Tag Archives: getting lost

When things go differently than expected in Cornwall

I was not 3 hours early at the needed place today, as I had first thought.
I was actually 45 minutes late and at a very wrong place.
That meant no surfing for me on this Tuesday but at least I know where (not) to go on the following days.

Perranporth Beach. Cornwall, July 2015.

I almost don’t have any explanation for this, except that I think my brain shuts down when surrounded by a high intensity of horror. Which, in itself, can be considered as some sort of a defence reflex and a very bad survival one. Luckily, it kicks in ever so seldom and my levels for extreme can probably be stretched every now and then. Well, at least the bus ticket for a half an hour ride is £2.- in here, so all sorts of exploring is encouraged.

Anything to say in my defence?

I got off at the right stop and that’s when it happened, really: I found myself in a trailer house town. A trailer house town. And not one that has been born out of difficult social situations. A town that had been quite newly built. It is hard to explain how the place felt and how it looked: ET on a bad acid trip having put together a suburb he kind of remembered, but not having houses at hand, so having used caravans with legs instead.

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It was a town of sour hope and dejected dreams. Full of hetero families with 3+ children walking from Spar (yes, a selection of high street shops had been transported to the middle of this town) to the Pit of Forlornness, disguised as a pub. The Pit of Forlornness had a large blackboard behind the counter explaining how many pennies one would save buying a bottle of Merlot instead of 3 large glasses of the same wine. It explained away every wine they sold. From another building across the street, one of Elvis’s songs in major key could be heard.

The flip-flopping fathers of this place were wearing T-shirts by surfing brands yet looked like people who had touched the water around the same time they had last had sex. Which was not very recently at all. There were screaming children at an eerie mini golf ground, a small plane flying a beer banner across everyone dipping their fries into suspicious mayo and McDonald’s being called a restaurant on the road sign. The town also had a suburb. The suburb, however, was not made of trailer houses but only trailers. At least the sun was shining above the suburb and the weather was getting less hazy and more focused on its sunny ways.

The Labyrinth of a town had signs up for a surfing school. Not everywhere, but every now and then, so you could follow them and finally find the beach. (Something I’ve never had trouble doing before.) I was following all the signs very carefully (you really don’t want to get lost on the avenues of Doom Illustrated) and finally found my way down to the beach, only to be told there was no booking on my name. It was almost cruel. The waves where all there. The drizzling was stopping. The families with eight screaming toddlers were leaving.

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They sent me back up, to their office in the Labyrinth of Despair. Having spent 20 minutes finding it, they directed me to the town’s Reception. Waiting 15 minutes in the reception, a young boy pointed out that my booking was with another surf school all together. So, hey, this was all my doing, then. But I hadn’t even thought about blaming anyone, I was too focused on not touching anything in case it might suck me in. But yes, the mistake was purely mine. Even if the school had a logo in the same shape and colour, and a name 88% similar to the other only school that had all the advertising up. There were no flags up for my school, so I could not go and find it. Even my mobile reception was lost amongst the Horizons (a popular house name) of these streets. The kind but slightly alarmed people at the Reception finally showed me a map of their town. I thanked them and I thanked the wind my school did not fit on their map nor was part of this Establishment of Endings.

I called my school, so I’m going tomorrow. All is good, the weather is getting better and warmer. The real feel is above 15C now. I have returned from the Nether Side of Nightmares, and am now back in Newquay where half of the population walks the streets carrying their big surfing boards. You know what they say: big surfing boards…. But the other half looks like aggressive sea hippies, so they make up for that. Aggressive sea hippie is just another word for a pirate, just making that clear.

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I checked into charity shops for possible reading material. The options available were Your Talking Cat, In the Minds of Murderers, Pocket Guide to Australia and How to develop Your Sixth Sense. I can’t say I need any of those very specifically right now. Except for one, maybe.

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Newquay is actually not that bad. It is probably even one of the most pleasant-feeling seaside towns in England I’ve ever been to. The corny fudge packaging is still everywhere as is the traditional piňa colada flavoured sugar candy, but there’s also a lot of actual happiness that is nearly tangible. It could be because Newquay is not trying to be something. That’s where its charm might spring from – the place is not exerting itself too much. Everyone already knows that the surf is good in here and that the pasties fill you up real nice. There is no need to prove anything to anyone and that makes the locals relaxed. Maybe all the flip-flop people are on to something, after all.

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I do have my own reading with me. I’ll walk around this tiny ocean town and find a place to read it. Things can only go up.

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Following the River Lea through a secret hole in the hedge

When I left for the Lea Valley Walk I had no idea I would not be doing all its 4 stages in one go. Everything was pointing towards a successful walk: the weather was going to be glorious and breezy, the trains were running and my walking boots had been trained to be my loyal friends for 6 months. Fine, my starting point in the Leagrave Marsh being next to a spot called Rotten Corner should have maybe given me a hint of something going amiss. And perhaps, my path sharing a bit of its course with the oldest road in England (Icknield Way, predating Roman times, that old) should have served as a possible reminder that not everything is achievable in one, fresh attempt. But all this is just my Finno-Ugric reasoning, full of deep belief in linguistic superstitions. (Well, I also saw paw prints of light in a tunnel of arched trees disco-ing away under the shivering leaves, so my Finno-Ugric mind translated that into a good sign. The suburbs of Luton are surprisingly lush.)

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Leagrave, Bedfordshire. July 2015.
Leagrave, Bedfordshire. July 2015.

Twice I thought I had strayed, and twice I was proven wrong. During those times I either reached the needed path within couple of moments or found myself in places where Julius Caesar had walked, George Bernard Shaw had lived and elephants had accidentally damaged rustically heartwarming bridges — only to find myself back on the path again. The village of Wheathamstead was there like a comforting stranger, offering a place to take my boots off, and encouraging me not to take a direct (!) road to my next destination (Lemsford).

Wheathamstead to Lemsford, Hertfordshire. July 2015.
Wheathamstead to Lemsford, Hertfordshire. July 2015.
Wheathamstead to Lemsford, Hertfordshire. July 2015.
Wheathamstead to Lemsford, Hertfordshire. July 2015.

The third time I decided to follow the voice of reason instead of my gut feeling – this is how great trekkers seem to keep themselves from harm, I thought. I even had help on the way: when prancing merrily across a hilly slope in Hertfordshire and reaching a road I had not fully planned on taking (the Ayot Greenway), a very old man stepped out from the hedge and pointed me towards the needed direction (still Lemsford). I know now that it is not only fables and fairytales where wise old men appear out of thin air to offer you their guidance. This is just what happens when you step out of your door with nothing but your walking boots and a bit of money for ale.

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It was the Ayot Greenway that broke my stride, however. That was the path where my right boot actively decided to show my right ankle what it’s made of. (The boot, not the ankle.) Limping along, the only thought that kept me going were the meters ticked off from those last miles I was walking. Keeping straight to the path (this is where my gut feeling started screaming), I later found myself at the full end of it – and with still 6 miles to go to reach Hatfield. Six miles is mountain-loads when you can’t walk all that well any more. And it comes with the added psychological quirk: when you have prepped yourself up for those last 4 miles, and are already whispering to your knees that there’s only a little to go – then to find yourself in the beginning of yet another journey becomes a wicked mental barrier to limp over. I did mention the ankle, right?

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Honestly? The last couple of hours of Stage 1 were strenuous. Weirdly, I never thought of giving up, though. No one gives up when they are having fun, even if that fun is painful. It helped that this bit of the walk was also chequered with many benevolent encounters: I ended up a little lost and a little stuck in the middle of a massive bean field, shouting greetings and questions towards the nearby houses and being soon pointed to a secret hole in the hedge (!). From there I was then advised to carefully cross a golf course which’s gatekeeper – the casting agency for Harry Potter had clearly overlooked this guy – directed me to yet another hole in another hedge. From where, walping (yes) towards the Hatfield train station, a man with a stuffed falcon and an alive pointer dog confirmed my choice of direction. This is what makes a glorious day out without even reaching proper wilderness (I probably walked as much as Roman legionaries walked in one day) – the people with stuffed falcons wishing you good luck on your way.

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At the very end, I almost did not have time to be with myself any more. Reaching a place to sit down became an all-encompassing need. Even the train station became difficult to find, as did the platform. You know you must be tired if you can’t even find your way to the platform from the station. My journey of rational and gut feeling choices came to an end 11 hours after its beginning, and was followed by Stage 3 of the walk after one day of ankle healing. No chants, just ibuprofen.

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Lea Valley Walk, Stage 1 / 17.07.2015 / ~ 40 km.

Lea Valley Walk, Stage 3 / 19.07.2015 / 23 km.

Tottenham Marshes, Haringey, London. July 2015.
Tottenham Marshes, Haringey, London. July 2015.