Northumberland Coast Path Cresswell to Berwick-Upon-Tweed

At short notice we decided to go. I referred to the website for this national trail and quickly booked the accommodation we could find along the way, starting on a Monday from Cresswell where the Tyne properly becomes the North Sea. Then I ordered what I assumed would be the corresponding book – but it turns out there are two, and the one I bought was different. I think this was very fortunate and I’m going to tell you about it, including notes on getting vegan food.

There was a lot – but not too much – of this

Roland Tarr, currently a Councillor in Dorset, has written one of the best guides to a national trail I’ve come across. His enthusiasm for geology, nature, history, engineering, industry and the people of the region brings the landscape to life. A solicitous guide, he manages expectations, attends to hunger, fatigue and doubt, and prompts a more appreciative look at some unpromising sections along the way. The book fit into the leg pocket of my new walking trousers and I referred to it often. It helped us interpret the landscape and took us to overlooked parts of heavily touristed places like Newcastle, Lindisfarne and Berwick-Upon-Tweed. Unlike the website, the book guides readers around Newcastle and then proceeds to the mouth of the Tyne before arriving at Cresswell to pick up the official route and beyond to St Abbs Head in Scotland. So we changed our plans to start in Newcastle, arriving by train on a Saturday evening in late July.

Day 1 Newcastle

This model of the Tyne industries was created in the ’50s to reverse decline in the region

Roland Tarr’s book includes a circular walk around Newcastle and Gateshead. In a masterstroke he specifically takes you to the model above, which is part of ‘The Story of the Tyne’ exhibition in the Discovery Museum – because, he writes,

“When you see a derelict shipyard or factory by the Tyne or a closed railway or coal mine site in one of the coastal small towns and villages, you will understand its importance in the historical order of things instead of just seeing dead and unused structures. You will be able to picture it as it was in the past.”

What a legend – and thank you Newcastle because entry to this museum hasn’t always been free. He took us to the New Castle, the Philosophical and Literary Society which catalysed the inventions of the industrial revolution, over the historical High Level Bridge, under the Tyne Bridge with its kittiwake colony, through the Sage, to the Baltic and the Gateshead Millenium Bridge which we were fortunate to watch tilt open moments after we crossed.

Gateshead Millenium Bridge tilted up, Baltic beyond

Newcastle that first night was a primal confluence of the races, Pride, and the wedding season. Accommodation was short and we stayed at Jury’s Inn near the station. Some youth football teams down from Scotland for a tournament were playing a stalking and pursuit game in the stairwells far into the night, sabotaging their opponents by pressing all the buttons in all the lifts. Their parents, drinking in peace in the bar, had bullied the staff into not intervening. We ate a very good Eritrean dinner at Mosob Gesana and went off for a wander through the seething streets, carpeted with broken glass just like home. One of the young race-goers I had seen earlier navigating the cobbles near the castle in four-inch heels appeared in our hotel lift and remarked (as the doors opened at empty floor after empty floor) “I wish I could tell you that it isn’t usually like this on a weekend but it totally is”.

On our first morning the streets soon filled with queasy trudging and trundle suitcases, and we saw grandad-aged men supporting each other while vomiting. We put this behind us and had an excellent vegan cooked breakfast at the Supernatural Kitchen which lasted us until dinner, picked up some supplies and followed the walking tour mentioned above. Dinner was competent veggie burgers in The Maven, preceded by a beer in the fairly spacious Split Chimp micropub (I don’t know what a micropub is, only a microbrewery). Also of note, the Jury’s Inn rooms were really quite bad – we had to swap because of a broken window. I sometimes wonder whether we get treated badly because we look like itinerants but the receptionist was enthusiastic about the coast path so maybe it’s just a run-down hotel in a country on the turn.

Day 2 Blyth to Ellington

That second night in Newcastle there was a crash or apprehension on the A1 ( the main view from our window) and the traffic stopped but the sirens and lights didn’t. The following morning we bought an early vegan sausage sandwich from Greggs (too sweet, too dry, £2) and got on the commuter bus down the Tyne through one of the largest business parks I’ve ever seen. Because of the haste in planning, we had to miss out the section between Newcastle and Blyth. Instead we picked up lunch at Morrisons and set off along the River Blyth (where M saw a leaping fish) to cross upstream at Bedlington Station where it briefly rained. No complaints from us about the weather – we’ve seen a drought, 40° and wildfires in Essex this summer – but I couldn’t help making the connection between that and this coal country. The aluminium smelting plant at Lynemouth consumed one million tonnes of coal a year in its day. But now British Volt is at Blyth making battery technology to store green energy – that’s 3000 green jobs with more in the supply chain.

We crossed the East Sleek Burn and returned to the coast and onto the dunes for the first time. We had our lunch of rolls, falafels and salad looking out to sea at the mining village of Cambois (legacy of the Norman Conquest, pronounced Kemiss).

Cambois from the dunes

Then it began to rain quite hard so we retreated to the comfortable sofas of Charltons. Then along the A189 for a while to cross the Wansbeck in steady rain, briefly lost in a friendly caravan park and wetly into Newbiggin-by-the-Sea with its enigmatic Sea Couple and Land Couple. A coal seam opens onto the beach at Newbiggin and there is sea coal on the sand. That day we stopped early at the Newbiggin Maritime Centre because M’s recovering knee had reached the end. We called a taxi for the last few miles to The Plough in Ellington and had a wide-ranging conversation with the driver including the cost of living crisis – he had converted his car to LPG and was saving 40%. Meanwhile BP recorded a £6.9bn profit between April and June this year, and Shell also had record-breaking profits – a direct result of domestic energy bills soaring to £3.5k this winter. Unless the next Prime Minister intervenes I can only guess what will happen.

The rain had cleared by the time we left our room to limp round the tidy little village and look at Ellington Pond Nature reserve. Then dinner at the Plough, a Punch Tavern with vegan stuff on the menu. Good night’s sleep.

Day 3 Cresswell to Amble

From Ellington we walked the mile to Cresswell where the official walk begins. I’m not sure why a barn owl would be hunting on Blakemoor Links on a bright morning but it was exciting to see. There we got onto the beach, shoes off, for the sunny miles of Druridge Bay. I don’t know the name for the long reach of water sloshing into a very shallow beach, but that’s the kind of sea it was. There is hardly anyone on these beaches – just enough so you don’t feel isolated. We passed East Chevington nature reserve, where the wildlife is currently persecuted by murderous vandals, stopping briefly to chat with a local gent who walked the same walk every day and admired the Montane walking t-shirt M’s mum had given him for his birthday. Nothing much for a vegan to eat at the Premier Stores in Ellington, but Matt had picked up a pasty and we still had a roll and some falafel left from yesterday so we ate those sitting on a bench looking at kayakers on the Ladyburn Lake at the Druridge Bay Country Park and talking to their grandma, followed by a coffee at the Visitors Centre. Then more dunes. We were too tired to follow Roland Tarr’s advice and look for birds at the Low Hauxley Nature Reserve and instead trudged on to Amble, a delightful town with port, River Coquet (another Norman name – pronounced caw-kit), beach and exciting wave-wracked jetty for our route into the town.

Jetty at Amble in playful sea

Though the stage ends at Warkworth further along, it has less accommodation and amenities so we stayed in Amble at the Wellwood, another Punch Tavern, and ate gaspacho, quinoa salad (me) and pizza (M) in the covered outside section of the Old Boathouse. After that we took another turn around the town where we saw surfers paddling home across the river mouth at dusk to save a two-mile walk. Then back at the Wellwood we watched the women’s Euros semi-finals where England won. Nice to see so many older gents and women watching together.

Day 4 Amble to Howick (Craster)

Warkworth Castle, built around 1150 to consolidate Henry II’s rule over Northumberland

After a foray to the Co-op to pick up lunch (vegan luncheon meat, rolls, tomatoes, packet salad) we followed the river path into Warkworth and walked round the castle precinct then out to the golden sands of Alnmouth Bay. There I slipped and fell on some weedy rocks and was capsized like a beetle for some moments in fear that my pack would drag me over the edge. A mile of paddling through the flat ripples brought us to a turn in along the estuary through farmland. The long vistas made it seem as if we were approaching the bridge into Alnmouth for a lifetime. We ate our lunch in a play area built to celebrate the construction of the sea wall, then walked into the village. Alnmouth is the port for England’s breadbasket and has many historical granaries we didn’t see because we were hurrying to get to Howick early. Instead we climbed an unusually steep and wooded hill onto cliffs. I think around Seaton Point is where we saw huts and caravans scattered amongst the bracken, often with wetsuits hung outside. There were no amenities and it wasn’t marked as a caravan park, and if it was it was lovely because of the space between abodes. There was one more the next day with this sense of seclusion and peace.

The cliffs then descended into dunes and we rested on a bench at Boulmer before diverting along the parallel Cycle Route 1 track through Seahouses (a farm of limousin cows, not the famous town) to the turn into Howick, a beautiful hamlet of stone houses and cottages where we were spending the night, Craster being fully booked. After a hurried shower and change in the lovely Old Rectory B&B, we rushed (or rather lurched stiffly) out again to catch the final opening hour of Howick Hall with its gardens and arboretum. 30 minutes before last orders at the tea room we were grudgingly served drinks – in my case a pot of Russian caravan tea which I drank black and as quickly as I could, which on an empty stomach inevitably led to me nearly throwing up in the sensory garden. Sadly there was no time to properly see the arboretum but at least we dropped off our entry fee and contributed a little to reviving the place after Storm Arwen.

We walked back and then a further two miles along quiet roads to the Cottage Inn at Dunstan for dinner (potato skins and a very good chickpea curry). We walked back at dusk and I was wracked by aches (which I attributed to unfitness and falling over) and had to have a painkiller to sleep. None of these pains and aches are much bother to us as walkers – they’re to do with a sedentary lifestyle and our advancing age, we price them in and they lessen as our bodies get used to walking and carryng our packs.

The Old Rectory has three downstairs rooms that guests can use and an honesty bar which M used. You can clearly hear the sea, and see it from some windows too. Howick Hall and two pubs within walking distances make it a good location, and it was the best accommodation we had, at a comparative price to everywhere else.

Day 5 Howick to Seahouses

The Old Rectory are competent with a vegan breakfast. We took the coast path into Craster, passing a colony of kittiwakes on the hexagons of the igneous whin sill (hard, flat outcrop) of Cullernose point. As well as their rather winning calls, which resemble whining and whinging, we could also detect the vast amounts of bird crap presumably falling into each other’s nests and spreading the awful avian flu. Flu has made a graveyard of Coquet and Farne islands, where where the seabird population has fallen by over 1%, also devastating the rangers and ornithologists who have been striving to nurture their habitat and increase their numbers. The blunt truth is that intensive farming of chickens is to blame, along with the generally hostile environment that oblivious humans create. Those chickens are coming home to roost now. I sense we are going to change our ways.

Ornithologists and rangers monitor the avian flu deaths on the Farne Islands. Source: BBC linked above.

It was misty in Craster and the famous smokery hadn’t opened for the day so I didn’t get to risk their contempt by asking whether they smoke any plant foods yet. We set out along a lovely turf track towards the ruins of Dunstanburgh Castle with sea shore covered in boulders at low tide. My aches were receding.

Dunstanburgh Castle: The Lilburn Tower with the Sea Beyond 1797 Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851 Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856

We rounded the back of the castle, noticing the interesting Grey Mare Rock, and through the Dunstanburgh Castle golf club where we stopped for a drink at the club house. Like several along the route (and in fact I have never seen so many golf clubs on one walk) it welcomes non-members in a genuinely friendly way. This was one of many places we passed which was struggling to recruit and staffed by inexperienced though well-meaning workers – we noticed along the way that we were often served by mature or grandma-aged women instead of the younger Eastern European staff we’d have expected before Brexit. I overheard a conversation in the kitchen about everybody needing to muck in with the washing up in the absence of a hoped-for young person on school holidays. At around 12.30 we arrived at the hamlet of Low Newton-by-the-Sea with its gorgeous (and short-staffed) Ship Inn in a car-free grassy square overlooking the sea. The women who staffed it, some of whom looked as if they should have been putting their feet up in life, did extremely well. A compact bar and focused menu kept the encounters brief. You queued in one line for the bar and to order food, you got served with good humour, you paid and sat down, and then before very long your food was brought (two vegan options – I had a spiced cauliflower pie). Lovely little place and we also were fortunate to find exactly the right table for two with bulky packs.

The Ship Inn, Low Newton-by-the-Sea

It became sunny as we walked along the beach towards Benthall and Beadnell. I accidentally lowered myself onto a thorny rose bush while trying to pee discreetly and in haste among the dunes. The main thing I noticed about Benthall and Beadnell was the presence of what I’d call ‘Hainault houses’ – plain three-bedroom terraced or semi-detached homes that looked as if they’d been built for people of modest means in the 50s or 60s – found all along this coast on the sea front or clifftops with uninterrupted sea views.

We were pretty tired by the time we got to Seahouses, and Seahouses didn’t much revive us. I couldn’t see the charm and the Bamburgh Castle Inn where we stayed was somehow depressing. It might have been the terrible carpets in the hallways, or the gloomy cave-like bar area snubbing the sea views, or the extremely high prices. The town itself was full of holiday makers eating and drinking or looking for places to eat or drink – huge fish and chip barns abounded. After trying all other options (including a windowless room in The Ship and failing to get served at all in the Black Swan where the inattention of the young men staffing it belied their smart uniforms) we were obliged to eat at the Bamburgh as well as stay there. They had run out of some vegan options and M’s meal was particularly awful – the chickpea patties were rehydrated badly cooked falafel mix (were they averse to the word ‘falafel’ even though all vegetarians know what they are?) dried out rice and a poorly-flavoured sauce. I should say the service was competent and the room, clean and comfortable.

Day 6 Seahouses to Belford

That morning at Seahouses we bought another Co-op lunch of Quorn chicken slices, rolls and salad and set out along another uplifting sun-drenched beach, passing in front of the magnificent Bamburgh Castle on the sea shore with the village behind it. The castle is now owned by a scion of the Newcastle engineer and ship-builder George Armstrong. The local golf course did not welcome non-members so we walked on. The official path turns inland at this point because the coast around Lindisfarne is reserved for animal life, or perhaps holiness. Roland Tarr has struggled in mud on this inland section and invites you to take the coast path as far as possible and then get a bus. But since it had been dry we decided to take the official route. We had our lunch with our backs against a hay bale looking out at Bamburgh castle and Lindisfarne.

Our lunch spot, not far from Spindlestone Heughs, Bamburgh Castle in the distance

There were two other things Roland Tarr cautioned about. The first was having to cross the fast train track between Edinburgh and London. Indeed if we hadn’t phoned the signal office as directed, we would have had a close shave at best with a speeding LNER train. So do do that.

“You must always phone the signalman before crossing” at Belford Burn

The next obstacle was the A1, which we crossed without incident. We then passed behind one of the several grain silos in the region and I thought of Ukraine. Most places we went we saw at least one flag – and it is also the colour of the sand against the sea and sky.

Belford has an intriguing calendar of cultural events. The teachers’ protest was not local trade unionism in action, but Norwegians standing up to that reliable old enemy the Nazis. This part of the country tends Conservative, English and Brexit.

Standing up to the Nazis, Tyneside history and an urgent appeal from the bridge club

The Blue Bell Inn is a historical coaching inn with a ballroom. It relieved us of nearly £130 in return for a room which was definitely not “well-appointed”. We had a badly-sprung bed, drabness, stains and and scuffs, poor upkeep and unwelcoming (perhaps demoralised) staff. Again, maybe somebody might take us for mucky itinerants with low standards who deserve poor accommodation, but if so they shouldn’t be working in hospitality. We weren’t offered vegan food and we weren’t offered breakfast in time to catch the tide and get to Lindisfarne. I hope somebody rescues this lovely old coaching inn from its current owners. For now I can say the Blue Bell was at least clean and we had a good view of the rolling hills. Things looked up after that. We took a turn round the village including the lovely old church and burial ground. The Salmon Inn is a fine pub and we got a good meal in the restaurant of the Sunnyhills Farm Shop which serves dinner and drinks to the nearby caravan site residents and is generally lovely. We got an apple pie from Belford Co-op for next day’s breakfast, along with the usual lunch.

Day 7 Belford to Lindisfarne, then Lowick

We left slightly before 8 to get the bus to a stop on the A1 for Fenwick, allowing us to walk through fields to access Lindisfarne by crossing three miles of intertidal zone. We encountered a frantic ewe calling for her lamb the other side of a barbed wire fence but also just a few metres from an open gate between the two fields. Seeing us she panicked and summoning all her strength, tried unsuccessfully to leap through the fence. It was quite hard to watch. I think we may have seen her in the same place the following day.

Arriving at the coast we had a decision to make. We hadn’t been sure whether we’d walk along the causeway road or the Pilgrim’s Way across the sand and mud. Official guidance, including Roland Tarr, cautions against the latter, but it is well marked and we took courage from some fresh footprints we could see striking out towards the first marker. I took off my sandals and went barefoot as advised in the pub. That crossing would have been the highlight of our trip even if half way across we hadn’t heard, and then seen, about 150 seals across the sands, raising their voices in a haunting song like a huge holy choir.

Birch posts mark the safe way across to Holy Island. The distant structure is a refuge for anyone caught out by the tide.

The barnacles on the posts went up to around my underarms but sometimes the tides would go over my head. The most important thing is to consult advice about tides for walkers rather than for vehicles. Also important, expect to make fairly slow progress, stick close to the markers and be prepared to get wet and muddy, perhaps to the knee – we saw a wellington boot stuck in the mud nearly to the top and I’d want to do this barefoot in warm weather. Walking poles are useful here, particularly on a stretch of slippery clay close to the start – we have packs and if we fall we go down like a tonne of bricks so we pick our way carefully.

At Lindisfarne we stopped for a coffee and half a bit of cake at Pilgrims Cafe, a walled garden where the sparrows will take crumbs from your outstretched hand. We then had time to see one thing, so on Roland Tarr’s suggestion we went to the Heritage Centre. There we interacted with digital Lindisfarne Gospels and watched some awe inspiring videos of how such a book would have been constructed and illuminated. We listened to different bird calls, and there was an illustrated interactive exhibit where you could ‘meet’ some residents of the island by selecting from a menu of questions to ask them (such as ‘Have you ever been stranded?’) which would then activate the relevant recorded answer. I particularly liked that ‘Goodbye’ was on the menu – the farewells were all differently cordial and you really did feel that you’d approximately met your hosts on the island. Another great recommendation from Roland Tarr. By that time I’d come to trust him implicitly.

We had to get back and walked to the bus stop in the village carpark. A bus from Berwick arrived and a young man of perhaps 17 got off. We weren’t sure whether to get on that bus, but he authoritatively advised against it and pronounced our bus due in minutes. He kept lookout along the lane, ascertained its whereabouts and conscientiously updated us. When it arrived he photographed it and got straight on to leave the island. Being the only three passengers I was able to indulge my curiosity. It turned out he was an ardent bus spotter, having converted from trains during the Covid-19 pandemic. He used his free time to make as many journeys by bus as possible. Lindisfarne had been a diversion for him, an unforeseen chance to be on two new buses discovered only that morning after setting off on a circuit which would take in Berwick and Newcastle before returning home to County Durham that night. Definitively not a tourist, with the single-mindedness of (I am assuming) neurodiversity he wouldn’t stop off anywhere unless timetabling necessitated it – and as a user he had no inclination to visit London because he said his searches crashed the site.

We got off back at the A1 and had an unmemorable, expensive lunch at the Lindisfarne Inn (same chain as the not-nice Bamburgh Castle but more welcoming). Then we walked 2.5 more miles inland with views of the Cheviots to Lowick House, a very well-run airbnb accommodation a pleasant walk from the village of Lowick. This was another highlight because the place was so well-kept, the room was comfortable, and the hosts were very helpful and warm. That evening we walked through a farm and along a quiet road to the Black Bull in Lowick and had a very good vegan meal – generous filo case filled with leek, chestnuts and artichoke – in lovely surroundings. We walked back at dusk, diverting into a playground to see the beautiful skies. Night falls later up there; this was close to 10pm on the last day of July.

Late July dusk from the playground at Lowick

Day 7 Lowick to Berwick-upon-Tweed

This would be the last day of our walk. It felt like a long slog back to the Lindisfarne causeway to pick up the coast path again. I hope somebody buys the old granary with the many dovecotes at Fenwick and saves it from ruin. The fast rail crossing had been blocked for weeks or months and diverted a couple of kilometres to a bridge. There was a Samaritans notice hinting at why. On the sea shore we turned north along some of the old World War Two defences, briefly inland to cross a river, then back again. The area around Goswick was throught to be particularly vulnerable because of the nearby railway line so they did belt and braces – there are dragons teeth, pillboxes, gun emplacements, tank traps, anti-glider poles and lookout towers, and hopefully no more landmines. We had lunch in Goswick Golf Club (jacket potato and baked beans for vegans) and noticed the accents had become mostly Scottish. Then back onto dunes (I saw a little weasle) then fields and an exciting nature reserve with beach users at Cocklawburn (not Norman but don’t pronounce the ‘ck’) where we watched raptors hover for bunnies who only came out when they flew away. There were many cows and calves, including a youngster which had managed to get himself stuck between the barbed wire fence erected to protect the dry stone wall and the wall itself. We lifted the wire and nudged the calf but he seemed depressed and entirely lacking the will to save himself. As he wandered free with his head low, nobody acknowledged him and it was clear he was abandoned by his mother and a lonely outcast of the herd.

We reached Spittal with its fine promenade, then turned into Tweedmouth where swans – whose moult leaves them flightless at this time of year – watched men load trees on a ship.

Swans gather round a ship being loaded with tree trunks

Then we wearily crossed old bridge into Berwick and arrived at the splendid YHA Berwick in a rescued granary just back from the quay. We had a private room with a bunk, a toilet and separate wetroom so we showered, changed and rested briefly after 17 long miles. After a wander round the town we went to catch the Euro final in the Brown Bear and were able to see Germany’s equaliser and Chloe Kelly’s winning goal. We ate good Turkish food at Mavi, watched some of the Commonwealth games back at the youth hostel and went to bed.

A day in Berwick

After breakfast at the youth hostel we locked our bags in its bike shed and set off following Roland Tarr’s suggested circular tour round the mediaeval and Elizabethan walls, which was fascinating and brought alive with plenty of interpretation boards.

Royal Borders Bridge, Berwick-Upon-Tweed

Berwick was contested and fortified to the hilt until relatively recently, and at one time had changed hands (between the English and Scots) more than any other place in Europe. Roland Tarr recommended the museums at Berwick Barracks so we went there. First we learned about the history of soldiering through the ages in 12 curated rooms. Most of Britain’s wars were against the French and even the American war of independence was lost because the French intervened for the American rebels. Soldiers were sent to fight in stupid, impractical uniforms (an early iteration of the tommy, ‘Tommy Lobster’ refers to the red coats you read about in Jane Austen novels) which they had to pay for themselves. They had badly designed equipment like the smart-looking back pack which cut off their blood supply and some ridiculous quilted hats worn in India. When sent overseas in the 1700s and 1800s many died on the way but they liked to go to America because the prospects for desertion were good.

I hadn’t realised that barracks were a relatively recent innovation because residents and innkeepers hated being forced to billet soldiers. Almost all were illiterate and were not allowed to marry; consequently the main passtimes were drinking, brawling and gambling. A soldier’s life was certainly cheap – you signed up for life and various stoppages were deducted from your promised wage so that you had very little left for any quality of life, let alone to save up. Soldiers would frequently seek oblivion in cheap spirits rather than feed themselves and consequently were in poor health. Hardly any could read, one in four would be punished for some transgression and many were badly injured by their punishment. There’s more to say about how the British army gained its formidable reputation but my hunch is that very few readers are sticking with me by now – so I recommend going and seeing for yourself.

Also in the barracks, the Berwick Museum and the Burrell Collection are both excellent. I’d have liked to stay longer but we had to have lunch (at the Corner House Cafe which is very veggie friendly) before catching the train back to London at 3.13. The journey was peaceful as it often is at that time of day, and we had dinner at the lovely Namaste Holborn before taking the hot but relatively calm Central Line back home. There we found the aubergines, parsley, french beans, cabbages, broccoli, chillis and tomatoes alive and well and nothing burgled or burned down.

What a marvellous week.

Bamburgh Castle from Blackrocks Point

Why I won’t be declaring my pronouns

I’m publishing this for anyone who doesn’t want to share pronouns at work – which is to say, I decided fairly early not to declare a gender identity and have needed to be prepared to defend this decision ever since. To cut a long story short, I consider gender as a set of stereotypes and a social imposition I’ve spent a long time trying to get away from, and consequently I don’t have a gender identity. But even as I ungender myself, I still have a biological sex – female. Human animals tend to use the term ‘woman’ for female bloggers (girls are more likely to be found on the gram). However, unlike hens, does, cows, and mares, some human animals are also trans, which means that the meaning of ‘woman’ has expanded to allow some males.

The reason I won’t declare a gender identity is not that I don’t welcome trans people or want them to feel comfortable. It’s that adopting one myself might identify me with political positions I don’t hold, namely that gender identity should have primacy over biological sex, and that recognising biological sex as a major social determinant is essentialising and akin to or as bad as racism.

I realise that may seem a bit of a leap. You might observe that it is equally essentialising to use pronouns to denote biological sex – and in any case what place does biological sex have at work, where we’re supposed to have equal rights and professionalism dictates that we don’t hook up with each other – at least not in core hours. And I’d respond in turn that even if it were desirable to be biological-sex-blind it would be futile. But I can’t see how it is desirable, because distinguishing between equality and equity depends on recognising differences that matter, and biological sex is a major determinant in our lives – for women, menstruation, maternity and menopause are hugely influential, and those are only the most obvious. It’s also not desirable because we are being urged to do the opposite for gender, not to mention other legal equality characteristics – why should sex be excluded? And futile because biological sex is never going to stop being fundamentally important in our society. It’s no coincidence that two of the three gender identity pronouns in general use map directly onto dimorphic sex, and no coincidence that the pride flag does gender as the (I’d say stereotypical) binary pink and blue alongside the non-binary white. Biological sex is very present in trans rights movements. I’d say it’s not a problem to solve – it’s simply at the heart of our species. But we also know that high profile campaigns believe that biological sex undermines gender identity and cannot exist along side it. In many spheres they have attempted to eliminate biological sex as a relevant category, even to the extent of interfering people’s sexuality. And if you publicly objected to that, as many – mostly women – did, it would be open season on you and you’d be fortunate to keep your job.

I’d actually go further. I see the attempt to sever the links between ‘he’ and ‘she’ and biological sex as creating injustice in a number of settings. A failure of monitoring participation by sex coupled with a sharp rise in younger trans people means we have to guess representation in different study, leisure and career pursuits where women are under-represented. If you’re into sport, you’re being asked to accept male-bodied people competing against women in sports where they are likely to win. We cannot accurately monitor sex offences and where there are signs of a sharp rise in women committing them, we cannot know whether the women are biologically male (there is no centrally mandated policy on data collection) which means that we cannot feed the data into valid policy. Accommodating male sex offenders who identify as women in women’s prisons has been recognised as a risk by a judge who nodded it through anyway. I never again want to read the headline “woman accused of exposing penis”. That’s not because I’m in a state of moral panic, it’s because it only takes a few cases like that to ruin the data on female sex offenders and frame women as more likely to commit sex crimes than they are.

I recognise that rounds of gender identity declarations are also intended as a gesture of welcome for trans and non-binary people. Our places of work are supposed to be spaces for people of different beliefs and none to come together and get things done, and one way we do that is not to impose one group’s set of beliefs on groups who object to them – unless it’s a battle for rights where the group being imposed upon is responsible for the injustice. It’s not like that in this case, and moreover here we need to avoid a zero sum game battle of rights between gender identity rights and biological sex rights. There are many kinds of marginalisation that I would like to acknowledge and bring in at work, so If I’m running the introductions I’ll invite people to share anything they want the group to know about them. Then, if anyone wanted to express their personal gender identity, I would observe the pronouns they requested. I might forget sometimes, and I hope that everyone would treat that with the same tolerance I extend to people who, say, refer to me as ‘he’ on social media or forget how to pronounce my name.

Covid buttock

Early February 2020, in Covent Garden each evening more and more of the tourists – especially the ones who looked like they were from East Asia – were wearing serious masks. I remember one man on the Central Line wearing a black N95 which looked like a double-D bra cup. Smirking is now regulated.

A former boss recently told me that when she saw me this time last year I was under the weather and wondering aloud if I had Covid. It seems deeply shocking to me now that I carried on as normal, but back then there was no framework to isolate and we were also on strike which made it even harder to stay away on the days we were supposed to work. And that week I had even been summoned to the surgery to queue in close proximity with people older than me for half an hour waiting for a blood pressure check. The norms were strongly to carry on as normal unless you had a fever, a cough or shortness of breath. Months later my borough would become one of those known as the Covid triangle – who knows how many caught it that day. As far as I can tell we’re still on our first wave – it never went away. The only other person at work I know of who lives near me lost his dad.

Between that and working in a massive cosmopolitan organisation with crowds funnelling through corridors on the hour, I’m not surprised I caught it early. On the tube into central London to meet my mum that week I started to feel very ill. Again, I didn’t know what to do – she’s not very mobile and would already be on the train from a town two counties away. The WHO had not yet declared a pandemic (though it turned out they would do so the following day). So I pressed on, breathing shallowly through my nose and touching as little as possible, including my mum whom I put next to me as far as possible away at a large table. I washed carefully and tried not to touch anything. I found it hard to find the energy to cut up the pizza. Fortunately a future study found that Covid is not associated with the Central Line, which though incredibly filthy is also incredibly turbulent.

That night I could barely lift a fork for aches. I crawled up to bed groaning – even took a painkiller – and rose in the morning determined. I only felt slightly ill until evening when the neuralgia struck again. The next morning I felt better, and the aches didn’t return. Then a week later in the shower I ritually raised my cupped hands to my nose to inhale the guilty pleasures of Superdrug B Men charcoal facial scrub (non-recyclable packaging) and smelt… Nothing.

Out of the shower, into bed and onto the net. Only the Daily Express reported the first small German study in which a small sample of Covid convalescents had lost their sense of smell and taste. Today it’s one of the three symptoms recognised by the government, but back then the evidence was embryonic.

This time I took the proper course of action: straight out of bed and into the spare room – that was 18th March 2020. That was the beginning of a long spell of meals being made for me – partly because I was polluted but even weeks later because I couldn’t season anything to taste. Without its aromatics, food became a series of rather unpleasant lumpy, sludgy sensations on the palate. For nights I wept alone with the essential oils you’re supposed to use to train your scent. If you’d asked me would I rather lose my sense of smell or hearing I’d have struggled to decide. My sense of smell is everything to me – and it was Spring for heaven’s sake. Spring is the best it gets. I sent out desperate social media calls hashtagged anosmia.

A rhinologist on Twitter warned me that smell might never come back but must have realised he’d overstepped since he protected his account the next day. He got infected a few weeks later, temporarily lost his smell, but recovered. Back in April 2020 the otorhinolaryngologists were among the first to raise the alarm about Covid-related anosmia, since they were encountering a spike in patients reporting loss of smell and taste, were peering into their throats and consequently were falling sick and dying in higher numbers than other health practitioners. My sense of smell began to return on 25th March, just as I was losing hope.

For this reason I made our reusable face coverings back in April from Matt’s old shirts with a two-layer pattern with a filter pocket and nose wire out of the garage (at this time there were the beginnings of craft supply shortages) even though the evidence supporting community use was and still is thin in contrast with the scale of the plastic waste, which is appalling. Imagine if every person in the UK used one disposable surgical mask each day for a year. It’s over 128,000 tonnes of un-recyclable plastic waste (66,000 tonnes of contaminated waste and 57,000 tonnes of plastic packaging.  It’s unconscionable. Yet that summer the Covid waste was everywhere – on verges, in gutters, in hedges, stuffed between tree roots. The UK government waited until 24th July to make face coverings mandatory inside in public places, and for some reason disposable masks are still widely available at a price that doesn’t reflect the environmental cost at all.

Sleeping alone was upsetting but with a silver lining of peace and uninterrupted sleep at what felt like the most precipitous time in our longish lives. My other half has risk factors and we were afraid. We also had a strong hunch that this particular government would fuck things up, and Brexit was rolling onward and would soon be past. Food security experts were worried, though thanks to the logistics people the country got fed. I’ve always been a stockpiler – for me it’s only prudent, equivalent to saving money in the bank or putting into a pension – it allows you to avoid panic buying and I’m surprised that most don’t seem to agree. By the time panic buying arrived, we were only really short of compost and fresh food. The first big ticket item I bought was a dehydrator – I dried many apples, oranges and, when the time came, soft fruit and tomatoes.

I used to walk in the local woods and grassland hardly anybody used because, back then, most of the borough avoided recreational walking unless there was full sun. That dramatically changed – by summer I had to litter pick gas capsules, cans and wrappers, and by mid-winter when it hardly ever wasn’t raining parts of it looked like the Somme and I stopped going because it was too depressing. Now there are desire lines all through the nesting sites because, as many will now admit, humans have a massive sense of entitlement and consider themselves outside and above nature. I began to hand-feed squirrels at the back door, but stopped when Chris Packham brought me to my senses – humans are dangerous and it is important that wild animals maintain a healthy mistrust of humans in general (he was more diplomatic). Now I feed at a distance. I think there are four individuals – Original Squirrel, Nosey, Angry and Skinny.

I had to go out of my way to get enough exercise. We’d go out alone, together or in groups of up to six, but I had been used to marching extra miles on my commute, climbing every escalator and stair and carrying heavy loads of shopping. Sat in back to back Teams Meetings day after day I didn’t develop a bad neck, shoulders or back – instead I developed one painful buttock. In late summer during surprisingly protracted negotiations for work to purchase me a gel cushion since I didn’t want to buy one of those bulky plastic computer chairs, I diagnosed myself with muscle wastage and started NHS Couch To 5k. I never in my life expected to be able to run non-stop for 30 minutes, but Couch to 5k is a great scheme.  But as the rain started to fall that winter it became clear I couldn’t continue – I couldn’t leave the path and run in the mire, and I couldn’t be breathing heavily in such proximity to the walkers. The second big ticket item I purchased was a rowing machine – a good one from Waterrower, which arrived before the Christmas break. I haven’t run since. I hate both running and rowing but my buttock is cured.

A week on the Pembrokeshire Coast Path (Part 1)

An eight-day walk from Poppit Sands in Ceredigion to Broadhaven near St Davids, on the Pembrokeshire Coast Path. After around 15 years of long distance walking, this is the first where I phoned ahead to arrange vegan food and found that the majority of places had dedicated vegan menus or were otherwise apprised and prepared. Thanks to Eat Out Vegan Wales for signposting us to those places.

Day 0 23rd July – Poppit Sands

Sunday travel by public transport took us out of our way. We travelled the entire day and after a brief sojourn in Haverfordwest (huge potential, needs some love – like a better riverbank and picnic tables which can’t melt) arrived at YHA Poppit Sands, a clifftop hostel with superb views over the Teifi estuary.

We then quickly walked the two miles to St Dogmaels down along the coast road for dinner at the Ferry Inn, St Dogmael’s, the first of several dedicated vegan menus. We sat in the corner, with this view, and I watched the tide crawl in over the mud. Then we walked the two miles back and watched it some more.

Salt marsh at St Dogmael's, low tide, dusk

Salt marsh at St Dogmaels, dusk

Day 1 24th July – YHA Poppit Sands to Newport (14.5 miles)

YHA Poppit Sands is self-catering only (the kitchen is gorgeous), so we had brought a breakfast of flapjack (plus some bread I saved from dinner).

Beautiful fitted kitchen at YHA Poppit Sands

Well put-together kitchen at YHA Poppit Sands

On the first day the weather was cool and cloudy. Unaccustomed to the gradient, we huffed and puffed our way up through the bracken to Cemaes Head where we turned out of the estuary onto the rolling high cliff promenades of that corner of the country. At Ceibwr Bay we stopped for a break and I walked into the crystal water and skimmed stones. I forget where we ate our Uncle Ben’s rice but I remember the rice. The Mexican one is very good.

Skimming stones at Ceibwr Bay

Four bounces

Newport is one of those places where the beach is the other side of the estuary from the town. We were booked into a spacious, comfortable room in the roof of the friendly Castle Inn and after a shower and a change we went for a walk round the village. There were curlews on the mudflats and a Kiwi hiker in the youth hostel who had knackered his feet. We hadn’t stayed in the Youth Hostel because there were only single sex dorms, and I’m done with dorms until after Brexit when I expect the dorms will come to me.

You can’t tell from the website at the moment but The Castle Inn has a vegan menu too – there’s plenty to choose from and the onion rings are fantastic.

Day 2 25th July – Newport to Fishguard (12.5 miles)

From the health food shop in Newport we bought big sausage rolls and tomatoes for our lunch boxes. We walked out of Newport through Parrog in bright warm sun under a sky full of plump little clouds. On Dinas Head we met a older woman whose companion was urging her on – she wasn’t really making progress and told us she had never walked anywhere this rough before. Just as you come off Dinas to the west is Pwllgwaelod Beach and the Jolly Sailor, with this view from the beer garden.



It’s a lovely spot – we drank orange and soda and watched the bathers. The pub had run out of ice, which was disappointing since at that time I had solved my sensitive teeth but not my iron deficiency and was counting on it. Then we carried on for a bit and ate our sausage rolls in a far quieter cwm opening a little further along. London was roasted by record-breaking temperatures that week, but on the Pembs coast refreshing sea breezes disguised our developing sunburn.

By the time we reached lower Fishguard we were tired. It’s a place with fast driving holiday makers and no pavements, followed by a final slog to the upper town and our bed for the night which was Manor Townhouse on Main Street. We explored a little before eating at Jeera as recommended for vegans by the B&B. It was a very good meal, except we forgot that coconut rice from Bangladeshi restaurants is full of jaggery. I ate most of it anyway. The outside of the toilet door was very strangely painted, like a sort of 3D pure white Jackson Pollack.

We moved on to the Royal Oak where a folk band was in full swing, but a bad sinus migraine forced Matt home and I went too. It cleared with painkillers, and I got to sit in the window and look at dusk merging where the sea met the sky.

Fishguard Harbour at dusk

From upper Fishguard

Hundreds of jackdaws live in Fishguard, and they had a lot to say to each other all night.

There’s no fishmonger in Fishguard, or anywhere else nearby. The fish are gone – just farmed ones with lice now, fed on soy beans.

Day 3 26th July – Fishguard to Pwll Deri (10 miles)

The vegan cooked breakfast at the Manor Townhouse was a cut above. We left Fishguard with provisions for two days, since we wouldn’t see anywhere selling food until Trefin. From the Coop we had rolls, avocado and tomato for that day’s lunch, then Uncle Ben’s for dinner, and more for the next day’s lunch. And I think we bought more flapjack for breakfast. Then some smokey tofu from the health food shop. I also indulged myself with ground coffee for the youth hostel mornings.

Next morning the weather was still good, and then suddenly it wasn’t. The path up onto the cliffs and around the bay had a distinctly suburban feel. Fishguard Bay is said to have a rainy microclimate, and so it proved. By the time we dropped down to the harbour it was raining fairly hard. In our coats we sweated up an irritating zig zag wooded path up to the road through Goodwick and onto the cliffs again with no visibility. In the fog we met a small party and idiscovered they were the family of that week’s volunteer managers of our destination, YHA Pwll Deri. This cluster of Youth Hostels is staffed by volunteers, working a week each.

By the time the weather cleared, my Teva’d feet had blisters and the New Skin dressing wouldn’t stay on. I changed into my cursed boots, and walked the final miles with maddeningly hot feet, and hot booted feet are painful feet. I couldn’t enjoy the tumble of Strumble Head and was miserable until I got those boots off at YHA Pwll Deri.

It had only been 10 miles, if rough ones, and we had time to sit around in the hostel with its stunning views from the dining area and terrace outside. It’s remote, with only cliff between it and the sea.  Strumble Head is back to the north and to the south is the strikingly straight edge of land you can see in the picture – not a finger but an upturned edge which we would walk along the next morning. After our dinner of Uncle Ben’s rice and tofu, I talked to a nice art teacher from St Albans and we watched the sun set over the sea.

The view south from the dining area of YHA Pwll Deri

From the dining room at YHA Pwll Deri

Day 4 27th July – Pwll Deri to Trefin

Next morning after flapjack and ground coffee we set out along that pictured edge in strong wind and bright sun lighting up the purple bell heather and yellow gorse. I had expected this from the expressionist crayon sketches the art teacher had shown me, but somehow through scribbling she had really captured its essence. A scramble down the rocks took us to another secluded little cwm opening, accessible only from the coast path, which I think was called Pwllstrodur. We ate our rolls, paddled and watched young cows graze improbably far down the edge of a cliff, while a lone seal watched us in turn from the water. When the one other couple there left, they said the seal is on good terms with their B&B owner, and swims with her and her dogs.

At Abercastle the beach was quite busy, with blowy, dusty sand. We sat on a sort of mini sea wall until a man parked on the beach right in front of our view and drove off in a small motorboat with a couple of kids. Then on to Trefin, where the road to the sea ends at a ruined chapel at the head of a narrow, rocky, wave-lashed opening into the sea. We didn’t particularly enjoy a pint at the Ship, which though empty had a bar tender who couldn’t be bothered. Then through to Torbant Farmhouse where the kind host can’t do enough for you and the place is an elegy to the 1980s. But along the road is the good Square and Compass Inn where the chef is vegan and so consequently is half the menu. Welsh is spoken in that pub, which isn’t so usual in Pembs. A wildly good burger. Later three farmers came in and talked about everything under the sun.

Days 5 to 7 – St David’s, Solva and Broadhaven – coming soon.


The Repair Shop and Money for Nothing – BBC public service broadcasting at its best

Two programmes I really admire are Money for Nothing and The Repair Shop, both on BBC One. I’m not sure how to apportion credit, but Field Kean Films produces Money for Nothing and Ricochet produces The Repair Shop.

Steven Fletcher works on a toy battleship in The Repair Shop

Revealing a transformed armchair

Leanne reveals a transformed armchair to EJ in Money for Nothing

Money for Nothing is a about upcycling as social entrepreneurship. It always begins with Sarah Moore (sometimes Jay Blades or EJ Osborne) waylaying people at the boot of their car, intercepting objects they’re about to dispose of at their municipal tip. They can be lengths of fabric, old filing cabinets, chairs, sewage pipe, old wooden bowling balls – you name it. We find out the object’s story before she takes it away to a specialist artisan in her network, including Zoe Murphy who designs patterns in Margate, Jay Blades who makes furniture and may still be based in Wolverhampton, Bex Simon who’s a Guildford blacksmith, Rob Shaer who works with wood in Walthamstow, Chinelo who designs garments in Canning Town, and Anthony Devine who upholsters in Manchester. After negotiating a budget (materials and labour) for transforming the object into something saleable, she goes away again leaving the artisan with creative licence. Sarah works on one of the objects herself. Arthur Smith narrates satirically.

Each programme follows the decisions and subsequent work on three objects, nicely paced so by the time the last is intercepted at the tip we’re half way through the tranformation of the first. When each is completed, Sarah arrives with her van and there’s a dramatic reveal. She pays the artisan, takes the object away and markets it to vendors with premises or web shops. Then she returns to the original owner with an iPad to show them the transformation and, if the object has sold, she gives them all the profit which I’ve see range from a fiver to £200.

Money for nothing - Jay Blades passes profit to original owner

I find this format absolutely ingenious. All of the money seems to come from and go to the right places. Viewers see a demonstration of entrepreneurship (another word for initiative in one’s livelihood) as Sarah coordinates adding value to what was going to be landfilled or dismembered. While she is presumably paid by the BBC licence fee, the artisans’ work is paid for by people with the income to freely buy valuable bespoke pieces. Viewers watch respect and creative vision shown to junk everyone else had given up on. The original owner is delighted to be doorstepped with money conjured from nothing, and and more often than not a charity is the ultimate beneficiary. By intercepting objects from the tip the programme is saving local authorities (that’s tax payers) money on landfill tax and recycling. Viewers learn that almost nothing needs to go to the tip if you have access to skilled labour. And in a society which increasingly valorises science, technology, engineering and maths and diminishes the arts, viewers learn how inspiring and valuable the livelihoods of artisans can be.

On a similar theme but with a different perspective, The Repair Shop begins with people  bringing broken family treasures to a spacious workshop in the Weald and Downland Living Museum where Jay Blades triages them on a table and interviews their owners about the object’s history – this part is a combination of Antique’s Roadshow and Supervet. Each object is then allocated to one or more specialists for conservation and restoration. Steven Fletcher is a clockmaker, Suzie Fletcher works with leather. Lucia Scalisi conserves paintings, Kirstin Ramsay specialises in ceramics, William Kirk restores heirlooms, and Brenton West is a silversmith. They each work in sight of each other at their own station in the workshop. Like Money for Nothing there are three items, ranging from broken plates with grandparents’ portraits, an old aviator jacket from a relative gunned down in World War II, a battered silver purse owned by a beloved grandmother, a pouffe, and all manner of old clockwork including a copper rain gauge and a barometer that inks the air pressure onto a roll of graph paper. We follow the dilemmas and progress of the artisans as they dunk gunky clockwork in vats of cleaner, stabilise and repair fragile materials, steam clean ceramics, conserve flaking leather, create missing wheatsheafs for porcelain clock cases, and painstakingly match paint. As with Money for Nothing, the objects are staggered so each is at a different stage. Finally the owner returns, sometimes with their kids, and the restored object is unveiled for the next generation to inherit.

About to unveil a restored heirloom at The Repair Shop

This programme moves me deeply. Like Money for Nothing it’s a format that rescues objects that appear to be beyond salvage, and lays bare the painstaking work of artisans past and present. The exquisite acts of restoration surface the intense love people have for their deceased family members; their yearning to save these pieces brings a generation-spanning perspective to every episode which is unfailingly moving. Unlike Money for Nothing there is no discussion of the value of these items, because they are destined to be treasured in the family and not be sold. The BBC has funded the restoration so that viewers can learn British history, and how things used to be made, and how they can be made anew. We learn the history of amateur climate science, world wars, and how everyday lives were led. We also learn techniques – that you need to apply shellac with a soft brush, what kind of stitch you need for which fabric, how to mix the right glue for the job, and how to apply it, test it, and what to do when it’s dried. You can see how to clean anything, stabilise anything, and that it’s fine to wear two pairs of spectacles at once.

Badly damaged leather pouffe

Before I finish this, I want to talk about Brexit, a hugely divisive era which threatens to impoverish this society and throw us back on our reserves. Right wing Brexit supporters look forward to this because they believe that younger people today lack grit and initiative. They think they are in need of a salutary dose of adversity to bring out their mettle. Necessity is the mother of invention, they think. I don’t see things that way, but I see these two programmes appeal across the political spectrum for reasons which transcend politics. In Money for Nothing there is no moralising at all, but I see the inheritance of a financial crisis expressed as a sort of providential scavenging (environmentalists bring their own subtexts). In the enormous popular appeal of the The Repair Shop I see another sort of prudence embraced by a society that has become interested, late in the day, in conserving the last relics of the British Empire – its science, the glory it took in its victories, the artefacts it manufactured with its spending power.

I find it poignant that these objects are usually deposited by people whose families had a long enough history in this country to have benefited – if by default – from its extractive capitalism in other lands, and were able to accrue a few treasures to pass on. I can’t help noticing that all the energy in this programme is dedicated to easing their pain. And yet those objects may be restored by an artisan whose forebears could conceivably have experienced the degradations of the Empire.

Money for Nothing deploys vision, skill and graft to convert junk discarded by older people into profit which it then returns to them – which I find symbolic of austerity and perhaps of a gentle education. In the Repair Shop, heirlooms of immense emotional significance become labours of love carried out by sensitive and empathetic strangers. Very deftly and tacitly, these programmes look to me like social cohesion.

Nationalist gamblers lose Scotland to status quo No

As recriminations from disappointed Yes campaigners become louder, I’m acutely relieved about the No. I also recognise that the No was not a socialist democratic No but a status quo No.

As time went on I warmed slightly to the official No campaign with its resolute rejection of nationalist passion, patriotism, empire or jingoism and focus on material issues. State realism facing off against romantic nationalism is never a nice choice. Up to near the end anyway, which is when the heavy passion artillery got wheeled out. I realise part of the reason that paid off for them is that they and their predecessors have incrementally dismantled the state to the point that any destabilisation looks terrifying. Talat Yaqoob was my favourite activist – she fought a sunny, respectful No campaign which rejected the politics of fear. There was the very impressive, very cogent Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson, whom I didn’t see put a foot wrong in terms of campaigning. Towards the very end, the Labour-led Better Together campaign dusted off an old labour movement discourse of collectivism, solidarity, public good and shared class interests. This was surprising to some – New Labour abandoned this kind of chat when it jettisoned Clause 4 and the militant. Allan Little is good on how nationalism came to fill this void in Scotland. I am steeling myself for collectivism, solidarity and class to evaporate in the run-up to GE2015. Sometimes it’s hard to keep your chin up.

Whereas there were non-SNP socialist Yes campaigns such as Radical Independence and Common Weal, there was no coordinated socialist or far left No campaign. Greens fell in with the Scottish Green Party which easily plumped for the inevitably petro-fuelled independence (though to be fair the alternative was a petro-fuelled union). They’ve whipped down Green Yes Scotland so you won’t be able to look back on that, but they were voting for their best chance to influence a society which could be a proof of concept for other regions. They yearned to get involved in a brand new constitution for a fresh new country. Then there was the radical left who couldn’t resist the prospect of sticking it to the Tories and/or Westminster politics. I have trouble even contemplating Billy ‘there is power in a union’ Bragg without something like disgust.

One of the most profoundly shocking moments of the campaign realising that for the first time in my life I agreed with virtually everything George Galloway was saying. Towards the end, though, there were socialist and radical left No voices. They weren’t organised but Bob has collected them.

Predictably enough this post-election poll from Lord Ashcroft reveals a stark difference between the youngest and oldest voters, overwhelmingly Yes and No respectively. I’m assuming this is about material insecurity of people with little prospect of earning power. The fact that pensions came into this at all is a travesty of privatisation. I don’t at all care for the way some are spinning this difference as the old dashing the hopes of the young. Also troubling and predictable is the fact that No voters tended to be more rural and better off, and that turnout remained lower in the disadvantaged, urban Yes heartlands. Yes was the preferred option for disadvantaged voters – we know from the English UKIP proble that this has got to be addressed.There’s a gender difference too, to do with risk-taking. When those Yes voters on the telly are haranguing people for being feart, it’s women and older people they’re slagging off.

All the raptures about democratic process need to be taken with a pinch of salt. When the SNP threatened No voters that the NHS was at stake, there seemed to be a lack of awareness that health care is wholly devolved to Scotland and even if rUK were to axe the NHS, this need not affect Scotland. Nevertheless the polling data showed that the NHS was a major factor in the Yes vote, so I’m doubtful there’s much grasp what Scotland controls, what the UK controls, and what the EU controls. Moreover this was a single vote on a single issue and that single issue happened to be the emotive and highly exercising issue of nationalism. Don’t assume this would generalise to wider democratic processes, which demand discipline, subtlety, compromise and sustained hard work.

On the bright side, there doesn’t seem to have been as big a problem of intimidation as some claimed – according to that poll at least 85% were prepared to disclose which way they voted to colleagues, friends and family.

There was a big swing to Yes. I’ve been so tense about the nationalism that I was unable to write anything before the referendum but now as we say goodbye to #indyref there is even more nationalism to come.  The West Lothian question will be settled soon. We expect the Tories to try to appease UKIP-leaning voters in marginalised English towns. There’s talk of an English parliament, votes for English laws. While Scotland claims so much of the same, the logic of this is hard to deny. But it should be denied. There is no money, no economic plan, no jobs, great environmental stress – water, pollution, greenhouse gases – which know no borders and which demand cooperation. They also demand a redistributive approach to wealth. We are very close to being fucked. We need to nationalise things and invite the devolved countries to share a stake. We need cooperative enterprises across borders. We need to join supranational environmental movements. If there is to be devolution to the constituent regions and countries of the UK, then what the left needs to do now is build collective institutions and organisations of shared interest which cross all the borders.

Hands off our movements!

Free Palestine badgeThis is a side issue to the much-needed 999 Call for the NHS march and rally yesterday  (about which more shortly) but when Andy Slaughter casually inserted a reference to Palestine solidarity into his speech about how Imperial NHS Trust are closing services in Hammersmith, I flinched.

My impression is that it’s rarely OK for single issue campaigns to insert themselves into other totally unrelated single issue campaigns. Certainly, Palestine had not been ushered into the NHS demo by the organisers, nor could Palestine activism be said to characterise the rally. But I could sense it hovering nearby, and I want to confront it before moving onto other things.

Left Unity logoFirst of all, the Palestinian flag is red, white, green and black. So is the People’s Assembly logo – and Left Unity is even more overt.


Perhaps so. Most flags in the Arab world have red, white, green and black. And on the left it’s green for environmentalism, red for socialism, black for anarchism, on a white background. If the similarity is incidental, then I wouldn’t want to make too much of it. That said, there’s a certain pointy-ness to the left logos which is reminiscent. And the timbre of the colours. Which is why – and any marketer would understand this – I find it the resemblance unconsciously and now consciously off-putting. Even as somebody who is pro-Palestinian and generally anti-nationalist (or weakly civic nationalist).

people's assemblyBecause the left has tried to make Israel central. This is in no way far fetched. Both Islamists and pan-Arabists have done the same. Israel is a useful diversion from what is actually wrong with an economy / society / body politic. There’s a name for constructing something else, something other, as the culprit. I hoped we’d seen the back of it with the Arab Spring. But then authoritarianism mostly beat pluralism and with it democracy. Really, I can’t stand scapegoating.

For these reasons I wasn’t surprised that the first #march4nhs tweets I saw on the day were from a few accounts with Palestine flags or Palestine-related names. They were very quick out of the blocks before the thing started in earnest. I remembered how much bigger last month’s anti-Israel rally had been than yesterday’s broad and inclusive NHS rally, which has done far more to promote and unify. For example I have never seen such a diversity of age, sex, religion, ethnicity, political leaning, and background on a single platform as I did at the NHS rally. So the fact that so many more turned out the anti-Israel demo, I take to be reflection of priorities on the left. Weggis66 thinks that since people turned up all the way along, this would have led to lower numbers on the day, but I’m not convinced. I don’t think that privatised services is as thrilling as Israelis doing what other countries routinely do – try to destroy their enemies and hurt a lot of people in the process. Remember the LTTE? No, probably not – there was very little fuss from the quarters that evince such horror when Gaza is beaten up.

I’m fully aware that sections of the left, noticing that the issue of Palestine can unify usually-disparate groups in society, have long tried hard to attach it to other left wing causes. For example, I travelled overnight in a coach to the G8 summit in Edinburgh (a decade ago?) to discover that the War On Want debt cancellation demo whose ranks I was swelling often resembled an anti-Israel demo. I remember various trade unions made it a core issue to exclude Israelis and only Israelis, how Avaaz, which never sends out opinion pieces, sent one from Tutu urging a boycott of Israel, how the Israel is the only country, really, targeted for exclusion from our high streets, and how anti-Israel sentiment always hurts Jews (and the activists so often miss – remember the paediatricians?). The list goes on. God, if only the world’s conflicts had as dedicated, concerned, activism. Only, hang on – it isn’t working. It’s wide of the mark.

I still think the loudest Palestine solidarity activism in this country is antisemitic. Perhaps stop reading here, because I’m about to resurrect an old theme.

Typically, pro-Palestine campaigning proposes double standards against Israel. It seeks a single state for a region hostile to Jews (incidentally often voting Yes for Scottish separatism). It usually fronts the Socialist Worker Party with its antisemitic proclivities. It annoints Hamas (will not recognise Israel, very authoritarian) and condemns democratic, progressive, secular Israelis who are, despite the catastrophising, numerous, and who need and deserve the support of the British left. Its identity politics spits ‘Zionist’ as a cuss word (again, while many of the same people coo over Scottish nationalism) when it has always been a simple Jewish liberation / defence movement supported by almost all Jews. It seeks to position the only Jewish state at the centre of the world’s problems the way antisemites held Jews culpable throughout history. It usually scoffs or bristles – or, chillingly, glows with pride – when anybody raises the possibility that it might be antisemitic.

Better Palestine activism would support Palestinian state-building and political transformation. I don’t know where to find Palestinian grassroots civil society organisations to work with (Palestine is not at the centre of my world) but a genuinely dedicated pro-Palestine activist (rather than a centrally anti-Israel one) would be motivated to. I know they exist, and that their government does not grasp that they should be autonomous, that they are destabilised by the conflict and the occupation, and that they have a role in policy i.e. beyond service. I know they get a hell of a lot of aid which is inefficiently spent, and that they risk losing their constituencies. On the joint Israeli and Palestinian side, there is Friends of the Earth Middle East, Children of Peace, OneVoice, and on the Israeli side, BTselem, GishaThe New Israel Fund, these others, and not to mention the small, beset organised political left who, with international networks of concerned supporters, are trying to keep alive the two state prospect because – surely it’s obvious – the respective societies are so split that right now the only alternative to two states is destructive violence, a zero-sum game to the bitter end, after which segregation, ethnic cleansing, possibly genocide. And that part of the world is crazy enough at the moment, thanks.On the Palestinian side, if Palestinian trade unions call for a boycott of stuff produced in the occupied territories, then we can boycott it in good conscience, I’d say. With due care.

There’s plenty more. I have other things to do – neither Israelis nor Palestinians are at the centre of my world. But you can recognise campaigners who are using pro-Palestinian as a mask for anti-Israel because they do not care to investigate.

And meanwhile Palestine solidarity has virtually nothing – nothing – to do with our well-being in the UK. If Palestine solidarity activism unifies an eddying left, that means the left is disorientated and parts of it are rotten. Put Palestine solidarity activism in its place.

South West Coast Path St Ives to Appledore – camping, food, sights

Early in June we took a walk of about 130 miles along the North Cornwall coast and into West Devon.

Our camera packed up after a rainy spell on the coast path last year and hasn’t yet been replaced, so this is a slightly idiosyncratic account intended to jog my memory rather than amuse you.

Though we do have lizards and scientologists, so give it a go.

And sunsets.

Bude at dusk, from the lock gates, early June

Bude at dusk, from the lock gates, early June

Also, I found the Vegan Cornwall blog useful in planning where to eat, although my experience was sometimes different.

Day 1 – St Ives to Hayle

8 miles after the long train journey down – above Carbis Bay and then through the dunes between Porth Kidney Sands and the branch line from St Erth. In the garden of The Badger Inn at Lelant Saltings we watch a seagull finish off an abandoned lunch, even venturing the ketchup. Reach Hayle – Hayle is the old Cornish word for, simply, estuary but confusingly the river itself is also called the Hayle. Then again, Ordnance Survey maps rarely name the brief watercourses which nevertheless manage to open out significant coves and even bays, so no complaints. Hayle’s infrastructure reveals its past as a major port and steam engine producer. Treglisson campsite is a good place less than 2 quiet miles’ walk out of Hayle with outside and covered play spaces for kids, Pirate FM piped into the washrooms, and run by very nice former teacher. Walk back into Hayle, buy breakfast and lunch from the Co-op, then to the Curry Leaf for a very good chana masala and saag bhaji with views over construction work on the estuary, followed by a pint at the Cornish Arms. Local papers full of remarkable misdemeanours (e.g. leisure centre worker poisons colleague’s lunch with chlorine) and nearly-broken record performance of Pirates of Penzance. Letters pages full of UKIP support. Walk back at dusk, head torches off, buzzed by bats.

Day 2 – Hayle to Portreath

Early awakening by extremely loud dawn chorus – a pattern repeated for the week. Sunny, the dewy tent soon dries. Breakfast is half a rhubarb pie, and we put the lunch we bought the previous night into our lunchboxes. We tell ourselves if the campsite owner repeats his offer of a ride down to the coast we will accept. He drops us off north of the holiday parks around 10. Some miles along, a coffee at Godrevy Beach Cafe. They have very nice vegan-looking salads, but we already have lunch which we eat sitting on a sandy bank in a car park above dunes with a gymkhana going on in the background. After that we’re into the  UNESCO World Heritage mining district. Portreath used to be an important port for Cornwall’s metal mining industry whose centres were inland at Camborne and Redruth. We have a drink at the Waterfront Inn with views of the beach. There’s a lot of litter and dog crap around, which I assume was left by the half term week tourists. About two miles down the mineral tramway route from Portreath, Cambrose Touring Park is a very well-kept place run by a former dairy farmer and remarkable for fully adjustable, unlimited showers. Also there, two dutch gents passing the first night of their cycle from Lands End to John O’Groats. Once again the owner offers us a lift into Portreath to find dinner. He recommended Basset Arms – nice place but I didn’t find them very active in the vegan department. I had to have chips and salad. The Bassets were a family of mineral lords – mine owners whose wealth dates back to their arrival during the Norman conquest – Cornish separatists and UKIP voters might like to think about that when they celebrate Cornwall’s former industrial prowess. We have another drink in the Basset sun room listening to a young woman talk about her new job in a shop in Penzance, then back along the tramway at dusk with more bats and dog walkers.

Day 3 – Portreath to Perranporth

Overcast but tent dries. Breakfast is odd – falafel and cherry tomato purchased the day before yesterday at Hayle Co-op. Rather than walking down the tramway again we pick up the path north of Portreath and soon arrive at Porthtowan where we impulsively buy some jam tarts (odd choices of food indicate restricted vegan offerings before happening upon the beach cafe where I’m briefly lit up by the prospect of veggie bacon – only to discover it’s Quorn, which is owned by a private equity firm and made of a patented fungus held together with egg albumen. Quorn is more for dieters than serious vegetarians but unfortunately it seems to have taken Cornwall by storm. Over my beans on toast I read the cafe copy of a history of Porthtowan. The village was once a busy resort for the people of Redruth. From Porthtowan (‘towan’ is the Cornish word for dune, and ‘porth’ means cove) we head through the mining centre of St Agnes Head, lunching on refined mezze at the Driftwood Spars pub at Trevaunance Cove and eventually reaching Tollgate Farm, a nice campsite accessed via a mile or so of good footpath from Perranporth through the golf course. It is home to many rabbits. After showering we set off back to Perranporth for dinner at the Jaipur and our customary Co-op shop for next day’s breakfast and lunch. Hoping to reach the beach through the golf course we become disorientated among the sand dunes, have to divert away from MOD land and end up back on the coast path, reaching Perranporth beach 3 miles later in light rain. About 15 or 20 wetsuited surfers are in the sea and among the astonishing amount of rubbish on the beach is a jellyfish about a metre in diameter (barrel?). The beach flotsam (and possibly jetsam) is a mixture of plastic stuff that looks as if it has been around the world a few times and packaging dropped by beach users, and it makes the beach look dismal. It’s no surprise that Surfers Against Sewage – co-founded by Porthtowan and St Agnes people, incidentally – have diversified into several campaigns against marine litter including posting identifiable litter back to manufacturers and trying to get people to stop flushing discarded plastics down the toilet. The Jaipur was high quality – another saag bhaji and chana masala. Back to the campsite at dusk with only one wrong turn on the golf course.

Day 4 – Perranporth to Newquay

Breakfast is apple pie and jam tarts – too much even for my sweet tooth but bringing a flare of energy as we paddle the two miles along a largely deserted Perran Sands before scrambling up the dune and onto the cliffs and round a strange razor wire-festooned army base before descending to Holywell Bay and St Piran’s Inn (which has an old fashioned glass water cooler with a brass tap). Then we trudge through the dunes, losing the waymarks, abraded by marram grass which stabilises the dunes, and generally exhausting ourselves.  It is warm but blisters have kept Matt out of his sandals – neither New Skin nor plasters stay in place. We meet a couple of Australian pensioners striding lustily in the other direction who recommend leukotape sports strapping tape over a bit of padding. We walk along The Gannel for a while and since tide is low we cross at the footbridge and stop at the hut on the other side for lemonade lollies. Then through Crantock along the river’s edge and to Trenance Holiday Park whose permanent residents have developed their static caravans with landscaping and boundary walls. Most strikingly, a small conservatory with tiny arches through which a model railway runs in from the yard beyond. We put up our tent within earshot of the school behind. That evening we head to The Fort on Fore Street and watch surfers from a beer garden strung with wire to deter seagulls (though not choughs). We also saw some gigs – gig racing is an internationally growing sport at which Cornwall excels. We’re celebrating tonight and after surveying Newquay for vegan-friendly foods we settle on Pizza Express with its NUS discount (I’m a legit but dubious holder of an NUS card) sea views and new Pianta vegan pizza.

Day 5 – Newquay to Porthcothan

We have a long shopping list at Newquay: sports strapping tape from Boots; Ordnance Survey map from Tourist Information; batteries for Matt’s GPS (which he sets to beep on arrival at various critical places mainly to keep us to time) and a pasty for lunch. Tourist Information tells us we can get a vegan pasty at a certain place but it turns us away – we are served by (we think) Jamie’s Pasty Parlour on Central Square near Fore Street. The woman warns us they will be paler in colour and it occurs to us that perhaps the only reason the vegetable pasties are not vegan is the stupid wasteful cosmetic egg wash. Cafe Irie opens at 10am and we have an enormous cooked breakfast with a vegan option which doesn’t involve just leaving things out. We set off relatively late and it takes a while to reach the edge of Newquay’s suburbs, and a heavy rain shower sent us sheltering under a new apartment complex to put on our coats and pack covers. The shower soon passes and we watch five kitesurfers on Watergate Bay in bright sunlight. We reached Mawgan Porth at lunchtime but our breakfast is still going down so we only had a pint at the Merrymoor. It’s Wednesday in early June and the diners seem to be mostly pensioners who stare intently through the windows as we change back into our waterproofs – trousers this time – on the steps outside. The sky opens up and for two hours we drip our way up and down the cliffs with almost no visibility of the Bedruthan Steps. The sky clears. A couple of walkers coming from the other direction report large hailstones. Slowly drying out, we sit down in a deserted cove at about 3pm to eat our pasties. Behind us is an abandoned car. A spaniel arrives followed by a man who walks laboriously and we exchange a few friendly words. Another car arrives, another old geezer gets out, and to our mystifcation they both get into the abandoned car. We continue, eventually turning into the mouth of the (unnamed) river at Porthcothan. It’s amazing to me how such puny rivers carve out such magnificent passages to the sea – though Matt reminds me that they could be glacial. A new two-storey house on the cliff has eliminated most of the wall on its river-facing side, which has become four large windows. Its prospect is a sandy beach and a trickle backed by a round grassy hill, and it’s almost inconceivable that in 6 hours the tide will have altered the scene beyond recognition. I find these changing views very exciting. Carnevas campsite is a very nice place but there are recklessly fast drivers on the lane. It’s windy when we arrive so we shield our tent with a hedge and an unoccupied motorhome, but suddenly the wind drops at about the time the tide is changing. There is a lot to know about wind and tide but I can’t find anything about tides causing wind changes. Carnevas has a bar and they make chips and salad for me and vegetable lasagne for Matt. I should say that the progress of vegetarianism is very strong in Cornwall, so I tell myself that even though veganism seems to mystify the Cornish hospitality industry there is every hope that in 20 years they will have grasped it. It needn’t be costly of time or money.

Day 6 Porthcothan to Padstow

Breakfast is at the next campsite along, Berryfields. It is run by a nice family from the Midlands (Cornwall and Devon are full of Midland people). Despite their sign, they seem surprised by breakfasters but the dad rises to the occasion and fires up the kitchen while we sit in the sunny pleasantly planted courtyard. Good humouredly anti-vegetarian, Mr Bellisan butters my toast by mistake and ends up with a second breakfast himself. We chat about the problems of large single sex groups of campers, which has led him to specify the easily decoded “Camping for nice people”. Thanks to Tripadvisor, Berrylands is renowned for their cream teas, and he hopes to major on those. One son goes off to the Royal Cornwall Show and the other, an electrician, talks to us for a while about veganism. Father and son debate whether Stein or Chip Ahoy have better fish and chips in Padstow. We set off, reaching the attractive Treyarnon Bay youth hostel in the late morning. I’m not sure why the staff (who reminded me of Bill and Ted) felt unauthorised to divert some houmous from the menu into a packed lunch for me, but there you go. Then up and down the cliffs to Trevone, too late for the beach cafe but I have pasta and sundried tomato sauce with salad at the Well Parc Hotel, a friendly, spacious place with a lot of potential. Matt has a ploughmans with probably 500g of cheese. We reach Trevose Head and the turn along the Camel (a river with a name) very tired and footsore with 4 miles to go. More dunes after gun point, then down along the Camel Trail to Dennis Farm campsite where we become sole occupants of my favourite pitch of the holiday – four spots dedicated to hikers (i.e. people without cars) on a flat spot at the end of the site right next to the Camel surrounded on two sides by dense old woodland. Showers were wet rooms accessed from outside (rather than within a ladies / gents shower block) my favourite kind. The owners refer us to the Golden Lion for vegetarian dinner. On arrival the bartender reacts tersely to the lack of notice of vegan needs, but before we can walk out she has hurried away to see the chef. Out he comes, looking regretful. He tells us that with the lack of notice the best he can manage is a cassoulet of beans and mushrooms. This is charged at the same price as the bean burger Matt has. This delicious, generously portioned meal – with fries included – becomes my favourite meal of the holiday. Clearly the anger and dismay was not directed at me, but is a product of their own high standards. Then we took a look around Padstow – we think this is where we saw an oversized door of the Old Police House next to a tiny door in the adjacent cottage. Back at the campsite there were bats. In the tent we could hear the river lapping the shore below and the moorings and sails of the various craft nearby gently tinkling – slept very well and by morning the river had shrunk and the boats were resting on its exposed sands.

Day 7 Padstow to Port Isaac

Search Padstow in vain for vegan breakfast and vegan lunch of any quality. For breakfast I have a mass-produced caramel flapjack which contains some milk – if I’m going to break with vegan, I won’t give the gourmets any cash. None of the pasty shops are open early and when they do open they have nothing vegan. The famed Chough Bakery say they cannot help, so it’s rolls, houmous and tomatoes from The Spar. Don’t tell me Padstow is a foody place – it’s basically unsustainable. We walk back along the dunes of the Camel estuary’s northern shore, past Polzeath. I love the seaward view from Padstow, the bulks of Trevose Head and Pentire Point protecting the river from the open Atlantic beyond. We sit down on a high cliff to find out why Matt’s hydration system isn’t working. It turns out that it is empty – we inadvertently squeezed out the water while trying to jam the tent into his backpack. Sharing one person’s water is a problem for us since today the cliffs have become steep and high, with a combined ascent of over 850 metres (to get things in perspective, Snowden is 1085m). It’s a very hot day and there is nowhere between Polzeath and Port Isaac to buy refreshment. We eat lunch in a secluded cove. Three young men start a disposable barbeque before swimming to the mouth of the cove to jump of rocks. Driven on by the need for a drink we march up and down the made steps (to prevent erosion rather than make things easier). After the now defunct but still hauntingly beautiful little pilchard port of Port Quin we meet more presumably-retired groups who also seem weary of the lack of any flat places to walk. At Port Isaac we go straight to The Mote on the harbour and have a pint of water and a pint of orange and soda. They can veganise their veggie burger so we book a table there at 8.30. There is no campsite near enough and we don’t like to wild camp (no drinking water, nowhere to wash and nowhere to crap) so we spent our first night in a bed at a vegetarian-friendly Trewetha Farm about a mile inland, with sea views, and although we used an overgrown footpath from Port Gaverne, the lane to Port Isaac is broad and has pavement for most of the way. The owners were active in the RNLI which provides lifeboat and lifeguard protection along the British coast. Their son Damien Bolton had helmed a tremendously difficult rescue in the spring of 2012 when anglers Paul and Peter Sleeman were swept into the sea between Port Isaac and Tintagel, documented in this video. In understand that Peter’s widow is now active on the local RNLI committee, which is amazing of her. There are plenty of donation boxes along the path, but the thing about the RNLI is that it is mostly staffed by volunteers. Dinner was very nice – over 30 covers in the upstairs room, armies of waiting staff running up and down the stairs to and from the kitchen, and a band (The Fisherman’s Friends?) was singing sea shanties outside in the harbour. Then a group of local farmers arrived in the pub and things became so noisy that we didn’t hear the stupendous thunderstorm which everybody mentioned the following day. By the time we got out to wander the steep lanes and alleys the night was warm and clear again. We were beginning to wonder if our luck with the weather was about to run out.

Day 8 – Port Isaac to Tintagel

The Trewetha breakfast was good, including Linda McCartney sausages. The next stretch of coast had so many long, steep ups and downs I hardly remember it (you have to look where you’re putting your feet). Some hours later coming into Trebarwith we encountered a series of couples and groups, including one with a baby, dog and no water, who seemed to be out for a jaunt. The trouble is, you can see Port Isaac quite clearly and although it is 5 hours’ walk along a steep and jagged coast, it looks as if you could reach it in 45 minutes. We had thai green curry for lunch at the Trebarwith Hotel. 10 miles took us to Tintagel where Matt worked out it was sensible to stop. Pengenna Pasties‘ vegetable pasty is peerless and vegan by default – we bought two of those for next day’s lunch, flapjacks for breakfast and camped at The Headland campsite. Passing Camelot (1930s fake castle on the headland, now a hotel) we decided to go in for a beer, and ordered dinner before we realised what a strange place it was, with its self-published tabloid newspaper and books of the co-owner’s trippy, mystical artwork. It turns out that the three owners – who also reside there – are proselytising scientologists who seem to be enormously wealthy. I was served half a butternut squash with yoghurt sauce and a small amount of stuff on the side. I returned it and they got rid of the yoghurt sauce. They then tried to charge me nearly £18 pounds, which I successfully contested since it had been offered as a subsitute for the veganless bar menu. The staff are friendly and helpful, the setting is truly lovely, and the bar menu is down to earth prices. But the newspaper full of pictures of (sometimes with) minor celebrities and congratulations to various dignitaries of Kazakhstan and other former soviet satellites, the art books and the life changing promise of ‘the light box’ were unfathomable to us. Paternalistic largesse, mysticism, a bit of faith healing – all very pampered and individualistic, completely lacking in social justice. The owners are very rich and broadcast their disorientated principles with great confidence. We felt uncomfortable there and finished our evening in The Cornishman. Trip Advisor has a number of favourable and unfavourable reviews and a local woman told us that some of the rooms have been renovated while others are languishing.

Day 9 Crackington Haven to Bude

Missing out a very beautiful stretch from Tintagel to Boscastle, We catch the 9.30 bus from Tintagel to Crackington Haven and begin from there. The fare for two is £9 and the bus does some unfeasible hill starts in the lanes. Upper Lynstone Caravan & Camping Park is a tidysouth of Bude with less than a mile of footpath into the town centre. Just one slight grumble – is 8 seconds really enough for a push on a push-button shower? 20 seconds minimum, surely!? Bude is a good little town with beautiful rocks and a tidal pool. We had a modest dinner at Tiandi, a superior but correspondingly-priced far eastern restaurant.

Near Hartland Quay, early June

Day 10 Bude to Hartland Quay

Arriving in Bude for 8.45 to shop for food before getting on the bus to Morwenstow, once again rebuffed by a pasty shop that doesn’t offer pasties before a sluggish mid-morning. I looked after the bags while Matt sortied around Bude picking up our breakfast and lunch. A woman in (a guess) her mid or late 50s who had been walking stretches of path queried whether the bus goes to Morwenstow on any other day than Wednesday. She’s half-right – we can get to Morwenstow if we stay on the bus for an hour and a half and alight on its return journey. Instead we reluctantly get in a minicab which costs something like £14. The woman, incidentally, walked the entire stretch on her own, starting at 6am. She said that when she got tired she’d stop and read her book. This is where the weather could make a huge difference. Morwenstow is a magical little place. The next encounter is an ancient, lonely, slightly dilapidated stone house in a cove. It’s for holiday rent. Then come the legendary ups and downs of that stretch, but the weather is lovely and we’ve halved the walk so I am happy. After several rather arduous drops and climbs we see a sign on a tiny building saying something like Ronald Duncan’s Hut is open – come on in. The book has led us to expect no respite and no shelter or succour for 16 miles, so this is welcome and we go and sit down inside.There is water and some glasses – how kind of his family. A couple pass us – when we pass them later we realise we met them in the campsite in Tintagel. We’ll see them again the following day, for the last time.


I’m now writing this 3 months later and I can’t remember much until close to the end. We can see Lundy. Then more ups and downs. It is warm and we struggle but prevail. Lunch is on a high bench. Along a field, we see a huge solitary human approach with a pack. She is a German woman of around 60 or perhaps older. It’s around 3pm and she’s aiming for Bude. We think she is late and will be walking  As we approach Hartland the terrain becomes magnificent. Massive grassy hills rear abruptly from flat, dry-stone-wall-ringed pasture. As you round them, you realise with a shock that they are half-hills only, eaten away on the ocean side. The rock of the cliffs is contorted into tight folds. Long fingers poke out into the sea. We are at Hartland but the pub, briefly glimpsed, eludes us. We take a wrong turn and edge along a narrow shelf of cliff above a jaggedly beautiful cove. And then retrace our steps. There is no campsite so we stay at the Hartland Quay Hotel. There is no quay either – the sea had it. We eat an alright bar meal in the Wreckers Retreat Bar, wander around outside looking at the rocks, and fall asleep in the sitting room.

Near Hartland Quay, early June

Near Hartland Quay, early June

Day 11 Hartland Quay to Clovelly

Another strenuous day. We followed a solitary figure for a few miles and passed her when she stopped to change into her wet weather gear. Then she passed us as we huddled and fumbled in very heavy rain trying to change into ours. We caught her up at an open air cafe near Hartland Point. It wasn’t open air cafe weather. She was trying to contact her sister in law, whom she was supposed to be meeting there in two hour’s time, to tell her to go straight to Clovelly. We left her there. She caught us up some miles later and we walked together for a bit until she (Caroline, by this time) left us when we stopped for a snack. Then all I remember was relentless rain until the parkland west of the Clovelly estate. The paths had become torrents. We couldn’t have been wetter or tireder. We got to the top of the estate and limped down the Up-Along / Down-Along with its upended cobblestones. We checked in at the New Inn, where we had one of the top rooms and a shared bathroom. Caroline’s sister-in-law Sarah was already there, while Caroline had just arrived having been hoodwinked by paths which looked like rivers and taken a 2-mile detour. In order to dry our stuff we had to rinse off the mud and debris, and then festoon it round the small double room. By then it had brightened up and we walked down to the harbour – the only safe harbour for many miles either side. The village is distinguished by being wholly owned by the local aristocrat, who rents to residents handpicked by interview. Consequently there aren’t any second homes or holiday lets, everybody is resident, and the people are friendly. There are no cars in Clovelly, and heavy stuff is moved by noisy wooden-runnered sleds, these days dragged by men. Had a beanburger at the New Inn – the other pub on the harbour was also lovely and offered finer dining too. Drank a lot of cider and spoke to one of the residents from Peckham. Don’t really remember going to bed.

Clovelly harbour

Clovelly harbour

Day 12 Clovelly to Westward Ho!

This was a very hard day, in lovely weather. It started off in parkland, progressed to woodland, and finally some sea views from clifftop and scrub before the turn along the esplanade into the Victorian town of Westward Ho! The ups and downs were quite arduous, particularly one late one where we dropped about 80 meters to the beach for about 20 steps on boulders before climbing back up higher than we had been. The YHA bunkhouse was unstaffed despite it being after 5. We were exhausted and sweaty so were fairly unsympathetic when the bloke running it sauntered in. After our shower we went out and ended up in The Village Inn, a nice pub where we had dinner (also with Caroline and Sarah). Then Matt and I went for a walk. It’s a very nice place. On the beach at dusk we thought the tide might come in quite fast across the flat beach, but a leaf-shaped formation of posts caught our eye protruding from the sand. Next morning a coastguard told us it was the remains of a ship wreck. Back to the hostel and slept well.

Wrecked boat on Westward Ho! beach, low tide

Wrecked boat on Westward Ho! beach, low tide

Day 13 Westward Ho! to Appledore

We had a picnic breakfast and then walked to Appledore along the Westward Ho! beach – tide out, bare feet. Had fun with the blue clay on the beach exposed by the storms, trying to leave footprints to be found by humans in the far future who would analyse them and think we were very fat for our size. Saw a little crab rushing along looking for somewhere to dig, and even a blenny in one of the rockpools. An RNLI lifeguard told us that the oval of wooden stumps at WH!!! was a wreck, again exposed by storms. A woman in Appledore told us they lose sand in winter and gain it back in summer but this year they hadn’t gained what they lost. Funny to live in such a shifting landscape. 
Had a good lunch on the terrace of The Beaver Inn. We liked Appledore. From the bus to Barnstaple we could see its massive shipyard – Babcock, on boat #3 for Irish navy.

Then home.

A march – 999 Call for the NHS

Reposted and lightly amended with permission from Barkingside21.

People's March for the NHSStarting off from Jarrow early today, a group of local mums from Darlington known as the #Darlomums are beginning the 999 March for the NHS. They’ll make their way 300 miles to London entirely on foot.

They’re trying to draw attention to the critical condition of the NHS as it is gradually eroded by privatisation. Following the route of the Jarrow hunger march, they’ll pass through 23 towns and cities over 21 days. On each stretch they’ll be joined by NHS workers, NHS users, and other supporters of all stripes. It looks like it’s going to be big and bold. After all, there’s so much at stake.

They’ll be in this neck of the woods on Saturday 6th September leaving Edmonton at 10am and arriving in Westminster at 3pm for a rally which is likely to be a landmark event in the campaign to keep the NHS public.

They want us to join them. Here is a day-by-day route and a place to let them know you’re coming. Being volunteers with a lot to organise, they need funds too – you can help by buying a T-Shirt and/or donating. If you use Twitter, big up @999CallforNHS with the hashtag #march4nhs . If you use Facebook, they’re here.

Here is why:

Tricycle Theatre and the UKJFF – no quiet for quiet

Even from this one article I can think of several possible angles to take on the decision by the board of Kilburn’s Tricycle Theatre not to host the UK Jewish Film Festival unless the organisers refused funding from the Israeli Embassy cultural department and accepted instead an equivalent amount from the theatre itself.

 The first is that the Tricycle acted very late. It had come under pressure last year, from a group which openly seeks an end to Israel’s existence, and you get the impression it craved a quiet life. Although the films of the UKJFF are famously open minded about Israel’s conflicts, Israel’s boycotters, seemingly always short of creative ideas or recreational outlets, have taken to wrecking anything that could conceivably be linked to Israel. So I’m guessing the Tricycle decided to jettison Israeli Embassy funding, create a bit of distance, buy itself some quiet. It doesn’t seem to have much zeal for boycotting Israel, but it did so anyway. If this speculation is right, then that is a milestone in the boycott campaign.

The second is that if the Tricycle were set on excluding Jews, I don’t think it would have offered to shell out from its own pocket. Linda Grant says “I’m happy to press war crimes charges against politicians and generals, but not punish ballerinas and actors because you can’t get at the powerful”. The Tricycle is not punishing Israeli film makers with exclusion – it is attempting to substitute for an Israeli Embassy funder. So I can’t see that there’s any antisemitic intent here. As for antisemitic effects, that’s another matter (update: Nick Cohen on the racist nature of discriminatory double standards). But it doesn’t have to be antisemitic to be plain wrong.

The third is that refusing Israeli funding is indeed a measure towards ‘neutrality’. But, reading the statement, the neutrality they seem to be referring to is between opposing British partisans, not between Israel and Hamas. Because if the Tricycle were to accept Israeli funds, there would be a tornado of rage from British anti-Israel activists which would bring a response in kind from the supporters of Israel, and there would be an almightly fight all over the festival, driving away the tender punters and draining the energies of the director and board.

Another is that the Tricycle cannot be neutral in the actual conflict by refusing to take Israeli Embassy money when Hamas has no intention of giving it money. The Israeli Embassy is not even in the same league as Hamas. We clearly need to revisit who Hamas are – even if you think that Israel’s strategy is ill-fated, Hamas are a self-declaredly implacable and legitimate enemy. Who will actually cheer the Tricycle’s decision? My prediction is Israel-eliminationists, pro-Hamas activists, Islamists, Arab nationalists and those who are combinations of each. You can judge a controversial action by what the people who like it stand for.

Another is that the ‘plague on both their houses’ approach of not “accepting funding from any party to the conflict” makes me ache for a Hamas that did actually want to fund the kind of arts which theatres like the Tricycle host. What a genuine bridge to understanding that could be. Then the Tricycle could fund both, and the supporters of each would flock to watch. As militant Islamists, I doubt Hamas likes artists because artists tend to be resolutely independent-minded. Israel, on the other hand, is a hothouse for critical films about Israel.

Another is that it’s a big development for boycotting Israel to be considered ‘neutrality’ when it has always been the acceptable front of a longstanding campaign to end Israel’s actual existence. Is the Tricycle’s decision a sign that the boycott is changing its identity to something more constructive? Perhaps but I am a long way from being convinced.

Another is that there is something penetrating about the equal treatment of Israel and Hamas, because it is a neat way to expose differences and inequalities. So when the BBC reports equally, it throws into relief the discrepancies between Gaza and Israel – the number of deaths, the affluence, or the amount of firepower, or the protections available to ordinary residents. When the Tricycle boycotts both Israel and Hamas, you realise that Hamas doesn’t like the arts at all although – as we now know – it has plenty of spare cash.

Another is that the Tricycle caused a self-boycott on the part of UKJFF, because its quest for a quiet life on the home front was interpreted by the Jewish organisers as a wedge to part Jews from the world’s only Jewish state. A few things about this. Though my knowledge about UK Jewry is slim, I know that it is normal for most Jews to have family ties to Israel – that’s the way the cookie crumbled for European Jews after the Holocaust. I also know that in countries where antisemitism is waxing – France, for example – Jews are more susceptible to come-hithers from Israel. I haven’t mentioned the (more positive) spiritual and emotional connection between Jews and Israel, but I understand it’s pretty strong. Under the circumstances, I doubt that attempts to pry apart Jews and Israel will have much success – although without these pressures I’m certain that Israel would come to feel more and more distinct. It is after all, its own place, and it has never given much support to Jews who live outside Israel. And for the moment it has an awful government. But for now, for many Jews, if even at the back of their mind, Israel is their insurance against a resurgence of expulsions, statelessness and physical attacks.

Another is that I hope I’ve exposed as a black joke Nicholas Hytner’s comment that it’s the UKJFF who, though they have always been funded by the Israeli Embassy “have unwisely politicised a celebration of Jewish culture”.

The UK Jewish Film Festival will take place, but keep an eye out for the new venues.

Update 9th August

It’s looking worse and worse for the Tricycle. Adam Wagner of 1 Crown Office Row barristers’ chambers examines has a UK Human Rights blogpost examining whether the Tricycle Theatre has broken the law. He draws attention to the Tricycle’s self-description as an organisation that “views the world through a variety of lenses, bringing unheard voices into the mainstream” (ringing hollow right now). he also sheds light on the tiny amount (should have realised it would be tiny if the Tricycle were offering to cover it) which was probably also a tiny proportion of the overall funding. Nick Cohen points out that the Israeli Embassy did not impose any conditions on the donation. He also points out that the money the Tricycle proposed to substitute for the Israeli money comes from the UK state, which has gone to war in Iraq with drastic loss of human life. The double standards on Israel are unjustifiable. We need to get to the bottom of why only Israel? It is not far-fetched to suppose that at the heart of this is latent unintentional bias against Jews.

Update 16th August

Despite 500 artistic signatories to a letter defending The Tricycle against allegations of antisemitism, the theatre decided to revoke the conditions on the UK Jewish Film Festival. This was a happy outcome, but one which for me was marred by worry that it didn’t represent any change of heart on the part of the Trike. On Twitter the campaign to boycott the theatre – including @TalOfer and @BoycottTricycle – was elated. They should be proud of a well-organised campaign, but they seemed to care more about touting the decision as their victory than celebrating it as an victory of anti-discrimination activism. Maybe they were right – other funders had begun to pull out of the Trike, so maybe it had no choice. In which case, the new decision is not enlightened but forced. Better forced than nothing, but I’m left with a feeling of disquiet and questions about the Trike’s motives. Could they have been persuaded, or was money and the most strident voices the only thing that talked? Are they still susceptible to this antisemitic variety of anti-Zionism which singles out Israel alone for special penalties? The anti-Zionists are livid and mystified, and determined to be the loudest voices and the biggest sticks. For its part the Tricycle’s and UKJFF’s joint statement did nothing to illuminate the situation, or really explain its take on reconciliation. It needed to be clearer about its principles in order for the decision not to be seen by the increasing number of people with antisemitic instincts as a capitulation to Jewish power. As Hope Not Hate’s Nick Lowles remarked on Twitter, “The Jewish film festival ban/un-ban by Tricycle Theatre” has been a disaster from beginning to end. I wonder if there is still space for reason, persuasion, empathy, and compassion.