Cornwall

South West Coast Path: St Ives to Penzance

Hiking the South West Coast Path: I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve said “wow” (out loud, to myself). The scenery — rugged cliffs, sweeping vegetation, sparkling beaches — is stunning. There are ancient monuments and the fascinating and forlorn remnants of tin mining days. And wildlife — seals and birds in particular (haven’t seen any dolphins yet). It’s hard to describe without veering into hyperbole.

The coast path is a 630-mile trail around the coast of south west England. I first encountered it 5 years ago, when I walked the sections from Instow to Westward Ho!, then Westward Ho! to Clovelly. Ever since, I’ve wanted to return to tackle a longer section.

So here I am, taking on this solo walking adventure, which will see me complete (more or less) the stretch from St Ives to Falmouth — a total of ~103 miles.

Okay, so I hadn’t added that up until right now… 103 miles! Blimey. No wonder I have sore feet.

I’m currently in Penzance for a couple of rest days. It’s not even halfway, it turns out; but as I limped into Mousehole on Tuesday I was extremely thankful I’d allocated the break. The coast path is TOUGH! It’s very up and down, rocky in parts, muddy in parts, steep in (lots of) parts. At the end of each day my knees ache, my feet scream, and I collapse in a heap.

So two days to mooch around Penzance have been bliss. (Right now I’m in a cafe, using my Bluetooth keyboard with my phone… it’s almost like home. In the last five years England seems to have found out about flat whites!)

St Ives

I arrived in St Ives last Tuesday, after a long journey from Australia. The train ride from Paddington to St Erth seemed never ending. Then the last short train journey to St Ives followed the Hayle estuary — very pretty. My hotel (Regents Hotel) stood high over the town, giving stunning sea views.

I spent the following day exploring (geocaching) the town, completely falling in love with it. It’s a tourist mecca — but I can see why! I loved the harbour, where a couple of seals hung out near the fishing boats bringing in their mackerel haul.

A stroll about St Ives Head gave views back over the old town with its twisty cobbled streets. I had lunch at the popular Porthmeor Beach Cafe, and found truly good coffee at Mount Zion (where the owner refuses to make cappuccinos… flat whites, espresso, long black or pourover only!). I also hung out in the Cemetery for a while, looking for family names, since we hail from here (Richards, Thomas).

St Ives to Zennor Head (6 miles/10km)

On Thursday I started walking. This was a “short” but strenuous stage. I encountered many people out for the day, although I seemed to be the only person staying in the village of Zennor. Most availed themselves of the bus to/from St Ives.

My approach from the start has been to take my time — take photos, enjoy the views, stop to look and breathe it all in. (I also stopped for a few geocaches along the way.)

I took a delicious sandwich from a recommended deli, and ate it at River Cove overlooking a beach with seals. Another Australian couple were there too — they pointed out the peregrine falcon perched on the cliff nearby… my jaw dropped. The peregrine perched there for at least 20 minutes and I couldn’t leave until it did.

In the afternoon my boots started falling apart. Literally. They were old and I suspect the adhesive had degraded — meaning the soles sheared clean off both boots. I finished the walk gingerly, after taking an alternative path that cut off the final procession around Zennor Head. Lucky they didn’t fall apart completely!

At the iconic Tinners Arms pub (where I stayed) I enjoyed a St Ives gin (or two) with tonic in the late afternoon sunshine. I ate dinner in the pub, while chatting to locals. They have folk music there on Thursday evenings, but unfortunately I crashed into bed instead.

Penwith Peninsula Ancient Stones walk (7 miles/12km)

Now, a dilemma. I had arranged for a car to take me onto the moors today, intending to visit some of the ancient stones and walk back to Zennor for a second night. But my boots were dead. I did, however, have my trail runners as a backup, so resolved to keep to the plan and see how they went.

The car took me to Lanyon Quoit, where I clambered over a stile into a field. And immediately my shoes and feet were wet. Not good. The quoit was cool, though!

Lanyon Quoit

I then followed a designated route around the moors that took me next to Ding Dong Mine — its hilltop tower visible for miles around.

Ding Dong Mine

Next were the Nine Maidens Stone Circle, Men Scryfa stone, Men an Tol (stone with hole).

Nine Maidens

Men Scryfa stone

Men an Tol

Feet still wet.

At this point, I will mention the awesomeness of the British OS Maps App! I downloaded this onto my phone before I left home, and it shows all the tracks, monuments, places of interest etc. It ALSO shows you where you are using GPS. I have used this frequently this past week when figuring out my route. I love it. (You have to buy the maps, though.)

My next stop was the summit of Carn Galver — where there was a geocache. The weather for this day was mostly overcast, although the sun came out a few times.

I was delighted to find the Rosemergy Farm tea rooms open when I descended from the moor. This meant hot coffee and a cream tea! After that I trudged/squelched back to Zennor (couple of hours) where I dived into the shower.

Zennor to Pendeen

Instead of walking this leg, I went to Penzance to buy new boots. The bus timetables weren’t friendly, so I caught a taxi there, then a bus straight to Pendeen, once my mission was accomplished. I could have possibly returned to Zennor and walked, but wasn’t sure about the lost time. My walking pace is proving to be slower than I expected. I also thought I should break in the new boots a bit first…

Once in Pendeen, I checked into my room at the North Inn and then went exploring (geocaching). It was another gorgeous day and, although I missed the coast path leg, I enjoyed my day and got up to the lighthouse at Pendeen Watch. (Had a good view of the path I had skipped.)

Pendeen Lighthouse

Then I climbed the hill behind the town, where some interesting sights awaited…

By the end of all this I was pretty weary (!) and availed myself of the bath in my suite. So far this has been my only available bath — I’ve wished for one since!

Pendeen to Sennen Cove (9 miles/15km)

Finally back on the coast path! This has been the longest (and possibly my favourite) leg so far. First was the four-mile section to Cape Cornwall, past the fascinating remains of Geevor, Levant and Crown Mines.

Geevor

Levant

Crown/Botallack

Also Kenidjack Castle (Iron Age?). Lots to look at and explore; I picked up a few geocaches, but passed by many more.

At Cape Cornwall, the seasonal snack van was still open, so I grabbed a light lunch, plus coffee and cake! With china crockery!

Cape Cornwall

Then it was another five miles to Sennen Cove, past numerous mine shafts — some fenced and signed, others not! The walking was rated “moderate”, but I was shattered at the end of it.

My B&B was in Sennen village at the top of the hill, with no nearby eating options. My room was also tiny. This was my least favourite accommodation — despite there being nothing intrinsically wrong with it — and I went to bed at 7pm without dinner. (I was just too tired and footsore to get myself anywhere else.)

Sennen Cove to Porthcurno (6-7 miles)

Another “moderate” day of walking, a bit shorter. I had loads more energy at the end of the day, but feet still sore!

Soon after leaving Sennen Cove, I stopped to look at the cliff top Maen Castle, which overlooked a fascinating wreck.

Then the first main milestone was Land’s End, where I foolishly stopped to have the worst coffee in the history of ever.

More walking over and around cliff tops with interesting rock formations, until I reached the Porthgwarra cafe. I had already stopped to eat lunch (a wrap acquired at Lands End), but I stopped at the cafe anyway to have a much better coffee — and cake! Any excuse to rest the feet.

Onwards then to Porthcurno, where I stayed in the delightful Seaview B&B not too far from a pub — where I had a cider and a chat with the proprietor before checking in to my room.

Porthcurno to Mousehole (7 miles)

The trail for this day was rated “strenuous” but felt similar in difficulty to the previous “moderate” sections.

Porthcurno and Minack Theatre

Logan Rock

It passed through more foliage than the previous section, including a small forest of “stunted oaks” near St Loy valley.

The small fishing village of Penberth was deserted when I went through (although thankfully there was a toilet).

Penberth

Tater Du lighthouse

In fact the path was fairly deserted for most of the day — until I neared Lamorna.

At Lamorna Cove there was a cafe where I had soup for lunch — with coffee, of course. Quite a few people lurked here, enjoying the sunshine. I stayed for about an hour to gear up for the final stretch of the week.

And then I only had two and a half miles to go. I had always intended to catch the bus to Penzance from Mousehole, which I reached at about 4pm. It’s a quaint village. I would have liked to wander around a bit, but I was pretty weary by this time and looking forward to having a couple of days break.

Mousehole

It’s now the end of my second rest day (this post has taken me quite a few hours to compile on my phone!) — tomorrow I head off along the path again. It will be a bus to Marazion, then walking to Porthleven and the longest distance yet at over 10 miles. Gulp.

There’s more to say, but phone blogging is a bit limited, so this will have to do for now. I still have almost 60 miles to walk in the next 6 days… reckon I’m gonna feel it! (And there’s always the bus!)

I’ll be back with a report on the second half of this expedition in another week or so.

A miscellany of adventures in SW England

After spending a couple of weeks in Cornwall and Devon, I have had many random and wonderful experiences. So in this post I’m covering a miscellany of adventures not hitherto covered in recent posts.

Cream Teas
One can’t come to this part of the world and not fall in love with cream teas — otherwise known as scones with jam and clotted cream, with tea (or in my case, coffee). Our first cream tea was enjoyed at Charlotte’s Tea Rooms in Truro, a classy establishment with chandeliers and linen tablecloths (see picture).

After that I was hooked, and have eaten cream teas on Dartmoor, in Appledore and the home-baked variety at my friend’s house in St Dominick. The key is the clotted cream — cream that has been heated and thickened via a unique process to produce a gooey yummy substance that smears on top of (or under, depending where you’re from) the jam on the scone. The scones vary considerably from tearoom to tearoom too. All are delicious. Long live the cream tea!

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Bodmin
We stayed just outside the Cornish stannery (tin mining) town of Bodmin for a week, although didn’t spend a lot of time in the town. We did, however, visit the town’s one main attraction, which was the old gaol, the site of numerous hangings in the region. The gaol is laid out as something like a chamber of horrors, with macabre mannequins reenacting the various crimes. Much of the building is a ruin — my favourite part!

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Fowey
In search of a ‘light’ day of touring, we visited the near-to-Bodmin fishing village of Fowey for a ramble about its cobbled streets and lunch in one of its quaint pubs.

Also, as with many old English villages, Fowey has rows upon rows of interesting doors directly onto streets.

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Restormal Castle
A quaint castle I rather liked was Restormal Castle in the village of Lostwithiel, near Fowey. Another ruin, Restormal is almost perfectly round, and very neat and compact. It seemed to be built more for status and show than defence, but was nonetheless very cute. Weird quirks include a ‘secret’ staircase within the wall and several deep pits that might have been tower foundations or storage cellars… The experts aren’t sure.

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Cotehele
While staying in St Dominick, we visited the Tudor Cotehele, an old stone manor house with an impressive collection of old tapestries. We happily explored the rambling old house, which has a lovely old main hall with weapons and armour arrayed on the walls (along with the stuffed head of a baby albatross), and a peephole overlooking it from one of the other rooms. The house had multiple old stone staircases, and a maze-like layout in the style of very old houses. I love the juxtaposition of stone and wood and tapestries.

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The Cotehele estate also includes the old quayside, where limestone and coal were imported and smelted to produce lime, and a working mill. The latter was the highlight for me — I love seeing how such things worked, back in the day. Water wheels make such wonderfully clean energy. Totally ingenious. Alongside the mill, which was grinding wheat into flour while we watched, are other displays — such as a blacksmith, wheelwright, potter, furniture maker… Overall, we had a lovely day at Cotehele. Here’s that fabulous waterwheel.

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This wraps up posts about Cornish subjects, with one more to come from Devon, about Exeter, which I thought a lovely city. Please excuse my brevity; iPhone blogging is losing its appeal… Really looking forward to getting back to a computer. Thanks for bearing with me!

Tomorrow, I head to Brighton for the start of the World Fantasy Convention. Time to get my writing brain back into gear!

Ancient monuments and a lighthouse on the Penwith Peninsula

One of the essential areas of Cornwall to visit is the Penwith Peninsula — essentially the glob of land at the very south west of England… You know, Penzance, Lands End etc. So of course we did a day tour down there in our trusty little red car.

Our first stop was St Michael’s Mount, that distinctive island connected by a causeway to the village of Marazion. We didn’t pay to tour the whole site (chapel and house I think), but we did wander across the causeway and ramble about the quay in the sunlight taking photos. An added bonus was the cafe/kiosk where coffee could be acquired.

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That’s St Michael’s Mount above… When we arrived the tide was out and we happily strode across the causeway — way cool. But we stayed there so long, the tide came in! We had a narrow window of opportunity when we could have taken off our shoes and socks to wade back over… But we missed it due to indecision, and had to pay £2 each to the boat man to convey us back. Oh well.

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We lunched in Marazion — fabulous fish and chips from the King’s Arms hotel — and then forged our way around the coast, squeezing through the quayside area of Penzance, towards the Merry Maidens — an ancient stone circle beside the road. Beautiful.

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Despite the tackometer warnings, we headed then to Land’s End. Just because. It’s tourist city, although I confess not as bad as I expected (though for some of my companions it was worse). We grabbed a coffee and took some photos of the sign. Enough said.

It was mid to late afternoon by now and we decided to make one last stop before heading back to base. On the way we tried to find the impressive Lanyon Quoit… Actually we did find it, but there didn’t appear to be anywhere to stop, or in fact reach it through the blackberry hedge, so after a couple of drive-bys we abandoned our intention to check it out and photograph it. Disappointing.

We headed then to St Ives, but changed our mind at the last minute to go check out Godrevy Lighthouse nearby. It was supposedly the inspiration for Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse. I’m sure St Ives would have been lovely at a different time of day, but the lighthouse was perfect in the setting sun.

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We had a delightful hour or so rambling all over the grassy Godrevy Point, taking many photos of that lighthouse and all the birds.

It was a fabulous day, although I would have liked more time to find more ancient monuments and visit St Ives. But as one of my companions said: must save things for next time!

Tintagel – craggy castle on the Cornish coast

Next stop on our Cornish adventure was Tintagel castle – possibly the birthplace of King Arthur, definitely a really cool place to visit. Its vast sprawl atop a rocky promontory, surrounded by stunning views of the wild and rugged coast, way surpassed my expectations.

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One approaches Tintagel down a valley, then around a headland to cross a narrow bridge onto the promontory (which is connected by a causeway). One then climbs up to the remains of the Great Hall and associated buildings, which cling to the edge of the cliff. The ruined stonework is still very impressive and I easily could imagine the Earl holding court here.

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Beyond this stonework, the remains of the castle sprawl across the top of the grassy promontory. The wind is strong, the jackdaws wheel in flight, the waves seethe and crash against the rocks below. I scrambled over just about every inch of the craggy promontory, explored the ‘dark ages’ ruins, stood at what felt like the edge of the world, letting the wind toss my hair all around…

I spent a deal of time stalking a kestrel (identified later), which hovered perfectly still in the roaring wind — amazing. I took a few bad photos of it, before capturing this one, just before leaving the main promontory. In the background is the wild coast, and the south-west coast path…

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We had amazing weather for our visit to Tintagel, including a sudden squall, which rolled in off the sea with rapid ferocity, only to roll on by to leave this rainbow in its wake…

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The above was taken from some ruins on the opposite side of the bridge to the main promontory. I think the garrison was once stationed there.

We spent a fair few hours at Tintagel, and lunched afterwards at a local pub. On our way home we visited the little town of Port Isaac, which was closing down for the day, but was still lovely to wander through.

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Cornwall has certainly proved something of a challenge from an internet connectivity point of view… and we haven’t had wifi in our cottage this week. But I am hoping to post more frequently over the next couple of weeks as I find accommodation with wifi, especially since I have a few days backed up now! The next posts will cover the Penwith Peninsula and our wonderful day on Dartmoor in Devon.

Exploring Bodmin Moor

It’s been a whirlwind few days since arriving in the UK. This week I’m staying in Cornwall with a group of friends from home and we’re having a blast. As all of us are writers bound for the World Fantasy Convention, our interests are very compatible: striking scenery, quaint villages, ancient monuments and ruins, castles, local cuisine…

After a road trip down from London on Saturday — ducking into the Stonehenge carpark for a free view of the monument along the way — we arrived in the town of Bodmin in time for dinner. We decided to take A roads rather than motorway, convinced it would be more scenic, and we certainly enjoyed the drive immensely. England is so very green compared with Australia, and the south-west has stunning landscapes.

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On Sunday (yesterday) we explored the nearby Bodmin Moor. This involved squeezing our little red Toyota Yaris (nicknamed the Thai Bullet for its chile colour) down narrow roads barely the width of a car, our route twisting and turning up and down across the landscape. We are navigating largely via Google Maps on a smart phone, which is proving both effective and challenging, because 3G coverage in this region is negligible. Yet somehow we manage to make it work.

Our first stop on the moor was Colliford Lakes, then Bolventor Church, by which time we conceived a desire for coffee. Turns out Sunday mornings in this part of the world are not ideal for coffee stops (of the kind we had in mind). We drove around for a while and started to get frustrated before we stumbled across the little town of Upton Cross and its Apple Fair. This is one of the many things I love about travelling. The Apple Fair was a local event. They served instant coffee and home made apple cake in the church hall for 50p each — and we fell upon these with gusto. It was lovely to chat to locals and experience such an authentic celebration of local industry.

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But the highlight of the day was to be found near the small town of Minions (where we finally found food, and I enjoyed my first Cornish pasty for this trip). Minions is home to two celebrated sites: the Hurlers, two prehistoric stone circles; and the Cheesewring, a natural pillar of stones carved into an odd shape by erosion.

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The Hurlers (above) are not too far from the town, set into the grass. We trekked across the spongy peat to reach them, beautiful in the sunshine. (We are having fabulous weather so far — a mix of sun and cloud, but not too much rain.)

But then we kept on walking, along with the locals out with their dogs, past the placid cattle, into the depths of the moor and up a rocky crag of granite to view the Cheesewring.

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The view from the top of the hill was spectacular.

Our final stop involved much crafty navigation, but eventually we found Trevethy Quoit, one of Cornwall’s most striking Neolithic burial chambers (says the Lonely Planet Guide). Alas, my camera battery had run out by this time and I don’t have a photo. But it was very cool.

I’m using my iPhone camera on this trip, and although I hadn’t anticipated the battery issue, I’m quite happy with the photos. Nor had I anticipated the lack of 3G coverage, which is why I’m posting a little later than I had planned. (Yes, OK, it might also have something to do with the socialising in the evening… But it’s so nice to travel with friends for a change!)

Today (Monday) we visited Tintagel castle — but that’s for another post…