SWCP 2016 Day 7: Crackington Haven to Tintagel May 20th
Slate Grey the Sky, Slate Grey the Sea, Slate Grey the, er, Slate
Also, I Get Wet
Leaving Crackington Haven, the rise of land happens to match the slope of the slate. Rather than the washboard succession of plate edges you get in some places, you have wide sheets of unbroken slate tilted at about a 45° angle — a surreal effect, like a paved road shifted and cracked by an earthquake.
Less than a mile further comes to Cambeak Point, best appreciated from a vantage another ¾ of a mile or so further, where you can look back past the Northern Door at the twisted layers of slate laced with seams of quartz (see above). I took several pictures, trying to capture the HR Giger feel of the ominous, organic shapes of stone, encrusted with a green patina that at this distance seemed like lichen or mold, whatever the foliage actually was. Below the cliffs, the “beach” was a tumble of broken rock ranging from great boulders to flagstones, flat faces betraying the slate nature but sharp edges worn to curves: the larval form of a “pebble” beach. Give it a few thousand years more in the churning surf.
Looking south from this stretch, the day’s walk unfolded all the way to Tintagel, although I wasn’t sure of that at the time.
The day totaled about 3500 feet climbing, so one of the most strenuous. The payoff was a lot of views like this, and a couple of stream crossings and waterfalls. High Cliff, a couple of miles south, is at 700 feet the highest sea cliff in Cornwall. Pentargon Falls south of Beeny Cliff was the most impressive waterfall today, but not as tall (or strong) as Speke’s Mill Mouth. Climbing up from the valley of Pentargon Falls, the trail is a long series of steps cut into the green slope, and gets close to the cliff edge near the top.
The day was indeed grey much of the time, with sea fading into sky at a vague horizon, the cliffs like a darker, frozen version of the sea. The land, however, was a thousand shades of green, from a light yellow-green (chartreuse?) of some moss and young grass, to the dark, red-tinged leaves of brambles — blackberries? Nothing but thorns, now. What should I call that bright green of the broad sorrel leaves I saw yesterday? Does English have — or need — 50 words for green, as the Eskimos legendarily have for snow? I said “Eskimos” intentionally and advisedly, as that is how I have always heard that claim stated — and I had the impression it was as apocryphal as the term Eskimo was (now) offensive. Looking it up, however, I find that modern linguistic research substantiates the statement (Washington Post: There Really Are 50 Eskimo Words for Snow), and that “Eskimo” is a perfectly valid linguistic term for the family including Inuit and Yupik, and in Alaska it’s an accepted collective term for those people, too. In Canada and Greenland, not so much.
The green continued to be broken by splashes of color, including the thrift and kidney vetch, with occasional spikes of purple foxglove. And I saw a few odd markers, red and white tape, with orange triangles labeled “Mud Crew”. Markings for work crews doing trail repair?
Mid-afternoon, I approached the harbor of Boscastle — for some reason, I expected that to be pronounced BOcastle, with a long O and silent s. No idea where I got that error. The first syllable does get the accent, but the o is soft and the s definitely pronounced. The second syllable of Tintagel gets the accent, by the way; I always thought it was the first.
Rounding the point to approach Boscastle, I faced a view of a cliff being pounded by the sea, with great sea caves worn into the rock, to the point of joining and leaving a massive pillar supporting the point of the cliff. I imagine that whole stretch will come down in the not too geologically-distant future.
Boscastle is lovely and picturesque, stretched along the river leading to the harbor — the river that largely destroyed the town in a 2004 flood. I saw a number of dogs frolicking in the stream, and many people with cameras capturing the fun. Other dogs lounged with their humans at the tables outside a café near the path. For some reason they took offense at me when I entered the courtyard — the poles, maybe? A light sandwich and water, then on my way.
A few more miles to Tintagel, and quite a few more beautiful views of surf pounding rocks. Also views of a white building way out at the end of a point, the White Tower: a Coastguard lookout, but by some reports originally a rich man’s folly, possibly involved in smuggling. As the Cornish Heritage Safaris website says, “It’s good to know that there is some physical evidence of traditional Cornish activities.” I caught up with the woman I had seen yesterday when she was walking the opposite direction, from Crackington Haven to Bude. She explained that she had been unable to book a room in Crackington Haven, and had made a bus-walk of the day. “It’s nice to walk for a while with someone else keeping about the same pace,” I said. “Everyone on the trail walks faster than me.”
“It’s not a race,” she said. We enjoyed strolling through the baroque sculpted Rocky Valley, with its bubbling stream, Trevillet River: a smaller scale than the majestic Valley of Rocks near Lynton, but more beautiful, to my eye. My new friend Barbara (from London) parted ways soon after that to reach her accommodation at Bossiney.
The view of Tintagel Haven when I reached it, and of the island (barely split from the mainland) where the 13th century castle was built, was certainly striking enough to uphold the Arthurian mantle. I was rereading the second of Mary Stewart’s Merlin trilogy at this point, and had been looking forward to Tintagel as a highlight of the walk. The cliffs were dark and stark, the ruins of castle walls fraught with history and legend, and the sea below the island an astonishing green where not beaten to a white froth. Rain had finally begun, after holding off most of the day, and my feet and knees were complaining as usual at the end of a tough day. And the trail unfortunately descended almost all the way to the “harbor” of Tintagel Haven before climbing back up past the visitor center — and I had to climb another quarter mile or so to reach my accommodations at the Cornishman Inn. To my surprise I found Joan and Jim at a table, waiting to have a beer with me. I’d mentioned where I was staying, and then hadn’t seen them since breakfast. They had gotten in more than an hour earlier, and had laundry running that they needed to deal with soon, but invited me to meet them at dinner in an hour at the Cedars restaurant in Bossiney.
I dropped my pack off in my room and came back down to join them. (My room, by the way, had a glass shower enclosure in one corner of the bedroom, very odd looking.) I was only mildly damp from the light rain. I grabbed a pint of Cornish stout, Mena Dhu I think. It was served in a glass mug, a promotional item from the brewery. I returned to their table and sat down, hoisting the pint as a toast — at which point the mug split top to bottom. I was holding half a glass mug, with the other half, and a pint of stout, in my lap. Quite wet, now.
Sigh. Towels dealt with that, and I got another pint on the house, and the pub offered to wash my shirt for me. I finished the stout and chatted with my San Antonio friends, and told them that I would see how I felt in an hour, after changing and resting a bit. I did end up joining them, although the restaurant turned out to be quite a bit further than I or they had realized. Their criteria in picking it was no “Ye Olde”, “Arthur”, or “Merlin” in the name. Good food, though, and I met a beautiful and friendly Irish Deerhound named Creagan afterwards. And said goodbye to Joan and Jim, as they would be taking a rest day in Tintagel.