Wednesday, 24 July 2013

St Just to Porthcurno - walking the South West Coast Path

After a comfortable night in The Commercial and - sticking with the 'no fry-up' new regime we opt for another scrambled egg and salmon - we set off on the path across the fields from St Just to the path. Just off the coast path we came across Ballowall Barrow, a prehistoric funerary cairn. As the sign in front of it explained, it was difficult to work out quite what was what as the fellow who had excavated it in the nineteenth century, one WC Borlase, had taken the liberty of building additional walls around the original structure. Still, it looked very impressive.

Footpath from St Just

Ballowall Barrow
Leaving the barrow we took the path down the hill to the very pretty Cot Valley where we joined a small lane which trailed down towards the sea. A stream tumbled merrily alongside the tree lined lane, the air humid already although it was not yet ten o'clock and butterflies sat on leaves fanning their wings. I enjoyed listening to the rhythmic call of a wood pigeon: hoo hoooo hoo ho ho. I tried to imitate  it until Mick told me to be quiet. I spotted a chough on the bank; I recognised it as I had been reading the signs on the gates at various points all through Cornwall - similar to a crow but with a distinctive orange beak and legs. Once known as the 'Cornish Crow', Choughs returned spontaneously to Cornwall only in 2001 after being absent for many years and it was great to see one.

The coastline round to Sennen was fabulous as the path wound its way through rocky cliffs and spongy heather heaths to Whitesands Bay. The tide was low, revealing the creamy sand of Gwenver Beach and  beyond, in the crook of the arm of the bay, nestled the village of Sennen.

By the time we reached the village we were in need of a cup of tea and called into the very nice Little Bo Cafe for a cuppa and a huge slab of carrot cake. It was trying to rain and Longships Lighthouse was shrouded in mist as we set off for Land's End. At Castle Zawn was the remaining wreckage of RMS Mulheim, which ran aground here in 2003. The circumstances were unfortunate: the chief officer who had been on watch had caught his trouser leg in a lever on his chair as he stood up, had fallen and was knocked unconscious. When he came to it was too late to prevent the ship running aground, discharging hundreds of tonnes of waste plastic into the sea. Surprisingly, in my view, the accident report recommendations make no mention of the perils of wearing flared trousers.

Wreckage of RMS Mulheim, Castle Zawn

Lands End - what can one say? Anyone who has visited Ireland's equivalent, Mizen Head, will have an idea of what Land's End should be like but isn't - informative, well-thought out and a pleasure to visit. But then - Mizen Head is run by a cooperative...
'We'd best get through this as quickly as possible,' I said to Mick as we headed towards the crowds thronging around the First and Last House.
'No way, I need to go and sign the book,' he said.
'What book? What are you on about?'
'I need to sign the book saying that we have completed the journey from Land's End to John O'Groats.'
'But Mick, that was four years ago. We should have signed the book before we left.'
'I don't care! I've finished it haven't I?'
So we headed up to the Land's End Hotel where Mick signed the book in the reception then took a quick look at the start/finish line outside the complex, before heading off down the path. We had our food with us and decided to look for somewhere to eat. Not far away we turned right off the main Coast Path up to a rocky outcrop and sat down to eat our sandwiches in peace. We were halfway through them when a large family turned up and started hanging off the rocks in scary poses. 'Let's go,' I said to Mick over the shrieks and screams. We headed on along the path. After turning a corner it wounds its way along the very edge of the cliff with sheer drops down to the sea. Mick tolerated it for a while before exclaiming that he was going back. 'This is nuts!' he exclaimed. I agreed to meet him at Porthcurno and continued on alone. When I reached Nanjizal Bay I noticed a path that joined from the left - a path marked the South West Coast Path. The scary path I had led Mick along was not the official coast path at all! Or at least not any more - it may have been once. I tried to call Mick and tell him but there was no signal.
View from scary unofficial path

At Gwennap Head the path dipped down near the cliff and then up the other side, past the coastwatch station and two distinctive day markers, one red and one black and white, erected to warn ships of the Runnel Stone. Apparently when the black and white marker is obscured by the red one then the ship would be directly over the Runnel Stone, the top of which is just six metres under the surface. The reef is now a popular dive site.

At Porthgwarra a small tunnel cut through the rock gives access to a tiny cove. Sadly, the shop was closed and the toilets left a lot to be desired. Soon I was approaching Porthcurno. The carpark at the Minack Theatre was busy; a performance had just finished and the theatre was not open to visitors today. Instead I made my way down the steep steps to the beach. Halfway down I met Mick coming up, he had walked to Porthcurno via the road and had come to find me. I wondered whether to confess that I had led him astray on the path and we had been on an unofficial route but decided to save it for later.

Seaview House bed and breakfast was a pleasant stay. We had been advised not to eat at the Cable Station Inn but by the time we were ready to eat the rain was coming down in sheets. There was little choice. We made a run for the pub. Although it was only yards down the road, by the time we got there we were drenched. The warnings proved correct. The pub was a strange affair and rather grubby, the food was mediocre and when I returned a pint which was cloudy, there was some discussion before it was changed. Tellingly, while we ate our meal no-one came over to ask whether everything was ok. Ah well. We headed back up the hill. The heavens had opened again and water sloshed through my open toed shoes. It was some relief to get into our room and go to sleep.

Distance: 11 miles
Total Distance Walked So Far: 231 miles
Accommodation Ranking: 8/10

Hotel reception, Land's End

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