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A Domer’s hiking experiences

Observer Viewpoint | Tuesday, April 6, 2004

This week’s column has it all: death-defying escapes, a suspenseful, engaging plot and even a few romantic intrigues. OK, so I lied about the last two. But hopefully a description of my hiking tour through Cornwall (England’s most south-westerly county) might still provide you with a few moments of distraction.

First, some scene setting. We are still on vacation here, and instead of visiting the traditional tourist locales I decided to embark on a spontaneous, solitary and ill-conceived walking adventure. Before I began my three-day trek around the tip of England, I thought I had prepared everything I would need: a guide-book, a highly-detailed map, two sandwiches, some socks and my trusty Reeboks. My trip began with a six-hour train ride to the coastal city of Penzance. I arrived at 2 p.m. and immediately began walking.

Outside of the cities, the route was easy-going – stretching trough coastal fields of bright yellow gorse, which are tall, thorny plants that grow along the coastline. Occasionally I would meet a local trudging the path like myself and ask them to take my picture: I think fully a third of the locals were dressed in full captain’s regalia, looking like refugees from the 1800s. On this first day I did not reach as far as I had hoped, and so as the sun rapidly dimmed beneath the horizon I wandered into Lamorna Cove, a beach community of about ten buildings. Unfortunately, as I wandered through the ever-darkening streets, I came to the realization that my guide book was dangerously out of date: some of the B&B’s which it recommended no longer existed and another was now currently serving only lesbian women – I thought about a disguise, but it was hopeless.

I wandered into the Lamorna Hotel and asked the receptionist for the names of any local B&B’s. A kind guest happened to overhear and offered to drive me around, looking for any free rooms; it turned out that he was a graduate of Oxford, and so we swapped stories about tutes and Oxford’s unique jargon. We found the Oriental Cottage, a beautiful two-story overlooking Lamorna’s river, and so I wished my friend farewell. However, none of the local establishments served dinner, so it was back to the hotel’s receptionist, where I met my friend again. He offered to treat me to dinner with his wife: a rich, three-course feast topped off by a Uruguay wine and a late-night discussion over tea. I thanked him as profusely as possible, returned to my gorgeous riverside rooms and slept like the dead.

Next morning at the crack of dawn after a hearty English breakfast I set off, eager to conquer more of the trail. Hugging the steep, rocky coast, the path stretched over miles and miles of sandy beaches, rocky outcroppings and steep cliffs, while birds twittered about and the sea raged below. After hours of walking I made it to Logan’s Rock, a large promontory connected to the mainland by a ten-foot wide stretch of path. I decided to scramble up one of the nearer carns, hoping to enjoy the glorious views from top. I had forgot what real fear was like until then; I really do not have a chance to experience that emotion in my isolated world of papers, abstruse discussions and mathematical constructs. But crawling up slippery, lichen-covered rocks in worn tennis shoes, with a fog rapidly rolling in, miles away from any other humans, I quickly remembered just how fragile humans really are. After scrambling through the rocks I returned to the trail, walking for about ten more miles until at late dusk I reached Sennen Cove, a mile-long beach nestled between the cliffs. I ate at a local pub, enjoyed a well-earned Guinness, and slept at Myrtle Cottage, raring to meet the next day.

Early next morning I was off again, alone amongst the crags, singing Metallica to myself as I walked the coastline. Unfortunately I was soon lost from the trail, and I wandered through hillsides of dense thorns, falling on the occasional rock and cursing as I rubbed my thorn-ridden hands. After having climbed down a rocky outcropping I noticed the trail high on the cliff side and hiked back to meet it to continue my journey. I enjoyed my sandwich lunch next to an old lighthouse and consulted my map to find a way back to Penzance.

Eventually, like all good stories my trip came to an end, and I hailed a bus returning to Penzance as I wandered down the highway. Later that evening as the train barreled down the track and I examined my thorn-eaten hands I was reminded of the words of the poet and naturalist Robert Frost, “Two roads diverged in a wood/And I took the one less traveled by/And that has made all the difference.”

Well, I traveled that lonely road and now only one concern remains: where are the tweezers?

Geoff Johnston is a junior currently studying at Oxford University. His column appears every other Tuesday. He can be contacted at gjohnsto@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not neccessarily those of The Observer.