I was up at 7 am and already there were 3 caravans waiting to pitch – half term mayhem had started. Ian and Barbara had already packed their wet tents away and Ian caught a bus around Newquay. I went for a coffee at the local shop with Barbara as she was leaving on another bus to head back to Germany.
I packed away at 9 am and headed towards Newquay. The high cliffs here overlook beautiful clear sea and sandy beaches, most of which are joined together at low tide. It was another lovely walk until I reached Newquay town.
I couldn’t believe how many new hotels and apartments had been built along the coast. The dominant Watergate Bay Hotel was now dwarfed by other establishments. This looked like the posh end of Newquay. The town itself was heaving with people and did not look so posh. (Neither of my German friends liked Newquay.)
I bumped into Barbara again as she was waiting for another bus, so we went for a cream tea in Newquay town. People-watching was fun.
The sun was trying to come out as I left the town and walked over Towan Head to Fistral Beach, the home of British surfing. Just on the headland at the edge of the town is the Huer’s Hut, a 14th Century huer’s look out for shoals of pilchard. Upon spying a shoal the huer would ‘hue’ (alert) the local fishermen.
Fistral Beach was packed and there were at least 4 surf schools in the water, despite the lack of waves.
Over Pentire is Crantock Beach, an old family favourite. The Fern Pit Cafe has steps leading down the steep cliff to the River Gannel and a footbridge that is submerged at high tide (when they run a ferry). The old shop with live crab and lobster in tanks that kids can look at was still there.
I walked along the beach and a sea mist came in; I remember sea mists being frequent at Crantock.
I climbed up the cliff at the end of the beach and walked around Pentire Point West to Porth Joke, our favourite beach. It looked just the same: no lifeguards, huts or cafes here, just a small beach with a shallow stream running onto it. It is a half mile walk from the car park to the beach and I had always wanted to stay at the small campsite (no caravans allowed) that is next to the path. Today was my chance.
This campsite always finds room for hikers so I had no problem getting a space. The facilities were basic but I managed.
I walked the half mile back to the beach for a swim and tried to get all my stuff dry before I headed back up to The Bowgie Inn at West Pentire for dinner. The sea mist rolled in again, thicker this time.
It rained all night but, thankfully, it stopped at about 8.30 am and so I got up. What a grey day compared to the previous days. No matter, I was still sticking to my plan of walking around Trevose Head.
Ian and Barbara, two coastal walkers who had camped on the same sites as me the last 2 nights, were already packed away and having coffee outside Constantine Store. I joined them and had chocolate milk, a cereal bar and a banana for breakfast. They were both lone walkers who had just walked together the last 3 days; Ian was heading for Plymouth and Barbara (another German) was heading home tomorrow. It turned out they were walking to Mawgan Porth as well today so we parted knowing we’d likely meet again later.
I walked across a golf course to the North side of Trevose Head at Mother Ivey’s Bay and then walked the coast back around to Treyarnon. The views were not as good as they might have been but the beaches were beautiful and the sea was outstandingly clear.
I passed Booby’s Bay (scene of my surfing accident about 20 years ago) and walked along Constantine Beach. Surfers were already in the water and I stopped to buy a coffee from a little van and watch them. I remembered how I loved the houses sitting on the low cliffs here.
Back at Treyarnon my tent had dried out so it was quick to pack away and get going.
The sea on the next section looked unbelievably stunning and reminded me of Scotland. I could see the rocks, the sand and the seaweed under the water. The cliff top was designated a corn bunting sanctuary area and I heard them but didn’t see any.
The cliffs here had been washed away to leave ‘fingers’ sticking out into the sea with small coves in between, each one more beautiful than the next.
Porthcothan beach was empty. I skirted around it and carried on to Park Head. Porth Mear was a tiny cove, without a beach, that looked like a great spot for wild camping and swimming.
The sun was coming out as I rounded Park Head and saw Bedruthan Steps. A lovely sight as the cliffs had grown higher and the sandy beaches more golden and further away at the base of the cliff.
I reached Mawgan Porth and, sure enough, Ian and Barbara had pitched at the same campsite I picked. We all shared one pitch, with our 3 small tents, and consequently the kind owner only charged is £4 each. Best bargain ever as it was a really clean and nice campsite. It was also full from tomorrow (half term) and I was concerned this was going to be the same at many campsites.
As soon as I’d handwashed my sweaty clothes I headed down to the beach for a swim. There wasn’t much surf but I managed to catch a few waves, even without a board or fins. This was better than the other 2 people standing in the sea holding surf boards.
I can’t decide if everyone stares at me because I’m the only person not wearing a full body wetsuit (even though the sea isn’t cold) or if it’s my ridiculous tan lines?
I bumped into Tanya (the other German walker from last week) on the beach and we agreed to meet in the Merrymoor Inn (the only pub in town) for dinner. Ian and Barbara joined us and we gorged ourselves on all-you -can-eat curry (which was actually really good) washed down with local beer. To top it off, tonight there was entertainment in the pub. We were treated to 84-year old Larry singing Irish folk songs and playing his penny whistle (he even wet it first!) and the Newquay Rowing Club Singers doing renditions of Cornish songs. It was all brilliant and the Germans loved it. What a great evening.
It had been another cold night but the sun was already warm at 7 am when I set off. I had left my tent up and just set off to walk the 5 miles around Pentire Point (the bit I missed yesterday).
It was glorious in the morning sun, and nice not to be carrying a rucksack. I had great views all the way along the coast and across to Hartland Point (very faint in the distance). My only company was a few fishing boats in the water and cows on the headland.
Rumps Point once had an Iron Age hill fort atop it and must have been well defended.
Pentire Point is a fantastic viewpoint. From there I could see Padstow Bay, along the Camel Estuary to Padstow, Stepper Point and Trevose Head on the other side of the Camel Estuary. There were lots of golden sandy beaches.
I returned to the campsite to pack up my tent and then headed to the nearest cafe for some well-earned breakfast.
It was only 3 miles around Trebethernick Point and along Daymer beach to Rock. Wonderful in the morning sunshine.
As I arrived at Rock the passenger ferry that bridges the Camel was ready to leave so hopped on board. This meant I didn’t go into Rock itself but, with my underwear hanging from my rucksack to dry, I didn’t think this posh town was ready for me.
Padstow was busy but strangely quiet. I think everyone was hanging around the harbour in silence waiting for lunchtime so they could head to one of the Rick Stein eateries.
I bumped into Tanya, one of the Europeans from last week, which was nice. She was off to get a bus so I went to get an ice cream and then headed to the National Lobster Hatchery. It was established in 2000 and aims to increase the Cornish lobster population by keeping berried hens (pregnant female lobsters) and then incubating their offspring so they don’t become prey in the wild. This way they try and replace the stock we deplete. It was very interesting.
I couldn’t eat lobster after that so I bought a pasty from Chough Bakery, the 2016 World Pasty Champions. It tasted very nice sat on a park bench overlooking the River Camel.
Clouds started appearing and the wind strength increased as I walked out to Stepper Point and looked across at Polzeath and Pentire Head. As I turned the corner I left behind the Caribbean-green, shallow, sandy estuary and faced the dark blue, choppy, deep sea. Quite a contrast.
I was now entering childhood holiday territory. I calculated that 25 years had passed since this next stretch of coastline was my family’s annual holiday destination. Time to see how much it had changed.
At Harlyn Bay I headed inland, cutting out Trevose Head (left for tomorrow), and walked along the roads to Treyarnon. I decided to camp there as I wanted to swim in the tidal pool that we used to love as kids.
After walking around I determined that only 1 out of 3 campsites was immediately available (I had moved out of any phone signal area, which didn’t help matters when campsite receptions were closed). Where I ended up was not great but I had no choice. I pitched and walked to the sea.
Treyarnon Bay had not moved on in 25 years. It was exactly the same and has an air of being in the middle of nowhere. I even saw a man using a pay phone in a red telephone box – it really was an old fashioned pay phone, I checked. They don’t even have those in Shetland!
The pool was deserted, which wasn’t how I remembered it. It also seemed rather small. No matter, I went for a swim and even dived off the rock a few times. It wasn’t even that cold and the water was crystal clear.
I struggled to wash my sweaty clothes and then contemplated the 2 mile walk to St Merryn for a decent meal. Fortunately the student working in the campsite reception offered me a lift. Unfortunately, it had started raining when I left and I had to navigate the 2 miles back across overgrown fields in the rain. I got soaked and my only set of “clean” clothes were now covered in mud. Oh well, at least I made it.
I went to sleep last night to the sound of cows mooing and sheep baaing. It sounded like an animal version of The Waltons, “night Jon-boy”, “night Mary-Ellen”. (I might have been on my own for too long.)
It was very windy this morning and a lot chillier. In fact I woke up cold in the night. I packed away and headed into Tintagel for a coffee and pain-au-chocolat to set me on my way. I was expecting another hard walk, and I wasn’t disappointed.
High cloud was diluting the sun; pretty much perfect walking conditions. The views were amazing again.
The 3 miles between Tintagel and Trebarwith Strand once had 10 slate quarries. There were some fantastic slate pinnacles left behind. The high quality Upper Devonian slate has been used for building and roofing since the early 15th Century.
Gull Rock dominated my view along the coast to Rumps Point. I could see my entire day’s walk ahead of me.
There were 5 big descents and ascents close together. I met some people who told me they’d read a book last night that said this section of the coast walk should only be attempts by people training to join the Royal Marines. In that case I qualified for my green beret!
Port Isaac is very quaint; an old fishing village nestled in the cliff. The buildings are all crammed in and higgledy-piggledy, which adds to the charm. There were a lot of tourists, I think mostly looking for Doc Martin as Port Isaac doubles as Port Wen in the television series. I bought a pasty and sat on the wall, opposite Doc Martin’s house, to eat it while admiring the view. To finish off I headed into the nearest cafe for tea and cake. My legs deserved a break and my shorts seem to have grown bigger recently so I need to try and fill them again!
From Port Isaac to Port Quin. A much smaller settlement in a natural harbour. Just like Port Isaac, at the centre of the village is an old fish cellar.
Port Quin is ‘guarded’ by Doyden Castle, a truncated gothic folly built in 1827. This small bit of coast is peppered with old silver, lead and copper mines, and plenty of sea caves.
I was on the last stretch of another gorgeous day. I had decided it was too much for me to walk around Pentire Head so I cut across the headland straight to Polzeath (I’ll walk it in the morning).
Polzeath is sheltered in Hayle Bay, just on the East side of Padstow Bay, before the start of the Camel Estuary. There was lots of house building going on, all big windows and wooden boarding. There were also lots of surfers enjoying the early evening waves. It looked lovely.
I found a sheltered campsite, pitched, did some hand washing, showered and then headed up the hill to the Oystercatcher Bar. My dinner wasn’t great but the view across Hayle Bay was lovely. There was a wonderful, deep red, sunset.
In need of a bit of planning time (which required wifi) I went for breakfast at The Riverside Hotel. Although it is a posh hotel, breakfast was very cheap, really good and the staff were very nice to me, despite being given the run around by a big party of American guests.
I popped into the award-winning Boscastle Bakery to get myself a pasty for lunch and finally set off at about 10.30am.
I climbed up the cliff to Willapark, once the site of an Iron Age promontary hill fort, now with a white building on the summit. Originally built as a folly in the early 1800s, the building is now used as a coastguard lookout. I stopped by to chat to the volunteers on watch. The views were excellent.
Today’s walk was quite spectacular, and busy. Boscastle and Tintagel are both renowned tourist destinations (they were both very busy and full of foreigners) so, as the walk between them is only about 5 miles, it is a very popular part of the coast path.
I seemed to have quite a spring in my step today and I passed lots of people. I stopped lots too as there were so many amazing views and plenty of seabirds today. I even saw a few puffins flying off Short Island as I sat on the cliff top enjoying my pasty.
Rocky Valley is a striking gap in the cliff that was formed by water running along a fault line. It has 161 different types of mosses!
Climbing out of Rocky Valley I turned the corner and spied the most perfect beach. Yet again today the sea has been a fantastic turquoise colour and Bossiney Haven was the first beach I’d seen in a while that didn’t have any rocks under the water, just beautiful sand.
I passed a 2nd Willapark, another headland that looks like the one at Boscastle; they could have thought up a different name for it though.
All of a sudden I arrived at Tintagel Head, site of the famous Tintagel Castle ruins. The whole area around The Island was packed with tourists, mostly foreigners I think. I popped into the visito centre but I had no intention of paying English Heritage £8.70 to see the ruins just a little bit closer. I got some good views from the Camelot Hotel high on the cliff top.
I was slightly disappointed by Tintagel Castle. There was little substance to the myth surrounding it. It was supposedly where Uther Pendragon, King of Britain, committed adultery with Igraine, wife of Gorlois, Duke of Cornwall, to conceive King Arthur. This is the legend that captivated Richard, Earl of Cornwall, in the 13th Century and led him to build an actual castle on the headland.
Naturally, Tintagel Village makes the most out of the influx of tourists and there were plenty of cafes and pubs to choose from. I resisted a cream tea.
I pitched my tent and a big black cloud arrived overhead. It only seemed to be over Tintagel as up and down the coast looked sunny. I didn’t mind as I needed to cool down and didn’t feel like going for a swim off Tintagel beach, right by all the tourists visiting the castle.
I felt obliged to choose the King Arthur’s Arms for dinner and enjoyed a leisurely meal for one.
It was already warm when I packed my tent away and ate some porridge. It was hot and sunny all day and this ensured I was overwhelmed by spectacular views all day long. I kept having to reapply suncream only for it to drip off as I sweated up (yet more) steep climbs.
It took me less than an hour to reach Widemouth, just after the beach cafe had opened, so I stopped for a second breakfast to fuel the long, tough walk.
The first major climb was at Millook, where the road had a 30% sign. But the hardest climb of the day was just after Dizzard Point. This one was so steep that there was a signposted diversion.
Half-hidden on the sides of a bench at Dizzard Point were 2 small signs: one said ‘500 miles to Poole’ and the other said ‘132 miles to Minehead’.
The sunshine and blue sky gave the sea a beautiful turquoise hue. I could see for miles along the stunning and dramatic cliffs; views all the way back to Higher Sharpnose Point (by the GCHQ listening post), across to Lundy, and down the coast past Tintagel.
A couple of the valleys had small streams in them that were so clear, and full of tadpoles. One also had a dipper busy feeding.
As the cliffs were generally the highest points around, I also had great views inland, across all the patchwork farmland and small villages dotted around.
I stopped in Crackington Haven for a spot of lunch, a crab sandwich and salad followed by my first Kelly’s Cornish whippy ice cream. Delicious.
High Cliff was my highest point of the day (>200m) and then the path actually went around the cliff, about halfway down. I rounded the Penally Hill and there was Boscastle, with the River Valency flowing through the middle of it. I had only ever seen it in the television after the town was all but destroyed by terrible floods in 2004. It has been completely, and sensitively, rebuilt.
I had intended to camp tonight but the only campsite was a couple of miles before Boscastle, and inland. So I changed my plans (I wanted to see Boscastle and get a pub dinner) and headed for the Youth Hostel right on the main street instead.
It had been a truly spectacular day and I celebrated with fish and chips in The Cobweb Inn.
I really liked the North Devon coast (and the bit of Somerset coming West from Minehead). It is the only coastline I’ve seen that has cliffs covered in beautiful deciduous woodland, so it felt rather unique. The woodland pretty much stretches right from Minehead through to Hartland Point, except for the section of sandy beaches between Woolacombe and Westward Ho!.
The added bonus of walking through woods day after day in springtime has been the proliferation of bluebells. It really has been a beautiful section of the walk.
This week I was forced to change my walking t-shirt as the one I’d been wearing every day for several months just became too smelly. My spare was promoted to walking t-shirt and I now have a new spare.
There has been a lack of accessible campsites so far on the SW Coast Path. Oftentimes the campsites are a couple of miles inland (and always up a hill!) e.g. In Ilfracombe, or else there just aren’t any e.g. between Westward Ho! and Hartland. Fortunately I don’t mind staying in B&Bs!
After 3 tough days my legs could do with a rest and it seemed like Bude was a good place to spend a day. (Really I just wanted an excuse to stop so I could swim in the sea pool.)
I spent the day sitting in cafes and on the headland, reading the Sunday newspaper and catching up on my blog (which was made difficult by the lack of access to plug points and wifi in Bude establishments). It was very relaxing on a sunny, but slightly chilly, day.
Bude seemed nice. There were lots of surfers in the sea and some big waves. At 4 pm I went for a swim in the sea pool, a fantastic facility maintained by a local group that relies on donations. The kids seemed to love it.
I also managed to launder my clothes ready for the week ahead.
It had rained all night and was forecast to rain all day. Had the youth hostel been nicer and had any phone reception or Internet connection then I might have been tempted to stay put. Instead, I set off after a deluxe breakfast of porridge with drinking chocolate, this time with added nuts and tinned rice pudding on the side. Oh how I love a full English!
I had been warned that today was a hard section – I counted 9 steep scrambles down followed by an immediate steep scramble up. It was unrelenting, but fun. The first one of these was at Welcombe Mouth.
The tide was out and all along this section of coast a wave-cut platform of sandstone ridges was visible jutting out from the base of 300+ million year-old cliffs. Regardless of any opportunities to access the sea where the rivers flowed out, swimming around here was clearly not a realistic option until Sandy Mouth.
I came across 2 huts on the cliff top where one could take shelter and admire the views. The first was Ronald Duncan’s Hut, overlooking Marsland Mouth, the Marsland River being the Devon/Cornwall border. In the hut was a writing table, complete with paper and pens, for inspirational thoughts and poems. I didn’t stop here for long.
I crossed the Marsland and stepped into Cornwall.
It started raining heavier and I was getting soaked. It wasn’t cold though and, due to high exertion, I didn’t bother wearing a waterproof.
I stopped for a break from the relentless rain, and some much-needed chocolate, in the Hawker’s Hut high on Vicarage Cliff. What a view from this tiny little shelter. It had lots of graffiti and the oldest I could find was from 1952.
The wind picked up and I was finally forced to don my jacket. I knew I was in Cornwall because I was suddenly enveloped by a thick mist. I think it was GCHQ trying to obscure my view of their impressive-looking listening post (at least I think that’s what it was).
Sandy Mouth has a cafe and I was grateful for a break, a coffee and some lunch. It was still raining so I followed up with tea and cake until the rain eased.
It was only a short walk to Bude but the rain came back. Bude has 2 sandy beaches and a tidal pool at the base of the cliff in between them.
I liked the look of this town as I crossed the beach, the river and the canal. I made my way slowly to the campsite just outside town as I could see blue sky heading my way. Hurrah.
I returned from a hot shower to find 5 guys pitching their tents near me. They had walked from Boscastle and I met them for a drink in the pub later. They have been doing a walking weekend every year for 24 years and we swapped stories over a couple of pints. I enjoyed their company.
After a very wet and miserable day, there was a lovely sunset.
It rained all night but eased off in the morning. Chris cooked me a really good breakfast and we chatted for a while. I finally left at 10 am, heading into the damp. I hadn’t even made it to the coast when I came across an old lady with dementia walking up the road, cue an about turn and I had to escort her and her dog up the hill to the nearest house. Fortunately they knew her.
At Clovelly Court I was back in the woods again and walking along more cobbled paths courtesy of the Hamlyn family. I passed the Angels’ Wings (built 1826), which I presumed was just a folly, and headed on to the cliff above Mouth Mills. Here there was a beautiful summer house nestled in the trees but overlooking the bay. It was built for Diana Hamlyn in 1820.
This was where I left the Hamlyn influence behind, and also the woods, as I embarked on the last cliff-top stretch to Hartland Point. Despite the low cloud I could still (just about) make out Lundy and also see right across Bideford Bay.
Hartland Point is significant for several reasons:
1. It is the most extreme Northwesterly point in Devon, locally quoted as “furthest from the railways”.
2. It is the Westernmost end of Bideford Bay.
3. It is the Southwest limit of the Bristol Channel (the Northwest limit being St Ann’s Head near Milford Haven, Pembrokeshire).
4. It marks the turning point where the SW Coast Path ceases to head broadly West and instead turns South.
I contemplated all these facts over coffee and a flapjack at the refreshment hut.
It looked like it might rain as I headed South, waving goodbye to the Bristol Channel after 6 weeks alongside it. I was amazed by the sudden change in the landscape; gone were the wooded cliffs, replaced with much sharper, blacker, jagged rocks being pounded by a much rougher-looking sea. It seemed more dramatic.
Suddenly the terrain seemed to get tougher; lots of steep downs (into the valleys with rivers running out to sea) followed by steep ups. I did 5 of these over the next 3 miles; each one seemed to get prettier.
Black Pool House sat alone by the outflow of the Abbey River. It was available for rent and was a location for the 2007 film, Sense and Sensibility.
Hartland Quay consisted of a tiny street perched on the edge of a low cliff. Just as I reached it I saw a peregrine falcon fly into the cliff. I crawled to the edge but couldn’t see it, just a trail of droppings coming from a ledge that I couldn’t quite see so I guessed it had a nest there.
The hotel at Hartland Quay was my only chance for food today so I stopped for an early dinner of pasty and chips washed down with a half pint (I was too early for the proper menu). I sat for over an hour before I decided I had to make a move to try and reach the youth hostel before the predicted rain arrived. I made it with 10 minutes to spare.
It was a lonely evening in the youth hostel. It was a strange place and there was only a German family about. It had a damp, weary smell about it.