My favorites of PCP
The PCP is very well way-marked by the acorn symbol and you will find it at every decision making point on the path. The symbol is usually on finger-posts or on the gates. It can also be found on footbridges, huge stones or even on the road. And in the towns, it can be found on lamp posts, traffic signs and walls. There were only a couple of villages where the path is not clearly marked [ if you are starting from the north, you will encounter this at the beginning].
The trail close to the towns has two symbols
PCP acorn symbol
The walking path symbol which circles back to the village/town near by.
The two paths are the same for the first few couple of miles. To stay on the PCP, you
have to pay attention to where the acorn symbol is pointing.
I was hiking from south to north so all I had to do was to remember to keep the sea to my left. By doing this and paying attention to the acorn symbol, I was able to hike without looking at the map while on the trail. For someone who is directionally challenged, this simplicity allowed me to relax and enjoy the trail. The maps were needed to get back on the trail when I went through towns.
I did this trip in May-June and had good hiking weather for majority of the hike. Most of the days had multiple weather patterns - raining and cold early am, warm to hot on the trail and cold at night. Bright sunny days were not necessarily comfortable hiking days as it gets hot, hot, hot on the trail. A combination of sun, cloud cover and breeze was the right mix for perfect hiking days. Starting early gave me this kind of weather 80% of the time.
I had the trail to myself every day for 90% of the hike and there were two days when I did not meet anyone during the entire hike….it felt like my very own trail. I met very few people hiking the PCP and they were all going in the opposite direction. I was at liberty to say those things that I wouldn’t want any one to hear on those steep stretches.
The trail itself is a unique experience.The ups and downs are relentless in some sections and while you may not see them, you will feel them in your legs. There is hardly enough space for a foot in some sections of the trail. Then there are sections where you can not see the trail as it is covered by vegetation. But the most amazing part of the trail are those sections which run right along the cliff edge with nothing but the sea down below on one side. You have to watch where you are putting your feet while enjoying the scenery around.
Then there are sections where you can see the trail for miles in front and behind you. It
was amazing to look ahead and see where you are heading and look back and see
where you came from. Don’t judge the trail by its appearance as it only reveals itself
The scenery and nature along this path is spectacular. There is the sea and its endlessness, the miles and miles of wildflowers, the meadows with more wildflowers and then in the north an opportunity of spotting seals.
The moments when it was so very quite and still that it seemed as though even the sea was lowering the volume on the waves to respect the silence. This was in contrast to those moments when I heard the booming noises as the waves crashed in to the coves below.
My legs did marvelously well and I came away without a single blister. The hiking shoes and socks were superb on this trail. I only took 2 ibuprofen in the first couple of days. It is only the second time, my legs did so well on a strenuous hike and both times, I invested couple of months preparing for the hike. The 7 weeks of preparation paid off. Hurray!!!!
The owners of the B&B’s were absolutely wonderful and set the standard for what hospitality truly means. From the rooms to the breakfast to the conversations, they gave me the best. Doing it solo has its advantages but it also makes you long for a conversation. On this trip, I did not feel that need. I was welcomed with a smile and was waved goodbye with one as well.
Surprise of the trip
The sun protection hand gloves that I bought specifically for the trip turned out to be one of the best purchases. They are light weight and not only protected my hands from the sun but also from the wind and vegetation and kept my hands clean. They are very durable as after hand washing them every night, they are still in good condition.
A lot of the ups are the kind that you will feel before you see. You can either alter your pace or put up with the pain in your ankles and calf muscles. I learnt to anticipate these so that I could alter my pace. This is not a trail to be taken lightly. I met people who are used to hiking weekly and yet found this trail difficult. Prepare, plan and take your time so you can enjoy the trail.
There is no shade on this trail…..you will feel the sun. On most days by 9:00 am it was hot as the sunrise was around 5:15 am. Be prepared with a hat and sunglasses as sunscreen alone will not help. Carry at least a liter and a half of water per person as you will go for long stretches without finding a place to replenish water. I learnt the importance of carrying cold water. I would put 1-2 bottles of water in the freezer and place one of them inside the backpack. The cold water mixed with regular water felt like a slice of heaven on those hot days.
Don’t assume anything and be prepared with food, water and the essentials. Have a good guide book on hand. It should give you information on facilities close by as it is very helpful to have phone#s on hand rather than having to look them up. If you are planning on getting food in the villages along the way, check or call on that day to see if they are open. Have the bus schedule with you and know the bus stops on the map.
Starting the day with a good breakfast, having healthy snacks while hiking and ending the day with a good dinner helped me keep my energy levels up. The days I stayed at YHA, I planned and shopped ahead for breakfast and packed lunch for the hike. Taking the warnings in the guide book helped me be prepared as the facilities here have different timings in different areas and the remote areas have no facilities.
While the sections on the trail covered and lined with vegetation was fun to walk on, I had to be careful with my belongings as if you drop something, finding it in that vegetation was going to be impossible. Pretty much all the vegetation along the side of the trail is not “hand hold” friendly. It is not thorny but the texture is harsh on your palms. My hand gloves protected my palms but not my fingers. Nettles are common here. I got stung once and that was sufficient to make me extra cautious.
Having a light hiking pack was one of the best decisions made. I carried the essentials - water, snacks, medicine, layers, maps and hiking poles and a lighter smaller camera. If you want to backpack on PCP, plan and prepare as you will feel every bit of additional weight.
The PCP is challenging and should not be taken lightly. Plan and prepare so you can enjoy the hike and stay safe.
It was a goal I worked on and one that I got to turn into reality. A reality that became more than the intended goal. And for that I am thankful.