Monday, 11 June 2018

South West Coast Path Section 14 Tintagel to Port Isaac

Trebarwith Strand
The last really lengthy section of coast path that I have remaining is on the North Cornwall coast from Hartland Quay to Padstow and this is to be my focus for the next few trips to ensure that this wild stretch of coastline is conquered.  I was so enthusiastic to get underway with this section of walk that I left Worthing shortly after 4am so that I could get a reasonably early bus and have all day to tackle what promised to be a pretty testing section.  I didn't like the fact that the guidebook blithely mentioned that there were seven steep valleys to cross.  That to me sounded like I would have a pretty tiring section and I wasn't fooled by the modest length of nine miles.
Old Post Office, Tintagel
Having originally banked on getting a bus at around noon my extremely early start meant that I actually arrived in Port Isaac before 9am and I had quite a bit of time to kill before the first available bus.  I did toy with the idea of going over to Tintagel and starting the walk first and getting the bus later but it was a bit misty around the coast and I wanted the sun to work its magic and burn it off first.  I lingered around the part of the village where the bus stop is and although I knew that the TV series Doc Martin was filmed here I couldn't see what the fuss was about.  The village here was only mildly picturesque.  It was only much later that I realised that the picturesque part of the village was at the bottom of the hill, away from the bus stop and largely out of sight.
Tintagel Church
The bus was populated by a number of walkers all heading out for the day and it certainly promised to be a beautiful day. By the time the bus came the mist had burned off at Port Isaac.  After a rattly and bumpy journey over to Tintagel the same couldn't be said for that part of the coast.  The sun was clearly struggling to burn off the swirling cloud and as a result views of the castle and the town came and went.  I grabbed some provisions and sat at the top of the cliff above Tintagel Castle hoping that I would get a good view of it when the mist finally cleared.  I was to be disappointed - the supposed home of King Arthur never truly revealed itself and the rocky island that it sits on actually became more engulfed in cloud over time, somehow enhancing its enigmatic charm.
Youth Hostel
By now it was almost noon and I sensed that I might have a frustrating day ahead of me.  Inland the visibility was great and I could see some distance across beyond the striking church set away from the heart of the village in Tintagel.  This ancient church was built at the turn of the 11th and 12th centuries and not long after William the Conqueror came to Britain.  No doubt its location high on the cliff has acted as a navigational aid for shipping in the centuries since, although it is slightly overshadowed by Camelot Castle Hotel, a Gothic lump built high on the cliffs the other side of the village.
Boiling Sea
The walk over the cliffs to Trebarwith Strand was as good as the day got.  I was accompanied by warm sunshine, a light breeze and even the cloud kept at bay although visibility out across the sea was fairly non-existent.  This stretch of coast is known for its former slate workings and a little way from the village I passed the small Youth Hostel high up on the cliffs. Its mining heritage was pretty obvious - the buildings were once the offices of Long Grass Quarry, which ceased working in the 1930s.  I enjoyed looking at the quarry workings and especially at Lanterdan Quarry just south of the Youth Hostel.  This had a very distinctive stone pillar left behind - not sure why it was left, perhaps a result of it being unsuitable rock?
Sheer Drop
Soon enough I had the wonderful view across Trebarwith Strand, a very popular beach hereabouts.  I wasn't to know it at the time but this was to be my last view of the day.  On the other side of the valley (not one of the seven referred to in the book incidentally) a finger of cloud was extending across the highest part of the ground.  Little did I know that this finger of cloud actually masked a fog bank on the other side of the hill and this would largely envelope the cliff line all the way to Port Isaac.  So much for my sunny spells weather forecast!
At the bottom of the hill I dog legged around the Port William pub, which seemed to be doing a roaring trade on this Sunday lunchtime.  Those sitting outside certainly had a bit of a sun trap and a great view out towards Gull Rock, looming out of the mist offshore.  I was now confronted by my first climb of the day up to Dennis Point and it was certainly a testing start with steps helping me ascend what was quite a stiff climb.  At the top I was soon enveloped by cloud and it was impossible to see more than about 10 metres.. I hoped to goodness that the mist would dissipate but to my annoyance it soon became clear that it intensified on the other side.  Given the task ahead I wasn't sure whether this was a good or a bad thing.  The first valley was certainly quite tough going as I zig-zagged to the bottom.  I had passed a couple going up the hill out of the pub and felt their presence going down the other side. I'm not sure if it was their presence or not being able to see the scale of the task ahead of me but it didn't seem too bad.
Valley Bottom
The distance to the next valley was further than I thought and it felt good to get a bit of distance under my feet before the next descent and climb.  The mist threatened to clear too and certainly above head height I could see blue skies and sunshine above.  Sadly everything below that level including the area below the cliff line was completely blanketed in cloud.  This made for a memorable walk although for all the wrong reasons!
Swirling Mist
The next descent was a lot more modest as I traversed the valley protected by a small heavily eroded pyramidal peak known as 'The Mountain'.  A slightly grandiose name considering its size but it certainly did look like a miniaturised mountain in appearance.  It certainly looked a bit ghostly in appearance as it loomed out of the mist.  As I crossed the top of the valley I passed by a number of young people all heading down to the beach with their dog.  I don't know why but I suddenly thought of the Famous Five as they did so - something to do with the misty atmosphere I guess...
After that the walk was generally only punctuated by passing equally frustrated walkers all feeling stymied by the weather.  It wasn't bad in the context of walking - in fact the mist had a cooling effect that helped with the heat of the sunshine above.  It was just frustrating in that there was only pain from hereon - no gain in terms of seeing a fantastic view.  There was another fairly lengthy walk along the cliffs to the next valley but after this they came in fairly quick succession.  Between the third and fourth valleys I took a wrong turn when I inadvertently followed a set of walkers through the mist inland and away from the coast path. My mistake only became evident when I caught up with them and in conversation I realised they were going a different way from me!  I retraced my steps and soon found the way I was supposed to go - I'm not sure I would have made this mistake in better visibility and that was a lesson to me.
Rare Clarity
I largely checked my progress on counting valleys and was mightily relieved when the seventh came up.  Perhaps the lack of visibility helped in a way - it was pretty tiring with the constant ups and downs but I still felt pretty good when I got to Port Gaverne.  Here there were plenty of people still up for watersports and beach activities in spite of the gloom.  I rounded the beach and headed up to Port Isaac feeling frustrated and badly in need of an ice cream for all my hard work.  Luckily the village delivered on that front!
It is difficult to say how this section compares with others due to the weather conditions.  I would say that the modest distance is enough for a single day due to the constant climbing and descending in steep sided valleys.  It might be a section that one day I will re-do during more favourable conditions (there are a few other sections that I have earmarked to do the same).

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