The South West Coast Path – Part 4
Heading up the steep climb out of Porthtowan I looked backwards towards a view I don’t think I’d ever seen before, despite my many weekends spent in the village enjoying music at the Blue Bar and sunning on the beach. I’d obviously never walked up and out this way. What a treat to see the broad rolling sets of waves coming into meet the delighted crowds who bobbed on their boards, and to look back down the coast at where I’d walked over the preceding days. I’m often really amazed at how far my legs can take me just one foot after another. How does a distance that seems so huge actually become so manageable?!
I was excited because I knew the next few days were going to involve some seriously special landscape; heading towards West Penwith and around Lands End. I also had a number of different people coming to join me and stretch their legs. Everyone from my childhood friends to my boyfriend’s son was excited to get out on the coast! Daydreaming a little, I became suddenly aware that the cliff edge was sharp and very close to the path! I’d been totally tricked by the hardy ponies who grazed along the precipice, making it look like they were immune to gravity. These and other breeds of horses are used all along the trail to graze and encourage regrowth. It gives an extra sense of wildness to see them roaming about and ignoring us walkers with well-practised disdain!
After the morning’s climbs out of Porthtowan and then Portreath, I was surprised to head along a newish flat and gravelly portion of trail leading towards Hells Mouth. I wasn’t going to complain though, as I knew enough to expect that it wasn’t going to last for long. And, sure enough, past the boiling seas of the Mouth the undulation began again. There was some solid erosion and wear on the trail in this patch because it’s so well visited. I have found that the spots that have close car-park access are always those where the land is most degraded, and where you might find litter and worse. Lockdown easing has meant that I’ve seen huge numbers of people at these locations, and I really hope that those that love visiting also love nature enough to take care of it going forward. Godrevy and Gwithian Towans were next. Wow, they never disappoint. Seal beach was thrumming with fat blubbery happy seals and the vast expanse of golden sand was busy but with room for all. I had a snack break before I descended to the dunes and enjoyed watching a fishing boat coming by beneath me; the fisherman checking his pots then lowering them back into the sea before trundling to the next one.
Watching animal life from up high didn’t quite prepare me for a sight in the dunes I that I had never seen before in my life! At first I thought I was seeing pieces of brown ribbon twisting in the breeze, caught on the dusty pathway in front of me. Then, as I got closer, I saw to my surprise that it was a rabbit and a stoat fighting; spinning each other about in a tumult to the death. The rabbit eventually fell limp and I watch the stoat notice me, freeze and then grip the rabbit in its jaws and jump sideways into the undergrowth and away. Unbelievable! I felt sad for the rabbit but told myself that nature will do its thing and I remembered how lucky I was to have seen something so unusual. The dunes grew tiring and eventually turned into Mexico Towans, and then the lane towards Hayle filled with very hip and stylish cabins and chalets.
There were still a few dilapidated properties but these just added to the charm, and I found myself wondering why I hadn’t spent any time in Hayle before. It was when I turned the corner and headed around the long pavement of the Saltings that I remembered it wasn’t all idyllic sea front, and was happy to head back towards the coast. Off through the very pretty Carbis Bay and into beautiful St Ives. I spent some time in the town, as on this particular day I was doing an ‘Instagram takeover’ for local clothing brand Seasalt. I wanted to make sure I gave a real feel of the history of the area as well as the art and culture. That done, I wove through heaps of tourists (it was rammed!) and before I could blink I emerged into one of my favourite places; the barren and beautiful start of West Penwith. With high cliffs and few people living along this peninsula towards Land’s End, its moorland and open expanses are only occasionally peppered with old stone cottages and small hamlets. This helps give the remote feel that had been missing a little after the recent busy, bustling seaside towns I had passed through. West Penwith is surrounded on three sides by the pounding Atlantic seas and you can feel the energy released from this constant motion and action against the cliffs. The lanes and hedges feel as though they are almost still medieval, and I absolutely adore it. Mesmerised by the purple of the heather, I felt myself get into a lovely walking rhythm which helped the miles zip along. By the time I got to the village of Zennor I was well ready for the feast of lunch I had there, and I waited out a downpour for a spell before joining trail again.
It was on this stretch that I happily crossed paths with the lovely Hannah from Falmouth’s Un-rap shop, who was hiking the coast of Cornwall to raise money for Surfers against Sewage. It was such a lovely treat to meet another hiker from home, and we briefly shared stories of the day before we continued in opposite directions. I powered on valiantly, but today’s stretch had worn me out and my legs were tired. I don’t think getting drenched after my Zennor stop helped much either. Once I got to the stunning Bosigran I decided to call it a day, and walked up to the road where my boyfriend collected me and took me back to the campsite we’d decided on for that night – another perk of hiking closer to home for a while! I was so tired, but very happy to have more West Penwith to explore in the morning.