Date: 29th March 2014 Distance walked: 7.6 miles Height climbed: 1808 feet
The coast path is slithery after a night’s rain. After several false-starts involving trains, weather, and my very nearly not getting out of bed in time on the morning itself I have finally made it back to Portwrinkle at half nine in the morning, two weeks after I originally arrived there on foot that gloriously sunny March afternoon. It’s overcast and there were spots of rain on the train windows as I travelled; but it looks like it’s going to brighten up. I nearly slip over looking over my shoulder for a skylark I can hear but can’t place. I am high above the shore, walking between blossoming blackthorn and verdant hedgerows that promise a lot more flowers quite soon. Nettles and docks by the footpath. A thickly whorled foxglove rosette. Stitchworts mostly closed with their heads weighed down with raindrops. Sheep in a field all in a line on the horizon to my right; and to my left, glimpses of grey and purple coves, the sand smooth as freshly laid tarmac.
Even I am all in grey: greeny-grey mac, grey jeans, grey boots under the mud. I hope I don’t get lost, injured or stuck, because the chances of me being visible to a search and rescue helicopter are pretty slim in this coastal camouflage.
Then the slate tidal platform: a rainbow of different greys, purplish to start with, then turquoise and ochre, veined with white and red quartz ribbons.
I walk the strand line to Seaton, keeping well clear of the cliffs which look like they’re made of soil rather than rock. A lot of it’s all over the beach, mixing in with the rough grade sand. A fallen tree. A bit of rubble. A chunk of unbroken wall like someone’s just kicked it in and it’s toppled rather than disintegrating. Then a surprise river cutting through the beach at Seaton, hidden in the gradient of the sand until you’re right upon it, flowing deeper and faster than it looks.
Up the road then, when I get back in the open, I get my first view of Looe Island looking much closer than I was expecting, shortly before a fence closes off my route where active landslips have sent the coast path seawards. The path has been rerouted along the road for a good stretch until Millendreath. I am tempted by an honesty box produce stall at a farm: duck eggs, purple sprouting broccoli, daffodils, rhubard… except I’d have to carry it. And also rhubarb is supposed to be one of the worst foods you can eat for arthritis, and the way my knees were creaking on those mossy steps up through the fern-frilled wood from Seaton I should probably start taking more care. And possibly more cod liver oil.
Millendreath is dull and uninspiring under an overcast sky: a cold private beach and rows and rows of garage-sized chalets like concrete caravans the same colour as the shore. A billboard shows the beach in better weather, highlighting the resort as a revolutionary regeneration of a coastal village. It’s hardly surprising that rural deprivation is an issue: this is the forgotten corner of Cornwall, not really the Cornwall of the postcards and holiday brochures, and it feels very far away from everything.
The whole place makes me feel a little dispirited until I round a corner behind a cube of Grand Designs-style house and see the white birds nesting in the crannies in the cliff face. Fulmars, maybe? Yes: there are their little ‘noses’ that seen stuck on to the top of their beaks, and they make a different sort of sound to gulls. I think of St Kilda, where fulmar oil was a go-to medicinal treatment for most ailments from burns to infant typhus, with varying success. A notice on the fence informs me that until the 1970s fulmar breeding sights were confined to St Kilda, this sight at (confusingly) Chough Rock being one of the first fulmar nesting sights in Cornwall.
As I reach East Looe a cloud of seagulls is swirling and calling above the harbour entrance below me. A sailing school is getting ready to launch their red-sailed vessels from the beach as I make my way down the complex cliff steps.
The river is studded with orange buoys and flanked by fishing boats; the promenade on either bank lined with Victorian lamp posts and frequent benches. Out by the harbour entrance a life-sized bronze of a one-eyed bull seal, ‘Nelson’, lies permanently on a rock. A plaque tells of how he frequented the south-east coast of Cornwall before settling on Looe Island as his home:
In life NELSON was a splendid ambassador for his species; now, in bronze, he serves as a potent symbol of the rich marine environment and a permanent reminder for the need for it to be cherished.
[coastlining [′kōst‚līn·iŋ] – the process of obtaining data from which the coastline can be charted]
In the spring of 2014 I set out to walk the coast of Cornwall. I started at Plymouth, crossed the River Tamar, which separates Cornwall and Devon, and began walking west along the south coast of the most south-westerly peninsula of the British Isles, and then east along the north coast until, 300 miles later, I will hopefully reach Marsland Mouth where a small river enters the Atlantic Ocean and I will step back into Devon.
Why? Because it’s there. Because I am here. Because I can, and because I want to.
What will be gained from the expedition? Unquantifiable experiences, an unimaginable amount of mud on my boots, clothes and face, and probably several thousand photos of sea views, rocks and flowers.
Other than that, who knows? Watch this space.
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the journey of three hundred miles starts with a single step… off the Tamar Ferry at Cremyll in south east Cornwall, through Mount Edgcumbe to Kingsand and Cawsand, on to Rame Head and beyond