Sunday, 28 April 2013

South West Coast Path Section 33 Par to Fowey

Par Beach

During my student days I walked this section and the next combined for a fairly lengthy but very rewarding day out. On that occasion I picked a lovely early summer day in 1995, but conditions today could not have been more different from that occasion or indeed the previous day on the Rame Peninsula. I deliberately kept today's outing fairly short and on a section of path I knew principally because of the wild conditions. Call me soft in my old age but I get no satisfaction from walking in the wind and rain for very long and certainly wouldn't choose to. In fact I think it is fair to say that if I had been at home I probably would have given today a miss altogether.

Par View
It was Sunday, a day which severely limits options on the Coast Path if you rely on public transport as I do. Basically I had two options today using the same bus service - either Mevagissey to Par or Par to Fowey. Given that the weather forecast looked so very dicey I opted for the latter. This is a fairly short section of only seven miles but it does include a wonderful headland along the way.

I started my outing from Par station, where it was a lot easier for me to park the car. Par is a bit of a nothing sort of place, mostly bungalows and houses built in the 20th Century. Walking down to the beach though was a most pleasant experience as along the way at regular intervals I seemed to get the smell of freshly baked pasties up my nose. So far the weather seemed fairly benign and I wondered whether I was making the right choice. However, when I eventually got to the beach I realised that I definitely made the right choice. A cold blast of air suddenly caught me and made it difficult to even stand up! I walked along the dunes hoping for some quick relief!

Polkerris Harbour
As I got to the main car park I found my first disappointment for the day when the onward path to Polkerris was closed for a landslip. The alternative route was via the Saints Way up to the top of the hill and back round via the road. This added a small amount of distance but also was considerably less staisfying than plodding along the side of the cliff. One thing I did get at the top of the hill though was a great view back across Par. Less agreeable was the short main road section that followed but fortunately this was mercifully short.

Polkerris Landslip
I dropped down the very steep road into Polkerris, fascinated by need for double yellow lines all the way down the road. Given that the road is barely wide enough for a car I wondered whether anyone would be stupid enough to park right in the middle? At the bottom of the hill there was much sweeping up going on from one of the pub workers at the Rashleigh Inn. I had been advised that I should visit but sadly it was not open when I passed by. I went down onto the beach to take a look at the small harbour where pilchard used to be landed. As I gazed along the coast I should have walked I could immediately see where the landslip problem was. Hundreds of tonnes of rock had given way and now formed a large mound of material on the beach for the sea to work at some more.

Little Gribbin
There seemed to be very little life in Polkerris on such a bleak day, but the businesses were doing their best to gear up for whatever tourists might be about. The surf shop was open and the eateries were getting themselves ready for lunch. One or two people were milling around but I didn't hold out much hope for any of them having a busy Sunday.

Gribbin Navigation Marker
My onward path involved zig zagging up through the woods onto the cliffs once again and I couldn't help noticing how many dog bags had been left lying around. I've never quite understood the mentality of a dog owner picking up behind their pooch, only to then discard the bag. Surely it would be better just to leave the poo in the first place? At least it would break down.

Gribbin View to Polridmouth
At the top of the cliff I was once again joined by the wind although fortunately it was mostly behind me rather than in front. The onward path to Gribbin Head was largely forgettable compared with most of the path. I passed along the sides of empty fields lined with gorse bushes for a couple of miles. The path once again got interesting when I reached Little Gribbin, when once again I was faced with sheer drops of craggy rocks on my right hand side. As I approached the Navigational Tower at Gribbin Head I was surprised by a stoat that ran across my path. It had been many years since I had seen one of those!

Gribbin Head is dominated by the red and white candy striped Navigational Tower that sits at the top. It was only ever intended to be a daymark and has never been lit. For sailors it was made to look significantly different from Dodman Point and St Anthony's Head to aid navigation into Fowey Harbour. I was once again greeted by incredible wind at this point and didn't hang around too long.

St Catherine's Castle
Luckily I didn't have to stay up high for too long for the path headed down the other side of Gribbin Head to the more sheltered cove called Polridmouth. Fans of Daphne Du Maurier may be interested to know that the beach house here is the original one that inspired the one in the novel Rebecca. With the little lake behind it, the house is in a beautiful setting and I could see how it would be inspirational. I was quite intrigued by the little weir outlet from the lake into the cove. As the water flowed down into it, the wind was doing its best to blow it back up, creating an interesting looking phenomenon.

Fowey Harbour
Despite being very close now, Fowey seemed never to come due to the slavish sticking to the coastline of the path. I wound round and round different coves and up what seemed to be a steep slope although in reality it was probably nothing of the sort. I think the wind does that to me,it makes me feel prematurely weary and is probably my least favourite weather to deal with over a long period of time.

Polruan Ferry
Eventually I came upon the ruins of St Catherine's Castle, one of the so-called 'Device Forts' commissioned by Henry VIII. I took a little time to look around the ruins, although it was extremely cold and I didn't want to hang around too long. I pushed on into Fowey itself and took some time to look around the shops and get myself some lunch. It was actually quite pleasant not having the pressure to continue as I had done last time I came this way. The little ferry across to Polruan was running and seemed to be doing a reasonably brisk trade. I contented myself with leaving that section for another day. I do know how lovely the next part of the walk is and it surely deserved a much better day. Perhaps this section did too, for the view from The Gribbin was marred by the wind.

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