I knew I was not a Hyperborean—-according to Greek mythology these are giants who live beyond the north wind, perfectly happy in seemingly unbearable conditions. In fact, I don’t even possess hiking shoes but figured that my wornout sneakers would survive the coast-to-coast walk, for how undulating could a coast possibly be?
A five hour gorgeous train ride from central London to Bodmin Parkway on GWR brought me to the closest point of our intended coastal hike. Needless to add, the scenery is spectacular particularly as you pass Plymouth and memories of Tess of the D’Urbervillle and other Thomas Hardy books flash before the eyes. Many legends associate King Arthur with Cornwall, particularly the town of Tintagel close by. But, the one I found most intriguing is that Andrew Pears, the founder of “Pears Soap” hails from this district. In India, girls still boast using this glycerin based translucent soap, particularly before the first sighting of a potential groom in an arranged marriage proposal!!!
The romance of the setting was enhanced when I realized that much of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance ballads are based on the exploits of the most notorious, but upright Cornish smuggler of the Penzance district: John Carter circa 1771. I didn’t dare ask Laurence if there was a connection there!!!! The charming flower-filled train station at Bodmin Parkway boasts of a parking lot that can house about 6 cars. It was opened in 1959 and the station master was incentivized to be a postmaster, too, through a salary hike of 5 pounds a week.
A charming bed and breakfast called Flittermouse Haven named after the bats that inhabited the place, was our abode for the night. It had the most enchanting blue kitchen with a kettle with a vigorous heart-beat. We were lucky to get one of the cloudy but rainless days as we began our “moderate” intensity hike up 1,990 feet over four hills. The majestic mountains that dwarf all humans are intermittently interrupted by pebbly beaches and a scenic coast line. A sense of calm pervades the atmosphere as even birds are seldom heard. The terrain seems daunting, but it takes away your breath.
Steep hills give way to valleys and grass-filled meadows where sheep and cows graze in harmony. They are not particularly perturbed by passersby like us, and continue their mooing, while we stop to take a breath and envy their leisurely pace!! It was day 89 of the coast-to-coast walk and Laurence had identified this path from Crackington Haven to Widemouth Bay. Fortunately, we started out with a well-marked narrow path over a tarmac road, so the cliff-filled terrain was masked by an easy entry into the walking path. The steady climb with kissing gates and stiles was not as steep as one had feared though I am eternally grateful to the early adventurers who built wonderful steps for novice hikers like me. Laurence’s walking poles gave me the confidence to keep hauling myself up to get yet another breathtaking view of the coastline.
The weather gods smiled on us and we could see the sun breaking through as we passed sights like Millook Haven where young surfers were vying with each other to get to the waves on one of the last days of summer. So, where else in the world can one see this interplay of pebbly beach with cliffs and meadows? Amidst this rugged scenery is Port Isaac, a quaint fishing village with a vibrant local community and cobblestoned paths leading to a restaurant housed in a building dating to 1524.
Ostensibly popular due to the fresh catch of fish, one realized later that this beautiful town is also home to the famous TV series, Doc Martin. The Cornish fishing village of "Portwenn" is actually Port Isaac: fishing and shipping were the mainstay of the village in the old days, or was it a smuggling hub of coal, timber, pottery and slate? Dinner at the scenic restaurant marked the perfect culmination to a nature-inspired day. And, also houses some of the narrowest streets in Britain, aptly named Squeezy Belly Alley! The walk was symbolic, opened new vistas and expanded my mind.
Laurence is walking 365 days to promote awareness of cervical cancer. A small test can save many lives and the HPV vaccine, which was not available to us baby boomers, is a life saver. Co-incidentally, on Oct 5, the local Washington Post just announced that the US FDA expanded the age band for this vaccine to include men and women up to 45 years. As a mother of two young women, and a sister of two, I fully endorse Laurence’s valiant efforts to spread the knowledge of this preventable cancer. A new report published in the journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest (Washington Post April 4, 2018) asserts that education campaigns on the importance of vaccinations have to be complemented by indirect behavioral nudges (automatically scheduled vaccination appointments, phone /text reminders from doctors’ offices and monetary incentives from employers). Can we at least nudge folks to get tested and vaccinated?
It would be remiss if I did not mention the energetic ambassador for Cancer Research UK (Sophie Barber) who met us at Widemouth Bay at the end of our day’s walk. While devouring delicious Cornish pasty, we learned all about her innovative efforts to increase awareness within her little precinct of Cornwall. She leverages the power of the community-oriented women and had already identified three additional places for Laurence to disseminate his message.