Saturday, 14 May 2011

South West Coast Path Section 23 Zennor - St Just










With leaden grey skies and the possibility of improving weather I thought today might be a good one for the industrial archaeology around St Just. Having had a couple of fairly easy days behind me I had regained my strength and was prepared to face the challenge of the northern Lands End coast that I had left behind on Monday at Zennor.

I parked at St Just, which has a generous free car park in the centre of the small town and therefore very convenient for the adjacent main bus stop. I took the bus over to Zennor. This is not a direct bus, but one that connects the Lands End service with an onward one to St Ives at the rather unlikely setting of Gurnards Head Hotel. I was slightly concerned about the connection but needn’t have been. Despite the remote location the connection worked perfectly, as the two buses met with an exchange of pleasantries from the respective drivers. I was the only passenger to alight at Zennor, the rest of the passengers I assume heading on to St Ives.

Having explored Zennor properly the other day I headed straight out to rejoin the Coast Path about ¾ mile away. I assumed that my onward journey would be pretty tough today and initially I wasn’t wrong. On joining the path high above Pendour Cove (where the lad who chased the mermaid was supposed to have entered the water – see my previous entry), the path immediately started its rollercoaster journey along the precipitous cliffs towards Pendeen Watch, some 7 miles away.

Although initially the journey seemed as if it would mimic the last few miles of the previous section, in reality the way forward soon settled down to a more steady walk along slightly more level ground, adopting a high line along the cliffs. Visibility out to sea was very good and the cloud cover made for some interesting water shades, especially where the waves pounded on the rocks and the reflected spray formed interesting patterns on the surface of the sea. Inland though the story was different, with some swirling misty clouds engulfing the highest ground from time to time in scenes reminiscent of Dartmoor, which this area closely resembles.









After winding round a couple of coves I came upon the distinctive headland of Gurnards Cove, so named as it is supposed to resemble the profile of the fish hald out of the water. I could kind of see it, but some imagination was needed! Just shy of the headland was the first tin mine, a straggler from the main tin mining area that I shall see later. Apparently this now lonely cove also had a major pilchard fishery, although the remains of this industry are less obvious than the tin mine.









At the top of Gurnards Head, the pasty I had purchased at Warrens in St Just was calling to me from my rucksack and so having found a convenient perch out of the wind at the landward end of Gurnards Head I sat and had my lunch and a breather to enjoy my surroundings. Below me was one of the steep sided ‘zawns’ that used to be explored by mining folk as they often carried mineral veins. From my vantage point I was able to see several species of gull flying about their daily business of enjoying the air currents and looking for food. The waves were pounding against the large rock that was being used as a perch for many of them, a battle that rages day after day and which eventually the rock will lose.

Eventually I stirred myself into action again and once I cleared the summit of this particular piece of high ground, I could see the task facing me for ahead some distance away (probably at least five miles) was the lighthouse at Pendeen. Once past Gurnards Head the path levelled out somewhat although there were a few undulations to keep me busy. Against the steel grey sky the gorse, now resplendent in full flower looked really striking and much of the landscape had large areas of yellow.

Shortly past here I met a couple that had been on the bus earlier in the day but who had got off at Morvah. They were looking longingly but nervously along the coast to try and decide whether they had the energy to make it to Zennor. I reassured them that it was worth the extra couple of miles and we swapped notes about our various walks during the week. It turned out that they were away on a walking holiday too, although more of the strolling kind than mine!

At Bosigran Cliff I started meeting more hikers, although this time they looked like they had something more adventurous in mind. Sure enough as I made my way around yet another cove and looked back I could see that there was quite a crowd abseiling down the cliff. I later discovered that this is a very popular cliff, on account of the various difficulties of climbs.









As I headed towards Portheras Cove the evidence of former industrial activity grew stronger with derelict buildings and engineering features designed to assist with getting metals out of the ground coming into sight. The going was a lot easier now and I made quick progress past Morvah and on to Portheras Cove, where the first proper sandy beach of the day came into view. A few people were playing chicken with the waves, but that was one game I wouldn’t want to have joined in with as the undertow looked pretty serious. Apparently the Alacrity, a merchant ship carrying anthracite was wrecked here in 1963 and dynamited shortly after when the salvage didn’t work. The beach was then off limits for several decades due to razor sharp pieces of the vessel were still embedded in the sand. The wreck was finally cleared in 2004, making the beach safe once again.









Not much further on was Pendeen Watch, my first milestone of the day. This lighthouse was erected in 1900 and only became automated in 1995 when the last of the lighthouse keepers retired. As with many lighthouse locations this one is pretty bleak but when I got here the weather looked as if it would finally perk up. Typically perhaps the blue sky I did see was far out to sea. I paused here for quite awhile, taking a good look at the view the lighthouse keeper would have had. Far out to sea were several slab sided container ships slowly chugging their way to whatever final destinations they were headed to. The inbound ones I guessed were probably headed for Avonmouth or Cardiff, but the outbound ones could literally be headed anywhere! Even further out to sea I could see the outline of the Isles of Scilly and Bishop Rock lighthouse. Closer to home and the onward coastline was dotted with many chimneys from the erstwhile tin mines of Pendeen.











The walk over to the industrial landscape around Geevor and Levant mines was straightforward enough and this was a part of the walk I had been looking forward to. On the way I paused briefly to watch the waves rolling over a large rock below me and as I did so I thought I caught sight of a person sitting on the edge. This alarmed me greatly for it didn’t seem like a very sensible place to be today, even though the waves weren’t anything like as good as they could be. I looked for ages, but what I took to be a person didn’t move a muscle so I wasn’t sure if I was seeing things. I couldn’t get a clear view through the binoculars and although I took a picture, I still can’t be sure that this was indeed a person.











Eventually as I got closer to the mining area the vegetation became very stunted and soon there was only shattered rock by the sides of the path, too polluted to support anything growing. The former mine buildings were in various states of repair, although they had all been stabilised to an extent so that they didn’t pose any great danger to passing walkers and visitors. Both mines are now open as visitor attractions (http://www.geevor.com/ and http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/main/w-vh/w-visits/w-findaplace/w-levantmineandbeamengine ).

The mines didn’t stop there and as I continued on my journey towards St Just I saw several more engine houses a little further on at Botallack, including possibly the most photographed of all; the two engine houses serving Crowns Shaft at the mine. These two engine houses are at the foot of the cliff, just above the water level suggesting that the worked veins stretched under the sea. This section of the walk is almost too crammed with history to be able to take it all in, but it is particularly difficult to imagine how hard life must have been for these miners working in all weathers. Conditions were relatively benign today, but this coast can cop some pretty bad storms, with very little in the way to temper the worst of their effects. In contrast to the peaceful conditions today, the original mines would have also been alive with the sound of hammering and grinding. The full story of Botallack and a self guided trail can be found at http://www.landsendarea.com/trails/botallack.htm . Might be one for another day so I can get more of an appreciation for the place.

A little further on from the mines was another piece of archaeology, Keindjack Castle. This is an Iron Age hill fort, but has also been used for other things including another engine house for a mine (inevitably now ruined) and latterly as a rifle range. In fact the rifle range was built from stones largely robbed from the former engine house. The hill fort is less easy to see, but the defensive ditches are quite recognisable. The whole site feels like several layers of history on top of each other. Despite the history here, the star is undoubtedly the view, for I had finally reached the end of my official walk for the day and Cape Cornwall lay ahead. Walking the route out of sequence means that these views are not always original, but seeing the Cape in completely different conditions from the other day was still very special. Now the clouds had shifted a bit, allowing shafts of sunlight to pick out small areas of sea, making the spray sparkle. It was a view I could never tire of.











The way back to St Just was via the route I had taken the other day down the valley. This has proven to be a most useful link route and I was very pleased to get back to my car knowing that I had now walked all of the far west of Cornwall in my short time here. This walk, while not quite as wild as the coast from St Ives to Zennor, still showed that this coast will not be completely tamed. As with that section, this day’s walking also felt like one of two halves. The section to Pendeen carried on where I had left off at Zennor, but was supplanted by a more man made coast from Pendeen to St Just. Despite the mess that people had made of the landscape while extracting metals from the earth, the reclamation by nature was fascinating and demanded another visit so I could find out more.


2 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. Hi there,
      This is a lengthy day - about 6-7 hours but there is no rush. Take your time and enjoy the wildness of the coast

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