Sunday, April 7, 2013

The tippler's tale

The coast path soars and plummets continually after Tintagel
Lunchtime drinking and afternoon hiking - definitely not a match made in heaven.

Harri loves to remind me about the time we were walking the South West Coast Path and had reached the north coast of Cornwall. (Sadly, we're still in Fowey, figuratively speaking, but that's another story). 

Feeling particularly energetic on our arrival at Tintagel Haven (we'd covered just under five miles at this point), we decided to hike uphill and into Tintagel proper. It's a strange place, Tintagel; its popularity with tourists is based solely on a fascination with the Arthurian legend, yet there's really little there except restaurants and shops that have flourished to meet the tourist demand. 

It was a warm afternoon so we settled down outside a pub and ordered two generously-sized bottles of pear cider (we were going through that phase). You know where I'm going with this... the ambiance, the sunshine... before long we were ordering another bottle, this time to share.

Saint Materiana Church is set apart from the bustling Tintagel
Alcohol always goes to my head at lunchtime but hey, we were on holiday and we only had another nine miles to cover before Port Isaac. We wandered out of Tintagel, happily tipsy and at peace with the world. Back on the cliff tops, we noted the stark contrast between Tintagel's touristy main street and the bleakness of the grey-stoned parish church, Saint Materiana between Tintagel Castle and Trevena. 

It was a tough afternoon's hiking. Roland Tarr (author of the National Trail Guidebook we were using) recommends allowing five hours from Trebarwith Strand to Port Isaac, which seemed a little extreme. Most serious coast path hikers don't dawdle after all, we stride with intent! 

The pear cider wore off leaving us with the familiar lethargy that inevitably accompanies lunchtime drinking. Meanwhile, the coast path took great joy in climbing steeply to 90 metres before plunging back to sea level... and not just once. Over and over, the path rose up and up, only to plummet minutes later. In Roland's own words 'there are seven very steep and deep valleys to cross' and every single one of them required a massive effort.

The sun was setting as we limped into Port Isaac
When we finally reached Port Isaac the sun was setting and we were exhausted. We had, however, learned an important lesson: keep the drinking for the end of the hike.

Which is why my latest escapade is inexcusable. It was my daughter Elinor's 26th birthday and she was back in Wales for an interview (she got the job). I'd already managed to get lost on a neighbouring housing estate as I walked to our agreed meeting point which didn't bode well for the longer hike I didn't have planned for later in the day. (Just to explain, it's one of those seventies estates with lots of little alleyways hidden between the houses and linking various roads.)

It was a bitterly cold day and the interviewers were running late. By the time Elinor finally emerged, I'd long given up circling Cardiff Bay to keep warm and was taking refuge in a bus shelter. When we arrived at the central Cardiff pub, I was in dire need of a double brandy but it was tactfully suggested that bottle of wine might be a more appropriate way to celebrate a daughter's birthday.

I rarely drink wine and I seldom drink it at lunchtime so the effect was fairly predictable. A large glass and a half of rose and I was, er, yes you've guessed, rather tipsy. I walked to Cathedral Road where my daughter was meeting a friend for an afternoon at the spa. We hugged and said our goodbyes. It was three o'clock and I thought I might walk home. 

The A48 through Llanrumney - dull and uninspiring
It's actually 13.5 miles from Cathedral Road to my house by road but I had a cunning plan - I would follow the A48 from Cardiff town centre to St Mellon's and then take a short cut through the lanes near Michaelston y Fedw. This seemed to me a great idea, though, to be fair to Elinor, she tried hard to talk me out of it! 

Footwear wouldn't be a problem - I was wearing my trusty Salomons - and my woolly scarf would keep the wind off my neck. My large shoulder bag held very little and I could button up my velvet jacket more tightly. No water bottle, no sustenance, no map. Just a crazy urge to walk miles on a freezing late March afternoon.

Just to add to the self-imposed pressure, I was going to the theatre that evening and had to be out again by 6.15pm. Oh dear, it's no wonder the UK's mountain rescue teams are kept busy throughout the winter, is it? This is what happens when you drink too much wine at lunchtime!

After a while, one bridleway looks very much like another 
Of course, I wasn't ever in any real danger but, an hour or so later, when it started snowing heavily, I started to regret my wine-induced enthusiasm for hiking. I hurried towards the lanes, rummaging in my bag for my Samsung Y - my map substitute. It was fine while I was walking along actual lanes but when I turned onto a footpath, it wasn't quite so easy to work out where I actually was. Everything looked vaguely familiar (we've done a lot of walking in the area) but with twilight rapidly approaching, the fields started looking pretty much the same. I headed along a bridleway only to turn and retrace my steps when I reached a closed gate with no sign of a stile (I now know that bridleways rarely have stiles as horses aren't terribly adept at climbing over them).

It was twenty past five and snowing. I was thirsty and worried. For the second time that day, I was lost.

There was no alternative but to ring Harri. His initial reaction was one of incredulity and our conversation went something along the lines of:

Harri: 'Are you completely mad? Why on earth did you think walking home from Cardiff was a good idea?' 

Me: 'I wanted a walk.' 

Harri: 'Do you know how far it is from Cardiff to Rhiwderin? And aren't you supposed to be going out tonight?'

Me: 'I thought I could walk fast.'

Harri: 'So where exactly are you?'

(At this point, I detected some irritation in his voice; he was translating a large document and I'd disturbed his concentration.)

Me: 'In a field.'

He sighed, exasperated, but I knew he'd come out and rescue me because, basically, he's a lovely, caring guy. 

Now the challenge was working out my exact location so he could direct me back to civilisation. It's actually quite difficult to describe a featureless field to someone on the end of a phone but luck was with me as this one had a line of electricity pylons running across it. My location determined, Harri explained what I needed to do to reach the nearest metalled lane. He'd pick me up from there.  

It transpired that I was actually only about half an hour's walk away from home but the terrain around here is undulating and I was so disorientated I'd probably have walked around in circles for hours.

I tell this tale as a warning to others whose love of hiking and a lunchtime tipple occasionally overrides their common sense. From now on, this is one tippler who will tipple only after her day's walking is done... . 

It could have been so much worse... the fields near home in winter

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