2020 is the year of the staycation. Or the mini-break. Or whatever you like to call it when you go on holiday in your own country. For Ma and Pa Lee – three foreign trips cancelled – a family getaway in Polperro went from being a bonus trip to their main holiday in 2020. We decided to gatecrash.
Now, we’re still largely sticking to social distancing (which makes Birmingham’s imminent return to “lockdown” just a little easier). Which means strictly no hugging or touching Ma or Pa Lee, and a one-in, one-out system in the tiny chalet kitchen. I do stop short of putting 1m markers on the floor, or establishing a one-way system. I’m also safe in the knowledge that Ma Lee is anti-bac-wiping everything (and everyone) that she comes into contact with.
Home for three nights is Seaview Holiday Village, just a mile outside of Polperro. I won’t go into detail about our fellow campers. Lets just say that dressing gowns at 3pm are de rigueur. As are football shirts, Crocs and jogging bottoms. This is a classic “Sun Holiday” resort. I’m not knocking the opportunity for a cheap getaway. But the average fellow camper also has “Sun newspaper reader” written all over them. Sometimes literally tattooed on their knuckles. Let’s just say that I did not have to worry about meeting the dress code requirements for the clubhouse.
Mr Fletche and I wake up all enthusiastic and ready to explore the area on Wednesday morning. We plan to do a recce walk from the campsite down to Talland Bay, and from there decide whether to carry on the South West Coastal Path, either to Polperro or to Looe. Ma and Pa Lee sensibly decide to drive to Looe. Now, those of you that are regular readers may know that the South West Coastal Path and I don’t have an easy relationship. Mainly due to that time when I got my miles and kilometres mixed up. So we should have been prepared for anything to happen. And it did.
The walk starts off perfectly fine as we head down the public footpath towards Talland Bay. We reward ourselves with a coffee from the beach cafe and decide to continue our walk into Looe. After all, Ma and Pa Lee are at the other end with the car, meaning little effort needed to get back to our starting point. It’s about four miles, and a bit of previous research suggests there are a few ascents and descents, but certainly nothing that seasoned walkers like us can’t handle. After all, did we not climb a mountain just a couple of weeks ago?
It’s a lovely walk. The temperature is pleasant and I’m glad we made the decision to travel relatively lightly. If Mr Fletche’s camera equipment can ever be called travelling lightly. We pass plenty of people on the trail doing the reverse walk from Looe to Polperro. Most, like us, are in some semblance of walking shoes, but I spy a few flip-flops and I snigger at their lack of preparedness. After all, in flimsy shoes like that it only takes a second to turn an ankle.
Which is exactly what Mr Fletche does. I watch as one foot disappears into the undergrowth, then the other, and then Mr Fletche is looking up at the sky, ensnared in a bed of brambles. Not wanting anyone to catch him in such an indolent pose, he attempts to stand up. I watch him sway precariously, all colour draining from his face in seconds. We sit at the opposite side of the trail, away from the crashing waves and jagged rocks which lie beneath the bramble safety net. He’s torn between which is worse, the pain in his foot or the sickening lightheadedness. Apparently the lighheadedness wins, as he lies prostrate on the ground.
I know I need to call for help but I don’t know exactly where we are. Halfway between Talland Bay and Looe. I can see a big rock (actually St George’s Island). That’s a good place to start. A kind walker and his dog Penny offers to retrace his steps up to the nearest gate where there is a grid reference. Mr Fletche is back with us, blinking confusedly and now sporting a big dusty smear on his forehead where he decided to use the trail as a pillow. His head is still spinning, and his ears ringing. Penny and her owner have passed the message on to another group of walkers, and this time they gently persuade us to let them call the coastguard.
Mr Fletche doesn’t want any fuss made, but its plain that – even without the nausea and dizziness – he can’t walk the 2.5 mile into Looe on that foot. Or the 1.5 mile back to Talland Bay. So we wave goodbye to our Good Samaritans and await rescue. A police helicopter circles overhead. “That can’t be for me” Mr Fletche says, ever more observant of the world around him. It becomes patently clear that it is. Mr Fletche has a rock to sit on, nonchalantly looking like he’s just taking a moment to review the scenery. Which is admittedly quite common for a photographer. We ponder with our fellow hikers about who the helicopter may be looking for.
I spy the coastguard’s van in the distance. They have driven about as far as they can but they now have to cover about a mile on foot. Mr Fletche’s tumble was taken at the most inaccessible part of the path imaginable. Eventually though, a slightly groggy Mr Fletche is in the capable hands of two Looe Coastguards. Initial assessments made, the ankle in question is strapped up and the decision is taken to support Mr Fletche out on foot rather than use a stretcher.
Our nearest escape route from the coastal path is via a steep grassy incline to a farmer’s field full of sheep. Here, the coastguard van is waiting to take us back to terra firma. The upwards slog is tough, even without having to do it with a hobble. By now, we have another three coastguards with us as back-up. I take a few minutes out to disturb Ma and Pa Lee’s pub time in Looe and call them with the news. And directions to a car park in the middle of nowhere to pick us up.
Safely in the coastguard’s van, we wait for Ma and Pa Lee. Turns out that following directions isn’t their speciality. My new coastguard friends are trying to help – I’m sure there must be a better use of their time. Particularly when they get a call that someone else is in distress and requires assistance. Apart from Ma and Pa Lee. A plan is formulated. Steve the Coastguard is dispatched in his car to look out for a white Ford Fiesta driving frantically up and down the road from Looe. When we get the call that Ma and Pa Lee have been located, the rest of our white knights bid us farewell and head to their next emergency.
All joking aside, calling the coastguard was the correct and sensible thing to do. They kept telling us that they would rather be called to a minor incident than to lose someone they could have helped. Their role is to assess the situation and to remove the person from any danger. They can do this far better than you or I can. If you, or someone you’re with, find themselves in trouble near the UK coast, call 999 and ask for the coastguard. https://coastguardsafety.campaign.gov.uk/
Determined not to let it spoil our break, after a short rest, painkillers and a beer, Mr Fletche declares he is ready to go sight-seeing. Pa Lee takes on the mantle of designated driver. As long as the routes don’t involve any narrow country lanes.
Over the following 24 hours we take two trips into the picturesque fishing village of Polperro. With a maze of winding alleyways, whitewashed seaside cottages and a plethora of independent shops and galleries, Polperro is a wonderful place to while away a couple of hours. In these COVID times, some of the pubs and restaurants are offering takeaway food and drink service as well as a sit-down offering. We tested the quality of the local beer and gin from the takeaway hatch of The Blue Peter. The perfect accompaniment to a chippie supper from Chip Ahoy, eagerly overseen by Polperro’s seagull community.
We also – finally – get to Looe. Larger than Polperro, Looe is a family-friendly town with a golden sandy beach. There’s also a harbour where you can go crabbing if that’s your thing. Unsurprisingly, there’s plenty of fresh seafood available, and I enjoyed a wonderful plate of locally-caught mussels at The Arch restaurant on Fore Street. We also popped into Purely Cornish Farmshop & Deli to purchase local alcohol as souvenirs, and to Roly’s Fudge for, well, fudge. With Cornish pasties also on the shopping list, I can highly recommend Looe as a foodie town.
I’m happy to report that there was no major damage done to Mr Fletche’s foot. It’s gone through the swollen, elephant foot stage, and the black and purple bruising stage. He’s looking forward to getting back on the hiking trails soon. But his tap dancing career may be over.