Vegan on the South West Coast Path

In another post to come I’ll describe this year’s stretch of camping along the South West Coast Path Falmouth to St Ives, which we’re walking in the unofficial direction of Poole to Minehead. This post will be of interest to anybody hoping to sustain a vegan diet on that stretch of the path. For other stretches see my other posts tagged SWCP.

First of all, I should admit that I lost my nerve a bit. Sometimes my plans didn’t come to fruition and I didn’t feel comfortable to request vegan adjustments on the fly. I felt metropolitan and out of step so I either went without (and paid over the odds) or bent my own rules. This bothers me, and in future I hope to be a bit firmer. But there were certainly some high points.

We each carried a spork, penknives, and a non-leaking sandwich box. We tended to drink tap water – I had 1.5l in sigg bottles and Matt also has a hydration pack. Had the weather been warmer, the distances longer, the going more strenuous, or the beach cafes lacking (as between Pendeen and St Ives), we’d each have needed an extra half litre. Matt also carried four Trek bars (Holland and Barrett sell these) in case we needed them for a breakfast.

Falmouth

That evening we walked along the coast path to have a drink at the Chain Locker on the old harbour (West

Pea Souk, Falmouth

First course of the Persian supper club at Pea Souk, Falmouth

on cider) before one of the more memorable meals I’ve had in my life at Pea Souk, a vegetarian cafe which has embarked on an ambitious series of supper clubs on a different national theme. That night’s was Persian. The most astonishing thing was the number of people Nicola Willis managed to fit (not cram, but comfortably fit) into such a small space – 17 diners, to be exact, all eating the same menu (with small vegan adjustments for me), plus a man playing Persian classical music on a bazuki.  The food was absolutely outstanding – particularly the vegan alternative slice of something cheesecakey and crunchy soused in, I think, rose and orange blossom syrup. I have never eaten such a delectable dessert.

From Pea Souk we bought our lunch for next day – a porkless pie for Matt and for me a selection of salads. For those four meals (including beer) the bill was something like £65.

It was late when we left Pea Souk, so on our way back to the campsite we bought next morning’s breakfast from Tesco near the Discovery Centre, which closes at 10. I had one of their strange falafel wraps (mango chutney is original but not entirely successful).

Falmouth – Porthallow

Breakfast was the aforementioned wrap from Tesco, eaten at the campsite.

Lunch was the aforementioned take-out from Pea Souk, eaten at Helston by the ford.

That night we camped at the diving centre in Porthkerris and ate dinner at the Five Pilchards in Porthallow. Unfortunately the chef who had offered a vegan alternative had left (to his colleagues’ satisfaction) and the new chef, who seemed to be attempting to follow his predecessor’s menu, had nothing for either Matt or me, so we ate chips and salad. The owner apologised and said he hoped to accommodate us better next time. So, the lesson is to confirm plans close to the date. We stayed to drink at the Five Pilchards.

Porthallow to Coverack

This was a short day – mainly because of a late decision to camp on the coast at the diving centre rather than Helford River Camping further inland.

Cooked breakfast at Fat Apples Cafe, Porthallow

Cooked breakfast at Fat Apples Cafe, Porthallow

Breakfast – although the diving centre had a cafe, we noticed that there was a new and attractive-looking place directly on the Coast Path, called Fat Apples Cafe. No website that I can find, but a large number of enthusiastic reviews. I was impressed by the young man who kindly adapted a cooked breakfast for me, including (because they only had butter, no marge) very well fried bread – a bit of oil in pan, not saturated. If you’re reading, I’m sorry we didn’t tip – we each thought the other had done it. Fat Apples is a new start after the family business – a packaging company with origins in Leyton – fell foul of the financial crisis. Good luck to them, though I’m sure they won’t need it. They offer ‘wild camping’, which means wifi but no shower.

We ate lunch in Coverack, pea and mint soup at Archie’s Loft.  The woman behind the counter thought it probably was vegan, it was raining and there was nothing else that looked like a safer option. I think it tasted buttery, which most people who aren’t used to it find is an unpleasantly pungent flavour.

View from the dining room at YHA Coverack.

View from the dining room at YHA Coverack.

We were camping at the Youth Hostel in Coverack, and we ate dinner there – the dining room has a beautiful view of the bay. Notably, a batch of milk had gone bad before its use-by date so everybody was on soya milk. I ate a good tagine and Matt had a bean stew, also vegan. And I found out after committing to fruit salad that the blackberry crumble had been vegan. That was around £10 for the two courses. The man on the desk (also cooking) confirmed my prior impressions that for YHA, packed lunch for a vegan entails removing items rather than substituting them, so we didn’t have one.

We then went for a drink at the Paris Hotel in Coverack.

Coverack to Lizard

Breakfast was a cooked one at the Youth Hostel – baked beans, mushrooms, toast, hash browns. The margarine was Flora, which I don’t think was vegan. I can’t remember whether I ate it – there were some days I had margarine which wasn’t vegan and some days I resisted – this often has something to do with whether or not I calculate it would confuse the staff. If I were running these places I’d make it all vegan. Vegan margarine is easy enough to come by.

We bought lunch from Coverack Post Office – I can’t remember the name of the range of Mediterranean-style salads in plastic tubs, but you tend to get them in independent stores all over the country. I had one with kidney beans and one with couscous. They have a slightly strange metallic flavour, but at least they contain more than one major food group.

At the Lizard we had planned vegan dinner at Henry’s Campsite where we were staying, but the Galleon was locked up because the chef had departed – that meant no breakfast or packed lunch either. After a futile walk in the rain down to Lizard’s Youth Hostel (it’s staffed by volunteers and entirely self-catering) we returned to Lizard where, after checking there was no cream in it, I had the thai curry vegetarian option at the Top House, one of Lizard’s two pubs. It was £9 or £10 and we stayed on for the evening chatting to people on the neighbouring tables.

Lizard to Porthleven

At the butchers(!) in Lizard we bought a tray of flapjack for breakfast, two thirds of which we ate in a bus shelter across the road.

There we also bought some lovely soft white rolls, houmous and cherry tomatoes for lunch, which we ate in Mullion Cove during a gap in the rain with a bag of crisps from the cafe.

For dinner at Porthleven we had pizza and salad at Amelie’s (I leave off the cheese and ask for chilli oil instead). Since it was Wednesday, pizzas were two-for-one and the bill was modest. It looked as if there were other options but they were pricey.

We had a pint at The Ship where the harbour meets the sea.

Porthleven to Marazion

At Porthleven we stayed at the Copper Kettle, a welcoming place I can’t thank or praise enough. The new owner is from Porthleven and made every accommodation for me. I apologise for not having thought to let her know that I don’t take soya milk with my cereal or coffee at breakfast – and thanks for getting the sausages.

We bought lunch from the Spar at Porthleven – same range of salads as we got at Coverack.

Dinner was very enjoyable – we got the bus into Penzance (about 3 miles away) with a hankering for Chinese. We decided on Sunny City on Market Jew Street(!). It has large premises which look plush and banquety if you don’t look to closely, but are cheap, stained and more than a little depressing if you do. We were the only people there, and beginning to lose confidence. But the gent who served us was attentive and prompt, everything was clean, and the food was good – not salty or greasy. I had bean curd, vegetables and boiled rice. I recommend this food – I think it’s mostly a take-away place, which would explain the shabby premises. For two, the bill was just £22, including green tea.

Coop rhubarb tart at Dove Meadows campsite, Marazion

Coop rhubarb tart at Dove Meadows campsite, Marazion

We bought next morning’s breakfast from the Co-op – a rhubarb tart for £1.

Marazion to Lamorna Cove

For breakfast we ate the aforementioned Co-op custard tart from Penzance the previous evening.

Coffee and cake at Archie Brown's, Penzance

Coffee and vegan cake at Archie Brown’s, Penzance

At Penzance we were seduced into Archie Brown’s for elevenses – I had a fantastic vegan orange cake. Downstairs in the health food store we bought four tofu hazelnut cutlets – these are shrink-wrapped and (in practice) keep unrefrigerated. To accompany them we bought cherry tomatoes and pitta bread from the Co-op. Those were for future lunches – but that day’s lunch was a specifically vegan cornish pasty from Lavender’s pasty shop, also Market Jew Street. There was a choice of two, and I had the chilli one. We ate these on the harbour wall at Mousehole.

We camped a mile and a half away from Lamorna Cove and since the local pub, the Lamorna Wink, was being refurbished, we whetted our wallets and stepped out without warning to try the patience of the chef at The Cove Hotel, a formal place with a swimming pool overlooking the cove. We had a very enjoyable, clever meal.

Vegetarian and vegan dinner at The Cove Hotel, Lamorna Cove

Fine vegetarian and vegan dining at The Cove Hotel, Lamorna Cove

I had a starter with the two kinds or artichokes, parsley emulsion, marbled beetroot, cucumber slices marinated in cumin, and white onion puree. Matt had vegetarian watercress soup followed by a salad with root vegetables and local cheese, with a cheeseboard for afters. My main course was a pearl barley risotto. They lit a wood fire and two other couples arrived. With beer, a bottle of wine and tip we paid £100. According to the gracious waiting staff, the chef showed no sign of upset and we were welcomed despite our unkempt appearance.

Lamorna Cove to Sennen Cove

Boleigh Farm, where we were camping, is very beautiful and not near any shops, so for breakfast we ate the Trek bars that Matt had been carrying since the beginning. I tend to burn through those quite fast, compared to a cooked breakfast.

At lunchtime we stopped for a coffee at Porthgwarra’s shop. After inquiring about vegan food to no avail, I asked the man if we could eat our lunch at his picnic tables. “Go right ahead”, he said, pleasantly. We had another coffee each and Matt had a pasty. We used the shop’s wifi. We ate the tofu cutlets,  pitta and tomato we’d bought in Penzance.

We diverted to ‘top’ Sennen for the Costcutter, where we bought the next day’s lunch of Warburton sandwich thins, houmous and more tomatoes, and had a drink in the First and Last Inn.

Sennen Cove was about half an hour’s beautiful walk along the coast from our campsite at Trevedra Farm, and we were late that evening so I ended up with chips and salad for dinner at the Old Success Inn – Matt had vegetable lasagne. The bill was around £16 not including beer.

Incidentally, Lands End visitors’ centre is no respite for walkers or seemingly even for ordinary punters, who sit sadly on benches trying to suck some comfort from their over-priced ice creams.

Sennen Cove to Pendeen

Breakfast was a cooked one at the Ocean Blue Cafe at Trevedra Farm campsite.

We were soaked through by the time we packed up our tent so I made the decision to abandon the day’s walk and instead get the 300 bus along the coast to Geevor Tin Mine, a substantial museum among the disused mines which comprise Cornwall’s UNESCO World Heritage site. More about all that in my next post – this one is about food so suffice to say  that for lunch I had a very good, very filling vegan lentil and carrot soup there – and it seemed that local people were arriving just to eat their Sunday lunch at the restaurant, which did indeed have beautiful sea views and a cheerful informal bustle about it.

At Pendeen we camped at the North Inn, which had several modestly-priced vegetarian options for dinner. Matt and I shared a couple of vegan curries.

Pendeen to St Ives

At the covered picnic tables of the North Inn we had the rest of the Penzance pitta with the houmous and tomatoes from Sennen Costcutter for breakfast.

At the Pendeen Costcutter we got crisps and sweets. The weather was warm and fine and we had a lunch of more houmous, the Sennen sandwich thins and tomatoes on a bench at Trewey Cliff – I forget now to whom that bench was commemorated but I knew at the time and was grateful.

Dinner was at Spinacio’s, a vegetarian restaurant overlooking St Ives harbour. I very much enjoyed seeing the tide coming in and betting with Matt how long it would take a certain boat to start to float (always underestimating). Matt had a sambar with coconut rice, I had a borlotti bean cake with a satay sauce and squash puree. My meal was tasty enough but I think a little unbalanced in terms of weight and texture – the addition of a large, sharp chunk of pickled beetroot helped a lot. The bill for two courses and a bottle of wine, and tip was I think around £60.

St Ives to London

Breakfast was at our B&B, the Carlyon Guest House. They offered a vegetarian breakfast, which had attracted us in the first place, but they didn’t have any margarine and the grilled food tasted quite meaty indicating that there weren’t separate areas of the grill for meat and non-meat. Again, this may have been to do with the lack of notice – we had decided to get B&B accommodation because of a mixture of wet weather, Matt’s sleeping mat developing a puncture and figuring it would be better to be near the station so we could leave our bags while we did the sight-seeing. We hadn’t given notice of vegan requirements and so we weren’t accommodated to the same standard.

For lunch we had a pasty each on the harbour wall – I can’t remember where they were from but they weren’t brilliant.

Dinner on the train - Pengennis vegan pasties

Dinner on the London train – Pengenna vegan pasties

For dinner on the train I had a generous and I would even say fulfilling vegan pasty from Pengenna Pasties, a ready-made crispy salad from the Coop and a carton of grapes. Matt had the same, except his salad was from . From the Halzephron Herb Shop we also got a raw chocolate pie to share. I really love those.

South-West Coast Path camping pack list

(Late spring, not including cooking equipment.)

Pack list:

Transport

  • Advance ticket details

Kit

  • Pack. I like packs with net side pockets for water bottles, bellows side pocket, separate boot section, place for walking poles, and cover which stows at the bottom.
  • Mat
  • Sleeping bag
  • Tent (poles, canvas, pegs)
  • 30 litre pack
  • Waterproof pack liner
  • Waterproof see-through, touch-through cases for phone, &tc
  • Map case
  • OS Explorer maps
  • Compass
  • Walking book
  • Walking poles
  • Penknife
  • Spork
  • 2 water bottles
  • non-leaking lunchbox
  • head torch (for tent at night and walking back in the dark)
  • light stowaway waterproof shoulder bag (because sometimes shower cubicles spray everything inside them)

Electronics

  • Powermonkey and adapters
  • Power supply cables for camera, phone
  • MP3 player, earphones, waterproof bag
  • GPS
  • Phone
  • Camera
  • Rechargeable AA batteries for GPS
  • Watch

Clothes

  • Walking boots
  • Walking sandles
  • Crocs slipons shoes for shower and evenings
  • Pants
  • Walking socks
  • Waterproof socks
  • Walking brassiere
  • Walking trousers
  • Walking t-shirt
  • Fleece
  • Buff
  • Waterproof coat
  • Waterproof trousers
  • Baseball cap
  • Dress for evening
  • Leggings
  • Evening socks
  • Evening brassiere

Health

  • First aid kit inc. fabric plaster strip, scissors, antiseptic / fungal cream, second skin blister dressing, tea-tree oil, painkillers
  • Energy: sweets, seeds, nuts, dried fruit
  • Vitamin supplements
  • Earplugs

Hygiene and vanity

  • Toiletries bag which hangs from a hook
  • Biodegradable wash for everything
  • Sun cream
  • Lip sun protection
  • Tea tree oil – it’s a highly effective anti-bacterial deodorant between toes and under arms.
  • Contact lenses, solution, case
  • Glasses and case case
  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste
  • Floss
  • Deodorant
  • Moisturiser
  • Hairband
  • Razor
  • Travel towel
  • Comb
  • Handkerchief
  • Eyeliner
  • Nail file
  • Pumice stone and integrated scrubbing brush (sandals = dirt)
  • Moon cup (even if not time of month you can startle yourself with the change of pace and there probably won’t be a shop)

Misc

  • Book
  • Music and podcasts
  • Cash
  • Credit cards
  • Cheque book
  • Printed contact details and detail maps of where we have booked to stay (put these on the web)
  • Receipts for deposits
  • A few plastic bags in case of wet or dirty stuff or something you need to keep dry

South West Coast Path – Burton Bradstock to Dartmouth

Herring gull, Sidmouth

Herring gull, Sidmouth

A week’s walk along the South West Coast Path, this time with tent.

From a wedding in North Bovey we took the train and bus to see an old friend in the Dorset coastal village of Burton Bradstock, camping at the massive Freshwater site where we were only pitches and consequently the only users of the massive and lovely shower block (powerful jet, temperature control, no timer). That evening there was a heavy cloudburst which filled us with foreboding, but that was the last rain we saw for the week – couldn’t have hoped for better weather. The beach at Freshwater needed restructuring – the waves had driven the imported shingle into a high cliff next to where the Bride emptied itself into the sea, totally obscuring the view and probably making it less effective as an energy-sapping sea defence. In our rain gear we trudged to the top of it and slithered down to the water. The late evening sun and the rain clouds gave everything a sulphurous glow. A large wave promptly soaked our legs and we scrambled back up the shingle and down to the pub where I was obliged to eat chips and salad due to what I came to realise was a general and profound failure of imagination and professional pride across Dorset and Devon when it comes to accommodating vegan tourists*. Matt had a nice-looking pie. We then whispered answers to the evening’s pub quiz to each other

Burton Bradstock to Seaton

The following morning, which was hazy, we picked up the Coast Path and walked west (counter to the book). The spring flowers were bursting out of the chalky soil and the shingle beaches were pristine. Between bank holidays, the coast was practically deserted except for a few dog walkers.

Deckchairs, West Bay, Dorset

Deckchairs, West Bay, Dorset

At Charmouth we bought a loaf at the back door of a bakery, some houmous etc from Nisa, and ate that on a bench outside the shut (but not closed) public library. 17 miles with packs was too long for the first day so we stopped in Lyme Regis and got a bus part of the way to Manor Farm, our camp site at Seaton (and once again ours alone). There we encountered a yellow ferret on a lead enjoying the grass, and a jack russell who took too keen an interest in the scruff of its neck, to the point where the ferret turned suddenly, sank its little needle teeth into his nose, and worried at it for a good ten seconds while the terrier made short frantic dashes forwards and backwards yelping in helpless anguish while the puppy at my side, who had experienced similar treatment of the day before, watched closely.

Seaton to Ladram Bay

The next morning the Axe estuary lit up its valley.

The Axe estuary from Manor Farm, Seaton

The Axe estuary from Manor Farm, Seaton

We walked on top of Dorset’s white cliffs, descending steeply first to Beer and then Branscombe, and had the first of several chips and salad lunches at the well-appointed cafe in Branscombe mouth.

The white cliffs of Dorset, from Seaton

The white cliffs of Dorset, from Seaton

Sidmouth has a beautiful seafront and the cliffs are shored up with an intriguing but futile-looking jumble of old concrete and older flint cobs. We continued through and spent the night in the enormous holiday park at Ladram Bay, where for the first time we had neighbours, which was nice. For dinner we walked a mile of green lane to the Kings Arms in Otterton where I had a few halfs of lovely golden Yellowhammer by Exeter brewers O’Hanlon, and back on the lane in the dark turning our torch on only when a car approached.

Ladram Bay to Dawlish

The sandstone is so permeable that this stretch of coast has an air of impermanence. The diversity of plant life dwindles compared to the chalk of the previous days and the harder limestone cliffs towards the end of Torbay further along. But there were a great many young rabbits. Budleigh Salterton reminded me of 1970s Ladybird books. At the Esplanade at Exmouth the shingle gave way to sand and since we were wearing our tevas we tried walking in the sea but the sand got into our plasters and flayed our blisters, which was a bit tedious. Another chips and salad lunch at The Point near the marina (clueless about vegans), and onto the ferry across the Ex to Starcross, which against the tide took 20 minutes round a big sandbank. We later heard from the Teign ferryman that the Ex is a confusing river to navigate because of the sand and the currents. Despite the romantic name, Starcross needs some tender loving care. The pubs at Cockwood further along were stupid about catering for a vegan so they didn’t get our dinner money. We camped among the trees in the back garden of Lockwood House, a CCC approved place above the static caravan city of Dawlish Warren, and with our favourite shower block yet – a lovely little site which once again we had to ourselves. We walked to Dawlish that evening for dinner, which took longer than we hoped, but rewarded us with a fine Chinese vegetarian feast at a place on The Lawn I think was called Hoi Shing. When we got out The Brook was lit up and looked very pretty indeed. Having been cautioned against the footpath or the busy main road in the dark, we took a modestly-priced taxi back to our tent.

The Brook at Dawlish

Dawlish to Torquay

After coffee and flapjack outside a bakery in Dawlish Warren, we headed along the sea wall with Brunel’s exciting railway embankment just to our right, beating high tide into Teignmouth where we caught another smaller ferry across the Teign to the genteel suburb of Shaldon where we continued up through golf links as far as Babbacombe and then cut straight through the suburbs of Torquay to a night of comfort in the Hillcroft B&B close to the centre of Torquay. Torquay seafront is winsome in the evening.

Torquay harbour, evening

Torquay harbour, evening

We had an utterly delightful Tex-Mex meal at Jingles and walked back steeply and turgidly but loving the how the lights of Torquay look at night. We watched Newsnight from a very high bed as our pants dried on the window handles, and marvelled at Cameron’s decision to divert so much public money into reopening the search for the (pretty blonde) McGann daughter.

Torbay to Brixham

Not much to say about this one – you walk along the English Riviera through Paignton and it’s pretty built up and low until around Elberry Cove close to the Western end, when the rocks suddenly harden into limestone, the outcrops and stacks begin to take on a savage look, and the walking becomes lonely and strenuous again. We had a good cup of coffee at the top of the glass box that is Shorelines in Paignton, which was memorable for the quiet and the view.

Brixham has the bustle and importance of a working town – there’s fish and pharamceuticals. We arrived early and pitched our tent with a few others in sight at Upton Manor Farm about a mile up the hill. We then walked around Berry Head to see the views and the lighthouse, and arrived back in Brixham for a fairly unremarkable dinner. Brixham is a beautiful place at dusk, tiers of homes with their faces towards the harbour, and at night their lights make it snug.

Brixham harbour at dusk

Brixham harbour at dusk

Then we went to the Crown & Anchor which serves the fishing community. I haven’t had such good cider as Paignton’s in years, and there was rowdy jollity which briefly soured when one of the fish marketers who sounded like he was from Essex shoulder barged another one off his chair and was asked to leave. The next pub was much stranger, every surface festooned with objects from keyrings to chamberpots. There was a small old fat terrier we were warned might ‘turn’, a boring Bay’s bitter, an African Grey on a perch with a shoe underneath which had been pecked to tatters, and a niche behind the bar filled with figures which the publican described as a “nigger’s corner”. Then we walked back up through the town, getting briefly lost around the edges, and to bed.

Brixham to Dartmouth

The last day was perhaps the best. We were warned that the going was very “up and down”. This characteristic of the Coast Path had bamboozled us at first, used as we are to long slogs upwards for hundreds of metres, then a long and windy ridge, or a moor, then a long way back down, then once more before the evening. On the coast path you climb the equivalent, but in 10 or so mini installments a day.

That day was very clear, we bought lunch from the Co-op and set off. There was a lot of activity in the sea, particularly as we rounded Sharkham Point to glimpse the sail boats round the eroded spires of the Mew Stone.

The Mew Stone, from near the Dart estuary

The Mew Stone, from near the Dart estuary

The loudspeakers of the tour boats alleviated the loneliness of the high path. We had lunch in the sun at the edge of a cliff watching cormorants resting and diving. There were some evocative martial defences to sea around the mouth of the Dart, and we headed round into the estuary  in woodland populated by huge and ancient coniferous trees to arrive at Kingswear and the ferry across to Dartmouth where we took the number 90 bus to our campsite, Little Cotton Caravan Park, a lovely place over the hill which had some campers in for the weekend. Eschewing the company, we pitched in the far corner.

We walked into town, ate a good veggie chilli at Kendricks and then drank in a genteel harbourside inn called the Royal Castle Hotel drinking strange drinks and writing our postcards. Walking back up the lane I complained about the bright light which was ruining my night vision, only for Matt to identify it as the moon.

Steam locomotive to London

The next morning we packed in record time, ate breakfast from the Co-op on a bench looking out over the Dart, got on the ferry, then connected with the coast line’s steam train staffed by a conductor whose demeanour and kindliness would have more than satisfied the Reverend Audrey (you would never have guessed that in a previous life he was a pharma supplier).

And now I am at home. Going to bed.

*Exceptions are our sole B&B evening, The Hillcroft in Torquay, where I was offered both soya milk and soya yoghurt, Ladram Bay Holiday Park where the waiting staff carefully discussed my breakfast order and the chef bought the hash brown packet out to show me the ingredients and offered to cater for anybody given sufficient notice, and the Kings Arms in nearby Otterton where chef came to ask me what I liked to eat, and knocked up a very fine risotto with no prior notice.