Day 60, Helston to Marazion, 16 miles. 'The South West Coastal Farce'.
Updated: Aug 13, 2019
To be honest with you a small part of me suspected I would never make it this far, but here I am, just two days to go and I will have walked the entire UK, it's a very strange feeling and I approach the most southwesterly point of this beautiful island with both excitement and trepidation at the thought of finally completing this challenge. As you can see from the title, we have a significantly shorter day today - mainly because I deserve a sub-20 mile day for once, but also because I'll be reconvening with my sister Annie (who stalwart fans of this blog will remember from the Pennine Way), and the nicest place to rest up is the town of Marazion, which is a convenient 16 miles or so away from Helston. It also leaves me with a full 26 miles to make on the final day, or one marathon, which I feel is a fitting conclusion.
But enough about tomorrow, that's a long way off from a grey and overcast Helston where I awoke feeling unfairly groggy - I unreservedly blame the Spingo from last night. Moving on - I had a choice to make in order to reach Porthleven, I could take the road there directly for two miles, or opt for the longer, three and a half mile route through forests and along streams - obviously I took the latter and the early morning miles slipped by easily as I was drawn on by the prospect of finally making the Atlantic. The weather, unfortunately, hadn't read my script which assumed my final two days walking by the sea would be undertaken in glorious sunshine, and so instead I walked under a threatening cover of angry grey cloud. Still, I arrived in Porthleven easily enough and soon found myself by the sea - I rounded the port, climbed a small rise on the edge of town, and just like that I was on my final trail - The South West Coastal Path (which I will be abbreviating to 'SWCP'). The SWCP is, at the time of writing this blog, the longest officially recognised, continuous footpath in the UK, clocking in at an impressive 630 miles, a full half of my entire journey. I had deliberately avoided the SWCP for the last week or so, I could have made a beeline for it far earlier, but coastal walking for over a week is incredibly draining and after a time becomes quite monotonous in my opinion, but I was excited for my final two days on the coast now that I was here.
After about 30 minutes on the SWCP I remembered precisely why I had avoided the coast for so long - don't get me wrong, there's an awful lot to write home about when it comes to coastal walking: the views are usually excellent, the edge of the land always has a wild and a 'can't be tamed' appeal to it that cannot be replicated elsewhere, and the villages you pass through are almost universally appealing. That said, the views (whilst pretty) never really change as the sea always takes up half of your vision, the weather can be more inclement than usual and forecasts cannot be trusted half as much as when inland, and every coastal path I've seen always takes in every wiggle and undulation, practically doubling the effort required for every mile as the crow flies.
The weather today did little to help, already thoroughly soaked by the rain in recent weeks the path was extraordinarily slippery underfoot and I nearly fell into the mud in comical fashion on numerous occasions. When combined with the endless 'up and down' of the coastal path, the strong and ceaseless wind, my boots (which were falling to pieces by now), and the lashing rain it was all a bit much to be honest. I had hoped to be well over halfway to Marazion by lunchtime but found time slowly but consistently slipping away from me - I decided to skip lunch and continue boldly on.
Whilst the weather was improving slightly as the day wore on, the condition of the paths swiftly deteriorated and I was continuously forced to wade through colossal pools of water or cut away from the path altogether as the going was simply too slippery underfoot. The morning's hike had barely made it above six or seven miles but I was already far more exhausted than I had expected to be, I took a brief rest at Praa Sands and ambled along the lovely beach, before climbing once more up onto the clifftops.
The tiny seaside village of Perranuthnoe was my next point of interest, but getting there involved another six or so gruelling, up and down miles. I was already behind time, but simply could not muster the energy to hurry along the arduous tracks. Fortunately, the nearer Marazion and Perranuthnoe became, the nicer the views, and the brighter the weather.
One thing that definitely surprised me was the sheer amount of vegetation, I had assumed that this coastal path would be rugged and bare, much like the John O'Groat's Trail so many miles ago. Whilst it was rugged, life was teeming all over the SWCP - nettles, brambles, bracken and actual hedgerows were all frequently encountered and had to be fought over to some degree. I may have arrived at the wrong time, as some sections had clearly been recently cleaned up ahead of the summer, whilst some sections were barely passable due to the aggressive plant matter.
Whilst the going was still tougher than anything I had experienced in recent weeks on the lanes, the scenery was stunning and soon the silhouette of St Michael's Mount crept into view, drawing me on to Marazion. For those who haven't heard of it, St Michael's Mount is unequivocally one of the most beautiful places in all of Britain. The site of an 8th century monastery and inhabited since the Neolithic period, the island can be walked to at low tide but becomes cut off as the sea rises leaving the island, and the stunning 18th century castle, isolated at sea - the effect really has to be seen in person to be properly appreciated.
For all the lovely photos and abundant wildlife (I saw a whale coming up for air, but couldn't react quickly enough to take a picture), it was still very, very tough going. Perranuthnoe was approached, reached and departed from swiftly as Marazion was now only two miles away. Annie had offered to give me a lift from the coast to our Airbnb just one mile inland, but this would of course be cheating and so I gracefully declined her offer. The last two miles turned inexorably into three as I tried for a beachy shortcut and was thwarted by a collapsed path, forcing me to turn back on myself - walking on wet sand in wet boots in genuinely exhausting by the way.
However, I did eventually make Marazion and what a lovely town it is - the splendid St Michael's Mount is never far from sight and acts as a Mona Lisa landmark, always staring straight at you, no matter the angle. Not only that, but every shop had that quirky independent feel and there were plenty of pubs to sample. I met up with Annie and our charming Airbnb hostess, and checked in for the final time on this long and eventful journey. We enjoyed a few drinks in the town, caught up and planned our route for tomorrow, the final day.
Over two months ago I had hopped off a plane, into a taxi, and checked into the Anchorage B&B in far off John O'Groats, now I was here, checking into our Marazion accommodation, barely 26 miles away from the chequered flag. I'd like to say I didn't sleep much that night due to nerves and excitement, but that would be a barefaced lie - I was asleep before my face hit the pillow.