Monday, 23 October 2017

South West Coast Path Section 34 Fowey to Looe

Fowey Harbour
Long time readers of this blog will know that at least once a year I make the pilgrimage down to the South West of England to tackle some more of the Coast Path.  Unfortunately over the past couple of years progress has been quite slow and I was pleased therefore to find a window of opportunity over the August Bank Holiday weekend to tackle some more sections.  I am now particularly conscious to try and close the gaps that I have created by my rather butterfly approach to the walk.  This 12 miles section is one I have walked before (twice in fact), but wanted to do so again for the purposes of this blog for the other occasions were while I was a student in Plymouth and for which no pictures exist.

Polruan Scarecrow
I set off from home at around 6am and after a very easy drive managed to be in Looe by 10am, sadly just missing the bus over to Polruan.  I made my way over to Polruan after deciding that I would have plenty of time to get the bus later in the day and not fancying the idea of having to wait two hours for the next one.  Both times I completed this walk before I did so from Par and using the train at each end.  Having split the walk in two I felt that it would probably be more enjoyable this time as it was a bit of a killer, even though I was a lot fitter 20 years ago!

Repair Yard
I parked in the free car park at the top of the hill in Polruan and wandered down to the ferry terminal to enjoy the view across to Fowey.  Sadly breaking this section in two meant that I wasn't going to get the ferry ride as part of the experience.  It did seem pretty busy though - plenty  of people were being taken backwards and forwards on the small craft.  The harbour was dominated by a large crane and a trawler out of the water undergoing repairs.  On the water it probably looks quite modest in size but out of the water it towered over the quayside.

Blockhouse View
I actually lingered for quite a while enjoying the view and getting the car journey out of my system before proceeding.  It was already building to a nice warm day and I made sure to provision myself properly at the village shop before heading off on the coast path.  I have to say that I have a certain amount of trepidation for this section - I remembered that some of the going was pretty tough.

Initially the path took me through the narrow streets of Polruan.  It is a pretty little place but I sense that it is a bit cut off from the rest of Cornwall, with Looe some distance away and Fowey only accessible by ferry even though you can see it easily across the water.  It feels a bit like Fowey's poor relation, although its quietness might actually be a bonus if you live here.

Leaving Polruan
As I left the built up area the first place I came upon was a blockhouse.  The path didn't officially go out to it but I thought it was worth a look especially so I could sit and eat the pasty that I had bought earlier in the village.  Amazingly even though a good 10-15 minutes had elapsed it was still molten inside but was still very satisfying :)  Feeling fortified I set off from Polruan in good spirits and ready to face the challenge ahead.  I passed by the Coastwatch Institute watch house that looked quite busy with volunteers.  Out to see there were a few boats to keep an eye on so they were obviously quite happy in their work.

Pencarrow Head
The first part of the path was a fairly gentle introduction although I sensed that I was regaining most of the height that I had lost earlier walking down into the village from the car park.  Behind me was the unmistakable outline of the Gribbin and its candy striped day mark sitting on top of it.  As I gained height I could see the rollercoaster like landscape that stood between myself and Looe, some 11 miles away.  I decided that on such a hot day the best policy was to take things quite slowly and keep myself topped up with water.  Interestingly the weather was far better than predicted - it was supposed to be overcast with hints of sunshine today.

Lantic Bay
I walked around Lantic Bayand lost much of the height I had gained in doing so.  The sweep of the bay was quite memorable and certainly whetted my appetite for the rest of the walk.  As I reached the back of the beaches that are the back of the bay the path soon started climbing once again.  I was actually pleased that I had chosen to do this section fist of the four days I was here- it promised to be tough going if the next climb was anything to go by.  Strangely I also realised how little of the route I remembered.  I sort of remembered this climb, but I think that by this point before my legs were sufficiently tired enough to pay more attention to how I felt than take in the view.  On that basis I was pleased that I had come back.

Where Did I Leave My Glasses?
The path dog-legged around Pencarrow Head and I was surprised how busy the path had been up to this point.  As I headed east though I wasn't to see another soul for quite a time.  I paused at the top to get my breath back and admire the view.  Offshore I caught wind of the ding ding sound of the navigation buoy, a memory that had lingered with me for the 20 years or so since I last came this way.  As I headed down through the scrubby slope of the next bay I passed by a set of glasses left on a gate post.  Mindful that I was to be having a sight test just after I got back from this trip I thought I would try them on.  Suddenly everything looked a lot clearer!  That probably told me everything I needed to know about my forthcoming sight test...

Task Ahead
What I did see ahead of me was one of the distinctive churches with the tall towers that act as daymarks.  This is Lansallos church located in the heart of an extensive tract of National Trust land.  I descended almost to a small beach staying just above it on a low cliff.  This rather remote spot is very clean apparently but I didn't feel confident enough that  I would have time for paddling and so pushed on.  The path initially wound around the bottom of the following hill but I knew worse was to come.  It's funny what you remember about a walk - I remember a double hill and that is exactly what came next.  I slogged my way to the top of what I took to be the hill only to start descending a bit almost immediately.  Then the hill carried on upwards and upwards - it really sapped my strength during what was now the hottest part of the day.  Being hemmed in by gorse bushes didn't help either - it was almost as if they trapped a lot of the heat in.

Remote Beach
According to the guide book a small cottage near here that I never actually managed to pick out was once home to Marie Stopes sometime pioneer of birth control.  For some reason I kept thinking about this as I slogged up the hills - did she get inspiration from these parts or was she trying to escape?  Anyhow I was thrilled when I finally got to the top.  I think that was the hardest section of all.  From here it was largely downhill although quite gently downhill all the way into Polperro.  After the slog of uphill it was pleasing on the legs but it did seem like I was never going to get to this immediate destination.  I was in need of an ice cream now!

Passing By
It was as I started my final descent into Polperro that disaster struck.  I suppose it is quite amazing that I haven't really had any accidents thus far on this walk but I did now.  I lost my footing on the loose surface and over I went.  I didn't massively hurt myself but did graze my forehead and soon realised that I had a fair bit of claret coming out.  I feared the worst and tried to mop myself off with a tissue as I headed into the village feeling very self conscious.  It was just my luck that the public toilets and therefore my means of examining the damage and cleaning myself up was at the far end of the village.  I trudged through the crowds thinking that I must have been a sight for sore eyes.  As it happens it looks far less of a problem than I first imagined and was relieved to see that after a bit of mop down I was ready to face the world once again.

I wandered down through the pretty streets of Polperro  and grabbed an ice cream at the first shop I could find.  The lady behind the counter didn't seem to notice that I had been involved in a brawl so that felt much better.  I wandered gingerly through the streets trying to get myself over the shock of what happened so I could be sure to walk the remaining 5 miles or so into Looe.

Tram Ride
As I left Polperro it was up yet another pesky hill.  When I got to the top of Downend Point I had to take a diversion courtesy of a cliff fall.  This led me inland towards a caravan park where I turned sharp right and headed down to Talland Bay down a very steep road.  A car passed me on the way down and I knew he would have to come back as the road was a dead end.  It came to pass a few minutes later - the driver sheepishly waved to me as he obviously realised that I had clocked him.

Speckled Wood
I passed by the beach at Talland which seemed pretty popular and climbed up on to the next headland.  I did notice that the hills were getting a bit smaller each time now and for that I was grateful.  As I rounded Hendersick the lump of Looe Island came into view.  This little island seemed like a perfect little hideaway.  Even though it was low tide it was still just out of reach by dry land.  By now I was really ready to finish my walk for the day and was thankful that the next couple of miles were largely flat.  As I wandered along in my own little world my peace was shattered by a large rescue helicopter that hovered for a while and then disappeared almost as quickly as it came.  I hoped that it was merely a drill...

As I wandered into Looe I became aware of a very small girl an her Dad ahead of me wandering along.  Despite the tricky terrain the girl was keen to walk and Dad was very patient.  I eventually reeled them in and was about to say something when Mum came to meet them and I didn't want to spoil their reunion moment.  Apparently they had been to the beach while Mum got her hair done.  Knowing how far back the beach was I was seriously impressed as the child (who was no more than 4) must have walked a couple of miles each way to get to the beach.

Looe Island
Soon I came to the road at the edge of Looe and from here it was a pretty easy walk to the bus stop by Looe station.  I even had the luxury of dawdling as I had plenty of time for the bus - this wasn't a given as I left Polperro so for that I was grateful.  Sadly the solitude that I had enjoyed for much of the day was deined me as I had to walk along the road in the company of a couple of girls who were discussing boyfriends and mobile phones.  I ended up pausing for a while as I could not seem to escape any other way for they matched my pace!

I do Looe a disservice by telling you this anecdote though - it is a most agreeable place and was a hugely welcome sight after the tiring day's walking.  As I walked along the harbour wall my eye was drawn to a statue of a seal - a most unusual thing to commemorate.  Apparently Nelson was a one-eyed seal well known by the townsfolk and who was fed by the fishermen.  He was clearly popular enough to warrant a bronze statue and I cannot think of any other seal that had this honour bestowed on him.  He now serves as a reminder of the importance of looking after the marine environment and I am certainly supportive of that.  He was unveiled in 2008 by none other than celebrated yachtsman Sir Robin Knox-Johnston - praise indeed!

I trundled into town and had enough time to grab some much needed drink before waiting for the bus.  I didn't sit just in case I couldn't get up in time for the bus!  I needn't have worried - a ramshackle old minibus turned up and I turned out to be the only passenger all the way back to Polruan.  I can't imagine that the bus driver would get rich on my £4 bus fare.  As for the walk it was as tricky as I remember - I have no idea how I managed the extra section from Par on top of it.  Just shows how much fitter I was 20 years ago!

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