South West Coast Path

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.

Adventure in the rain

I like to think of myself as adventurous. It’s probably one of the reasons I love fantasy so much — with its quests and great sweeping landscapes. And it’s definitely what drives me when I travel.

The above photo epitomises adventure for me — I’m sharing for the weekly photo challenge.

Last year my desire for adventure inspired me to tackle a very small section of England’s South-West Coast Path. It’s a walking track that follows the coast around Devon, Cornwall, Dorset and takes weeks to complete in entirety. I figured since I’d be in the region it would be a good opportunity to check out some of that spectacular coastal scenery.

I’ve done a lot of hiking in my time, with and without packs. Trekking in Nepal was fabulous. So I figured a couple of days along the English coast would be a piece of cake. The trail is well marked. You can arrange to have your luggage transferred between bed-and-breakfast accommodation. It sounded a very civilised way to have an adventure.

But of course I upped the difficulty factor by selecting one of the more challenging sections of the path (the more challenging, the more spectacular, right?) and then — as bad luck would have it — chose the rainiest, drabbest, most miserable day of my entire trip to embark on the 18km walk from Westward Ho! to Clovelly.

Drenched on the South-West Coast Path

Drenched on the South-West Coast Path

We got soaked and exhausted. I wrote a full account of the day at the time, so I won’t repeat myself. But suffice to say despite the rain it was a wonderful adventure, and I wouldn’t give it up for anything.

South West Coast Path: Westward Ho! to Clovelly

Many walkers might have sat in the pub for an extra day instead of braving the SW Coast Path in the rain… Or caught the bus instead. But they would have missed out on a unique experience (that might have put my travelling companion off hiking for ever…).

Having delayed our plans for a day already, we were keen to walk the SW Coast Path from Westward Ho! to Clovelly, even though it was raining. We knew we would get wet and bedraggled and possibly miserable; but it wasn’t too cold (~16 deg C) and we were feeling energetic and adventurous. Also, I figured it would be good research for us, both fantasy writers, to experience the whole ‘trek in the rain’ thing.

So off we went. The first half of this 18km trek took us over the cliff tops — and up and down them as well. It was strenuous as expected, but beautiful too. I loved it.

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But we did get very wet. And muddy. This is me about an hour in…

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The path is very well marked with signs bearing the SW Coast Path acorn symbol, or else a simple acorn and accompanying arrow attached to a post.

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After a couple of hours of up and down (into a fierce headwind of rain — rain in the face is so much fun… and our glasses fogged up), the track moves into woodland, which spoilt the view, but did provide a measure of protection from the weather.

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Eventually, slightly more than halfway I think, we arrived at the ‘village’ of Bucks Mills. Though cute, Bucks Mills was very disappointing from an amenities point of view. No refreshments at this time of year, not even a pub/inn. We were really hoping for somewhere out of the weather, where we could sit down and have a hot cup of something (hot toddy?). There was not even a toilet. Pft!

Following Bucks Mills the track got easier through more woodland, still up and down, and less slippery and steep. We still had a few hours to go, though. We skirted meadow and woodland (chasing flocks of pheasants — beautiful birds), until we came out to Hobby Drive, the old coach road, which wound around the last few spurs, eventually (after about 45 mins of weary trudging) bringing us to the top of Clovelly village.

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We still had a 15min trek to our B&B in Higher Clovelly [Tip: Stay in the village if you can — there are only about three options though], and by the time we reached it we were beat. We hadn’t sat down all day. But there is nowhere to eat in Higher Clovelly, so our kind hosts at Fuchia Cottage drove us down again to the top of the village, a little later on.

After that effort, we decided not to trek further along the Coast Path, so instead spent today relaxing in the picturesque village of Clovelly. It has been privately owned for centuries (weird) and is very geared towards tourists. It’s quiet this time of year, which is nice. We made friends with several of the local cats, who are very friendly and like to pose for photographs. This is ‘Beau’, who followed us around for a while.

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Down at the water’s edge, we watched some local fishermen (who I’m convinced are hired as a tourist attraction, because they spent a lot of time explaining what they’re doing and posing for photos) gut ‘fish’ (sharks for the Spanish market), and gained a gorgeous view of the village from the old stone quay.

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It’s been a relaxing day after two days of walking. I think we both needed it! The weather has once again been rather grey and rainy, but we did glimpse the sun a few times. I think perhaps autumn is starting to set in…

South West Coast Path: Instow to Westward Ho!

The South West Coast Path is a 630 mile walk around the coast of SW England, from Minehead in Somerset to Poole in Dorset. As soon as I heard about it, when planning my current trip, I resolved to hike a couple of legs. Today the plan was to hike from Westward Ho! in north Devon to the picturesque village of Clovelly. However, we left it too late to arrange our luggage transfer, so we had to delay that a day, leaving a day up our sleeve.

[Tip: In the off season, contact the luggage transfer people before 6:30pm on the day before you want the service, even if it says you have until 7pm…]

With our extra day, we decided this morning to catch a local bus to Instow, the start of the previous leg according to some guidebooks, and walk the 18km back to Westward Ho! in the interests of ‘training’. It is described as an easy leg, and we might as well have been walking as not.

The walk mostly follows the estuary of the River Torridge, down and back, so we had views of our destination for most of the day. We began in the hamlet (not even a village) of Instow — where there is nonetheless coffee — and a pretty view of Appledore.

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The walk from here follows an old rail trail, shared with cyclists — which I dislike intensely. It was long and straight and flat, and I thought there was much to be said for the high-tide ferry between Instow and Appledore.

But then we would have missed Bideford, which is a pretty little port town with all the amenities, including banks. Little was open on a Sunday, but I can recommend historical Cleverdons Restaurant and Tea Rooms for a range of meals, both light and more substantial. We both had soup (choice of several) for just 3.25.

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Bideford marks the turnaround point, and we headed back downriver towards the sea and Appledore. The track here got much more interesting, but I still think the ferry a good option if it’s high tide. Low tide is very interesting, though, as the river estuary is essentially a massive mud flat with beached boats. This is the view back to Instow from near Appledore.

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The village of Appledore was the highlight of this leg. It’s largely 16thC: narrow twisty laneways, old houses with interesting name plates, gorgeousness plus. We had promised ourselves a cream tea, and found the perfect spot in Susie’s Tea Rooms.

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We had been walking for about 2.25h up until this point (1h Instow to Bideford, 1.25h Bideford to Appledore), and judged we had about 1.5h to go from Appledore the long/coastal way to Westward Ho!. As the crow flies, they are quite close, but the coast path takes you out around Northam Burrows Country Park, which feels a little, er, pointless at times. Nonetheless, we ploughed on around the point, and battled a ridiculous headwind on the approach to Westward Ho! along the beach. It took a little longer than expected. We did, however, enjoy this stunning view of Appledore in the late afternoon sun.

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Westward Ho! itself is a new village, filled with holiday accommodation and surfers. Our B&B — Brockenhurst B&B — is very nice and centrally located, right opposite The Village Inn Hotel, where I am currently enjoying a quiet one while I use their WiFi. It’s fine and comfortable, but not in any way historic, which I have come to expect from England. We are staying here a second night, and tomorrow it’s on to Clovelly!