How come I have a child that doesn’t like exploring the outdoors? It’s not right, him being the antithesis of me. As I’m pulling on my jacket for a walk after the rain, he saunters back from the garage down the lane with his friends, pockets full of sweets. That’s his outing for the day done and dusted. I leave them to climb the walls in a sugar rush and head off to the coast on my own again.
It’s a ‘head down’ kind of day I’ve decided. A walk, not a bike ride. I needed a trudge in keeping with my slow, heavy thoughts; a path to follow blindly in the comfort of familiarity, focussing on the near not the far off or the bigger picture. I don’t know what I expect, or want, from this walk, but the need to get out is strong.
Head down, not looking more than a few metres ahead, I step onto the claggy path through the combe. The rain still lingers in the arch of trees above and cobwebs line the dark corridor below, laden with heavy rain drops that sag under the weight.
I feel like I’m sagging under the weight of depression, only it doesn’t look half as pretty.
Like every walker crossing through a wood after heavy rain, I take deep breaths through my nostrils saturating my insides with the earthy scent of the valley. And when my lungs are full and I can’t breathe in anymore I stop momentarily, like the top of a note, and close my eyes before I exhale. I stop to look at the fish in a stream that’s dappled with the weak light filtering through the gloom of the trees. I’d never do this on my bike: a bike ride’s about seeing the broader view. Finally I realise that today is about noticing the quiet things, subtleties; like the contrasts in texture between the bracken and the heather as I come out of the wood towards the bottom of the valley.
Or a golden path across the hillside to a grey scar in the purple heather.
As I reach the cove I realise how quiet the walk down has been. Suddenly people are everywhere; on the beach, queuing at the National Trust cafe, ambling up and down the cliff paths like ants. I get to the top of the cliffs as quickly as I can, pushing my heart rate up so that I can feel the pulse in my head, passing wheezing holiday makers with every stride. Over the crest they trail off and by the time I get to the Wheal Coates Towanroath engine house they’ve all but disappeared.
The wind is strong up here, but it’s still warm and clammy. The odd rain shower spatters the pinkish, loose-stoned paths as the clouds blow over. Looking out over the slate sea the horizon’s a vague smear, a soft Vaseline haze in the distance, and the deep hues of the heather are giving way to the sharp cadmium yellow of the gorse. The colours seem to be intensified against the greyness of the afternoon.
God knows what goes through my mind on a walk like this. Nothing profound. Nothing resolved. I feel really introspective. I haven’t been out for almost a week, a slave to the lack of motivation that descends with deepening depression. I haven’t done anything at all this week, I tell myself. Except survive. The thought pains me, along with feelings that my life’s as aimless as this walk.
The starry flowers of the drying thrift are turning a gentle white, nodding furiously in the wind. I come round onto Tubby’s Head and see three Hasidic Jewish men sitting on exposed rocks. The sight seems incongruous somehow. The starkness of their black and white clothes is startlingly sharp against the skyline, they’re not wearing coats and I wonder at the wind biting through the crisp white sleeves of their shirts. I pass them by catching drifts of Hebrew on the gusts. It’s a soft sound that dissolves into the grey, much like the rest of the walk to the steps at Trevaunance.
Single track paths mean stepping into the gorse to let the odd person and their dog pass. There are smiles and thank you’s, but I’m irritated that I’ve had to interrupt my pace, leave my thoughts and acknowledge the real world. The path widens towards the cove and there are more people. I recognise two of them, chatting as they run towards me. Friends from my running club. “Hi, how’s it going?”, they sing as they pass. I haven’t seen them for ages, months even. They don’t stop and once they’re behind me I have a fight to suppress tears that seem to rise from my stomach for no reason at all.
The stone steps are steep and people coming up are having to stop, holding on to each other to catch their breath. I realise that the beach will be as crowded as Chapel Porth and even though this is the place I intend to turn round, I decide to go up the cliffs to the garden on the other side, where I guess there’ll be fewer people. I’ve brought a flask of fresh brewed coffee and I want to sit and drink it, savour the views below and feel the warmth of my pink enamel mug in my hands. ‘Life is out there’, is the company’s motto that manufactured the mug (Fat Face). I contemplate the irony as I sit on a memorial bench under my umbrella, sheltering myself against the winds and another heavy shower. There’s no-one up here but me, it’s peaceful and the garden’s a lovely spot to watch the gulls hang in the air.
Time to head back. My thighs burn as I rush up the steps and at the top I turn into a full on head wind. After a while my ears ache with the cold. My cap blows off and I scramble into the heather to catch it before it’s carried off into the Atlantic on another gust.I’m quite close to the edge of the cliff and realise I could just as easily be blown away with it.
Back at Chapel Porth the cafe’s closed and the car park’s emptying. A scurry across the tarmac onto the path up to Mingoose takes me out of the brunt of the wind and I start looking up again. Noticing details. It’s my favourite part of the walk today. In 15, 20 minutes I’m back at the top of the valley and on my way home.
The boys are lounging around in front of a computer, laughing loudly without a care in the world. Life is out there. Sometimes I just have to work a little harder to see it.
- Where: St Agnes, Cornwall
- Route: out and back through Chapel Combe from Mingoose to Trevaunance Cove
- Distance: 8.24 miles
- Time: about 3 hours at a brisk walking pace
- Map: OS Explorer 104 ‘Redruth & St Agnes’. Start at SW707489
- Notes: some steep sections; steps and stiles; exposed