This should have been a terrible day, not because of the walk itself, but because I woke up to miserable, driving rain, and apart from a short break in mid-afternoon, it never really went away. How bizarre, then, that I ended up rather enjoying myself.
A lot of this was down to the incredible healing that afflicted my right foot overnight. Perhaps my blisters were as keen to leave Launceston as I was, but when I woke up in my freezing bed – freezing because the window didn't shut properly, which meant not only a cold night but a noisy one, as my room looked over the main street – my right foot was practically back to normal. My left foot was still suffering, particularly on the front ball and the little toe, but having half my body working was a considerable improvement, and it made a big difference.
I was also delighted to be leaving Launceston. I hadn't spotted it the day before, but when I staggered out of the front door of the Baker's Arms and into the morning drizzle, I noticed that the building opposite was boarded up and held together by scaffolding, with a sign stuck to the front declaring that just ten days before the building had been the victim of the local arsonist, and could anyone with any information please contact the police.
Trying hard to feign surprise, I left as quickly as my not-quite perfect feet could carry me.
The Two Castles Trail
For the entire 17 miles from Launceston to Bridestowe I followed a local track called the Two Castles Trail. Yesterday I bumped into Howard again as I hobbled into Launceston, and he proudly showed me the trail pack he'd picked up from the tourist office; I wasted no time in following suit, so today I ended up taking this winding, scenic route east rather than the normal procession of hedgerows, villages and A-roads. It was a good move.
Unfortunately I can remember little of the Two Castles Trail because most of it was expertly shrouded in misty rain by the unpleasant weather that rolled over the entire country yesterday. I remember some things, though, and here they are.
I remember crossing the border from Cornwall into Devon, simply because it's the first county border my walk has crossed. The border at this point is the River Tamar, which runs broadly north-south, and the border crossing is a fairly nondescript bridge that carries more traffic than symbolism. Still, I'm in county number two, and despite the humdrum nature of the boundary, it means a lot to be moving into Devon.
I remember being delighted that my fancy new gaiters kept my feet utterly dry, a luxury that can't be underestimated (especially as wet feet blister amazingly quickly). They're made of Gore-Tex and fit exactly over the soles of my Berghaus Storm boots, and apart from the odd bit of condensation inside, they've proved their worth. Even drizzle can soak your feet if you've got the wrong footwear, especially when you're wading through luscious foot-high grass that's glistening with water; happily gaiters, Gore-Tex boots and plastic over-trousers combine to make a pretty good remedy, and once you know your legs are going to stay dry, constant downpours don't worry you half as much as they normally would.
I remember thinking that following directions in a trail leaflet is both more relaxing and more irritating. It's good to know that you're on a way-marked route that's been trodden by plenty of walkers before you, and it's good to know that the route is theoretically going to take you through the most scenic and interesting places, rather than taking the most direct path. But when those directions start to make no sense, or you just can't find a trail marker when you're expecting one, it's far more annoying than getting lost with just an Ordnance Survey map to hand; with the latter you have to pay attention all the time, but when you're following directions in English, it's easy to drift off a bit, and suddenly you have no idea where you are, or which direction is which. I got lost on more than one occasion; I guess that'll teach me to be complacent when following directions.
Onward Agnostic Pacifist
I remember passing through Lewtrenchard and marvelling at the isolation and beauty of the Reverend Sabine Baring-Gould's home. The Reverend was not only the squire of this area, but he was also the parson, and he enlarged the local manor house, Lew House, into a much larger affair, designing some parts himself without the aid of an architect, and using nothing but local skills to achieve what is now the Lewtrenchard Manor Hotel. He also moved a holy well from the copse above the manor into the grounds of the manor itself; he compiled an authoritative and exhaustive list of Devon folk songs and stories; he wrote many books on Devon; and to cap it all, it was he who composed the hymn 'Onward Christian Soldiers.' It's an impressive list of achievements for one man, even one motivated by faith.
Finally I remember crossing Galford Down and smiling as the sun tried to poke its head through the clouds (unfortunately it soon popped back in, but it was good of it to try). With perfect timing the skies cleared enough for me to witness the gorgeous view from the downs: to the west, distinctive with his humpbacked ridge on the distant horizon, was good old Brown Willy, with Roughtor clearly visible next to him; and on the opposite side, wreathed in misty misery, was my first sight of the rolling hills of Dartmoor, which I'll be skirting for the next day or so.
While admiring the view, I pulled out the trail guide and noticed that I was standing on an ancient battleground. On Galford Down in 825 AD, the Saxons sent the Celts packing and effectively killed off any Celtic influence to the east of the River Tamar, but this isn't the interesting part. Historians think that the Celts were inspired to fight by King Bearnwulf of Mercia, a hardcore axe-wielder if his name is anything to go by, but they were beaten by – wait for it – King Egbert and his Saxon army. Egbert? Yeah, I'd have put my money on Bearnwulf too; how bad must the Celts have felt to lose to a guy called Egbert?
Unfortunately, just as soon as I'd managed to grab this glimpse of the distant past, the sun disappeared, the clouds came down, and I again started praising the name of the great god of Gore-Tex as the trail turned into a muddy lake in front of my very eyes. Again.
The Point of it All
Amazingly I arrived at Bridestowe with aching feet but no new blisters – yep, I counted 'em twice – and after booking into a campsite and popping up my tent, I wandered down towards Dartmoor and into the most wonderful pub. This is what makes it worth all the effort; those pints of Devon Gold and the wonderful gourmet meal I guzzled didn't even touch the sides.
You see, I love pubs, but I really love pubs with real fires, great real ale, cosy seats, real stonework, excellent food and subtle lighting. In short, I loved the Bearslake Inn from the minute I wandered round the corner from the campsite and saw the ancient stonework huddled by the side of the A386. Some days are meant to be difficult so the end can be just that bit sweeter; this day was indeed one of those.