Land's End to Hayle

September 2001

“Don’t waste one of your shots on THAT, let me take one with my throw-away camera.” In the days before digital photography became commonplace film was precious, and we were not very impressed with the signpost indicating, amongst other things, that John O’Groats was 874 miles away. Rosalind took the photograph then we left as quickly as possible.

We had walked from Porthcurno, visited the Minack outdoor theatre, precariously positioned at the cliff edge, been shown round the coastguard station and had enjoyed the coastal scenery as we strolled along the cliffs in the pleasant autumn sunshine. Coming to the devastation at Land’s End was a shock to the system. An attempt was being made to repair the most badly eroded areas but not much progress had been made.

Land’s End receded into the distance as we continued along the cliffs in the afternoon sun, passing an Iron Age hill fort before coming to Sennen Cove where we were to spend the night. We enjoyed fish and chips sitting on a wall overlooking the bay where the waves were crashing onto the beach. The men fishing on the harbour wall were living dangerously. We wandered along the sands watching the surfers demonstrating their skills then climbed up steeply to our B&B. The snails were all over the path – we couldn’t help but tread on them.

Next morning it was wet and windy, so we donned our waterproofs, being thankful that the wind was behind us. It was quite a scramble around Aire Point where the waves were higher than ever. The rain stopped at midday as we rounded Cape Cornwall then passed through an area left desolate by former mine workings. The path leading to Pendeen Farm was deep in slurry which we negotiated carefully before being escorted to our accommodation in a well-appointed holiday cottage. It was very cosy, and as the rain lashed down again outside we didn’t fancy the walk through the ordure to the village for our evening meal. We reviewed our supplies – two cheese sandwiches that had been too unpalatable to eat at lunchtime, one muesli bar, two satsumas, two biscuits, four teabags and some milk. With a grill to toast the sandwiches it was a feast fit for kings. We settled in to watch TV while the storm raged outside.

Next day it continued to be stormy inland but our personal weather fairy, Roswenda, was watching over us, making sure it was fine and bright along the coast. A few black clouds were scudding across the sky causing rainbows to form; the white rollers were racing in and crashing into the cliffs, sending up spray 30ft high.

Further along we came to a narrow section of the path with a steep drop to the sea on one side and a cliff covered with brambles and full of mine shafts on the other. Cows with calves were grouped along the path; beyond them BIG DADDY was grazing in front of the stile we needed to cross. We dithered and faffed, faffed and dithered, not knowing what to do. Eventually, as we pressed into the brambles, the calves and cows came along the path towards us and we manoeuvred around them until there was only BIG DADDY left, now with only his tail between us and our exit route. We each took a deep breath then made a beeline for the stile. The bull continued grazing, unperturbed.

We stopped above a small cove to regain our composure where to our delight a pod of six or seven dolphins were having a marvellous time surfing in the waves. But for our fright we may never have noticed them. We wandered on, stopping again and again to gaze at the amazing seascape, white moving pillars of water against a deep blue sky, and I couldn’t get my new film to load!

Spending the night at the backpackers’ hostel was not one of our better experiences. The sheets were wet, the coffee machine didn’t work, and the shower-head was broken, but after a meal and two glasses of wine at the pub we had a good night’s sleep. Rosalind did wake up thinking she was trapped under a waterfall, but it was only the rain pouring down outside.

Next morning the sun was shining, but the path got muddier, messier and busier as we approached St Ives, with more and more people enjoying the sunshine. We walked out to St Ives Head to watch the waves crashing against the rocks, and then went down to the beach where experienced surfers were trying to ride the rollers. It was survival of the fittest. The rest of us could only watch in admiration. As we had time to spare we visited the Tate St Ives art gallery, an impressive building with picture windows overlooking the bay, a work of art itself. We indulged in a cream tea and then met Rosalind’s daughter Gina and two of her seven grandchildren, Barny and Ellie. We enjoyed a Chinese take-away for supper then camped out in the living room, me on the sofa and Rosalind on the floor. There was a full moon.

It was a glorious day again when we awoke and looked out across the bay. The tide was higher than ever; massive waves were racing in and hitting the walls of the houses. I bemoaned the fact that I couldn’t get my camera to work. It was only later I realised that all it needed was a new battery!

After breakfast we took our leave to continue our walk around the headland, across the wide expanse of Porth Kidney Sands to St Erth’s station, marking the end of the first section of our walk.

Seven years later we would be down this way again, having walked the next section of the route in reverse, starting at Boscastle.

Boscastle to Hayle

May 2008

I met Rosalind at Exeter station where we had some time to kill before we caught the bus to Bude. At most stations we were constantly reminded not to leave luggage unattended because of the threat of terrorist bombs, but at Exeter I commented on the fact that there were no such announcements. Rosalind said, ‘That’s because nothing ever happens down here’. When we were on the bus several police cars sped past, sirens blaring. We later heard that a bomb had gone off in a store in the town centre. Luckily no-one was hurt except for the bomber himself.

We changed buses at Bude and caught a rickety local one that negotiated the narrow, hilly coast road, and had a lengthy stand-off with an oncoming bus. Neither of the drivers was willing to give way nor seemed to be in any hurry, but eventually the dispute was resolved and in due course we arrived at Boscastle.

In 2004 the village had been devastated by a flash flood when 75mm of rain fell in two hours causing both the Jordan and Valency rivers to burst their banks. Torrents of water had surged through the main street, sweeping cars away, uprooting trees and destroying buildings. Some people trapped in their houses had to climb onto the roofs to await rescue by helicopter. Amazingly, there was no loss of life.

We walked down to the newly refurbished youth hostel which had been badly damaged in the floods. The house next to it had been completely washed away but had been rebuilt, the same as the original, crooked roof and all.

After a meal in the village we watched the sunset from the edge of the cliffs before returning to the hostel. We had a room to ourselves, but negotiating the top bunk wasn’t easy.

The sound of machinery woke us. Work was in progress to enlarge the channel of the River Valency, so hopefully there would be no more disastrous flooding. It was quite a technical undertaking as the fish needed to be able to swim upstream to their spawning ground.

As it was only five miles to Tintagel, we had plenty of time to look around the watch-tower at Willapark headland. The two watch-keepers said that very little happened on this stretch of coastline, so would I like to jump off the cliff to relieve the monotony? I politely declined, but did manage to trip further down the path. Unfortunately, as I didn’t hurt myself there was no relief from the monotony.

We enjoyed the profusion of flowers along the cliffs then went down (a long way) to the beach at Bossiney Haven where the rocks were smothered in mussels. The climb back up was also a long way.

Approaching Tintagel castle, we stopped for a cup of tea before continuing to the youth hostel, in its isolated position perched on the edge of the Glebe Cliff. It was a nostalgic return for both of us. Tintagel was the first hostel Rosalind had been to 50 years ago. A year later, it was the furthest destination of my first cycling holiday, undertaken with a school friend when I was sixteen. The whole fortnight had cost the princely sum of £13 of which £5 was pocket money, all spent on extra food.

Later we had a barbeque on the cliffs with the other guests in the warm evening sunshine, then stayed to watch the sun sink into the sea before going back inside. It had been a most enjoyable evening and a memorable return to the past.

We awoke to another lovely morning. There was a strong wind but it was behind us as we set out. It was only eight miles to Port Isaac but was very demanding with lots of steep ups and downs. I found the stepped climbs particularly difficult; my knees didn’t like them at all. Still, the scenery was magnificent, the flowers delightful. Looking back, we could see Tintagel church in the distance for a long time and later we could see the hostel as well.

Arriving at Port Isaac mid-afternoon we had plenty of time to look around the old village and harbour. We returned to our B&B at The Crow’s Nest for our evening meal, enjoying the view across the bay from our elevated position.

Next morning, I woke up at about 5.30 am to the sound of pouring rain, turned over and went back to sleep. It was still raining at 6.30 am when I made myself a cup of tea. Rosalind roused herself at 7.30 am for her cuppa and still the rain was hammering on the windows. At 8.30 am it was time to face the day, so we went downstairs for a leisurely breakfast. By the time we left the Crow’s Nest at 10 am the rain had stopped. We had a little drizzle later in the day but not much. Roswenda was working her magic again.

Down at the harbour we met an elderly man who had been in ‘The Glorious Glosters’ and took a photo of him with his splendid bulldog before setting off up the hill. The first three miles were very up and down, and we had to take care on the slippery paths. At Port Quin we had a drink at a refreshment station, a water tap, where we talked to a large family group, all of whom were sporting amazing headgear. They were waiting to meet up with more family members.

We climbed out of the valley, continuing along the cliff path. After about an hour we met another group of people with fine hats. Yes, it was the rest of the family. The first group was having a very long wait.

At the top of the cliff we stopped for lunch, sitting on the wet grass with our waterproof trousers on. We could still see back to Tintagel church and youth hostel. 100 yards further on we came to a bench with an even better view, so of course we had to sit on that, too. We passed the little cove where our families had spent happy hours camping locally when the children were small, then as we rounded the headland the sun came out.

Polzeath was bathed in sunshine; lots of people were in the sea; families were playing games on the sands.

We bought some fish and chips to eat on the beach before going for a walk along the headland to get a better view of the surfers. At 8.30 pm it was still a warm, balmy evening and the surf was just right.

Next morning there was a change in the weather with a little drizzle to start with and a VERY strong wind. It was behind us as far as Padstow where we were just in time to catch the ferry. We bought a Cornish pasty each and two doughnuts then found a sheltered spot overlooking the estuary. We shared the pasties with a cheeky coal tit while watching the ferry ploughing back and forth. Suddenly it veered off course and lowered the ramp into the water. A sailing boat had capsized and one of the crew had fallen overboard. After he was plucked out of the sea, an attempt was made to board the sailing boat. The other crew member couldn’t right it by himself. Unfortunately, the would-be rescuer also fell into the water and had to be pulled out. They finally managed to get a man across, the boat was sailed to safety and the ferry resumed normal operations.

After the excitement we battled around the headland, now into the wind. In the next bay we watched a spectacular display from a lone kite surfer who was soaring at least 30ft into the air before landing again with perfect control. It must have been an exhilarating experience.

The wind hit us full force as we rounded Stepper Point. Our walking poles came in useful to stop us being knocked off our feet. It was a little easier around the corner where we found a sheltered spot to eat our jammy doughnuts. We soon reached our destination at Travone where we were spending the night and climbed the hill to our B&B. It started to rain quite hard, so we donned our waterproofs to walk to the village pub for our evening meal. Although it was a bank holiday there weren’t very many people there, but the food was good. The rain was coming down in stair-rods as we left the pub. When we got back to the B&B, soaking wet, we were ordered to hand over our trousers and anoraks for drying.

Next morning the rain had cleared, and it was a lovely day. The sun was shining in a cloudless blue sky and our clothes were dry. We had an early breakfast then set off down the hill, only to discover that work was being done on an eroded stretch of the coast path; the diversion was up the hill again and around the back of the pub. As we had a long day ahead we thought we would go along the beach to regain the path further along, but after Rosalind slipped twice on the slimy rock we abandoned the attempt and retraced our steps, not getting back on track until 10 am.

The first part of the walk was unremarkable, and I wasn’t in the best of moods, but we soon came to sandy beaches beneath lovely flower-clad cliffs, so all was right with the world again. We had a late lunch at Portcothan which consisted of a Cornish pasty and a bottle of milk, then made our way along the cliffs to Bedruthen Steps, an unspoilt rocky cove with a shimmering turquoise and blue sea.

It was a different story at Mawgan Porth. Gone was the idyllic holiday retreat I remembered from my childhood. Instead the cliffs were covered with ugly new buildings, the beach was crowded and litter-strewn. We were glad to escape onto the coastal path again, soon finding the path which went inland to Trevarrian where we were spending the night at the travel lodge. It was six pm when we arrived, too tired to venture out in search of somewhere to eat. Instead, we made do with oatcake, cheese, banana and biscuits. We heard on the news that the campsite at Polzeath had been evacuated the night before because of the atrocious weather.

The next day yet again heavy rain was forecast and yet again we didn’t get enough to put our hoods up, although it was very wet underfoot. We re-joined the cliff path, following it to Porth after making a detour to Trevelgue Head, the site of an Iron Age Fort.

We stopped for toasted teacakes in the village before negotiating Newquay. Near the harbour was a medieval look-out where the huers used to watch out for the shoals of pilchards. When they saw them, they would cry out to the circling fishing boats to guide them to the fish, hence huer cry.

After Fistral Beach we stopped at the Ferry Café overlooking the river estuary. The sun was out now and there was a lovely view down the river valley. We descended to the bridge over the water then walked along the extensive, almost deserted beach to the steps up the cliff. Our little hotel was situated overlooking Goose Rock with a magnificent view along the estuary. There were very few guests at the hotel although it was bank holiday week. After a delicious evening meal, we went out to watch the rabbits cropping the grass. One jumped a good three feet into the air before disappearing into the hedge as three dogs appeared from around the corner.

It promised to be another beautiful sunset, so we walked along the headland to the coastal path for a better view. We weren’t disappointed.

In the morning there was a brisk off-shore wind, but the sun was shining. We had the hotel to ourselves at breakfast, the only other couple having left early. Back on the coastal path we set off around the headland, with foaming seas crashing onto the rocks below. We crossed a delightful little beach at Porth Joke then the more popular one at Holywell. Perran Porth beach could only be crossed at low tide so we stopped for a sandwich and a snooze while we waited for the tide to recede.

It was hard going along the beach as we were still early for the tide. Rosalind took her boots off and waded while I dodged from rock to rock, managing to keep my feet dry.

Before finding our digs up the cliff road we stopped for a yummy cream tea at a café cum restaurant and decided to return there for our evening meal. We did so and enjoyed a delicious fish pie followed by delectable rhubarb and ginger fool. The sunset was again spectacular and the late evening surfers were enjoying the rough seas. I phoned home to crow about our good fortune and was told that our lawn looked like a hayfield as there had been so much rain in Reading.

The previous day a group of Americans had passed us. We shared the same accommodation and they joined us for breakfast. A mountain of baggage was in the hall waiting to be transported to their next overnight stop. Rosalind and I preferred to travel light and carry our own kit. Anything else would be cheating.

We purloined some bacon and toast from breakfast for our lunch and left about 9.30 am. A few early morning surfers and dog walkers were about, small dots on the huge expanse of beach.

The next section of our walk passed through an area of old mine workings, deserted now but once a hive of industry. In some places the cliffs were streaked red and green with the mineral deposits.

At Perran Porth airport we watched a light aircraft doing circuits and bumps, taking off, circling then coming in again just over our heads to land. Further on, we looked down to see the sea funnelling out of a blow-hole in a spectacular manner.

At Cross Coombe we passed the Blue Hills tin mines which got their name from the underlying bluish slate breaking the surface of the ground. The mines have been reopened for the tourist industry, producing enough tin to fashion small items of jewellery.

The precarious life for Cornish mine workers is depicted in Winston Graham’s ‘Poldark’ novels. In 2015 these would be brought to life again in a popular TV series of the same name.

Reaching St Agnes Head, we paused to watch a solitary seal on the rocks below, the only one we had seen on the whole walk. Further on, we passed Wheal Coates engine house perched on top of the cliff, the shaft below reaching right down to the sea. Cornish mines produced mainly copper until the 1840s after which tin was the metal most in demand, with production peaking in 1870. Wheal Coates is now looked after by the National Trust and featured prominently in the 2015 ‘Poldark’ TV series.

At Porth Towen we sat in the sun to watch the surfers. The experts were showing off their skills and putting on an impressive show. When we finally sought out our B&B we discovered that it was at the other end of the village up the steep hill on the main road. We had to go back down for our evening meal before climbing the hill again. We walked along a track to the cliff edge to see the sunset, but it wasn’t quite as good as usual.

Next morning, we left the B&B by a gate in the back garden to join the track leading to the coast path, very thankful that we didn’t have to go all the way to the village to re-join our route. There was a thick sea mist, so the visibility wasn’t very good.

The next section of the cliff path had some very steep ups and downs, especially the descent to Sally’s Bottom and the climb back up the other side. For a short distance the gravel path was close to a main road and linked three car parks, so we were pleased to find a small path which led to a perfect picnic spot on the flower-covered cliffs overlooking Dead Man’s Cove. The mist lifted so we could see the entire bay to St Agnes Head. A peregrine falcon hovered close by; cormorants were flying to and from a rock where their young were waiting for food; the seagulls were very keen to share our picnic.

We soon reached the National Trust car park at the eastern end of Hayle beach where Rosalind’s daughter Gina picked us up and took us home to meet Mark and the grandchildren, Ellie and Barney. Two more of Rosalind’s grandchildren, Ruby and Jack were there too. Their parents, Mandy and Andrew arrived with a hearty buffet which we all enjoyed in the kitchen. Rosalind and I, being the senior citizens, occupied two of the four chairs. When Mandy’s family departed, Rosalind and I retired to the cosy caravan across the road where we had been billeted, and had a good night’s sleep.

After our breakfast Rosalind and I walked back to the car park along the beach to complete this stage of our walk, taking our shoes off and paddling most of the way. It was warm and sunny. We spent the rest of the day on the beach, lazing and watching the surfers. One competent little boy couldn’t have been more than four years old.

The evening was spent playing games with the children. We then enjoyed a tasty prawn salad before retiring for the night. Next day we walked to St Erth’s station to catch the train home.

We must go right back to August 1991 and rely on brief diary extracts for the next section of the walk, Boscastle to Morwenstow. This was completed during a family camping holiday near Millook. There was a bit of a battle between the walkers and those who preferred a more leisurely holiday!