I smell Portreath harbour before I see it – a dark, deep stench of what I’m told is decaying seaweed.
………….. and following instructions from two old biddies on a bench I make my way down to the beach.
To my right the path rises up to the lighthouse – but that’s tomorrow’s walk. Today I have the sea on my right as I am staying two nights in a B&B a mile inland from Portreath, walking left on the first day and right on the second.
It is early but already hot and a few novice surfers are out playing in the gentle waves. At the end of the beach I walk up a tarmac path between rows of expensive looking houses – the wall on my left is made up of stone slabs encased in wire. I have only ever seen this once before – running on either side of the Metro in Copenhagen.
The path rises steeply upwards onto the cliffs and not long after winds its way down to the bottom of the next cove and up again. It is very narrow and exposed here and comes dangerously close to the edge, with precipitous drops down to the rocks below – I try not to look.
From here on the path rolls gently away into the distance and proves to be an easy stroll for four to five miles along the top of the cliffs, passing beautiful little inaccessible coves with chilling names: two are called Dead Man’s Cove and another Hell’s Mouth. It is here I start seeing day trippers with ice-creams so I deviate to the cafe.
………..and here’s the real thing……………………………………………………………………………………
I now walk through a large area of heathland called The Knavocks and very soon the lighthouse at Godrevy Point comes into view.
Just before Godrevy Point a sign alerts me to the possibility of seeing seals, so when the path runs close to the top of the next cove I shuffle hesitantly to the edge of the cliff and peer down. Next to me are a young couple who are trying desperately to stop their young collie getting too close to the edge. Suddenly I see the outline of a seal swimming under the water and shout “It’s a seal!” The young couple with the dog give me a look which can only mean two things – either they don’t understand English or they think I’m mad. You can just about see three seal heads in this photo……………………can’t you?
Turning away from the edge I follow a wide dirt track lined with proper hedgerows – a profusion of wild flowers catch my eye.
The carpark at the bottom of the lane is packed with cars and some people haven’t even bothered to go down to the beach – they lie basking in the sun on sunbeds next to their cars, windbreaks marking out territory.
I am by now getting a little peckish so I stop to ask a couple of lifeguards lounging in front of their hut whether they knew of a cafe nearby. With an unexpected enthusiasm they point towards a food wagon which I can just about see way over on the next beach – they assure me it makes the best food in the area.
Following their directions I walk up past the information sign and come to a stop behind an old lady with a stick, standing looking out over the sea – from the back she looks just like my mother.
I can also now see that the next stretch of my walk will be a good two miles of golden sand – I’m looking forward to that.
But first food, so I head down to the beach and sit down outside the pretty little food wagon to eat a sumptuous tomato and mozzarella salad, washed down with homemade lemonade – seaside food has come a long way since I was a child. As has seaside activities – there were never any surfboards around for us as children.
Lunch over I follow the track through the rocks at the end of this beach over into the next.
Here, erosion has meant that slices of the cliff now stand alone on the beach and people have set up camp for the afternoon at the mouths of caves and cavities. There is a joyful atmosphere, created by families, picnicking, playing football, building sandcastles, investigating rock pools – I feel an acute nostalgia for family seaside holidays, almost brings a tear to my eye. I can of course not take any photos of children – that’s another thing that’s changed.
This is the time to take off my boots and bathe my hot sore feet in the sea – what a feeling!
The beach gradually empties of people as I head towards Hayle Towans, passing rows of caravans standing to attention above me.
Finally I reach the estuary and can walk no further on the sand – I reluctantly put on my boots and take the path leading up on to the cliffs again.
This takes me past an area of sand dunes which is home to several pretty holiday cottages, I would like one of these in Denmark.
…………..and after a half mile or so I find myself down by Hayle Harbour which is showing the first signs of redevelopment. Large areas have been fenced in and gravelled but it must have been some time ago as the original plants have started a rebellion.
As I walk through the town, a hyperbolic billboard stops me in my tracks but the illustrations perhaps refer to the early nineteenth century. This was when the port at Hayle was extremely important for the export of tin, copper smelting, high pressure steam engines and the manufacture of iron and boat building – all helping to make it a very prosperous place.
……………..and a little further up the street, another claim to fame.
By this time I am very tired but only have about a mile to go. Unfortunately this is alongside the main road that crosses the estuary and runs alongside the flat marshland known as the Saltings. Part of the way is along a pedestrian path separated from the cars but this soon peters out and I am left exposed on quite a busy road.
Eventually I reach the turn off to Lelant Saltings where I again meet the friendly station master who shows me a shortcut to the bus which will take me to Camborne and then back to Portreath – I will sleep well tonight.
Distance: 17 miles (mostly on the flat)