Cape Cornwall to Pendeen 22.9.16

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A cape is a headland separating two bodies of water and at Cape Cornwall it is the Atlantic that splits and flows either into the English or the Bristol Channel. There are only two in the UK, the other is Cape Wrath on the north west coast of Scotland. From the road I take  a picture of the enormous chimney stack, now a navigation aid, rising up from the imposing granite mound that is the headland. I also discover, on this glorious morning, the name of the mansion on the hill………………………………………………………………….

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A wiki on Porthledden tells me that it was built by Captain Francis Oats, a local man who at the turn of the nineteenth century, went to South Africa to make his fortune in the diamond mines – he later became chairman of De Beers. Since his death in 1915 the house has been a hotel in the 1920s and 1930s, a gentleman’s club, a girl’s evacuee school during WW2 and a wedding venue. It lay derelict and in a deteriorating state of decay for over twenty years until 2003 when a Grade II listing helped its sale and the subsequent start of an extensive 10 year restoration program.

Following the coast path signs I find myself walking down into a peaceful valley and I suddenly realise just how noisy the sea can be. I normally don’t notice it but when it disappears for a while I am transported  back to all the inland walks I have done over the years. Of course it wasn’t always so – the ruined buildings and chimney stacks bear witness to what once was a thriving tin mining industry, which most certainly would not have been a quiet affair.

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The ferns that line the very narrow path as it carves its way through the valley are so tall that I almost tread on this poor little bird – I nudge it gently with my finger and it shudders but doesn’t respond to any further attempts I make to revive it. I carefully move it into the ferns, there’s not much else I can do.

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From here on I begin to feel like I’m part of an interactive lesson on the history of Cornish mining.

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Even more so when I reach the restored Levant Beam Engine mine where in the 1840’s men, women and children once toiled to extract the tin and copper from beneath the waves.

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img_3036All Brexit voters take note of the “substantial grants from the EU”…………..and no that is not the Scottish flag.

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A little further on the path opens up into a wide stretch of stony ground where visitors have been inspired to mark their presence – it’s all very Andy Goldsworthy.

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By this time I realise that I cannot go on ignoring what is known as a “hot spot” on my right big toe. This is not as exciting as it sounds and usually means the beginnings of a blister. Sitting down on the grass I inspect the damage and slap on a plaster hoping against hope that it won’t bother me for at least an hour. Sadly, by the time I get to Pendeen Lighthouse the huge blister has burst and despite the temptation to walk on in the brilliant sunshine I am forced to admit defeat.

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Sitting on a cairn by the side of the road I nurse my foot and consider the options – there are not many. The lighthouse sits at the end of a narrow tarmac road and there are a few cars around, so I could try and hitch back to St.Just and then a bus to Penzance. Otherwise …………well, there is no otherwise. Suddenly I see a little bird of a woman in a headscarf  approaching, camera bouncing wildly from her thin shoulder. “Are you alright ?” she says in a broad Yorkshire accent, reminding me of my stint in Sheffield in the summer,  “is there anything I can do to help?”  Well – now you mention it.

I am constantly amazed by the generosity of ordinary people I meet on my walks. The woman is on holiday with her brother and they drive me all the way back to St. Just where I don’t have long before a bus comes along to take me back to Penzance. After a further dressing of my toe I hobble along the seafront and come across this beautiful lido, closed now for the winter – I am delighted to see signs that this one is alive and kicking.

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Distance: 6 miles

 

 

 

 

Porthcurno to Cape Cornwall 21.9.16

Today starts with a senior moment which sees me climbing the steep stairs up to the Minnack Theatre once again. At the top I follow the signs across open ground, back to the cliffs and the path leading to Porthgwarra.

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Not long after the village comes into view built around a small but perfect cove……

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At the foot of the cove’s slipway is a tunnel dug by tin miners from St Just to give farmers horse-and-cart access to the beach to collect seaweed to use as a fertiliser.

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At some point after I am faced with the choice of two signposts for the path on which someone has helpfully indicated which of the two I should not take – the annotation reminds me that I need to get my tax return in soon.

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As I near the lookout station on Gwennap Head I start to wonder if I’ve stumbled upon a piece of outdoor sculpture. Later research tells me that these two objects are Runnelstone navigation markers to warn ships of the dangers of submerged rocks – the Runnel Stone. The idea is that from the sea the black and white one should always be in sight and that if the red one ever obscures it completely you are literally in deep trouble.

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After Gwenapp I walk across the top of the cliffs and come across a couple of twitchers. Usually I avoid talking to them as I imagine any disturbance could be irritating but as I am pretty much alone I decide to find out what they are looking for.

The answer is “choughs” (pronounced “chuff”) and I am indeed chuffed when one of the men beckons me over to look in his telescope at the red billed chough sitting on a rock at the edge of the cliff. These birds can be seen on the Cornish coat of arms but suffered a steady decline in Cornwall from the end of the 18th century til the mid sixties, when there was only one pair left. They then died out completely until a few brave ones decided to make the journey from Ireland in 2001 and the rest is history.

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Here is a picture of one I have at home…………………….the picture, not the bird.

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From here on I walk past a series of dark caves cut into the cliffs, reminding me of the time Damian and I went on a trip to the small Hebridean island of Staffa. Here we took the time to sit and listen to the sound of the sea rushing in and out of Fingal’s Cave – an inspiration for Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture.

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But I’m not close enough to hear and anyway I am impatient to get to Land’s End. There are however, a few hurdles – large rocks barring the way ……………………………..img_2988-1

……….and photo to be taken of amazing rock formations – this one looks like a giant’s game of building blocks – and how do they remain so perfectly balanced?

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As I get closer to Land’s End the scenery becomes less dramatic, almost like the land is crumbling into the sea like a broken biscuit. In the distance I can just about see the group of rocks known as The Longships which form part of the mythical lost land of Lyonesse, referred to in Arthurian literature.

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At last, I arrive at Lands End which is crowded and a bit of a disappointment – but a milestone for me! I enlist the help of an obliging Italian tourist and get my photo taken before heading for the nearest tea shop.

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On my way I stand and watch groups of people take their turn (for a small fee) to slot in their names on the celebrated signpost before having their photo taken. I play with the idea of putting up Joining the Dots but then decide it might be a bit naff.

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Suitably refreshed I leave Land’s End and head up towards Sennen Cove – passing the rusty hulk of half a ship washed up on the rocks.

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The path takes me up onto the cliffs again until I start to see the roofs of Sennen Cove. I then follow signs down a very steep slope through the houses but the path is not clearly marked and after a few dead ends I find myself wandering aimlessly round someone’s lawn. Not wanting to linger I am just about to give up and head back up the path when I notice an overgrown, stony “impression” of a path which does lead me down, coming out opposite the harbour.

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Here I turn right and head over to the long sandy beach which makes up Whitesand Bay.

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Not knowing whether the tide is coming or going or, as my map is not showing it, whether I can get back up onto the cliff path further on, I decide to chance it.

The sand is quite soft and my anticipated easy walk turns into a trudge but I enjoy watching the surfers.

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A little further up the beach I stop a couple coming towards me and ask if they know of a way to get back up onto the cliff. The woman catches on very quickly – they always do – but it takes a while for her husband to understand what I’m saying. He then tries to compensate by advising me as to the best way to navigate a high rocky breakwater just a  short distance away up the beach. I thank them but as I turn away she grabs my arm and in a whisper points to another part of the breakwater which does look a bit easier to deal with. img_3008

It is great fun navigating my way across the rocks, deciding which ones look safe to tread on – I used to love it as a child.

On the other side I follow their directions,  past a young man meditating on the rocks and up a loooong steep set of steps. Panting with exertion I spill out on to a road where there are no clear signs of where to go. Fortunately, a passing walker tells me that I have missed the turning and that I need to go back down the steps and turn right! With a sigh I turn round and retrace my steps and sure enough there is the track, winding its way up onto the cliff.

By now it is getting quite late and I can feel the beginnings of a blister but I have at least another two hours to walking to go. To make matters worse both my camera and iPhone are low on battery so I take no photos on the way. I meet very few people on the path up to Cape Cornwall and they are all coming towards me but I take heart from a group of brash American women who have come from the Cape and are able to give me a rough idea of how long it will take to get there. There is just enough battery on my camera to take a photo of this imposing county house which stands on the hill overlooking the Cape. I will investigate tomorrow but for now it’s shower, food and bed.

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Distance: 10 miles

 

 

 

 

Mousehole to Porthcurno 20.9.16

The bus drops me off in Mousehole and it’s not a bad morning, “enough blue sky to make a sailor suit” as my mother used to say. I walk through very narrow winding streets, passing small granite cottages, all tightly clustered around the harbour. “The loveliest village in England” is how Dylan Thomas described it in 1930 and apart from more holiday lets I’m sure it hasn’t changed a lot since then.

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On the edge of the village I pass this sign with two words that just should not appear in the same sentence – makes me feel a bit queasy.

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After a coming to a stop at a few dead ends I eventually find the coast path which climbs very steeply up though a stretch of woodland – the earth is an African red.

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and then it mysteriously changes colour and gets rocky, very rocky, twist your ankle rocky.

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Progress is painfully slow as I head down to Lamorna Cove (such a romantic name) and I am very glad I have my walking pole. My map shows a nature reserve called Kemyel Crease which is a very apt name for a narrow deep rocky path with sheer drops to the sea.

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I am relieved to reach Lamorna Cove, a pretty little hamlet apparently favoured by artists, craftsmen and writers since before the first World War – famous names include Augustus John and John Le Carré. Unfortunately, this is the only photo I took of the place – must have got distracted.

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After Lamorna, the path continues to hug the very edge of the coast, causing me some concern in places. It was the Scottish mountains that introduced me to exposure (“how do you do….”) and I still get a little giddy and anxious when it happens. I also feel it is time for a rest and somewhere in my rucksack I know there is a soggy sandwich.

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Penberth Cove feels like a working village – the houses do not appear to be holiday lets and there’s a lot of evidence of lobster fishing. I find a bench and settle down for lunch.

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Just behind me and set into the wall is a National Trust collection box – I fish out 50p and slide it into the slot where it stays until I give it a shove with another coin. I wonder how regularly it is emptied.

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I am now not far from Porthcurno where I will stop for the day. I have set up a night in a YHA hostel some miles inland and I need to find a bus to take me there. I am also keen to take a look at the famous open air theatre built into the cliffs.

The beach at Porthcurno is stunning – one of the most beautiful beaches I have seen on this walk.img_2965

Following directions from a few locals I climb the path up the cliff to the theatre. The steps  are steep and there’s not a lot between me and the sea below – I pray that nobody is on their way down.

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This is the beach from the top………………..

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The cafe at the top is closed because there is a performance of Mikado going on – I pay my £1 to shuffle onto a viewing platform where beneath me Nanki-Poo and Yum Yum are in the throes of declaring their love for each other.

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Putting tragicomedy aside I make my way down the road back to the village to catch the bus to the hostel, where I spend a surprisingly comfortable night round a table with beer, food and good conversation. Hostels have come a long way since I was young.

Distance: 8 miles (roughly, as my Jawbone let me down)

Praa Sands to Mousehole 19.9.16

When Cornish weather men say low cloud they must mean drizzle – grey, persistent drizzle, the kind you get in my part of Wales, the slow but steady process from a bit damp to sodden. Head down and walking away from Praa Sands, my mind returns to such a day when I was 11 years old – leading not riding my horse because he had just been shod and had started to limp. Murmuring encouragements in Dandy’s ear with the occasional hymn thrown in, I squelched my way through five miles of country lane and rough muddy ground. My riding mac gave up, my clothes and boots soon drenched but when I think about it I don’t believe I was fed up – I just resigned myself to my fate.

So, here I am facing the weather, not daring to get the camera out, just a quick swipe of the iPhone will have to do – and even in the rain, the colours are beautiful.

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Eyes down I follow the narrow path across the cliffs until I reach the charming cluster of cottages which circle Prussia Cove. The jewel in the crown of this exceptionally beautiful cove is a grand grey stone house which looks like it’s been built into the granite promontory on which it stands. I cannot get a good photo of it in the rain but I later find out that it was built in 1903 and is listed – I catch a glimpse of heavy wooden doors, leaded windows and slate roofs. Rounding a corner I bump into a distinguished looking woman who in response to my enquiries tells me that the house is a holiday let – as most of the other houses in the cove are – and is being used at the moment for an international musicians seminar to prepare for a series of concerts held in churches all over Cornwall.

This is a picture of the other side of the cove and what I found buried in the ground on the headland – no idea.

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I have now reached Cudden Point and a little later the vague outline of St Michael’s Mount can be seen, rising out of the mist.

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Soon the path starts to dip downwards through a stretch of woodland – it is very peaceful and I fall into that familiar state of calm that I love so much about long distance walking. So much so that I am shocked when the path suddenly leads to nowhere but some steps  leading to a beach with a haphazard collection of large boulders. Confused I make my way back about 50 yards to see if I have missed any signs but no, this is the way.

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Gingerly, I make my way across the slippery rocks and clamber up onto the path at the other end. Looking at the OS map later I see that this area is bizarrely named Little London.

I am now nearing the outskirts of Marazion, from which I get a slightly better picture of the Mount – I am by now very wet and in need of a cup of tea.

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Coming out of the teashop I find myself weaving through large groups of tourists, looking a little forlorn but gamely taking on the causeway out to St. Michael’s Mount. From here it looks like I can walk along the beach all the way to Penzance, but a local tells me I’ll have to stop at Long Rock.

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A group of horse riders are gathered on the road and slowly make their way down to the beach. Judging by the body language of most of the riders I somehow think there’ll be no wild galloping with wind in your hair performance today. I myself have only done it a few times, on a pony trekking holiday on a small island off the coast of Denmark – but you never forget it.

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By now the weather has cheered up a bit and it doesn’t take long to walk through Penzance  and on to Newlyn where, to honour lives lost, an impressive lifesize bronze statue of a fisherman waits for his boat to come in to port.

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Newlyn is where I will be spending the night so after lightening my load in my Bnb I set off to walk to Mousehole where I know I can get a bus back.

On the way out of town I walk past yet more eccentric garden sculpture that Cornwall seems to love.

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It does not take long to walk to Mousehole ( pronounced Mozul) and the sun has come out at last.

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I find myself a pub with fish and chips and my favourite local ale – it looks like it’s going to be a better day tomorrow.

Distance: 11 miles

 

 

 

Preston to Lytham St.Anne’s 23.07.16

There’s nothing like having something at the back of your mind – that little voice that gets weaker over time but never goes away. That squirming little worm that keeps worritin away, getting its oar in whenever there’s a spare moment – why not do it now? Just get yourself to the computer and do it, go on, you know you’ll feel better afterwards. So, this is the moment, after 2 months of pretty intense work oop north I’ve found the energy to write this post, not a long one even, as I can’t remember a lot but it has taken such a long time to get round to it.

So here we are in Preston, for a splendid celebration of god knows how many years of hard graft on the part of my wonderful niece – a party to usher her in to the big bad adult world of work – she will be the young girl sitting in the chair that’s too big for her at the local GP’s or the overworked frontline warrior in the emergency department – bless her.

Our road out of Preston is tedious, a slog along a busy road – thankfully it does sometimes offer a narrow pavement, cycle path or grass verge. At Freckleton we turn left on to what is somewhat euphemistically called the Lancashire Coast Path – a walk along a muddy trickle which will eventually flow into the River Dribble (sorry Ribble).

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There is a short stretch through some woodland before we reach the river bank where a trig point gives Damian a chance to indulge in his King of the Hill fantasy.

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………………..here we turn right and follow the muddy edge of the marshes until the path heads inland, through tight thickets of long grass, past Warton Aerodrome and on into Lytham.

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After the calm of the marshes it is quite a shock to be thrown up onto the A584 but it looks like Lytham has quite a lot to offer and plenty of possibilities for tea and cake.

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The windmill disappoints as it offers only a museum (which is closed) so we decide to head inland and find a cafe in the town.

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Lytham is busy – holidaymakers with children and dogs fight for seats outside the many cafes and restaurants in this otherwise prim little Victorian town, but we get lucky.

Refuelled we follow the road out of town, past what I originally think is a mosque but what later turns out to be a United Reformed Church known as the White Church. We decide not to take a look inside as time is short and we have a graduation party to go to.

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Past the boating lake our direction is through an area of sand dunes and the sun comes out.

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Soon the pier at St. Anne’s comes into view and after braving the bedlam of the amusement arcade we walk out as far as we can and find somewhere to sit in the sun.

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Reading about the pier later I discover that it has survived two fires and since its construction in 1885 has been the venue for a host of attractions including a winter garden, concert hall, crazy golf, miniature zoo, aviary, reptile house and Tyrolean style beer hall. Stars to tread the boards include George Formby, Yehudi Menuhin and our very own Gracie Fields.

It has been an uneventful walk but good to be back on the trail again.

Distance: 12 miles

 

 

Mullion to Praa Sands 8.6.16

I walk out of Mullion village and back to the coast path at Polurrian Cove where I meet a dog walker with the broadest smile I’ve seen for a long time. Her dog has one brown eye and one blue which I find attractive and repellent at the same time.

 

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As I approach Poldhu Point I pass the Marconi memorial, which marks the site of the wireless station where, in 1902, the first trans-oceanic wireless telegraph was sent – all the way to Newfoundland. I have my own history of Marconi, absorbed gradually from  visits to Penarth in Wales where my parents lived. On Sunday afternoon outings we would sometimes walk to the plaque at Lavernock Point from where, in 1897, Marconi supervised  the transmission and receipt of the first wireless signals over open sea, between Lavernock Point and Flat Holm island.

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A little later on, when the path merges with tarmac, the smiley dog walker overtakes me in her car and stops to tell me that I am very close to Poldhu Beach Cafe which has won all sorts of awards. She is not local and her enthusiasm borders on the fanatic, somewhat like people who suddenly turn to religion after a lifetime of spiritual apathy, but perhaps I’m being cruel. Anyway, I am neither hungry nor thirsty so I do not stop although it does look inviting and I like the driftwood sculpture outside.

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From Poldhu, I walk through National Trust Land (donated by the Marconi company) – the sun is out, and it is a beautiful day.  Soon Gunwalloe Cove comes into view, with its own church set back from the beach. The path winds down onto the sand and I seize the opportunity to take off my boots and walk barefoot. Unfortunately the sand quickly morphs into pebbles and after negotiating a little stream cutting through the beach I am forced to squeeze my feet back into hot leather. As I walk towards the church a woman in her 70’s appears, hobbling barefoot over the pebbles with her head down, obviously looking for something.  As I pass her I notice she looks a little distraught and in a plaintive tone she tells me that she had taken off her sandals on the beach and now can’t remember where she left them. Her husband is over the other side of the stream looking but I get the impression that they had been searching for quite a while. I retrieve my inner girl guide and offer to help. I find the sandals almost immediately, balanced on a rock on my side of the stream. Triumphant I return them and their almost tearful gratitude makes me feel good for the rest of the day – small things.

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From here there is a long stretch of golden sand but I know from reading other descriptions of this walk that once on the beach you cannot get back up onto the cliff and at some point rocks will obstruct your passage.

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This golden mile leads on to Loe Bar, which is a long stretch of shingle and sand separating the coast and a large freshwater lake.

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As I approach it I pass a simple white cross – another memorial to lives lost at sea.

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I wonder about about the choice of the word “impressed” which must have had different connotations back then.

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By now it is early afternoon and very hot – I trudge across the bar, there is no shade and I’m having difficulty seeing where the path continues. Finally I see a path leading up onto the cliff again and walk along a wide tarmac lane down into Porthleven. This is the town where Damian and I had planned to stay at New Year before storms, high winds and torrential rain stopped play.

Turning a corner on my way into Portleven I am pulled up short. The Wreckers Yard is an essentially boring pebble dash house but the yard is a work of surrealist art – no rhyme nor reason.

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Portleven harbour reminds me a little of Tenby with its row of tall stern faced Victorian houses.

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I check into my BnB and after a quick tea and scone revival I catch the bus to Praa Sands as I still have lots of the day left to fill. My rucksack is light on my back and I don’t even mind the mile road walk to the coast from where the bus drops me. Praa Sands is busy, children screeching, radios blaring – I am happy to turn my back on it and walk back in the direction of Porthleven.

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At one point I pass one of those useless signs that warn you of something but don’t tell you how to avoid the danger. How am I supposed to recognise a mine shaft  before I actually fall into one?

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As it happens it is quite easy to imagine where they might be as the next half mile from Rinsey Point is littered with the spectacular ruins of disused tin mines.

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Later on I spy this distinctive rock formation on Trewavas Head which has been gradually eroded by wind and rain and is now known as either the Camel or the Bishop.

 

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……………….and another known as the Love Rock  – despite some research I have no idea why………………………………

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And now I am back to the hustle and bustle of  Portleven, where I will spend the last night in Cornwall for at least three months – back in September.

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Lizard Point to Mullion 7.6.16

It is a very misty moisty morning as I head out of Cadgwith up to the next village to catch a bus back to Lizard Point. As unluck would have it the bus timetable is not up to date and the bus I want only goes to within 2 miles of Lizard. This is what we used to  call “a bit of a bummer” but I have no choice. I reluctantly leave the bus, resigned to a hike along a very busy road. As I pass a side road, a small white van appears and on an impulse I stick out my thumb. Amazingly, the van stops and a young man climbs out, his girlfriend is at the wheel. The back of their van is crammed with gardening paraphernalia and a dog in a cage. Despite the inconvenience a space is made for me to squeeze into the back and they then take me all the way to Lizard. Such generosity! Thank you Rachel, Lee and Darcy the dog, aka Devon Gardeners.

From Lizard I follow a footpath through fields and woods which eventually brings me back to the coast path – there are stepping stones for muddy bits.

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The mist lies heavy and I walk in eerie silence, unable to see the sea beneath the cliffs or further than about 50 yards in front of me.

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After a while I see small groups of people coming in from my right and I realise that I am getting close to Kynance Cove which is accessible via a footpath from a minor road. The ground drops away down to the cove – there is a footpath and a warning.

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The cove itself is stunning even in the poor light. From the white sand two or three enormous slabs of serpentine rock rise out of the mist, their gnarled, furrowed surfaces glistening like the skin of pre-historic reptiles.

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Despite the weather there are quite a few people about and the cafe is open – I buy a sandwich to take with me as I’m pretty sure there are not going to be many watering holes between here and Mullion. The cafe is owned by the National Trust and I find out later that the roof is made of solar tiles which, among other things, generate enough electricity to make nearly 46.000 cups of tea a year. Opposite the cafe and surrounded by safety fences, is a house which must have seen better days – it now looks due for demolition.

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I climb the steep hill back to the coast path which is briefly nowhere to be seen but I can just about make out a couple walking ahead of me so I follow them up onto a wide stretch of scrubby heathland covered with thrift. At one point I can see they have lost the path so I fish out my trusty iPhone and use my electronic OS map  to get us closer to the edge of the cliff where the path becomes apparent.

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Over to the left I can hear the sea but only occasionally see it, it’s all very Wuthering Heights – needless to say I do not experience a close encounter with my very own Heathcliff.

Occasionally, the mist lifts for a few moments, revealing the dramatic sweep of the cliffs plunging steeply down to the sea – it is truly breathtaking.

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And gradually the mist lifts, I can see further and others can see me…………………………..

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…………….and the sky turns blue for a while……………………………………………………….

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I have now been walking for some hours without a break but haven’t really found anywhere suitable to eat lunch – and everytime I do, someone else is sitting there. Trying to ignore the hunger pains I decide to wait until I reach Mullion Cove which can’t be that far away. Mullion Island is off to my left and soon the village and its grand hotel come into view.

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The path down into the cove overlooks the harbour wall which is still not the right place for lunch.

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Eventually I spy a footpath leading up to the hotel with a bench halfway up. Wrenching off my rucksack I tear into my soggy cheese and tomato sandwich which tastes better than anything I’ve tasted for a long time. In my feeding frenzy I only notice the plaque when I stand up – it makes me a little sad although I like the use of “taken”.

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I now have to make my way to my accommodation for the night which is a mile inland in the village of Mullion. I decide to follow the coast path up to Polurrian Cove and then turn off right to walk into the village. Some of the gardens I pass on the way are very pretty, plants and flowers creeping out from under fences.

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It has been a wonderful walk today – one of the best.

Distance: 11 miles