The First 100 Miles

Wow, what a rollercoaster of emotions and experience. From the initial “what have I got myself in to” to “what an opportunity”, back and forth, with the occasional intrusion of “can I do this?” The old adage of taking one day at a time has certainly made things easier but I’ve constantly wanted to plan ahead, appeasing the fear of what might be. I can only hope that I can limit the number of times I look at the map or double check the options for an overnight stay. Still, 14 days since leaving home, 10 of them walking, I’ve crossed the first of about 12 mental and physical barriers.

The first hundred days is meant to be a honeymoon period for incoming US Presidents but this has been more about teething issues, learning what works in the field and how to look after the body and mind long enough to get fitter and stronger to ensure finishing. In a sense it has been a honeymoon with too many restaurant/pub cooked meals after the gas cylinder refused to work, far more beer than I had intended, at least 2 comfy beds, 5 non-tent nights, and a couple of days walking without the 17kg on my back.  Excessive tent condensation, heat and the complete failure to maintain many of the inland footpaths have thrown spanners in the works, and I will never again say that Cornwall is relatively flat having covered many miles up and down and up again over the now infamous South West Coast Path with its coves, headlands, porths, and towans (that’s sand dunes to the rest of us and the damn autocorrect).

The coastline is famously beautiful and exceeds expectations. Paraphrasing Bill Bryson once talking about Durham, “go… get there… borrow my car”. It is that beautiful, rugged, dangerous, at times isolated,  at others reassuringly popular, the home to some amazing wildlife (although there was a deficit of seals on Seal Beach) and more birds than you wouldn’t be allowed to shake a stick at. By the way, keep your voices down, you don’t want to go upsetting those seals; wherever they are. If you like beaches, and who doesn’t, apart perhaps when you’re trudging over wet sand (thank you Morrisey) with 17kg on your back in a poor imitation of Beau Geste or at least the Morecambe and Wise version, there are plenty that happily compete with pretty much anything I have seen in Australia bar maybe The Whitsundays.

Having got as far a Perranporth, well in the story at least, I should not and could not forget the Scilly Isles or Isles of Scilly but, in no way whatsoever the Scillies; who could forget? Certainly BBC Cornwall’s Laurence Reed didn’t let me but then he wasn’t overly impressed when I, the one suffering with a mental illness, suggested my decision to walk so far might be deemed “crazy”. There’s political correctness and then there’s… well shockingly large numbers of UKIP supporters down here. The days of the Liberal Democrats seem numbered although it was suggested to me that the Lib Dems’ success had been related more to the support for and legacy of the Cornishman David Penhaligon than any significant political conviction.

So, back on the Scillie… Scilly Isles I was greeted by the now famous Police Sergeant, Colin Taylor, whose Facebook page has been voted the most popular in the UK by the Guardian. We decided not to go with the potato print for the passport but there was time for a photograph and he did hold my boat transfer so I could get some money from the cashpoint (there are no ATMs on St. Agnes). The Scilly Isles are amazing. I particularly liked St. Agnes, chosen for having the UK’s most southerly settlement. There is a remoteness that is inspiring and being only 4 miles in circumference is paradoxically accessible. I only remember four sounds: the wind, the sea, the bird life and laughter. It is reassuringly entrenched in the past much out of necessity as very little is thrown away but rather reused because of the difficulty of acquiring new parts, equipment etc. The 1950s tractor coming round the bend towards me will be an abiding memory as will my failure to photograph it. This is not the time to rant on about the Scilly Isles… Just go, you’ll love it. I preferred St. Agnes to St Mary, although there was more walking to be done with a 10 mile circumference and meeting the Wildlife Trust as they moved their ponies from place to place steadily maintaining the expansion of fern, bracken and other dense foliage was both interesting and beautiful: there was something of the collision of the old and the new in the idea not least because the clearance was meant to facilitate easier movement for tourists and because the head of the Trust had been brought in from the mainland to ‘turn things around’. The fact that the ponies were grazing near an ancient burial chamber was another plus. I wish I had had a chance to see more of the islands, all appearing to have unique characteristics.

With the flight out cancelled because of thick sea mist I was back on the sick bucket to Penzance. In some ways this seemed to sum up the islands. They work but move at their own speed and certainly do it their own way. Oh, and don’t be in a rush.

I should probably stop rambling on. There are plenty of other stories to add here but maybe another time.

Highlights:

stunning coasts, beautiful & plentiful wildlife (including my first adder), good beer, 99% fantastic people, eating breakfast, if cold, on the sacrificial stone of an ancient stone circle, getting to 100 miles.

Thanks for all your messages of support. It’s a cliche, but for good reason, I couldn’t do this without you, your donations, your words of encouragement, your cash or your cheek. Please keep them coming and please encourage as many people as possible to donate to Mind and Women in Need.

Cheers, until the next 100 miles.

Jp