Monday, 16 July 2018

South West Coast Path Section 15 Port Isaac to Padstow

Port Isaac View
Another fabulous day of weather in store for this section and not too early a start on account of it being a Sunday and therefore no early morning buses.  I set off from my base in Tintagel with plenty of time to spare and drove down to Rock.  I had time to look at parking options before finding a space close to the bus stop and ambled over to it.  There was only one bus stop sign so I stood by it, seeing another person waiting also.  A bus came along on the opposite side of the road and the driver signalled I thought that he was going to turn around and come back for us.  When he didn't immediately I started to get a bad feeling and soon realised that I had missed it!  To say I was cross was an understatement.  I wasn't going to wait two hours for the next one and so I gathered up the other chap (who had thought the same as me and was also going to Port Isaac) and we drove there first.
Port Isaac Streets
We arrived at almost the same time as the bus so we didn't lose any walking time.  I did face the problem of getting the bus at the end of the walk - something I always hate doing.  The other chap and I went our separate ways at Port Isaac; I thought it better that we maintain our solitude after the car ride especially because I didn't want to struggle to keep up with him.
Caterpillar
Previously at Port Isaac I had failed to see what all the fuss was about - this time I totally got it.  The part where the bus drops you is kind of the working area; the scenic part of the village was down at the bottom of the hill.  I probably should have expected this given the name of the place!  It was up there with other scenic beauties of Cornwall including Polperro, Cawsand and Padstow.  I lingered in the streets for a short while soaking up the holiday relaxed atmosphere until moving on.
Downgate Cove
I climbed up and away from The Haven and wandered out towards Lobber Point.  Here I got a sense of the scale of the tightly packed fishing village and how it fits into the bigger landscape.  I also got a great view along the coastline of my fogbound walk a few weeks previously.  It did look tough - maybe it was a good thing I couldn't see much at the time!
Vetch
I rounded Logger Head and headed down to the valley floor a little further on.  My erstwhile companion wasn't far in front of me and I wondered whether it had been a good idea to let him go first as it hadn't taken much to catch him back up.  I crossed the valley and had my first real climb of the day - quite a slog up through cow parsley and hawthorn bushes.  At the top the path wound around some fields and past a couple of burial mounds before dropping down through a rather scenic zig zag section with a gate to pass along the back of Downgate Cove.  The winding nature of the path made it feel as though I was doing rather more mileage than I actually was.  I took my time though - it was hugely enjoyable looking at the flowers and all the butterflies and other insects busying themselves collecting pollen.
Doyden Castle
The problem with winding down on the coast is that sooner or later you have to wind up too and the other end of the cove was no exception to this.  I climbed up and passed around Kellan Head where I passed a couple that had been ahead of me for some time.  They were being sensible and pausing on the provided bench for a good look at the view.  I plodded on, seemingly around another corner, where I came upon Portquin.  I decided to stop on a bench myself at this point for the heat was starting to get to me a little bit.  From here I could see both Doyden Castle and The Rumps far away in the distance.  I still had a fair way to reach that point but from there the path promised to be a lot easier until the end of the day.
Take Off
Doyden Castle is a much photographed building from this stretch of the coast.  It sits atop a small headland called Doyden Point.  It isn't  really a castle - it was built in the 1820s by Samuel Symmons as a gambling and drinking den by all accounts.  I suppose if you are going to do those things; best to do so away from the glare of others...
Lundy Hole
I negotiated Portquin where there were quite a few people coming in from their sea kayaking expeditions.  A rental place on the shore was obviously doing brisk business especially as the sea was so calm. I headed uphill away from the hamlet once again passing several sets of walkers as I did so.   This is evidently a popular stretch of the coast although most were dog walkers rather than hikers. Initially the coast looked a bit denuded of vegetation and I read that there had been some antimony mines here once.  I imagine some of the vegetation has been stunted by heavy metal pollution. My car companion was visibly in front of me only minutes ahead of me, but it would be over the next couple of miles or so that I eventually lost him for good.  My attention was far more on the coast next to me than the walkers far off in front.  This is because for my money the next mile or so was the most scenic part of the day, with tantalising views of sandy beaches far below, rocky coves and flowering bushes vying for the attention of all the butterflies in evidence.
The Rumps
One of the most intriguing sights from the path was Lundy Hole.  This was clearly a sea cave once but the roof has collapsed leaving an arch and the beginnings of a beach in the washed out section.  This is definitely geology in action!  It made for a fascinating sight and I was pleased that I took a moment to look over the fence - I reckon it always pays to do this as you never know what you might see.
Polzeath Beach
Each time I rounded a headland or cove now the Rumps got ever closer and I was soon upon them.  I was a little relieved that I didn't have to negotiate the coast of these two rocky outcrops although there were paths over to take a closer look.  I instead took a path that took the high point of what I imagine will eventually become the cliff line when the Rumps are eventually eroded to become islands.  This also spelt the last of the climbing for I was now at the highest point on the walk with only downhill sections to follow.  From here I remember that the Cornwall coast going west is rather easier going than what I have experienced between here and the Devon border.
Surfing
Once past the Rumps I headed to Pentire Head, one of the classic headlands of Cornwall.  I took time to have a sit down, gather myself a bit and enjoy the view out across Padstow Harbour, the Doom Bar and Trevose Head in the distance.  The panorama laid out before me deserved some time and I stayed for quite a while enjoying the overall view and picking out some details using the binoculars that I faithfully tote around but seemingly never use.  After lounging for a while I gathered up my strength and wandered down towards the inviting looking beach at Polzeath that was thronged with surfers and swimmers.
Personal Service
After being high on the cliffs for most of the day the beach was a bit of a shock to the system especially as I felt very over-dressed.  While the surfers were backwards and forwards through the waves the beachcombers were being provided with a personalised ice cream van service.  The roving van appeared to be crossing the beach to find whatever demand it could.  I decided instead to avail myself of the ice cream opportunities at the back of the beach for there I would have a much bigger choice.  I wasn't disappointed.
Clouds Imitating Trees
Feeling refreshed I plodded on.  The last stretch of the walk from Polzeath back to Rock was along much lower terrain as I headed in to the Camel estuary.  I was thankful for this as the heat was starting to get to me by this point.  This stretch of the path was very popular with most of the traffic being dogwalkers and young families introducing their little ones to walking or bumping along in their all terrain buggies.  I crossed the beach at Daymer Bay and thought that I really should have been enjoying the beach rather than trudging across it.  I made my mind up that at Rock I would make sure that I dipped my toes in the water before making for the car.
Rock Ferry
I wasn't quite done yet though - after walking around Brea Hill on the shoreward side I had to cross some sand dunes and they are always hard going.  I was very aware of different sounds around me now.  Far off in the distance a brass band were playing - I imagine this was in Padstow on the opposite bank.  They were soon drowned out by the unmistakable thud thud thud of a helicopter and I rather hoped that this wasn't performing a sea rescue.  As I got nearer to Rock the ferry then got my attention as it made the short journey across from Padstow.  Having parked on the Rock side there was no need for me to use the ferry - more's the pity.
Daymer Bay
As soon as I reached the beach by the ferry drop off I did as I threatened and slid my boots and socks off and in I went.  My feet definitely thanked me for it!  Once refreshed I wandered up through Rock to find the bus stop.  It did take a while to get there (it's nearly a mile from the ferry dock) but not as long as I imagined and I ended up with quite a lengthy wait for the bus - this time I made sure I was on the garage side of the road so I didn't miss it!
Rock View
Despite the bus troubles this was a most satisfying walk and encapsulates most of the features that the SWCP is renowned for including cliffs, sand dunes and even the ferry crossing of the Camel Estuary.  I could see why my car companion had it as one of his 50 walks he had to do in the UK.

Friday, 13 July 2018

South West Coast Path Section 10 Hartland Quay to Morwenstow

Hartland Quay
It was with much relief that I woke to find that the fog had lifted overnight and replaced by a fresh sunlit day.  This meant I could proceed with the plan I had yesterday to walk the section between Hartland Quay and Morwenstow.  Before I did I had the whole morning to kill since I would again be taking the one bus per day that calls into the tiny village of Morwenstow on its way from Bude to Hartland village.  It did provide the opportunity for me to explore Tintagel Castle, which I had managed to see very little of during my last visit to the village.  It was a wrong that I am glad I had the opportunity to put right.
Foxgloves
In my enthusiasm to get to the bus on time I managed to get there an hour early and I was pretty pleased that it was a nice warm day for the wait would have been unbearable otherwise.  Eventually the bus came and I switched places with one person who got off.  I wonder how long the service will last with such meagre clientele?  We seemed to take forever to get to Hartland with the bus going in and out of lanes to pick up non-existent passengers, turning round and heading back out again.  We did this at least four times before we got to our destination.  Amazingly the bus connects with one that heads over to Bideford.
Painted Lady
Hartland village was deserted but the road down to the Quay was anything but.  This wasn't a pleasant walk but rather more palatable downhill than it was uphill from the coast when I was last in these parts in 2013.  Eventually I got to the church in Stoke village.  It was every bit as tall as I remember it.  I didn't go inside as I thought about the miles ahead that I had to do and wanted to crack on.  Luckily this ended the road walking as just past the church the path took a course through a hollow hedge for a short stretch and then out onto a field.  I headed for the Pleasure House, the rather strange folly that I remember from last time on this section of coast.  Now reunited with the coast path at last it was a short step from here down to Hartland Quay past the rather exquisite Rocket House.
Black Sheep
Hartland Quay is quite an oddity.  No longer a working quay it is rather remarkable it was ever used at all such is the treacherous looking coastline hereabouts.  Many ships didn't make it to the quay and the coast is littered with wrecks.  Now the buildings that served the quay are a hotel, pub, shop and even a small museum.  I provisioned myself and cracked on with what promised to be a challenging walk.  Given my late start it was already mid afternoon so I was not over-blessed with time.  A steep climb ensued and it was pretty clear that this was going to be a stretch of coast that had suffered from quite a lot of cliff erosion judging by the moved fence lines.
Thou Shalt Not Pass
Apart from the initial steep climb the first part of the walk wasn't too bad.  Once I had gained a bit of height the rather incredible rock formations carved out by the sea on the wave cut platform became evident.  Ahead of me was St Catherine's Point, an almost perfect conical shape but already being nibbled by the sea.  At the bottom was a delightful waterfall, doing its bit for erosion too. I reckon that within a thousand or so years this will have disappeared altogether and the sea will have claimed her prize.  I was relieved to see that the path went around the hill and not up and over it.  Surrounding the bottom was a field full of black sheep.  I wondered whether there was a 'white sheep of the family' but evidently not.  I can honestly say that this is the first time I have ever seen a field exclusively filled with black sheep.
Speke's Mill Mouth
A little further on and I came upon the fabulous Speke's Hill Mouth complete with waterfall.  This is one of the most famous spots on the coast path and rightly so.  However, without a drone to take an overhead shot from it isn't easy to get a picture that does the place justice.  I walked a little way up the valley behind the falls and was warned that the cows blocking my path were a bit testy.  Lucky for me they moved off just far enough away that I could cross the bridge across the stream safely and proceed on my way.  I then had the choice of the clifftop route and the valley route going forward.  This turned out to be the wrong choice as further up the valley I came upon another herd of cows that completely blocked my way and didn't look like they were in the mood for moving on.  The first couple moved out of the way but there was one behind that looked more determined and I could envisage her big horns coming for me and so I decided to take a detour up the slope away from the path.

Mansley Cliff
I'm not sure I was quite prepared for how far up the slope I would have to get before finding the other path but it was good practice for what would be coming later.  Once I was at the top of this slope I faced some relatively easy walking for a while on mostly level cliffs with just small undulations.  Mansley Cliff was particularly striking especially against the sunshine lighting up a dark cloud behind.  Just past here and I found myself on a road and wondered how hard this section was going to get.  Are most of the climbs on the southern section and therefore already completed?  I was soon disavowed of this notion when just past the biggest clump of foxgloves I have ever seen I found myself at the top of a very large valley at Welcombe Mouth.

Cliff Line
Now the serious part of the walk was to start.  From here to Morwenstow I had four deep valleys to negotiate and the path plunged down from over 100 metres to sea level and back up the other side.  I wasn't sure I knew this at the time - possibly a good thing!  The first valley was at Welcombe Mouth, which certainly lived up to its name.  A very scenic valley slightly off the beaten track and judging from the small number of vehicles in the car park yet to be discovered by the masses.  I certainly wasn't complaining though - large numbers of people would soon swamp this beautiful place and it would lose its magic.  The waterfalls here were particularly lovely.

Cornish Border
Having come almost down to sea level I then puffed my way back up the other side. I did not really get any chance to enjoy some level ground following my climb.  The next descent was almost immediate and past Ronald Duncan's Hut, which was open for visits.  I popped in to take a look and could  immediately see what an inspiring place it must have been to write.  Ronald Duncan was a writer, poet and playwright who lived nearby and used this hut for his works.  Now open to the passing visitor it makes for a refuge we can all enjoy.  I imagine on the windier days on the path hikers find it a particularly welcoming spot.

Looking Back Into Devon
Again I slithered down to the valley floor, although not quite as deep this time.  The footbridge at the bottom marked the boundary between Devon and Cornwall and for me marked completion of all of the Devon Coast Path.  It felt like an achievement although a slightly strange location to reach this milestone.  The border was marked on each side by some wooden signs - Cornwall's being rather more welcoming than Devon's.

Level Section
Having crossed the bridge and therefore the border I had to clamber up the other side of the valley.  I got a little more flat ground to walk across before plunging down again, this time into Litter Mouth.  Progress had slowed considerably by now as a combination of the heat, rocky path and lung busting ascent all took their toll.  I was relieved when I reached the top of the ascent from Litter Mouth as for a time at least there was a level section of walk that allowed me to get my breath back.  The respite was short lived though as the next valley at Yeolmouth was less than a quarter of a mile away.  By the time I got up to Henna Cliff the sight of Morwenstow Church finally came into view and I cannot begin to tell you how welcome it was!

Morwenstow Church
By rights I should have had one more plunging valley before reaching the church but unusually I was very relieved to see that the path ahead of me was blocked because of cliff erosion further on.  If I had been walking on to Bude I would have had to divert around Morwenstow church.  As I wasn't it gave me the legitimate excuse of taking the short cut across the field back to my car.  It was a relief after the rollercoaster nature of the last couple of miles of the walk.  I had admiration for those walkers that do the whole section to Bude from Hartland Quay but I was pleased that I hadn't!

Thursday, 28 June 2018

South West Coast Path Section 42 Bigbury on Sea to Hope Cove

Hope Cove
This annoying little section has bugged me for a while and I had intended to polish it off during my February visit to Devon but was stymied by the weather.  I had far from ideal conditions on this day either but it was a walk rather borne of necessity after I had driven the 200 miles from Worthing to Morwenstow through beautiful sunshine to find that coast bathed in fog, so much so that I could barely see the church.  I had no confidence that any of the North Coast of Cornwall would be free of fog and it showed no signs of relenting and on that basis I reluctantly got back in my car and drove down to Hope Cove just so I could finish this part of the walk off.  As with the section from Erme Mouth to Bigbury I had to complete this as an out and back walk in the absence of any public transport.

Lone Poppy

I drove south across the moors and the sun soon made an appearance again.  Even Dartmoor was bathed in sunshine!  I was feeling quite good about my decision until I took the road down to Hope Cove and with only a mile to go the fog descended once again.  The air inside the car turned a little blue I can tell you!  Fortunately it wasn't as thick here and I could at least something of the view along the shore. 
Help me!
Despite the murky conditions there were plenty of people on the shore, probably because it was still half term.  The cloud had relented a bit and although it wasn't possible to see the headlands either side of the Cove the beach was fully in sight.  My first task was to climb up and out of the cove.  Luckily although the climb was steep it wasn't actually very long.  I was soon atop the thrift covered clifftops and feeling good after being cooped up in a car for longer than I should have been.  In a way this short stretch was just the right sort of walk to get me going for the weekend.
Stonechat
My clifftop walk did not last long.  At the first sign of houses a little further on the path deviated inland briefly to dogleg around their gardens.  Despite the poor visibility there were plenty of walkers around and when I passed by the National Trust at South Milton Sands they optimistically predicted further sunny spells to come.  I suspected that the other walkers were showing the same faith as me.  The café here was also a clue - I imagine the stroll is possibly the precursor to tea and cake...
Thurlestone
I pushed on past the café - I didn't think I had done nearly enough to justify tea and cake myself.  In among the green field of wheat I passed was a solitary poppy.  Despite the fact that it was the only one it really did stand out; probably because of the lack of sunshine which heightened its vibrant colour.  The path rounded the field and I had to cross a bridge over South Milton Ley.  Apparently this is the second largest reed bed in Devon (after the much larger Slapton Ley I imagine).  As I looked down from the bridge I got quite a shock as for all the world I thought I caught sight of a hand beckoning me into the water below.  Upon second viewing I realised it was a discarded rubber glove and laughed to myself for being so startled!
Avon Estuary
I climbed up an over another small headland on the edge of Thurlestone and headed down a road that had succumbed to cliff erosion, now acting only as a private driveway to the last house.  The missing stretch looked rather forlorn and probably has been this way for at least the last 20 years judging from the infill of the stub by the surrounding sand dunes.  By now the mist was relenting nicely and views across the next bay were opening up revealing an extensive sandy beach.  The golf course to my right was rather empty - presumably players need to see the ball when they play!  As I wandered along this section I was followed by a stonechat who almost seemed to be willing me to take a picture of it.  I duly obliged :)
Surfing
At the other end of the bay the coast got distinctly wilder.  I climbed a much bigger headland and soon the familiar shape of Burgh Island came into view.  Just as it was earlier in the year when I came the causeway across to the island was exposed and people were going backwards and forwards across the sand to see this curious place.  I was pleased that the mist had really cleared a lot by this point exposing the fantastic view across the River Avon estuary before me.  The walk across the headland was a good little workout to get me warmed up for tougher tests in the next couple of days.  I wandered down to the mouth of the Avon and looked out across this obstacle, feeling rather pleased that I never had to actually test out the wading across.
Kestrel
Once I had completed the three mile walk across here from Hope Cove there was nothing for it but to retrace my steps back.  I got the best conditions at the Avon mouth - the return leg of the walk saw a return of much of the mist.  It was notable though for an encounter I had with a kestrel.  The number of times I have seen a kestrel hovering and waiting to pounce I have never actually see one make a kill.  This time I got lucky as the kestrel managed to catch the hapless mouse it had been stalking.  I watched it for some time eating and it kept looking up at me in case I wanted to steal its mouse entrails.  Finally it decided I was too much of a threat and away it went carrying the remains away for a quieter place to eat.

Lost Road
That was the last excitement on the return leg - unusually I thought the outward walk (in the wrong direction compared to usual) was more interesting than the return.  Sadly the fog did detract from the enjoyment of the walk once again but when the view opened up across the Avon estuary it was worth seeing and the remnants of cloud added some atmosphere.  I think if I were to come back to this area I would probably try to include this section in the next part along to Salcombe.


Saturday, 23 June 2018

South West Coast Path Section 11 Morwenstow to Bude

Morwenstow Church
The stretch of coast path from Hartland Quay to Bude has long since vexed me.  It is 15 miles in length and I have always though possibly more than I could do in one day both for practical and fitness reasons.  The guide book had suggested that it could be broken at Morwenstow and I therefore decided that this would be by far the best way of tackling it.  My new problem was that only one bus serves Morwenstow each day (and not at all on Sundays) and it didn't leave Bude until after 1pm.  I decided to do the second half first on that basis as a) it was the easier and shorter of the two and b) I had to drive 220 miles home afterwards!
Clifftop at Morwenstow
The good news weatherwise was that the mist which had bedevilled this part of the coast for the last two days had finally relented and blown away.  The bad news was that it had been replaced by a band of rain and I certainly didn't fancy walking in that today.  The weather forecaster assured me that sunshine would follow in the afternoon so I pitched up in Bude showing faith.  It was still raining when I caught the bus although there were signs that it would cheer up.  By the time I got to Morwenstow after a rattly and bumpy ride the rain had gone and was replaced by a decent amount of sunshine.  Unsurprisingly I was the only person who alighted at Morwentstow, a small hamlet seemingly miles from anywhere.
Hawker's Hut
It was still a mile or so from the bus stop to the coast path and on the way through I paused briefly at Morwenstow church, a splendid affair high on the hills above the rugged northern Cornish coast.  There is a pretty full churchyard here - sadly many of the graves belong to shipwrecked sailors from this dangerous coast apparently.  I pushed on through the fields to the coast and turned left when the edge of the cliff beckoned.  As I did so the sun went in and for a few minutes the sky looked threatening again.  I gritted my teeth and carried on knowing that realistically I would have to walk whatever the weather as there would be no bus back today.
Climbing
My first stop along the way was the diminutive Hawker's Hut.  This is the smallest property owned by the National Trust and is said to have been created from driftwood by the eccentric clergyman Robert Hawker.  Hawker used the hut to contemplate and write poetry and even had some famous guests hang out with him including Charles Kingsley and Alfred Tennyson.  Sitting in here and looking at the view I could certainly see the attraction.  Fortunately I had the place to myself but didn't get long - another couple were along soon behind me as I was leaving.

Gorse
Not long past the Hawker's Hut and I plunged down into my first valley with a steep climb the other side.  Some National Trust volunteers were hard at work on the path and I chatted with them briefly as I steeped gingerly past their efforts.  Of course what goes down must come up on the coast path and I was soon climbing back up the other side of the valley.  Feeling a bit puffed I was quite pleased to see a watcher's hut at the top.  This unheralded structure had clearly seen better days but it did shelter me from the stiff breeze.  As I lingered over the view with a drink I could see that the clouds were once again parting and allowing some good sunshine through - this boded well for the rest of the walk.
Orchid
The next major ascent was just that - a very steep section of path that took me up to the very strange looking GCHQ site complete with golf ball radar installations and satellite dishes.  It all looked a bit James Bond and rather incongruous up here on the North Cornish cliffs.  As I approached I had the sense of being watched by the CCTV cameras stationed along the huge perimeter fence.  There were also lots of signs telling me not to take pictures and clearly I did not want to be accused of espionage!  I skirted around the facility dodging the boggy sections and taking advantage of some former concrete roads that probably once served barracks or some other such related military installation.  Clearly not needed now this part of the facility had been returned to open access to allow the passage of walkers.
GCHQ
As I went across the crest of the hill (Sharpnose Point) the magnificent view of the remaining part of the day's walking opened up.  Waves were racing into shore along the line of sandy beaches between here and Bude and the resultant spray obscured visibility a bit but nothing like the last couple of days. The sheep grazing up here were probably completely oblivious to the view that they were lucky enough to enjoy.  The view across the tops of the cliffs was short-lived though because I was soon descending to Duckpool.  The descent was extremely memorable as the path zig zagged down the side of a very rocky cliff until getting to a picturesque valley floor and beach just beyond.  Being a weekday it wasn't at all busy - just one lonely camper van and a couple of dog walkers.  I can imagine it getting very busy during a summer weekend though as any beach with road access is normally a honeypot for surfers and beach worshippers.  A lonely cottage along the valley was surely the ultimate country retreat?
Sharpnose Point View
I puffed up the other side of the valley little knowing that I had now completed the hardest part of the day's walking.  From here to Bude the climbs would get less severe with each valley that I crossed.  I felt something of a fraud only doing a half section but the thought of a whole day of this seemed too much.  Just past Warren Point I became aware of the expanse of sandy beaches below the cliffs.  Dogs were barking in the distance and I soon realised that most of the visitors were with dogs along this stretch of coast.  Balls and sticks combined with waves are surely every dog's dream?
Duckpool
I passed by another car park, virtually empty on this Tuesday afternoon out of school holidays.  Sadly for me that also meant that the café was shut but this is surely a welcome spot for walkers on a day it is open.  A short climb out of the car park followed and after this the going was surprisingly easy.  I also made progress a lot more quickly than I am used to on the coast path for not only were the gradients less severe but the underfoot conditions were springy turf for lengthy parts and this made for nice easy walking.  I remember mostly enjoying the geology of the beaches here - the strata of the rocks have been contorted by folding and erosion had exposed some very strange patterns in the rock as a result.
Northcott Mouth
After Northcott Mouth I was surprised how quickly Bude came upon me.  In fact I arrived about an hour before I estimated that I would - circumstances that are almost unheard of!  I was parked at the back of Crooklets Beach but in order to fully complete the section into Bude I walked on by the colourful beach huts and around a golf course until I reached the harbour mouth.  Below me at the entrance to the harbour was a saltwater pool - not in use because it was low tide.  It didn't look very inviting to be honest.  Most of the beach visitors were concentrated far off by the low tide part just beyond the RNLI lifeguards.  The numbers were soon swelled by extras who had headed down here presumably after work.  I looped around and back to my car hugely satisfied with my half day activity and still fighting fit for the journey home.

Crooklets Beach Bude

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

South West Coast Path Section 27 Porthleven to The Lizard

Porthleven Harbour
This was a most unexpected day.  Following my disaster with the fog the day before I had high hopes of a change in the weather today.  Imagine my disappointment when I looked out of the window of my hotel in Tintagel to see fog so thick I could barely see my car in the car park immediately outside.  While the whole of England was basking in beautiful sunshine the Bristol Channel was covered in a fog bank that somehow just managed to reach the very edges of the coastline.  Evidently inland was spared this fog and would enjoy summer temperatures for the rest of the day.  Desperately I cast around for an alternative place to walk and landed on the Lizard peninsula as the only realistic proposition.  I had no idea that it was 2 hours drive away from Tintagel!  I also had to face the fact that I needed to get the bus at the end of the walk; something I really hate doing as I feel the stress of the deadline all day.
Harbour Inn
I parked up in Porthleven and wandered around the town for a bit to get some provisions.  I wanted to get a map as I didn't bring my guidebook, not expecting to come to this section of the walk.  Sadly I didn't find one and so had to wing it.  I guess that having the coast on the right hand side of me all day and regular signage was a sure fire way of not getting lost but I was still a little haunted by the wrong turn in the fog yesterday.  As it happens I only managed to leave the fog behind at Helston, just a couple of miles away from my day's starting point.
Leaving Porthleven
I walked along the harbour wall and past the famous clock tower that seems to take quite a beating from the storm waves that overwhelm the harbour wall from time to time.  I then negotiated my way through the narrow streets to eventually find myself out in the open countryside at last.  Despite the early season (May) it was already building into a warmer summer like day and once I was safely away from town I doused myself in sun cream and made sure my hat was properly fitted.
Diversion Required
 It wasn't too long before I reached a path closed sign and contemplated the rather lengthy diversion that would take me through the Penrose Estate.  It wasn't a great prospect to be honest.  Fortunately for me I ran into a local here and he was bullish about the prospect of bypassing the problem area and basically staying on the same route.  I followed him expecting to have to turn back.  Initially we couldn't see the problem but when we got the headland in the distance we could immediately see that an enormous chunk of cliff had been removed by the sea and the rubble on the wave cut platform was now being rearranged by the sea.  Without a set of wings it would have been impossible to pass but luckily there was enough heathland above that we could skirt around quite safely.
Loe Bar
I was grateful that I did not have to take the two-mile diversion.  No doubt that it was useful time and energy saved for later in the day.  As I rounded the headland I rejoined the path and ahead of me was Loe Bar, a curious feature that I once learned about in Geography.  This sand bar was said to have been formed by a giant called Tregeagle who dropped the sand from a bag he was carrying.  The Bar traps a largish lake called The Loe and is currently being worked on by the Environment Agency (to help with flooding).  Somehow as I crossed the shingle bar (not my favourite surface for walking on) I got the sense that it wasn't anything like I had expected.  I'm not actually sure what I expected - maybe a bit more vegetation?  Of course being a dynamic shingle spit that was probably unrealistic.

Anson Memorial
As I crossed I came upon a couple of ladies who were heading in my direction and with whom I would play cat and mouse for some time.  I allowed them to pass me as I wandered over to the monument just the other side of Loe Bar. This memorial was to the 100 or so people that perished when HMS Anson was beached in a storm in 1807.  The locals were unable to help anyone from the ship at the time and as a result of this incident Henry Trengrouse devised a safety system based on a rocket and line that could be fired from ship or shore to help with future rescues.

Orchid
The next stretch of coast had clearly taken a bit of a pounding as chunks of cliff were missing and I again had to take some diversions to negotiate it.  One section took an inland bridleway and I had to be sharp eyed to notice the route back to the coast path.  The ladies hadn't noticed and were too far ahead for me to call them back.  I wasn't even sure they were going my way so left them to it.  I headed down to the nearby cove and passed by a very well appointed holiday cottage with a surprising flat garden in which a rather serious game of cricket was going on.  Much to my surprise many of the players wished me a good day as I passed by and that rather boosted my spirits.  By now I was already beginning to feel the heat of the day and rather hoped that at Church Cove there might be an ice cream van or something.

Cow Parsley
I climbed up on to Halzephron Cliff and this little stretch of the path was perhaps my favourite of the entire day.  The flowers alongside the path were truly magnificent and the air was pungent with all the spring scents that vie for the attention of bee's noses.  The view back towards Porthleven and across towards Penzance was quite something too.  I took a moment to enjoy the view and refresh myself.  As I did so I got talking to another coast path veteran - a man who had walked it in both directions!  It made my effort seem rather laboured in comparison.

Gunwalloe Church
On my way down to Church Cove I both caught sight of armies of dog walkers coming up towards me from the car park below and also the two ladies I thought I had lost a while back.  They passed me at Church Cove as I took advantage of the much needed refreshment shack at the National Trust car park.  Before moving on from Church Cove I took a look at the small Gunwalloe Church that looks as if it could easily be engulfed by sand at any time.  It rather reminded me of St Piran's earlier in the walk, although this one is clearly still used regularly.

Looking Back to Church Cove
The next stage of the walk took on a new character as effectively I was skipping from cove to cove.  Each of the coves were initially popular bathing beaches (Poldhu and Polurrian) and then a small port (Mullion) and then some pretty remote and wild looking ones until Kynance.  Poldhu was the first and particularly popular.  The road at the back of the cove was completely covered in cars and every inch of verge was taken.  I was astonished at the way some beach visitors had left their cars and wondered whether any traffic warden headed this way?  If they had they would have made a lot of money from parking tickets.  Overlooking the cove was a very handsome looking building which had the resemblance of a hotel (in fact it was marked on the map as such) but actually an old people's home.  Not a bad place to serve out the last few years of your life but if I were there I would be itching to get down on that beach regularly.  Behind the home is an amateur radio club marking the point at which Marconi made the first transatlantic radio message back in 1901 - can it really be that little time ago?

Marconi Monument
I passed the ladies once again having a spot of lunch by another monument, this time to the Marconi transmission.  I had wanted to take a close up picture of the monument but couldn't really do so without including a couple of shirtless teenage boys using it as a seat and deep in conversation.  It was clear they weren't going anywhere soon!  I took the opportunity to pass the ladies and get some distance between us again.  Sadly I surrendered this past Polurrian Cove as I stopped for lunch and refreshment only for the ladies to catch up with me again.  I joked with them that they were following me - not sure the joke was understood as I finally realised that judging from their accent that they were Dutch.  Strangely I lost them completely at Mullion Cove just a little further on - I reckon they found a tea shop there.

Mullion Cove
Mullion Cove was a delight.  The small cove had been turned into a small harbour in Victorian times and this engineering somehow enhanced the place.  Just offshore is the miniscule Mullion Island - one of a number of mini-nature reserves littering this coastline.  Because they are so difficult to reach they have developed into vitally important nesting sites for seabirds and thriving havens for wildflowers.  For me the onward part of the walk was perhaps the wildest and loneliest of the day.

Mullion Island
The walkers from Mullion soon thinned out and I was left with magnificent cliffs on one side and a wide expanse of moorland on the other.  Much of the inland is actually taken up by Predannack Airfield and way off in the distance I could see the radar installations associated with the place.  I guess its presence and the preclusion of development as a result adds to the loneliness of this stretch of coast.  I crossed a couple of rocky valleys and also had to negotiate a couple of boggy areas before I decided that my feet really needed cooling off.  I took the opportunity to dunk them in a stream and how welcome that was!

Wild Coast
Eventually I found my way to Kynance Cliff and the most amazing view down towards The Lizard across Kynance Cove.  The cove itself is justifiably popular - the beach was jammed with people and many had taken the opportunity to head up the cliff and find sitting positions overlooking the view.  I clambered down into the Cove and took advantage of the café there.  I was really quite hot and bothered by now and the cold drink I got there went down a treat.  I made my way through the crowds at the back of the beach negotiating some large rocks as I did so.  It wasn't actually very easy climbing up and away from the beach as despite the fact that it was by now late afternoon I very much seemed to be swimming against the tide - more people were heading down than going up.  Climbing had to be done gingerly too for the dry serpentine rock was extremely slippery.
Kynance Cove
The walk over to Lizard Point was fairly easy going after all the ups and downs of the coves earlier and I managed to enjoy the last hour or so of the walk without feeling the pressure of time.  The Point itself was rather full of people and I didn't linger deciding instead to push on to a viewpoint above Polpeor Cove and the former Lizard Lifeboat Station.  Clearly not used any more I was very surprised to see how long it has been closed - the last launching was in 1961!  The new lifeboat station is on the other side of the Lizard in a more sheltered spot.  It is easy to see why this more exposed location didn't work so well and it was the expense of repairs that did for it.

View From The Lizard
I finally summoned up the energy for one last push to the end of the road at The Lizard and after a brief pause to enjoy the view I decided to head up into the village and my bus back to Porthleven.  This is a bit of a tortuous route as I had to change buses in Helston - don't expect a quick journey if you take this option.  On the whole a hugely satisfying day and my decision to do this was justified despite the late hour that I got back to Tintagel.

Kynance Lifeboat Station