LAND’S END TO JOHN O’GROATS – WALK OF A LIFETIME

 

On the 14th July last year, Chacewater man Rob Knill retired from his last job in the Royal Navy (37 years man/boy) as a Commander at RNAS Culdrose and headed straight to our most westerly point to embark on a solo walking trek from Land’s End to John o’Groats – abbreviated LEJOG to those in the know.  Well, not quite “solo” as it turned out because his wife, Gillian, thought he might get a bit lonely and so purchased a motor home from which she provided that all important practical and “motivational” support.  Eventually collecting £7000 for the Royal British Legion’s (RBL) Poppy Appeal, following a recent award from the LEJOG committee in recognition of his efforts, Rob has offered to write serialize their 59 day, 20 mile a day adventure for ‘WHAT’S ON.  So what follows details a first leg from Land’s End to the northern side of Bath.

 

Accommodated and fed at the Land’s End hotel (surprisingly nice place) we experienced the best weather either of us had ever seen, the sun setting over the Long Ships lighthouse being a real treat from our dining table that beautiful Thursday evening.  Unfortunately Day 1 (Friday 15TH July 2011) of the walk was not quite so good.  Out by the official Land’s End sign post (long before the normal photographer had turned up and so a tad cheaper!), a number of old friends, work colleagues, immediate family and members of the RBL huddled together for the statutory ‘team’ photograph.  Bang on 0800 my daughter Collette joyfully joined me in, shall we say “mizzley” weather, dreckly down the road to Penzance.

 

At Drift Reservoir by 1000 and met by some more work colleagues at Mount Misery, some welcome donations were received along the sea front to Long Rock, where the motor home took on a whole new life? Gillian had the kettle on and provided some salivatious Victoria sponge and Flapjacks, whilst colleagues Brian, Steve and I (all the wrong side of 50 years) were seen scrambling on each other’s back attempting to stick the first of two sizeable poppy stickers to the rear of the motor home, which referred to by all and sundry as “Poppy” from that point on. Good byes complete to both guys, Collette departed soon at Crowlas where I was joined by a push biking friend (Pete Darlington) around the St Erth area. Finally arriving at the Angarrack M&S Car Park, the first 23 miles had felt good and the company terrific.

 

Day 2 revealed some unexpected blisters (and before anyone asks I had done some serious training beforehand) so I pulled out an old pair of leather sandals (circa 1992) from the “man drawer” at home in an attempt to avert this particular minor crisis and set off, clad in poncho due to the drizzle, to Connor Down and Camborne.  Hit by the biggest roadside splash in the entire 1114 miles of the trek at the Hayle Rugby Club roundabout, I soon discovered why Gillian had insisted I took a small trowel with me; this was not the first time I was taken short in an adjacent field.  Essential domestics completed amongst some lovely scenery, the good people of West Cornwall then dipped into their pockets and even offered the occasional lift – declined incidentally – as I strode on purposefully to Pool, up Redruth High Street and late lunch opposite the Mount Ambrose Factory Outlet – more odd looks from passersby.  Through Scorrier, Blackwater and along that awful stretch of the A3075 towards Perranporth and Newquay, leaping into fields for safety occurred more than once.  Sniffing the air along the bridleway into the Cider Farm, the end of Day 2 was celebrated under a belated sun with a high quality Crunchy Toffee ice cream cone at Callestick – 20 miles in all, those old sandals had certainly saved the day.

 

Day 3. So perhaps map reading was a weakness after all? Soon after Callestick, some unmarked bridle paths resulted in my donning leggings to scale an almighty bramble fence, exploding in somewhat disheveled state beside the A30 just west of Marazanvose. Received much encouragement (but few donations obviously) from passing traffic up over Carland Cross, before taking an uncharted back lane to Mitchell and the lovely St Enoder. A further embarrassing error ensued as I headed back over the A30 at Summercourt instead of following T junction road sign that would otherwise have taken me “the easy way” to Kingsway Village. Lesson here, stick to the map, don’t listen to nice old ladies and make sure old work colleagues are not passing when scaling the central reservation of the dual carriageway beneath the bridge by Indian Queens. So on to Fraddon, passing Screech Owl Sanctuary and then along the Goss moor Trail (another highly recommended walk) to Victoria. With more than 65 miles under the belt now I felt good…if not very wet.

 

Day 4Left Victoria via the Old Coach Road towards Bodmin, taking me past Lakeview through lovely Lamorick and up into the old County Town via the A389. Swapping OS maps (just as well because the last one had received a good rain battering by now), I ambled through Bodmin where, rather pleasingly, a lady came up to donate having seen me drowning the previous day. There was a reason for my high viz jacket with ‘Poppy Appeal logo complete with nicely penned Road to Retirement’ after all then – further donations followed. Rather appropriately, given my charitable cause, I stopped to read the names of those who were lost in battles since the First World War (including Falklands in which I served) on the plaque in front of the Passmore Edwards building – that became a consistent theme and spurred me on. Up and out of Bodmin, crossing north by Racecourse Farm, along the Old Callywith Road and down into Millpool, keeping Cardinham Moor Firing Range to my right, I then overlooked Greenbarrow Downs (mistily, so only just!) before taking the B Road to Temple. Traversing the A30 twice (and rather painfully) near signs to Colliford Lake, I literally fell into Gillian’s welcome arms and a hot bowl of tomato soup at Jamaica Inn. Oddity of this day occurred at Temple, where I waved to a passing car only to see it coming hurtling downhill towards me 5 minutes later me chasing a greyhound. Twas clear that both dog and owner enjoy this method of training, which certainly amused this walker.

 

Day 5 gladly took me away from the A30, however, the wind, rain and mist atop Bodmin Moor was not quite what the Doctor ordered. Ultimately though, I made through a succession of pleasant B roads and fields to Polson Bridge on tother side of Launceston and then into Devon.  Lessons identified today (besides naively believing the local weather forecast?): Ensure back-up batteries for radio actually do work and always double check dislodged old road signs like the one I found at Higher Treduntle, which sent me at least 2 miles the wrong way and almost down a sheer inland cliff edge? Highlights: Super coffee at Launceston Steam Railway and spotting my first Roe Deer between Trerithick to Trethinna.

 

Days 6 to 9 rather ran into one another. Despite a misty start at Polson Bridge, the weather improved markedly as I walked via Lifton, Lewdown and Sourton and onto great Youth Hostel (YHA) at Okehampton, which incidentally has a gem of a railway enthusiast shop on the opposite platform to the YHA accommodation.  Highlights of the day included a free ice cream along the Granite Way (apparently Bike Hire type locations do this for “End to Enders” such as I) and the awesome view at Meldon Viaduct (below), a must for any walker.

 

Following a hearty YHA breakfast, Day 7 took me through to Sticklepath (significant importance to Battle of Trafalgar) up to Spreyton, lovely walks up to Yeoford and Crediton where we found a good campsite at the appropriately named Nomansland.  Met by a good friend (Graham Miles) early on Day 8 and with sun out in all its glory, we headed for Thorverton and lunch with friends on the bank of the River Ex at Bickleigh, before moving along the river to Tiverton and along the Grand Western Canal to Sampford Peverell.  On Sunday (Day 9) I continued along Grand Western (well its remains anyway) and the equally delightful West Dean Way past Wellington. Confused signage at Tone Green resulted in a 3 mile “detour” prior to Taunton, but the mere fact I had got this far somehow meant a great deal more than I had imagined. By this time though, the feet were in need of serious attention – Gillian’s caring (if not always gentle) hands obliged – and I needed to take on more energy drinks than initially thought.

 

Day 10Prompted for the first time by Gillian’s oft used supportive words “get on with it you wuss”, I encountered some beautiful miles of the Somerset countryside along the East Dean Way. “At one with nature” you could say, this day was – ironically for me – frequently punctuated (and made even more pleasurable) by sight and sound of the Penzance to London commuter train I used to frequent when I worked in the Ministry of Defence (2004-2006). Eventually arriving at Street via Borrowbridge, Othery and Greinton (which must be the longest village – sign to sign – in Britain incidentally), not for the first time Gillian had negotiated a “freebee” overnight stop, only this time in the staff car park at Clarks Village.

 

Day 11 bore witness to a high quality 16 miles Chilcompton, just before Midsomer Norton, taking the A39 around Glastonbury along the delightful Queen Sedgemoor’s Drain and over Maesbury Castle. Stunning views and by-passing Wells, I finally arriving at a lovely wooded campsite that once again Gillian had managed to get the overnight fees waived.

 

The final Day 12 of this particular instalment offered a fabulous weather and walking route through Midsomer Norton, Radford, Carlingcott and on to Combe Hay, down into Bath and – rather painfully due to the incline – up Lansdown Hill to our overnight pitch by the racecourse at the Blathwayt Pub car park; a welcome stopover indeed. Highlights included the company of numerous squirrels en-route from Camerton to Carlincott and my morning picnic break which was taken on a bench beside the now famous – as it was the first of its kind – Carlincott red telephone box community ”honesty” book share library scheme, which was introduced because their mobile library had stopped. Very British stiff upper lip type stuff, I note the good folk of Greenbottom have now introduced this great idea. This installment therefore ends on the very edge of the Cotswold Way, a beautiful two weeks to describe next time dear reader.