Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Gwithian to St Ives - walking the South West Coast Path

In the morning I anxiously checked with Frank whether he had heard me shouting in the night. If I had been yelling all night in addition to all the shouting which accompanied my choking fit I feared I may be asked never to return. Thankfully he said he had not heard a thing. We packed up and Frank brewed us a cup of coffee which we accompanied with a croissant freshly delivered to the campsite that morning. This was an excellent way to start the day and we set off in good spirits. After making our way over the dunes we set off along the beach.The dunes behind the beach here are known as the Towans, backing four miles of sand. Different sections have different names: there is Upton Towans, Gwithian Towans, Phillack Towans and the intriguingly named Mexico Towans, and part of the dunes for a Site of Special Scientific Interest.

Useful for the garden

Spiny Starfish

At the end of the beach we reached the mouth of the River Hayle. Frank has walked this section before and intimated he was not really looking forward to the next section which involved a long detour inland to the bridge to get around the Hayle estuary. He told me that last time he was here he had suggested wading across the mouth of the river, and indeed had set out to do so, but the rest of his party had sensibly refused to accompany him. It looks tempting as it is not very wide and the detour is sooo long but I informed Frank that I had no intention of wading across either and we would just have to walk around it. The River Hayle has dangerous currents and wading across is strictly prohibited.

At the mouth of the estuary is Hayle's port, for a long time derelict wasteland but now evidently in the throes of a regeneration project, on this side of the harbour at least, with a new quay and walkway in place. We stopped for a pasty at Philps 'Famous Pasties of Cornwall' (We have been living on pasties this week) and I bought ourselves a little pasty fridge magnet to remind me of the walk although I've eaten so many recently that I suspect that by the time I get home I won't want to even look at a pasty let alone put one on my fridge door.

Pasty time!

Hayle does not feel like a particularly prosperous town and is looking a little tired now, but I guess this is not really surprising, given its energetic history - in the nineteenth century Hayle was the most important mining port and steam engine manufacturing centre in the world with two major employers: Harveys & Co and the Cornish Copper Company. Harveys and Co also made the largest beam engines ever constructed which were exported worldwide. Jane Harvey, daughter of the company's founder John Harvey, married Richard Trevethick who went on to invent several engines using 'strong' ie. high pressure steam, including the first steam locomotive which in 1804 pulled 25 tons of iron and 70 passengers nine miles from Penydarren to Abercynon. Trevethick was responsible for countless other inventions but never achieved either recognition or financial security; he was declared bankrupt during his lifetime and died penniless, buried in an unmarked grave. Hayle is doing its best to give Trevethick the reputation he deserves.

Beam Engine, Hayle
Memorial in Hayle
River Hayle
Walking the road out of Hayle and across the causeway to cross the river was not particularly pleasant, along a narrow pavement and a busy road. It is surprising how quickly one begins to hugely resent traffic after a couple of days walking on car free routes. Finally, after a rather unpleasant pavementless stretch (where Frank gallantly offered to walk in front) we gratefully turned off the busy road onto a quiet and pretty minor road through Lelant alongside the railway line back towards the coast where we stopped for a quick nosey around little St Uny's Church, perched on the edge of the dunes. In 1887 the West Briton (a paper founded in 1810 and still going strong) said:

In 1538 it was considered dangerous to come to Lelant because of the pirates, but nowadays one can hardly go to a pleasanter place, commanding such beautiful seascape and landscape views. Fortunate is it that some 329 miles intervene between it and London Bridge that so fair a spot may not be overrun and spoilt.

Despite the proximity of the railway line, I felt St Uny's and Lelant did indeed remain a peaceful and fair place.

In St Uny's Church

Seventeenth Century slate memorial in St Uny's
Looking back towards Lelant

St Ives is within reach!

Ducking under the railway line we finally were back on the coast and resumed our south-westerly direction across the dunes. The path was firm and we made good progress, but the air was humid. At the end of the dunes the path crept round the headland to the gorgeous little cove at Carbis Bay; a crescent of golden sand backed by verdant, bracken covered cliffs. Tucked into the corner was the Carbis Bay Hotel, designed by Silvanus Trevail. We ordered a pot of tea in the beach cafe and sat in the shade to cool off for a bit.

Carbis Bay
The last section into St Ives took us along Hain Walk, a pleasant path flanked by the gardens of Treloyan Manor with exotic looking plants and flowers. Just above Porthminster Point was the Baulking House, another huer's hut used for spotting shoals of pilchards as they came into the bay. (The other one I came across was on the outskirts of Newquay, see here.)

The Baulking House

And then suddenly we were walking into St Ives down the narrow street known as The Warren and the end of our little expedition. We had an hour to spare before the bus was due to take us back to Perranporth and we could think of no better use of sixty minutes then to find a pub and celebrate with a pint of ale. The streets were thronged with tourists all having a good time and we joined them for a while before we (somehow) fell into the Union Inn, ordered a pint of Doombar, and toasted the end of our trip.

Over the past couple of months I had now walked all the coast path from Minehead to Penzance in different stages. Challenging at times, but always rewarding, I had thoroughly enjoyed my time on the path and I have a more intimate - and more affectionate - knowledge of that part of the coastline of my native country because of it. I will not have time to walk any more of the path this year as other projects beckon - but next spring I'll be back in Cornwall on the next section - to Marazion, and The Lizard and then about turn and head east towards South Devon. I'm hugely looking forward to it.

Tug-o-war on the beach

Distance:  10.5 miles
Total Distance Walked So Far: 273.5 miles
Accommodation ranking: N/A
Accommodation cost: N/A (home)

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Towan Cross to Gwithian - walking the South West Coast Path

Not too bad a night's sleep considering the lumpy ground and the fact I am using only a thin bedroll for sleeping on. Frank said he heard me shouting in the night which is a bit embarrassing but at least there was no-one else around to disturb. It's great having him along - for his company of course - but also he has brought a little burner, a mini-cafetiére and some ground coffee. Yesss! So instead of tepid water which is what I normally start the day with - we have a lovely cup of fresh ground coffee.

Before heading off we nip into the pub to thank the landlady for letting us camp in the field and stop for a quick chat. She tells us that the pub has been really busy - good news that this pub at least is doing well, so many are closing down or struggling to make ends meet. Finally we don our rucksacks and set off back down the hill to rejoin the coast path at Chapel Porth.

By now it was just before ten o'clock. The cafe was closed but judging by the number of people hanging around with expectant faces, we assumed it is about to open. Sure enough a couple of minutes later the shutters come up. We treat ourselves to another cup of coffee - this walk is becoming positively decadent - before agreeing we can put it off no longer and we finally leave Chapel Porth. The path led through more banks of beautiful heather and gorse before reaching the little cove at Porthtowan. By now I was feeling the effect of all the coffee and required yet another loo stop before climbing out of the little cove.

At Chapel Porth Cafe

Covered mine shaft

The next section was marred slightly by the interminable fence that accompanied us for some miles behind which was a slightly sinister looking black dome reminiscent of something from The Prisoner. (I am not a number. I am a free man!) This is RRH (Remote Radar Head) Portreath, now used to detect incoming aircraft and missiles. Formerly this was CDE Nancekuke, which in the Cold War was the prime centre for the manufacture of the nerve gas Sarin and therefore has not been without controversy.

Me on the path - I'm under the backpack somewhere...

Several closure signs reminded us just how 'dynamic' the coastline has been, especially recently, and just above Portreath we were diverted onto the road due to a recent fall. By now we were feeling peckish  - which was lucky as Portreath has a superb bakery. I could not resist the Scotch egg - regular readers may recall I am a fan of Scotch eggs - I ate half and put the rest away for later - and accompanied it with a bacon slice while Frank had yet another Cornish pasty. We sat outside and put our feet up with a coffee for half an hour, enjoying the sunshine.

Lovely Scotch egg - but caused trouble later...

Excellent gate for backpackers

When we left the village we had a choice of paths - a steep path up to a headland on our right or a gentler path straight ahead which cut off the steep climb. A young lad and his parents coming the other way assured us that the path straight ahead was the better one. We thanked them but I hung around until they had walked on. 'You want to go up to the headland don't you?' said Frank.
I nodded. 'Yes. Sorry. I don't want to miss anything out you see.' I explained my theory that once I started taking shortcuts there would be no end to it, and next thing would be chopping off the end of the Lizard, or catching a bus round Plymouth. Frank looked non-plussed but gamely agreed we would go the steep way. It was steep but gave us superb views at the top. I tried to convince Frank it was worth all the effort of lugging our rucksacks up here rather than taking the more civilised shortcut. He looked unconvinced.


The 'optional' climb

The coast was dotted with small islands - pieces of land which had long since fallen into the sea, including 'Ralph's Cupboard' a dramatic collapsed sea cave which it is said was once been used by smugglers to store contraband. On past Samphire Island which was farmed for rock samphire to North Cliffs. These were the site of a major cliff collapse in 2011 which was filmed on camera by a Cornwall council geologist and now has been watched by over two million people:

Ralph's Cupboard

Samphire Island

As we crossed the cliffs we came across a group of coastguards training their binoculars on an object in the water. We stopped for a nose and one of them told us they thought it was a life-raft in the water. The St Ives lifeboat had been summonsed. We hung around for a while but this rescue was clearly going to take some time so finally we walked on. Later I discovered the 'life raft' was not a raft at all but  a huge steel buoy, probably a ship's anchor buoy which had come adrift. Apparently it caused quite a stir when it was towed into St Ives.

Hell's Mouth is a dramatic cove with vertiginous cliffs, sadly also notorious locally as a suicide spot. The road passes close to the coastline here, and next to the road was a lovely little cafe where we stopped for a pot of tea and an ice-cream to fortify us for the last few miles round Godrevy Point to Gwithian. A few seals were bobbing in the sea at Fishing Cove, a known hang out for Atlantic grey seals and we watched them for a while before heading on round Navax Point to Godrevy where the lighthouse sits dramatically on a rock just offshore, warning shipping of the Stones reef which stretches out to St Ives. It was the sinking of the massive cargo ship the SS Nile, which ran aground on the reef in November 1854 and sank so quickly that all passengers and crew drowned and the ensuing outcry that led to the building of the lighthouse, finally built in 1859. Godrevy Lighthouse is famously said to have inspired Virginia Woolf's novel To The Lighthouse. Although the story is set in the Hebrides, much of the description relates to St Ives and the area, where Woolf's spent much time holidaying during her childhood. Beyond lay the long beach which stretches around the bay to St Ives.

Frank at the trig point
Godrevy Lighthouse

Grabbing a drink

Something rather disturbing about this photo - bit too hearty?

Crossing the beach
Our goal was the campsite at Gwithian. We decided to walk the beach rather than the dunes. This turned out to be less straightforward than it first appeared, and we had first to climb over large boulders and then remove our shoes and socks to cross the stream that crosses the beach. Gwithian Farm Campsite was a challenge to find but we eventually took directions and made our way to it. It was a good site - large but carefully laid out with trees and shrubs. We were immediately welcomed, and although the site was fully booked for 'normal' campers i.e. ones with cars - Clair showed us to a separate area for hikers before taking off my camera to recharge it for me. By now, after all our rock climbing and river crossing we were ravenously hungry and we decided to set our tents up then immediately repair to the pub.

As I unpacked I found the remains of the scotch egg I had bought in Portreath. Despite the fact I was about to go out for a meal I immediately stuffed the yolk into my mouth whole. The next moment all hell broke lose. I came running out of the tent retching loudly and clutching my throat. Frank rushed over from his tent in alarm. 'Choking!' I gasped, 'I'm choking! I can't breathe!'
'I don't know what to do!' he shouted, panicking. Despite his protestations, and luckily for me, he did know. He whacked me on the back a couple of times and I shook my head still clutching my throat. He then put his arms round me and performed the Heimlich manoeuvre. I vomited egg down my shirt and over Mick's tent. By now various people had come over to see what the fuss was about. I was brought a chair and a towel. By now I was profoundly embarrassed.
'Sorry about that,' I muttered.
'The thing is,' said Frank, 'what were you doing eating egg?'
I was forced to confess to my greed. Frank kindly refrained from telling me that it had served me right.

Pub shop
The Red River Inn was a fine pub the a good choice of beer. Now fully recovered from my choking episode, I tucked into a Red River burger with gusto accompanied by a pint of Skinner's Lushington and a couple from St Austell's and then a couple more. It was a fine evening and we went back to our tent replete and content.

Distance:  14.5 miles
Total Distance Walked So Far: 263 miles
Accommodation ranking: 8/10
Accommodation cost: £8.00

Monday, 12 August 2013

Perranporth to Towan Cross - walking the South West Coast Path

Perranporth Beach
Having walked some of the coast path out of order (as in not consecutively rather than while badly behaved) I have been left with a gap to fill - the thirty mile section between Perranporth and St Ives. This needs to be done sooner rather than later- I am acutely aware that one of my many failings is a tendency to not quite finish things. Almost but not quite. If you have ever decorated a room but have never got around to glossing that bit of skirting board; or if you have ever knitted a jersey but never quite got around to finishing off the cuffs, then you know what I am talking about. If I don't do it now then I know I never will.

On the other hand, if I fill in this gap I will have walked from Minehead to Penzance this summer, a distance of 273 miles or so. Not earth shattering, I know, but as my first experience of long distance walking/backpacking, I feel quite pleased with myself.

My friend Frank and I are in Cornwall already visiting friends, so Frank has decided to join me for the walk. It has been a full-on couple of days - a long canoe trip on Saturday and a sixteen mile walk over Bodmin on Sunday - and so on Monday morning we are later away than we had hoped. It is gone midday by the time we finally reach Perranporth and park the car. We are too late for breakfast at the Green Parrot so I opt for a panini instead. Frank asked me what I would like to drink and I ask for a coffee. He looks at me in astonishment. 'Oh, that threw me,' he exclaimed, 'I was expecting you to chose a real ale!'
Being a weak and easily led soul I swiftly changed my order and followed Frank in ordering a pint of Schiehallion from Harviestoun Brewery - it's lager Jim, but not as we know it, a refreshing pint to drink before setting off.
'After all, reasoned Frank, we are not going far today.' This was true - we were aiming to get somewhere near St Agnes - a mere five miles or so along the path. One beer wouldn't hurt.

Towards Cligga Head
Eventually, however, we could put it off no longer and we heaved our rucksacks on our backs and set off up the hill, the path taking us next to the youth hostel perched on the hill. This section took us past old mine workings amidst piles of stones - remnants from the days when this area was a major tin and tungsten producer.

Crocosmia growing wild

Cligga Head

Cligga Head

Trevaunance Cove

We soon reached Trevaunance Cove. This place has been on my 'must visit' list for some time - not for the beach - though it looked fine - but for the brewpub, Driftwood Spars. Beer bloggers Boak and Bailey rate it and it was also in the Good Beer Guide (I had torn out the Cornwall pages and had them handy in the top of my rucksack). 'After all,' I said to Frank, 'we are not going far today.' Just as well really. We both liked the pub - and I was relieved to find it had not been 'boutiqued' but remained a proper traditional pub. After a couple of tasters Frank went for the DEK while I plumped for Montol, a mid-range pale coppery beer.

If I had been alone I would have got no farther along the path that day; I would happily have settled in for a good session. But Frank is in possession of more common sense and self-control than I and said that we should stick to the one pint and carry on. He was right. I know he was right. But even so, to leave after just one beer was painful...

After a relatively easy climb out of the cove the path stayed along the top of the cliff through heathland of heather and gorse, last remnants of a once mighty heathland that covered much of Cornwall. Rounding the headland we were treated to magnificent views of the beach around Chapel Porth above which perched the Towanroath engine house, another relic of the mining industry which once dominated the area here.

Bawden Rocks or Man and his man
Maintenance of the path - a clue this is National Trust land...

Towards Chapel Porth

Towanroath engine house

At Chapel Porth we detoured inland along a pleasant woodland path. Climbing gently we soon reached Towan Cross and the Victory Inn. The landlady was welcoming and said we could camp in the field behind the pub, kindly leaving the door open to the toilets for our use in the night. We set up our tents and then repaired to the pub for an evening meal and imbibed a couple of fine pints of Lushingtons from Skinner's Brewery. This proved to be a straw gold ale with a powerful hoppy flavour - using American hops - which I liked very much and which washed the calamari down a treat.

Tomorrow we would have to make up for our somewhat lackadaisical effort of today but tomorrow - as they say - is another day.

Our camp

Distance:  6 miles
Total Distance Walked So Far: 248.5 miles
Accommodation ranking: 7/10
Accommodation cost: £5.00