Thursday, 23 May 2013

South West Coast Path Section 19 Perranporth to Portreath

A couple of years ago when I was down this way I had managed to arrive before the summer timetable of buses started and so was unable to complete the section between Perranporth and Portreath without some lengthy bus journeys between the two villages.  With one more day of good weather forecast I was determined to put this right on this trip and therefore closing the only gap between Padstow and Porthleven.  Even with summer timetables there was only a couple of buses a day and so I had the choice of starting a lot later than I would have wanted or the worry of making the bus at 4.30pm in the afternoon.

Droskyn Castle
In the event I opted for the latter option, thinking that I had more than enough time to complete the day’s walking with enough time to have a cuppa at the end.  Doing the trip this way round also meant that I would save about 25 miles of unnecessary driving.  I pulled up at Perranporth at about 9am and found an on-street parking spot, not wanting to be stung by the all day parking charge that I had done last time here.  Luckily it was early and gloomy enough that I didn’t have to worry about all the free spots being taken.

Shag Rock View
I made my way down to the cliff edge to reunite with the coast path.  It was windy and dull, not the sort of day I had imagined from the weather forecast at all.  I had to button myself up against the cold as I took a look across the beach and the rather novel looking sundial. It was rather impossible to tell the time on such a day though!  My way forward took me up past the youth hostel and a rather strange looking castellated building that I gather is now a hotel.

Interesting Rocks at Cligga Head
From this point on my walk took me along the wild cliffs that once housed a metal mining area known as the Cligga.  Initially the cliffs were rather similar to the last section along from Newquay, although I soon lost the beach below.  After a couple of miles though the cliffs were scarred from the pollutants generated by the mining activity and it looked as if some hasty engineering had to be put in place to prevent the path collapsing into the sea.  At Cligga Point the remains of the old mine buildings could be seen, although there mostly foundations left.  By now the clouds were blowing away, revealing some magnificent views ahead.
Former Mine Buildings at Cligga Head

Off to my left I soon became aware of the airfield off to my left.  Now largely deserted I believe it still has some use for pleasure aircraft and judging by the number of picnic benches provided around the perimeter and on the path I am guessing that the owners are trying to raise its profile a bit.

Hanover Cove
The onward walk to St Agnes was delightful, with the clouds blowing right away and the sun coming out in a blaze of glory.  The sea below was pretty choppy and I could see white horses on the water for as far as the eye could see.  Way out in the sea I could see a large tanker, anchored about 3 miles offshore and a sight that I would be able to see for the remainder of the day. 

Looking Back to Hanover Cove
Once past the far end of the airfield my clifftop walk came to an abrupt end at Crosscombe as the path dropped down into a steep valley that housed a couple more old tin mines.  The furthest one from the shore apparently still works and can offer tours around but when I approached I notice a sign saying that no tours were being offered during 2013.

Approaching St Agnes
I crossed the small river at the bottom of the valley and climbed up the steep slope the other side, an unmade road that was used for a regular motorcycle event that runs from London to Lands End (details needed here).  Walking across the rough terrain wasn’t all that easy so I couldn’t imagine trying to ride a motorbike across it.  Eventually I came upon the pretty beach and cove at St Agnes.  The village itself is largely up on the hill above the path but there is a beachfront of sorts and it was obvious from the galleries and other shops selling tourist stuff that there is enough in the way of summer trade here to keep people going.  Sadly the clouds had come back at this point and as I headed around to St Agnes Head I kept looking at the sky, hoping that they would shift in time for the main highlight of the walk, the famous engine house at Wheal Coates further along the path.

Trevellas Coombe
Although the walk up to St Agnes Head was quite quiet as soon as I rounded the headland and the coastwatch station on the top the crowds started once again.  Ahead and I could see the main attraction – the old engine house at Wheal Coates and surely the most photographed of all the engine houses in Cornwall?  The mine itself has now not operated for 100 years closing for the final time in 1913 after a short stint being reopened.  The original mine operated from 1802 until 1889 and the derelict engine house is now ironically a grade II listed building.  I cannot imagine a derelict structure from the late 20th Century being afforded such protection in a few years time.

Trevellas Tin Mine
The engine house itself was every bit as spectacular as I’d hoped.  I hung around for a bit waiting for the clouds to shift around enough that I could get some good pictures of my own.  I also had to wait quite a time to make sure I got all the tourists out of the shot too. Having a number of people swarming around the old place kind of detracted a little from how it looked.

Trevaunance Cove
I was relieved to drop down on the coast path away from the strollers and headed down into Chapel Porth.  The chapel wasn’t particularly obvious and I walked past it before I realised.  The hatch in the National Trust car park was quite busy although the menu wasn’t particularly promising so I decided to push on to Porthtowan instead.

St Agnes Head View
This involved yet another climb back on to the cliff tops for a short distance.  As I did so the weather relented once again and the sun made a welcome reappearance.  The rest of my trip today would be characterised once again by glorious clifftop views and by now the shape of St Ives came into view on the very far horizon.  Strangely though the ship offshore didn't seem to get any closer looking!  It didn't take long to get to Porthtowan and I entered the small beach resort past a swanky looking eating spot that seemed very popular today.  Most of the diners though were still inside, preferring not to brave the stiff breeze outside.

Wheal Coates
Upon seeing a small runabout bus waiting at the bus stop I decided to see if there were any more bus options since it was a lot earlier than I expected by this point.  I was delighted to note that there appeared to be an extra bus from Portreath back to Perranporth in just an hour and twenty minutes from now and decided that I would try and cover the remaining four miles in the time left.  I stopped in the shop and seemed to find the only one in Cornwall that didn't have any pasties for sale which was a huge disappointment.  The small number that were bagged up were allegedly for another customer.  The shop girl smiled sweetly enough so I like to think that me ending up with a sausage roll instead wasn't due to me being a 'foreignor'.

Chapel Porth
The sprint was now on and I put my foot down and motored the final section across to Portreath desperately wanting to get there before this elusive bus so that I could have an earlier return home later.  Initially the going was pretty easy and I made very good time along the mostly flat clifftops.  However, once past a large daymark my progress forward was interrupted by a couple of steep drops and equally steep climbs on the other side.  Yet somehow even these obstacles didn't really slow me down and I made excellent timing along here.

Looking Back to Wheal Coates
On the shore side of my path I became hemmed in by a fence surrounding what was clearly a military establishment.  There was a large installation that I supposed was for radar purposes since it looked like a rather big golf ball.  The rest of the base had an air of secrecy about it, with only parts of the buildings being visible and adding to the sense of mystery.  I understand that it has served as both an RAF station and a chemical warfare base.

The last big coastal feature of the day was Gooden Heane Cove, a large area of cliff that had been scooped out by the sea and which seemed to be much favoured by the local seabirds.  Sadly for me the path down into Portreath was blocked by yet another cliff fall and so I took the less pretty but infinitely quicker road.  You can only imagine my frustration at reaching the bus stop five minutes earlier than the billed time only to find that I had been rushing for a phantom bus!  After a few mumbled expletives I realised that the bus timetable published at Porthtowan must have been out of date for the one here at Portreath seemed to have the bus times that I had been expecting.

Porthtowan Daymark
I wandered down towards the beach and holed up in the beachfront cafe for a mug of tea.  The sun was fully out now and it was enjoyable just sitting and relaxing after the effort I had expended getting here.  I now had two hours to kill before the bus!  The mug of tea was very welcome and strong.  At just £1 it was probably the best cuppa I had had in a cafe for years!  Importantly I could also easily afford a second.  I sat and watched the activity out on the beach, which for the most part seemed to revolve around hundreds of university students from East London.  I am guessing from their surveying equipment etc that they were either Geography of more likely Geology students.  A lot of them were taking up cafe seats which didn't please the prospective customers who couldn't find anywhere to sit.  Sadly their antics also meant that before long I too was on the move and decided to spend the rest of the time waiting at the bus stop reading the paper instead.

Gooden Heane Cove

This was a brilliant way to end my time away.  As with the last time I came down this way I felt that I still had plenty left in the tank for a few more days.  Sadly I don't know when I am again going to have the opportunity to get down here, but went home happy that I have now completed 420 miles of the whole hike and am therefore two thirds of the way to completion :)


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