The South West Coast Path – Part 10
I was so excited to hike into Polperro. What I hadn’t realised however, was the Herculean leg-burning effort it would entail to get there! I figured I was a pretty hardy hiker by this point, but the incessant ups and downs of this stretch of coastline were making mincemeat of me. No sooner had I clattered down what seemed like 200 steps, I was heading back up them again! It began to feel as though the path were mocking me. Often I could see where I was headed, and as I looked atop the gorse and ferns I would spot what seemed like a flat green meander. Hmm not so! The tricksy path had other ideas, and every flat-looking mirage gave way to the hidden rollercoaster that kept me clinging to the truest undulating curves of our beautiful county.
Polperro didn’t disappoint, with it’s nooks, crannies and character-filled alleyways. I stopped for some early lunch and to take shelter for a spell. Chatted to a few locals – at a good distance – and then was off towards Looe. I’m sad to say that Looe didn’t have quite the same atmosphere as other little towns I’d hiked through on the South Coast so far. There were what seemed like thousands of visitors and I could see that the locals were struggling to help them maintain good social distance and follow rules for safety. Instead of lingering I made a swift beeline through and back out to the cliffs on the other side. Now I was in unchartered territory, for I had never been to the villages and coastline I was about to experience! Through the military base of ‘Tregantle Fort’; open for hikers to pass through, and then on to Whitsand Bay. Well, I had never seen anything like it before, and I absolutely loved it!
Peppered along the whole coastline were hundreds of chalets – each with it’s own quirky look and garden. Some were a little twee, some full of fishing paraphernalia and bright orange buoys, some were very modern and full of glass panels and then others looked old and dilapidated. It seemed like an amazing place to come and tuck away into a piece of cliff, looking out at the sea-life in the bay and not seeing another soul until you emerged to hit the sandy path past other chalets on the way out. I began to wish I had a place there! After my little wistful Whitsand daydream, I hot-footed it on to stunning Rame Head, and around through Cawsand towards Mt Edgecombe. I picked up the ferry here at the close of the day and was deposited in Plymouth. I made a rather unwise choice of accommodation in the city, and was glad to be out in the morning!
Skipping the city walk that would lead me around built-up industrial areas, I instead hopped on another ferry and headed straight over from the Barbican to Mountbatten. I was absolutely not in the mood for city and crowds, and have actually avoided any semblance of these on my trip so far. So this was it – the next county! I was in Devon and feeling great, so I hiked another short day so I could get in and out of the sea as much as possible – I hadn’t been doing nearly enough salty dipping! I found a very sweet campsite run by an elderly gentleman whose wife had loved camping, and who had set up the site on their field some twenty or more years before. She has since passed away, and he opens the field every year with the help of his daughter because he says it’s what she would have wanted. He moved me to tears with his story and clear adoration for his late wife.
The next excellent character I met was the very next day, by a creek on the other side of the hill I had camped on, and where I needed to call for the water taxi to get across the River Yealm. I’d heard a lot about the ferryman and that he might or might not turn up depending on how he felt that day. Ultimately I did have to wait a while. I dropped the board as a signal across the river for him to come to get me and sat in for 30 minutes or more, wondering if he’d come at all! But the wait was well worth it, because he was a solid hoot; making me laugh with his wry wit all the way over.
On the other side of the river and along the path, I met a hiker who overtook me when I stopped for a drink. I didn’t know it at the time but this was Paul, and he would be a great trail buddy once we caught up with each other again that afternoon. I’ve said it before, but it’s was rare to meet other thru-hikers on the trail this year, so every one becomes special and memorable. We whiled away some time together in the early evening – waiting for the tide to go out so that we could wade across the River Erme. My goodness, there were so many rivers to cross here in Devon! There is no denying it was a stunning part of the world though, with each little creek and estuary promising a world of beauty and nature to explore.
We pitched up for the night at a campsite in Bigbury, and crossed more rivers on boats the next day. Beastly fog and mist then abruptly set in for what was meant to be some of the most stunning views for miles around, so I had to use my extensive imagination to see them in minds eye. It wasn’t much fun slogging through mud in the driving wind along cliff edges, so when we sloshed into Salcombe we were more than happy to call it a day. I happily accepted a cider, and watched the rain cascade down the windows whilst feeling delighted that I’d got this far!