What a fantastic week. The weather was amazing and the views absolutely stunning. I can’t quite believe my luck.
Yet again the scenery changed this week. I moved from the big, sandy, surfing beaches to the rugged, granite cliffs of West Penwith. St Ives was the point where it changed.
I liked St Ives, even though it was very busy. It was nice to spend extra time around Gwithian and St Ives.
The rock-strewn cliffs of West Penwith look green as they are covered in lichens (there are over 80 species of lichen at Land’s End). This indicates a healthy atmosphere as lichens are very sensitive to air pollution.
West Penwith felt like the land that time forgot. Unconquered by the Romans and the Saxons, it is alive with myths and legends.
This week I passed through some protected breeding grounds for the Cornish Chough, Cornwall’s national emblem. I saw lots of gulls and plenty of fulmars. The cliffs were also covered in flora and fauna, particularly pink flowers such as sea pinks, thrift and eyebright.
Ruth very kindly cooked me breakfast so I didn’t leave Treen until late morning.
The sun was shining again as I walked over Logan’s Rock to get another view of Pedn Vounder.
Penberth Cove is owned by the National Trust and maintained like it must have been 100 years ago. There is a beautiful stream flowing through by the fishermen’s cottages and a slipway with rowing boats still using it.
After Penberth the path became very overgrown and I was stung plenty of times by waist-high nettles. When I reached Tater-du I bumped into two men from the Highways Agency strimming the path. I had walked the path a couple of hours too early!
The coast path goes along the beach at St Loy’s Cove. Well, it’s not really a beach, more like a jumble of huge rocks to scramble across. Luckily I was quite nifty at bouldering as one poor lady was taking an age to pick her way along. I did see an American Mink scampering across the rocks.
A steep climb up the cliff at the end of St Loy’s Cove took me to Boscawen Point and around to Tater-du Lighthouse.
The sky was going grey by the time I reached Lamorna and I stopped for some lunch in the cafe. The harbour walls had been battered by winter storms and the end of one had fallen into the sea.
Overlooking Lamorna Cove was a memorial to DWW 13 March 1873. No further explanation but it was in a splendid spot.
Kemyel Crease Nature Reserve is a small coniferous wood on a gently sloping granite cliff; a different sort of landmark for passing boats to use.
I walked into Mousehole in the middle of the afternoon and immediately went for a shandy in The Ship Inn. This pub had been recommended to me as it is full of old photos. The town was quite picturesque but larger than others of its ilk like Port Isaac.
Mousehole is known for the Penlee lifeboat disaster of December 1981, when all 8 lifeboat crew were lost going to the aid of a stricken coaster. One of the crew had been the landlord of The Ship and there was a wonderful letter on display, written by the commander of the Royal Navy helicopter that attended the scene, describing the heroics of the lifeboat crew. Despite the awful tragedy, within 2 days a whole new crew of 8 had volunteered from the town.
Mousehole is also known for its spectacle of Christmas lights that adorn the harbour. The photos looked impressive. I read a plaque telling me that the oldest house in the town (built 14th Century) was the only one to be spared when the Spaniards burned Mousehole in 1595. I didn’t know the Spaniards had made it onto our shores.
From Mousehole it was a short walk along the road to Newlyn, the town where nearly all our fish are landed (the trawlers dock at either Newlyn or Peterhead, North Scotland). The harbour was full of fishing boats and the dock has huge fish markets. Newlyn had an industrious air.
The Swordfish Inn had been recommended to me as a proper fishermen’s pub, and likely place to witness a fight. It sounded intriguing and I popped my head inside but it was too early for the punters.
Newlyn merged into Penzance and my hotel was right on the front. I bought a pasty and sat on a bench looking out at Gwavas Lake, the bay in front of Newlyn, which is part of the larger Mounts Bay. I bought myself a picnic dinner and repaired to my hotel for a night in sorting my kit and relaxing. Sometimes it’s tiring being on the road.
I had booked myself on tomorrow’s Scillonian Ferry for a few days exploring the Isles of Scilly.
It was a grey, still and humid day. My clothes hadn’t dried very well in the Youth Hostel’s drying room so I set off with my underwear hanging from my rucksack. The sea was different shades today without the sunlight and there was a mist that obscured my view of both Cape Cornwall and Land’s End. I couldn’t tell where the sea ended and the sky began.
I passed lots of coves again. Large, rounded stones and lots of seaweed prevented easy access to the sea in most coves but I did spy one guy snorkelling around the rocks.
Whitesand Bay is the first big beach since St Ives and there were several surf schools drumming up business, although no surf.
Sennen Cove overlooks the Southern end of Whitesand Bay and I stopped here for a second breakfast. Eggs Florentine overlooking the Bay was a good Sunday brunch.
I had to climb up Mayon Cliff to get to Land’s End. I stopped at the National Trust hut and Irish Annie didn’t stop talking! She gave me lots of tips for pubs coming up, told me I should write a book and said there’s an escaped Pelican living wild, and fishing, in this area.
There was a small plaque acknowledging the long association of the Commandoes (from before they were Royal Marines) with the peculiar West Cornwall cliffs, particularly those around Sennen Cove. This is where many Commandoes learn to climb.
I reached Land’s End, British mainland’s most Southwesterly point. It was busy; although I didn’t see anyone who looked like they were just starting LEJOG. The Longships Lighthouse was only faintly visible offshore. I found someone to take my photo near-ish to the signpost (you have to pay to stand right next to it). I avoided the theme park and the animal farm and carried on around the headland.
There were a couple of people taking a dip at Nanjizal, a place where I have swum before. The tide was out so there wasn’t much water in the tunnel at the side of the beach. There was a seal just beyond the seaweed, watching the humans in the water. As I walked along the sun was getting stronger and the sky bluer.
Around Gwennap Head I finally turned East and immediately dropped into the sheltered village of Porthgwarra. I stopped at the cafe for a cream tea and took the opportunity to admire the beautiful setting that was apparently used in the recent Poldark television series.
In the 1800s this was a thriving fishing village, landing pilchards, mullet, crab and lobster. The fishermen carved “ullies” (tanks with wooden floors and lids) into the rock below high water so that fish could be kept fresh for market.
There was a tunnel through the rock that had been hewn by local miners in the 1890s to enable easier access to the beach for fishermen and farmers (collecting seaweed to use as fertiliser).
I passed St Levan’s beach, which had St Levan’s well at the top.
There were lots of tourists and cars at the Minack Theatre, perched on the cliff just before Porthcurno. I had been before to see Othello and was too hot to stop and pay to look at the empty stage. Besides, I had spied a beach.
The sea lapping Porthcurno beach looked so beautifully clear. There seemed to be miles of sand under the water, no rocks or seaweed, so this made the water look lighter than I had been used to. It was very inviting and lots of people were in the sea.
I pressed on to my campsite as it was only 10 minutes away. That way I could get my tent up, wash my sweaty clothes and then go for a well-earned dip. The campsite was lovely and I learned that there was another beach just below the cliff near Treen. Pedn Vounder beach was not accessible at high tide so I needed to hurry if I was going to swim there.
What a place! It was a difficult 10 minute scramble down the steep cliff to get to the beach but it was definitely worth it. Lots of people were leaving as I was arriving because the tide was already covering the rocks at the bottom. However, some people were still there and, as I got closer, I realised most were naked…this was a nudist beach. Strangely, all the naked people seemed to be men (although I didn’t stare too closely). This was one time I wasn’t going naked!
I don’t think I’ve ever been on such a beautiful beach in such glorious weather. I ran straight into the sea. It was such a cool relief and I could have wallowed there for hours, except that the tide was still coming in. I reluctantly climbed back up the cliff.
Ruth and Graham, who I had met skiing in Italy, live in Treen. They had a friend staying but we still all met at the pub for dinner. It was a lovely evening to cap a wonderful day.
Mary made me some lovely scrambled eggs with cream and her neighbour’s fresh eggs.
It was a hot day again; sunny and still. As yesterday the scenery was amazing, with a perfectly clear sea and large, rounded rocks studding the cliffs. The rocks made it a tough walk as you constantly have to adjust your footing and scramble over ankle-breakers. I enjoyed it, although by the end of the day the terrain and the heat were taking their toll.
Gurnard’s Head stuck out enough to be visible all the way along the coast as far as Pendeen.
It seemed to take me ages to get barely a couple of miles to Porthmeor Cove. Walking around it I spied a pool in the rocks that a family had been swimming in. There was no one else around so I took the opportunity to clamber carefully down the cliff (leaving my rucksack behind) and go for a dip. The water was lovely, and I didn’t bother with a swimming costume, anyone looking would have just seen my lily-white shorty wetsuit with matching ankle boots!
There were lots of rugged little coves, mostly inaccessible and all very beautiful and unspoilt.
Around Pendeen Watch, with its lighthouse, the St Just Mining District comes into view. There are lots of abandoned mine workings that are now part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Mining is believed to have started in this area as long ago as 5000BC, but the visible mine workings were mostly built in the 19th Century.
Geevor Tin Mine is the largest preserved mining site in the UK, it closed in 1990. It is open to visitors 6 days a week (closed on Saturdays). To me it looked like a huge man-made scar on the landscape; functional rather than beautiful.
The whole area is littered with mines and right next to Geevor Mine is Levant Mine, with its restored beam engine houses that still steam (not on Saturdays). Copper and tin were extracted from up to a mile out to sea and 500m underground. Amazing to thing all this was dug between 1835 and 1930.
Probably the most dramatically situated were the Crowns engine houses of the Botallack Mine, low on the cliff, sticking out.
I arrived at Cape Cornwall, a promontary with a hill, a tiny ruined chapel at the bottom and a chimney stack on the top, built to serve the Cape Cornwall Mine. It is the point where the waters from the Irish Sea, the English Channel, and the Atlantic Ocean all meet and churn around, making for some great stormy winter seas.
I have officially completed the Cape-to-Cape, Wrath to Cornwall.
Before I climbed up the hill and stood on Cape Cornwall I spied the refreshment van and sat down for a much needed mug of tea and slice of cake. It had been a hard walk today.
I still had a couple of miles to go. I had already crossed the Kenidjack Valley and had to walk up the Cot Valley to the youth hostel. Both these valleys are overgrown with trees and plants so their rivers are barely visible. They used to be full of mine workings, but now are full of birds enjoying the tranquility.
There was no room in the youth hostel so I camped in the garden. I walked the extra mile or so into St Just for dinner in the King’s Arms.
St Just is a granite town founded on mining in the heart of West Penwith. It is surrounded by moorland that is dotted with stone circles, quoits and hill forts; the Romans and the Saxons never really made it this far and West Penwith remains Celtic.
The sky was grey when I got up and my tent was wet in the still morning. I left everything and headed down the hill into St Ives to wander around without the crowds. This town had a much busier feel about it and was the first place I’d been in a while that had some movement at 8 am. A few bakeries and shops were opening, the street cleaners were out and the day had begun for more people than I normally see before 10 am.
St Ives has lots of tiny little streets, crammed with shops and art galleries, and plenty of cobbles. Despite its huge popularity, which has a lot to do with The Tate Gallery (closed for refurbishment until 2017), it still maintains a certain artistic charm.
I bought myself a coffee and a croissant and headed onto The Island (St Ives Head) to sit on a bench overlooking the bay. The sky was slowing becoming bluer and it felt hot already. I was amused to see a cluster of 3 families already with tents and windbreaks pitched on the small beach below The Island; perhaps they’d been there all night?
Colin and John were manning the Coastwatch Lookout Station on St Ives Head and I chatted to them while they monitored the comings and goings of the boats around the harbour. It was the busiest Lookout Station I’d been in. It turned out that Colin was the manager of the Cornwall Rugby Team that had won the County Championship at Twickenham last weekend; he had the trophy with him as well.
It was about 10.30 when I left The Island, walking past the Chapel of St Nicholas. There was a plaque saying a chapel had stood on the site “from time immemorial”, until 1904 when it was partially destroyed on the orders of the War Office and rebuilt in 1911.
It was a steep walk back up the hill to the campsite. I packed away and went for another coffee in the cafe overlooking St Ives Head as I had a couple of cards to write and needed to charge my phone.
It was almost midday when I finally set off along the cliff for Zennor. It was a very rugged 3 hour walk.
As ever, the colours of the sea were amazing. The cliff was different. It was almost as though a giant had taken handfuls of boulders and thrown them at the cliffs.
To walk this path one needed to be able to clamber over rocks and weave in and out of boulders. It was hard going but the scenery made it very rewarding.
This part of the coast path seemed very popular and I passed lots of people, many of whom were finding the walk a bit challenging. The heat probably didn’t help.
Zennor Head has a small plaque on a rock to say it was gifted to the National Trust in 1953; I imagine it’s the same as it was then.
I walked into Zennor and headed straight into the church to check out the Mermaid’s Chair. In the Middle Ages, in Cornwall, the mermaid was used as a symbol to explain the two natures of Christ; she was both human and fish as he was both man and God. Before the Christian Era mermaids were one of the symbols for Aphrodite, the goddess of love and the sea.
I popped into the Tinners Arms for a much needed drink as I was very hot and sweaty. It gave me a chance to check out the story of the Mermaid of Zennor, who lured a local man to the sea. They upset King Neptune and so he laid a curse on the Cornish cliffs that led to many shipwrecks and lives lost. An upbeat story.
Walking to Mary’s house it was clear to see the ancient field system around here, with small fields bounded by stone hedges. Most of the land is protected from being built upon and so the landscape and the villages don’t change. It is a lovely place.
I got caught speeding; I walk too fast. I really did get caught speeding back in March in a borrowed car (mine is off the road). After a lot of guesstimating where I would be when, I booked a speed awareness course today in Camborne. Fortunately I managed to work it so I could be in St Ives and get a bus to Camborne. It was a lot of faff but I saved myself 3 points and had a useful refresher on the Highway Code.
It was a lovely morning and I spent it relaxing outside the cafe on the campsite. I took the opportunity to do some planning (thinking ahead to visiting the Isles of Scilly).
I caught the bus to Camborne, did the course, paid my penance and got the bus back to St Ives in the evening.
After missing lunch I was in need of a hearty dinner. I wasn’t in the mood to fight the queues in the sea front so picked a pub a few streets back.
The Great Tit chicks still hadn’t fledged when I finally left Jill’s this morning; they were looking ready to go. Jill sent me on my way with several pieces of cake so I definitely wouldn’t starve.
I headed into Gwithian Towans and started walking through the sand dunes. It was a grey morning and the light was flat.
The towans (sand dunes) between Gwithian and Hayle make up the second largest sand dune ecosystem in Cornwall, 400 hectares of dunes. I only walked through part of it as it’s much easier to walk along the beach.
There were plenty of people at intervals along the long stretch of beach up to the Hayle Estuary. It was very windy and a few kite surfers were out.
The tide was coming in as I walked over the cliff top and around the Hayle Estuary. It has a main channel and other tidal areas, such as Carnsew Pool, that attract plenty of bird life.
Hayle Main Street seems to be a busy road and unfortunately that spoils any atmosphere it might have as all other noise is drowned out by the constant passing of vehicles. I wasn’t minded to stop and hurried on through to Lelant Saltings.
Jill had suggested that it might be interesting to catch the ‘Cornish Riviera Express’, otherwise known as the St Ives bay line train, operating since 1877. For people heading to St Ives there is a park-and-ride service at Lelant Saltings. It was full, with cars circling looking for spaces. I walked straight through to the train platform with 1 minute to spare before the train arrived. The ticket man couldn’t operate his machine quick enough to give me a ticket so I ended up catching the train for free. It certainly was a lovely journey along the coast, via Carbis Bay, to St Ives.
St Ives was very busy. There were people everywhere in this picturesque, narrow street town. I wandered through the streets and saw a sign for a hairdressers – just what I needed.
From the hairdressers I went straight to Barbara Hepworth’s house, which is now a museum. It had been recommended to me. I’m not a big appreciator of art but I thought her garden was magical. It was possibly the loveliest garden I had ever seen; a proper oasis from the madding crowd. I was amazed to find out that all the sculptures in the garden were there when Hepworth lived there; she designed the sculptures for her own garden. It was very beautiful and peaceful.
I was camping just on the edge of the town in a nice campsite that retains a space for hikers.
Once I had done my daily chores I decided to treat myself to a nice meal and found the Black Rock restaurant. It was lovely. I finished off in a wine bar at the Wharf; the sea front was very busy with tourists.
It was a beautiful, sunny day with a clear blue sky; however, it was very windy.
I had always intended to take a day off at Gwithian because I needed to be around St Ives on Thursday. Jill very kindly offered to host me for a second night (at least I think she did and hopefully it wasn’t that I just didn’t leave!).
I spent a lovely morning chatting over tea and coffee, and checking out the CCTV that Jill has in her bird box. We were watching 6 very noisy Great Tit chicks being fed and getting ready to fledge.
Jill had some things to do and my friends Gareth and Helen were in the area so I walked down to Godrevy Head to meet them. I spent the afternoon on the headland, in the beach cafe and on the beach. I rather enjoyed digging a police boat, robber’s boat and police car for Matthew and Louise. I’m not convinced any of them were as good as the ones that were dug for me all those years ago!
I returned to Jill’s late afternoon and we had supper and a good chinwag. She has a fascinating family. It had been a lovely, relaxing day.
Gail cooked me breakfast and made me some sandwiches, and Gerry dropped me off at St Agnes’ Head. I had been so well looked after; proper Cornish hospitality.
The sun was shining and the sky was blue, no sign of yesterday’s fog. I was lucky because today was a particularly beautiful walk. I started near the old coastguard lookout station which, on a clear day, has a 30-mile panoramic seascape from Trevose Head to St Ives. This was the place where signal fires would be lit to warn of imminent seaborne invasion.
I was in the heart of tin mining country and almost immediately passed Wheal Coates Tin Mine. It was in operation, on and off, between 1872 and 1914; however, the area had been mined for ore since the Middle Ages, first for copper and then tin.
The mine, and the Towanroath mineshaft, looked were in striking locations on the cliff. There was a group of young artists drawing the mineshaft in the morning light.
It didn’t take me long to reach Chapel Porth so I didn’t need an ice cream; however, I felt compelled to try an iced hedgehog. This was Cornish ice cream smothered in clotted cream and covered in roasted hazelnuts. Delicious…and very few calories!
Chapel Porth is named after a mediaeval chapel and a holy well. Apparently the beach cave below the chapel was a ‘bottomless pit’ which the mythic giant, Bolster, was commanded to fill with his blood in order to prove his love for St Agnes. The rocks are still stained red.
As the tide was in I couldn’t see the cave or the rocks. Instead, I noticed that Chapel Porth is the location for the annual World belly boarding championships (no fibreglass boards or wetsuits allowed). I thought I might have to return in September to enter the event. I have a wooden belly board at home, made and painted by my dad to fit an undersized 10-year old girl. I thought I saw my dad in the photo on the board!
The next beach along was Porth Towan, although I didn’t stop. It was hot and sweaty walking up and down the cliffs to each beach.
There wasn’t much breeze to keep me cool and I wore my hat all day to ward off a sunburnt head.
Nancekuke Airfield, with Portreath Remote Radar Head, stands high on the cliff between Porth Towan and Portreath. As I walked down into Portreath I passed lots of large, new houses on the cliff and there were plenty more being built.
In the early 19th Century Portreath was the copper capital of the world; now it is just a small town at the Western end of the Cornish coast-to-coast path, with a popular beach renowned for body boarding.
Once again the views along the cliffs were stunning and the water below looked incredibly clear and beautiful shades of blue.
It was an easy walk along a wide path to Godrevy Head; a popular walk with several car parks along the way.
Although I was hot, the wind was picking up a bit and it was late afternoon so I didn’t fancy scrambling down the steep cliff for a swim in Fishing Cove. Besides, I wouldn’t have had it to myself.
There were only 3 seals lolling around in Mutton Cove, a favourite hauling-out beach for one colony.
I walked around Navax Point and Godrevy Point, admiring Godrevy Lighthouse on its island off the Point.
The car parks were full and there were lots of people on the beach at Gwithian, although it’s so big that there was still plenty of room. I didn’t need to walk along the beach but cut back through the dunes and St Gothian Sands local nature reserve (created in 2005 on the site of an old area of sand and gravel extraction) to the village.
I had been invited to call in on Jill when I arrived at Gwithian and so I stopped by hoping for a cup of tea. Well, one cup led to another, and then dinner and a bed for the night (which became 2 nights). Good company and a comfortable bed beat camping!