Saturday, 20 April 2013

South West Coast Path Section 16 Padstow to Porthcothan

Padstow Harbour

It was a stunning day albeit with a brisk wind and I felt like I needed a slightly easier walk today after all the ups and downs of the last two sections. With the weather forecast suggesting it might change to less agreeable conditions later I decided to head down the coast further to Padstow. I was slightly nervous of continuing from Hartland with no back up as the section to Bude is reputedly the hardest of all the sections of the route.

Former Padstow Station
I had heard that Padstow is not the easiest place to park so I took the car to the end of the route to find a fairly extensive and expensive car park at Porthcovan. Looking at the prices charged at these car parks versus the number of visitors to these parts during the summer months and the Parking Services Department must rake in some considerable income for the Council.

Rock Ferry
I took a double decker bus over to Padstow on what could only be described as a nerve jangling trip. The bus seemed far too big for the route, although I very much enjoyed the view from the top deck. We were dropped at the end of the Camel Trail in Padstow by a building that I immediately recognised as being the old station and one of the destinations of the famous old train The Atlantic Coast Express before it became a victim of the Beeching cuts. The Camel Trail follows the old railway along the banks of the River Camel towards Wadebridge and on to Bodmin and must surely one day be a future project for me?

Sand Snipe
I wandered into Padstow, or PadStein as it should surely be renamed? The TV Chef Rick Stein is famously associated with Padstow but I had no idea of his sphere of influence in these parts until I saw the number of outlets that now carry his name. I wondered whether the town hoists a flag to denote he is in residence? I stocked up on provisions, with the inevitable steak pasty (after smelling them I couldn't resist!) being taken away for my lunch.

Walking down the Camel Estuary
Suitably supplied I was now ready to commence my walk and the first part was along the banks of the Camel Estuary. Ordinarily this would be the sheltered part of the day's walk but on this occasion I had a stiff north easterly wind blowing directly into my face. On the odd occasion when I managed to duck behind some vegetation the air temperature was quite warm. As I wandered along I could see that this path was a popular one with strollers, presumably taking themselves up to the high point of Stepper Point, which was my first destination. I amused myself by watching the dredging operation being carried out by a vessel called Sand Snipe and then later some kite surfers taking advantage of the brisk winds coming through the channel.

Kite Surfing in the Camel Estuary
It was far from a straight path to Stepper Point as I had to negotiate a couple of coves along the way. The first was characterised by marshy conditions that needed a boardwalk while the second (Hawker's Cove) housed the original lifeboat station, still intact but now a private house. The lifeboat moved from here as it was ineffective at low tides and could not negotiate the notorious Doom Bar.

Hawker's Cove
At Steeper Point I turned direction to start heading westwards and was battered by a blast of wind as I did so! The path did a lop around the headland and up to an old tower that had been built nearly 200 years ago as a navigational aid for sailors. Curiously it offered no protection whatsoever from the wind when standing inside! I imagine that it does act as an effective landmark still for sailors in particular.

Navigation Tower
My onward path was relatively straightforward but I had one of those moments on the path when my heart sank a little. Walking 10-12 miles is not tough for me, but seeing that distance stretch before you on a coastal walk is a little daunting. Away in the distance I could see the peninsula of Trevose Head, where I would have to walk around long before the end of the day's walking. It looked a very long way away! I decided to eat my pasty and take a few minutes to contemplate the sea before continuing. On days like this I could sit and watch the waves crashing in for hours - they are mesmerising!

View From Roundhole Point
The walk along the top of the cliffs was refreshing and my pace quickened along what was a fairly straightforward path. Down below me I could hear the crashing of the waves and the seabirds wheeling around in the stiff breeze. Many appeared to have found nesting spots on offshore rocky islands that only they could inhabit. Sheer cliffs all around offered plenty ofprotection from interference.

Sheltered Beach
Just before coming to the village of Trevone I came across a curious feature - a collapsed sea cave imaginatively called Round Hole. The sea had obviously penetrated underneath to such an extent that the roof had eventually collapsed, leaving nothing but a yawning chasm. I did try to photograph it but I could not adequately capture its scale.

Trevone Bay
The beach at Trevone was small but sheltered enough to accommodate some more adventurous holidaymakers who seemed content to be sitting on the beach with their anoraks on while the kids built sandcastles. A babbling stream seperated the two halves of the beach and this also provided some amusement to the kiddies.

Keeping Safe
A more substantial beach was reached at Harlyn a mile or so further on. I amused myself watching the surf schoolers being put through their warm up routines as I passed by. I also passed the first of many metal detector enthusiasts who was desperately trying to dig up the lost treasure that he thoiught he had found. In the middle of the beach was a large RNLI lifeguard vehicle watching the few brave surfers who were out in the water. Unusually the path used the beach for its route for a short while and I headed down to the water's edge to walk on the wetter and harder sand that is easier to walk on than the dry and loose kind. As I did so I passed a young family who were playing dare with the waves rolling in. This was a bad move as the very small children weren't quick enough to race them and the little girl soon got a wellington boot full of seawater which I am sure ruined her afternoon!

Surf School
In truth I was relieved to climb the steps and get back onto the cliff. I followed the back of the beach for some distance before reaching a mini-headland (Cataclews Point) and changing direction. I was now faced with a view of the new lifeboat station that replaced the one I had passed earlier. It had a much more sheltered position, but quite a steep ramp down which the lifeboat needed to be launched.

Surf's Up!
Just past the delightful Mother Ivey's Cottage the path struck away from the coast straight uphill to the end of the headland and cutting off the section of coast where the lifeboat station is sited.This confused me a little to start with, but I was reassured by seeing other walkers ahead of me. In the far corner of the headland was Trevose Head Lighthouse, built in 1847 and like all other lighthouses in the UK now automated. Unlike the lighthouse at Hartland Point that I had seen yesterday, this one has four cottages attached that would once have housed the lighthouse keepers. They are now available for rent as holiday cottages.

Trevose Head View
Just past the lighthouse and I passed another round hole, just about the same size and shape as the one I had passed a few miles earlier. Otherwise it was a pleasant and gentle stoll along the much lower cliff line on this side of the headland and past the wonderfully named Booby's Bay and Constantine Bay until I reached the village of Treyarnon. There were a few people milling about here, mostly rockpoolers and people walking their dogs.

Padstow Lifeboat
Opinions seem to be divided about where to finish this stage of the walk. The official guidebook suggests here (presumably because of the prominent Youth Hostel that I passed), while the website suggests Porthcothan. I chose the latter mainly because that is the place where the bus passes through. Since the weather was so fantastic I wasn't in a great rush to finish in Treyarnon anyway and eagerly continued along the cliffs out of the village.

Trevose Head Lighthouse
This last section was very much more like the part that I had started with; high cliffs and deadly drops within metres of the path. Below I could see jagged rocks on which a number of ships have foundered over the years. An old tanker called Hemsley 1 was supposed to be at the bottom of the cliffs at Fox Cove, but I couldn't see any remains. Apparently the old thing ran aground in dense fog in 1969 as she was trying to complete her last voyage to the breaker's yard in Antwerp. The story goes that the crew completely lost their way and when they sent out their distress call they believed that they were off Lizard Point & it took some searching for the wreck until it was located. I had similar trouble locating it - either the tide was too high or I was looking in the wrong place.

Constantine Bay
Along this high level cliff path it didn't take long for me to reach Porthcothan. The guide book describes it as a lop sided kind of place and it is easy to see why. My approach to the village was along the undeveloped north side of the cove, owned by the National Trust. There are no buildings on this side and my final descent to the car was via gorse lined paths, a lovely end to the day's walking. Not the most challenging section of the coast path, but on such a glorious day it was thirteen miles of heaven for me!

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