Over four days in August I had the pleasure of joining Laurence as he walked from Plymouth to Looe as part of his epic www.3500toendit.com challenge to raise awareness of cervical cancer and what can be done to eradicate it.
Although the challenge is to walk the coast of England and Wales over a twelve month period, two of the four days I spent with Laurence involved walking through the Cornwall countryside as a result of Laurence’s “no ferry” policy. My first sight of open sea was halfway through the third day. Before we set out from Plymouth, we had the chance to do a bit of exploring as there were things we both wanted to see. For Laurence, it was the St Helena Volcanic Stone which overlooks Plymouth Sound. It is made up of two blocks of granite from Dartmoor Prison where thousands of French prisoners were held during the Napoleonic Wars. Embedded is a piece of volcanic stone from Longwood House, St Helena where Napoleon died in 1821.
For me, it was the Mayflower steps from where the Pilgrim Fathers are believed to have left for the New World. My interest is because my home town is a small often overlooked footnote in the story of the Pilgrim Fathers.
Leaving Plymouth and in fact Devon, we crossed the Tamar Bridge into Cornwall and were able to enjoy the marvellous sight of the Royal Albert Bridge which crosses the Tamar. The bridge was designed by Brunel and completed in 1859 shortly before his death.
From there, we made our way to Tideford which is on the A38, a road which quickly entered my top 3 least favourite roads in the UK, as it is impossible to walk along and very dangerous to cross which we ended up having to do. Once across the A38, we went “off piste” somewhat and ended up almost trapped at the bottom of a huge potato field with no visible means of escape and a rather bemused deer for company. All this fun was accompanied by heavy and almost continuous rain. I did feel sorry for the staff of the pub we stopped at shortly afterwards as we left large pools of water where we were sat. From there, it was a short walk to Tideford and the end of the day’s walk. The evening was spent in a marvellous establishment, The Rod & Line, a fantastic pub with good food and a great atmosphere.
Day 2 from Tideford to Cremyll was wet virtually the whole day and misty with it which added a sense of danger with very narrow country roads and too many cars. I was surprised that a part of the country for whom tourism is an important industry was not more walker friendly.
My enduring memory from the day was the Community Store in Crafthole where we stopped for a coffee. This store is run by volunteers after the original owners pulled out as it wasn’t commercially viable. Although that may have been true, it’s value to the local community was clearly underestimated and in the hour we were there many people came in and had a chat while picking things up. We had explained what Laurence was doing and while he was talking to a lady who had done VSO work in the 50’s in Afghanistan, I ventured outside to check the weather. While outside a guy came out of the shop and said he’d heard what Laurence was doing and wanted to know more. We talked for a while and before he left he put his hand in his pocket pulled out all the change he had and passed it over. A small but very touching gesture.
We then made our way to Millbrook and finally Cremyll, the end point of the day’s walk. Despite two days walking, we had ended up on the other side of the Tamar about 300m from Plymouth and where we had started. The £1.50 Cremyll foot ferry took us back to Plymouth and a reunion for Laurence with two friends from his St Helena days.
Day 3 was a much drier and more leisurely affair. Took the ferry back to Cremyll and enjoyed a very civilised tea in the Orangery at Mount Edgecombe house before heading off at midday. It was then that I got my first proper look at the sea as we followed the coast round to Whitsand Bay Fort where we spent the night. It is now the site of a chalet park but was originally built in 1893 to protect the Plymouth shipyards being bombarded from the Bay.
The final day was the best weatherwise as we walked from Whitsand Bay Fort to Looe in constant sunshine. It was also my most challenging day as we climbed the equivalent of 183 flights of stairs according to my activity tracker. It was a varied walk which included a golf course and an army firing range both of which we negotiated safely. Our passage took us through a small village called Downderry, where a hand painted sign caught my eye and reminded me of the difficulties the local community can experience with tourists and second home owners who don’t respect the area. It read “Slow down - This is not the M5”. Testimony to the difficulty of the walk combined with the heat, was lunch where for the first time in 4 days I had a coke instead of a local cider. Several of the climbs were so steep I felt like making base camp half way up and calling for Sherpas to help.
We arrived at the town of Looe mid afternoon and this marked the end of my journey and the start of several days recovery.
Over the four days we walked 72 miles, took 145,198 steps and climbed the equivalent of 579 flights of stairs. It was hugely enjoyable and tiring in equal measure and quite mind-blowing to think that Laurence is doing this day in day out for twelve months.