Wednesday, 26 May 2010

London LOOP section 8 Hatton Cross - Uxbridge

Heathrow Country
Following my slightly unsatisfactory experience on the LOOP last time, I was determined to ensure that this section would be walked continuously so I decided to hang the expense and park in one of the town centre car parks in Uxbridge. This promised to be the first section of the LOOP where I would make my way to the start via the London Underground. Imagine my disappointment then when I found that there were no Underground trains today running to Heathrow and buses were running instead. In fact no direct buses to Heathrow were running from Uxbridge as this is on a separate part of the Picadilly line. I therefore had to travel to the start by ordinary service bus to Heathrow and change for Hatton Cross, a journey that took almost an hour to complete.
River Crane Bridge
Once at Hatton Cross I had to retrace my steps along the Great South West Road (A30), which was a noisy and unpleasant exercise. However, when I reached the River Crane bridge I was able to resume my walk on the LOOP proper and almost immediately entered a world of calm away from the busy road. In fact the walk along through Crane Park was unbelievably rural, considering its close proximity to Heathrow Airport. Noise from passing jets shattered any illusions though and for a twenty minute spell as I passed immediately under the flight paths of landing aeroplanes I was amazed at how low they actually were. I could almost wave to the passengers they were that close! A little further on and I passed through the built up area of Cranford (a far cry from the rural idyll portrayed on the BBC series of the same name). The 1930s housing that I walked through must be a joy for plane spotters, but a nightmare for light sleepers! I couldn’t help but wonder how these people enjoyed the brief respite the other week when the volcano ban was in place?
St Dunstan's Church
I crossed the A4 and entered Cranford Countryside Park, yet another oasis of calm amidst all the frantic transport corridors that pass through this area to the west of London. This park was surprisingly quiet, with a new looking play area completely deserted despite it being a sunny Saturday morning at a reasonable time (1030). Further on though there were planes of a different nature being flown around as I passed some young men putting their radio-controlled model aircraft through their paces. From a distance they sounded like angry wasps and possibly far more annoying than the thunderous noises of the real jet aircraft now receding into the distance behind me.
Cranford House
Ahead I could now hear the roar of the traffic on the approaching M4 and yet the motorway itself was quite well hidden. Instead my view was only of the River Crane and St Dunstans Church, which was once the local church for the now demolished Cranford House. Despite its location right next to junction 3 of the M4, I’ll bet that most drivers are completely unaware of the existence of this little area of calmness. I passed by the church and headed around the back to an even more surprising sight; the old stable block from the country estate which is still intact and serves as a park depot for the London Borough of Hillingdon, which proudly announced on posters that it had only just taken over management of the park.
Bulls Bridge
I passed underneath the M4 and continued through woodland and then scrubland until reaching more busy roads. As I approached the first of these by the aptly name Crane pub, I got a sudden overwhelming smell of roasting coffee. The smell was absolutely wonderful and it stayed with me the whole way across the A312 canal bridge, fortunately drowning out the smell of car fumes. As I got to the apex of the bridge it became clear where the smell was emanating from – it was not some twee little coffee shop but the large Nestle factory by the bank of the Grand Union Canal a little further on. I couldn’t help think that the smell of the factory was far better than the finished product!
Grand Union Canal
On the other side of the canal bridge I had to drop down to canal level. This involved a very annoying spiral arrangement which had obviously been put in place for wheelchairs, buggies and bicycles but which was very irritating for the walker (couldn’t they have put in steps as well?). At canal level I headed the short distance along the towpath in the wrong direction so I could take a look at Bulls Bridge, an old canal bridge crossing the junction of the Grand Union Canal and its branch to Paddington Basin. It’s an iconic structure in these parts, but sadly not universally loved as its white paint was seriously defaced by the local graffiti yobs.
Stockley Park
This was the point at which I finally said goodbye to the River Crane to follow another watercourse that will be my on and off companion not just for the rest of today but also a big chunk of the next day’s walking of this route. The Grand Union Canal is one of the best known canals in the country, since it forms a direct (if slightly tortuous) route from London to Birmingham. There were certainly quite a few boats about although mostly pleasure trippers rather than anyone carrying freight. I could feel my pace pick up considerably as I had no worries about navigation for awhile. Alongside the canal was a scene of transition with old derelict buildings slowly giving way to gentrified apartment blocks and gleaming office buildings. As with so many canal walks I largely felt divorced from the surrounding area and through this section in particular I seemed to be below street level most of the time.
Over-Engineered Bridge
Eventually after I had passed through Hayes (a different one than the one earlier on the LOOP), the path took a sharp right turn to leave the canal behind. I had been tempted to continue along the towpath as I was enjoying it so much, but in the event I decided to take a look at the shiny business park that other correspondents had waxed lyrical about. As soon as I left the canal it was like a different world. Apparently the whole area had been reclaimed from gravel workings and was now a landscaped park with lots of prestigious glass fronted office buildings (see http://www.stockleypark.co.uk/Index.html for more details). As it was a Saturday the area was deathly quiet, with very little activity of any sort going on. I couldn’t help but be amused by the sight of a bus touring the estate vainly looking for passengers on such a quiet day. Looking at the buildings I rather suspect that most employees here come in executive vehicles anyway on a weekday, rather than by London bus!
Putt-Putt Along the Canal
In fact I was so caught up with looking at my surroundings that I got a bit lost and ended up looking at rather more of the estate than the designers of the LOOP had intended! Eventually I corrected myself and headed out past the golf course club house adjacent, which was rather busier as you might expect. Eventually I came to a curiously large bridge across the A408 to take me into Stockley Country Park, another reclamation project. Once in the park I wandered up to the highest point where there is a surprisingly extensive viewpoint across this part of West London. Already the jets in and out of Heathrow looked quite distant and despite the LOOP’s best endeavours to keep me out of built up areas I could now get a sense of the hugeness of the Metropolis which surrounded me. I didn’t hang around too long, on account of the very slobbery dog that was busy trying to make friends. I didn’t fancy drool being wiped all over my legs so I continued on my way, heading back down towards the canal. As I passed through the housing estate at the bottom of the hill, I became aware of how quiet the neighbourhood was. I then realised why as today was cup final day and Chelsea were playing. I wouldn’t mind betting that this area of London is natural Chelsea territory and I suspect many people were staying in to watch the match. It was like the old days for me – in years gone by before the advent of wall to wall football on TV this was one of the few opportunities to watch live football when I was a lad.
Slough Arm Junction
I was relieved to meet with the canal once again. Although I enjoyed the business park, I found navigation to be more than a bit tricky and the certainty of canal walking was more agreeable. The canal towpath took me about a mile this time before another diversion, this time down the Slough branch of the canal for a short distance. I wondered whether the designers of the route had put in these diversions to provide the LOOP with more variety than a simple walk along the canal towpath. Anyhow the section through West Drayton was busier with walkers and boat traffic than further back. One boat in particular seemed to be following me most of the way, at one stage moving slower than I was while the driver conducted his social life on his mobile phone. By the time I got to the canal branch junction the banks were completely chock-a-block with all manner of boats hitched up to the valuable moorings. By the junction itself was a huge marina stuffed full of boats, showing just how popular this canal now is (possibly more popular than it ever has been?).
Brooding Sky
The Slough branch of the canal is clearly not so well used as the main channel, but I’m not sure what its current status is. The banks were less well defined and were more vegetated suggesting that there isn’t so much boat wash to suppress growth. I did find it curious to cross the Colne River via the canal aqueduct on the short stretch that the LOOP follows. I have of course crossed several canal aqueducts in the past, but I still can’t help feeling that it is a bit surreal. After half a mile or so, I crossed the canal via a substantial looking footbridge and headed towards Little Britain (no, not that one!). From the bridge, I could see one of the coal tax obelisks that were installed shortly after the Great Fire of London to mark the point at which traders had to pay tax in order to help pay for the damage. Sadly this particular old piece of history was daubed in graffiti, as so many other structures have been on today’s walk.
Parked Up
Little Britain was a revelation and I immediately understood why the path detoured away from the canal to bring the walker to have a look. The centrepiece was a large waterfowl-inhabited lake surrounded by willow trees. There were surprisingly few visitors to what should surely be a popular beauty spot. Around the lake was a perimeter path, which perhaps swallowed a few more visitors but for me the onward LOOP actually crossed the adjacent river and continued along the bank. Initially this was a very pleasant section of riverside walking and my nose was filled with the pungent smell of hawthorn blossom, a smell that I absolutely love at this time of year.
Little Britain
Soon though I reached a road bridge and the LOOP crossed to the other side of the river. Almost immediately the tone of the walk changed and slowly deteriorated until I found myself walking along the backs of derelict industrial units and building sites. Fortunately this rather unpleasant experience was fairly short-lived as eventually the path along the river was blocked off by the fencing of a building site and the LOOP headed off back towards the Grand Union Canal. I was relieved to get back to the canal and my mood lightened once again as I completed the last mile or so into Uxbridge. The canal itself was full of interest through here with literally hundreds of boats of all shapes and sizes moored along the banks. There was also a very busy looking repair yard on the opposite bank which caught my eye; I guess it had been here for a very long time indeed judging by its appearance.
Weir
The canal through Uxbridge did what many canals do best, they pass almost unnoticed through urban areas forming thin but discreet nature corridors. It made for enjoyable walking and when I reached the pub at the end of my walk, I actually felt like I could have continued for some time. I don’t think it will be too long before I complete the next stage!
Uxbridge Boatyard
This section of the LOOP provides an appetiser for anyone thinking about walking the Grand Union Canal towpath route. In fact there would be the temptation to ignore some of the diversions from the canal put into the LOOP, but this would be a mistake. Although there are some less attractive parts to these diversions (not least the last mile from the Little Britain diversion), there are also some fascinating sights that would be completely missed. The going is pretty easy and waymarking is excellent for most of the way. In short it was a more enjoyable section of the LOOP than I was expecting.
Uxbridge

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

London Loop section 7 Kingston Bridge - Hatton Cross

Hampton Hill
I tackled this section of the LOOP as a result of a trip to Heathrow to drop off my in-laws a few days after the volcano ban had been lifted. I had a slight pang of regret that I hadn’t been able to take advantage of the flight ban that existed during those crazy few days, since to do so I think would have left a unique memory of this section of the LOOP. As it happened, I discovered that a pocket devoid of change is not the best preparation for a walk ending in the vicinity of Heathrow Airport as it restricted my options to park to basically none!
Shot Tower
In order to resolve this and prevent the need for catching a bus at the end of the walk I decided instead to park about halfway along the day’s walk, effectively cutting the walk in two so that I could get the bus during the middle of the day and not at school run time, which is when I expected to finish the day’s walking. I therefore parked the car in Hampton Hill and set off towards Hatton Cross. I regretted my decision almost immediately for I had a feeling that the weather would deteriorate as the day wore on and the highlight of the day’s walking is supposedly the beginning section through Hampton Park. Instead, the path through this part of winds around various slabs of suburbia trying to establish a route through the various green corridors that still exist.
Blossom Trees
So it was the I skirted Twickenham golf course and various streets of 1930s housing before finally winding up in Crane Park and heading along the valley of yet another London tributary of the Thames, in this case the River Crane. Having finally cleared the suburban streets I enjoyed this section of country walking, with the blossom on many of the trees in full swing and orange-tip butterflies teasing me with their ‘will they won’t they’ landing routine. I soon gave up trying to capture any of them with my camera as I concluded that they don’t ever land on any vegetation but just fly endlessly.
Hounslow Cemetery
Eventually I reached what is quite a landmark on this part of the LOOP, the Shot Tower, which was once part of a gunpowder mill and now represents the only remaining building (for more details see http://www.twickenham-museum.org.uk/detail.asp?ContentID=256 ). The tower itself is now owned by the London Wildlife Trust and the surrounding area, once a hive of industrial activity, is now a nature reserve. It’s a fascinating place, but with the greening of all the surroundings it is very difficult to imagine anything other than a peaceful past and certainly not the explosive activity it was actually associated with.
Outbound Flight
Within a few minutes I was disappointed to leave this small linear park behind and head out once again onto suburban roads, this time along the busy A314. Fortunately the walk along the road was perked up by the street trees garishly showing off their blossom, especially the ornamental cherry trees with their big pink puffy flowers. As I passed a large cemetery I noticed two large funerals going on at two separate parts of the site and couldn’t help feel what a cruel day to be buried, with such fine weather all around.
River Crane
I crossed the railway line and turned left past some very big high rise flats to enter the next piece of countryside in these parts, the rather surprising Hounslow Heath. The map didn’t offer much of a clue as to what was to come, for it looks pretty featureless. However, what I actually discovered was a remnant of the countryside that must have been more commonplace in these parts in days gone by. This is a proper heathland and in remarkably good condition considering all the urban pressures around it. I understand that it once was a common place for highwaymen to ambush unsuspecting travellers and so with that in mind I was careful to keep my wits about me, to make sure that I was alert to any would-be Dick Turpins!
Boardwalk
As I crossed the Heath, a couple of things began to annoy me. The first was the very in your face brown path that had been created to cross the common and the second was the increasingly distracting roar of aircraft jet engines that drowned out all the birdsong. The Heath section didn’t last long and after dog-legging around Hounslow golf course I was back to walking along the banks of the Crane once again. Thisas a bit of a relief as by now the day was getting quite warm and the shade of the trees by the river was quite welcome. Before reaching the A30, there were a couple of serious obstacles when I firstly had to negotiate another busy road at Baber Bridge, then a wibbly wobbly boardwalk that looked rather drunk, before having to shimmy along a very large metal fence keeping intruders out of the adjacent business park. I think in the last case I must have missed a turn for the official path seemed to appear the other side of the building. My map however showed the route I took, so be careful if coming this way!
Kingston Bridge
The A30 marked the end of the official day’s walking and in order to get back to the official beginning at Kingston Bridge I had to walk about half a mile or so down to Hatton Cross bus station to get the onward bus. This is NOT a pleasant walk, but for most people there aren’t many alternatives, so try to block out the traffic, the fumes and the planes and look for the positives (such as the weird little farm opposite Hatton Cross bus station!).
New Clothes
Another word to the wise to to make sure you choose your bus to Kingston wisely. There are a couple of alternative services plying the route, but get the wrong one (as I did) and you will find yourself going on a very long journey. It took almost an hour for me to make the trip and it’s only about 8 miles by the quickest road! Anyhow, after a frustrating journey back to the beginning I found myself on the opposite bank of the Thames to where I had left the route on my first outing back last October. Considering it was now early spring I was surprised how little had changed since then. Most of the boats were still in their same mooring spots and many of the trees had similar amounts of foliage on them, albeit they looked a bit fresher now!
Bushy Park Deer
After a quick perusal of the river I continued on my way, heading towards the large green expanse of Bushy Park (http://www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/bushy_park/), which is effectively the back garden of Hampton Court Palace and the second largest park in Greater London. This is the part of the walk I had been looking forward to most (which is part of the reason I chose to do it last) and you can imagine how much I cursed when I realised how much the clouds had rolled in. By now it was positively overcast, meaning that my pictures would be a lot less interesting. It was too late by now to do anything of course so I resolved to enjoy it nonetheless. First impressions were very positive as I entered the park via Church Grove Gate and headed down through the avenue of horse chestnuts, already wearing the summer clothing of leaves despite it only being the end of April.
Bedding Down
At the end of the avenue, the park opened out into what I was expecting with clumps of trees dotted around and plenty of ornamental ponds. I soon came upon the first herd of deer for which the park is renowned. In fact for a short moment I could have been forgiven for thinking I was in the Serengeti, such was the size of the herd sweeping majestically across the park in front of me. I couldn’t help but smile at the stag’s proto antlers as it tried to show who was boss by staring intently at me. It didn’t wait to be challenged though as it soon stomped off when I carried on walking regardless.
Keeping Watch
After my encounter with the deer, the next feature which caught my attention was Heron Pond, a large circular pond further ahead. This had some unusual waterfowl on show, together with a very large Heron looking slightly sleepy but keeping guard over the pond. A coot was equally keeping an eye on everyone passing by from her island nest just offshore, which created a lot of fascination from a group of youngsters. I still had a couple of miles to get back to the car so I left them to it after a few minutes and continued across the park, passing by an old water pump and then crossing the hugely impressive Chestnut Avenue, rather spoiled by the number of cars that use this thoroughfare across the park.
Bushy Pump
On the other side of the Avenue, I entered the charming world of the Pheasantry. I can’t say that I saw many pheasants (a few peasants maybe!), but this woodland garden was utterly delightful with many rhododendrons and azaleas on show, together with the last of the spring bulb flowers. What really caught my eye were the really strange forms of the swamp cypress plants that grew alongside the waterway through this section of the park. These strange projections are apparently to help the tree ‘breathe’ in the swampy conditions in which they grow. After this delightful walk through the wood, I headed out once again to the North Lodge House, an impressive looking house in its own right. Here I came across a smaller second group of deer. Most of them were laying down – did they know that rain was coming?
Swamp Cypress
It was with some sadness that I left the park, for I had enjoyed the crossing very much. I had about a mile left to the car through residential streets notable for two things – the sheer number of cherry blossom trees all at their zenith, making for an awesome sight and the number of Vince Cable signs adorning properties throughout this enclave of south-west London for the forthcoming election. I felt fairly sure he wouldn’t have much trouble hanging on to his seat! About fifteen minutes after leaving Bushy Park I found my car once again. It was a slightly disjointed walk on account of the awkward transport and parking arrangements, but the sections through Bushy and Crane Parks were a delight, making up for some of the other ‘blah’ parts of the walk. The going was pretty easy, but if I did this again I would make sure I planned better and do the whole lot via public transport. My car turned out to be a bit of a liability.
Blossom Reflections

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

South West Coast Path Section 25 Porthcurno - Penzance

Porthcurno
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.
Daybreak

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.
Penberth

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
Memorial

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.
Mousehole

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).
Newlyn

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

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

South West Coast Path Section 26 Penzance - Porthleven

St Michael's Mount
During a family holiday to Cornwall my wife and I were able to escape from the children for a couple of mornings to check off another couple of sections of the South West Coast Path, totalling 24 miles from Porthcurno around to Porthleven via St Michael’s Bay.  Because of the vagaries of the public transport in these parts, we actually tackled the section from Penzance to Porthleven first, essentially doing them ‘the wrong way round’.   I have to be honest here and state that I did not walk the first mile today from Penzance to Long Rock, principally as we were actually staying in Long Rock and neither of us much fancied the rather boring looking walk along the sea wall from Penzance.
Lonely Island

So it was that we headed out of our seafront holiday cottage at Long Rock at about 7.30am to be greeted by a pretty cloudy day.  It was a bit of a surprise after several days of warm spring sunshine, but at least it meant that it wouldn’t be too hot for walking.  Ahead of us was St Michael’s Mount, by far the dominant feature of the bay, which would otherwise be a slog along some fairly uninspiring beach.  The view of the castle/ abbey on top though makes for one of Cornwall’s most famous.  Even on a fairly grey day it is a special sight.  On the shoreward side of the path between the holiday cottage and Marazion, the nearest village to the Mount, is a large wetland area that was sheltering a large variety of birdlife. Every time we came past here during the week there were scores of birdwatchers training their oversized binoculars and telescopic camera lens on the poor birds.  However, at this early hour their were no twitchers and we were treated to the sight of several half asleep herons, several different species of seagulls and ducks.  Perhaps it was because we didn’t have all the gear that we saw so much?
Deserted Beaches

At Marazion the path heads up through the village rather than hugging the coast.  At this early hour only the newsagent was open but I can testify to the popularity of the gift/ craft shops as these were full of browsers when we explored later in the day!  After the long slow climb through the village the path abruptly turns right to head back down to the beach and lose all the altitude gained.  Such is the character of the South West Coast Path!  Luckily for us, although the tide was high enough to cover the causeway over to St Michael’s Mount, it wasn’t high enough to cover the beach at this point, since we had to scramble over the rocks for a few metres before regaining the shoreline proper.  Apparently at the very highest tides, this part of the beach is impossible to access.
Welcoming Committee

For the next couple of miles to Perranuthnoe the character of this section of coastline began to unfold with a rocky beach below and low slung cliffs.  It was very pleasant walking and we revelled in having the coast path to ourselves.  There are definite advantages to early starts!  Just before we reached Cudden Point we caught up with some other walkers who seemed very focused on a stile ahead of us.  As we got closer we could see what it was that they were watching; a very large bird of prey (possibly a buzzard, although it was a bit far away and I couldn’t be sure) sitting on the fence post minding its own business.  It was an incredible close encounter that lasted only a few seconds when the said bird decided it had had enough of being gawped at and decided to fly away. 
Perranuthnoe

Shortly after we reached the headland of Cudden Point and by now the clouds were threatening to clear.  The view from this rocky headland was quite superb, back across St Michael’s Bay and the Mount behind us and ahead to the Lizard Peninsula.  On the top of the headland a small group of ponies were roaming around, possibly helping in the effort to keep the grass down.  Immediately ahead the path wended its way around Prussia Cove.  This was smuggling territory and named after the so-called King of Prussia, not a royal dignitary, but a notorious eighteenth century smuggler!  While not wild compared to other parts of Cornwall it was easy to see why this sheltered yet rocky bay was used for this illicit activity.  At Piskies Cove (kind of a sub-cove really), a few houses had been built, which looked suspiciously like coastguard cottages.  However, down on the rocks below ruts had been carved out by the smugglers as a means of dragging their boats up onto shore safely, suggesting that smuggling had continued for many years before finally being stopped by the authorities.
Kengenny Sands

As we headed out of Piskies Cove we found a fairly substantial track that we soon realised was an access road (several cars passed by).  It was unclear what the road was needed for until we rounded the next headland and found a couple of large houses which apparently are used as an international music school.  With such a fantastic location it was easy to see why musicians had gravitated here – the place must be an inspirational place to play.  Precious little of the building could be seen from the path which seems to skirt around it without affording a proper look.  From here it was a bit of a tricky section along the steep sided sloping coastline high above Kengenny Sands.  Apparently there was once a mine high up above the path and the guide book mentioned that we might find amethyst in the mine waste.  I couldn’t believe my eyes when I found a piece almost as soon as I had read this!  Not a remarkable crystal that would earn my fortune, but nevertheless large enough to be identifiable.
Beach Patrol

After a couple of hours or so of cliff walking it was rather a surprise to round the next corner and find a small town dedicated to the holiday trade.  Praa Sands is a fairly unremarkable place, but the beach is very eye catching and I suspect a big draw during the summer months.  The coast path flirted with the beach before returning to higher ground.  We toyed with the idea of stopping at the beachfront café for a coffee, but because of time constraints and the fact that we weren’t entirely sure what the bus times were back, we decided that we would continue on and have our refreshments at the end.  Above Praa Sands the path was somewhat different as we swapped rugged cliff tops for sand dunes for awhile.  This was quite hard going and we were both relieved when we returned to more normal terrain!  Eventually the houses of the village ran out and the path continued to climb up to Rinsey Head through gorse bushes and their distinctively coconut sweet fragrance.  Rinsey Head itself is dominated by an absolutely amazing house that apparently is available as a holiday let for a mere £2000 per week during high season.  For the views alone it would probably be worth it, considering that it can sleep 8 people.  Apparently it has been used in film and television work, notably ‘Jonathan Creek’.
Wheal Prosper

The path keeps to the high ground past the headland, leaving the holidaymakers in peace and leading on instead to another fine old building, this time a piece of industrial heritage in the shape of the engine house of the former Wheal Prosper mine.  Despite having no roof the old engine house is still virtually intact although impossible to gain entry.  This is probably a good thing as it has not been daubed with graffiti or subject to vandalism.  Given its remote location it was difficult to imagine having to make this trek to work every day as the miners would have done.  As it happens this particular mine wasn’t particularly successful and it closed within a few years of opening.
Rinsey Head

As we continued further on more natural features caught my eye.  The first was a mini peat bog, perched high up on the cliff next to the footpath.  This little area of bog was complete with all the sorts of plants one would normally associate with granite moors and yet separated by some distance from the next nearest.  How does this happen?  The other thing that caught my eye was the more usual sight of clifftop flowers out in full bloom making for a wonderful sight. 
Looking Out to Sea

A little further on more engine houses came into view at Trewavas Head.  I wondered whether these belonged to a separate mine or were connected to the Wheal Prosper complex, but alas there were no further signs to tell us.  As we looked onward from Trewavas Head we could now see the end of the day’s hiking, with the opening of the harbour at Porthleven.  This was immediately an encouraging and discouraging sight as we could also see the climbs and descents still to come!  Unfortunately the day had become very overcast once again and these last two miles to Porthleven turned out to be very hard going.  It wasn’t helped by the fact that as we got close the path was diverted around a couple of coves that had opened up where the soft slate outside Porthleven had been attacked by the sea.
Industrial Past

As we approached the town we passed a memorial commemorating all the paupers who were thrown off the cliff after they had died in the old days.  This practice ceased in 1806 and the memorial was placed here in 1949, a fitting tribute for ever more.  Just past here and we left the cliffs for the last time and headed down into Porthleven.  This attractive little town centres around an ancient harbour and is overlooked by an impressive looking Town Hall.  As we headed towards the centre of town we wondered how long we might have to wait for a bus (we hadn’t managed to get an up to date timetable!).  We needn’t have worried – one passed in front of us when we were still 300 metres or so from the bus stop.  Typical!  An hourly service too, so there was nothing for it but to have a pint of St Austell’s finest ale in the Harbour Inn and a spot of lunch.  It certainly beat rushing for the bus!
Pauper's Memorial

On the whole a very enjoyable morning’s walking although the last couple of miles were a bit of a slog.  The most eye-watering part of the walk?  The bus fare back!  Over £10 for both of us for a 25 minute ride – ouch!
Porthleven