Pete's Trip Reports

South West Coast Path (part 2), October 2003

After the great walking in the summer, doing the first part of the SWCP from Minehead to Newquay, I was keen to get going again on the next section to Lands End and beyond. The guidebook heaped praise on the next bit, with phrases like 'one of the most spectacular parts of the path', 'some of the best cliff scenery on the path', and 'rough and remote'. With descriptions like that, there was no way I going to be able to resist the temptation for long.

Just after Newquay there was a footbridge to cross the Gannel, which was only passable at low tide, so some planning was required. The low tides were at either 5am or 5pm. Surprisingly enough I didn't really fancy the 5am start, so I travelled down to Newquay in the morning, via the obligatory two trains and 1 bus, had a leisurely lunch and then got going about three o'clock.

As usual, here are the day by day notes and pictures. Click on any of the pictures below for a full size version....

Newquay → Perranporth

The late start didn't give me a huge amount of daylight, but I reckoned I could get a decent way down the coast from Newquay. I headed off along Fistral beach, and then negotiated the quiet Newquay suburbs to reach the footbridge. Strictly speaking I was still too early for low tide, but the bridge over the Gannel was well uncovered, in fact I could have got probably have got there a couple of hours earlier. There was a grassy path round Kelsey Head, then the route went through a maze of big sand dunes to reach Holywell.

After Holywell the route went through an army training area. Only a couple of hours of daylight left, and the notice board warned of unexploded devices, old mineshafts, and a "very arduous 5 mile walk" to Perranporth. I felt that I was up to the task and headed on along the path. Looking inland there were rows of Nissen huts, grids of aerials, and windowless concrete building. Everything was eerily desserted. The path traversed steep grassy hillside falling away to cliffs. Soon after reaching the headland at Ligger point I was able to drop down to the long beach for the final 3km into Perranporth. There was an impressive youth hostel high on the cliffs overlooking the town, but sadly it was closed until next summer, so I wandered around for a bit and found a B&B just before it got dark.


Perranporth → Portreath

The path from Perranporth started in dramatic fashion, traversing rugged high cliffs through gorse and heather, with remains of old mine workings, spoil heaps, granite outcrops, and disused mineshafts capped with conical metal grills. The cliff edge was crumbling away in places and this combined with the gusty winds added some excitement to the walking. As I got nearer to Trevaunance, old chimneys dotted the landscape. Looking down from the cliff top I could see two early morning surfers heading out in the small bay at Trevaunance. Down in the village I stopped off in the hotel for a pot of tea. After being buffeted by the wind on the cliff tops it was very pleasant to sit there in the warmth with a hot cup of tea looking out at the landscape.

There were more spectacular cliffs after Trevaunance, with the remains of old workings dotted about, and pink and yellow streaks in the rock. The path was fairly easy round St Agnes Head, across a hillside covered with heather with its last remains of purple flowers, and on to St Tubbys head (patron saint of childrens TV programs). From Tubbys head the path passed right beside a huge old engine house, before dropping down to Chapel Porth where there was an excellent cafe serving piping hot french onion soup from a serving hatch.

Climbing out of Chapel Porth a kestrel took off in front of me, and I got a great close up view of its red and black wing tops, as it flew low across my path, before climbing effortlessly in the wind. After Porthtowan the path was hemmed in between a fence on the edge of MOD property and the cliff edge. Nearer to Portreath there were a couple of sharp dips into valleys with giant sized steps, and the path got excitingly close to the cliff edge in places. In Portreath I found a good B&B, well in fact there was only one B&B (or the pub next door) to choose from. Good that I had arrived reasonably early, as they were both full later on.


Portreath → St Ives

It rained quite a bit overnight, but it had stopped by the morning, and I got a good early start and left Portreath just in time for an impressive red sunrise as I headed up Battery Hill. There was great clifftop scenery straight away, looking down on sea stacks, and sharp edged ridges below. The walking was easy though, on a level path through heather. Nearer to Hells Mouth the path passed a few old concrete shelters that might make good dodgy-weather bivi opportunities. I was quite hungry by this time, but both the cafes at Hells Mouth and Godrevy were closed, so I pushed on past the small lighthouse at Godrevy point.

After Godrevy Point the path dropped on to the beach for the long walk to the mouth of River Hayle. There was a cold wind blowing, and the sun had disappeared, so it was a chilly walk along the beach. Nearer to the River Hayle, the path turned inland for a while, to cross the River Hayle, and get round the large area of mud flats, Leland Saltings. If you have read the previous coast path installment then you will already know my views on inland detours, but happily this one isn't too bad, its reasonably short, and not much tarmac pounding.

The inland leg started off through the resort of Riviera Towans, with lots of small holiday chalets, nestled in the sand dunes. By this time the sun was back out, and it felt quite tropical in the dunes, which were completely sheltered from the wind. On emerging from the sand dunes, the route passed various deserted buildings on an old quayside leading up to to Hayle, which I recognised as my late breakfast stop on the first day of cycling the end to end. Funny to think that distance covered before (late) breakfast time by bicycle was equivalent to another full two days of walking.

The next bit past Leland Saltings was a bit scrappy, along a pavement beside a busy road. At Leland things improved dramatically though, the coast path turned and headed back out towards the sea, and it left the main road and went along a much quieter road through a small suburb. It was a bit of a sun trap, I had to take a few layers off, and I went past well kept gardens, with lots of flowers and trees, and insects and butterflies flitting about. And then the road popped out at the small St Uny's Church.

The next bit to St Ives, via Carbis Bay, was great, much better than I was expecting. The path started off hemmed in between the coast and the railway track, through sand dunes covered with thick grass and bushes. Next it went through trees right on the edge of steep cliffs down to sea, with great views, before it popped out at Carbis Bay. From there it continued on a tarmac path through more trees before suddenly coming out on St Ives promenade.

There was a backpackers hostel in the centre of town, but it was closed until 5pm. I had a look around town, and found a cheap room in the maze of tiny streets near the harbour. There was a good curry house in town, so I treated myself to a balti followed by an early night.


St Ives → Pendeen

I got a good early start through deserted St Ives streets, just as it was getting light. I walked past the Tate Gallery, then the mini golf course, bowling green, and then onto the rocky path. There was a shower for about 20 minutes but then it dried up again. This bit of the path was hard walking, it was very rocky, sometimes climbing through, round, or over big boulders which got bigger as the day went on. And muddy bits with stepping stones. It definitely wasn't the sort of path that you could cruise along at a good pace without concentrating. There was a cold wind blowing, but whenever you dropped into one of the sheltered valleys it warmed up considerably.

Looking inland there were big granite tors on the horizon towering over the small farms. I reached the rough granite headland at Bosigran (home of Hard Rock classics such as Suicide Wall), where there were two climbers on a good line up a corner. After the lighthouse at Pendeen Watch the path met a large area of ruined mine buildings and chimneys. I headed inland to Pendeen, and found a good pub to stay at, in fact CAMRA pub of the year 2003.


Pendeen → Porthcurno

According to the internet it was going to be mainly dry with some sun for most of the day. But there was low cloud and drizzle when I set off from the pub. I walked back down to the path and then picked my way through ruins of old mine works, buildings made from huge granite blocks, chimneys, and fenced off mineshafts. The gloomy conditions certainly added some atmosphere to the old ruins. Past the restored beam engine at Levant and on to the impressive headland with a distinctive chimney perched on the top at Cape Cornwall. Apparently you can't call any old headland a Cape, it has to be where two different bodies of water meet, and Cape Cornwall is the only one in England, standing at the meeting point of the English Channel and the St Georges Channel.

The weather slowly picked up during the morning. By the time I reached the small road leading up to the Youth Hostel at Cot Valley the internet forecast had come up trumps and it had started to dry out nicely, and the sun even came out. After the valley the path picked its way through headlands of huge granite blocks coated with light green hairy moss. And then finally round the last blocky point and down to the beach at Sennen Cove. I was definitely in need of a tea break by this time, and adjourned to the first pub that I came to in the village.

From Sennen, there was a short climb up to a granite headland, then along a wide sandy path towards Lands End. A ship had run aground on the rocks below and some wag had painted USS Tony Blair on the side of the wrecked vessel. Lands End was very busy, but I was too hungry to let the crowds put me off, and patiently negotiated the queue of coach trippers in the cafe. I did however manage to resist the temptation to buy a souvenir teatowel. It was sunny and warm by this time and after lunch I sat outside for a short while, with a cold drink, gazing at the view.

After the crowds at Lands End the path suddenly got very quiet. It was fantastic scenery, looking down on steep granite cliffs, and huge arches. The route picked its way round steep headlands to a coastguard lookout at Gwennap Head, then turned the corner, and at this point a huge new swathe of coast suddenly came into view. I felt a strange twinge of sadness at this point, the walking was superb, almost too good to come to an end, and the next stretch of coast in the distance and beyond looked flatter and less interesting. I needn't have worried, there was a flat bit past Penzance, but there were definitely some more truly awesome sections later on.

After the coastguard lookout the path descended to the tiny cove at Porthgwara. There was a small shop that was only open for another week before closing for the winter, so I made the most of it and got a large mug of tea which helped to lift me out of my temporary downer.

I soon reached the Minack Theatre on the cliffs, and headed the short distance down the road to Porthcurno. After getting a B&B sorted out I quickly rushed over the road to catch the Museum of Submarine Telegraphy (subtitled "The Victorian Internet"!) before it closed. That was a bit of a result, fantastic place! It was sited in a secret world war II communications bunker, complete with a big underground hall carved into the granite, 30cm thick blast proof steel doors, and a steep escape tunnel leading to an opening in the hillside above. Full of old instruments - transmitters, shunts, interpolators, relays, galvanometers, synchronisers - a lot of them still in full working order too.


Porthcurno → Marazion

From Porthcurno the route traversed through bushes and undergrowth, and passed a few pumpkin patches on the hillside. The tiny fishing village of Penberth appeared round a corner unexpectedly. It had a small slipway of granite slabs, with a few boats, lots of lobster pots and nets, a winch to haul the small boats up, and a few cottages.

The path continued to wind its way past granite headlands, before dropping down to a beach of large boulders at St Loy, followed by a short section of forest. Further along the coast, the path turned a rocky corner, and down into the small village of Lamorna. The cafe was open, so I stopped for a bowl of soup with good thick doorstops, while gazing out over the handful of houses clustered around the slipway, and an old quarry high up on the hillside above. The village was apparently once the centre of a thriving quarrying industry, with granite blocks loaded straight onto ships from a wooden jetty.

From Lamorna the path headed out to a headland, with lovely slabs of brown granite, flecked with white crystalline bits, rolling down to the sea. There was a big bird of prey high above the hillside, being pestered by a bunch of swallows, they followed it around in a single mass, like a swarm of bees. Lots of chubby hairy brown caterpillars were loitering on the path, so I had to be careful not to squash them. Further along the route went through a section of forest, with large conifers, and a set of art exhibits on either side of the path, made from old branches.

At Mousehole the path popped out on a road, and I sat for a while on the side of the harbour, with a cold drink, soaking up the sun. After this the walking was less interesting. A wide pavement led to Newlyn, where there was a big harbour full of fishing boats, and lots of fish shops and markets. Then along the promenade to Penzance. After a quick detour to find an ATM in Penzance main street, I pushed on along a cyclepath, hemmed in between the railway and the beach to reach Marazion by late afternoon.


Marazion → Mullion

I got a good early start from Marazion and was rewarded with excellent views of St Michaels Mount glowing in the sunrise. It was a dry morning, fairly mild, mostly dull, and quite breezy. Getting closer to Prussia Cove I could see a strange white glow that I couldn't quite make out. It turned out to be the lighting for a film crew doing some shooting centred round a cottage on top of the cliffs.

Just before Rinsey I saw a fox bounding through the bracken. The guidebook had a picture of the cafe at Praa sands with chairs outside in the sun, and surfboards propped up against the walls - it looked like a great place for breakfast. But when I got there everything was closed, the windows were all boarded up, and it seemed totally deserted. However there was some consolation in that after Praa Sands there were loads of birds of prey that were soaring over the steep grassy hillside.

Round about lunchtime I reached Porthleven. The village was centred around a decent size harbour, and had a good selection of shops and cafes. I adjourned to a cafe for a long overdue breakfast then stocked up at the supermarket. There was a long row of old terraced houses overlooking the harbour, and a stone clock tower near the seaward end.

Leaving Porthleven there was a sandy flat bit, past a large creek blocked off from the sea by a sandspit. After that the coastline got more rugged, with some good granite cliffs, and a few old mine workings and chimneys at Trevawas. I took a detour into Mullion to find a B&B and spent the best part of an hour wandering about trying to find somewhere, before I eventually came across a good place just outside the village, and not that far from where I had left the path.


Mullion → Coverack

After Mullion, the coastline got more rugged, with big cliffs and sea stacks. The path went through rocky headlands with ponies wandering about. There were also some cattle with huge sharp horns, that you definitely wouldn't want to get on the wrong side of. Thankfully they all seemed very laid back and more interested in grass munching than on harassing passers by. This was a lovely stretch, very grassy, lots of little flowers, and unspoilt, not much in the way of roads or houses looking inland. Looking out to sea though I could have sworn that I could see a submarine on the horizon.

I reached Lizard Point and adjourned to the Most Southerly Cafe for breakfast. It was warm enough to sit outside on the terrace, with the sea 50m below. A couple sitting on the next table were scanning the horizon with a pair of binoculars and were convinced they could see a submarine, which reassured me that I wasn't starting to imagine things earlier in the day.

From Lizard point the path went right past the door of the YHA. Walking in a fairly sheltered track, with deep scrub, bushes and plants on either side, winding in and out of coves, quite warm, and lots of butterflies about. After a while it started drizzling though, and I stopped and put waterproofs on next to a house with lots of exotic plants, and possibly the worlds tallest rhubarb plants down on the hillside below the path.

Eventually the path popped out at the road down to Kennack Sands. I was surprised to find the little cafe near to the beach was open, and contained a few locals who seemed to be in-situ. I got a pot of tea and toast & jam for only one pound ten, great value. Better still, on leaving the cafe, the drizzle had stopped and the sun had come out again. There was a short stretch through low wetland, with tall ferns, bushes and reeds on either side. There was a bridge over a small pond, and dragonflies of all sizes and colours darting about.

The path soon gained height again, and the next section to Coverack was absolutely superb. Traversing the rocky headlands, quite a few ups and downs, through gorse bushes, and heather with the last remaining bits of purple flowers showing. It was a long section, further than it looked on the map, and it felt quite remote, in a couple of hours I only passed two people. Finally I emerged at Coverack and walked up the short hill to the grand YHA building, where there was a total of three other people staying, although I was assured by the guy on the desk that it had been packed out the day before.


Coverack → Falmouth

There was quite a long stretch to Falmouth, plus two tidal inlets to cross, so I got a decent early start, in fact it was only just light. From Coverack there was a flat grassy track along the shoreline, with the occasional heron flying past, and lots of shags floating low on the water and occasionally diving under. At Dean quarry, the path picked its way over rusting bridges spanning concrete drainage ditches, under conveyor belts, round mounds of gravel, and past portakabins with rows of fluorescent jackets hanging up. Disappointingly, after the quarry the route headed inland for a few kilometres, for no apparent reason, but then popped out again at Porthallow, where I was able to get some breakfast from the village shop.

I reached the tidal creek at Gillan Harbour a bit too early, the tide wasn't at its lowest. I waited about 30 mins and then waded across. It wasn't too deep, only just over my ankles, and I could probably have crossed earlier. The next bit to Helford was very pleasant, through forest, walking on a carpet of sycamore leaves. The ferry at Helford stops running for two hours at low tide, and I was a bit early again, so I adjourned to the Shipwrights Arms for some refreshments. At 2pm the ferry started out from the other side of the river but then got stuck in the middle. It turned out to have got a few metres of fishing net caught round its propellor. The ferryman apologised when he eventually arrived at about three o'clock, although it wasn't really his fault. At the other side there was still a fair bit of walking to Falmouth so I resisted the lure of the Ferryboat Inn and pushed on.

After Helford the path got a bit busier, but it was pleasant enough. It traversed the edges of fields, overlooking the rocky coastline, lots of tall pine trees, but not as dramatic as previous sections. I eventually reached the outskirts of Falmouth and walked along the long seafront full of huge hotels. It was getting late, but I did the circuit of Pendennis Castle and was just starting to worry about finding a B&B when I walked straight past a street with a few of them. And there was a single room in the first one I tried. Only one thing left to do, which was to head into Falmouth to get a celebratory curry!


Finally

All-in-all an excellent trip. Fantastic weather as well considering it was october. Getting home on the train proved a bit of a challenge the next day - it seemed that most of the railway network had closed for engineering because it was a sunday, and some of the trains that the info line told me about didn't even exist. In fact it was such a challenge that I didn't even bother in the end, but stayed another day and took a bus over to St Austell and went to the Eden Project. Excellent place, well worth the trip, but thats another story altogether!

These are the technical facts for this section of the coast path. By my reckoning that only leaves 494 km (297 miles) to complete the whole path, ie. I am now over half way!

I managed to finish off the rest of the path in a trip the following year. Here is the final installment, from Falmouth to Poole.