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.