Padstow to Fowey on foot: two sisters on a family pilgrimage in the rain

Rain on Helman Tor

Rain on Helman Tor

They say there is no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothing. Sadly, every item of waterproof clothing was tested to its limit when my sister and I decided to go on a walking pilgrimage. If the sun did show itself for a few minutes, it was a bonus and the reason for a modest cheer. There’s nothing quite like a Cornish landscape, but when it is so misty and damp, or the rain is horizontal and there is a gale blowing, you just concentrate on not slipping in the mud as you clamber over one more stile.

Not that I’m complaining. We loved every minute of our expedition, even if I did spend two days walking with a wet foot. My ten-year-old walking boots chose day two on which to give up. The rubber welt on the left boot came away from the upper so that was that. Even the old trick of putting my foot inside a plastic bag before putting on the boot made no difference. Never mind. We have amazing memories of the whole enterprise. We’ve succeeded in almost forgetting a couple of uncomfortable beds, a slightly less-than warm welcome at the final bed & breakfast and one or two unintended temporary diversions from the route.

Among the many highlights were spotting wild strawberries in a hedgerow. There they were, like jewels nestling among the leaves, just waiting to be eaten. There were countless beautiful flowers – wild foxgloves standing like sentinels beside the path, honeysuckle, red campion, bramble flowers – along with flitting wrens, robins, finches, mewing buzzards. Even a butterfly or two appeared in time with the occasional flash of sunshine.

The reason for undertaking the 30-mile walk was to mark what would have been our late father’s 100th birthday. We chose to walk the Saints Way, between Padstow on the north coast, across the centre of Cornwall to Fowey on the south coast, and we planned it so we would arrive at our destination on Father’s Day.

We wanted to walk in Cornwall because we’d spent part of our childhood there, and Fowey had to be on the itinerary because our father had known the pretty little port with its beautiful harbour from boyhood. The Saints Way has become well known nowadays as the likely route taken by pilgrims making their way from Ireland to the Continent. However, we met few others on the way, which we felt was a good thing.

Never having done anything like this together before, we discovered that we still enjoyed each other’s company and liked our silences as much as the chatting, whether we were discussing the map we were meant to be following, or setting the world to rights.

It is important to stress at this point that we were not trying to do the impossible and carry heavy packs on our backs: we weren’t. Neither were we camping. We stayed at pre-booked b&bs each night, and our bags were taken to the next one after we’d set off each morning.

In spite of wet gear, a few doubts about the right way to go (which I have to admit had nothing to do with the excellent instructions with which we had been provided) and having to decide where to eat each evening, the most tricky decision every morning turned out to be what to bring with us in our light daypacks and what to leave behind to be delivered for us to find at the next b&b

You really would think that two grown women who’d brought up families and travelled the world could decide, on the basis of maps, weather forecasts and practical experience, how many spare pairs of socks, sticking plasters, which reading material, extra jerseys, waterproofs and so on to bring. By the second morning we realised that the post-breakfast “bag faffing” as we called it was beginning to spoil what should have been a smooth departure.

Once we’d got going we just had to exist for six or eight hours with what we had with us. Had there been an emergency we were armed with all the right telephone numbers. Happily, there were no serious problems. As we headed across hillsides, down into valleys, through soggy woods, up Helman Tor, and down into farmyards and hamlets, we came across wonderful road signs with names like St Wenn, Withiel Goose and Retire; we browsed in ancient churches, studied gravestones and were mesmerised by the sight of wind turbines in action.

We felt that Dad might have been quite proud of us, his girls, a couple of oldies now, proving that a bit of rain and wind needn’t divert us from our pilgrimage. Needless to say, I have invested in a new pair of walking boots and we are looking forward to the next trip.

Withiel church embroidered wall hanging

Withiel church embroidered wall hanging

Water trough with Green Man near Lanivet

Water trough with Green Man near Lanivet

River Fowey at Lostwithiel

River Fowey at Lostwithiel

Rain-lashed foxgloves below Helman Tor

Rain-lashed foxgloves below Helman Tor

St Sampson's church, Golant

St Sampson’s church, Golant

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