Tag Archives: LEJOG

SW COASTAL PATH. Hayle to Portreath.


Have you seen Poldark?

My most interesting encounter today was in the Godrevy Cafe above Hayle Sands. Two ladies, turned out to be sisters,  were looking for an outside table in the sun; I was just finishing my coffee so invited them to share the table. Conversation ranged far and wide and I outstayed my welcome. A chance remark opened up the subject of Poldark and the lady to my left explained she was the daughter-in-law of Winston Graham the author of the original series of historical novels. Her husband, the son, is involved in the TV productions and that very morning they had all been filming in a hidden cove on the south coast. No, she would not divulge any secrets but did say filming would be continuing on the northern coast this week. She was impressed that I had purchased a cheap plastic Poldark key ring for a fan back home.

 

The day had started by saying farewell to my lovely host in Penzance as I prepared to backpack up the coast. In 10 minutes the train had me in Hayle across the estuary and those busy roads where I’d finished yesterday. Hayle was worth an exploration for its maritime heritage and gave me the opportunity for some picnic shopping. Amongst the shops was a more chic ladies’ clothes outlet with a sign that amused me…Once across the harbour bridge I picked up the way through holiday chalets in the dunes and down to the beach as the tide was out. This then gave me 3 miles of flat walking with no navigating except to pick out the firmest sand, ahead was the lighthouse on Godrevy Island and across the bay St. Ives. There was a stiff Northerly wind blowing which made for brisk walking to keep warm. In the waves were lots of amateur surfers and bodyboarders who were mainly congregating at points where the lifeguards were on duty. Black cliffs loomed above the beach for most of its length but I found a way up, The Goat Track, at the far end which landed me in the said cafe.

The area was popular with dogwalkers and these three were ready in the carpark…Sand dunes, which can be heavy going [remember Herb Elliot’s training which led me to this very British video  clicking here.]  took me onto Godrevy Point with views down to the island lighthouse. In my experience where there’s a crowd there is something happening and so it turned out on the cliff top above Fishing Cove, the group of Exeter zoology students had spotted the seals in the bay.

The way onwards on paths through heathland was not difficult and most of the time paralled close to the road. The cliffs along here looked very crumbly and it was wise to stay clear of the edge particularly in the strong winds, strong enough for me to don a fleece for the first time this week. I felt I was making good progress until in the last mile I encountered two steep valleys with all the usual steps and zigzags. The descent into Portreath was punctuated by lots of expensive looking modern properties which I doubt if any of the local population could afford. The village itself looked a little drab in what is now classified as out of season. The pub next door to my B and B had a karaoke night so it was preferable to eat in my room.

 

http://www.cliffhouseportreath.co.uk/

*****

SW COASTAL PATH. Zennor to Hayle.

The ‘busy’ stretch.

I was sat on a headland trying to observe seals on The Carracks, in earshot but out of eyesight, whilst a combination of sweat and suncream irritated my eyes and dripped down my face. I can hardly believe my luck, well there was a little planning, to be experiencing these perfect conditions at this time of year. Little boats out of St. Ives were ferrying tourists to view the seals at close quarters, certainly closer than I could get. I had encountered lots of people using the path today most were intending to get the bus back to St. Ives. Everyone was in a good mood enjoying the hot sunshine and the spectacular scenery. The stretch out from Zennor Head was however particularly gruelling with lots of scrambling on awkward granite rocks as well as the usual ups and downs. Over the years I’ve become more aware of the need for caution in these situations, thoughts of a broken leg ensure I’m no longer the mountain goat I once was. At least I’m better shod than many of the holidaymakers I pass although there are quite a few hardy backpacking types, mainly women for some reason; I think this type of walking on well-marked tracks in a fairly civilised part of the land enjoying good weather attracts them but why oh why do they have to burden themselves with those enormous rucksacs?

I had started the day in Zennor village where I had time to look around the little Norman church of St. Senara which was full of interest. It is most famous for the unique medieval Mermaid Bench with the mermaid carving on one end. There are many reminders of the sea in the church, indeed its roof is shaped like an upturned boat keel. Hanging from the roof is a model of a West Country schooner, created as a memorial to WA Proctor, who died on a solitary round-the-world voyage, and also to all unnamed sailors who were shipwrecked along this stretch of the Cornish coast. There is a colourful collection of hassocks made by the congregation many depicting coastal themes. The Burma Star window dedicated to WWII forces. A Norman font, a C18 sundial showing symbols of death [cross-bones] and immortality [an angel], celtic crosses and plaque to a John Davey [1812 – 1891], one of the last locals with knowledge of the Cornish language.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A friendly gent in a mobility scooter was manoeuvering himself down the track towards the sea, as I walked alongside I warned him that the path became much rougher but he seemed pretty determined, hope he made it back up. As you can see my departure from Zennor was delayed, by the way there is a cafe in the village as well as the pub. Once on the coast the going was fairly easy undulations and despite the roughness mentioned above I strode along enjoying every moment of the dramatic scenery. Up here in patches the heather and gorse are still giving a good show plus I’ve just learnt from mine host Rachel one can eat Gorse flowers which have a faint coconut taste. A good few of the serious backpackers were Germanic and I’m not sure what they made of my friendly how do and now then.  These two had the dog in tow for the whole trip.Passing a trig point where a lady from near my home town was in deep thought. A few more headlands and bays with Caribbean blue seas and St. Ives, from where most of the people had come, was in sight.The section I’ve been walking was relatively busy today, deservedly so, but from here on the crowds mass, ice creams are everywhere. people stagger out of the sea in wet suits and the pubs are packed. The Tate is passed, closing in 10 minutes, and little narrow lanes of former fishing cottages are navigated from one of St. Ives’ beaches to the other. I don’t have time for any of the art studios on every corner but was tempted by fish and chips. But I’ve still some way to go, surprisingly sylvan tracks by the railway take me first to Carbis Bay and on past the quieter Porth Kidney sands. I’ve had enough by the time Lelant railway station appears, there are some busy roads and industrial areas to negotiate around the Hayle estuary so I jump on a train back to Penzance.

Porthmeor Beach.

Porthminster Beach.

Carbis Bay.

*****

SW COASTAL PATH. Pendeen to Zennor.

The Granite Coast.

There are several magnificent granite climbing cliffs along this coast but none finer than Bosigran. I first visited here 30 odd years ago and tentatively climbed some easy routes. I returned a few years later on an extended climbing trip with my lovely friend Pete when we climbed every day for a fortnight. In those days I was ticking off routes in the Classic and Hard Rock volumes. There was plenty to go at down here, we were camped near the Logan Rock Inn at Treen on the southern coast but all areas were easily accessible and we roamed far and wide,  we visited Bosi a few times. One day choosing a time of lowish tide we were able to climb the full height [200m] of Commando Ridge. On other days we concentrated on the non-tidal main face, Doorpost Little Brown Jug,, Anvil Chorus all immaculate exciting climbs. Probably most memorable and subsequently tragically ironic was Suicide Wall with a scary traverse across the Coal Face and some very overhanging climbing to reach the top. I remember we rescued a young couple stranded on a ledge by giving them a top rope to safety. We had a wonderful time and today as I pass I reflect that I can no longer reminisce with Pete, God bless him. Surprisingly today depite the perfect weather there was no one climbing on the main face but a climber can just be seen high up on Commando Ridge.

This morning I had taken a late bus back to Pendeen for what should be a short day, first things first – a breakfast bap at Lillies next to the bus stop. I then started by cutting down some ancient lanes between lichen encrusted granite walls and coming across those characteristic stiles of cross pieces of granite, more like a hurdle.I was soon back on the coast and facing steeper gradients and the dreaded steps. High above me on the bracken covered slopes I thought I saw a working party clearing the path, but as I climbed higher realised it had been fell ponies doing the same job efficiently.

From up here there were views onwards to endless bays and headlands, but I keep remembering to look back – Pendeen lighthouse was a prominent landmark but yesterdays coast is a thing of the past. Inland on the rough hills the patchwork of cleared fields is also photogenic. It’s just great to be up here.

The coast was becoming more dramatic and the sea noisier and all of a sudden I was above Bosigran Cliff itself. The ghostly mines above were silhouetted against the sky and people were strolling down from the carpark enjoying the warm sunny weather. I sat for a while taking in the scene and rocky architecture.  I was then soon over the slope and on the switchback path high above the sea. The path was rather awkward through boulders and vegetation and was busy with coastal strollers. At on point I stepped aside into the rough to let a lady through. I muttered something about taking the rough to which she thanked me and as an afterthought remarked “I hope you are not referring to me” which brought a smile to my face.

Other rocky headlands were passed, a large group of children on some sort of adventure course on one of them, I hoped they were all roped on as it all looked rather chaotic. Gurnards Head and finally Zennor Head were places I’d climbed on.

Gurnard’s Head.

There were numerous descents into side valleys at sea level where a stream was often crossed using old granite slabs. This one has had the health and safety people interfering.Many of the sandy bays on this section of coast appear to be very difficult to access and I don’t think I saw anybody down there.

Time was passing quickly, I had a bus to catch and the ups and downs wouldn’t stop. I was glad when at the top of a steep flight of steps a little lane ran up into the popular little village of Zennor, I had no time for explore or visit The Tinners Inn and made for the main road with minutes to spare before my bus appeared. In my short day I had climbed over 2000ft in 7 miles.

Almost there…

*****

SW COASTAL PATH. Land’s End to Pendeen.

When tin was king.

This section of rugged coastline over the centuries has been the scene of intensive mining mainly for tin with some copper, silver and arsenic. The extrusion of granite into the area’s sedimentary rock produced extensive mineralisation. Surface mining is thought to have commenced about 2000BC when it was found that adding tin to copper produced the much harder Bronze. Tin was subsequently used in pewter and coins. The industrial heritage now on view dates back to the 16th century when underground mining as well as opencast developed on a large scale and reached its peak in the 19th century until a collapse in the price of tin and copper made it unprofitable.

The remains of pumping houses, crushing plants, winding wheels, open shafts, associated works and spoil heaps are found scattered all the way up the coast but are particularly frequent in the Pendeen area. Some of the workings went deep under the sea. The tin ore was crushed before smelting. What a sight it must have been when the industry was booming.The early bus from Penzance to Land’s End was full, my companions on the front seats upstairs were a couple from Canada on a grand tour. We marvelled at the bus driver’s skill negotiating the narrow Cornish lanes. As expected Land’s End has become a theme park and lots of tourists were arriving by coach for a morning’s visit and opportunity for some shopping etc.

I quickly bypassed the ‘attractions’ and headed for the most westerly point, Dr. Syntax’s Head, past several first and lasts. It was a beautiful clear morning but I couldn’t make out the Scilly Isles. The Longships lighthouse was however very prominent out to sea.

There were seals in the bay as I walked round to Sennen. A couple of rock climbers were just setting off for would be a perfect day on the cliffs, I was envious. Sennen Cove was busy as usual and a coffee in the cafe was hurried but the situation is magnificent.

The tide was low so I was able to walk across the sands, a feature that should last all week.

I climbed out onto Aire Point and followed the path easily to Cribba Point with a few of those dreaded steps. There was a zigzagging drop into Cot Valley and then a stiff pull up the other side.

An English girl was walking with a Spanish speaking lad, turned out he was from Nicaragua, and giving him lessons in English although he spoke well with an accent. I greeted him in Spanish and conversed for a short time. As they proceeded ahead of me I heard him say that I spoke Spanish like he spoke English, thought that was more of a criticism than praise.

Ahead was the hump of Cape Cornwall with its landmark chimney and lots of visitors. I didn’t go onto the point but chatted to the volunteer at the NT car park, a very friendly Annie, is it any wonder that I take so much time to walk short distances. 

Shortly after climbing up I was descending through gorse and bracken into the Kenidjack valley with its atmospheric ivy covered mining buildings.Climbing out the other side I tried to find the descent route into Carn Kenidjack where I did a classic climb, Saxon HVS 5a, over 20 years go with my friend Pete whilst on  a Cornwall trip. Today everything looked steep and dangerous, I didn’t have my climbing head on. More of that trip later.  Somewhere down there …

The next few hours were spent wandering through the old tin mines. In the distance was the prominent Pendeen Watch Lighthouse but by now I’d had enough and escaped up a lane to Boscaswell to catch the bus back to Penzance. On the way up there was a more modern mine, Geevor, which operated into the 90’s but now is a tourist destination only. Sat at the bus stop was an old bearded guy who remembered those times and was all to happy to chat about them.Not a bad start to my walk up the coast.

*****

BACK ON THE SOUTH WEST COASTAL PATH.

I arrive at Penzance station after a 9 hour journey, a journey that had only been decided on a couple of days ago. The weather forecast for the SW was excellent for the next week or so. I’ve unfinished business linking Land’s End and Padstow as part of my ongoing LEJOG completion. The South West Coastal Path is already in my thinking and I’ve even a map of some of the route.

An Airbnb is booked in town for four nights to get me started. It turns out to be 5 minutes from the rail and bus stations. Perfect. As I walked into the courtyard I was impressed by the artwork. It turned out my room was rented from an artist, photographer, author and forager extraordinaire. www.wildwalks-southwest.co.uk  It was fascinating talking to her about her exploits

A few weeks ago I was barely able to move never mind think of setting off on a rough backpacking trail. The tablets have worked and I’m here. So that I can monitor my progress without being overstretched I will do short stages to start and link them using buses from Penzance. If you look at the map it is all logical as Penzance occupies a central position transport wise in this part of Cornwall.

Setting off tomorrow…

 

 

JOHN O’GROATS TRAIL. 7 Brora to Helmsdale.

On the beach.

The route description “Sections on railway embankment are stony and narrow, overgrown vegetation and long grass make the going difficult in places, Loth Burn requires wading (could be impassable in spate conditions) ”  was not encouraging and I thought I was in for a long day.

I enjoyed a sociable breakfast with my hosts and managed that lift up the road to where I’d left off yesterday which gave me a good start. The tide was out so I was able to walk on the beach which in most places was easier than the poor track. The first stretch of sand was a joy seemingly going on for ever. Fresh boot imprints in the sand suggested I was not alone today and sure enough I caught up with a couple walking to Helmsdale. They are on their last stretch of a LEJOG pilgrimage over several years using a campervan backup. This time they have walked from the Southern Uplands and actually married in Peebles en-route. We exchanged the usual pleasantries and kept overlapping all day. These were the only ‘serious walkers’ I’d met all week and yet within an hour a couple appeared coming the other way with heavy rucksacs. They had only just started on their end to end and were not complimentary about the JO’G Trail further north which they’d found virtually impassable.

Happy honeymooners.

A long way to go for some.

 

The beach varied from sandy to rocky and from time to time I had to scramble up into the dunes adjacent to the railway, on one of these occasions I disturbed a sizeable adder which slithered off into the grass.

Adder territory.

Intermittently along the coast were groups of common seals both in the water and out on rocks. They were ‘talking’ amongst themselves or was it to me? a haunting sound. There was also an abundance of bird life but without binoculars only the commoner species were recognised.

Halfway along there was a better track in the dunes which took me past some caravans on an informal site. Outside one of these was Julie who invited me for a morning coffee. We sat in her ‘garden’ as she told me about her life there overlooking the sea. Very self-sufficient she’d slowly added to her encampment with storage vans, sheds, chairs and tables, barbeques etc. As I left she was about to start cutting up her winter wood supply, I imagine winters here can be pretty bleak.

The crossing of the burns was no problem today with all the dry weather and being on the beach. One had to take the rough with smooth as some of the beaches became extremely rocky. This added interest in itself with the variety of rocks. Many were of a conglomerate granite, probably technically breccia, almost artificial in appearance.  There were also black rocks that looked suspiciously like coal – I found out later that there was a coal mine in the past at Brora.Many bays later the route used a level crossing to climb into the hamlet of Portgower. Some nice wee cottages ideal for a quiet life. This village was just off the A9 which was crossed and then little lanes climbed into the countryside to find a quiet way into Helmsdale which was seen below with its prominent harbour. On the way in was another of those clock tower war memorials. Theres not a lot to Helmsdale once you’ve walked round the harbour and up the main street.

Portgower.

My hotel was central and characterful. The dining room something from the 60’s but with some good food and the bar had a good selection of whiskeys!  Veteran motorcyclists [their bikes not necessarily them]  were staying here on their North Coast 500 trip, a  scenic route around the north coast of Scotland, which seems to be achieving widespread popularity.

I have to return home for the weekend so I will be at the station early for a long train journey. The station apparently was an important staging post for troops on the journey up to Thurso and naval bases in both world wars. There were no facilities on the crowded trains so the WVS had a tea stall at the station. Hopefully today’s journey will be more comfortable.

 

 

I’ll return to complete the sections up to John O’Groats in the autumn when the vegetation has died back.

*****

 

JOHN O’GROATS TRAIL. 6 Golspie to Brora.

A perfect walk.

Breakfast was shared with a man from France who was taking a dog and a cat over to Orkney – that is a long story. The day was perfect – fresh and clear. The trail went out of town past the houses of the former Sutherland estate with their Duke’s statue looking down on them. In the close up photo below the quarry used for stone for the base can be made out. Onto the dunes  and a path towards Dunrobin Castle the largest house in the Highlands and once owned by the notorious Duke Of Sutherland. I saw it from below and it did look impressive, I was too early for their falconry display. A bit further on and I diverted up to Dun Liath broch expecting I’d be the only one there but a mini bus pulled in and discharged a group of tourists who were mainly interested in taking selfies of themselves. After they departed I wandered round the 2000 year old ruins in peace. After regaining the shore I dropped onto the beach as the tide was out. There were some interesting rocks covered in seaweed, one reminding me of Dougal the dog from The Magic Roundabout. There were seals on the rocks and exposed sandbanks, their calls were hauntingly human. I arrived into Brora by the harbour area where a few fishing boats were preparing to go out to their lobster pots. Nearby was the old ice house used when the harbour was more prosperous. This coast was famous for its herrings which would have been smoked locally. Up the road was a clock war memorial of unusual design. I lunched in the delightful Linda’s Cafe and enquired about a taxi who could pick me up if I walked a few more miles up the coast, none was available but they suggested I would be able to catch a bus back. So off I went again over the golf course onto the perfect beach for two or three miles. A swim was needed halfway to cool me down. At the end of the golfcourse I clambered over the railway and landed on the A9 where I managed to flag down a bus back to Brora.

Notice Trail waymark.

Brora Golf Course.

Endless sands.

My airbnb was good with plenty of time for stimulating conversation with the hostesses and the Jack Russell. There was a private episode in my bedroom when becoming concerned I may have a tick attached to my derrière.  I attempted to locate it without the benefit of mirrors with no success until I came up with idea of a selfie from my phone. Eventually I focused in to the right area, a false alarm as it happens, but I hate to think what Google may have done with my images.  Now all I have to do is persuade someone to drive me back up the A9 in the morning which will make for an easier day’s walk to Helmsdale.

*****