Newquay to Penzance
May 18 to 25 2011
Day 1 to Cliffside Hotel, Perranporth TR6 0DR
I travelled down the previous day by train and stayed in the Narrowcliff Hotel, handy for the station but rather routine, though it was worth paying £2 extra for a view of the bay. I went first to the Tourist Information Office because the guidebook mentioned four possible crossings of the River Gannel, and I wanted some up-to-date advice, but in the event they were not much help, advising me to take the bus. Also, while I did not actually get lost in Newquay, there were hardly any signs advising the official route, even when you had got out of town. Only by following the guidebook rigidly and using my common sense did I avoid going off on wild goose chases.
The first crossing was the Fern Pit Ferry, but that wasn't due to start operating till the following weekend. The second - Penpol is only usable 3 or 4 hours either side of low tide. The third - Trenance Footbridge - involved an extra 3 miles walk, and I assumed it would not be passable as though the book said it could be used at most states of the tide, I calculated I would reach it at exactly high tide. I expected therefore to have to choose between walking an extra mile and a half, or waiting for the tide to go down (a good opportunity to eat my lunch). In the event the bridge was clear of the water and I was able to go straight over.
Once across the river it was not clear where to go. The guide described a bridleway, but there were no signs and the gate ahead looked as though it was going into private land, though it was in fact the way I should have gone. Instead I carried on along the river bank back towards the sea and eventually got back on the proper path on the edge of Crantock.
The rest of the day's walk was generally straightforward until I got to the start of Perran Beach. I was trying to work out whether to walk along the beach or make my way through the dunes, when I realised I had left my walking pole behind when I had stopped for a drink about a mile earlier. Since I had really been enjoying the fact that all I had on my back was a tiny rucksack rather than the big one with all my belongings, the idea of having to retrace my steps was no big deal. I met nobody on the way back, and it was still where I had dropped it. Once back again, I made my way along the mile and a half of beach which was reasonably firm underfoot, and found Cliffside Hotel without any difficulty. It has a nice view of the bay, but is rather run down.
Day 2 to Moor House, Bridge Moor, Portreath TR16 4QA
At breakfast I discovered that Lennox, the only other person staying that night, was also walking that day to Portreath and had booked into Bridge Moor. But we were both clear that we wanted to walk alone.
With this section you start seeing the fascinating mine workings. While most of the path (apart from the stretch close to Perranporth aerodrome) seems well away from civilisation, it was clearly different when the mines were in their prime. It is very difficult to imagine what it must have been like in those days, and how valuable the materials they were mining must have been for them to undertake the engineering works that were still quite impressive. The route was relatively straightforward, and the weather fine, until a couple of miles from my destination when there was a short sharp shower. This was very localised as it missed not only Portreath but also walkers who were not so far behind me.
I arrived at Portreath earlier than I expected and had a brief walk above the town, before finding my way to Bridge Moor. There I was given a very warm welcome by Joe and Maria Urban with tea and cake. I had an excellent meal at the Portreath Arms where I met up with not just Lennox, but also three other walkers, and we had an interesting conversation comparing notes about the Coast Path and other walks.
Day 3 to Rivendell, 7 Porthminster Terrace, St Ives TR26 2DQ
After saying goodbye not just to the Urbans, but also to Lennox who was off back home (having come all the way from Minehead in 16 days), I set off on what I expect will be the longest stage of the whole route - 18 miles. As I had booked into Rivendell for six nights, I knew that if I was struggling towards the end, I could take the bus or train and come back next day to complete the section. In the event I never considered this option.
The first section of the route involved cliff walking with two moderately strenuous dips and climbs, before descending to sea level after rounding Godrevy Point. After seeing very few people, at Hell's Mouth I noticed several people gathered looking down over the cliffs. I went over to see what the interest was, to find that in the bay below there were several seals. Up to that point I had generally missed the wild life that was supposed to be there to see at different points, so I was pleased that at last I had scored.
After rounding Godrevy Point, it was difficult to believe that there was another 12 miles to go to St Ives, as it looked a lot closer. The problem was that Hayle was completely out of sight, so there was no indication as to how far it would be necessary to go inland. The next section was not particularly comfortable, as it involved a long stretch of dunes with the official route not being at all obvious, and the guide book not being particularly clear about the distance along each stretch that it described. Part of the problem was that with the sand continually drifting some posts were getting buried. Some of the time also it was trying to rain, which didn't help. There was no danger of getting lost as the sea was always visible, but sometimes the sand became very soft, and on other occasions what seemed like the correct path would peter out into impenetrable grass, so I would have to turn round and find a better route.
Eventually I emerged on the other side and followed the path which went along the back of some houses emerging in a car park from where you had to make your way through Hayle harbour along a road shared with large trucks, before crossing a swing bridge. The route now followed a road for a short distance, and passed the memorial to a Hayle man who was a hero of 9/11. He had been a security officer in the Twin Towers and led many people to safety but was still inside when the tower collapsed.
At this point the visual impression was that you could just continue along the coast. The River Hayle was not visible, because there was a large lagoon, and a thin finger of land between it and the bay, and a footpath along it. It would have been tempting to follow that path, but luckily the signs clearly took you along the side of the lagoon parallel with the road leading out of town. At the end of the lagoon there was a sign directing you back onto the road, though once you reached the road there was a rather confusing sign that looked as though it was sending you back in the same general direction. However the guidebook was clear that you had to follow the main road inland for a mile or so along the causeway, before turning right into Lelant. This section held a variety of bird life, and at one point there were ten or so cameramen with what looked like sophisticated equipment oblivious of the walker passing through their gathering.
I really enjoyed the next stage, which was quieter than I expected. First through the edge of Lelant, then along links on the seaward side of the golf club and along past Porthkidney beach - plenty of sand and very few people. As it reached Carbis Bay and the edge of St Ives there were one or two quite steep climbs and descents, but they didn't seem to matter as the end was in sight. By the time I reached Rivendell I was ready to take my boots off, not to mention get in the shower, but I wasn't too tired to go in search of the many good eating places in the town.
Day 4 to Gurnards Head
The guidebook suggested that the next stage was going to be tough, and so it turned out to be. It warned that it was a particularly isolated section, there being no facilities, but for the first few miles there were plenty of other walkers. The path wasn't too bad to start with, but it became more and more challenging. It wasn't just the climbs and descents; the path became quite uneven and rather boggy in places.
Shortly after Zennor Head I suddenly started to feel very tired. This was not an unusual situation, but it was the first time it had happened on a flat stretch. I had been planning to go as far as Morvah, but I had serious doubts as to whether I would make it. So I decided that discretion was the better part of valour, and would go inland at Gurnards Head and catch a bus back at the pub of the same name. Gurnards Head is a promontary and the official path bypasses it, but as I was feeling very tired, I walked out to the Head, found a nice rock to sit against and had a snooze. I was then ready for the mile or so walk to the bus stop.
Day 5 to Morvah
I had planned to take it easy this day, but because I had got tired so suddenly the previous day I was quite anxious not to push myself too hard. So it being Sunday I went to church in the morning and then had a picnic lunch before catching the bus back to Gurnards Head. It was just a mile back to the path, two or three along the path and then half a mile to the bus stop at Morvah. Though the stretch from St Ives to Pendeen Watch is categorised as Severe, I felt the worst was behind me. I only remember one awkward climb, and that was as much complicated by the path being less clearly defined. My tiredness did not return, so I felt confident that I was back to full fitness.
Day 6 to Sennen Cove
I caught the first bus I could to Morvah and rejoined the path. The rest of the route to Pendeen Watch was straightforward. Not long after that you come to the Geevor mining museum which I was tempted to explore further, but as there was still a fair amount of walking to do that day I carried straight on. However I went wrong shortly after this. Looking back, I seem to remember that the signposts send you along a track, but there was a path that headed towards the sea which I assumed was the way intended. It went right up to the cliff edge which was not unusual until it went round a promontory where there were some rocks that were rather difficult to negotiate. For example at one point there was a drop of about 10 feet and I had to let go of my pole then slide down. Eventually I found my way back to the correct route, but I had not enjoyed that section. The guidebook does mention this path, but I don't recommend it.
I then made my way to Kenidjack Castle where I had my lunch. The guidebook mentions that some of the waymarking uses granite stones, but this in fact means that they are not as obvious to see as a bit of wood stuck up on a pole. Shortly after this I missed one of them and I found myself in a field with no exits in the direction I needed to go. Once I'd retraced my steps the path was clear to Cape Cornwall, a very attractive location. It's well worth going as far as you can on the headland, though it is easy to cheat at this point. The rest of the walk to Sennen Cove was easy and pleasant, apart from the fact that half a mile from my destination I saw the bus leave that I had hoped to catch. This meant hanging around for nearly an hour, then taking one that went via Land's End to Penzance where I had to catch another bus to St Ives.
Day 7 to Porthcurno
I caught the morning bus to Sennen Cove and made my way from their to Land's End. It was rather a misty day but there were plenty of visitors around and I didn't hang about but set off along the official path. What struck me was the interesting geology of the cliffs in that area with some fascinating rock formations. I had my lunch at Gwennap Head, and after that followed the easy path rather than the one that the guidebook suggests is only for the sure-footed. I certainly didn't have confidence in that area after the incident the previous day scrambling over rocks along the path round the headland.
I had been looking forward to seeing the Minack Theatre, but when I reached it I was ready to call it a day from walking, so I didn't go in, and was disappointed that in fact you can't see any of the theatre from the path. Having descended the steep steps I went inland from Porthcurno to the bus stop, where I didn't have to wait long. However the bus I caught returned me to Land's End before it made its way to Penzance, and it was some time before I was back in St Ives.
Day 8 to Penzance
It was miserable weather that greeted me for the final day of walking, and matters were not helped by the fact that to get to Porthcurno much before lunch I had to catch a bus to Penzance at 8:30, which meant missing my cooked breakfast. In the event the bus I had hoped to catch we passed as we were coming into Penzance, so I ended up catching one that once again went the long way round. So I visited Land's End for the fourth time and this time it was even more depressing because there was a heavy mist and no sign of life at all. So I was rather surprised when I got back that evening and turned on the television to see a host of celebrities there launching the route of the Olympic torch relay. Clearly Jonathan Edwards and all the others were ensconsed in the hotel and only went out to do the filming when it was absolutely necessary.
By the time the bus got to Porthcurno and I had made my way back to the path, it had started to rain quite heavily. So I was not pleased by the fact that though the route was clear, the grass was quite long. In no time my trousers below the knee were soaking. It was like this for about two miles, but in due course the path became more sensible, the rain eased off and I started to enjoy things a bit more.
There was nothing too strenuous on this section and the scenery was particularly vivid. I stopped for lunch on the boulder beach at St Loy, and was in no hurry to press on, though I wanted to be in Penzance to catch a particular bus. From Lamorna Cove to the road down into Mousehole it was particularly enjoyable. However at Mousehole I went wrong twice. The first time was entirely my fault, ignoring the guidebook and the signs. I should have realised before I came to a dead end that I was going in the wrong direction, and when I retraced my steps I noticed at the point where I went wrong that it said specifically that it was not the coast path. The other time was beyond the harbour. There is a sign pointing you along a path by the shore. After 100 yards or so there are some steps and no sign, but the path continues along a breakwater for at least half a mile before it comes to a dead end. The book says to climb some steps but because there was no sign I ignored them.
Having found the correct path I made my way to Penzance without further diversions. It was virtually all built up from there on, with the interest being more in the industrial landscape. I managed to catch my bus with at least five minutes to spare, though was beginning to get worried when I could see a long way ahead but no obvious sign of the bus station. It was a relief when it came in sight, and I knew I wasn't going to have another lengthy wait there.