Tramping Cornwall

“Hey Tom, you wanna go tramping along the Cornish Coast in May?”
“Yeah that sounds great. I should really be working, but hey I’ve been wanting to do that for ages. Count me in!”

Thus began our ten-day adventure in Cornwall. Our goal was to hike 110 miles or so, from Penzance, around the Southwest tip of Cornwall (Land’s End) up to Devon, and take the train back from Barnstaple in Devon.

Tramping of course has a double meaning:

1. Verb: to walk through or over a place wearily or reluctantly and for long distances : we have tramped miles over mountain and moorland

2. Noun: a person who travels from place to place on foot in search of work or as a vagrant or beggar

We fancied ourselves tramps in the romantic hobo-ish train-hopping independent traveller damn-the-itinerary kind of way. We were definitely weary- even reluctant at times, especially when my right knee began to give me problems after the third day. I was afraid I was going to have to give up and go home (and I would have if we were in the states) but thank the lord there was a frequent and convenient rural bus that ran along the coast, and I was able to meet Tom at a designated camping spot every night. It was actually a mixed blessing, allowing me more leisure time to meet the locals, and discover hidden jewels like the Bicycle History Museum in Camelford (stay tuned).

Were we really tramps, or just yuppies seeking a return to the land? Jury’s still out on that one. We weren’t looking for work. I didn’t beg until I was caught in Boscastle on a stormy Saturday night all alone with the hostel full up, and my dilemma prompted a kind café manager to put me up in her house. There was an air of vagrancy about our trip, though.

escargot dining on sea beet

Neither of us brought a tent or a sleeping pad, preferring to rough it with just a couple of tarps. I somehow managed with only a daypack. We slept out on the cliffs or in caves, and bathed in the cold Atlantic waters.

We tried to live off the land, using “Food for Free” to supplement our meals with ramson’s (wild garlic), nettles (rich in protein and iron), and sea beet (a lot like spinach). We talked about bagging a bunny, but neither of us had the heart.

We laughed about how few differences there actually are between “backpacking” and “vagrancy”- perhaps more than most outdoor enthusiasts would care to admit. A few name-brand gore-tex items and a credit card- that’s about it.

As they say, the best things in life are free, and we relished the freedom and the immediacy of gathering our food, choosing a protected place to camp, and falling asleep with the sound of the waves each night, and feeling the sand in between our toes the next morning when we went for a swim. No one was charging us hefty fees, we didn’t have to sell our souls to the man to afford the trip. We weren’t in luxurious comfort every moment, but we were rewarded by a rare intimacy with the natural world. The spectacular North Cornish coast in late spring- wildflowers, ferns, and wild fuschias bursting forth, and very few tourists.

Just a couple of tramps eating rice and wild sea beet, watching the sun set over the Atlantic, and contented living the simple life.


pics courtesy T. Beale

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