Monday, 16 July 2018

South West Coast Path Section 15 Port Isaac to Padstow

Port Isaac View
Another fabulous day of weather in store for this section and not too early a start on account of it being a Sunday and therefore no early morning buses.  I set off from my base in Tintagel with plenty of time to spare and drove down to Rock.  I had time to look at parking options before finding a space close to the bus stop and ambled over to it.  There was only one bus stop sign so I stood by it, seeing another person waiting also.  A bus came along on the opposite side of the road and the driver signalled I thought that he was going to turn around and come back for us.  When he didn't immediately I started to get a bad feeling and soon realised that I had missed it!  To say I was cross was an understatement.  I wasn't going to wait two hours for the next one and so I gathered up the other chap (who had thought the same as me and was also going to Port Isaac) and we drove there first.
Port Isaac Streets
We arrived at almost the same time as the bus so we didn't lose any walking time.  I did face the problem of getting the bus at the end of the walk - something I always hate doing.  The other chap and I went our separate ways at Port Isaac; I thought it better that we maintain our solitude after the car ride especially because I didn't want to struggle to keep up with him.
Previously at Port Isaac I had failed to see what all the fuss was about - this time I totally got it.  The part where the bus drops you is kind of the working area; the scenic part of the village was down at the bottom of the hill.  I probably should have expected this given the name of the place!  It was up there with other scenic beauties of Cornwall including Polperro, Cawsand and Padstow.  I lingered in the streets for a short while soaking up the holiday relaxed atmosphere until moving on.
Downgate Cove
I climbed up and away from The Haven and wandered out towards Lobber Point.  Here I got a sense of the scale of the tightly packed fishing village and how it fits into the bigger landscape.  I also got a great view along the coastline of my fogbound walk a few weeks previously.  It did look tough - maybe it was a good thing I couldn't see much at the time!
I rounded Logger Head and headed down to the valley floor a little further on.  My erstwhile companion wasn't far in front of me and I wondered whether it had been a good idea to let him go first as it hadn't taken much to catch him back up.  I crossed the valley and had my first real climb of the day - quite a slog up through cow parsley and hawthorn bushes.  At the top the path wound around some fields and past a couple of burial mounds before dropping down through a rather scenic zig zag section with a gate to pass along the back of Downgate Cove.  The winding nature of the path made it feel as though I was doing rather more mileage than I actually was.  I took my time though - it was hugely enjoyable looking at the flowers and all the butterflies and other insects busying themselves collecting pollen.
Doyden Castle
The problem with winding down on the coast is that sooner or later you have to wind up too and the other end of the cove was no exception to this.  I climbed up and passed around Kellan Head where I passed a couple that had been ahead of me for some time.  They were being sensible and pausing on the provided bench for a good look at the view.  I plodded on, seemingly around another corner, where I came upon Portquin.  I decided to stop on a bench myself at this point for the heat was starting to get to me a little bit.  From here I could see both Doyden Castle and The Rumps far away in the distance.  I still had a fair way to reach that point but from there the path promised to be a lot easier until the end of the day.
Take Off
Doyden Castle is a much photographed building from this stretch of the coast.  It sits atop a small headland called Doyden Point.  It isn't  really a castle - it was built in the 1820s by Samuel Symmons as a gambling and drinking den by all accounts.  I suppose if you are going to do those things; best to do so away from the glare of others...
Lundy Hole
I negotiated Portquin where there were quite a few people coming in from their sea kayaking expeditions.  A rental place on the shore was obviously doing brisk business especially as the sea was so calm. I headed uphill away from the hamlet once again passing several sets of walkers as I did so.   This is evidently a popular stretch of the coast although most were dog walkers rather than hikers. Initially the coast looked a bit denuded of vegetation and I read that there had been some antimony mines here once.  I imagine some of the vegetation has been stunted by heavy metal pollution. My car companion was visibly in front of me only minutes ahead of me, but it would be over the next couple of miles or so that I eventually lost him for good.  My attention was far more on the coast next to me than the walkers far off in front.  This is because for my money the next mile or so was the most scenic part of the day, with tantalising views of sandy beaches far below, rocky coves and flowering bushes vying for the attention of all the butterflies in evidence.
The Rumps
One of the most intriguing sights from the path was Lundy Hole.  This was clearly a sea cave once but the roof has collapsed leaving an arch and the beginnings of a beach in the washed out section.  This is definitely geology in action!  It made for a fascinating sight and I was pleased that I took a moment to look over the fence - I reckon it always pays to do this as you never know what you might see.
Polzeath Beach
Each time I rounded a headland or cove now the Rumps got ever closer and I was soon upon them.  I was a little relieved that I didn't have to negotiate the coast of these two rocky outcrops although there were paths over to take a closer look.  I instead took a path that took the high point of what I imagine will eventually become the cliff line when the Rumps are eventually eroded to become islands.  This also spelt the last of the climbing for I was now at the highest point on the walk with only downhill sections to follow.  From here I remember that the Cornwall coast going west is rather easier going than what I have experienced between here and the Devon border.
Once past the Rumps I headed to Pentire Head, one of the classic headlands of Cornwall.  I took time to have a sit down, gather myself a bit and enjoy the view out across Padstow Harbour, the Doom Bar and Trevose Head in the distance.  The panorama laid out before me deserved some time and I stayed for quite a while enjoying the overall view and picking out some details using the binoculars that I faithfully tote around but seemingly never use.  After lounging for a while I gathered up my strength and wandered down towards the inviting looking beach at Polzeath that was thronged with surfers and swimmers.
Personal Service
After being high on the cliffs for most of the day the beach was a bit of a shock to the system especially as I felt very over-dressed.  While the surfers were backwards and forwards through the waves the beachcombers were being provided with a personalised ice cream van service.  The roving van appeared to be crossing the beach to find whatever demand it could.  I decided instead to avail myself of the ice cream opportunities at the back of the beach for there I would have a much bigger choice.  I wasn't disappointed.
Clouds Imitating Trees
Feeling refreshed I plodded on.  The last stretch of the walk from Polzeath back to Rock was along much lower terrain as I headed in to the Camel estuary.  I was thankful for this as the heat was starting to get to me by this point.  This stretch of the path was very popular with most of the traffic being dogwalkers and young families introducing their little ones to walking or bumping along in their all terrain buggies.  I crossed the beach at Daymer Bay and thought that I really should have been enjoying the beach rather than trudging across it.  I made my mind up that at Rock I would make sure that I dipped my toes in the water before making for the car.
Rock Ferry
I wasn't quite done yet though - after walking around Brea Hill on the shoreward side I had to cross some sand dunes and they are always hard going.  I was very aware of different sounds around me now.  Far off in the distance a brass band were playing - I imagine this was in Padstow on the opposite bank.  They were soon drowned out by the unmistakable thud thud thud of a helicopter and I rather hoped that this wasn't performing a sea rescue.  As I got nearer to Rock the ferry then got my attention as it made the short journey across from Padstow.  Having parked on the Rock side there was no need for me to use the ferry - more's the pity.
Daymer Bay
As soon as I reached the beach by the ferry drop off I did as I threatened and slid my boots and socks off and in I went.  My feet definitely thanked me for it!  Once refreshed I wandered up through Rock to find the bus stop.  It did take a while to get there (it's nearly a mile from the ferry dock) but not as long as I imagined and I ended up with quite a lengthy wait for the bus - this time I made sure I was on the garage side of the road so I didn't miss it!
Rock View
Despite the bus troubles this was a most satisfying walk and encapsulates most of the features that the SWCP is renowned for including cliffs, sand dunes and even the ferry crossing of the Camel Estuary.  I could see why my car companion had it as one of his 50 walks he had to do in the UK.

Friday, 13 July 2018

South West Coast Path Section 10 Hartland Quay to Morwenstow

Hartland Quay
It was with much relief that I woke to find that the fog had lifted overnight and replaced by a fresh sunlit day.  This meant I could proceed with the plan I had yesterday to walk the section between Hartland Quay and Morwenstow.  Before I did I had the whole morning to kill since I would again be taking the one bus per day that calls into the tiny village of Morwenstow on its way from Bude to Hartland village.  It did provide the opportunity for me to explore Tintagel Castle, which I had managed to see very little of during my last visit to the village.  It was a wrong that I am glad I had the opportunity to put right.
In my enthusiasm to get to the bus on time I managed to get there an hour early and I was pretty pleased that it was a nice warm day for the wait would have been unbearable otherwise.  Eventually the bus came and I switched places with one person who got off.  I wonder how long the service will last with such meagre clientele?  We seemed to take forever to get to Hartland with the bus going in and out of lanes to pick up non-existent passengers, turning round and heading back out again.  We did this at least four times before we got to our destination.  Amazingly the bus connects with one that heads over to Bideford.
Painted Lady
Hartland village was deserted but the road down to the Quay was anything but.  This wasn't a pleasant walk but rather more palatable downhill than it was uphill from the coast when I was last in these parts in 2013.  Eventually I got to the church in Stoke village.  It was every bit as tall as I remember it.  I didn't go inside as I thought about the miles ahead that I had to do and wanted to crack on.  Luckily this ended the road walking as just past the church the path took a course through a hollow hedge for a short stretch and then out onto a field.  I headed for the Pleasure House, the rather strange folly that I remember from last time on this section of coast.  Now reunited with the coast path at last it was a short step from here down to Hartland Quay past the rather exquisite Rocket House.
Black Sheep
Hartland Quay is quite an oddity.  No longer a working quay it is rather remarkable it was ever used at all such is the treacherous looking coastline hereabouts.  Many ships didn't make it to the quay and the coast is littered with wrecks.  Now the buildings that served the quay are a hotel, pub, shop and even a small museum.  I provisioned myself and cracked on with what promised to be a challenging walk.  Given my late start it was already mid afternoon so I was not over-blessed with time.  A steep climb ensued and it was pretty clear that this was going to be a stretch of coast that had suffered from quite a lot of cliff erosion judging by the moved fence lines.
Thou Shalt Not Pass
Apart from the initial steep climb the first part of the walk wasn't too bad.  Once I had gained a bit of height the rather incredible rock formations carved out by the sea on the wave cut platform became evident.  Ahead of me was St Catherine's Point, an almost perfect conical shape but already being nibbled by the sea.  At the bottom was a delightful waterfall, doing its bit for erosion too. I reckon that within a thousand or so years this will have disappeared altogether and the sea will have claimed her prize.  I was relieved to see that the path went around the hill and not up and over it.  Surrounding the bottom was a field full of black sheep.  I wondered whether there was a 'white sheep of the family' but evidently not.  I can honestly say that this is the first time I have ever seen a field exclusively filled with black sheep.
Speke's Mill Mouth
A little further on and I came upon the fabulous Speke's Hill Mouth complete with waterfall.  This is one of the most famous spots on the coast path and rightly so.  However, without a drone to take an overhead shot from it isn't easy to get a picture that does the place justice.  I walked a little way up the valley behind the falls and was warned that the cows blocking my path were a bit testy.  Lucky for me they moved off just far enough away that I could cross the bridge across the stream safely and proceed on my way.  I then had the choice of the clifftop route and the valley route going forward.  This turned out to be the wrong choice as further up the valley I came upon another herd of cows that completely blocked my way and didn't look like they were in the mood for moving on.  The first couple moved out of the way but there was one behind that looked more determined and I could envisage her big horns coming for me and so I decided to take a detour up the slope away from the path.

Mansley Cliff
I'm not sure I was quite prepared for how far up the slope I would have to get before finding the other path but it was good practice for what would be coming later.  Once I was at the top of this slope I faced some relatively easy walking for a while on mostly level cliffs with just small undulations.  Mansley Cliff was particularly striking especially against the sunshine lighting up a dark cloud behind.  Just past here and I found myself on a road and wondered how hard this section was going to get.  Are most of the climbs on the southern section and therefore already completed?  I was soon disavowed of this notion when just past the biggest clump of foxgloves I have ever seen I found myself at the top of a very large valley at Welcombe Mouth.

Cliff Line
Now the serious part of the walk was to start.  From here to Morwenstow I had four deep valleys to negotiate and the path plunged down from over 100 metres to sea level and back up the other side.  I wasn't sure I knew this at the time - possibly a good thing!  The first valley was at Welcombe Mouth, which certainly lived up to its name.  A very scenic valley slightly off the beaten track and judging from the small number of vehicles in the car park yet to be discovered by the masses.  I certainly wasn't complaining though - large numbers of people would soon swamp this beautiful place and it would lose its magic.  The waterfalls here were particularly lovely.

Cornish Border
Having come almost down to sea level I then puffed my way back up the other side. I did not really get any chance to enjoy some level ground following my climb.  The next descent was almost immediate and past Ronald Duncan's Hut, which was open for visits.  I popped in to take a look and could  immediately see what an inspiring place it must have been to write.  Ronald Duncan was a writer, poet and playwright who lived nearby and used this hut for his works.  Now open to the passing visitor it makes for a refuge we can all enjoy.  I imagine on the windier days on the path hikers find it a particularly welcoming spot.

Looking Back Into Devon
Again I slithered down to the valley floor, although not quite as deep this time.  The footbridge at the bottom marked the boundary between Devon and Cornwall and for me marked completion of all of the Devon Coast Path.  It felt like an achievement although a slightly strange location to reach this milestone.  The border was marked on each side by some wooden signs - Cornwall's being rather more welcoming than Devon's.

Level Section
Having crossed the bridge and therefore the border I had to clamber up the other side of the valley.  I got a little more flat ground to walk across before plunging down again, this time into Litter Mouth.  Progress had slowed considerably by now as a combination of the heat, rocky path and lung busting ascent all took their toll.  I was relieved when I reached the top of the ascent from Litter Mouth as for a time at least there was a level section of walk that allowed me to get my breath back.  The respite was short lived though as the next valley at Yeolmouth was less than a quarter of a mile away.  By the time I got up to Henna Cliff the sight of Morwenstow Church finally came into view and I cannot begin to tell you how welcome it was!

Morwenstow Church
By rights I should have had one more plunging valley before reaching the church but unusually I was very relieved to see that the path ahead of me was blocked because of cliff erosion further on.  If I had been walking on to Bude I would have had to divert around Morwenstow church.  As I wasn't it gave me the legitimate excuse of taking the short cut across the field back to my car.  It was a relief after the rollercoaster nature of the last couple of miles of the walk.  I had admiration for those walkers that do the whole section to Bude from Hartland Quay but I was pleased that I hadn't!