To the lighthouse. Again.

IMG_3760 (3)Back to Cornwall for a few more days of coast path, beginning where I began last time, a year or so ago (https://wordpress.com/post/womanwalkingblog.wordpress.com/6377).IMG_3745 (2)Godrevy Point at the far end of Gwithian Sands was the spot but this time, instead of taking the Age Concern minibus to the start I had my own driver in the form of T who agreed to drop me off and meet me 7 miles later with such alacrity that I knew that a clandestine Full English had to figure in his plans somewhere. We actually reached the National Trust car park at practically the crack of dawn as we were both on city time when it came to waking up. But still the car park was hosting a good few surfers’ cars and vans.

Off I went in one direction and off went my husband in another.

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I seem to have taken a great many And So We Say Goodbye shots of Godrevy lighthouse. I like this one best.

The National Trust own and manage the coast land here and, in that much of their work was imperceptible to me, and in that I very much appreciated their re routing of the path to allow for recent cliff falls, I did find some of their signage (and that of other charities) a little intrusive.

But it is a difficult balance to achieve and I have nothing against seals.

I thought I’d heard of excellent carrot cake being found on sale at the café hereabouts and I do love a piece of carrot cake. I hadn’t checked my sources too closely and so the first place I had my eye on turned out to be public toilets. Disappointing. In the fullness of time, at about the moment I walked off the edge of my very first OS map and onto the second (woohoo), I arrived at the café at Hell’s Mouth – the very place – but so early that it was yet to open and, to be honest, it was too early for cake, even for me. Still, I passed by with some regret but later, on rereading Jude’s post, I realised it may not have been so bad after all. (https://cornwallincolours.wordpress.com/2018/08/29/hells-mouth/).

I walked on as the way, although high up on the cliff,  ran flat and close to the road for several miles. Car parks popped up from time to time. It was turning into the least interesting section so far and I was growing rather fed up. It did give me time to reflect on my new walking/trail shoes and award them 9 out of 10.

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Ugly  brutes, aren’t they?

Still not 100% right. The quest continues.

Lovely array of wildflowers along the way though – bluebells, primroses, violets, red campion and a whole load of nameless others.

Just as my inner moaner was starting on the Are We Nearly There Yet? whining, the path dropped away, right from the top of the cliff to a few metres above the beach.

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Didn’t see that coming.

A steep down followed by a steep up. That’ll teach me to get bored. Just time to catch my breath at the top and WHAT? Here we go again, all the way down and all the way up again. A double dip. Not sporting. Not sporting at all.

Then it was around the headland and into Portreath, my morning’s destination. I have to admit that I found the place a little odd. Its raison d’etre was as a port used to export tin and copper from the local mines across to South Wales for processing and to import Welsh coal to power the mine machinery. As I saw a bit more I came to admire its plucky ingenuity. IMG_3809 (2)I mean, would you build a harbour here on this wide expanse of gently sloping sands?

At one side of the beach walls were constructed to create the narrowest of channels to form the harbour. The skill that must have been required to navigate that unfeasibly tight passage is extraordinary.IMG_4042 (2)

The village itself is rather unusual. Although equipped with the requisite golden sands (and some truly ugly, crassly overdeveloped properties), just behind the beach front car park is an estate of 1970s housing where the old maps show were once coal yards. IMG_4040 (2)Throw in several derelict bungalows around which property developers must be circling, a couple of not very enticing pubs, a beach café reeking of chip fat

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Farm fresh premium pre-fried chilled chips? 

and a (much nicer) cycle café where we drank coffee amidst the frames and the inner tubes and it was all a bit of a mishmash.

I couldn’t wait to leave.

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But what’s that giant golfball up on the hill above the village?

That’s for the next walk

To the Lighthouse, and other stories

For my third, and final, day of coastal walking this trip I planned to walk from Portreath back down to Hayle, about 11 miles, beginning with a long stretch of cliff paths and ending with three miles of beach walking. I was feeling increasingly antsy about it as the day approached due to the rather complicated transport arrangements required to get me to the start – two trains and a bus – and the fact that however early I started I could not get to Portreath before 1148. Throw in a bust knee and you will see why I threw in the towel on that over engineered plan.

Although hours of stretching had worked like magic on my leg, I didn’t fancy being stuck up on some cliff if it went again so I began to rethink. Somewhere in my planning I recalled coming across a bus which occasionally calls at Gwithian, close to the far end of that sandy beach I had originally planned to cover. Could I jump onto that and at least do part of my planned walk? A quick peruse of the splendid Traveline website (www.traveline.info – How do I love thee? Let me count the ways) and it was all sorted. Train to St Erth and then the 515 from outside the station to Gwithian. Perfect.

Here’s a map to give you an idea of the lie of the land.

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Map kindly released into the community by Wikimedia

So I skipped off the train at St Erth and went in search of the bus stop. And found – nothing. Just a very small station forecourt. Not a trace of a bus ever calling.

I went back and asked the man in the railway ticket office. The 515? Haven’t seen one of those for years.  He intimated that a unicorn was more likely to turn up than a bus. This was not what I wanted to hear. Mind you, he went on, in a valiant attempt to be helpful, being in here I can’t see anything anyway. So if it does come, it’ll just come in out there. You’ll see it if it does.  I could not fault his logic.

So back out into the forecourt I went to await the mythical beast. For a long time nothing moved and then – bang on time – in rolled a large minibus. It didn’t actually say 515 anywhere on it but this had to be it. And if it wasn’t, I was going to jump aboard anyway. The driver got out, walked around to open the passenger door to let down the steps, helped a couple out, and then rooted around to find his ticket machine and his money bag. There was, I perceived, no hurry. We don’t usually have people get off at the station, he remarked conversationally. Or get on, he added. The front seats were taken by a trio of passengers who were deep in conversation. They fell silent as I clambered in. I greeted them with a Good morning; they greeted me back and then ignored me convivially.

The phrase all around the houses was no doubt inspired by the route this Age UK community bus took around St Erth, Hayle and other hamlets. Some people got on just to reach the top of the hill and as such it is a great resource for the less mobile. Add in the socialising that was going on between the passengers and the extent to which S, the chatty driver, knew all his regulars, who would be waiting for him where, who knew who and what they’d been up to since he last saw them, and it felt like I’d stumbled into some boisterous coffee morning. I reckon I’ll be buying you a wedding bouquet soon teased one man as his fellow passenger, a woman well into her seventies, waved at a dour man waiting on the pavement for her in Hayle. I’ve got lots of man friends, not just him she bridled, adding hurriedly but I’m not a slut.  I watched as the pair walked briskly but awkwardly away. Probably not marriage material that one, I thought, but who else did she have on the back burner.

Eventually we picked up speed – just me and another walker who’d joined us in Hayle now – and we reached Gwithian. I was rather enjoying talking to S but he had a schedule to keep and off he went, all around the houses again in his circuitous way back to Penzance. Gwithian may well have been worth a look but, as it had taken me 1 1/2 hours to get this far, I was keen to get walking. Down the road, along a footpath over land that became more and more dune like, and there it was – Godrevy Island.

And the lighthouse.

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Godrevy Head, Island, Lighthouse, Beach etc etc. Take my word for it, there’s a lighthouse on that rock.

And not just any lighthouse either. This is the lighthouse which inspired Virginia Woolf’s eponymous novel To the Lighthouse.  I haven’t read it so I’ve done a bit of Wiki cribbing. Apparently it’s

a 1927 novel… [which] centres on the Ramsay family and their visits to the Isle of Skye in Scotland… Following and extending the tradition of modernist novelists… the plot of To the Lighthouse is secondary to its philosophical introspection… the novel includes little dialogue and almost no action; most of it is written as thoughts and observations. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/To_the_Lighthouse)

Doesn’t exactly sound like a ripping yarn to me and there’s no clue as to why she moved the (in)action from Cornwall to the Isle of Skye, but I tipped my hat to the site of literary inspiration nevertheless.

But what was interesting around here (to me at least)  are the adhoc settlements of cabins up in the Towans (or dunes) which stretch from here down almost to Hayle.IMG_5419 (2)

Here’s a look at some at the Gwithian end. Can you see what an informal arrangement of dwellings has somehow evolved here?

Take a closer look

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There are a brace of basic wooden huts, an odd conical stone built structure, one that looks like a repurposed school terrapin building, something rather modern and fabulous (back left) and, in front, isn’t that an old railway carriage?

Feast your eyes on this 1920s/30s shot of the chalets down at the Hayle end

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I found this postcard in a junk shop and have been bizarrely fascinated by it ever since.

It appears from the map that the homes are scattered about like weed seeds.

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From the Ordnance Survey Explorer map 102

I haven’t been able to find out much about these Towans settlements. (Anyone able to fill me in?) Today they look as though they are holiday lets but, from the odd notes I gleaned from local reminiscence websites, I think that they might once have been family homes for the men employed in the mines hereabouts, although there’s little trace now of the copper, silver and lead extraction that once went on around here. Or the explosives factory. I don’t imagine these were comfortable places in which to live but I was still charmed by these organic communities.

But enough of that, let’s get onto the beach. Straight past the Lifeguards’ Station,

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Bet Virginia would never have moved her oeuvre to Skye if she’d met Barney, Tom, and Tarryn. They sound like a cheery trio.

and on to the sands.

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Three miles of golden sands is the tourist office claim and I cannot argue with them. The tide was out and the enormous expanse of beach was lightly populated with walkers, dogs and intrepid surfers. There wasn’t a lot to see, being a misty day, although obviously the potential for moody shots was enormous. (I’ll spare you).

The odd stream crossed the sands, this one showing the residue of the copper deposits. It is said that the river at Gwithian – the Red River – was so called because of the colour of the water as a result of the copper mining operations. See also Redruth.

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The dampness in the air, the crashing of the waves and the emptiness was soporific and I drifted off as I walked, occasionally looking around, but otherwise lost in my thoughts.

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Ever seen Zulu?

Eventually the low cliffs turned inland and with it the beach.

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The Hayle River gently scouring a way across the sands. See the posts marking the channel?

As I turned the corner, the far side of the estuary, over by Lelant Church, looked perfectly easily accessible but the River Hayle is deceptively deep.

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A few minutes later and I was alongside what had very obviously once been a busy commercial port.

IMG_5526 (2)Although closed to commercial traffic in the late Seventies – coal in, copper and other minerals out back in its heyday – a little non recreational shipping continues to use the harbour.

The tide was rising and a few fishing boats were preparing to set out, but otherwise nothing moved.IMG_5541 (2)

Hayle has, it must be said, seen better days but a programme of redevelopment of the quaysides is underway and the place was busy, with at least two unrelated outlets claiming to offer visitors Cornish pasties made to the oldest/most authentic recipe. From the bus I saw some rather impressive old buildings at the head of the harbour but unfortunately they are rather obscured by this.IMG_5545 (2)

It is a fine railway viaduct, but unfortunately it is rather obscured by a giant Asda. So let’s file Hayle under Not a looker, but probably has a very nice character.

And that was pretty much it. I ploughed on for another 20 minutes to Lelant Saltings station, gritting my teeth as the path took me over an historic causeway, albeit now a very busy road,

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Making progress

to complete the missing link in the chain from where I started two days earlier – Gurnards Head – all the way to Gwithian.

It’s a beautiful part of the world and I am sad to be leaving it behind as I move up the coast. Not sure when I’ll next be able to squeeze in a few more days on my Cornish Camino but one thing’s for sure…

I’ve got to stop walking like a duckIMG_5464 (2)

A day of bays

Day 2 of my Cornish walks and this time I’d planned a route along the next stretch of the coast path from St Ives to Hayle, about 8 miles. Looking at the map I  thought that the path would be pretty flat all the way round, but the reason there didn’t appear to be much in the way of contour lines at the water’s edge was because they were so close together that they all merged into one. Plus much of the first half of the way was so built up that I couldn’t make them out. Hmm, excuses, excuses but at least I had only myself to blame when I found that the walk featured quite a few heavy breather hills.

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Porthminster Beach with St Ives harbour in the background.

Straight after breakfast I loaded up my packed lunch and headed out, down to the station and onto the promenade along Porthminster Beach. Although it was the Easter holidays and the streets of St Ives had been crammed with families the day before, at this hour only a few strollers were out on the gloriously empty beach.

This  natural landscape is in complete contrast to what has been the norm since Land’s End. At St Ives, the coast turns a corner. Gone are the rocky coves and sheer drops, replaced by great expanses of sand and still steep but not impossible cliffs. Gone too are the remote, wild and unpopulated spaces of yesterday’s walk, and the crumbling industrial remnants of earlier outings, to be replaced by what I can only call suburbia.

It was the railway which first brought the crowds to St Ives in the late nineteenth century with the creation of a short branch line from St Erth on the main Penzance to Paddington line. A train shuttles back and forth all day but even though it is a standard issue three carriage GWR version that can be seen anywhere else on the network there is something magical about stepping off the big train (from, in my case, Bristol although time it right and it could be Aberdeen) and over onto the platform 3 for the St Ives line.

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St Erth station, platform 3. In the corner is a café crammed full of homemade cakes and visitor information and presided over by a chatty woman who happily minded my bags for me.

Before the railway came, St Ives was just a small fishing village, but there are not many working boats in the harbour today

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although some vestiges of the industry’s past do remain.

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Rose Lodge – one of three fishermen’s lodges on the harbourside,  built by a wellwisher as places of respite from the weather and – nowadays I imagine – the tourists.

Then there were the artists, drawn apparently by the light which is particular to St Ives. And it being a safe, cheap place to sit out the war, I muttered, if what I gleaned from Tate St Ives is correct. Anyway, here’s an artist’s impression of the place a while back

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1943 – 45 (St Ives) Ben Nicholson in the Tate St Ives

and here’s an artist at work

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From a display in the Tate. Mrs Bradshaw looking very chic for a day on the beach. Commander Bradshaw won his DSO in the First World War so I exclude him from my snark.

The old centre of St Ives is very picturesque and yes, if I was a painter, I would be tempted to get out my easel too. It’s all narrow streets, whitewashed walls with orange lichen covering grey slate roofs. It is very pretty indeed and it’s not surprising that the town is still a Mecca for artists and offers painting schools, art supply shops and galleries in abundance.

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It’s also a magnet for other visitors too with streets full of cafes, restaurants and  upmarket shops.

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You know it’s classy when you see Artisan. (But leopard print with Helly Hansen, madam? Really?)

Anyway, St Ives – somewhat unreal but very, very pleasant.  I’ll go back.

Back to the walk. The trail hugs the coast, as does the railway line, with the one hopping over the other from time to time. The views are spectacular from both. Such panoramas have attracted more permanent residents and so wherever anyone finds an inch of space on which a foundation could be dug, a property will rise. Some are delightful – Victorian or Edwardian homes or 1930s colonial style bungalows sitting amidst cared for but not overly preened gardens – others were impressively modern, all slate and wood and cleverly designed to sit within the landscape rather than stand out. Wonderful. Others were monstrous, unsympathetic, and deserted crass demonstrations of wealth. Not so wonderful.

The path snaked between the houses, and I realised that I could foretell the type of property from the level of malevolence of the gates. High, impenetrable barriers, festooned with Keep Out/Private/Go Away signs, always heralded something brash.  I passed an old bungalow perched on the cliff edge, overlooking the rail line. It looked rather ramshackle but there was something very attractive about it. Before it stood a bulldozer and an operator whose control of the jaws of the armature was so precise that he was delicately picking staves of wood the size of a school ruler off the roof. Almost as if he didn’t want to hurt the old girl.

When I passed by on the train the next morning, there was nothing left. Just a building plot overlooking the sea.

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Carbis Bay

Builders were about in force in Carbis Bay too, busily extending the upmarket hotel’s premises onto the beach in time for the season. Full marks to them for clearly marking an alternative way when their construction work made the official route impassable.

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Oh I see, they really did mean me to walk through the swimming pool. Past the guests in the hot tub who clearly wondered what on earth was going on.

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This has to be my favourite footpath diversion of all time

Suburbia began to thin out as the way turned towards the huge  expanse of  Porthkidney beach at low tide.IMG_5352 (2)

It was just stunningIMG_5357 (2)

I wandered along very contently. It was muddy in places but, after my baptism of boulders yesterday, this stuff was just entry level. My mind was wandering about pretty happily too. All was good in an uneventful way. I spotted this piggy backing of another trail onto the South West Coast Path. St Michael’s Way, part of a pilgrim route to Santiago? Heck, I’ve stumbled onto the real Camino. Where’s my scallop shell?

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Hard to tell but those vast expanses of sand are actually divided by the estuary of the Hayle river  which at low tide looks so insignificant that you believe you could paddle across it. But it’s deeper and faster flowing than it looks so the path must turn inland to find a crossing point upriver.

Cue the return of suburbia with a golf course

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… the preserve of golfers from whose swing very serious defensive protection is required. Behind the golf course is the distinctive tower of Lelant Church which must be a major point of navigation from out at sea as it can be seen for miles around (the more official light tower in the foreground notwithstanding).

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The Church was attractive and well cared for with pretty post Easter decorations in the porch. IMG_5382 (2)A notice on the door announced that a service was in progress but that the welcome would be warm. Mid morning on a Thursday seemed like an odd time for worship and, though I could hear people talking inside, I decided against going in and instead sat on a bench in the churchyard gazing out at the view of sea and sand dunes. Lelant Church is the real starting point of the St Michael’s Way pilgrimage route and with hindsight maybe I was tempting fate by not going in, and by taking pictures of signs that amused me instead.

Just as I left the Church and began what I knew would be a last couple of miles of tarmac lanes to Hayle, something went wrong with my knee. The strenuous walk the day before had taken its toll. On the flat it was fine. Going uphill there was not a twinge. But going downhill? Excruciating.

I had a short, steep road down to the shoreline to negotiate. I knew that once I was down  it would be flat all the way but getting there took forever. Two steps and a break to stretch, two more steps and another break. I could see a station at the bottom and that decided me. No pushing on to Hayle, straight onto the train and back to my room for a rest and some proper stretches.

Except at Lelant Station there wasn’t a train due for five hours. There was just a notice board and the old station house now converted into a private residence. Lelant Saltings station was only a mile away and I knew that the train stopped there every half hour so that’s where I headed and everything worked out fine. But why, I asked the GWR man at the Saltings station (built as a park and ride for St Ives in 1978), did the train seldom stop at the original Lelant station up the line? Partly due to the lack of passengers, was the reply, and partly due to the vociferous barrage of complaints from the owner of the old station house. About the noise of the trains stopping and starting.

So he bought a house next to the track and was amazed to find that there were trains? Who would ever have seen that coming?

 

 

 

 

Serendipity and the Oxfam Bookshop

IMG_9956On one of my Cornish walks I fell in with a couple of walkers as we paused to catch our breaths under cover of admiring Boat Cove – one of those rather lovely beaches with sand to laze on for a read in the sun, rocks to clamber over for a spot of exploring, a stream to dam should a civil engineering moment strike you (just me then?), and a slipway for the launching of boats and the provision of diversions for landlubbers like me. IMG_9957After we had exchanged the usual walkers’ pleasantries (Where are you heading? How are you finding it?), we turned to how we had come to find ourselves in the very tip on Cornwall. They – perhaps in their 70s – spoke of how they had first come to the Penwith Peninsula decades ago on the invitation of a friend and had so loved the place that they had returned ever afterwards. Their friend had been an art teacher at an upmarket boarding school, they told me, where houses were provided for masters and their families. With no need of a property in that area, the young schoolmaster bought a rundown miner’s cottage way down here instead. He spent his summers restoring it, joined by a wife and children as time went by, and eventually retired to live year round in this beautiful spot.

We – my new companions and I – agreed that there is something very special about this particular, remote part of the world. I cannot say that I know Cornwall and that is one of the reasons I’m walking this way. Before I came I had perceived that much of the county had been bespoiled by early uncontrolled overly commercialised and unsympathetic development (Tintagel, Newquay) or by its own picturesque success (Padstow, Rock). I’ll make an honourable exception for Porthleven, which is cannily steering a middle path, but my few visits to Cornwall usually had me scurrying back to Pembrokeshire.

Turns out I was wrong. I am sure that I shall meet blights of bungalowification along the way as I move further up the coast but Penwith is a very distinct place, wild and yet peaceful, with a gentle atmosphere.

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Sun setting over Land’s End

There’s a very good book about this place. Called West of Hayle River. Sums it up. Written by Gerald Priestland, remember him? Yes of course. From Thought for the Day. The Today programme has been the soundtrack to my mornings for as long as I can recall. Bit old now though so you probably won’t find it anywhereHe talks about how the part of Cornwall west of St Ives is like nowhere else in the world. A really special place.

I think you know where this is going.

A few weeks later I went into my local Oxfam bookshop in search of light, disposable holiday reading – nothing with a pink cover, nothing with a black cover, nothing with the title in gold letters, but otherwise all else acceptable – and there it was.

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Priestland, G & S (1980) West of Hayle River. Wildwood House. London

 

A short walk and a long lunch

Next morning, I went back to the coast path at Botallack and began to head up country again.IMG_9919.JPG Earlyish in the morning I had the place to myself and was rather enjoying the far reaching views – right out to the Scilly Isles – and the odd ruin amidst the flowers. I was just settling into my stride for an uneventful bit of cliff walking when suddenly there was this – the remains of the Levant tin and copper mines which were  rather wonderfully atmospheric.

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Today they are in the care of the NT and fully equipped with interpretation boards, loos and refreshment opportunities. I swear you cannot walk for half an hour round here without stumbling upon a slice of lemon drizzle cake. Not complaining, just noticing.

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Look at the staining of the cliffs – it is copper sulphate turquoise in places.

I’m not a geologist but it looks to me as if copper permeates the whole of this terrain, whether seeping into the soil or leeching through the watercourse and down to the sea. It is an astounding and dramatic landscape and all the more unexpected because it is confined into a relatively small space so that you come upon it suddenly and then just as suddenly it is gone.

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Geevor tin mine in the background

What I did find myself pondering is why these ruins of Victorian workings have a picturesque, not to say romantic, air about them when the more modern remnants of tin mining most certainly do not.

Back then to the grassy cliff path, a few ups and downs, and a couple of interesting conversations with other walkers, then on past the Pendeen Watch lighthouse, and around the headland to find a new vista opening up in front of me. This looked somehow far more daunting than anything seen previously.

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Looking toward Gurnard’s Head from Pendeen Watch. I didn’t see the woman and her telescope until she moved at the sound of my camera’s shutter. She was watching seals on the rocks below.

A couple of miles later and,  given the head of steam I had built up and the open terrain, I had convinced myself that next time I came down this way I would crack out a pair of shorts. Despite not having worn any since 1975. I can carry a grudge only so long. Thus decided, it was time to turn off the coast path and head inland to my lift at Morvah.

IMG_9959 Shoulder charging cow parsley is one thing (the path got way narrower than this, and the vegetation taller), barging through nettles is another. The trews took the strain and I came through the stingers unstung. Think I’ll be leaving those shorts in the shop.

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St Bridget’s Church, Morvah, parts of which date from 1400. But not this bit.

Time for a quick look at the ancient church and a snarky moment wondering whether There will be other times and better times is a fitting epitaph for an organist’s endeavours or whether it was in fact a veiled comment on his expertise. And then I found myself rather touched by these simple memorials alongside an instrument which has known only three organists in 107 years. (Four in 139 if whoever took over in 1985 is still in post). Does this speak of generation after generation of contented lives grounded in this place? Or of frustrated ambitions and an inability to get away?

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Gratuitous photo of Cornish hydrangea because I am besotted with them.

When I planned this trip to Cornwall I intended to spend three or four days out on the cliffs and to get all the way around that new horizon and on to St Ives, perhaps even beyond. As it turned out not only did it rain in a very determined fashion but something important blew up at work for T, so he had to go home early. And something even more important blew up for our daughter M – viz, her appendix –  so she was unexpectedly with us for a spot of post-op convalescence. Best laid plans going astray and all that, but this is such an interesting coastline that it is no hardship to have to come back to it again.

So at Morvah I hopped into the car with the others and set off for lunch. Mine is not a foodie blog or a place for restaurant reviews – I am not qualified to comment – and anyway the pub in question already features in a zillion guides. I mention it only to share a charming incident. A plate of soda bread and local butter appeared on our table as soon as we had ordered and we fell on it as do people who have not eaten since breakfast time. It was delicious and, as she cleared the plate away, I asked the young waitress what were the little brown flecks in the bread.  I don’t know, but I’ll go and ask in the kitchen and shall I get you the recipe?  Well, of course I thought that in the midst of a busy lunchtime service with not a table spare no one would have time to write out a recipe, even if the chef was willing to reveal the kitchen’s secrets, and so that would be that.

But with my meal came this note

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Soda bread recipe- it’s my photography which is making it blurry. http://www.gurnardshead.co.uk

and from the waitress, a helpful word of advice

It makes 15 loaves, so you might want to cut it down a bit.

 

New readers start here

Reader friends blessed with long attention spans may recall that I began this blog last autumn to chart my Great Adventure – my walk home from Land’s End – and they may be wondering about the distinctly unCornish directions my jaunts have taken ever since.

Well, wonder no more because here I am, back in the far west and all set to notch up a few more miles of the South West Coast Path. Thanks to the lovely N bringing me a memento from one of her trips (she knows I cannot resist a souvenir tea towel), we have a visual aid with which to orientate ourselves. Find Sennen Cove and we can take it from there.

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Thanks also to The Cornish Teatowel Company for their ingenuity.

On a sunny Sunday morning in June, I expected the Cove to be packed but instead it was practically deserted; indeed on the next door beach of Gwynver I spotted only one lifeguard, two surfers and one dog.IMG_9739 (2).JPG Do surfers keep late hours (it was getting on for midday – I keep late hours too) or was the tide going in the wrong direction?  Either way, rush there before everyone else discovers this beautiful spot.

Once the path had taken me off the beach, I settled into the rhythm of the trail. Gentle walking was interspersed with steep slopes up and down, wide easy paths were broken up by bits of rocky scrambling, even some seat of the pants stuff as my appalling sense of balance dictated frequent descentes sur derriere.

Exposed cliff tops contrasted with lush green valleys but at this time of year there were flowers everywhere. I have no idea what is growing in these fields below but isn’t the effect stunning? Any idea as to what it is?IMG_9782.JPG And what can the story be here? Something poignant, I feel, for it looks as though someone has carefully lain those cut flowers on the boulder in the streamIMG_9806

Gradually Sennen retreated into the distance as Cape Cornwall grew closer. As it did so the reminders of the landscape’s mining past began to appear.

At first they were mainly confined to the valleys where nature has almost succeeded in hiding them away (although I think that this walled construction up on the hill top is an entrance to a mine shaft – it certainly looks pretty deep).

This was to change, but not before I reached Cape Cornwall and finally turned the corner, away from Land’s End and on towards St Ives.IMG_9820 There’s not a huge amount to Cape Cornwall but what is there is rather charming. Have a read of this interesting blog post by a local writer who knows a lot about the place (https://cornishbirdblog.wordpress.com/2016/08/), admire these women having a dip in the tidal pool,IMG_9835.JPGand imagine my delight at the discovery of this timely homemade cake and tea trailer.IMG_9837Suitably refreshed (just tea for me, I never feel hungry when I’m walking, not even for cake. Odd that), I left Cape Cornwall behind and headed for Botallack. Now the scenery grew really industrial – remnants of old mine engine houses, chimneys and other edifices in all directions.IMG_9879The weather was closing in but, even if it had not done so, the landscape had really changed – no more human scale, dry stone walled farmers’ fields, here it was bleak and barren, despoiled by the copper and tin mining industry of the past.IMG_9877.JPG The Crowns engine houses clinging dramatically to the cliff are understandably magnets for photographers much more skilled than me.

Take my word for it that seeing the site in the gloomy damp brought home to me a little of the harshness of the lives once lived in this extraordinary place, a world away from the sunshine and the sandcastles, or even the swashbuckling and the sagas, of Cornwall as it is more often shown. What a fascinating place.

 

 

 

 

Stories in the stones

 

At walking pace, the landscape tells its tales. Stories told, stories heard and stories  sparked off by the stones. Before I leave Cornwall, here are a trio.

A story told.

When it came to finding a place to stay, there was plenty of choice at the tail end of the summer. So why Mousehole?IMG_7936.JPG

It’s a quaint old fishing village, just along the coast from Newlyn and Penzance, full of narrow streets, crammed with outrageously picturesque views. Like here IMG_8260.JPGand hereIMG_7934.JPGand the granite arms of the harbour walls hold the boats safe on a stretch of coast where the weather grows wild and the seas treacherous, even if that is hard to imagine on a calm September morning.IMG_7944.JPG

So yes, it was a perfect spot for a few days away.

But what really drew me to Mousehole was a much loved story.

mousehole-cat

In The Mousehole Cat, Antonia Barber retells the folk tale which sees Old Tom and his cat Mowser saving Mousehole. Stargazy pie is involved. Nicola Bayley provides the illustrations and they conjure up such a delightful vision of the place that, though bedtime stories are now far behind me, I have long wanted to see it for myself.

And so we did and the village is indeed just as charming as Bayley paints it. (The book’s still in print, by the way. Take a look – http://www.walker.co.uk/The-Mousehole-Cat-9780744523539.aspx).

I heard a whisper that the artist herself lives in Mousehole. Could it be here?IMG_8036.JPG

A story heard.

The coast path from Mousehole to Newlyn is not terribly exciting. For most of the way it runs alongside the main road carved out of the hillside. For a short stretch near Newlyn, the path diverts down to the shoreline and onto a narrow, once industrial space, possibly the course of an old railway, with the remains of old port buildings on one side, giant boulder sea defences shelving down to the water on the other. It is maintained with the lightest of touches and nature is doing her best to reclaim the land, the grass growing long wherever it can get a foothold and bushes springing up around the ruins.

I came upon a man, perhaps in his eighties, slashing at the grass with his stick while a lively young collie bounced around him in that way that small children and big dogs do when excitement takes over their bodies.  I wondered if he had lost something and whether he would allow me to help him find it. I began with my usual opener – What a lovely dog you’ve got there.

The man carried on with his search, the dog ignored me.

He’s not mine, he’s my daughter’s. I just mind him in the day

More slashing at the grass.

He’s lost his stone.

Slash, slash

He won’t go for a ball and he won’t go for a stick. He’ll only go for a stone

The stick hit something hard. Success.

He’s a stone dog.

He bent to pick up the stone. The dog stepped back in readiness.

When we’re out and I spot a good stone, I pick it up and I pile it over there, see, so I’ve always got nice one ready for him.

With that he threw it and they were off. IMG_8213.JPGAll that remained were the cairns, testaments to the story of an old man, a stone dog and their devotion, one for another.

And finally, some stories imagined.

In the melange of exhibits at Land’s End there is a wall of millennium pledges inscribed upon slate plaques. It is really rather peculiar and if there was an explanation there for the project I missed it.

Some people felt the need to promise to do something worthy to mark the dawn of a new era. Charity work was uppermost in the minds of the Foggs and the Warners.12.jpg

Sixteen years on, I began to wonder how things had turned out. Christopher will be pretty fluent in Cornish by now17.jpg

and Violet’s car will have taken a pasting.

The Brinkworths will have happy memories of Disneyland Paris fullsizerender18and Sonia will have it all in hand. 16But the ones which touched me were the ones which had me longing to know what happened next. What are the stories in these stones?13.jpgDid the Woodings manage to sort out their problems together? Does Stephen still love Michele (and how does she feel about him a decade and a half on)? How have things turned out for Ann? Going with the dear old flow no matter what hinted at so much but said so little. Let’s believe that she’s landed at a good place. 15.jpgAnd did Penny’s soulmate ever make it to the UK?

I hope so.

 

 

 

 

 

Beginning at the End

I’d like to say that I started here but that would not be at all true.22.jpg

This is Land’s End.fullsizerender27

It is not a spot to lift the spirits. It is not a place to embark upon a Great Adventure.

So instead I began a few miles east at Porthgwarra, a small cove at the end of a narrow lane with just a walkers’ car park, a café,  and a few holiday cottages to its name. And if the fresh coffee and the wholesome looking sponge cake in the café  (with just the merest whiff of artisan about it) are not enough, a notice nearby claims it as the location of Ross Poldark’s naked swimming scene. And the pilchard landing. This means nothing to me.

I set off. It was a day just blowy enough to hint at how severe the weather can be around here. FullSizeRender2.jpg

Navigation beacons appeared on the headland and at Gwennap Head a volunteer was busy scanning the sea lanes through his binoculars.

The path was clear and the walking good with some spectacular natural arches along the way. This oneFullSizeRender6.jpg and this one, which put me in mind of a cathedral.IMG_8063.JPG

As Land’s End hoved into view, so the walkers began to change. The Hardcore Hikers – all earnest expressions, walking poles and techno trousers – were joined by the Sunday Strollers – men in those strange shorts which end somewhere between the knee and the ankle for no apparent reason, women in dotty macs and anxious looking dogs in high vis jackets. I’m always heartened by the sight of a Sunday Stroller because when I spot a handbag it means that I’m only 10 minutes from tea . Actually I’m always heartened to see anyone out there enjoying the fresh air as much as I am. That’s what I love about walking: it’s the democracy of the path – stride for 20 miles or amble for 20 minutes, all are equal.

Anyway, Land’s End. Not my kind of place to be sure, but it’s immaculately clean and tidy, there are loos in abundance and a friendly man selling ice cream. What more do you need? The souvenir shop, clothes shop, craft shop, petting farm, art gallery, hotel, restaurant, bar and Shaun the Sheep experience were surplus to my requirements, but the small End to End exhibition about those who have made the trip from Land’s End to John O’Groats (so not my plan) was mildly interesting for its insight into the depiction of woman of middle age, if nothing else.8.jpg

I’m 57. Don’t you be calling me Granny.

As a theme park, Land’s End is a bit of a mishmash and evidently works on the principle that the longer people can be kept in the place, the more they will spend. The car park charge is set high enough to encourage visitors to get their money’s worth by seeing everything. And then having a cup of tea. As a tourist attraction built basically out of fresh air it’s a rather impressive model. Good luck to them.

On then towards home. Land’s End soon retreated into the distance as I headed for Sennen Cove. 23.jpg

There to meet me was my husband, my Stalwart Supporter, who had been persuaded to turn taxi for the occasion. Here he is…25.jpg

Well, I could see him at the time.

So there we are – the Great Adventure has begun. Back to work next week so I won’t get down here again for a while. But I’ll be walking nearer to home instead and there’ll be smaller adventures to report until the spring.

Now I promised that there’d be no stats here but I cannot resist this first one because I’m quietly proud.

Distance covered so far from Land’s End?

1.2 miles.

Impressive, no?

Walking is the answer

‘So now that the children are off your hands, what parts of the world are you planning to explore?’

The question came from a family friend, a former diplomat well schooled in the conversational gambit. I burbled something about having liked what we had seen of Provence, how we had enjoyed Corsica and were in fact just off to the quieter end of Mallorca. We fell to discussing the Western Med. But as soon as he asked I knew instantly where I really want to get to know. It’s my own country – Great Britain, the United Kingdom, call it what you will. Overlooked and underappreciated. Time to explore my own back yard.

How? I could take the train or I could take the car but seeing the landscape through glass  is not going to do. I need to get out into it. I need to walk.

When I walk I can stop to look at sights that would flash by unnoticed at speed,

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I can see the detail of the changing seasons in the hedgerow14317503_613265748845561_4789261947951358106_n2

and I can pause to be diverted along the way.

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But where shall I walk? A long distance path has much to commend it – marked on the map, marked on the ground and well trodden to boot, with a bit of luck. Because for me it’s not about the process – no grid references here, no stats (how far/how high/how long) either – other people cover that so much better than me. It’s about the seeing and the hearing and the doing.

So on a fairly arbitrary basis I hit upon walking the coast from Land’s End to my home in Bristol. The South West Coast Path will take me as far as Minehead and that’s about 250 miles. I’m not in a hurry so I’ll do it in very small stages – long weekends and the odd week – with lots of other walks in between. It’ll take years so by the time I get to the end, they’ll surely have had time to extend the path all the way up.

Let’s make a start, shall we?