Oh The People You Meet

Heading out of Padstow a few days back, I was on route for Constaine Bay and Mrs Kennerely’s B&B, a mere 10 miles away. The sun was bright, the air had a slight breeze and there was only mild discomfort emanating from my feet.

Around two miles in, there came the distinct sound of footsteps and brush clearing behind me. Since I had plunged into the woods with no one about, instinct and my over active imagination said ‘sped it up girl!’ I pulled into my hand the ‘loudest whistle on earth’ and picked it up a step or two. Once in the clearing, I looked back and saw a man, with a hiking stick, a blue cap, and backpack-or russet sack, as they term it. It was a quick glance so I got in the range of male 40-65.

As I got to a little farm gate with farm house within whistle shot, I held up and fiddled with my back. I honestly figured the man was harmless, but it is uncomfortable having footsteps in your ears. Not unlike having that annoying runner at a race right at your heels that you just want to shake off. So my choices were to out run my fellow hiker, which the feet forbade or pause and let him pass.

My fellow hiker came on up in a minute or two time and I held the gate for him. We exchanged pleasantries and he didn’t push on through but expanded the conversation. We stood talking at the farm gate a good five minutes–all the time you need to size up a fellow hiker and then pressed on together.
That’s how I met Mike, a retired psychology professor who retired with his wife to Lyme Regis and has now begun walking the trail in sections. He had been with his brother, but brother twisted an ankle so he was taking a bus to their next spot and hoping to rejoin.
Since the cumulative mileage for the day would be manageable and this section of the trail more rolling then plunging, I said yes to both a creamed tea stop and a pub lunch stop. A first for me. Tea always- lunch never.

It was Mark who suggested our first stop as we rounded a headland and saw a beach in the near distance, “if there’s a beac and a carpark, there’s sure to be tea.” And, so there was.

Days end, I left Mark about a half mile from his meet up place from his brother and made my way inward to Mrs Liz Kennerely’s, mother to three, grandmother of five. She had instructed me to come after 5 but it was only 4:30 when I walked up. I figured she meant she’d be out until then, but no she meant she’d be having company for tea. So I crashed the tea party.

Being as gracious as they are a chair was fetched, a mug, and of course a plate for cake! I put my pack down in the grass and asked to just wash my hands. A failed attempt at hair management was given up and I went to the garden, pretending no one cared about the bedraggled looking American hiker.

The tea was English standard good, the cake far sweeter and spongy than I care for and yet had no problems downing the entire huge slice.

At the gathering was a relation of Liz’-her daughter’s mother-in-law and that woman’s daughter, Lucy. Lucy is a writer, an outrageously accomplished freelancer living in Vancouver but flying to the UK several times a year for assignments for the BBC and magazines. I wondered if she could tell by my twenty questions in rapid fire succession that I was totally impressed.
Liz treated me so well. Taking my washed out hiking gear to her clothes line and letting me fiddle with her unbelievable cool Aga oven–a massive boat of a machine with three oven spots and two huge continually burning ranges.

She also took me to the window on the second floor where she showed me the seagull nesting its three babies. Dang, those little guys are cute!

I really hated to say goodbye and a part of me is still hanging out listening to Liz’ stories about her travels she wants to take to Italy next year or how she goes golfing three times a week so she can catch up on the gossip.

I remembered Liz again with gratitude when I caught up with Mark later in the day. He and his brother had opted for the Youth Hostile on the beach. No sleep due to the party makers and burger and fries were the only food option. His brother had decided to take bus home and tend his ankle and Mark was going to finish in Newquay (pronounced Newkeey) and meet his wife. I had stopped for tea and just taken a swallow when I saw Mark across the road, heading up the hill with ice cream in hand. I finished up quickly and headed out, catching up to him once the path took a steep uphill turn.

“Hey stranger!” I yelled and Mark swung around.

“There you are! Cheers.” We hugged and continued on to Newquay where we were buzzed over head by incoming flights to the Newquay airport. We talked of other travels- Edenborough a must, Greece a have to. Made me ponder how possible it might be to grab the next flight out of Newquay.

After tea in Newquay we said goodbye and I went on another four miles to Crantock and the inn run by Mr Rick. Think opposite Casablanca. Rick is a short, ex sailor. Runs things by the books with a little bit of sly humor. He calls me ‘Luv’ at the end of every statement and smiles kindly, but not often. When I jump ahead to ask a question, he holds up his index finger and says, “Wait Luv, we’ll get to that. Let me go through this in order.”
I may laugh a little to myself but I love and respect these idiosyncrasies we all have, like me and my decision to not take a trip to a foreign land and casually take it all in but rather hike it day in and day out–giving way to blisters and sore toes.

But I never would have found Mark or Liz or even Rick had I not taken this path nor the countless others I’ve met and will be sure to meet.

So while going alone may seem a little odd, it sure does open me up to meeting others.

And now as I forge ahead with 167 miles behind me, five blisters healing, two toenails planning an exit strategy, I will look forward to meeting new folks and hope to stumble across a beach I where I’ll hear my friend Mark’s words: “If there’s a beach and a carpark, there must be tea!”

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