Having looked at the weather forecast for the next few days I decided to prioritise the walks I had planned for the rest of the week for I only had two days of guaranteed good weather. Thus I put this at the top of my list for it covered a most varied stretch of coastline, round the Hayle estuary, past the tourist honeypot of St Ives and on to Zennor on the wild northern Lands End stretch of coast. It proved to be very much the walk of two halves, since the first part was little more of a gentle stroll while the 6miles from St Ives to Zennor proved to be one of the toughest sections I have yet tackled.
Carol the unnaturally cheerful weather presenter on BBC Breakfast advised that the weather would be fabulous once again but there would be some early morning cloud to endure first. She wasn’t wrong on that score! As I got to Zennor I was completely enclosed in thick mist, such that I could barely see in front of me! I faced a slightly convoluted trip back to Hayle via
After my bus journey into
There were a couple of twitchers hanging around, but apparently this spot can be inundated with birdwatchers on occasion as the estuary has played host to a number of rare visitors over the years, bringing people down in their hoards to look at the poor creature. I moved on and soon ran out of pavement, which wasn’t a good feeling as I had to wander alongside a very busy road until I got to Lelant Saltings. This is the park and ride station for St Ives, and I can vouch for this being an excellent service having used it on our family trip last year. Certainly beats trying to find a parking space in St Ives!
My road walking continued for a bit longer but by now I was walking along a very quiet residential road. There were lots of walkers about now, I assume walking the short stretch of coast path into St Ives as I was. This is a fairly easy section that can be tackled by almost anyone with moderate fitness and the regular train service means that an end to end walk is pretty easy. Many of the properties through Lelant also seemed to be in the process of being spruced up and there were lots of builders and landscape gardeners.It certainly was a good time to be getting on with such work. Eventually I reached
At this point I was finally free of the road and the path headed down the side of an adjacent golf course and then across sand dunes alongside the railway. The similarity of the Dawlish section was not lost on me although in truth the scenery here is very different. A few trains rattled past while I negotiated this section, all of them running the short distance between St Erth and St Ives. Shortly after joining the path I got my first glimpse of St Ives away in the distance and despite the cloudy conditions the sun was shining over the town, an encouraging sign I thought.
In every cove on the way from here to St Ives were the most fantastic beaches, perhaps even finer than ones I had seen nearer to Newquay. Most were deserted today apart from a few dog walkers, but it was exhilarating to be walking on narrow paths high up on the cliffs overlooking them. Every so often I would come to a stretch that was more developed with houses, but as soon as I had flirted with the urban area I would head out towards another headland on a pattern that seemed to persist until I got to St Ives. The final section from
I knew I had arrived in this tourist honeypot, for the crowds started almost as soon as I hit the beach area in front of the station. The end of the St Ives line is a shadow of what it once was, with the station being truncated after the original one was demolished back in the 1960s. Most of the original station site is now occupied by a car park – a sad indictment of our times. Happily though many more people use this service than ever before and its future looks secure. Good lob, because just past the station and I entered the slightly crazy world of St Ives streets – it’s a wonder that anyone would want to drive here!
I wandered down to the harbourside and by now the sun had properly burned off the cloud, presenting St Ives in that spectacular light for which it is so famous. I found the first pasty shop I could so that I could get some lunch and having suitably stocked up I continued my journey around the harbourside. Inside the harbour is a beach of sorts and there were plenty of people lapping up the sun’s rays from within the shelter of the harbour walls. Virtually all the eating establishments (and there are quite a few) were also banged out for the lunchtime trade. I continued on hoping for somewhere to sit fairly soon. I looked on Smeaton’s Pier but it didn’t look too promising before venturing out on to what is known as The Island (although it is actually just a headland). Here I was a bit more exposed to the wind and as a result there were plenty of seats to be had and so I settled down to eat my pasty.
While sitting and contemplating the view I had two very different experiences with the local seabird populations. Almost as soon as I bit into my pasty a couple of very hungry looking seagulls joined me and savoured every mouthful I took, flashing me looks as if to say ‘aren’t you going to share then?’ It was rather an uncomfortable experience although I didn’t cave in to their demands, since I am sure that is what a lot of tourists do and this further encourages them. As soon as I was done they were off to find another victim. Rather more inspiring was the behaviour of the gannets offshore. These remarkable birds dive considerable distances to catch their food in the sea and I watched their technique for several minutes through the binoculars, absolutely mesmerised.
After awhile I became aware of the fact that I still had half the walk to do today and the more difficult half at that! I am not sure why but most sections of the South West Coast Path I have tackled so far all seem to have the difficult parts back loaded, when you can least afford the extra energy required! The official website warns that this section is a ‘severe’ rating and may well be the most difficult stretch of the entire route. That’s quite a boast for a walk that could never really be described as easy! Firstly though I ambled around the
On the way to the gallery, I became aware of a very large dustcart behind me servicing commercial premises. It was a wonder to watch the driver get this huge vehicle through such narrow streets. For us pedestrians there was little choice but to back right up against the buildings at the back edge of the pavement and let the beast go by!
I continued around the landward side of
Initially the warnings about the terrain felt a bit over-egged as the going was pretty good for some time. Occasionally I would encounter a boggy bit, but on the whole the going was good. The sea crashed against the rocks far below me and although I encountered quite a few walkers to begin with, after awhile these slowed to a trickle. With all the rocky headlands that I seemed to be going around I soon lost track of where I was and how far I had been. Lucky for me that there was only one path and the sea was firmly to my right hand side, otherwise I would have been in trouble navigationally!
As I pressed on, I found that the going underfoot did get pretty boggy in places, mostly because of some very short range streams that headed down into the sea. This northern part of the
A little further on and a couple of unusual sights greeted me when I came across perhaps the remotest flyposting I have ever seen – an advert for local accommodation posted onto a National Trust sign. There was also a stone circle, although I understand this is actually a modern creation and not an antiquity. At Trevarga Cliff I passed a triangulation pillar, a surprisingly rare sight on this path. I estimated from my map that I was now about halfway to Zennor from St Ives. Away in the distance I could see the remnants of a tin mine, the first I had seen this time in Cornwall, but not my last as I was expecting to see quite a few on the next section.
By now my progress was getting slower as the path got a little rockier and I was concerned about twisting my ankle. At River Cove I found a marker sign that suggested I still had 3 miles left to go. I wasn’t sure whether this was good or bad news! Ahead the succession of headlands and bays were starting to get to me a bit, beautiful though they were. It was partly because the sun was getting lower in the sky and therefore a little more intense with each passing step. I also had no feel for how far along this coast I needed to go, for there was no sign of Zennor!
At Zennor Head just as I was beginning to despair that I would ever reach the end of the day’s walking I suddenly spotted the
Before driving back to my holiday cottage I took the opportunity to have a look around Zennor. As a village there is very little settlement and yet it boasts a large church, a pub and a privately run youth hostel as well as a rather eclectic museum devoted to remembering local life. Sadly the museum was closed but I did take a look inside the church, famous for a mermaid carving on a bench that is over 600 years old. Legend has it that a local lad fell in love with a mermaid and returned to the sea with her, never to be seen again. Hissinging voice is supposed to be heard faintly on the breeze at nearby Pendour Cove.
As well as this intriguing story the church also possesses a fine looking sundial from 1737 and a monument to John Davey, allegedly the last native speaker of Cornish, the Celtic Language that many hope will be revived again in much the same way as Gaelic and Welsh have been. It was a very restful place to spend the end of my strenuous day’s walking.
This is a walk of two halves and while the first part is delightful, the second part is equally fantastic for its wildness. It is an exhilarating walk that really deserves good weather so that the views can be admired. It should not be underestimated, but given plenty of time and liquid refreshment on board I am not convinced that it is as scary a section as the official guides make out.