Friday, 21 September 2018

South West Coast Path Section 28 Coverack to Helford Passage

Helford Passage
A change of pace from North Cornwall!  Having closed off the gap between Bude and Tintagel my next mission was to close the remaining Cornwall gap at the Lizard.  I had left this section until last largely because of the transport difficulties that this area poses.  I finally decided to admit defeat and get a taxi rather than deal with the lengthy and convoluted public transport options.  I used Telstar taxis for both this day and the other day from The Lizard to Coverack.  I was met on time by the very reliable and affable driver called Peter - he was very good company on both legs of the journey.  On this particular day I didn't meet him until 11am as I had the lengthy drive down from Bude to make first.  I got there in good time thankfully - I wasn't sure at one stage.

Lowland Point
The day was unrelentingly hot, just as the last two days had been.  I was glad therefore that on paper this looked like the easiest day I had  remaining.  The early part of the walk from Coverack was very pleasant and mostly flat over to Lowland Point.  There wasn't a cloud in the sky and with the sun beating down I slapped myself all over with suncream a lot sooner than usual.  The path along this section wasn't always distinct and I had to make some best guesses in some cases.  The terrain was largely flat but covered in loose boulders and scrubby vegetation of gorse, bracken and heather.  I had heard that there was a diversion in place somewhere just after Lowland Point and I wasn't looking forward to heading inland.  At Lowland Point I had to dodge a load of cows who were all rather interested in me.  I never used to worry about cows until my experience earlier in the year - now I am much more wary.

Approaching Quarry
After I passed by I had to negotiate lots of large boulders that looked as if they were serving as some kind of coastal protection.  Eventually I came to a very large sign warning of quarrying activity further on but on closer inspection it was pretty faded and I actually wondered how current the advice was.  There was a clue in how overgrown the path was; in fact it was unusually so.  I put it down to the rapid growth of buddleia bushes, which were the main culprit.  As I got closer to the quarry I could quickly see that it was long since abandoned and only the scar of the original industry was left.  Just across from the quarry the old dock that was used to ship materials out stood folornly along with some of the buildings associated with the industry.  Nature was slowly reclaiming all of it, making for a rather fascinating stretch of path.

I crossed to the next cove, where the back edge was covered in a reed bed.  I had to be careful here as the path detoured inland to the small village of Rosenithon.  As I headed up away from the beach I passed a couple of guys who looked like they were surveyors or something - they were dressed in bright orange construction suits.  I rather wanted to see what they were up to but they disappeared across a stile and seemed fairly determined not to engage with me.  The path took a route around the back garden of a house and where I was due to meet its access road I was met with a barricade.  The penny then dropped - I was at the far end of the diversion.  There had been no sign of it at the other end and I had blithely carried on.  No wonder there was an overgrown path - it was supposed to be closed!  Getting through the barricade wasn't at all easy - the path authorities had clearly done their job.  I wasn't about to be thwarted though - retracing my steps and going around the diversion was unthinkable now.  I thought I had got away with it but was clocked by the postman who looked rather unsympathetic to my cause.

Derelict Pier
Feeling relieved that  I had got through I now had some road walking to do, climbing up through the village.  I smiled as I saw a small decoration of a skeleton hanging up outside one of the houses - it was captioned 'Dehydrated Coastal Path Walker'.  It was a cue to me to make sure I had something to drink!  At the top of the hill out of the village I crossed into a field that cut off the corner of the roads and headed diagonally downhill across it and met the road once again.  This took me down the steep  hill into the village of Porthoustock; a scattering of houses behind a rather industrial looking beach.  Over on one side was another dock that looked like it could have something to do with the gabbro quarry I had passed.

Dehydrated Coastal Path Walker
I didn't linger, climbing up the slope on the other side of the village and past some delightful fields including one full of flax, that had a beautiful blue hue to it.  Sights like these made the climbing easier although to be fair it wasn't anything like as tough as  I had encountered on the north coast.  At the top I joined another road - much of today's walking was along paths and stretches of road.  There isn't really enough available coastline to make this a coast path in quite the same way as other sections.  At a crossroads further on I took the only non-road option - a small path that descended through a small avenue of trees before meeting another road and down into the village of Porthallow.  This was the village that I stayed in overnight so I took great care to check out the facilities including the pub.  It looked very acceptable so I decided to wait until the evening to have my meal there.

Former Lifeboat Station
This was the lunchtime stop for other walkers too.  A German woman was talking to some fellow walkers outside the pub - I would see her again on the path.  She was walking in the opposite direction to me and her ultimate destination for this trip was St Ives.  I sat and listened to the conversation with amusement while I scoffed a very welcome ice cream.  I mused about all the coast she would traverse in reaching that particular goal - some pretty spectacular sections.  I also learned that Porthallow is the halfway point on the path and there is a substantial marker post to commemorate this fact.  It seemed rather odd to pass this now that I am so close to completion.  By the end of the day I would have completed the whole coast from my starting position to Lulworth Cove - almost half the distance in one stretch.

Halfway Point
The next stretch of path from Porthallow to Nare Head was probably the highlight of the day.  I climbed up the steps to the side of the house nearest to be the beach passing John's Weather Stone as I did so.  I have come across a number of these across the country now - they are amusing at first but perhaps a little whimsical after the first time you see one.  The stone accurately predicts the weather depending on how wet it is...

Small Tortoiseshell
Once at the top I followed a path through bracken and brambles along the top of a cliff for the most part although it did undulate quite a bit.  Views across to Falmouth were now starting to open up and by straining my eyes a bit I could see St Mawes castle way off in the distance, evoking memories of doing the Roseland Peninsula a year ago.  My goal was the little lookout spot at Nare Head, now used of course by the National Coastwatch Institute.  I have lost count of how many there are  of these - they must have been quite a financial burden to the coastguard and no wonder they aren't under state control any more.  It is good to know that they are still be used for much the same purpose.

Nare Head
Guarding the Coastwatch Institute was a large herd of cows.  The volunteers inside the building didn't seem to notice - they were too busy tracking the boats in Falmouth Bay.  I walked on by knowing that through a combination of cows and indifference I wouldn't be getting much conversation out of these fellows.  I turned instead to a different kind of coast as the path now headed along the shore of Gillan Creek.  This was delightful and could easily have rivalled the last stretch had it not been for a lengthy inland diversion due to a rock fall and this rather spoiled my enjoyment.

St Anthony across Gillan Creek
I had worried a little about the state of the tide.  At Gillan Creek further on I would be able to cross by fording the shallow part if the tide were low enough.  Sadly for me it wasn't and I therefore had to face the lengthy walk around the head of the creek to bridge it at Carne.  This was going to add more than two miles and include a fairly steep climb, not something I welcomed on such a hot day.  I tried to focus on the cold drink I promised myself at the shop on the other side of the creek.  I set off on a mission to get this bit done as soon as possible and slogged up the hill.  I had to go into a field towards the top and got a bit disorientated as the corn was so tall that I couldn't see where I was supposed to be going.  Add some stingers in the mix and by the time I reached the road that marked the top I was properly cursing.

The remaining part of the walk around to St Anthony-in-Meneage was along the road.  This wasn't as bad as it sounds for there was barely any traffic and after reaching the old mill at the end of the creek I turned to walk along a largely shaded stretch of road and progress was quite quick.  I cannot say that these extra two miles added much in the way of extra experience though.  Apart from the mills, (which were scenic), watching two children going round in a circle in their kayak on the water (not sure they had got the hang of steering) and seeing lots of mullet swimming in the creek this stretch was one I could easily have done without.  When I got to St Anthony I was more than ready for a drink.  The only shop was at the boatyard but the cold lemonade I got from there was more than welcome.

St Anthony-In-Meneage
I had another short climb up out of the village to St Dennis Head.  Somewhere in the undergrowth at the top is a watchtower called Little Dennis.  I did try and find it but I guess that was always going to be an impossibility at a time of year when vegetation is at a maximum.  Instead I settled for the view out across Carrick Roads, which was marvellous.  At the end of the headland I swung back to follow down the other side and along another creek - this time Helford Passage.  I briefly met the outward path before heading down to the right along a path that at first clung to the top of the cliff alongside a field but eventually dived down into the wood that fringed the creek.  This made for nice shady walking but apart from a few welcome glimpses outwards it also meant that I saw little of the creek itself.  The tantalising glimpses I did see were fantastic and every so often I came across a small cove that were usually filled with families barbecuing.  Sounded like a great plan to me!

Helford Passage Cove
As I reached Helford I had to dog leg around some houses in order to find the car park once again.  Before leaving I did take the opportunity to walk into the very picturesque village.  Only resident cars are allowed and seeing the difficulty a delivery driver had with the ford to access the village it is no wonder.  I wandered through the very narrow street to finally reach the ferry crossing.  There would be no need for me to do this today since I had already walked the onward leg, way back in 2011.  It just remained for me to retrace my steps back to the car and reflect on the day.  This was probably the perfect leg to do on such a hot day - it wasn't too challenging although it wasn't without its frustrations.

Helford Ford

Monday, 10 September 2018

South West Coast Path Section 12 Bude to Crackington Haven

Bude Beach

I was assured that this was an easier section than the following one that I had done in reverse. I wasn't sure that was going to be necessarily true with the heatwave that we were having for I find walking in the heat adds an extra dimension of effort. I did have the luxury of a later start though and made the most of it with a leisurely breakfast before heading off to Crackington Haven. It did feel slightly odd not just walking out from my B & B in Bude but I thought it best because of the lack of parking in Bude and also because I didn't want the same fun and games with the buses that I had had yesterday.

The Bude Light

By the time I got back to Bude the heat had already started to build as by now it was mid-morning. I stocked up on refreshments and headed down to Bude Canal. This highly unusual canal is still in water in Bude and there are a number of boats that ply the short length remaining. It has the only lock that accesses the canal directly from the sea in the UK and judging from the number of people milling about it is still quite a popular feature in the town. The original canal reached 35 miles into the hinterland and was unusual in that it used inclined planes rather than flights of locks to negotiate the contours along its length. These are all derelict now but they can be traced and there is some consideration towards restoration.

Bude Canal

Once I had left the canal and the people eating breakfasts aboard a floating cafe I climbed up towards Compass Point, a curious landmark that is octagonal in shape and has compass points on each of the sides. The view from the top was fantastic looking right out across the expansive sandy beach in Bude and the tough sections of coastline back to Hartland Quay. My onward view was less obvious principally because I had some headlands to walk over before I got to Widemouth Bay, approximately 3 miles away. The next headland was at Efford Down which was adorned with a trig point rather than a tower. It had a small additional stone built pillar next to it - the purpose of which I could not determine.

Compass Point

The path over the cliffs to Widemouth Bay was delightful as well as being quite easy going. It limbered me up for the tougher parts of the day which were to come much later. When I got to Upton I was met by the coastal road. Just shy of meeting the road and I passed what professed to be a bookshop, with proceeds going to charity. It looked as if a number of the books on the table had been there for some time judging by their faded look. I wasn't tempted, principally because it meant something else to carry for the day.

Heading Out Of Bude

At Phillips Point I found a nice bench to set myself down on while I had a much needed water break. I had the feeling it was going to be that kind of a day. Having got the public transport part of the day out of the way I wasn't really in a hurry anyway. I sat and watched a kestrel hunting for some time here before I headed over the last of the small hills to reach Lower Longbeak. This headland enabled perhaps the best view of Widemouth Bay and was thronged with people, most of who I suspected had parked at the adjacent car park judging from their footwear.
Widemouth Bay

I made my way down to Widemouth Bay and determined to make the most of this refreshment opportunity even though it was a bit early for lunch. It was mostly because I couldn't be sure I would have another one before I got to Crackington Haven and the onward walk would be a lot harder than the fairly easy section that I have had so far. I stopped at the first place I came to which was a coffee/ ice cream shop and decided I had done enough to warrant an ice-cream. As I consumed it I briefly contemplated walking across to the tide line and walking barefoot across the beach. I decided against it principally because I didn't want to disturb dozens of people laid out enjoying the sunshine. Picking my way through the hoards looked a bit daunting so I proceeded along the back of the beach, which was easier even if less enjoyable.
Widemouth Bay

The path soon climbed away from the beach and a more expected type of walk was to now follow. I walked through a welcome shaded section until reaching a road. I climbed the first hill by means of using the road and soon passed a sign saying that buses were prohibited. Imagine my amusement therefore when a very large 53 seat coach went thundering by. I knew it would be back and it was only a few minutes later. I wasn't sure how it had managed to turn around at the top but to my disappointment it had. Perhaps he did know something I didn't after all. When I got to the top I immediately saw that there was a turning circle easily big enough for the bus. I also saw the most amazing view back towards Widemouth Bay and it was hard to believe that I had already walked so far. I moved on from the parking area onto the path a little further on and decided to stop for an extended period and just enjoy my surroundings. Below the waves crashed against the base of the cliffs and the seagulls cried overhead. I was completely lost in the moment for a few minutes and I felt very happy that I had taken the time to do this. Sometimes I focus too much on the goal rather than enjoying the journey.

Once I had summoned up the energy to carry on I descended almost down to sea level from my lofty spot via some steep steps. This was Millook, a delightful little spot dominated by a small house with a sizeable verandah that looked a bit more New England than England. It was certainly a little place that I would have enjoyed spending some extended time. Instead I had to plod up the hill via the road that I had rejoined. Thankfully it wasn't much further as the path disappeared off to the right towards the top of the hill and plotted a course along the cliff edge once again. This stretch of path was easy going for a bit and most enjoyable for there was a welcome breeze in my face for a while.

The crest of the hill was a long time coming but when it arrived there was a very welcome chair to greet me. I took advantage and as I sat guzzling water I was buzzed by a microlight plane. I imagine his view was even better than mine although it was pretty special up here. My nice path was interrupted soon after by a small valley and I had to drop down into the woods for a short time at Bynorth Cliff. The shade was welcome but the climb back out the valley was less so. I climbed to the top at Dizzard Point to where I reckoned was the highest point of the day. Just after I passed the trig point at the top I bumped into Frank once again, the bearded walker who I had said hello to the previous day. This time we had a much longer conversation and recalled our different experiences walking the coast path. It turned out that he had lived in Lancing - what a small world it is! He was walking the path at a leisurely pace and with all his kit with him he could start and stop more or less where he wanted.

We parted wishing each other luck and I continued along the flat path for a bit thinking that Frank had a bit of a climb to do shortly that I hadn't warned him about. I needn't have worried - the one I encountered was fearsome to say the least! Although it wasn't all the way down to sea level this time the gradient was joint sapping to say the least. Unusually I decided to pause at the bottom. My feet were pretty hot and there was a very welcoming stream that is simply had to dip my toes into. As I sat enjoying the coolness of the water I suddenly caught sight of movement in the fast flowing stream. Upon closer inspection I realised that it was a tadpole and as I looked harder I could see heaps of them! I hoped that the presence of my feet didn't pollute the water too much for them :)

Feeling refreshed I clambered up the other side of the valley very slowly to help conserve my energy a bit. On paper I was getting pretty close to my destination now but of course being the coast path progress wasn't that straightforward. I had another couple of valleys to traverse - the first fairly minor but the next was another beast. It wasn't altogether clear where I needed to cross the valley but I felt for sure I would have to when I saw the terrain ahead. Off in the distance I could also see St Gennys church, which from this angle looked like it was partly built within the hill. My path didn't go immediately across the valley but took me down along a fantastic ridge to Castle Point. For my money this little short stretch was the highlight of the day. I lingered at Castle Point - it really needed a little time to appreciate its beauty. Below me the heather was already coming out - it seemed a bit early but nevertheless it gave the hillside a beautiful purple hue, broken up here and there with little splashes of yellow from newly flowering gorse. This is one of the classic natural colour schemes and has inspired lots of gardeners worldwide.
Castle Point View

I had one last descent and ascent to make - they weren't quite as intense as previous ones thankfully. At the top I could now see Crackington Haven below me - it was a very welcome sight indeed. I also met heaps of walkers coming up to this headland from the beach below. It is clearly a popular spot as my descent was punctuated with lots of stops to allow passage to passersby. When I got to the bottom there was only one place I was headed and that was to the sea to cool off. It was extraordinarily welcome on such a hot day. This was as memorable a section as the onward one that I had done the day before and even though it was four miles shorter it could not be described as particularly easy.
Crackington Haven