Back to walking after four weeks, this time with heavy winter boots, the better to trudge through Cornish coastpath mud. To Falmouth from Truro, by a two-coach train which is as inconspicuous as a railway can be, leastways the stations, all away from the main town. The giveaway is the viaduct.
Clouds look heavy, and threaten, but the wind’s blowing from the north. I follow the rain remnants out to sea, and I’m taken by surprise when cloud suddenly rides lower from the hills behind, and the rain is torrential, but brief, and there’s a tunnel under the viaduct to shelter me, then a little later, just as it deluges again, a beach cafe, no inside, but canvas outside, and just enough shelter for me, a cappuccino and a flapjack. Though the flapjack does get a little soggy. And then at Maenporth, another deluge, and another cafe, empty, but an awning outside is enough – and this time a hot dog and cup of tea. Two real dogs, black, bedraggled and thirsty, arrive while I’m there.
Inbetween times, Gyllyngvase. One place where the Cornish name (Gilenvas) is so much simpler. And beyond Swanpool I climb away from the road and through woodland, now a threadbare canopy, all transferred beneath, but better the oak leaf carpet than the mud and the muddy pools that lie beyond. But I love the big skies and the sea stretching south and west reflecting a watery sun, which I’m amazed is there at all. No blue sky, so the further landscape is all shades of grey and silver and winter brown, but close to it’s a rich green, and there’s a variety of ferns, including bracken, and tucked below the bushes a few campion still flower, and there’s a late – or early – violet or two as well. A bramble carries one or two flowers, and the gorse is abundant yellow in places. All beneath that grey sky.
And it’s the 28th day of November.
Beyond lie three headlands, each one stretching further south, the third the Lizard. Tempting, but too far.. much too far to walk this day. First there’s the Helston river to cross, a ferry in summer, an additional ten-mile trek via Gweek in winter.
Advent Sunday tomorrow and I’m singing out loud an Advent hymn – O come o come Emmanuel – with its lovely cadences and a special history – the tune has been sung in one form of another for maybe 1200 years. I pass a memorial, to a girl who died aged 20 a few years ago. ‘Now in God’s safe hands,’ I think it read.
We imagine a better world when we look out west beyond the sea, beyond the horizon. There lies paradise, and the safe hands of God. West is finis terrae.
But there’s another memorial, above Swanpool, to the Home Guard, who watched through WW2 for ‘a thousand days’ in case of the Germans landed. A memorial to war. There’s been a fort at Pendennis Castle since the time of Henry VIII. Now no-one watches, and there are only concrete bases where the gun emplacements once were.
I look out to sea with a sense of eternity, beyond war, as others have done, almost forever. For ten thousand times ten thousand days. When you walk alone, and I hardly met a soul, that sense is almost palpable.
(Ten thousand x the thousand years I wrote first. 100 million years BC. That would mean dinosaurs and not homo sapiens or homo habilis, or whatever. Not certain they had an ‘sense of eternity’. But who knows?)