Saturday, 30 April 2011

South West Coast Path Section 21 Hayle - Zennor

St Ives Beach
Having looked at the weather forecast for the next few days I decided to prioritise the walks I had planned for the rest of the week for I only had two days of guaranteed good weather. Thus I put this at the top of my list for it covered a most varied stretch of coastline, round the Hayle estuary, past the tourist honeypot of St Ives and on to Zennor on the wild northern Lands End stretch of coast. It proved to be very much the walk of two halves, since the first part was little more of a gentle stroll while the 6miles from St Ives to Zennor proved to be one of the toughest sections I have yet tackled.
Hayle Harbour
Carol the unnaturally cheerful weather presenter on BBC Breakfast advised that the weather would be fabulous once again but there would be some early morning cloud to endure first. She wasn’t wrong on that score! As I got to Zennor I was completely enclosed in thick mist, such that I could barely see in front of me! I faced a slightly convoluted trip back to Hayle via Penzance first on a bus then train. At Zennor there was another walker waiting for the bus and we got talking. He was a very tanned and fit looking South African man who had stayed the night before in the hostel in Zennor. It transpired that he had walked from Barnstaple and had decided that he had had enough of the wild coast after walking from St Ives yesterday. He was instead heading on along to the southern Cornish Coast to undertake something a little more benign! That filled me with a lot of confidence for my walk ahead!
Hayle Estuary
After my bus journey into Penzance I headed for the train station next door and had enough time to get myself a ticket and a coffee which felt rather civilised. The weather had not yet improved and I was beginning to doubt wee Carol. At Hayle I finally got out on to the path and faced a lengthy road walk around Hayle Estuary before getting away from development. Yet this section wasn’t as bad as I had feared, partly because I could focus on the sweeping views across the estuary rather than the traffic thundering past me. It was as I got towards the end of this section that gaps in the cloud began to appear and I felt bad that I had ever doubted Carol.
Lelant Church
There were a couple of twitchers hanging around, but apparently this spot can be inundated with birdwatchers on occasion as the estuary has played host to a number of rare visitors over the years, bringing people down in their hoards to look at the poor creature. I moved on and soon ran out of pavement, which wasn’t a good feeling as I had to wander alongside a very busy road until I got to Lelant Saltings. This is the park and ride station for St Ives, and I can vouch for this being an excellent service having used it on our family trip last year. Certainly beats trying to find a parking space in St Ives!
Rattling By
My road walking continued for a bit longer but by now I was walking along a very quiet residential road. There were lots of walkers about now, I assume walking the short stretch of coast path into St Ives as I was. This is a fairly easy section that can be tackled by almost anyone with moderate fitness and the regular train service means that an end to end walk is pretty easy. Many of the properties through Lelant also seemed to be in the process of being spruced up and there were lots of builders and landscape gardeners.It certainly was a good time to be getting on with such work. Eventually I reached Lelant Church dedicated to St Uny. I had a little look around the graveyard but conscious that I had many miles ahead of me and the fact that the churchyard was full of grounds maintenance contractors I decided to press on and not look around.
Endless Sand
At this point I was finally free of the road and the path headed down the side of an adjacent golf course and then across sand dunes alongside the railway. The similarity of the Dawlish section was not lost on me although in truth the scenery here is very different. A few trains rattled past while I negotiated this section, all of them running the short distance between St Erth and St Ives. Shortly after joining the path I got my first glimpse of St Ives away in the distance and despite the cloudy conditions the sun was shining over the town, an encouraging sign I thought.
Carbis Bay
In every cove on the way from here to St Ives were the most fantastic beaches, perhaps even finer than ones I had seen nearer to Newquay. Most were deserted today apart from a few dog walkers, but it was exhilarating to be walking on narrow paths high up on the cliffs overlooking them. Every so often I would come to a stretch that was more developed with houses, but as soon as I had flirted with the urban area I would head out towards another headland on a pattern that seemed to persist until I got to St Ives. The final section from Carbis Bay was delightful as it passed through some very attractive woodland and posh housing. At the far end of here was yet another Huer’s House, although this one was mostly boarded up and seemed not to have any current purpose, which was a shame.
Huer's Hut
I knew I had arrived in this tourist honeypot, for the crowds started almost as soon as I hit the beach area in front of the station. The end of the St Ives line is a shadow of what it once was, with the station being truncated after the original one was demolished back in the 1960s. Most of the original station site is now occupied by a car park – a sad indictment of our times. Happily though many more people use this service than ever before and its future looks secure. Good lob, because just past the station and I entered the slightly crazy world of St Ives streets – it’s a wonder that anyone would want to drive here!
St Ives View
I wandered down to the harbourside and by now the sun had properly burned off the cloud, presenting St Ives in that spectacular light for which it is so famous. I found the first pasty shop I could so that I could get some lunch and having suitably stocked up I continued my journey around the harbourside. Inside the harbour is a beach of sorts and there were plenty of people lapping up the sun’s rays from within the shelter of the harbour walls. Virtually all the eating establishments (and there are quite a few) were also banged out for the lunchtime trade. I continued on hoping for somewhere to sit fairly soon. I looked on Smeaton’s Pier but it didn’t look too promising before venturing out on to what is known as The Island (although it is actually just a headland). Here I was a bit more exposed to the wind and as a result there were plenty of seats to be had and so I settled down to eat my pasty.
Lunchtime Trade
While sitting and contemplating the view I had two very different experiences with the local seabird populations. Almost as soon as I bit into my pasty a couple of very hungry looking seagulls joined me and savoured every mouthful I took, flashing me looks as if to say ‘aren’t you going to share then?’ It was rather an uncomfortable experience although I didn’t cave in to their demands, since I am sure that is what a lot of tourists do and this further encourages them. As soon as I was done they were off to find another victim. Rather more inspiring was the behaviour of the gannets offshore. These remarkable birds dive considerable distances to catch their food in the sea and I watched their technique for several minutes through the binoculars, absolutely mesmerised.
Police Force
After awhile I became aware of the fact that I still had half the walk to do today and the more difficult half at that! I am not sure why but most sections of the South West Coast Path I have tackled so far all seem to have the difficult parts back loaded, when you can least afford the extra energy required! The official website warns that this section is a ‘severe’ rating and may well be the most difficult stretch of the entire route. That’s quite a boast for a walk that could never really be described as easy! Firstly though I ambled around the Island, taking a good look at the Coastwatch Station and then the chapel of St Nicholas, which occupy the two ends of the headland. It was then back into St Ives streets and on my way to the Tate Gallery, opened as a nod to the artistic community which has existed here for decades. The Tate was built on the site of a former gas works and while I didn’t go in this time, it is worth a visit for its thought-provoking art.
Porthmeor Beach
On the way to the gallery, I became aware of a very large dustcart behind me servicing commercial premises. It was a wonder to watch the driver get this huge vehicle through such narrow streets. For us pedestrians there was little choice but to back right up against the buildings at the back edge of the pavement and let the beast go by!
Beach Games
I continued around the landward side of Porthmeor Beach and very soon I was out of town and striding across turf once again. As I reached Clodgy Point the view of St Ives receded into the distance and I knew from hereon I would be walking along a wild stretch of coast and not the highly developed type of coastline thus far. The weather had improved considerably by now and I was faced with not only the wildness of the coast but also the best conditions I could have hoped for; bright sunshine with a stiff breeze to keep me cool on all those climbs ahead!
Tate St Ives
Initially the warnings about the terrain felt a bit over-egged as the going was pretty good for some time. Occasionally I would encounter a boggy bit, but on the whole the going was good. The sea crashed against the rocks far below me and although I encountered quite a few walkers to begin with, after awhile these slowed to a trickle. With all the rocky headlands that I seemed to be going around I soon lost track of where I was and how far I had been. Lucky for me that there was only one path and the sea was firmly to my right hand side, otherwise I would have been in trouble navigationally!
Looking Back to St Ives
As I pressed on, I found that the going underfoot did get pretty boggy in places, mostly because of some very short range streams that headed down into the sea. This northern part of the Cornwall Coast is made predominantly of granite and the highest part is only just inland from the coast, which means that streams flowing from this side are small and haven’t carved out too much of a valley. Granite is also impervious and has a tendency therefore to allow water to pool on its surface and create boggy conditions.At the top of Trevalgan Cliff I was pleased to see that on one particularly bad patch a boardwalk had been provided, although I wouldn’t have liked to be part of the gang that built it. I bet they didn’t have today’s conditions most of the time they were here!
Wild Coast
A little further on and a couple of unusual sights greeted me when I came across perhaps the remotest flyposting I have ever seen – an advert for local accommodation posted onto a National Trust sign. There was also a stone circle, although I understand this is actually a modern creation and not an antiquity. At Trevarga Cliff I passed a triangulation pillar, a surprisingly rare sight on this path. I estimated from my map that I was now about halfway to Zennor from St Ives. Away in the distance I could see the remnants of a tin mine, the first I had seen this time in Cornwall, but not my last as I was expecting to see quite a few on the next section.
Welcome Boardwalk
By now my progress was getting slower as the path got a little rockier and I was concerned about twisting my ankle. At River Cove I found a marker sign that suggested I still had 3 miles left to go. I wasn’t sure whether this was good or bad news! Ahead the succession of headlands and bays were starting to get to me a bit, beautiful though they were. It was partly because the sun was getting lower in the sky and therefore a little more intense with each passing step. I also had no feel for how far along this coast I needed to go, for there was no sign of Zennor!
At Zennor Head just as I was beginning to despair that I would ever reach the end of the day’s walking I suddenly spotted the tower of Zennor Church. Never have I been so pleased as to see a church! I actually reached the church rather quicker than I had expected, but the 6.5 miles from St Ives still took 3 hours, such was the need for ‘breathers’ and picking my way through boggy patches and across rocky sections. Yet, despite the difficulty of the walking I think that the section out of Porthcurno on the southern coast is just as taxing.
Coast Blossom
Before driving back to my holiday cottage I took the opportunity to have a look around Zennor. As a village there is very little settlement and yet it boasts a large church, a pub and a privately run youth hostel as well as a rather eclectic museum devoted to remembering local life. Sadly the museum was closed but I did take a look inside the church, famous for a mermaid carving on a bench that is over 600 years old. Legend has it that a local lad fell in love with a mermaid and returned to the sea with her, never to be seen again. His singing voice is supposed to be heard faintly on the breeze at nearby Pendour Cove.
Zennor Church
As well as this intriguing story the church also possesses a fine looking sundial from 1737 and a monument to John Davey, allegedly the last native speaker of Cornish, the Celtic Language that many hope will be revived again in much the same way as Gaelic and Welsh have been. It was a very restful place to spend the end of my strenuous day’s walking.
Mermaid Carving
This is a walk of two halves and while the first part is delightful, the second part is equally fantastic for its wildness. It is an exhilarating walk that really deserves good weather so that the views can be admired. It should not be underestimated, but given plenty of time and liquid refreshment on board I am not convinced that it is as scary a section as the official guides make out.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

South West Coast Path Section 18 Newquay - Perranporth

Town Beach
There is no doubt about it – this is surfing country! For my first foray on the North Cornwall coast I picked perhaps the most popular resort of them all, Newquay. There was method in my madness – this is one of the few towns in this part of Cornwall to have a meaningful Sunday bus service and obligingly the Truro service runs via Perranporth, a few miles by road down the coast.
Being Told Off
This was the first of my Cornwall walks from my base at Hayle which turned out to be an excellent and inexpensive place to stay between daily trips out. My goal was to complete as many days in the far west of Cornwall as I could weather permitting during the most unpredictable month of April. The two days I spent in Devon on the way down were excellent warm-ups for what I expected to be a far more challenging workout!
Surfer Dudes
I parked in Perranporth, which despite being out of the main season and on a Sunday was still quite expensive for the day. The bus over to Newquay was rather a long trip, passing as it did through every hamlet and out of the way village on the way and took nearly an hour for the trip that ought to have taken about 15 minutes. Still, as I mused on the way, for once I had almost no timetable whatsoever today – I even had a 24 hour parking ticket! My only deadline was the time at which it was likely to get dark tonight, around 8pm if my instincts were correct.
Newquay Harbour
With that in mind I didn’t rush to start the day’s walking, choosing instead to amble around Newquay which despite the bad press it gets, I found to be a rather agreeable place. Of course it helped that the weather conditions were once again stunning and if anything better than yesterday! I bought myself a paper and found a nice seat, but reading didn’t come as naturally as I’d hoped, partly as I seemed to have stumbled into some kind of mating ritual put on by a couple of the local starlings! Their courtship provoked much amusement from me, as it was soon clear that the female wasn’t ready despite all the wooing that was going on by 3 or 4 potential suitors!
Huer's Hut
I decided that the paper could wait and continued on my route after stocking up on provisions. A glance at the route ahead suggested no opportunities to stock up later so I made sure I was well catered for, including with a staple of any packed lunch in these parts – a freshly baked pasty! The ultimate in fast food in these parts makes for a handy packed lunch, since everything you could wish for is wrapped up in pastry.
Towan Head
I headed out along past the harbour and some sheltered sandy coves, where people were just getting started ready for another superb sunny afternoon. There was much activity in the harbour itself, with boats being readied for the season after the long winter lay off. In the cove next door a couple of people were getting sea kayaks ready for what looked to be a perfect day for that activity with lovely calm seas all around. High above the harbour was an unnaturally level piece of ground, which I soon discovered was for crown green bowling. The idea that there was enough demand for the activity to warrant such an engineering job rather staggered me!
Fistral Beach
Eventually I cleared the main part of the town and passed by The Huer’s Hut, a whitewashed lookout building dating from the 14th Century. This rather odd looking building was originally designed as a lookout for shoals of fish offshore. Word would then get down to the fishing boats who would scramble to take advantage. As it turned out this wouldn’t be the last Huer’s Hut I would see this week, but it was probably the best example!
Headland Hotel
From the Huer’s Hut I wandered towards a very fine looking hotel built prominently on the headland of Towan Head. As I got closer to the headland though there were other interesting sights, such as the old lifeboat station with a slipway that was 1 in 2! That must have been a scary ride since it was a considerable distance to the bottom. Hauling the boat back up to the station couldn’t have been very convenient and apparently it took eight horses to bring it back to the top after landing at a nearby beach. The one advantage this site did have was that boats could be launched no matter the state of the tide. Further up onthe top ofthe headland was an old coastguard lookout tower, performing a rather different function from the Huer’s Hut. This was for the authorities to be on the lookout for smugglingand boats indistress mostly, but now just acts as a curiosity for tourists.
May Blossom
From the lookout I got my first proper view of Fistral Beach, the famed surfing beach for Newquay. In the wind I could get traces of the instructions being shouted over the loudhailer to surfers not obeying the rules, but as I got closer the instructions became clearer. It was obvious to me that the lifeguards must get really bored of bellowing the same instructions over and over as I heard the same ones myself many times while passing along the dunes at the back of the beach.
Crossing The Gannel
I passed just beneath the magnificent hotel that I had seen earlier, the grade II listed Headland Hotel that was apparently the setting of the film version of The Witches by Roald Dahl. This red brick building dates from 1900 and the front bedrooms must have unrivalled views of Fistral Beach although I have a feeling that not many surfers actually stay here…
Crantock Beach
At the other end of Fistral Beach stood another hotel that wasn’t so lucky. It was one of many that I would encounter this week that are now boarded up, their trading days behind them, but potential prizes for developers to turn into luxury flats. From here the path dives into Pentire, effectively a suburb of Newquay, for a bit of residential walking before arriving at The Gannel. This river that enters the sea at Crantock Beach can be a rather troublesome obstacle since the only bridges are dependent on the tides and if it is high tideyou face either a very long walk, or a very long wait! Fortunately for me, the river was lowenough that I passed quickly over the footbridge and continued on my way. Having passed this obstacle I was keen to have lunch and found an obliging rock from where I could watch proceedings on the river. The Gannel proved a very popular spot with dog walkers. Most of the dogs themselves appeared to enjoy lolloping through the water splashing everything and everyone around them!
Porth Joke
After finishing my pasty I headed on enjoying the smells of the vying blossoms of the gorse and hawthorn lining the path to Crantock Beach. This beach seemed as popular as Fistral further back in Newquay, although this time it was sun worshippers rather than surfers who were the biggest audience. I had another taste of dune walking as the path crossed the back of the beach. This would be a coastal feature that I would be getting used to over the coming days! It isn’t easy terrain to negotiate, for the underfoot conditions but also for navigation reasons – it isn’t always easy to pick out which path is the right one! After whatseemed like a long time I eventually reached Pentire Point West, the next headland. A pattern for the walk would now emerge – rocky headland followed by sand beach to cross then another headland. The next sandy beach was the intriguingly named Porth Joke. I’m not quitesure how this cove got its name but it was mercifully free of people, apparently as a result of there being no road here!
After crossing the small river that flows into the sea at Porth Joke it was on to the next headland, this time Kelsey Head. On the way to the headland I caught sight of a couple of interesting natural features – the first a swampy section of path covered in kingcups, an unusual colony for these parts. The second was rather more mundane – the amazing colours of the various species of lichen that cover most of the rocks in these parts. Offshore was a small island known as ‘The Chick’. I sat and looked through the binoculars at any signs of seabird life clinging to this rock that is probably left completely alone by people. Yet, despite the loneliness of the rock and the fact that it would no doubt provide a safe haven,therewere surprisingly few seabirds hanging around, save for a few gulls. I was amused though by the presence of a surf board – perhaps the surfer had found the biggest wave in the world andbeen runaground! I never did see the surfer however. Given its location it probably wasn’t going to be nicked…
Holywell Bay
On the other side of Kelsey Head was the much larger Holywell Bay. This beach stretched for over a mile before me and the next headland at Penhale Point looked quite a distant goal. Rocky headland soon gave way to sand dunes and the way ahead was quite a tricky route to follow and in the end I gave up and walked along the beach instead. This was a far more enjoyable experience as the sand beneath me was firm rather than the dry loose material I had to put up with on the dunes. As I rounded into the river valley, I discovered that the beach was quite well populated, with most people sheltered away from the wind which is why I had not previously encountered them. High up at the back of the beach a digger wasbusily working on what I assumed would be a lifeguard station and refreshment point, for it was clear that this beach was pretty popular.
Holywell Beach
I had a little problem finding my way back on to the path on the other side of Holywell Beach. I had decided to take a short cut across the small river that flows out here and use some stepping stones instead of a bridge some distance away. I crossed over and scrambled up on to the cliff opposite only to find that I was marooned on a small island! The piece of land I had climbed was actually detached by a huge gash in the rock. Cursing therefore I had to retrace my steps and take the more conventional route. Serves me right for trying totake a shortcut!
The next set of cliffs around Penhale Point and Ligger Point were a much different character to what had gone before. Just inland from the path is a military camp, which looked rather deserted now. The accommodation was rudimentary – mostly consisting of some old fashioned Nissan Huts and a very bleak looking house stuck right out on the headland. There were all manner of installations, mostly I assumed to assist with communications. All this infrastructure was overlaid on top of some old mine workings and an iron age hill fort that had mostly been subsumed into the surroundings.
Perran Sands
The coast itself was also pretty wild here with some fierce vertigo inducing drops alongside me. Because of the military camp the section occupied by the path was fairly narrow and I couldn’t help thinking that these next couple of miles weren’t for the faint hearted!
Change of Direction
As I rounded Ligger Point, I came across the biggest beach yet today and probably the finest I have seen in Cornwall. Ahead of me was the two mile long Perran Sands, an awe-inspiring beach that was almost completely deserted. This was patrolled by an RNLI vehicle performing lifesaving duties and the tyre tracks wove some interesting patterns in the sand. The path wove down to the beach eventually which was a relief, for the dunes behind were absolutely huge! Walking along the beach was somewhat easier, although I did want to make a side tour before moving on to my final destination of Perranporth by the end of the day.
Beach Beauty
Luckily for me my way up into the dunes was marked by an interesting sculpture someone had fashioned out of all manner of marine debris including fishing nets and waste materials. It looked quite spooky pointing out to sea! I headed up into the dunes and away from the coast path, which proved to be a bit of a slog. I was curious to see St Piran’s Church, a church that had been buried and reburied by the sand to the point that there wasn’t much left! It was quite a slog through the dunes and eventually I found the place after a couple of false alarms and a number of markers which helped me. Only the outline of the church was left, and an earlier place known as St Piran’s Oratory, a short distance away was now completely reburied after vandalism had been wreaked on the old place. It seems that the locals gave up on fighting the shifting sands many decades ago and both churches are only remnants of previous settlements in these parts that have now been reclaimed by nature.
St Piran's Oratory
Having come to see St Piran’s I now faced the daunting prospect of retracing my steps. I decided that I would try and cut off the corner and this proved to be a good idea since I actually found it easier to navigate knowing that Perran Sands Holiday Centre would be on the way & provide a decent landmark in an otherwise featureless place.
Paragliders at Perran Sands
Once I had found the main path again I soon ran into some paragliders, this time having a good deal more success than those I had seen yesterday at Teignmouth. I would imagine that the view from above is just as exciting though! Eventually the going underfoot became easier as sandy paths gave way to rocky ones again. By now I was pretty tired after all the dune walking and was very relieved to descend finally into Perranporth. There was still a huge amount of activity on this sunny Sunday evening and no sign of people in a hurry to leave the beach. I couldn’t blame them!
Last Look Back Along The Sands
This was a relatively easy walk, with few climbs on the way although the sand dunes were definitely a sting in the tail at the end! The combination of sand dunes and rocky cliffs was an interesting one and I couldn’t help feeling that I had made the right choice of walk to help me get acquainted with the North Cornwall Coast.

Friday, 22 April 2011

South West Coast Path Section 46 Torquay - Teignmouth

Torquay Balloon
After my hugely enjoyable evening walk from Teignmouth I decided to stay in Devon for a bit longer and walk the previous section ofthe route from Torquay before heading off for my final destination in Cornwall. Unusually this section of the route can also be completed using the train as the public transport part of the equation, courtesy of the onward rail route from Teignmouth.
Torquay Gardens
The station at Torquay is a shadow of its former self, when it would once no doubt have been thronged with holidaymakers all heading for this quintessential Devon holiday resort. Although fairly early on a Saturday morning, I was one of only five passengers to alight at the station. I was pleased at how convenient the station was for the seafront, which was only a matter of a couple of hundred metres away! Before continuing on my walk I took time to linger at the fairly impressive (if somewhat elderly) leisure facilities behind the promenade where the local rugby and bowls teams seem to be well catered for.
Torquay Harbour
Back to the seafront and it seemed like quite a trek around to the harbour along the sea wall. It was a slightly grey start to the day, although the prediction was that today would probably be one of the warmest days of the year so far. Although well after 9.30am it seemed as if life hadn’t really got going on the seafront, which was still surprisingly deserted. A few things caught my eye before reaching the harbour – the first was a large tethered balloon, an attraction which seems to have been replicated in other towns I have visited.No doubt on a clear day this facility would provide unrivalled views of the English Riviera, probably as far away as Brixham, some 10 miles to the south. A little further on and I was surprised to see some seriously fire-damaged buildings on the seafront, possibly as a result of arson but now hoarded off and presenting a rather sad sight for this prime location. On a happier note I was very pleased to see the fine flower displays on the approach to the harbour – a fitting decoration for such a prime spot.
Torquay's Most Famous Daughter
At the harbour the kiosk selling boat tour tickets appeared to be doing fairly brisk business. No doubt the early risers had twigged that today would be a good one for making that coastal boat trip down to Brixham and Dartmouth. There was surprisingly little other activity in the harbour though, with most of the pleasure craft still berthed.
Heading to Hope's Nose
I headed up out of the harbour and past a memorial to Agatha Christie, who was born in the town and set some of her famous stories in this part of the world. The memorial marked the beginning (or end) of the ‘Agatha Christie mile’. However, I was never to find out where the other end was, since my path deviated from the road and followed a course along the cliff top towards Hope’s Nose. This very attractive section was originally part of the Rock End Estate, which centred on a grand house. It proved to be an early workout, for the path adopted a rollercoaster pattern for the short stretch to the wonderfully named Daddyhole Plain. I passed by a Coastwatch station, the first of many that I would be seeing this week before dropping down past a large hotel above Meadfoot Beach. Here I saw a very large gathering of ramblers in the car park and my heart sank. I rushed on to make sure I put some distance between them and me so I wouldn’t get swallowed up by such a huge group.
Meadfoot Beach
As I descended on to Meadfoot Beach, I passed by the very impressive Hesketh Crescent, which was apparently built in the 1840s and now serves as timeshare properties and luxury hotel. Must remember that – looks like an exquisite place to stay. The path followed the road around the small bay, which allowed me the luxury of some quickened pace. At the other end of the bay was the hideous tower block known as Kilmorie. The residents must have an excellent view from their windows, but it is a blot on the landscape for the rest of us!I’d like to think that such a building wouldn’t be allowed to be built nowadays, which might bode well for when the building’s life finally expires!
Thatcher Rock
After a short stretch of road walking I headed out towards Thatcher Point. This was coastal walking at its finest – through woodland of Holm Oaks and with vertigo inducing steep cliffs below me! Thatcher Point is embellished with its own little island known as – you guessed it – Thatcher Rock. This little island didn’t look like it was much more than a sea bird colony, yet it really added some additional character to the coast. High above me the houses immediately behind looked like some seriously sought after properties (rarely sold I’ll bet!). My way forward was a windy path around the various gardens and the air was filled with the sounds of lawnmowers and hedge trimmers grooming the sumptuous looking gardens.
Greater Stitchwort
I returned to the road just shy of Hope’s Nose, where I decided against the option of walking to the end of the headland (principally because it was downhill and I didn’t think that it would offer that great of a view). The view from the road to the north was fantastic and I had a glimpse of the coast all the way to my final destination of Teignmouth, having changed direction completely at Hope’s Nose. The next couple of miles past Hope Cove and Brandy Cove was absolutely delightful, a green lane with smells of blossom and wild flowers filling the air and the verges of the path were a riot of colour. This eventually gave way to woodland with glimpses of a rocky beach below and the prominent headland of Long Quarry Point.
Quarrying Country
Eventually I reached Babbacombe Beach after descending steeply from the cliff tops. There was plenty of activity at the southern end of the beach, with one brave soul actually wandering around in the sea (looking a bit lost it has to be said). I was pleased to see a café ahead of me and took the opportunity to top up with refreshment before continuing.
Babbacombe Beach
Between the café and the beach at the other end of the bay was a welcome engineered footpath to negotiate around the cliff face down to the sea. Elsewhere I feel certain that the footpath would have climbed back over the top of the cliff. At the other end of the bay I could hear the unmistakable rumble of an electric train and sure enough one of the cars of the Babbacombe Cliff Railway headed down the side of the cliff to reach the base station. In hindsight I should have taken this to the top – it would have been a far more interesting and less frustrating way of reaching the top of the hill. This proved necessary as the path ahead has been diverted following a cliff fall. The diversion was unwelcome and cost me quite a bit of time and by the time I got to the top I was feeling very hot and bothered.
Babbacombe Cliff Railway
I was completely unprepared for the way ahead. The map suggested that it would be a clifftop walk but it was anything but. The first couple of miles to Maidencombe were largely in woodland, which was a bit frustrating as it was difficult to get a feeling for how far I had travelled or get any views apart from a few glimpses. By now the day was beginning to heat up and it was unseasonably hot for early April. It also made the next few miles to Teignmouth a bit of a struggle. The village of Maidencombe was delightful –one of those little out-of-the-way places so beloved of holidaymakers when the sun shines (not so sure it would be so nice in driving rain!).
From Maidencombe the path took on the character of the proverbial rollercoaster with several steep ascents and descents, playing havoc on the knees! This was rather an unwelcome outcome at the end of the walk and I couldn’t help wonder how walkers would feel if they had walked from Brixham as the guidebook suggests (an additional 8 miles before I had started in Torquay). At least this section was more open, with extensive views across to both Teignmouth and Hope’s Nose now receding behind me. There was also a welcome breeze every so often, which helped with the heat. The breeze had also attracted a couple of paragliders trying to take off, but they really struggled to get off the ground and only just cleared the trees a couple of times. I couldn’t help thinking that they would be in a lot of trouble if they caught any of the upper branches.
Launching Off
Eventually at Labrador Bay I briefly joined the main road and this signalled the last climb before Teignmouth, which was very welcome. The route alongside the road didn’t last long luckily and I descended down a small path alongside. Sadly I was greeted with the sight of a dead cat that had obviously been hit by a car. My thoughts were with the owners, who may still be blissfully unaware of the fate of their beloved pet L.
Red Coast
As the path finally freed itself from the road above I was greeted with a very welcome view of Teignmouth far below me. The seaside was obviously very busy on this sunny Saturday and the golf course that I had to pass around was also thronged with golfers. I’m not a golfer myself but it certainly looked like a very picturesque place to have a round. I had nearly a mile still to negotiate and after the initial flurry of excitement at seeing my destination, I had the small matter of descending down to the river and hoping that the ferry was running today. A foot ferry runs across the Teign from Shaldon – the alternative is a lengthy trudge along to the road bridge, a prospect I didn’t fancy at all.
The path down to Shaldon village seemed to do its best not to go on the most direct route. Although initially annoying it soon became clear why when I found a peephole through the trees to the most magnificent view across the Teign estuary and the town of Teignmouth beyond and the cliffs as far as Dawlish. It was a truly memorable view and I thank those responsible for sending the path this way and making me expend that last bit of effort!
Shaldon Ferry
I descended to the village of Shaldon and found that all the eateries and pubs were full to bursting with visitors, many of which were probably on their first day of holiday like me. I was particularly relieved to see the ferry waiting on the beach and I made a superhuman effort to make sure it didn’t go without me! Having run across the beach I was then told by the ferryman that I needn’t have worried as his daughter wasn’t there and he couldn’t go without her!
End of the Journey
It felt good to have the breeze on my face as we crossed the short stretch of water to Teignmouth. By the time I reached the other side I was desperate for an ice cream on such a warm day & found a welcome kiosk along the seafront to relax before continuing my onward journey to Cornwall and a very different kind of coast! This is a surprisingly testing section of the Coast Path, with many ascents and descents and I underestimated how long it would take (I exceeded my planned time by about an hour and a half). Although it seems like a very developed coast there are also few refreshment opportunities en route and none beyond Babbacombe until you reach Teignmouth. It would be a good idea to make sure that you have plenty on board after you leave Babbacombe. This onward section is probably the toughest, with some stiff climbs in places and can be quite energy sapping. That said, on a warm spring day such as I chose, it is a delightful walk with many flowers, birds and butterflies to keep you company!