we drink tea in the cafe on crooklets beach and begin our walk at 10am. we've been planning this trip for the last three saturdays and finally we have a lovely storm-free day with morning sun and a gentle breeze. there are three of us and a gorgeous little white dog with fur as soft as a cat. i'm told she is from the pyrenees where her father was a circus dog. he was killed by a wild pig before she was born. then at the age of two her mother was also killed by a wild pig. now at 15 she is as fit as ever but her little legs can't match our stride.
we haven't gone far before we come across a pregnant sheep that has collapsed in a field. we take a small diversion to find the farm and leave a message for the shepherd. not so much further on we find a sheep that has fallen off a steep edge and is lying half dead with blood streaming from its eye. it's hard to know what to do as there is no farm in sight. as we are considering options a pick-up arrives and a farmer and daughter brutally drag the sheep down the hill, through the stream. it's bent-back head bashes against the rocks. they hurl it into the back of the pick-up where it lands on its back. he drives off and it's legs are shaking in the air. it's so horrible to watch and we are all saddened.
the landscape echoes our feelings. jagged black rocks stand in rows like knives. the beach is ink-black stoned and bare. the cliffs are sharp with big overhangs and our path teeters on their edge. it's a harsh and barren landscape. hostile and menacing. spectacular and dramatic.
onwards we wander until we climb down to stanbury beach and have our picnic. again it's black and to my joy it's littered with fishing buoys and driftwood in large quantities. after soup and a sandwich i gather a large pile of wood. but my excitement turns to dismay as i start to discover seabirds. the beach is a cemetery of beautiful birds dashed against the stones. there are mainly guillemots, great northern divers, lots of razorbills, a couple of shags, a couple of fulmars and a puffin. there must be more than 50. the aftermath of the storms.
i sort through the wood wanting to take it all. i compromise and select just a large and heavy bagful! time is ticking by and i'm determined to get to hawker's hut. the eccentric clergyman, poet and antiquarian, parson hawker (1803-1875), built this tiny hut from driftwood and old ship's timbers. and apparently he spent many hours tucked away inside smoking opium and writing poetry! "other eccentricities attributed to him include dressing up as a mermaid and excommunicating his cat for mousing on sundays. he dressed in claret-coloured coat, blue fisherman's jersey, long sea-boots, a pink brimless hat and a poncho made from a yellow horse blanket, which he claimed was the ancient habit of st padarn. he talked to birds, invited his nine cats into church and kept a pig as a pet". what a man!! the entire interior of the hut is carved with names and dates, some as early as the 1890s. i'm envious of the solid oak timbers and fantasize about beachcombing in hawker's day. my bag of soft pine is a disappointing modern day equivalent. but thankfully it's a lot lighter.
we leave the coast and cut inland to morwenstow church. the gravestones are heavily patterned with lichen. it's past 4pm and we have a long way to go to get back to bude. the little white dog is carried to speed things up. we pick our way through a network of footpaths leading us past old stone farms untouched by time. we have discovered a very authentic part of cornwall. it's intriguing but there is no time for curiosity on this visit.
night falls and i'm beginning to feel a little responsible for the fact that we are NOWHERE near the end! i definitely underestimated how long it would take and on top of that i got a bit distracted with beachcombing! carrying a dog and a bag of wood throw an element of endurance into the mix. it's hard to see where the footpaths begin but somehow we manage. i've been surprised by how little mud there's been..... until now! the puddles in the squelchy mud reflect the sky enough to show us something of the path. my torch is faint but good enough to make out names on signs. we have to do a little back tracking but eventually we see the car welcoming us - a shining beacon of comfy seats. it's gone 8pm and we're very very tired. we have walked solidly for 9 hours. we stumble into the nearest pub bleary eyed and caked in mud. the dj is just setting up for the night's entertainment. i feel a little out of place. we joke about dancing. just standing up again feels like it could be a challenge.