Day 55, Okehampton to Launceston, 25 miles. 'The Two Castles Trail - sort of.'
Today was an odd day. There were glorious highs and unmentionable lows, bags of sun and buckets of rain, cows and no cows - it was a mixed bag, you get the idea - which is a shame as I had been looking forward to the Two Castles Trail for nearly two years. You see when I initially had the foolish idea of walking 1200 miles on my own across the UK, I had planned to start in the south, for various reasons I changed my mind but this meant that I had mapped out all of Cornwall first with the Two Castles Trail being one of the highlights. With hindsight it's safe to say that today may well have been a highlight given all of the monotonous lane walking around these parts, but after such highlights as the Severn Way, the Peaks and all of Scotland today's walk just didn't live up to my, admittedly inflated, expectations.
Anyway, the Two Castles Trail is a 25 mile footpath that links the castles of Okehampton and Launceston and circumvents Dartmoor by going right around the northern edge of the impressively bleak hunk of land, although in reality more than half of the trail is spent on the Granite Way, which sounds lovely but is, in reality, a glorified cycle path. Whilst devoid of anything remotely interesting (aside from the occasionally lovely views of Dartmoor on my left), the Granite Way was a motorway - it was flat, tarmacked and almost perfectly straight and I made excellent time.
As it transpired the Granite Way was so efficient (and so boring) that I found myself nearly halfway through this 25 mile day before lunchtime - I breezed through the hamlet of Sourton Down with its gorgeous Norman church without stopping and soon found myself in Lydford just as it began to rain (again...), and so settled down for a quick spot of lunch. At first glance Lydford didn't really have a great deal to offer other than several thatched cottages and one fairly run-down pub, but after a quick bit of research it turned out the town was a veritable hub of history. It boasted an impressive array of genuine Anglo-Saxon fortifications, a medieval castle which was know across the country for its harsh prison ('Lydford Law' was a by-word for injustice across the middle ages), and best of all an ancient spring which would have been the source of water for people in this town for well over a thousand years. I visited the spring and whilst there wasn't a great deal to see there, it was amazing to stand in the spot where thousands of people would have come to every day for hundreds and hundreds of years to collect their most precious resource.
After Lydford I did my level best to stay on the Two Castles Trail, but even with good intentions, a keen pair of eyes and the assistance of GPS it soon became impossible, there were no signposts at all and no sign of any footpaths where google maps told me there should have been. Now I think map apps are one of the best things about living in the future, but when you get out into the countryside they swiftly become completely unreliable, so I lane walked for a few miles and finally found a rare and rusted signpost for the trail telling me to hop a stile and cut through some fields, relieved to have found the path once more I gladly obliged. However, on the other side of the stile I could see the evidence of many, many cows as their hoof-prints and pats were evident everywhere - but where were the cattle themselves? I crept warily towards the next field and they were all there, waiting, just beyond the hedge. In classic cow fashion they stared at me hungrily for a minute or two, and then roused themselves to follow me all the way back to the stile, presenting an unbreakable wall of beefy rage. Well I wasn't having any of that so I swiftly noped out of the fields and jumped back on the lanes which added a few miles to my day, but at least I was able to avoid my bovine nemeses.
The final ten miles or so were spent idly ambling through the Devon countryside with surprisingly little incident - I soon found myself at the ancient battle site of Hingston Down where, in AD 838 the West Saxons under Egbert crushed a force of Cornish and Vikings to all but end the Cornish resistance to Saxon rule, barely 15 minutes later I crossed the River Tamar the ancient border between England and Cornwall, as decreed by the first King of all the English, Aethelstan, in the early 10th century.
Whilst the later half of today had been fairly uninspiring, it meant a great deal to finally be in Cornwall. So far on this walk I had walked right through the counties of (takes deep breath) Caithness, Sutherland, Ross & Cromarty, Inverness-shire, Perthshire, Stirlingshire, Lanarkshire, West Lothian, Midlothian, Peebles-shire, Selkirkshire, Roxburgshire (a great 'Pointless' answer that one), Northumberland, Durham, Cumbria, North Yorkshire, West Yorkshire, South Yorkshire, Derbyshire, Staffordshire (never again), the West Midlands, Worcestershire, Gloucestershire, Somerset and Devon. To finally be in the final country added a real spring to my step and my arrival into Cornwall aptly coincided with a huge funfair on the edge of Launceston.
I had heard, from the same sources that described Okehampton as a delight, that Launceston was meant to be a depressingly bleak place but upon arrival (after climbing an unnecessarily steep hill) I found it to be a charming little place. The castle was far better preserved than the one at Okehampton, the pubs were actually open and were clearly very historic, also my Airbnb was a delight - which is just as well as I would be taking the final rest day of my trip here tomorrow.
And there you have it, 25 counties done and just one more to go, but first I would enjoy a full 24 hours of resting in Cornwall's (or 'Kernow's' to give it the local name) county capital to take stock, recuperate and plan the final leg of my travels.