Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Day 6: The Eden Project

Distance: about 9.5 miles (garmin battery death - oops)
Anthony-birthday-count: 5 (Happy Birthday, Anthony!)

What a great day! Feels like a lot happened today, all good; I don't know where to start. So I'll start at the end, then go the beginning, then talk about the middle.

We ended the day walking around the downtown of the village of Fowey. This place feels really old and just a little spooky. The streets are narrow, even by English standards, with buildings rising up on both sides pushing in. The land rises up fast from the sea, so many streets are steep, and nothing runs far in a straight line. People on the street seem a bit more dour than in Penzance or Porthleven. Even though Wikipedia tells me that 50% of the economy here flows from tourism it still felt like a place where outsiders best be careful. We walked through the churchyard, and it felt especially old and spooky. It was first built in 1150, but only a few bricks are left - it was destroyed by pirates and rebuilt in the early 1300s. But that one is gone too, ransacked by the French in 1456 (the French said that Fowey sailors attacked them first). The current church was built from 1460 to 1500. The picture doesn't do justice to just how much church is crammed into a small space.

Along the back wall of the church is a high wall. Over it, now and then, we could see little bits of some kind of old building. From all over town, you can catch little glimpses, but you can never really see it. Like a ghost building.

I knew what it was. It's called Place House, and is the private home of the Treffry family. It's older than the church; after the French wrecked the church in 1456, they moved on to Place House. Elizabeth Treffry directed her staff to pour molten lead down onto the attackers - and so her home was spared. 555 years later, the family still lives there. I wonder if that contributes to the weird vibe here in Fowey: these super rich people in this walled giant mansion just barely visible wherever you go.

This ties in to the beginning of our day. John de Cressy Treffry was born in 1859, the last of over ten children. He knew he was never going to inherit, but at the time the tin mining industry was going great guns, and the Treffrys were in the middle of it, so he was pretty well fixed. In the late 1800s he built himself a house, modest compared to Place House, but still not bad: a 9500 square foot Victorian gentleman's home on 60 acres of grounds. Today, it's Penarwyn House, and that's where we stayed last night.

After Treffry's second wife died, she sold the place, and it went through a succession of owners. They chopped up and sold off the grounds, and the servant's quarters, and the carriage house, eventually cutting it down to just an old big house and an acre and a half of land. Our hosts, Mike and Jan, bought it in 2003, and have done an amazing restoration job, all themselves (except that Mike hired a plumber, and will admit to using a gardener once per month). Here is Mike working this morning, side by side with Dickins, his 82 year old father in law.

Like Dawn wrote yesterday, all the places we've stayed have been great, but the work Mike and Jan have done is nothing short of amazing. It's real Victorian luxury, but with twenty first century amenities. And they are terrific, interesting people.

See how the last door on the left in this upstairs hall is shorter? That's the housekeeper suite. Those Victorians!

That was the end and beginning of our day. The middle started with Mike giving us a lift to check out the Eden project. We didn't know much about it, but my cousin Steph did some architecture work for them, and Steph is cool, so we figured it must be cool as well. It is! Here's what greets you as you come toward the site:

It's the vision of a crazy Dutchman, Tim Smit, who worked in ecology and horticulture in England. It highlights the place of humans in the world, our relationship with nature, the responsibilities we have as a result, and how we can change the world. It's education in the grandest sense. It's just too much to describe in a few sentences: Steph, maybe you could describe it in a comment! I wish we had a full day there instead of just a couple of hours.
The physical structures are centered on these huge biomes built into a 170 year old abandoned china clay mine. They're huge. The Truro cathedral could fit inside one.

And they've got a crazy sculpture made out of wasted electronics. I think the lesson is that you should buy more electronic junk, so that you can make a crazy sculpture too!

And they have a giant bumblebee that my wife hoped to hitch a ride on.

It was super cool. Inside the biomes it was nice and quiet, being a weekday morning in February. Just a few scattered people, and a bunch of French kids on a school trip (all French sounds like this to me: "eh. les habitants. poutine. comme ci, comme ca." and so on).

Everything went right today. The weather was unreal. Our first sunny day, and maybe 50 or so degrees and just a slight breeze. Could not have been a better day to walk. From Eden to Fowey was a spectucular coastal walk. I've gone on long enough, but I must tell you this: if you ever go to Polkerris, park the car at Par, and walk the mile along the path. You will not believe your eyes when you the village emerges from the cliffs. And eat at Sam's.

Tomorrow the BBC is calling for another beautiful sunny day. It's another coastal walk, from here to Looe (pronounced "loo", which must be great fun for 5 year English kids going there on holiday). It will be our last day along the coast till we get to John O'Groats at the end of May!

Location:East of Eden

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Day 5: B&Bs FTW

Distance: 14.5 miles
Hills: lost count

Today was a pretty straight forward walk.

We went through a few little villages and one big town and arrived at our fabulous B&B, Penarwyn House. It is magnificent Victorian manor house.

In London, we stayed in a trendy boutique hotel. I loved the decor and location. But the B&Bs are different. Not just from a hotel, but from each other. Each is a unique place with hosts who love their homes and are happy to be sharing them with you. So far, we've stayed in a Victorian row house in Penzance.

The former town butcher's in Porthleven.

A quaint country cottage outside Probus.

And now this magnificent mansion.

All very different and we've loved them all. The best part is spending time with our hosts getting to know them, getting a feel for the area, the history of their homes.

Tomorrow, we've planned a short walking day so we can visit the Eden Project before we leave this area. It's a complex of huge domes housing tropical and Mediterranean biomes. We're not exactly sure what it's all about, but we'll find out tomorrow.

Location:East of St. Austelle

Day 5ish This is just a place holder entry, since the blogging app I'm using (so I can post pictures) seems to be down yet again! We wrote a post for today that I will try to post in the morning. Sorry!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Day 4: Truro

Distance: 12.8 miles
Sprints: high
Today was a reasonably short and straightforward day, a few miles into Truro, a few miles wandering around Truro, and a few miles to the west. All the walking was on pavement, mostly very quiet lanes, but with a couple miles of B-road, and even a small section of A-road. We didn't get lost and made good time. Here's Dawn just as we are starting out. The background is the grounds of the Chycara house, our B&B last night. They have a lovely property with ponds, gardens, cats, friendly people, and a hot tub.

Some of you (Larry, anyway) have noticed that the mileage in our plan is not lining up with the miles that we are recording in the blog. The plan called for today to be 10 miles, but somehow it ended up at almost 13. I'm not sure exactly what's up, but it's a disturbing trend. The road miles in the blog (and the elevation gain stats) are taken from the garmin we are carrying with us. It's the newest bestest hiking garmin gadget (etrex 30) so it should be accurate. The map miles in the plan were worked out using one of those thingamajigs with a little wheel at the bottom that you run along the map. I think that there are three things going on. One is that we are adjusting our route based on how deep the mud is, or whether we're lost, and that has added some distance. Two is that the garmin takes into account every little squiggle in the path; the whiz wheel just cruises in a straight line. Three is I think sometimes the wheel/paper friction wasn't just right, which probably led to little bits that were missed in the plan. Oops. I'm a bit concerned for the days with the twenty mile plan.

The weather has been fairly gray since we started, but mild (low 50s) and dry. Great weather for walking. Next week the forecast calls for more of the same. But today we had our first bit of rain, nothing major, just a little drizzle, but enough that we had to use our plastic map cover and put the pack covers on.

We got to Truro well before noon, and with only a short few miles from there to the end of the day, we took some time to look around. Truro was called the "London or Cornwall" back hundreds of years ago, but it didn't really hit the big time until 1877 when Queen Victoria made Truro a City - to this day the only city in Cornwall (suck it, Falmouth!). She did this because the year before the Anglican church put a bishop at Cornwall. The bishop needed some place to do Bishop stuff, so from 1880 to 1910 they build a kick ass cathedral in the medieval tradition. We spent an hour looking around, while the organist played awesome Baroque music - inspiring and uplifting!

Along one of the walls was a crypt for some dude who died in 1615 and his wife.

To get the full effect, you need a close up

After the cathedral, we enjoyed lunch at cafe nerro, and headed out of town.

We got to Spring Cottage, our B&B, early, about 2:00, and enjoyed a nice leisurely cuppa tea in vintage 1977 Silver Jubilee teacups. Nice to relax. Tomorrow it's on to St Austelle, home of St Austelle brewery.

Location:Probus, near Truro,United Kingdom

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Day 3: our first tough day

Distance: 17.4
Yesterday-photo-count: 108
Today-photo-count: 19

Today was tough. We turned north, leaving the beautiful south Cornwall coast behind, heading inland for 3 days to bypass this big peninsula they call The Lizard. The country lacks the dramatic beauty of the coast, but it's still very nice. The rolling hills are crisscrossed by hedges breaking them up into fields of grass, cauliflower, and bright yellow daffodils. There's villages, and old stone churches, and farms that look like they've been worked for 200 years.

We thought it'd be a nice walk through the countryside; turned out to be a bit of an adventure. But here we are at the end of our day, showered and warm and enjoying a pot of tea, so I shouldn't complain. I will anyway.

But first, I'd like to thank everyone who has commented on the blog. The first thing we do after a day of walking is check for new comments! It's really great, like having our friends and family all stop in for a few minutes each day. We appreciate it, please keep them coming! And everyone who hasn't commented, don't be shy, just hit the button and write us a line about what you're up to, or what you think of our shenanigans, or just to let us know you're out there!

Back to our tough day. We thought that we'd be mostly done with the up and down when we left the coastal cliffs, but it turns out this place is all these super deep valleys and high rolling hills. I'll bet Gordon can explain why. We thought yesterday was brutal with a total uphill of 2075 feet. Today we climbed 2393 feet. Another thing we didn't know is that Cornwall is famous for its china clay deposits - the largest in the world! So what happens when it rains? You get mud. That lasts for a long time. So even though we haven't had a drop of rain since London, many footpaths, inviting dotted green lines on the map, look like this on the ground:

I didn't take pictures of the deep mud pits on the narrow paths, because we were too busy trying to get through without sinking to our knees. The locals go walking in wellies; our standard issue modern just above the ankle boots were no match for the mud, even with gaiters. So that slowed us down a lot, and added some effort.

But what really did us in was one wrong turn. On the map, there's one of those pretty green dotted lines running along the river Cober, starting just a couple of miles into the day's walk. What we didn't realize is that there are two footpaths. We took the nearest one, following one of those great "public footpath" signs you see here. That was a mistake. The correct footpath was on the other side of the river. Things went fine for the first mile, though we were kind of wondering why nearly all the other walkers we saw were across the water. Then it happened. We arrived at a stream flowing into the river. One of those annoying streams, too deep and fast and wide to simply jump. Maybe six feet wide, and a foot or two deep, gurgling pretty good. The path we were on had sort of petered out by now, but clearly people had turned and walked upstream before. So we followed them. After 15 or twenty minutes the path was completely gone. Ahead was swamp. Across the stream was a big field that looked a little more inviting, though there were no paths. We found a branch reaching over the stream and decided to cross.

I went first and discovered that the branch was as slippery as it looks in the picture. Tough balancing with a pack! I went back and ferried Dawn's pack, and then it was do or die time for Dawn. Ian and Erin, you would have been proud of your mother. She scampered right across with only the slightest twinge of fear in her eyes. It's hard to see in the picture, but to get to the branch, you have to swing your leg around the trunk of the tree. It wasn't easy for me, and my legs are twice as long! It was quite a relief to be still dry, with all of our gear, on the other side.

But we were still a mile off course. Getting back to the river Cober was not really an option: back that way was swamp with mud so deep we may have been swallowed up forever. So we headed overland, through the fields. After lots more being lost, backtracking, mud, and confusion, we finally found a promising looking muddy track heading in roughly the right direction. Ten minutes later, we arrived at a road, back on track. We passed off the track onto the road, I swung the gate closed behind me, and we were on our way.

Almost. Twenty feet on we heard a voice at the gate, "Hey! You there! This is private land, you shouldn't be walking here." In the usa, at this point you run and hope not to hear bullets around your ears. But this being Cornwall, I went back to chat. Once he saw that we meant no harm, and were just Canadians out lost, he warmed right up. Told us that what we thought was a footpath, is just a track used by hunters who go out shooting on the moors. He had an amazing Cornish accent. I could barely make it out. We got the directions we needed to get back on track. The last thing we heard was "up to Coverack Bridge is a lovely little walk; we love our walks we do!" Naturally, his "lovely little walk" was (in portions) a narrow path of deep mud. But we made it. And, if only we had wellies, it really would have been a lovely little walk.

And so the day went. The last half was on lanes, which is not the nicest walking because the hedges are usually high, and so you don't see much.

But there was very little traffic, and we came across a pub in Porkellis serving roast beef and Yorkshire pudding (washed down by the local ale: Betty Stogs), and once we were lunched up and moving we made good time.

Tomorrow (thankfully) is a shorter day: ten miles mostly along Cornish lanes through Truro and a few miles out the other side.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Day 2: too good?

Distance: 14.2 miles
Total Ascent: 2075 feet
Day 2 turned out to be pretty awesome. The weather has continued to cooperate. It was a bit foggy this morning, sun broke through for an hour or two, then a light overcast moved in. Just like home. Except today we were walking along the southwest coast of England. Lots of similarities with Oregon there too, but also some major differences. The main one being the beautiful trail we were on most of the day. The coast is absolutely beautiful and the trail takes you right along the cliffs. (Luckily no vertigo like I had in New Mexico!) Unfortunately, photos really can't capture the spectacularity of it all, but here are a few shots.

Looking back towards Penzance in the centre in the distance, St. Michael's Mount and Marazion in the fore.

One of several big wide beaches we saw. Lots of surfers too.

Tons of up and down around the cliffs and headlands.

I was glad I had my walking sticks!

Those cliffs are really high! Really!
The first town we reached after leaving Penzance was Marazion. It's a lovely seaside market town with the unbelievable St. Michael's Mount sitting just off shore with a huge castle right on top. As we walked through town we wondered where we would pick up the coast path again, so Al asked a gentleman who was out walking his dog. We had a nice chat with him about Cornwall (It's not really part of England, it was originally a Celtic region), England (It's not the same as it used to be and we should be careful on our walk), and the castle on St. Michael's Mount. (When Al asked him how old it was, he said "well, how old is the sun?"). He also pointed us in the right direction. Spending a few minutes with him was the highlight of a very good day.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Day 1: Underway!

Distance: 13.1 miles
Weather: foggy

Months of preparation. We devoured scores of maps, arranged 86 places to stay, watched every episode of Downton abbey, practiced saying "ello, guvner" (al only), read a dozen lejog blogs, walked for miles - and today we took our first real steps. It feels great! The banner above is our entry in the official Land's End registration book; here we are with the sign that means go:

Taking the first step was an emotional moment. But the most powerful emotion of the day was not joy; it was terror:

We figured out a while ago that if we started our day at a B&B in Penzance, we could leave our stuff there, take a bus out to Land's End, and then walk back. That way, we'd get to do the first day with no packs! Smart, eh? Well, to be completely honest, one of us (Dawn) had to carry water and food. But the other of us (Al) had just his camera! The bus is a double decker; we got the premium seats upstairs in the front. What we didn't understand is that the bus doesn't use the A-road (that's what they call highways). The busses take the scenic route, visiting every hamlet on the way. Which is great, except that these hamlets are connected by lanes maybe a foot wider than the bus. This leads to many scenes like this:

Combine this with steep hills, twisty curves, and a tradition of driving a million miles an hour .... and that's where terror comes in. If you ever need to get from Penzance to Land's End, the milk run bus is the only way to go!
We got to the end of the line at around 9:30, and spent almost an hour hanging around waiting for someone to show up so we could register. We are not walking over 1000 miles and not getting a certificate! Wandering around, we felt like we'd come 5000 miles only to find the Oregon coast. There was fog, pounding surf, cliffs, birds - you know the scene. Down the path a ways were surf shops, a fishing town, a wide beach in a cove. Beautiful and familiar. Made for a very nice friendly start to our walk.

After a couple of miles along the cliffs and we turned inland, and then we knew we were in a different world. We made the ten miles back to Penzance along a series of footpaths, muddy bridle paths, country lanes, and a final mile along the A-road. Along the way we passed by an ancient Celtic well, ruins of a 2000 year old roman town, and a really old church. So we knew we weren't in Oregon anymore. I expect we will have lots of that ahead and since this has gone long enough we'll write about it then!

Tomorrow is the first day of the real deal: full packs down the southwest coast path to Porthleven.

Location:Regent Terrace,Penzance,United Kingdom

Thursday, February 23, 2012

No Pirates, so far

We bid adieu to London for now. Will definitely return as the list is long of things we weren't able to do.

The train ride to Penzance was great. So amazing to leave and arrive at the times listed on the schedule. What a concept!

The ride gave us the first glimpse of the area we will be walking in for the next couple of weeks. It's absolutely beautiful but all I kept seeing were the lovely rolling hills that seemed to roll a lot higher than I was expecting.

We also learned an important bit of train riding info. As we were approaching the large bridge that spans the Tamar River (border of Devon and Cornwall) the train manager made an announcement. The bridge is under going repairs that involved the building of a platform below the tracks from which the workers can work. As a result, the workers have requested that train riders refrain from flushing the toilets while on the bridge. This elicited a chuckle from most of the riders while I made a mental note NEVER to walk along train tracks.

Penzance is a great little town. I can only imagine how busy and fabulous it must be in the summer. As it is, we have nothing to complain about. It's not raining and not too cold. After our host, Simon, gave us the lay of the land we headed out, and in what I have to consider a huge sign portending a wonderful trip, we discovered an amazing yarn shop with an equally amazing owner. Knit Wits! (Al accidentally had the camera on monochrome, it's not your computer)

We visited with the owner, Julia, and discovered that she holds the official Guiness record for largest knitting needles that can actually be used to knit by a person. Her. The needles were made by an oar maker!

We told Julia about our walk and it turns out that her husband and sons rode their bikes from John o'Groats to Land's End a couple of years ago. She drove their camper van and did the grocery shopping, no small task when teenaged boys riding all day are involved! It was a lovely visit and I picked up a cute cowl pattern of Julia's design! Julia said she'd follow the blog, so "Thanks for the hospitality, Julia! And we look forward to seeing you again!"

We had our first great pub dinner at the Yacht Inn. I had fish (cod) and chips and Al had the "mixed grille". It included steak, back bacon and sausage. I think Ian would approve.

We'll be back in Penzance tomorrow after taking the bus out to Land's End and officially beginning the walk by walking back here!

Location:Penzance, UK

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Swinging London

It's al posting today - Dawn has agreed to let me share in the blogging! But, just to keep you on your toes, we won't normally give you a heads up on who's who. This post is kind of long, because dawn has never let me blog before, and because there's so much to say about this place.

We're still here in swinging London! I've never been here before (work doesn't count) so Dawn has been leading me around showing me the sights. We're staying at a cool little hotel called the Zetter that my cousin Stephanie told us about. She's an architect and lived here for a year or so; I'm not sure exactly what she did, but I assume she designed most of the cool buildings in London. The Zetter is a boutiquey little place, and I really like it, but it is also one of those places where form and function did battle, and function lost. It's been a challenge figuring out how to make the shower go, how to make the lights do what I want, and how to accommodate the blankets so they work for a tall guy. But I've got it now.

The location has been a great place for exploring the city. I like to just walk around and take it in. The crazy traffic, the accents, the history. There's these little plaques all over telling you that this building was the Portuguese embassy in 1640, or that Benjamin Disraeli lived here, or that here William Wallace was drawn and quartered, or that in this market men used to sell off their wives if things didn't work out. We saw how much better the buckingham palace Canada gate is compared to the Australia gate. Dawn explained that the queen was at the palace, because the flag was flying. I thought we should get a picture with her, but I guess you need an appointment. Here's about what would have been:

Spent a bunch of time at the prince Albert memorial (across from the hall which I know about because of the Beatles song). I guess queen Victoria really loved the guy; it's quite a place:

We overheard some people jogging past describing how the marble carvings all around the base are historical figures that Albert admired. The carvings are grouped by location and genre: here are the engineering ones, they're really something to see:

The city is filled with art galleries and museums, and all free. We saw the Rosetta stone, and all the amazing ancient egyptian and Greek artifacts that the British borrowed. Lots of paintings that looked old and cool. Today we went to the Tate modern, which was a bit edgier. I felt like I got about 60% of it. Like this painting, from Mondrian's not-weird phase I totally like

Most of the straight up paintings, even the weirder cubist and surreal stuff, seemed like art to me. Even stuff like this bunch of wavy lines I can see making a case for

But some stuff was just beyond me. I thought the lamest was by Baldwin and ramsden, who in 1965, stapled a mirror onto a hunk of wood and called it good

Something about art and windows and blah blah blah. Wonder if they got paid for that? Maybe it just shows my lack of sophistication; my rural Canadian roots showing through.

And that was London. Loved it, can't wait to come back!