Wednesday, 24 April 2013

South West Coast Path Section 36 Whitsand Bay to Cremyll

View From Whitsand Bay

 Back when I was a student in these parts I undertook this as my first lengthy section of the Coast Path after a few flirtations with the south east Cornwall part of the walk. On a bright and sunny April day back in 1995 I took the plunge and walked from Plymouth to Looe, a distance of 21 miles. I was hooked from that point and vowed that I would one day complete the whole thing. Since I restarted the walk back in 2006 I have been journeying in the opposite direction and the idea of walking 21 miles in a day along the Coast Path is not something I would do now. Partly this is a lack of faith in my own fitness and partly because I like to take my time and enjoy the view now I'm a bit older! It made sense to me to split this section in two almost equal halves and I chose Whitsand Bay as a place for a staging point. There were no buses directly from Cremyll to Whitsand Bay on a Saturday so I parked in Cawsand Square and got the bus from there to my starting point.

Rame Church
I have very fond memories of walking this section of coast and I picked an ideal day for my nostalgic trip. What I hadn't banked on though were path diversions from the very beginning; I assume for landslips? This seems to have become a pretty common problem, particularly along the south coast of the route. Much of the route through where the Whitsand Bay huts are was largely along the road rather than along the cliffside, which was a bit disappointing.

Nevertheless I made some quick progress and so took the opportunity to make a detour so that I could go and look at Rame Church,sonmething I had meant to do for a long time. It is only just off the path and the spire can be seen from a considerable distance away. Despite walking within half a mile of it for years I had never ventured to look inside. The spire is certainly unusual in these parts - most churches in this area have towers. Inside the church is beautifully kept, but with such a small local population the congregation must be very small? Outside the churchyard was bedecked with fresh primroses & daffodils making the rather austere gravestones look a little cheerier.

Rame Head Chapel
On the way back down to Rame Head I wandered along a lane that wove its way between fields of daffodils, a sight that I have only ever seen in Cornwall. It certainly brightened my mood seeing their golden yellow splendour. At the end of the lane the volunteers for the local Coastwatch Institute were getting ready for their day's shift in what I assume used to be a coastguard station. There were also a couple of walkers around, looking for birdlife judging by the paraphernalia they were carrying.

Rame Coast
I made my way down to the chapel on the top of Rame Head. This small chapel is said to date from the 1390s but may occupy the site of a much earlier hermitage. It is practically impossible to pass by without making the short journey up to it. Most of the timewhen I took the Cremyll Ferry across from Plymouth this would be my destination for the afternoon's walking. I sat by the chapel for a few minutes enjoying the view. From this point it is possible to see as far away as Looe and Polperro to the west and Wembury in the east. Strangely, given its proximity it is not possible to see Plymouth. As well as the chapel there is also a fairly large flat area at the seaward side of the chapel, I assume this was for a gun battery. It certainly would be a good defensive position.

Penlee Point
Eventually I clambered back down the slope to continue my journey towards Cremyll. Being at the highest point of the walk I knew it would mostly be downhill from here! The next mile or so was particularly easy down to Penlee Point, wandering down between walls of gorse bushes and a few Dartmoor Ponies doing their best to try and keep the vegetation down.

Penlee Point marks a transition from the wild coast of the southern end of the Rame Peninsula with the wooded sheltered side on the western shore of the entrance to Playmouth Harbour. I had remembered that there was a small chapel also at this point but it is below the level of the path so I clambered down to inspect it. The positioning of the chapel is rather odd & I would have more imagined a military installation here. There is one, but it is down at the shoreline far below and surely cannot command the same sort of view?

Devon Corn
I turned to head down through the woods to the village of Cawsand, where I would actually be staying for the rest of the time that I am down here. I wanted to live in Cawsand while a student at Playmouth and although I number of people that I knew did just that, for me it ended up being too impractical to my great disappointment. It was a most pleasant walk through the woods and I was glad to be out of the direct sunlight for awhile, for it was getting quite warm.

Approaching Mount Edgcumbe
I reached Cawsand quite quickly and resisted the temptation to jettison a lot of my stuff at the car, for it was now quite warm. Every now and again though was a chill breeze and I thought it best to keep everything with me. Although the character of Cawsand and its twin village Kingsand remain almost exactly the same as I remembered I was sad to see that a number of businesses seem to have folded, notably an inn I think called The Ship, where I had stayed on the occasion of my graduation. Indeed the old place looked in a fairly sorry state.

Earls Drive
Kingsand and Cawsand are almost indistinguishable from one another, but before boundary changes moved the Devon/Cornwall border to the far more sensible River Tamar, the boundary used to run between the two villages, with Cawsand being in Cornwall and Kingsand in Devon. The coast path follows the narrow streets through the two villages and you have to keep your wits about you to make sure you get the right road in the labyrinthine streets.

Warship Arrival
Almost opposite the Rising Sun (surely the best pub in either village) the path leaves to head across Mount Edgcumbe Country Park. I was back out in the sunshine now and beginning to regret my decision not to leave someof my stuff behind. Initially the path is quite straightforward passing through a lovely grassy area where people were out playing, walking their dogs and sitting and watching the sea. The path continued in this manner for about a mile until I came upon a road, which heads down to Fort Picklecombe (a military installation turned residential complex). I crossed over and found myself going up a narrow path between enormous gorse bushes.

Mount Edgcumbe Grotto
At the top I joined the Earl's Drive, a rather similar feature to the Hobby Drive that I had walked along a few days ago. It used to be that this would be followed back to the edge of the more formal part of the park but now a diversion is necessary due to one of those landslips that seem to have plagued this coast. I noticed that around Fort Picklecombe, which used to be out of sight down on the shore, much of the woodland has been cleared opening up this view once again. I seem to recall that most of the 'woodland' was in fact rather out of control rhododendrons and the clearance seemed to have focused on taking these out. The diversion enabled me to see something I hadn't previously seen too - a three arched grotto high up on the hill in the woods.

Mount Edgcumbe Folly
As I had zig-zagged up the hill to find the grotto, so I needed to zig zag back down again, crossing the Earl's Drive as I did so and seeing the mess that the landslide had created. The path continued downhill through the woods almost to the shoreline. I'm not sure this was necessary or an improvement, for the path got decidedly boggy at the bottom and although some attempt had been made to rectify it, I was not very pleased about this part of the diversion as it seemed unnecessary and badly thought through. I noted that people were still walking on the Earl's Drive high above me. I took a detour at this point to climb up to one of the iconic buildings of Mount Edgcumbe, the folly that overlooks the harbour. I made my way up to it and admired the view from the top.

Plymouth Panorama
With a blast of its horn the warship which had been following me to Cremyll made its final approaches to the Naval Dockyard over in the distance. For me it was my final approach too as I headed down into the more formal part of Mount Edgcumbe Gardens. Sadly, although it was a fabulously sunny day, the season had not properly kicked in and many of the flowers that I would have expected were either stunted looking or yet to flower. Any possibility of getting some refreshment at the Orangery was also dashed as it was being used for a wedding. The bride and groom must have been thanking their lucky stars that they chose this of all days for their wedding!

I got to Cremyll with a few minutes to spare before the departure of the bus. There was no sign of the ferry but plenty ofpeople having lunch at the adjacent pub. I whiled away the last few minutes reading the noticeboards describing the history of the ferry that I had used so many times to escape from Plymouth. The ferry has run between the two points since the 1100s - quite a period of operation! No need for me to use it today as this would be my journey's end after my trip of nostalgia. I have no doubt that I shall do this stretch of the Coast Path a few more times - I have such an affection for it.


  1. thanks for taking me on this wonderful walk.
    I enjoyed the sights and your explanations along the way.
    Perfect material for a chapter in one of the UK South West Coastal Path guides. Thanks for sharing Paul. JuliusJ

    1. Many thanks for your kind comment Julius! One of these days I shall put all of these blog entries into a book.

      Kind regards