After breakfast I caught the bus back to Helford Passage and walked back down the steep hill to the Helford River.
Within a mile I had walked past two spectacular gardens that one can pay to enter: Trebah and Glendurgan. Both backed into the Helford River and there were lots of little coves, often with small boats moored.
At one cove I took a wrong turning (I swear I followed the signpost) and headed inland through a lovely wood. It took me a while to twig I was going wrong because often the path heads slightly inland and greenery obscures the view. Anyway, I ended up in Mawnan Smith, adding at least a mile to my walk.
I made it back to the coast by the church at Mawnan and headed around Rosemullion Head.
I arrived at Maenporth and stopped for a spot of lunch, a warm mackerel sandwich. There were lots of kids in the water undertaking various activities from paddleboarding to kayaking and sailing. At all times, all views included at least one large tanker as well as lots of small yachts.
Rain hadn’t been forecast but not long after leaving Maenporth the heavens opened. I sheltered under some trees for a while and then ran towards Swanpool Beach and the cafe there. The kids in the sea were unaffected.
It was ridiculously close and sweaty when the rain finally passed. I had reached Falmouth and made my way along the coast road to Pendennis Point.
The 1.5 mile Castle Drive circuit around Pendennis Point was the scene of the first motorcycle races to be held on public roads in Britain, 1931-37. A stone commemorated the fact.
Pendennis Castle (built 1645, just before the Civil War) stands atop the hill, commanding the entrance to the Carrick Roads, the huge stretch I water fed by the rivers Fal, Truro, Tresillian and Carnon. At Pendennis Point itself is “Little Dennis” Blockhouse, built in 1539 by King Henry VIII to protect the Fal Estuary. There are other fortifications that were built and manned in both World Wars.
It was a lovely walk around Pendennis Point, which is quite wooded but has great views across the Carrick Roads to the Roseland Peninsula.
I popped out of the woods to find myself overlooking Falmouth Docks, built in 1860. What an impressive sight. The Pendennis Shipyard is the first one and makes luxury super yachts.
The biggest dry dock was The Queen Elizabeth dock, which holds 128 million litres of water and takes 3 hours to empty.
The Port of Falmouth sits at the gateway to the Western Approaches, close to the world’s busiest shipping lanes. It is an international bunkering (refuelling) port, a Port of Refuge, and regarded as the “first and last port” for ships crossing the Atlantic Ocean. Falmouth really was built on the shipping industry. Alas, most of the industry has disappeared and now the Cornwall’s first university is the town’s biggest employer.
From the 17th to the 19th Century Falmouth was also the landing place for packet ships carrying news to and from Britain and her colonies and allies. This was where news of Nelson’s victory in the Battle of Trafalgar first reached British shores.
I wandered through the town centre and back to Wendy and Brian’s house for a lovely roast dinner. I already felt at home.
It was still raining when I left the youth hostel but it was easing. Still, it was a wet and slippery walk over rocks, through mud and undergrowth as I made my way to Lowland Point. I had to negotiate not only the terrain but also find a way past the cows and ponies.
Just around the point I found myself along a section with small towns and Gabbro rock quarries. As a consequence the path weaved inland around Manacle Point, near The Manacles, the cause of too many shipwrecks.
There was a very steep road descent into, and ascent out of, Porthoustock. A tiny village tucked in the hillside.
As I walked along the tiny country roads it began to dry up a little, although it remained damp and very muggy. I saw a sign for Fat Apples Cafe so thought I ought to investigate and dry out a bit over a coffee. The owner took pity on my soggy state and gave me an extra large slice of cake.
It was only a short walk down the hill into Porthallow. I was surprised to find a marker highlighting this town as the official mid-point of the SW Coast Path.
Rounding Nare Point all of a sudden the Helford River and the coast around Falmouth Bay came into view. There were boats everywhere, particularly sail boats.
I stopped at the Coast Watch Station on Nare Point. There were 8 big tankers visible, all ‘bunkering’ between Falmouth and Lizard. Apparently lots will remain at anchor for a while, awaiting orders.
During WW2, Nare Point was transformed into a “fake Falmouth” by Ealing Film Studios. I couldn’t see any obvious bomb craters so I don’t know whether it worked or not.
I made it to Gillan Harbour an hour after low tide and just about got across the stepping stones, which were mostly at water level and very sloppy. It saved a 2 mile walk around the roads, or alternatively a paddle. St Anthony-in-Meneage seemed like it might be the first of many quaint little ‘boaty’ villages. There was a nice walk around Dennis Head, with great views on the right day.
Helford was incredibly picturesque. There seem to be quite a lot of thatched cottages on this side of Cornwall, and Helford was no exception. Such a beautiful village means lots of tourists.
I popped into the excellent village stores and bought a delicious homemade flapjack, then walked to the quayside and opened the wooden sign that signals the ferry boatman.
Overhead views of the Helford River look rather spectacular, but I had no intention of walking around every creek in South Cornwall. I like ferries.
As there was no accommodation anywhere nearby I had already decided the best option was to catch the bus to Falmouth. Here I was invited to stay with Wendy and Brian. Luckily for me they were happy to put up with me for 2 nights.
Unfortunately I had misread the bus timetable and thought there was a 3.15 bus to Falmouth, I missed the small print that this bus only runs in school holidays. So, I alighted the ferry at Helford Passage, walked straight past The Ferryboat Inn (which I’m told is really nice) and bust a gut to get up a very steep hill in double quick time. It was only when I was sweating at the top that I realised my error and had to wait 1 hour 15 minutes for the next bus. I wished I’d spent that spare time in the pub!
I had a lovely evening with Wendy and Brian, and got to wash all my kit. Bliss.
Only half a week, but enough time to get all the way around Mount’s Bay and to Britain’s most Southerly mainland point. Rounding Lizard Point I felt like I’d turned for home.
The good weather finally broke this week, although hopefully it will return.
There has been another change in the landscape this week. Firstly the sandy beaches have been much coarser, more grit-like than before. Secondly, the rocks changed around the Lizard Peninsula. I learned that I was seeing a lot of Serpentine rock as I walked through the, quite extensive, Lizard National Nature Reserve.
In my latest map pack-up I also received a new pair of sunglasses (an emergency purchase after kneeling on my other ones and breaking them) and a belt for my increasingly baggy shorts. Finally I no longer need to wear my shorts as if I’m a teenage boy.
It wasn’t raining when I got up, but that situation didn’t last long. I left my tent up to dry out, which was probably a mistake.
Lizard is a reasonably big town and, like Henry’s Campsite, has a bit of a hippy feel about it. Home-grown vegetables seem readily available outside houses.
As I’d already walked to Lizard Point in the sunshine yesterday I wasn’t feeling inclined to go again. This cut today’s walk down to a mere 10 miles so I bought a Sunday newspaper and enjoyed a long breakfast in the town’s cafe.
It started raining. I eventually left the cafe and finally took my tent down. I was surprised it wasn’t too wet. It was heading for the Youth Hostel’s drying room later. I walked back to Housel Bay and headed along the coast.
Bass Point not only has a very busy Coast Watch Lookout station, it also has the oldest surviving operational wireless station in the world. The Lizard Wireless Station was built in 1901 and was used by Marconi.
The two coves along today’s route were rather pretty and quaint; there were plenty of thatched cottages in evidence.
I started with Church Cove, a tiny village tucked into the hillside, and then made my way along, via The Devil’s Frying Pan, to the lovely little town of Cadgwith.
Here there were fishing boats lined up on the shore and I watched a tractor push one into the sea to launch it.
I stopped in Cadgwith for some lunch and the chance to dry off a bit. The drizzle was getting steadily heavier, although it wasn’t cold. I abandoned my waterproof in favour of moving faster (and therefore sweatier) and just resigned myself to getting soaked.
The terrain changed and became more wooded and closed in. Poltesco seemed lost in the undergrowth. It was once an industrial valley with a Victorian Serpentine factory (turning out mantelpieces, gravestones and shop fronts). All that was left was some ruins.
Kennack Sands looked forlorn in the rain; even the cafe was closing early. Behind the beach is a stretch of towans (sand dunes) that are unusual around Lizard.
There weren’t many views to admire in the terrible weather so I moved quickly up and down the paths. The rocks were quite slippy and different around Lizard. Serpentine is the most common type of rock and the Lizard Peninsula has the only outcrop of it in England.
I arrived at Black Head, described in the 19th Century as “a bare and gloomy promontary, but remarkable for the beauty of its serpentine”. There was an old Huer’s Hut on the headland that had been requisitioned by the National Trust and I popped inside to check out the view.
The hut started out as a Naval signal station to watch out for a French invasion during the Napoleonic Wars. It later became a huer’s lookout for the seine boats from launched from Coverack to fish for pilchards.
Thank goodness I was booked into the youth hostel. I was soaked and camping would have been no fun. Luckily for me the staff couldn’t find another key for the shared dorm so I ended up in an ensuite room all on my own.
Gary and Steve had also managed to get a room for the night. I washed my kit, hung it all out and stayed in the hostel for dinner rather than heading out to the pub.
It wasn’t raining when I got up, but it definitely wasn’t sunny either; a grey day. I started with breakfast in a cafe before heading out of Porthleven.
The tide was out and that meant there was a very long stretch of beach all the way from Porthleven to Gunwalloe. In the middle is Loe Bar, a bank of sand that separates the sea from The Loe, a large lake.
Around Halzephron Cliff I dropped down to Church Cove, a small beach with a church tucked into a little headland. This was St Winaloes, the Church of the Storms.
There were lots of children out surfing at Church cove and Poldhu Cove; it looked like some sort of weekend lessons, rather like weekend football practice for inland kids.
Just on top of the cliff here, near the nursing home with the best views, was a column commemorating the “Famous Poldhu Wireless Station” that stood on this cliff between 1900 and 1933. It was erected by Marconi and transmitted the first wireless telegraph signals across the Atlantic, received in St John’s, Newfoundland, in December 1901.
Next stop was Mullion Cove, a sheltered little harbour that seemed to be protected by cliffs all around, both onshore and offshore thanks to Henscath and Mullion Island. It had a National Trust air about it – quiet. The sea was a beautiful green and the gulls were crying. I stopped for a cream tea.
Walking across the high point of the day, Predannack Head, I could see all the way across Mount’s Bay to Gwennap Head.
Kynance Cove was stunning. I arrived about an hour before high tide and there were lots of people crowding the small sandy beach, the cafe and in the sea. A very popular place.
I could have done with a swim myself but a) it was too crowded, and b) I was close to the campsite. Unfortunately, not close enough to want to walk back there once I’d pitched my tent!
I think I walked into a hippy commune that doubles as a campsite. What a place. All higgledy-piggledy with shacks containing various facilities, murals and artwork everywhere, areas to sit (communally of course). The owners (one woman, two men and a baby) found me a small pitch, over a little carved, wooden bridge next to the field with the alpacas and chickens (although chickens and ducks were roaming everywhere).
The sun had come out! I pitched quickly, donned my swimming costume and walked down the road to Lizard Point. I had made it to the most Southern point of mainland Britain. Hurrah.
Lizard Point was quite busy so I didn’t hang around but walked East along the coast path, past the lighthouse, to Housel Bay. Here was a great spot for a swim. The sand was covered because it was high tide and I saw no one. I had a wonderful swim in the clear water.
My camping neighbours were Gary and Steve, two more SW Coast Path walkers who had started alone as we’re now walking together. I had seen them on the campsite at Porthleven last night and so we got chatting and went for dinner together in the pub. They were good company.
Back at the campsite, the fire pit was smoking and there was a band playing. In fact there were lots of fires going, people drinking and enjoying music, feral kids running round at 10pm. I half expected to be offered some whacky backy, but I wasn’t. Instead I retired to bed to the strains of “Jolene”.
After all the heavy rain during the night I awoke early to sunshine so I packed away quickly and headed into Marazion.
The causeway to St Michael’s Mount opened from about 8 am so, when I arrived at 8.30, I had the place almost to myself because it was early.
For over 3 centuries around 1000AD St Michael’s Mount was controlled by the abbey of Mont-St-Michel. It is now jointly owned by the St Aubyn Estate and the National Trust. The St Aubyn family has been living in the castle since the 1650s. It does look magical. I was too early to go into the gardens or the castle but I did get a look around the information room and a chance to enjoy the solitude in the sunshine.
By 9.30 a steady stream of people were starting to cross to the island so I walked back across the causeway. Workmen were rebuilding parts of it that were destroyed in the January 2014 storms. Clouds now covered the sky and I ducked into The Godolphin Arms for some breakfast. I ended up staying for longer than anticipated as heavy rain started falling. Two coffees later and I had to leave. The rain was easing to a light drizzle, which was on and off all afternoon.
I headed out to Cudden Point and around to Prussia Cove; a tiny settlement with An interesting name, evidence of an ancient slipway and 2 thatched cottages.
Just around the corner, at The Enys, was what looked like an Elizabethan mansion. Had I stepped back in time I wondered?
Approaching Praa Sands and the rain was falling again. This was not right, according to family folklore it’s always sunny at Praa Sands! There was still one family sitting on the beach in waterproofs. They must have been English. No Punch and Judy today! I stopped at the beach cafe for a cup of tea and a cake, and a break from the rain.
Around Trewavas Head I saw a Cornish Chough and a load of rock climbers. I was back in tin mining country and walked past 3 old mine workings.
I reached Porthleven and briefly stopped to admire the harbour before heading to the Post Office. I had to collect my latest map parcel that I had sent to me before I decided to take a trip home. I was delighted to find several birthday cards sent post restante as well – thanks to those that sent them. Had I not gone home I would have received them on the correct day, this way I let myself have a 2nd birthday and decorated my tent with the cards.
Birthday dinner was a curry and a pint in The Harbour Inn.
Another long train journey to get back to Penzance. Fortunately I like trains. And the train line to Penzance is mostly very scenic. I found I was looking forward to getting back to the coast so that was a good sign.
Sadly, a consequence of my unplanned journey home was that I missed out on the opportunity to go swimming in Penzance’s re-vamped Jubilee Pool. It only re-opened 2 weeks ago and looked lovely when I passed it on Saturday (it was closed then). Something for another trip.
I arrived in Penzance at 5.15pm and walked the 3 miles around the apex of Mount’s Bay to Marazion. I walked between the train track and the beach. There were good views of St Michael’s Mount all the way along.
No sooner had I pitched my tent and been for a shower than it started raining. I finished off my picnic lunch in my tent and had an early night. The heavy rain continued into the night.
Only three and a half days at home, but it was just what I wanted. I didn’t go anywhere (well I don’t have a car). I did manage to wash everything, including my rucksack, which I think was possibly more smelly than my t-shirt, and all footwear. Finally I can no longer smell my own feet, and that’s a really positive thing.
I took the opportunity to sort through my kit and I ditched my cooking equipment. I have only been using it as a last resort and have found the SW Coast Path to be well populated with cafes, pubs and shops. I decided to follow the example of all the European walkers I have met and not carry any cooking equipment.
My unexpected trip home was a wonderful pick-me-up tonic. It also enabled me to try and do a bit of gardening (hampered by very heavy downpours and a lack of desire). Most importantly, my EU Referendum postal vote is in.
When my ferry arrived in Penzance yesterday it started raining. It carried on raining all night. Despite not walking that much over the last 2 weeks I was starting to feel really tired (the cold didn’t help). I had just had a few days of holiday and yet still felt like I wanted a break. It had been 11 weeks since I was last at home.
Penzance is the end of the train line. I made a snap decision to get a train home for a few days. I would have a proper break, recharge, get rid of the cold and take the opportunity to properly clean and re-sort all my kit. (My sandals and feet were not smelling good.)
I caught the train and was home mid afternoon. Bliss. I might also have to fit in some gardening while I’m here.
3 nights at St Martin’s and 1 night at St Mary’s campsites
Several people had told me that I must go to the Scilly Isles, how beautiful they are, how clear the sea is, how lovely the beaches are and how cold the water is. So I caught the (very expensive) ferry from Penzance to find out.
I arrived at St Mary’s harbour, in Hugh Town, and, on a whim, caught another ferry to St Martin’s in order to camp there. It was a beautiful campsite, sheltered by big hedges and about 40m across the dunes from a beach. I stayed for 3 nights before spending my last night on St Mary’s.
The Scilly Isles are an archipelago of more than 200 low-lying granite islands and rocks. Only 5 islands are inhabited; St Mary’s and Tresco are the main islands and St Martin’s, Bryher and St Agnes are referred to as the “off-islands”. They are 28 miles SW from Land’s End and face the full force of the Atlantic Ocean.
The Scillies have a temperate climate, with high rainfall, high humidity and a small temperature range. I happened to visit at the end of an unusually long dry spell and had a couple of days of fantastic sunshine. I’m sure the sun burns more here than on the mainland.
I packed as much as possible into my 4 days and managed to get to all 5 islands. They are all different, but also the same. On the off-islands in particular it felt like I’d gone back in time. Time also slowed down. I think much of that feeling has to do with the lack of vehicles on the roads. The islanders do have cars (or tractors, or golf buggies), but none of the tourists do. Life is centred on the sea and, if you live here, you should definitely buy a boat before you even think about getting a car.
I managed to go swimming several times (the water was a bit colder than Cornwall’s but not that cold). The sea was clear, but I didn’t think it was any clearer than Cornwall’s or West Scotland’s, it was just shallower and therefore you could see the bottom easier.
I hired a kayak and paddled from St Martin’s, around Tresco, to Bryher. The sea ‘inside’ the shelter of the islands seemed really shallow, mostly sandy-bottomed, but with lots of seaweed. I have never thought of seaweed as beautiful, it often looked like mermaid’s hair rising from the deep and floating on the top of the water.
The shallowness of the water meant that the land expanded significantly at low tide, such that I couldn’t find a way back around Tresco and ended up hauling the kayak over some rocks. I suspected that if the sea level dropped by 10-20m then the Scillies would become one island. (At low Spring Tides it is possible to walk between St Martin’s, Tresco and Bryher.)
Everyone commutes by boat and the information board at the campsite entrance was updated daily with sailing times and destinations. I took a day trip to Tresco, ostensibly to see the famous Abbey Gardens (the only place in the UK where tropical plants grow outside) but the entrance fee was £15 and I knew it wasn’t worth it for me. I read all the information and decided I didn’t want to wander around gardens with plants from places like South America. Instead I went on a free RSPB guided walk and glimpsed the gardens from the outside. Besides, a cruise ship was docked so the gardens were very busy (the RSPB man was not!).
The bird life around the Scillies is much less way of humans than on the mainland. In fact it’s positively cheeky. I always had thrushes (much more common over here), sparrows and blackbirds hopping around my tent looking for any scraps I might offer them. Sitting outside cafes I often shared my cream tea with a bird or three.
I did walk around much of Tresco and took in Cromwell’s Castle (a round castle for Roundheads) which replaced King Charles’ Castle (just above it) in 1651. They both defended the channel into New Grimsby Harbour. There was some really old graffiti in Cromwell’s Castle, the oldest I could find was dated 1755.
Tresco is the “posh island”. It’s leased to the Dorrien-Smith Estate and I was told it is where the merchant bankers holiday. Everywhere was signposted, all bins hidden in wooden boxes, an information centre, and plenty of workers running or driving around (there seemed to be more staff than clients around the accommodation). Holidaymakers staying here had the luxury of golf buggies and a concierge service to book everything for them. To me it had the air of an incredibly posh Butlins. Excellent service in the cafes, as I would have expected.
Three evenings in a row I sat outside the Seven Stones Inn on St Martin’s admiring the view of dinner and a pint. It was a wonderful setting. St Martin’s is the island most associated with white, sandy beaches and stunning blue, shallow sea. There is pretty much one road (more like a tarmac’d track) that connects Lower Town to Middle Town and Upper Town. It takes about 10 minutes to walk the length of it.
Aside from the pub and campsite, there is also a post office and general stores, a very good bakery, a hotel, a couple of cafes and various vegetable plots and flower farms. The extra small fields, many lying fallow, with high hedges are designed to protect flowers from the wind.
On the 4th day it rained. Undeterred I carried on with my plan to pack up and get the boat to St Mary’s. I re-pitched my tent in The Garrison campsite and then caught another boat (all within an hour) over to St Agnes, the most Southerly of the islands. I spent the day walking around this rugged island, which reminded me of West Penwith with its impressive rock formations covered in green algae. Fantastic names too; I walked across Wingletang Down to see the punchbowl rock.
St Agnes and Gugh, the small island connected to St Agnes by a beach causeway, were declared rat-free in February 2016 after an extermination project. Since then Manx Shearwaters and Puffins have started re-colonising the islands. I saw a shearwater burrow that was being monitored.
I stayed on St Agnes into the early evening especially to dine at The Turk’s Head, Britain’s most Southwesterly pub. It had been recommended and didn’t disappoint. I also made a point of visiting Troytown Farm for one of its homemade icecreams; another Scilly delight.
Friday was Men’s Pilot Gig race evening. I managed to secure myself a ride on one of the supporter boats to watch the race. Pilot Gig racing is the Scilly Isles’ national sport. It originated back when gigs used to ferry pilots out to big ships so they could guide them into the Scilly waters. The gigs raced one another to each ship as the first pilot there got the job. Nowadays the gigs race without the pilots. The Bonnet, with a St Mary’s crew, won the race I watched in the oldest pilot gig boat, built in 1830 and still going strong.
I spent my final day hanging around Hugh Town and The Garrison. St Mary’s feels very busy compared to the off-islands. You shouldn’t really walk down the middle of the road here as there is traffic on it. Hugh Town has the only petrol station in the Scillies and nowhere has the luxury of mains gas, it’s all bottled.
I hadn’t booked my return ferry and wasn’t able to because booking was closed until the passengers who had been scheduled to fly on the previous day, when poor visibility had meant flights were cancelled, were sorted out. It took until early afternoon before I could book a space. I didn’t mind because I had picked up a stinking cold and just fancied relaxing in the sunshine.
I walked around The Garrison headland, designed to protect St Mary’s. The Star Castle, now a hotel, was built inside The Garrison in the 1590s. I decided to have lunch there and enjoy the commanding views across to the other islands. I ate on the castle ramparts of this posh hotel, which was better than sitting in the dungeon on a hot, sunny day. It was a perfect end to my little holiday.