a chat, with a generous cash donation and a box of very superior chocolate biscuits!

To conclude, I’d like to thank the many generous people who’ve responded to my weekly blogs, not only with kind words, but with donations as well. Be assured that every penny you’ve given will be used by the charities to ease the lives of Naval men and women, both serving and veterans. They, like me, are immensely grateful for your help and support.

See Photo Album No 79 – Sand, Surf and Scenery