Tuesday, 11 May 2010

South West Coast Path Section 25 Porthcurno - Penzance

After our trip out to Porthleven, I was particularly excited about walking the section of path from Porthcurno around to Penzance.  With the weather forecast looking a lot better, I was keen to make the most of the morning but a quick check of the bus timetables suggested that we would have to get the bus over to Porthcurno at 6.45am in order to restrict ourselves to a morning walk.  Cripes!  I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to persuade my wife to come this time on account of the early morning, but in the event she was eager to have another outing.
Treen Cliff

So it was that we found ourselves at the bus station at the crack of dawn, still quite dark and with a lot of other people waiting with us.  We soon realised though that all the others were getting the National Express coach and when our bus arrived the driver looked most surprised to see us!  In fact we were the only passengers on the open top bus for the whole journey to Porthcurno.  We did not try the open top though – it was too perishing cold for that!  On the way we saw the sun rise, which was a beautiful sight above the daffodil fields of this corner of south west Cornwall.

By the time we reached the village of Porthcurno (famous for the Minack Theatre and the Telegraph Museum) it was getting pretty light and the day was shaping up to be an absolute cracker.  The start of the day’s walking set the tone for the first two-thirds of the day when we faced a steep climb to get up onto the top of the cliffs heading eastwards.  It was a relatively modest climb (as in fact all of them would be today when taken in isolation), but over a period of time these would start to take their toll just by their sheer number.

As we got to the top of the hill we could see the terraces of the Minack Theatre over on the western side of the village (and where we had visited with the rest of the family just a few days before).  On our side we passed a pill box, almost buried underneath gorse bushes and brambles.  It was hard to imagine a scenario where German forces would really have tried an invasion at this point, but then I suppose everywhere had to be defended just in case.  A little further along the path was a fortification of a different sort as we passed an Iron Age hill fort at the top of Treen Cliff.  At this point we passed our first walker of the day – a lone female who was less than friendly (maybe the early hour?).  A rather more welcome sight came into view here as well; at long last we welcomed the early morning sun as we had finally gained enough height to catch sight of the early morning rays.  Sadly it was rather too bright now for any decent pictures and the red ball we had seen half an hour ago or so on the bus had now given way to a much brighter orange.
Lonely Allotment

The path rounded Cribba Head and we descended once again almost to sea level and the picturesque National Trust owned village of Penberth.  There wasn’t much life in the village at this early hour, but crucially there was a small toilet which proved to be a lifesaver.  The size of our task today was starting to hit home as we climbed up out of the cove.  The path ahead appeared to be like a big dipper, up and down as we were along short sections of cliff and plunging down into deep coves every few minutes.  In this early morning our feet and trousers were getting quite wet from the dewy grass alongside the path.  This, coupled with trying to cling to the narrow path, made progress much slower than we anticipated.  It did however, give us plenty of opportunity to take in our surroundings and the combination of bright sunlight, jagged rocks and glass like sea were truly stunning. 
Rugged Coast

On the way round to Porthguarnon we passed by the most of unusual of allotment sites, a small area of flat land perched high up on the cliff top that could only be accessed from a very steep path and steps down from our point.  Almost completely surrounded by vegetation it looked like a tough place to grow vegetables, but there were several rows of seedlings in place and the soil structure looked well-worked.  At Porthguarnon we passed by a small waterfall and proto-valley, not yet completely formed by erosion before once again climbing high up onto the cliff top.
St Loy's Cove

The cliff top walking was once again quite short-lived as we dropped down into the almost tropical St Loy’s Cove.  This was a beautifully wooded cove, full of rhododendrons and other flowering shrubs.  At the foot was a house that served once as a tea house (no longer sadly as the owners recently retired).  Its garden was full of spring flowering bulbs and the whole cove was like paradise.  If you fancy staying here you can look the owners up online at http://www.cornwall-online.co.uk/accommodation-serviced.htm.  Walking along the shoreline in the cove was a welcome change from the clifftop walking mostly experienced so far, although at one point traversing the rocky beach was quite challenging!
Lamorna Woods

We were soon headed back up to higher ground to meet the next headland, Boscarwen Point.  We now had a mile or so of high level walking without any ascents or descents, which was a bit of a relief.  We soon passed a group of coastguard cottages, which on a day like this must command the most amazing views.  The reason for their existence soon became clear when shortly after we passed Tater-Du lighthouse, far below us on what didn’t seem to be a particularly prominent spot.  I assume it protects against shipping getting too close to underwater rocks.  The walk from here on to Lamorna Cove was a lot more challenging as we climbed up and over Rosemodress Cliff, where the path clung to the side of the coast for dear life.  This would not be a walk for the faint hearted on a windy day!  We were very relieved that conditions were so benign today.  Soon we rounded Tregurnow Cliff where the path ahead was extremely rocky and for the last few hundred metres into Lamorna Cove it felt more like a scramble than a hike.  Progress was extremely slow as we gingerly picked our way along the path, trying to guard against twisted ankles.  Imagine our relief when we finally reached flat ground in the shape of the car park at Lamorna Cove. 
Carn Du

The Cove is a oasis of civilisation on this wild coast, with a café, a toilet block and a few houses.  Allegedly there is a pub although it was sufficiently off the path for us not to see it.  There wasn’t a lot of life at the café this morning, with the staff seemingly getting ready for the day ahead and not seeing to be ready for incoming customers.  We decided to push on to Mousehole, about three miles further on where we figured there would be more choice.  Getting there was a struggle though – by now we were starting to feel the up and down climbing, clinging to narrow paths and scrambling over rocks, all very stamina sapping hiking.  The walk around to Carn Du was delightful though, with the now strong sunshine showing the best of the gorse and goldfinches flitting through the bushes.  The views back into Lamorna Cove were quite superb, while Carn Du itself looked like yet another jagged headland, although it soon transpired that this was much more than that.  As we turned at the headland we immediately saw that this point was in fact the change from open sea to our right to the relative calm of St Michael’s Bay and far away in the distance we could see the island itself

Ahead is the nature reserve of Kemyel Crease, which has a Scots Pine woodland at its heart.  Apparently there were once fields of commercially grown daffodils, and farmers cottages but these are completely engulfed by undergrowth and can’t be detected from the path itself.  Even now the path had a few last tricky parts, not least the fast flowing streams that were welcome for their ice cold water on the forehead.  As we made our last climb to Spaniards Point (named after a raiding party that came for Mousehole and Newlyn) we had to avail ourselves of the seat at the top which was donated by Paul Parish Council.  With my name it couldn’t be missed could it?
Lamorna Cove

Finally this marked the change in today’s route.  We had completed the difficult bit and now faced flat road walking for most of the rest of the distance into Penzance.  We joined the narrow road leading down into Mousehole and headed down into the narrow maze of streets that is a feature of so many of these picturesque Cornish fishing villages.  By now it was 11am and our tummies were starting to growl.  There was nothing for it but to get some pasties in and sit on the side of the harbour and watch the world go by.  Fast food it wasn’t!  My pasty was absolutely molten inside, which rendered it impossible to eat quickly and our ten minute stop turned into twenty-five as I struggled to consume this boiling snack!  We did at least have the fantastic harbour to watch over, a view that helped pass the time!
Kemyel Crease

Far from being a chore the last three miles into Penzance along the coast road were actually quite a relief after the tough walking of earlier in the day.  Heading out of Mousehole our eyes were drawn to the characterful allotments alongside the road, some complete with homespun looking sculptures that made us smile.  Further along the road was a more poignant sight as we passed the now empty Penlee Lifeboat Station, left as a memorial to the crew that lost their lives as they tried to rescue the crew from a freighter a few miles offshore.  Sadly all hands on the ship were lost too, making this one of the worst shipping tragedies of recent years.  The lifeboat will no longer set off from this station as it has been permanently closed and the lifeboat moved to nearby Newlyn.

The path continued around the road for a short distance more before an opportunity arose to use a parallel path recently created as part of National Cycle Route 3.  It was good to get away from the road for a short while but as we approached Newlyn we soon found ourselves back on the pavement as we headed through this still busy port, now a shadow of its former self.  There were still plenty of clues as to how the busiest of all Cornish fishing ports must have once looked with so much infrastructure still in place albeit now being used for other things.  My eyes were also drawn to the tidal observatory on the harbour mouth, which is the point from which all tidal information for the UK is derived.
Penlee Memorial

We passed quickly through Newlyn and soon we were out onto the wide promenade that separates Newlyn from the much bigger town of Penzance.  It seemed an age to walk the last mile into town and even when we got to what we thought was our destination just by the remarkable lido on the seafront there was a nasty shock in store when we had another half mile around to the bus station where we had parked early that morning.  Even though it seemed an age to walk the last section we actually completed the 3 ½ miles from Penzance in just over an hour which wasn’t bad going considering the workout we had had on the first nine miles of the day!  By now the weather had warmed up considerably and being that it was still only noon we still had the rest of the day to enjoy (as it happens we went to explore St Michael’s Mount).

This is a walk of two halves, with the first few miles being quite desolate and tough going in places.  Amazingly I discovered that we had managed 2000 feet of ascent on the walk, which perhaps explains the tight calves at the end.  Some of the rocky sections are not for the faint hearted and I’m not sure I would want to attempt some parts on a windy day.  The second part around the built up part of St Michael’s Bay is full of human interest and no less enjoyable.  On such a beautiful day the road walking wasn’t a chore but on a gloomy day it would probably feel endless!  One last thing – don’t be tempted to do the bus journey at the end of the walk – there are too few services to guarantee making a connection.
Penzance Memorial

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