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Cornwall Coast Path (South-West Coast Path Part 2)

Cornwall Coast Path (South-West Coast Path Part 2)

Excerpt:
Planning your walk


Contents | Introduction | About the coast path | Planning your walk | Using this guide | Sample route guide: Bude to Crackington Haven


PLANNING YOUR WALK

Route finding

For most of its lenght the coast path is well signposted. At confusing junctions the route is usually indicated by a finger-post sign with ‘coast path’ written on it. At other points, where there could be some confusion, there are wooden waymark posts with an acorn symbol and a yellow arrow to indicate which direction you should head. The way- marking is the responsibility of the local authorities along the trail who have a duty to maintain the path. Generally they do a good job although occasionally you will come across sections of the trail where waymarking is ambiguous, or even non-existent, but with the detailed route maps and directions in this book and the fact that you always have the sea to one side it would be hard to get really lost.

Using GPS with this book
If you have a handheld GPS receiver, or GPS on your smartphone you will be able to take advantage of the waypoints marked on the maps, and listed on pp337-42 of this book. Essentially a GPS (Global Positioning System) will calculate your position on the earth using a number of satellites and this will be accurate to a few metres. That being so you might wonder what the point is of taking paper maps and a compass with you. The answer is that if the batteries go flat or the machine malfunctions you’ll be left with only your sense of direction.

Having said this, it is by no means necessary that you use a GPS in conjunction with this guide and you should be able to get by with simply the signposts on the trail and the maps in this book. However, a GPS can be useful if for some reason you do get lost, or if you decide to explore off the trail and can’t find your way back. It can also prove handy if you find yourself on the trail after dark when you can’t see further than your torch beam.

If you do decide to use a GPS unit in conjunction with this book don’t feel you need to be ticking off every waypoint as you reach it; you’ll soon get bored and should get by without turning on your GPS for most of the trail. But if at any point you are unsure of your position your GPS can give a quick and reassuring answer.

You can either manually key the nearest presumed waypoint from the list in this book into your unit as and when the need arises or, much less laboriously and with less margin for keystroke error, download the complete list (but not the descriptions) for free as a GPS-readable file from the Trailblazer website. You’ll need the right cable and adequate memory in your unit (typically the ability to store 500 waypoints or more). This file, as well as instructions on how to interpret an OS grid reference, can be found on the Trailblazer website (www.trailblazer-guides.com). See p47 for more on digital mapping.

ACCOMMODATION

There are plenty of places to stay all along the Cornwall Coast Path. It is always a good idea to book your accommodation in advance (see box p22), or at least phone ahead. National holidays and any major festivals and events (see pp15-16) are likely to fill up the available accommodation quite quickly so make sure you are aware of what is taking place in the region.

Camping
Camping can be good fun; modern tents are easy to erect and light, so carrying everything on your back need not be burdensome and will enable you to experience a greater sense of independence.

Most campsites are only open from Easter to October so camping in winter is not really practical. You will come across an enormous range of sites from a simple field on a farm with a toilet, shower and little else, to huge caravan and camping parks with restaurants, shops and swimming pools.

Prices range from £7 to about £12 per person and reach their peak in July and August when they can increase to as much as £20-25 per person. Note, prices are sometimes per pitch, which assumes two people sharing a tent, so in these cases single hikers can end up paying more than normal. It’s advisable to book in advance where possible, although many campsites make special allowances for walkers and try to find space for them even if the campsite is officially full. Always call ahead in the morning to tell a campsite that you’re planning to arrive that evening, and always tell them that you’re a walker, hiking the coast path, and they’ll normally find a space for you.

Officially, the coast path is not really suited to wild camping. If you want to camp wild you should ask permission from whoever owns the land, but finding out which farmhouse owns the field you want to camp in is no easy feat; you may find yourself trudging along miles of country lanes only to be told ‘no’. Also, much of the coastline is owned by the National Trust who do not allow camping on their land. However, there will always be independent-minded souls who put up their tent as the spirit moves them. By pitching late in the day and leaving before anyone else is up, it is unlikely that you will be noticed.

Hostels
There is a reasonable scattering of hostels along the coast path providing budget accommodation for £15-25 per person per night (less for under 18s), usually in dormitories, although many now have private rooms available too. There are two types of hostels: YHA hostels, which are part of the Youth Hostel Association/Hostelling International (YHA/HI; see box below), and independent hostels, also referred to as backpacker hostels, which as the name suggests are independently owned. If you are planning to stay in hostels as often as possible you will have to make use of both types. In Penzance there is an excellent hostel run by the YMCA, which, like the YHA hostels, requires no prior membership or affiliation of any kind.

Note, in almost all cases, hostels require guests to show some form of photo ID when they check in. A photocopy will suffice.

Hostels are not just for young travellers, the young at heart will be more than welcome at most places. In fact the YHA positively encourage the group referred to as the ‘green greys’, that is, conservation-minded older people who are an important market sector for them. If you find large groups of young people intimidating, you can always check if the hostel has any private rooms (this may be advisable in party towns such as Newquay, for example). Note, many hostels’ dorms are mixed-sex, although some have single-sex dorms too.

One of the big advantages of staying in a hostel, aside from a cheap bed, is being able to cook your own food. Most hostels provide well-equipped kitchens and all they ask is that you clean up after yourself. The old rule of having to do a chore is a thing of the past, thankfully. There’s also no need to carry a sleeping bag. All hostels recommended in this guide provide linen and may not even allow you to use your own sleeping bag. The YHA hostels are particularly clean and well equipped. Note that hostels very rarely provide towels (sometimes these can be bought at reception).

In some cases camping is available at YHA hostels for around £10-15 per tent per night, and campers can use the hostel’s facilities.

Unfortunately, hostels aren’t numerous enough or sufficiently well spaced to provide accommodation for every night of your walk so you will have to stay in B&Bs on several nights. The long stretch between Falmouth and Plymouth is particularly barren with only one hostel (at Boswinger, near Gorran Haven).

Most YHA hostels (but not independent hostels) are only open for group bookings between November and March; however, check the YHA website for up-to-date details.

Bed and breakfast (B&Bs) accommodation
B&Bs are a great British institution: for anyone unfamiliar with the concept you get a bedroom in someone’s home along with a cooked breakfast the following morning; in many ways it is like being a guest of the family. However, the term B&B can equally apply to a night in someone’s back bedroom in a suburban bungalow to one in a cliff-top farmhouse where every need is catered for, from a choice of herbal teas to free shampoos in the bathroom. It is an ideal way to walk in Cornwall as you can travel without too much clobber and relax in the evening in pleasant surroundings with the benefit of conversation with the proprietor. If you are struggling to find a room you could try Airbnb (airbnb.co.uk) but check carefully what you will be getting - standards can vary widely as these informal accommodation providers are unregulated.

Putting up at an inn (or pub) is a British tradition that goes back centuries and still appeals to many walkers. However, just because it’s called an inn doesn’t mean it will have old oak beams and a roaring log fire. Although there are some delightful traditional pubs, many places have been refurbished and have lost some of their character and charm.

The biggest advantage of staying at an inn is convenience. Accommodation, meals and a bar are all provided under the same roof. If you’ve had a few too many pints of wonderful Cornish ale you don’t have far to stagger home at closing time. On the other hand if you want an early night you may find the noise from the bar keeps you awake.

Guesthouses are often larger Victorian or Edwardian houses with rooms made en suite, filling the gap between B&Bs and hotels, although they may still be referred to as B&Bs. They are usually less personal and more expensive (£30-40 per person) but do offer more space and a lounge for guests. They are usually more geared to coping with holiday-makers and their owners are experienced in the hospitality trade, employing staff – if only young locals – to come in to do the bedrooms. They often take payment by credit and debit card and by cheque without quibble.

Most hotels along the coast are classier and more expensive than the above and therefore put many walkers off. The other problem for the walker is having suitable smart clothes to wear in the evening, unless of course, you have the panache to carry off designer fleece and walking boots in the restaurant. Once in a while you may feel you deserve a treat and at the end of a long day that Jacuzzi could be well worth paying extra for!

In general, hotels do not pay walkers any particular attention. They are simply one more guest who, if anything, requires rather more than the average guest when they arrive with pack, heavy boots and sometimes wet gear.

What to expect For the long-distance walker tourist-board recommendations and star-rating systems may be a starting point although by no means all the places on or near the Coast Path are registered. Many walkers rely on the tourist information centres to book their next night’s lodging for them. There are numerous guides listing Best Places to Stay and it can be difficult to choose especially in places like St Ives and Penzance which are practically wall-to-wall with guesthouses. Bear in mind they are not only accommodating walkers, in fact walkers are only one of the many types of people on holiday and B&Bs are not there simply for our benefit. At the end of a long day you will simply be glad of a hot bath or shower and clean bed to lay your head on. If they have somewhere to hang your wet and muddy clothes so much the better. It is these criteria that have been used for places included in this guide – tea- and coffee-making facilities are more or less standard these days.

Wi-fi is now generally the norm, although rural broadband speeds may be slow, and some older properties run by elderly hosts may not have it at all.

Bed and breakfast owners are often proud to boast that all rooms are en suite but this is sometimes merely a small shower and loo cubicle in the corner of the bedroom. Establishments without en suite rooms can be just as satisfactory as you may get sole use of a bathroom across the corridor and a hot bath is just what you need after a hard day on the trail, so accommodation descriptions indicate where a bath is available. Rooms without en suite facilities are generally cheaper.

Single rooms are sometimes rather cramped ‘box’ rooms with barely enough room for the bed which can be restricting if you are travelling with quite a big pack. Twin rooms have two single beds, while a double is supposed to have one double bed, although just to confuse things, twins are sometimes called doubles because the beds can be moved together to make a ‘double’ bed. This can lead to awkward moments so it is best to specify if you prefer two single beds. Some establishments have family rooms, which sleep three or more, although to confuse matters even further, others call these triple rooms and may also have a family room sleeping four people or more.

Some B&Bs provide an evening meal, particularly if there is no pub or restaurant nearby. Others may offer you a lift to a local eatery, while some will expect you make your own arrangements. Check what the procedure is when you book.

All accommodation listed should be open year-round (unless stated otherwise). Remember, however, that B&B owners can, and do, change their minds at a moment’s notice, deciding to redecorate when it’s quiet, or closing the business when they want to go away on holiday.

Smoking in enclosed public spaces is now banned so in effect every B&B is a non-smoking house. A tiny minority may set aside a room for smokers but few do.

Rates  Proprietors quote their tariffs either on a per person (pp) basis or per room, assuming two people are sharing; rates are also sometimes given for single occupancy of a room where there are no single rooms. Accommodation prices in this guide are quoted on a per person basis and start at around £25pp for the most basic B&B-style accommodation rising to around £60pp for the most luxurious places. Most charge around £35pp. Guesthouses charge around £40-45pp and pubs around £30-40pp with breakfast included. Prices in hotels start at around the same but can rise to as much as £100pp or more; sometimes rates are for the room only and breakfast is additional. Solo walkers should take note: single rooms are not so easy to find and you will often end up occupying a double/twin room and are likely to have to pay a single occupancy supplement (£10-25).

Larger places take credit or debit cards. Most smaller B&Bs accept only cheques by post or payments by bank transfer for the deposit; the balance can be settled with cash or a cheque.

Self-catering holiday cottages
It is possible to walk a considerable amount of the coast path from a fixed base using the excellent public transport to get to and from the trail each day; see box p40 for more information and ideas.

Renting a self-catering cottage makes a lot of sense for a group of walkers as it will work out a lot cheaper and simpler than staying in B&Bs. Holiday cottages are normally let on a weekly basis but short breaks are often possible outisde peak times. Cottages haven’t been listed in this book, but they are numerous (more numerous than B&Bs these days it seems); search on the internet or contact the tourist information centre in the area you want to stay for further details (see p46). Alternatively, contact the Landmark Trust (information tel 01628-825920, booking tel 01628-825925, www.landmarktrust.org.uk) or the National Trust (tel 0844-800 2070, www.nationaltrustcottages.co.uk), both of which have several properties in Cornwall.

FOOD AND DRINK

Breakfast, lunch and evening meals
The traditional B&B breakfast is the celebrated ‘full English’ breakfast, or in Cornwall, the ‘full Cornish’: this consists of a choice of cereals and/or fruit juice followed by a plate of eggs, bacon, sausages, mushrooms, beans, fried bread and tomatoes, with toast and marmalade or jams to end and all washed down with tea or coffee. This is good for a day’s walking, but after a week not so good for your cholesterol level. Sometimes B&B owners offer a continental breakfast option or will charge you less if all you want is a bowl of muesli or some toast. Alternatively, and also if you want an early start, it is worth asking if they would substitute the breakfast for a packed lunch. Most B&Bs will fill your flask with tea or coffee for the day, often without charge.

For lunch there are several options. The cheapest and easiest is to buy a picnic lunch or pasty at one of the many shops or bakeries you’ll pass. Many B&Bs and hostels are happy to make a packed lunch for you for between £5 and £7. Otherwise you could eat out but you need to plan ahead to make sure the pub or restaurant is open and that you’ll reach it in time for lunch. In recent times it has become quite the norm for walkers to travel light, taking only water and possibly a fruit bar or piece of fruit, confining their eating to the evening meal. Another option is to have a light lunch and then indulge in a cream tea.

During the summer you will also come across seasonal snack shacks by popular beaches and car parks serving light snacks such as filled sandwiches or baguettes, cakes, ice creams and soft drinks; the only trouble is not knowing exactly when they will be open. They tend to set up from around 10am-4pm, but sometimes they won't turn up if it's pouring with rain, so you can't rely on them being there every day, even in mid-summer.

For your evening meal the local pub is often the best place to head if your B&B does not provide a meal (most don't), or if you have not pre-booked one. Most pubs have a relatively standard 'pub-grub' menu featuring such regulars as fish and chips, steak and ale pie, and bangers (sausages) and mash, supplemented by one or two ‘specials’ such as fresh fish probably from a local source. Some pubs also have an attached à la carte restaurant with more elaborate meals. Most pub menus include at least two vegetarian options.

All the towns along the coast have Indian and Chinese takeaways/restaurants as well as fish and chip shops. If you want to splash out on fine-dining there are lots of nice restaurants along the coast path and local seafood is invariably on the menu. If they can’t serve freshly caught fish in Cornwall they are just not trying.

Self-catering

The coast-path walker doesn’t need to carry much food. Almost every village you pass through has a small shop or convenience store with plenty of food for snacks and picnic lunches and often cut sandwiches and pasties and a limited choice for cooking in the evening. Larger stores are well stocked with a range of groceries including lightweight campers’ food such as instant mashed potato and pasta and sauce mixes and they’ll usually have a selection of wine and beer too. Fuel for camp stoves requires a little more planning. Gas canisters are the easiest to come by with most general stores and campsite shops stocking them. Methylated spirit and Coleman fuel is sold in many outdoor shops and hardware stores and can occasionally be found in other shops too. Fuel canisters for stoves are now universally available.

Drinking water

We wouldn’t recommend filling your water bottle or pouch from any stream or river on the coast path. Most streams run through farmland before reaching the coast. It may also have run off roads, housing or agricultural fields picking up heavy metals, pesticides and other chemical contaminants that we humans use liberally.

Tap water is safe to drink unless a sign specifies otherwise. Carry a two- or three-litre bottle or pouch and fill it up wherever you stay the night. During the day you could refill it in public toilets although not all meet reasonable standards of cleanliness and the taps are often awkward. Shops and bars are becoming increasingly reluctant to fill water bottles for you, some even posting a notice to the effect that they don’t do it. A 3-litre ‘platypus’ style bag should be sufficient for all but the hottest days.

Real ales and cider
The process of brewing beer is believed to have been in Britain since the Neolithic period and is an art local brewers have been perfecting ever since. Real ale is beer that has been brewed using traditional methods. Real ales are not filtered or pasteurised, a process which removes and kills all the yeast cells, but instead undergo a secondary fermentation at the pub which enhances the natural flavours and brings out the individual characteristics of the beer. It’s served at cellar temperature with no artificial fizz added unlike keg beer which is pasteurised and has the fizz added by injecting nitrogen dioxide.

There are plenty of pubs along the coast path serving an excellent range of real ales from around the country. The strength of beer is denoted by the initials ABV which means alcohol by volume followed by a percentage starting with the lowest at about 3.7%.

Distinctive Cornish beers worth watching out for include Betty Stoggs Bitter (4%), a strong hoppy beer, and Cornish Knocker Ale (4.5%) with its beautiful golden colour, both of which are brewed by Skinner’s (www.skinnersbrewery.com) who have won a number of awards. Sharp’s Brewery (www.sharpsbrewery.co.uk) also produces some fine ales, in particular Doom Bar Bitter (4%) named after the Doom Bar (see box p123) near Padstow, Eden Pure Ale (4.4%) and IPA (4.8%) which can be the undoing of the unsuspecting drinker. St Austell Brewery (www.staustellbrewery.co.uk) was first established in 1851 and several of their beers have won awards. The most popular brews are Tribute (4.2%) and Tinners Ale (3.7%), a light, chestnut, malty beer. Wooden Hand Brewery (www.woodenhand.co.uk), based in Truro, has a range of bitters with names inspired by buccaneers including Pirate’s Gold (4%), Cornish Buccaneer (4.3%) and Cornish Mutiny (4.8%), a darkish, hoppy beer with a slightly biscuity flavour. The most common of all these ales are St Austell’s Tribute and Sharp’s Doom Bar, both widely available.

Scrumpy (rough cider) is another Cornish favourite and well worth trying if you come across it on draught. You will immediately notice the difference from keg cider as it will be cloudy, with ‘bits’ floating in it and no fizz. You may also notice the difference afterwards; scrumpy is notorious for inducing wild nights out with subsequent periods of memory loss, sweating, dizziness, prolonged headaches, shaking, nausea and hot flushes. Another pint, anyone?

Cornwall Coast Path (South-West Coast Path Part 2)

Excerpts:

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