The South Coast Path at Gwithian and Marazion, Cornwall.
The South Coast Path… just the name brings a ripple of anticipation of a near wilderness: a big sea to the horizon and unseen life beneath it, rocky headlands and arcs of sand. I have always yearned to venture on to it having watched with envy as TV presenters stride effortlessly up grassy slopes and peer down on unsuspecting wildlife. Now I was there!
My Formula One Chariot sped along earth tracks and concrete paths, good for all wheelchairs, from the National Trust Car Park at Godrevy Head. It was early Spring, been raining ruthlessly and fields were sodden. An uphill track was a muddy mire, squelching and slippery – not one for conventional wheelchairs. I was ready for it and the Chariot was up for it. Selecting high speed, we went through it.
At the top a low fence guarded a sheer drop to a beach below, a sheltered nook for seals. The unmistakeable long noses of Grey Atlantic Seals gave them their Latin name which translates as ‘hooked-nosed sea pig’. Resting, they doze, yawn, stretch, scratch themselves and each other, commune and play, squabble and appease. A group lolloped awkwardly down to the water’s edge. As they pushed into the waves the pigs transformed into mermaids. We were the only watchers; some passers-by hurried on without a glance, focused on distance ahead… it takes all sorts! For me these creatures are beings of grace and wild freedom. We continued climbing a short way over stone ‘pavements’ and narrow twists between eroded edges – again not a recommend for conventional wheels and pushers.
On our return the seals were being watched by excited people, mobiles prominent. They gesticulated with loud voices – they had missed the request for quiet to avoid disturbing the seals… hardly surprising as the painted words on the fence had weathered faint and are at knee level. Maybe the National Trust could consider being a bit more up front on behalf of the wildlife and their spectators? A slanting display board with identification drawings and information would not degrade the view and we could all learn a bit more about the seals… and quiet makes for natural behaviour amongst the animals and better visitor experience and appreciation of their lifestyle.
At St. Gothian Sands nearby there is a footbridge and track past a brackish lagoon along its wet sand shore up to the sand dunes. Fluffy deep sand is a no-no for wheels, even the off-road giants on my Chariot just as it was for my old mountain bike. But compacted crusty sand with stones looked possible and up I went! The view along the beach is ravishing, with island, lighthouse and slanting light. The shore of wide firm damp sand is great for mountain bikes and my Chariot. We race along… accompanied by random dogs and their owners curious at this new wheeled arrival.
The shore opposite St. Michael’s Mount on the south coast offers another wheelchair friendly section of the South Coast path. The romantic silhouette of the island dominates the bay. I crossed lumpy tarmac at the car park and took on more ‘towny’ paths – joint-jogging netting then deep large-stoned gravel. A mountain biker was in worse straits, grimacing and grinding through it – my magic Chariot took it ok with effort.
As I took on a final lap past a car park, a biker in highly painted ‘leathers’ was just putting on his space age helmet as he sat astride his fabulously decorated bike… a seriously powerful chariot! I smiled.
He smiled… ‘Race you?’ he shouted with a wave.
I shouted back ‘OK! You Are On!’
We both smile, wind up the speed and disappear in opposite directions…