Taking onboard the one bit of exercise we can do each day during this pandemic we have chosen to walk along bits of the south west coast path that are accessible from our home. We have to walk through two fields to get to the SW coast path that runs along either a cliff path or the main road [Military Rd] and then we have a four mile stretch of coast path that we are bang in the middle of so, left or right we have options and we realise we are very lucky to have them.
When it’s low tide we tend to head to the beach and as the tide times change we then walk along the cliff tops so, within a week we change the route accordingly.
A sometime work colleague and collaborator Dr Phil Smith, aka Crab Man, is a man of words and walking. He has a site called Mythogeography and creates walks, interventions, papers, books and much more about the joy of walking sideways, i.e seeing things differently, and he has recently written something on walking in the time of a pandemic. In normal times we wouldn’t pay particular attention to other people and would move amongst them without worrying about social distancing, but now we have to think through our spacing before and as we go. Smith says you have to ‘become a choreographer of your own dance’. When the sun comes out people head to parks and beaches, places that cater for large crowds, yet we are told to only walk close to where we live, meaning don’t get in your car to go somewhere to exercise. Smith says ‘look for small treasures in the margins…respect every space and place as beyond the usual…wherever you walk, walk with your own story’ look for details, walk with new eyes and look beyond that which you would normally see.
Walking close to where you live for us means a stretch in East Cornwall called the Rame Peninsula, which includes a four mile stretch on a beach called Whitsand Bay, so early last week when it was low tide during the day we headed down for our exercise, and it is exercise, particularly on the way back heading up the steep cliffs that have footpaths and steps cut into them.
As the week went on we had to adapt and one day set off to our right as we got to Military road, within a few yards we find a gate with a sign saying Sharrow, which is the next beach along to us. Here the path along the top of the cliffs is only wide enough for one person, so if you met someone coming in the other direction you would have to move to one side to allow someone to pass, however normally this would still be in incredibly close range to the other person so during a pandemic you have to know where there are places that can accommodate space along the route. Driving down our back lane every day, we are used to the places that allow two cars to pass, if we meet another car we know which vehicle is closer to these places, and most drivers do, as it is a lane that is only really used by the people who live on/off it. Therefore as we walk this narrow clifftop path we assume that the only people we will meet are also people who live close by and therefore know the geography of its terrain.
We did meet someone speaking on their phone to a relative, perched by a bench picking wild herbs, she had a bag full. We tried to choreograph our own dance but it was more of a shimmy past holding our scarves over our mouths, and that was it. We carried on and took a left at Sharrow towards the lifeguards hut because we know that underneath, hidden away is Sharrow’s Grot, a cave carved into the cliff in the eighteenth century, an extreme place to self isolate, originally for sheltering from rough seas and weather.
A couple of days later we headed in the same direction but this time we intended to walk all the way along to Tregantle, the beach that everyone stops at when they head over from Plymouth. The road side is always busy on a sunny day, vehicles cheek by jowl on the grass verges, in the summer holidays traffic wardens ticket anyone whose tyres are trespassing onto the tarmac of the road; a rotten end to a day at the beach. There is a car park a stones throw away and sometimes when the cars and camper vans are either side of the road the double decker bus can have trouble getting through but it seems to be part of the ritual of surfing at Tregantle, that you park up, change and put on wetsuits on the verge.
Today the verges are clear and the bus has no trouble getting through, in fact it’s a pretty clear ride on almost traffic free roads. We get to Tregantle without seeing anyone, no choreography needed, but we see ‘treasures in the margins’ in the gorse, violets and thrift that are starting to colour the cliffs, the earth repeating its annual renewal as we, as a species, retreat.
More information about Sharrow’s Grot and it’s origin is here https://heritagerecords.nationaltrust.org.uk/HBSMR/MonRecord.aspx?uid=MNA101425