I had the idea to do a Midsummer Marathon whilst walking the coast path late last summer. By then we were confident that, generally, on this West Cornwall stretch of coast path, the walking pace is an average of 2 miles per hour. Yes, some people will be faster and some slower – much depends upon what you want out of the walk – stopping to admire the flowers, or just getting it done. Certainly 3 or 4 miles per hour, as we may do on city streets or flat footpaths, is not achievable unless you are trail running (and, accordingly, wearing and carrying much less). 26 miles, 2 miles an hour, a lunch stop and a couple of breaks: 13 or 14 hours walking = midsummer’s day (or the nearest Friday to it).
We spent some time deciding on the route. It had to be 26 miles (give or take a few hundred meters) between two points which could be accessed by Horace. Gurnard’s Head to Lamorna Cove was perfect.
We then spent the next several months walking those stretches, so we were able to say that the first quarter and the last quarter were the toughest, with the opportunity to make up some time in the middle.
And so, on 22nd June, at 7:00 am we began our inaugural Midsummer Marathon. It. Was. Glorious. We could not have asked for better weather. Constant sunshine, but not too hot and with plenty of cooling breezes. For once, the photos go some way to doing this walk justice, though, as always, I recommend you come and try it for yourselves.
I had pulled my back the Sunday before, and I had not trained as much as I would have liked – in the last year I had only walked about 14 miles in one go – so I was nervous getting started. But my back felt OK, and it turned out not to be as hard as it was in wet, muddy November. Alas, we all took a wrong turn so diverted inland, adding an unnecessary mile to our 26! Thank goodness for the map (and, please, don’t walk out here without one). Once we were back on track we soon got into our stride.
As expected, the walk is difficult underfoot until Cape Cornwall, so it is fairly slow going, but the deep blue seas, sunshine on our backs and beautiful beaches helped us along. My legs felt strong and my back didn’t bother me. I could do this.
At Cape Cornwall the Little Wonder café van was just opening, so we stopped for a welcome cup of tea. The cakes looked amazing, but it was a bit early for cakes for me, so I enjoyed one of my seed bars. A toilet break, boot adjustment, then off to Sennen and our lunch stop.
John and I have done the Cape Cornwall to Sennen walk many times. It is a favourite because it almost always features wild and exciting seas, and there are always surfers. Today was incredible. The sea was so calm and clear and iridescent, and not a surfer in sight.
Gwynver and Sennen beaches both looked so inviting! But I knew if I took my boots off now I wouldn’t get them back on again! (I also knew I had the next couple of days off, with excellent weather forecast, so I had my beach day to look forward to.) By Sennen I reckoned we were over half way – at least 14 miles in. 14 miles and my only complaint was a sore left knee, but a couple of ibuprofen kept me going.
Around Land's End and the change of direction made me feel as though we were on the home stretch. Land’s End to Porthcurno is a fairly steady walk, but it is quite long. By the time we reached the Minack (probably about 20 miles in) I was starting to feel it.
We were also passing idyllic tropical beaches with people cavorting in the sea, which sparked some envy. (I later discovered that John, who had romped ahead back at Gurnard’s Head, had taken a dip in one of said idyllic tropical beaches – sigh…) I, though, was a bit behind and knew I had to get to Lamorna by 8:00 pm, so no stopping for me! A quick snack of my excellent home-made trail mix (‘nuclear nutty stuff’ as one guest called it), and applying a preventative blister plaster at the Minack, and then the final stretch.
I knew that the last quarter was hard, but I honestly couldn’t remember why, and actually I was feeling so strong at this point that I almost didn’t believe it. Maybe its not as hard as I thought……..
Ah. Yes. Now I remember…. ‘A few ups and downs’ is how I describe it to walking holiday guests, who are only doing that 6 mile stretch. Claire, who was walking with me, but by this point had gone fairly quiet, asked ‘How many more ups and downs are there?’ I had been upbeat and informative, answering all questions and commenting on the wonder of our walk until then. ‘I don’t know. If I knew, I wouldn’t be able to do it.’
What I did know was that after 20 miles, these ups and downs would hurt. I had prepared a fueling strategy in anticipation, and thank goodness. A short rest and a shot of ‘nuclear nutty stuff’ every hour and a half or so did the job of getting us through the tough parts. As did the views – still stunning, and still one of our favourite walks. One hill in particular, though, now nicknamed by us, but not printable, almost did me in. Almost. Four miles to go. Just four miles. Just two hours walking. How many more hills?
I still don’t know and won’t count them. I do want to continue to love this walk.
Final planned fuel stop at Tater Du lighthouse. Again, I knew it was important to fuel here. I knew that tired legs needed a boost of energy to do this last bit. I was right. More ups and downs, and plenty of boulder scrambling on the sheer edge of the cliff define the final mile of this incredible walk. You can see the cove up ahead, where tucked inside out of sight is the beach and cafés of Lamorna Cove. Over the last boulders and there, rejoice!, Horace, with John standing in the driver’s door waving his arms.
Up to the Lamorna Wink where the locals were suitably impressed with our adventure.
‘Where have you walked from?’
‘Gurnard’s Head? That’s not possible.’
Same again next year? Absolutely.