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Blown along by a cold easterly gale, and wishing I'd brought a coat, I set off along the coastal path. I aimed to go around the western- most tip of England - St Ives to Penzance - in four days. It was a spur of the moment thing, and all I had with me was a trail guide, a toothbrush and four days' supply of extract of St John's Wort.

After Clodgy Point it started to rain ("Clodgy" is Cornish for leper, the trail guide informed me). Then, a little further on, I found myself picking my way across a vast swamp - the kind of terrain my Jesus sandals had just not been designed for. Things were getting out of hand, and I'd only been on the trail for half an hour. I got the trail guide out again to see what was going on.

"After Clodgy Point," it said, "the going becomes boggy in places." This was the understatement of the year. I mustn't be downhearted though, it went on in a brighter vein, "because the bogginess brings its own flora, including refreshing mint to chew and orchids to look at." I stood there, just past Leper's Point, cold, wet, up to my ankles in black mud, and looked about me in case there was any refreshing mint or orchids to lift my spirits.

After passing some boulders called Zawn Quoits, the going became drier. It also became steeper and rockier and, because it was more exposed, much windier. Tugged at and buffeted by the wind, I staggered along like a drunken man.

I'd come to get away from it all but, now that I had, I didn't like it. There wasn't a living thing anywhere to be seen: not a bird in the sky, nor anything creeping along the ground. There wasn't a boat at sea either - too rough even for the fishermen, I supposed - and in the tiny boulder- strewn fields beside the cliff path there was only the occasional collapsed remains of a tin mine or a long-deserted pre-historic homestead.

But then things began to look up. First a shrew ran across my path, which cheered me up enormously, and then I saw another human being coming along the cliff towards me.

We crossed on a wind-blasted promontory. Judging by the style of his canvas rucksack and his natural fibres, he was one of the old school of walkers. My first impulse was to stop him and embrace him like a long- lost brother. Then I would ask him where he was going and why, and how far he'd come.

But the wind was so fierce there that as we passed one another I could only grimace at him, and he grimaced back. Even grimacing was a risky distraction under the circumstances for the man had to cut short his grimace and hold out his arms, like a tightrope walker, to steady himself against an unexpectedly strong gust.

After walking for what the trail guide claims is seven miles, but which seemed more like 47, there was another promontory, and behind this a village. According to the guide, painters flock to Zennor to take advantage of the peculiar quality of the light there; how they keep their easels from blowing away it didn't say.

At Zennor I was bitten by a dog. This farm collie came up from behind me in the lane and left four bloody puncture marks just above my ankle. When I knocked on the farmer's door and showed him my leg, though, his owner couldn't have been more apologetic. He took me into his parlour, offered me tea and bandages and said that his dog deserved to be burnt. And what with him apologising for his dog and me for dripping blood all over the floor, it was like an apologising contest. More than anything else, it was a relief to get out of the wind and the rain for a moment.

With blood seeping through all four Elastoplasts, I hobbled on towards the west. After a mile or so I came to what my guide claims is a Holy Well. There I stopped and stuck my leg in it, hoping that it might be healed. And perhaps not only my leg, but the whole of me, mind, body, spirit, the lot. But the holiness must have gone from the well because if anything I felt much worse after that, and my leg became so stiff I could hardly walk, and I had visions of dying from lockjaw.

And all this on the first day. By my free Boots watch, I'd only been walking for three hours!