Thursday, 2 October 2014

Day 16 - September 19th 2014 - Helford to Lizard Point

Today would be the last I'd spend on the South West Coast Path in 2014. I was excited at the prospect of making my way around the Lizard Peninsula as far as Lizard Point. This would require around 23 miles of walking, well within my daily range. However there was a bad start to the day. A frustrating traffic delay caused by roadworks meant the journey from our hotel to Helford took far longer than expected. Thick fog didn't help either. When we eventually arrived I made my way down to the jetty where the ferry lands at Helford Point. I wasn't ready to start walking until 10-45am, more than an hour later than I'd hoped.

There was little point actually crossing the River Helford on the ferry. It would make no difference to the distance walked, but would add significantly to the amount of driving required. To call the ferry from Helford Point I noticed you need to open up an indicator board. I'd seen the same system working very well back at the River Yealm earlier this week. However what would happen today? The fog was so thick you couldn't see across the river. The ferry operator, who's based on the opposite bank at Helford Passage wouldn't be able to see the sign that alerts him to passengers awaiting collection.

After passing through Helford Village I made my way along the southern bank of the Helford River through woods. For the first time this week it was slippery underfoot. There hadn't been any rain, but moisture was dripping off the trees. It was still and eerie, I could see almost nothing beyond the trees in the dense fog. All I could hear was the river gently lapping against it's banks and a distant fog horn. I only knew I'd reached the sea when the sound of the waves changed. It didn't take long to work out the fog horn was sounding exactly once per minute for four seconds. I amused myself by imitating the horn, using my watch to join-in with perfect timing. Fortunately the path was quiet, nobody caught me.

For the sake of completeness I did the loop around Dennis Head during the third mile. It turned out to be pointless, all I saw was gorse and fog. I could neither hear nor see any sign of the sea while up there.

It was low water when I arrived at nearby Gillan Harbour. I'd been hoping to cross Gillan Creek on the stepping stones to save two or three miles of walking, but they were closed due a collapsed riverbank. I had no choice but to make the trip around the creek on quiet country lanes, some of which had steep gradients. In this area the coast path seemed little used, there weren't many signs and it was hard to follow. Nothing seemed to be going my way so far today, I was starting to doubt I'd make it to Lizard Point after all.

At Nare Head I passed another NCI lookout, the latest of several I've seen this week. Two men were on duty. I wondered what they do when visibility is so bad you can barely even see the shore. I pressed on to Porthallow where Lea was waiting with lunch. The town looked somewhat grey and drab in this weather. I didn't want to hang around for too long due to pressure of time after the delayed start, but I was delighted to see the South West Coast Path half-way point marker on the beach here. My journey had been absolutely wonderful so far, I couldn't wait to get stuck into the second half.

There was more road walking to do before I rejoined the coast at Porthoustock. Then the path goes between the sea and the abandoned Dean Quarry. It was spooky yet fascinating walking through here in the fog. The rocky terrain of Lowland Point was next. This bleak area reminded me of Portland. I pressed on at a good pace to Coverack where Lea was waiting and took another short break. Lizard Point was now almost exactly ten miles away. I calculated there was just about enough time left in the day to make it. I was feeling strong and determined, keen to get on with the task in hand.

It turned out to be a fairly testing last ten miles. The hard work started immediately after Coverack at Chynhalls Cliffs. A sign here offered an easier option to the official coast path which was described as 'very steep and rocky in parts'. Despite being somewhat hurried there's no way I'd be tempted to skip a challenging section, I always find them highly enjoyable. Without hesitation I chose the difficult path and headed out towards Chynhalls Point.

The sign wasn't exaggerating, this section was right up there with the toughest of the week. The next seven miles delivered the promised steep and rocky surfaces in abundance. There were many sharp ascents and descents, the path zig-zaging its way through this remote rugged section of coast. Often I was clambering over boulders and other tricky obstacles using both hands and feet. There was nobody else around, no roads or or buildings to be seen, no mobile signal. Just me against the coast path. I kept my focus on making it to Lizard Point, determined to conquer this difficult section at a reasonable pace. The poor visibility probably did me a favour, for once I didn't have the usual urge to make frequent stops to take photographs. I had the impression this section would be spectacular on a clear day. At Downas Cove a footbridge had flipped over. I wondered if the damage had occured in last winters storms, and how they even got a footbridge to such in inaccessible spot in the first place.

As I approached Kennack Sands I saw another human being for the first time in five miles, a solo female walker heading east. Apart from one dog walker on the first beach the Sands themselves were deserted. A long section of seawall at the second beach had been smashed to pieces by winter storms, it didn't look like repairs would be happening any time soon. The ruins in Poltesco Valley looked interesting, but I didn't have time to explore and pressed on. Soon I was passing through Cadgwith. By now I could hear another fog-horn in the distance, it seemed to be growing slightly closer. I wondered if  the sound was coming from Lizard Point, still around four miles of walking further on.

Despite the fog I could see enough to tell that The Devils Frying Pan, a 100m deep hole and natural arch, was a wonderful natural spectacle. The sides were much steeper than I expected, the path on the edge felt dangerous. Waves were violently crashing around inside, the name seemed very apt. I pressed on. Suddenly The Lizard Lifeboat Station and its remarkable funicular railway emerged from the gloom. This was another place where I'd have loved to spend more time, but the clock was ticking on my walking week.

The foghorn was getting louder and closer, this one sounding at 30 second intervals. It was at a noticeably higher pitch than the one I'd heard earlier and was echoing off nearby headlands. I wondered if different foghorns play different tones to donate their location. By now I was certain it must coming from Lizard Point. The next landmark of interest I passed was a Marconi radio station. When I passed in front of the Housel Bay Hotel I knew there wasn't far to go. After a last steep descent and ascent thrown in for good measure The Lizard Lighthouse and its foghorns suddenly emerged from the gloom. Hooray, I'd made it. The time was just past 7-00pm, daylight was starting to fade.

At first there was nobody else down on Lizard Point so late in day in fog, I was the furthest south of the 61 million or so people on mainland Great Britain. Well, I was until an excited young family also arrived. I stopped for a few minutes and savoured the moment. It felt great having this geographical landmark to myself briefly, there was also joy at having completing such a wonderful six days of walking upon my arrival.

Lea was waiting patiently in the car park at Lizard Point, all the while having to endure the loud foghorn, still sounding every thirty seconds. She'd done a brilliant job this week as my support driver. After I'd changed out of my walking gear we celebrated a great week with a meal in The Top House Inn. A three hour drive back home in the fog and dark followed.

That's my lot for 2014. I cannot wait to return to Lizard Point and resume this amazing adventure. I expect to be back on the amazing South West Coast Path in Easter 2015.

Thanks for reading.


Distance Walked Today 23.55 miles (37.90km)

Walking Time; 7 hours 39 minutes

Average Walking Speed 3.1 mph

Cumulative Distance Walked 360.28 miles (579.81km)

GPS Track;

The ferry landing stage at Helford Point, Helford Passage on the opposite bank is obscured by fog

The South West Coast Path half-way marker at Porthallow Cove

A warning sign at Chynalls Cliff

The path where it goes around Chynalls Point

Downas Cove and the displaced footbridge

Kennack Sands and the smashed seawall
The Lizard Lifeboat Sation, the funicular railway takes crews to the boathouse
which is much lower down

The lighthouse and foghorn salute my arrival at Lizard Point.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Day 15 - September 18th 2014 - Portloe to Helford Passage

After four days of fairly high mileage I was pleased to find that my legs were still feeling fresh when I woke this morning. All the effort I'd put into keeping fit through the summer seemed to be bearing fruit. In planning I'd penciled in Falmouth the my most likely target for the current six day stint of walking. However I'd covered more miles than expected in the fine weather and was set to pass through Falmouth mid-way through today, only the fifth of those six days.

Lea dropped me back to the car park where I'd stopped at Portloe yesterday. After making the climb out of town I continued along the clifftops. My camera was playing up, the LCD screen had gone bright white for some reason. I didn't know if the pictures would come out so I switched to taking them on my smartphone instead.

With only two miles covered I got the day's navigational blunder out of the way. Just after Parc Caragloose Cove the path split into two where it entered a field, each way equally worn, no sign directing walkers. I decided to take the left fork, this being the one keeps closest to the coast. After crossing a stile this path went into fairly dense gorse. It didn't seem that well trodden. I already knew I'd made the wrong choice but decided to carry on anyway in the hope it would rejoin the main path a bit further on. Most people who go this way must have turned-back earlier than me because it became increasingly overgrown and harder to follow. I was on the side of a hill that was getting steeper, waves crashing over rocks below me, it began to feel quite dangerous. Where I'd have needed rock climbing gear to go on any further I admitted defeat and gave up, re-tracing my steps to the field with my tail between my legs. A little time had been wasted, but I laughed-off my unintended detour, these mini-adventures are all part of the fun.

Now back on the path proper I pressed on towards Nare Head. I saw quite a lot of Japanese Knotwood in this area. As I headed south this invasive weed seemed to be becoming an increasingly common sight. In a few places attempts were being made to control it, but the weed was still so widepsread this looked like a losing battle to me. I also noticed a mysterious bunker in a field near the cliff. Freshly painted green vents suggesting some sort of underground structure that's still in use. It's always a great moment when you turn the corner on a headland and the next bay opens out in front of you. This happened at Nare Head when I found myself looking through the haze across Gerrans Bay and the next seven miles or so of walking, bring it on!

The path was very quiet this morning. When I'd almost reached Carne Beach a couple heading east became the first people I'd seen since leaving Portloe an hour and a half earlier. I was able to walk along the sand at Carne Beach, a real treat after pounding hard surfaces all week thanks to the on-going long dry spell. I wasn't complaining, a rock-hard path is a price worth paying for fine weather and a total absence of mud. Easy cliff-top walking with pleasant views followed as far as Porthcurnick Beach and nearby Portscatbo where I met Lea and stopped for lunch.

The path was very easy again heading west out of Portscatbo. I saw a recreational runner coming the other way, always a sign there's nothing too bad ahead. There were a few people on Towan Beach. The less accesible Porthbeor Beach was completely empty. Shortly before rounding St. Anthonys Head I caught my first glimpse of Falmouth. In the hazy, humid conditions it was no more than a light grey silhouette. After passing war defences and the lighthouse I emerged in a place called Place. Place House looked wonderful, in a great spot overlooking the river and St.Mawes. Though it was disappointing to see the graveyard of the nearby 13th century church badly overgrown.

Falmouth was now two ferry trips away, there would be no walking for a little while. I found the small jetty at Place easily enough and was delivered to St.Mawes promptly on the half-hourly service. It seemed to be doing good business today. A much bigger ferry with fewer passengers took me over to Falmouth. I was only in St.Mawes for a few minutes though I had good views of the town from the second ferry. By far the biggest vessel in Falmouth today was RFA Mounts Bay, a huge Royal Fleet Auxiliary landing ship.

Unbeknown to us in advance it turned out the St.Mawes ferry alternates between two landing points in Falmouth. We lost the coin-flip; Lea was waiting at one, I arrived at the other. We decided to walk towards each other and meet in the middle. The town was busy, and easily the biggest I'd seen since Plymouth. I took a short break and we finalised plans for the afternoon.

Leaving Falmouth I had a good view of the docks from up above. Among the works I saw the Pendennis super-yacht builders, and a huge dry dock that was empty today. After rounding Pendennis Point I walked along a long peaceful esplanade. Some people were out for an afternoon stroll, others were relaxing on one of the dozens of benches facing out to sea. As always each bench dedicated to some coast-loving soul who's no longer with us. I was making good progress, crossing the Fal hadn't taken as long as I'd expected. By now the decision had been made to press on as far as Helford Passage rather than stop at Maenporth, the other shorter option. This would hopefully set me up to make it to Lizard Point tomorrow. For a short time the sun burnt through the haze while I passed Gyllyngvase Beach, the only time I saw shadows all day.

At Maenporth I met Lea again and took my final short break of the day. She then drove on ahead to Helford Passage while I set about covering the final four miles. The path stayed easy, I was still going well, those last few miles went quickly. Durgan was a wonderful place to walk through, picturesque and unspoilt, it would make a great period film-set. I was disappointed to discover later that nearly all the properties there are second homes or holiday lets. Near Durgan I saw huge pines overlooking the River Helford, the biggest I've ever seen in this country.

On arrival at Helford Passage I walked as far as the ferry crossing point. I'd arrived an hour and a half after it closed, but that was fine, I wouldn't be needing it today. Lea was waiting for me in The Ferryboat Inn just opposite. We enjoyed a delicious meal while there, our best in Cornwall so far. Service was excellent and prices reasonable, highly recommended. I reflected on how well these five days had gone and wondered if my luck could possibly last through the sixth day too.

Distance Walked Today 23.86 miles (38.40km)

Walking Time; 7 hours 41 minutes

Average Walking Speed 3.1 mph

Cumulative Distance Walked 336.73 miles (541.91km)

GPS Track;

This picture was taken when I strayed onto the wrong path at Parc Caragloose Rock,
that's Gull Rock in the distance.


My first view of hazy Gerrans Bay as I round Nare Head
Carne Beach, I enjoyed walking on the sand here

Porthcurnick Beach, Portscatbo in the distance

Place House

Falmouth emerges from the haze as I approach on the St.Mawes Ferry

Gyllyngvase Beach, the sun briefly burnt through the haze while I was here

The scene on my arrival at Helford Passage

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Day 14 - September 17th 2014 - Par Sands to Portloe

There was a dour start to the walking today with the path passing through the china clay works on the west side of Par Sands. Much of the site has fallen into disrepair and it all looked quite tatty. About the most interesting thing I saw was a goods train shunting in sidings. At least it was overcast and breezy to begin, quite a relief after yesterdays heat.

Next was an easy walk along the coastal fringe of a golf course. The western end of the course was above a wide sandy beach. Unfortunately this particular beach was in a terrible state, totally out of keeping with everything else I'd seen in Cornwall so far. All but the part nearest the sea was fenced off, there were ugly derelict buildings surrounded by weeds. It can only be described as eyesore, such a shame.

After passing the front of a fairly posh looking hotel at Carlyon Bay I found myself at the well preserved Georgian dock at Charlestown. Two lovely tall-ships were in for maintenance. I noticed one of them shares its name with my sister Ruth. This was more like it, at last I had something worth getting the camera out for. I noticed a shipwreck museum. Charlestown became the latest on a long list of places where I'd love to go back and spend more time having discovered them during this coast walk.

I pressed on through Duporth. The path passed between the sea and peoples front gardens, not much of a view due to hedges. I noticed a 'for sale' board sited to advertise a property to coast path users. Quite a good idea I thought. You never know, somebody might fall in love with the area while passing through on foot. At Porthpean Beach a large group of well supervised children were enjoying the surf. They were excited and noisy, clearly having a great time.

After Porthpean the path got quite hilly where it goes through farmland heading towards Black Head. Badgers were active here, they'd damaged the path in several places. At Trenarren I realised I was going the wrong way after missing a turn. Rather than double-back I headed down a connecting path marked with a sign saying 'to the coast path' from a car parking area. After following it coastwards I found myself on a steep descent leading to the pilchard station at Ropehaven. With the sea on my right I knew this was probably wrong. It was, Ropehaven was a private property, I came to a dead-end at the gate. After retracing my steps I got back on track. Almost immediately I found myself behind a large school party, stragglers at the back of the group were moving quite slowly. This was a narrow section of path, barbed wire keeping walkers out of a fields to the right, brambles and nettles to the left. Overtaking was out of the question so I hung back and walked at their speed too. I didn't mind, in fact I was very pleased to see children being introduced to the wonders of our coast. They eventually left the path to see the fort on Black Head, I carried on my way, now back up to normal speed.

After some ups and downs above a rugged section of coast I passed through Pentewan, the path took a road through town. The caravan park between the road and the beach was doing good business, clearly a popular spot. For a couple of minutes the wind picked up and there were spits of rain in the air. Just when I began contemplating putting on my waterproofs the light shower stopped. This would turn out to be the only precipitation I'd see during this six day spell of walking.

Lea was waiting for me on a bench overlooking the pretty harbour at Mevagissey, I joined her for lunch. It was a lovely spot, Mevagissey joined Looe and Polperro on the list of quaint, unspoilt Cornish fishing towns that are charming and colourful. Each one of them well worth a visit. After my rest I passed along the front at adjoining Portmellon. With the tide high spray was being thrown across the road which was green with seaweed.

The coast started to become quite rugged and spectacular again, though the path itself was an easy walk compared to yesterday. I saw some large houses in a wonderful location at Chapel Point with superb views. Gorran Haven was another typical small Cornish fishing town. People were enjoying watersports from the beach, I passed straight on through and headed up towards Dodman Point. I paused next to the cross at the top taking in my first looks across Veryan Bay. A couple who'd arrived there before me were resting on the base of the cross enjoying the marvelous views. I pressed on and dropped down to isolated Hemmick Beach. The only people here were a couple of German tourists exercising their dog. For the fun of it I leaped across a gap in the seawall where a stream passes through.

After passing large boulders and cows at Clitters Rock and some more relatively easy walking I emerged at Porthlune Cove. Lea was waiting for me as planned. This was a lovely spot, beautiful Caerhays Castle designed by John Nash overlooking a lovely sandy beach. Quite a few people were here enjoying this wonderful, peaceful location.

After taking a short break I pressed on, keen to make it to Portloe today. The path still had a sting it's tail, these last three miles proved to be quite hard work, probably the hilliest section of the day. West and East Portholland were pretty, tiny villages that look like they've probably changed very little in at least a century. When I emerged at Portloe I made another successful rendezvous with Lea in a carpark just off the path. Google Streetview was proving very useful tool when route-planning. In areas you don't know it really helps when you've both looked at online images of the intend meeting points and the approaches the evening before.

Behind the car I changed out of my sweaty walking gear and freshened up. Half an hour later we were in Truro, Lea kindly treated me to a delicious Italian meal to celebrate the occasion of my 48th birthday.

Distance Walked Today 23.63 miles (38.03km)

Walking Time; 8 hours 12 minutes

Average Walking Speed 2.9 mph

Cumulative Distance Walked 312.87 miles (503.52km)

GPS Track;

Charlestown Dock

Children in the sea at Porthpean Beach

Black Head, some of the school group I saw are making their way to the top


The view west across Veryan Bay from Dodman Point

Porthlune Cove and Caerhays Castle

East Portholland

Arriving at Portloe

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Day 13 - September 16th 2014 - Seaton (Cornwall) to Par Sands

What would turn out to magnificent day of walking started with a big climb up from the beach at Seaton. Initially the path goes up a lane, then through woods before opening out onto farmland. A diversion took the route even higher than usual to what I understand is it's highest point in South Cornwall. By the time I reached the top I'd already worked up a good sweat and was glad I'd chosen to carry extra fluids. As forecast the day was already warm and muggy, the air hazy. I could just about make out the shape of Looe Island ahead of me in the reduced visibility.

For a while I walked along a lane through typical farmland a little way inland from the coast. Whilst still on this diversion I passed the entrance of a monkey sanctuary, one of the last things I'd expected to see in this part of the world. I moved on quickly in case they took me in.

The path returned to the cliff-tops and offered more hazy coastal views at Bodigga Cliff before dropping sharply down to Millandreath Beach. The holiday resort here looked well kept and upmarket. For some reason all the signs referred to the beach as Black Rock. I had to double-check my map to make sure I really was at Millandreath. I can only assume the owners have done this for marketing reasons. A similar thing has happened near my home in Exmouth. The company who run the large holiday camp at Sandy Bay have been promoting the location as Devon Cliffs for years. Local people all still know it as Sandy Bay and I'm sure they always will.

After a sharp climb then descent through a residential area I soon reached Looe. By now I could make out buildings on Looe Island through the murky air. After passing through East Looe I crossed over the bridge to West Looe where I met Lea and took a short break. I thought Looe was absolutely charming. The pretty harbour surrounded on either side by narrow streets full of character with many interesting small shops. Small boats were always chugging in and out, a passenger ferry doing good business despite being quite close to the bridge. If I'd had more time I'd have liked to stay longer, but I had plenty of walking to do. As I left town I passed an impressive statue of a seal, then along the part of the front that offered the best views of Looe Island.

From Looe to Talland the path was a relatively easy cliff-top walk over undulating downland. This section was surprisingly popular, well worn and very busy in the fine weather. There was a steady stream of walkers going in both directions. All types and fitness levels could be seen. Everything from local dog walkers to long distance types like me, family groups, people of all ages many who must be in retirement. Everybody was very polite, greetings being exchanged between passing strangers almost without exception. Slower people were happily stepping aside to let faster people through. No litter anywhere. If only our towns and cities could be like this too.

Road access to Polperro looked very difficult so I'd arranged to meet Lea nearby at tiny Talland Cove for our lunch-break instead. The cafĂ© where Lea was waiting in the car park was doing good business. We enjoyed a spot of people-watching as we ate with so many other walkers passing through.

Due to a cliff-fall and path diversion the route west out of Talland was up a long steep narrow lane marked 'unsuitable for motors'. Several walkers going up the hill were visibly struggling on the sharp gradient in the heat of the day. Those coming down looked smug. I was amused to note how different people coped with the difficulty. The male half of a young couple ahead of me took a couple of minutes to re-tie a shoe lace half-way up before stopping to adjust it again, twice. He wasn't fooling me, I doubt if he was fooling her either. A portly middle-aged lady a bit further on was far more honest, announcing loudly to her group and anybody within earshot 'I need a sit-down' before plonking her backside on the verge. Good on her.

Shortly after returning to the cliff-top the path dropped down to Polperro. This wonderful fishing village built on hills surrounding a small harbour was absolutely gorgeous. Full of character, totally unspoilt, the tiny roads too narrow for vehicles. Unsurprisingly on such a nice day Polperro was fairly crowded. Even so I absolutely loved the place and took many pictures as I slowly passed through.

The walking had already been great today, and it was about to get even better. The long section of the South West Coast Path between Polperro and Polruan was nothing less than spectacular. Rugged and isolated, breath-taking scenery all the way, right up there with the finest walks I've ever enjoyed. The path was hard going with the sun beating down, always going up or down, many steep sections, the surfaces rocky and uneven giving a sense of danger. There were far fewer people out here than I'd seen earlier in the day, the tough terrain clearly demanding a much higher level of fitness. Those of us brave enough to take it on were rewarded with amazing views, the sea crashing into numerous small coves and over rocky outcrops. No roads or buildings could be seen for miles, blue skies above. I was loving it, this is what coast walking is all about.

Around Raphael Cliffs the eerie sound of a clanging bell-buoy out in the sea mist added to the sense of drama. One of my favourite spots was Llansallos Cove. I couldn't resist diverting away from the main path down a very steep track to walk across the sand. A handful of sunbathers who must have arrived on foot were spending their day here. There was also a wonderful display of English eccentricity. A young couple were enjoying a picnic on a slightly dangerous looking outcrop above the cove. They had the full works; a table covered with a white tablecloth, two chairs, silver cutlery, a bottle of wine and two cool-boxes full of provisions. The female half of the couple was sat facing the sea enjoying a glass of wine while the male half was serving. I wondered if this was a special occasion, it must have taken a big effort to carry it all there. It looked very romantic, maybe he was proposing to her, maybe my imagination was running riot.

Lantic Bay was another highlight. Two remote sandy beaches below the cliffs looked as good as any I've ever seen before, the water very clear, a wonderful shade of blue. Access to the beaches looked difficult and dangerous, only a few people had made it down. Shetland ponies were grazing next to the path where I stood, high above taking in the amazing views.

Eventually I emerged at Polruan. I passed a National Coastwatch Institution lookout next to an eighth century ruin. The views across the River Fowey and out to sea from there were superb. I dropped down into town through more of those typical steep narrow Cornish lanes then quickly found the passenger ferry that would take me across the river to the town of Fowey. Lea was supposed to be waiting here but was nowhere to be seen. Fortunately this was one of the few times we both had mobile phone signal in Cornwall. I called and established she was waiting by a car ferry quite a way upstream, nowhere near the coastpath or the much smaller ferry I was aboard. It was no big deal, meeting-up on unfamiliar coasts is much harder than you'd imagine, it was inevitable we'd miss each other eventually. We decided to blame it on the sat-nav. I didn't have time to wait around and was carrying plenty of provisions, so Lea made her way on to our next planned meeting point while I continued walking.

The path got easier again after Fowey, more cliff-top walking over gentle downland took me toward Gribbin Head. Polridmouth Cove was a wonderful surprise, an attractive lake here set just behind the beach. The path crosses a small dam. As I passed through the occupants of the cottage were setting up a barbecue. What with all the walking I'd worked-up quite an appetite and would have happily joined them. Being so close to sea-level I wondered how the lake had fared in the vicious storms last winter, there was no sign of any damage.

Approaching Gribben Head I'd been able to make out a silhouette in the haze which I'd assumed was some sort of disused industrial chimney. Only when I got quite close did I realise it was a tall tower painted bright red and white. An information board explained it was built in 1832 as a navigational aid. Here I got my first views across misty St.Austell Bay, I could just about make out the shape of a rocky island on the far side. Par Sands, my intended destination for the day was closer and easier to see. I continued on to Polkerris, more easy going, I had the deserted path all to myself in this area. After making the steep descent down to the beach I was pleased to see Lea was here too. After a hot day I didn't take me long to down a pint of ice-cold cola purchased in the pub. Families with young children were enjoying the late afternoon sunshine, everybody seemed happy.

The last couple of miles to Par Sands didn't take long. Horses were being exercised on the sand, people were playing. I saw a huge flock of geese and some swans in the lake behind the beach. The way through was somewhat confusing due to a caravan park and private grounds of the nearby industrial works getting in the way. More by luck than judgment I found myself on the correct path that took me through to the street where Lea was patiently waiting in her car.

The walking today had been absolutely amazing, unforgettable. I'd seen so many wonderful places in the space of just a few hours. It was very clear why everybody loves Cornwall so much.

 Distance Walked Today 23.19 miles (37.32km)

Walking Time; 7 hours 45 minutes

Average Walking Speed 3.0 mph

Cumulative Distance Walked 289.24 miles (465.49km)

GPS Track;

The steep diversion where many walkers struggled, Talland Cove is at the foot of the climb,
the popular downland section west of Looe in the distance


Rugged coastline at Raphael's Cliff, spot the path if you can

Llansallos Cove, if you look closely you'll see the young couple enjoying their picnic just above centre

Lantic Bay and the two beaches

The Gribbin Tower, built as a navigational aid in 1832

Polridmouth Cove

Arriving at Par Sands at the end of a magnificent day


Sunday, 21 September 2014

Day 12 - September 15th 2014 - Hooe Lake, Plymouth to Seaton (Cornwall)

It was a warm sunny morning in Plymouth and the weathermen were promising more to come, hooray! I got the unpleasantness out of the way early, unknowingly I'd stopped yesterday just before I was about to pass by a water treatment works on a grubby footpath. An upmarket marina followed soon after, this being the first place where I've ever seen leisure craft stacked up on top of each other on shelves in a 'dry marina', presumably due to pressure of space.

As I rounded the far end of Hooe Lake I noticed the rotting skeletons of several derelict boats in the water. I wondered how these presumably once proud vessels ended up being abandoned and forgotten? What work they once did? Who sailed in them? Maybe this is knowledge that goes with the sailors to their graves.

Plymouth is clearly proud to have the South West Coast Path passing through. The usual wooden signposts would be no good here, however they're more than adequately replaced by all manner of signs mounted on walls, in pavements, and on various other immovable objects. To my surprise I didn't make a wrong turn once as I passed through the city.

After crossing Laira Bridge the path goes through an area of heavy industry, hardly your usual coast path fare, but interesting nonetheless. After emerging next to The National Marine Aquarium the flavour changes completely again. You find yourself passing by many of Plymouth's famous historical attractions, including The Mayflower Steps, The Citadel and Smeaton's Tower. They made for a fine walk in the sunshine. I thought the newly opened (at the time of writing) section of the path where it goes through Royal William Yard was very enjoyable and well worth the short extra distance. These Grade I listed naval buildings have been wonderfully converted and have a very stylish feel.

I must have seen thousands of small leisure craft berthed as I passed through Plymouth, yet only a tiny number were showing any sign of activity in the fine weather. I couldn't help wondering how often these things actually get used. Are they the modern equivalent of the Hooe Lake ghost boats?

For ten miles or so of walking Cornwall had seemed so close I could almost touch it. When I reached the Cremyll Ferry it was finally time to cross the county border and say farewell to South Devon. After enjoying fine views of Plymouth during the crossing I found myself in the well tended gardens of the Mount Edgcumbe County Park. Immediately it became clear why the Creymll Ferry does such good business, city folk must be delighted to have such easy access to this peaceful county retreat. A relatively bland walk through woodland followed, with the trees still in full leaf views of Plymouth Sound were infrequent. I met with Lea for lunch at Kingsand. For the first time on this journey I acquainted myself with the typical narrow steep lanes found in Cornish coastal towns.

From Kingsand I made my way to Rame Head, my favourite place of the day. It was well worth the small detour up a rugged path to visit the medieval chapel at the summit. The sea air was somewhat hazy, but I could see enough to tell that the views of Plymouth Sound, South Devon and Whitsand Bay to the west were magnificent. I was surprised to see the remains of wartime gun emplacements behind the chapel, they had been invisible on approach. I suppose their presence was inevitable considering the location. I say well done to those who resisted any temptation to destroy the chapel while constructing these vital air-defences under the stress of war.

With the afternoon sun getting very warm I made my way along Whitsand Bay. After a long straight gradual uphill section the path then zig-zags all over the place among the chalets peppered along on the cliff. I wondered if people live here permanently, or are they just used as holiday homes? Access is very awkward via steep narrow footpaths. Do they get post like everybody else? What about other deliveries? I certainly wouldn't want to be the milkman here.

A stretch of road walking followed before I reached The Tregantle Fort Firing Range. My feet let it be known that after tackling Plymouth earlier in the day they weren't in the mood for yet more tarmac. Fortunately the firing ranges weren't in use and I could pass through. Unfortunately the signs directing walkers were unclear, or non-existent, I found myself down by the beach. I correctly deduced there was no exit from the sands further west so made a steep climb up through the ranges to get back on track. While here I saw the largest wasps nest I've ever seen embedded in a bank by the path, it must have been at least twenty feet long and five feet tall.

After leaving the ranges the going was fairly easy, I passed through a lovely looking golf course where nobody was playing golf. I met Lea again at Portwrinkle and took on extra fluids during a short break to keep myself well hydrated in the increasing heat and humidity. Having made good progress so far I decided there was enough time left in the day to press on to Seaton. After being relatively flat most of the day the path had a sting in it's tale, the hilly downland section between Portwrinkle and Downderry becoming easily the steepest I'd encountered.

At Downderry I couldn't find a link down to the beach so made my way along the annoyingly narrow and busy road on to nearby Seaton where Lea was waiting in a parking area overlooking the small beach. I reflected on a mixed yet fascinating day of walking. I'd thoroughly enjoyed it all, including the fascinating urban journey along the waterfronts of Plymouth.

Distance Walked Today 24.18 miles (38.91km)

Walking Time; 7 hours 23 minutes

Average Walking Speed 3.3 mph

Cumulative Distance Walked 266.05 miles (428.17km)

GPS Track;

One of the rotting ghost boats in Hooe Lake

Everything in the industrial part of Plymouth is very different, including the coast path signs

Tinside Lido at Plymouth Hoe. Drakes Island and Cornwall to the right, a Royal Navy ship on tthe horizon.

Smeatons Tower, a fine sight in the September sunshine

Approaching the medieval chapel on Rame Head

Looking back over Portwrinkle and Whitsand Bay, Rame Head in the far distance

Arriving at Seaton Beach in the late afternoon sun

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Day 11 - September 14th 2014 - Bantham to Hooe Lake, Plymouth

After what felt like a long break I returned to the South West Coast keen to resume this walk. During the six month gap I'd been making a long practise walk once a week to keep myself in shape. Mainly using the very hilly section between Sidmouth and Beer, which is fairly close to my home. I'd also taken up running having decided to enter a half-marathon. Overall I was feeling fitter and leaner than I had for years.

Before arriving I knew the passenger ferry that crosses the Avon from Bantham wouldn't be running on a Sunday, so Lea dropped me off near to Cockleridge on the opposite shore. I excitedly strolled down to the ferry landing stage where my journey proper could resume. The weather was good, no mud underfoot after a long dry spell. A stiff breeze was blowing a cool mist in from the sea, the sky grey. As I climbed up to Bigbury-on-Sea the Avon looked quite different compared to my arrival here in March. The tide was in making the estuary seem somehow smaller, surfers were enjoying the waves. I stopped briefly to enjoy the views of Burgh Island before moving on. Soon I was passing through Challaborough, there weren't many people around, the caravan park here very much had an 'end of season' feel about it.

As I headed out into more rural parts I was somewhat surprised to come across the remnants of an overnight rave at Ayrmer Cove. A diesel generator was powering a sound system and lights, there was a cluster of tents and several weary looking youngsters sitting around listening to the music. Bemused locals were exercising their dogs on the beach as usual. If these guys were responsible enough to clear up after themselves I wish them good luck. The cove is nowhere near any inhabited buildings, I see no reason why they shouldn't have have their fun. On the other hand if they're inconsiderate enough to leave a mess in a coastal beauty spot I condemn their choice of location.

After Ayrmer Cove the proper coast walking began. The path soon became hillier and much quieter, the scenery was superb. This is what it's all about. I had just sheep for company until I was almost at the River Erme. The only way to cross here is to wade across at low tide. I'd worked out in advance that my arrival would coincide with high water and indeed the estuary was full as anticipated. To save me a long detour on foot, or a wait of several hours for low tide, Lea met me at the crossing point and drove me around to the opposite bank, a seven mile drive through very narrow country lanes.

From The Erme the path was very quiet again as far as Stoke House. After here I walked through the area known as The Warren. The walking was enjoyable and easy here, the path well maintained and almost flat, high up with great sea views, livestock roaming free. The only disappointing thing was the attitude of the many local dog walkers. Despite numerous unmissable signs left by the land-owners politely asking path users to keep their pets under control due to frequent sheep attacks, the vast majority chose not to use a lead. Several over-excited barking dogs were running free

On the approach to Noss Mayo I made a navigational blunder. After misreading a sign I took a spur to the shore of The Yealm instead of the main path. I only realised my mistake after making a steep descent down a very rocky narrow path. To make matters worse I returned to the main path a different way, this path up through the woods becoming very overgrown and equally steep.

After extracting myself from the nettles and brambles I met with Lea again, she was waiting with lunch where the path meets a lane near Noss Mayo. After I took a short break it was time to cross The Yealm. As soon as I dropped the indicator board a small boat made its way over from the opposite shore. With the minimum of fuss I was quickly picked up and delivered to the opposite bank by the friendly ferryman, I was his only passenger. The fare of just £3.00 was excellent value for such a good service.

I pushed on, keen to make it to Plymouth by the end of the day's walking. The sun was burning through the greyness now and the wind dropping, making for a great September afternoon. Soon I was at Wembury Beach. It was a nice enough spot, though surely stretching the dictionary definition of the word 'beach'. There was only a small patch of course sand surrounded by much larger rocky areas. By now the fascinating Great Mew Stone dominated the view out to sea. From Wembury the path was easy going for quite a way, passing through gently rolling downland, many people were out for an afternoon stroll.

After Heybrook Bay I was pleased to catch my first views of Plymouth Sound and the distant city through the somewhat hazy air. At Bovisand Bay the path apparently came to a halt at a locked gate marked 'Danger, No Entry', this being the entry to Bovisand Fort. A couple out walking the coast path who'd arrived at the gate before me asked if I knew the way through to Plymouth. After wandering backwards and forwards for a while I spotted a small post pointing the way through the grounds of a small block of flats. It was overshadowed by much larger and brighter homemade signs declaring 'Private', 'No Parking', 'Residents Only'. I doubt we were the first to miss this turn, and I doubt we'll be the last.

The approach to Plymouth was more pleasant than I expected. Jennycliff was a nice walk, the unexpected 'Welcome to Plymouth, please wipe your feet' marker where you cross the city boundary here made me laugh. I wished I'd had more time to look at the various historical defences scattered around the hills. After rounding Mountbatten and passing various boat works I came to Hooe Lake, a peaceful spot. The legs of what must have once been a substantial railway bridge were among signs that in the past this area must have been the home of heavy industry. With 25 miles on the clock and time getting on I decided to stop for the day when I reached the Royal Oak pub. A pint of iced soft drink went down a treat while Lea made her way over to collect me.

Distance Walked Today 25.02 miles (40.26km)

Walking Time; 7 hours 50 minutes

Average Walking Speed 3.2 mph

Cumulative Distance Walked 241.87 miles (389.25km)

GPS Track;

The walking resumes here, looking across to Bantham Quay from the ferry landing point at Cockleridge

The view of Burgh Island from Bigbury-on-Sea

This is the stuff, the real coast walking gets underway and I have the path all to myself west of Challaborough

Arriving at the River Erme, with wading out of the question I was given a lift to the opposite bank

The Great Mew Stone

Wembury Beach
Plymouth Sound and Plymouth come into view at Heybrook Bay

Crossing the city boundary at Jennycliff.

Friday, 7 March 2014

Day 10 - March 5th 2014 - Salcombe to Bantham

It was clear and frosty when I woke this morning. The weather forecast was promising a dry day, exactly what I'd been hoping to hear. Lea drove me to Salcombe where the passenger ferry arrives from East Portlemouth on the opposite side of the estuary. It meant I skipped the crossing, but it made no difference to the distance walked and saved many unnecessary miles driving down narrow country lanes.

Much like yesterday I found myself on narrow roads heading out of a quaint seaside town for the first mile or so. I saw storm damage again at South Sands. The road was closed here and it appeared the old lifeboat house, which houses a water sports business these days, was badly damaged internally. After passing up through Overbeck Gardens I emerged on a rugged rocky stretch of path heading towards and around Sharp Tor. Unlike yesterday there were handrails and low walls between me and the sea on the most dangerous parts of the path, I read later this section of the coast path was constructed in the 19th century.

In this area the path felt very much like Dartmoor by the sea. There were rugged rocky outcrops, the going was hilly, there were even a few ponies grazing close by. It really felt like spring today, wild daffodils were growing, many sheep were accompanied by their lambs and the sun was shining. Perfect.

After Bolt Head the path was fairly easy going, occasional muddy patches the only nuisance as I passed along gently rolling cliff-tops enjoying superb views. After briefly drifting north of the official path in an area where all the signs had been blown away near Ham Stone I made the steep descent down to Soar Mill Cove, a spectacular isolated spot which I had all to myself today. After a short break admiring the cove I made my way up the other side of the valley, this steep section being easily the most energy-sapping climb of the day.

More easy cliff-top walking followed. At Bolberry Down I caught my first views of Burgh Island and many miles of coast in the distance. Visibility wasn't perfect, but I was fairly sure that through the haze I could make out Cornwall for the first time on this journey. After admiring the magnificent view at Bolt Tail I dropped down to Inner Hope, the tide was still a little too high to let me cross the beach so I stuck to the road here.

If it weren't for recent storms the path from Outer Hope to Thurlestone would have been an easy stroll of just a mile or so. Unfortunately the cliffs had crumbled here and two diversions made it much harder work. The first was a relatively minor irritation, passing inland and back through the streets of Outer Hope for a about half a mile to bypass a section no more than 100 yards long.

The second diversion ended up costing me a quite lot of time. Strangely the only signs I saw showing the alternative route were placed well after I'd already passed the diversion. I wondered if signs further back had blown away or been removed by vandals. As a result I came to a dead-end next to a large house at Great Ledge with no option other than to double back a fair distance. As I retraced my steps I was able to warn a couple and their dog who were about to go the same way as me. This diversion was no fun at all. It added quite a lot of distance, the first half of which required walking up a seemingly never-ending farm track that was a quagmire all the way, completely underwater in places. This was by far the boggiest place I'd had to tackle at any stage of this walk so far.

At Thurlestone Sands I was pleased to rejoin the path, my boots absolutely caked in mud. The first thing I saw there was another road lost to the waves. Then I crossed over South Milton Ley on the footbridge. The southern end of this huge reed bed wasn't in the best of shape, it had clearly been under attack from the sea and was covered in debris.

Relatively easy walking took me alongside the golf course at Thurlestone. From the cliff tops I looked down on rocky beaches that appeared to be inaccessible from the land. As I approached the mouth of the River Avon there were great views across to Burgh Island and Bigbury-on-Sea where I knew Lea was waiting. As planned I arrived at low tide in the hope of wading across the Avon. Next to the lifeguards look-out I dropped down onto the sands and went over to take a look at the river. It was immediately clear and no surprise that it was far too deep and fast flowing to consider wading. So near yet so far, I was just yards away from Bigbury. I washed the mud off my boots in the river before turning back

There wasn't enough time left in the day to consider making the 9 mile diversion inland that would allow me to cross the estuary on foot. Had I arrived earlier I might have done it, but I didnt want to risk finishing in the dark. Instead I clambered up onto Bantham Ham and walked on to Bantham Quay where I stopped for the day. The seasonal passenger ferry that crosses the river here doesn't start running until late April. Fortunately we both had mobile signal, a rarity in this area, so I was able to call Lea and tell her where to come and find me.

It had been another thoroughly enjoyable day, again I'd seen wonderful places and fantastic scenery. By the time I'd stopped I was already laughing off the annoying diversions. I'd have preferred to get a few more miles covered if possible, however considering the time of year, the extent of storm damage and muddy conditions underfoot I'm very pleased with the progress I've made over the last two days.

That's it for now. I'll return to the path later this year when I'll continue on from Bantham Quay. Thanks for reading.

Distance Walked Today 14.69 miles (23.64 km)

Walking Time; 4 hours 29 minutes

Average Walking Speed 3.3 mph

Cumulative Distance Walked 216.85 miles (348.99 km)

GPS Track;

Leaving pretty Salcombe on a fine Spring morning
Looking back at Sharp Tor
 Near Bolt Head, the path felt like 'Dartmoor by the Sea' here
Looking down over Soar Mill Cove before making a very steep descent
View from Bolberry Down, I caught my first glimpse of Cornwall in the distance here
Oh no, I come to the dead-end at Great Ledge

The unpleasant diversion route, this muddy farm track seemed to go on forever

Thurlestone Sands, one of several roads lost to the sea in recent storms

Looking across the impassable Avon Estuary to Burgh Island and Bigbury-on-Sea