Date: 29th May 2014 Distance walked: 15 miles (131 miles total) Height climbed: 2548 ft
Part 1: Mullion to Porthleven – 6.5 miles
Previously on Coastlining: 13 Lizard Point to Mullion Cove
It’s a relief to get off the pavement and down the footpath at the back of the Polurrian Hotel after making it back to Mullion by a two-bus trip and a brief wait at Helston Sainsbury’s early this morning. Having been unable to describe to the taxi driver on Monday’s walk just where we wanted to be picked up I have by complete chance in choice of Mullion’s residential lanes managed to end up starting where I wanted to finish three days ago with Annie and Luna. Following a curve of steps down towards Polurrian Cove I glance back along the (half mile of) coast I’ve missed: there’s Mullion Island sticking out from the coastline looking like another headland.
The cliffs here are of brownish grey, with flattish tops and slipping edges, and have been since just past the stream-cleft Predannack Wollas on the last walk. I’m back in the familiar Devonian slate mixture of the Falmouth coastline, a peachy patch on my near-indecipherable geological map that indicates interbedded slates and turbidite sandstones with lenses of limestone, conglomerate and chert and horizons of spilite. I’m not really sure what all of those are, but I know the feel and personality of this sort of cliffline and the coast it proffers. It’s not as rugged as the serpentine I’ve passed through (over?) or as bulky as the gabbro of the eastern edge of the Lizard Peninsula, and lacks the drama of the granite that I’ve yet to get to; but its gritty, cookie mixture layers and sheering slate sheets make it what it is and dress the coves that punctuate the cliff walking with a deep golden coloured rough and bitty sand.
Polurrian Cove is the first of these small beaches, deserted this early and looking a little sad with a derelict toilet block, broken rocks and debris on the beach; though flag iris has raised its standard in the stream running down to the back of the beach and the paths down to and up from the cove are bordered by blooming banks of kidney vetch in full throttle.
About half way between the coves of Polurrian and Poldhu stands the four-sided Marconi monument in front of a hedge brimming with salt-bleached thrift. A bass plaque on each side of the base tells of the Poldhu Wireless Station which stood 100 yards to the north east from 1900 to 1935 and was the base for the first transoceanic wireless telegraphy performed by the Marconi company in 1901. A repetition of the letter S was sent repeatedly and received at St John’s in Newfoundland by Gugliermo Marconi on 12-12-1901. There’s a Marconi museum at Poldhu Point, next what looks like it should be the next headland hotel but which is, I’ve been told, a really horrible care home. At least the residents have got good views.
Poldhu means black pool in Cornish, though there’s no sign of a pool of any colour when I descend down to the cove. The surf school is just opening up. I continue on up the next lump of the cliff line and head towards Gunwalloe Church Cove. Last time I was here the place was overrun with ravens shuttling in and out of holes in the gritty parts of the cliffs, tumbling in the air and picking about on the strandline and the golf course behind the beach. Ever-hopeful for a reprise I scout about for their distinctive black shapes, but all I can see are a couple of rooks pottering around. The sun’s coming out and it lights up the church of St Winwalloe that nestles with its separate carillon bell tower at the back of the beach between the cliff and the farm.
As I haven’t even had breakfast yet I stop for my breakfast sandwich at the rockier cove of Jangye-ryn on the other side of the church and cliff. I regain the path through a gate opposite the farm. It smells of cows. The sea to my left is deep blue and pale pistachio from the sand and rocks underneath and the patchy sunlight changing the colour of the water. Cormorant on a guano covered rock like an iced cake. Butterflies. Caterpillars like furry eyebrows crossing the path, then a little later one squashed. I make a detour to look at eight sheepsbit scabious gas-flame flowers glowing like the Pleiades in the clifftop grassland. The view across Mount’s Bay is visible but not clear with St Michael’s Mount, like Mullion Island, rendered by the distance to an extension of a headland. Is it my new pivot point, like the Eddystone Light on my first stretch, around which I will swing a crooked semi-circumference over the course of the next few walks.
Near Halzephron two ravens cronk hello. There are four or five more on the sandy edge of Baulk Head. The path detours round the edge of Halzephron House which I still remember as the herb farm, though now its walled garden is empty. The name means ‘Hell’s Cliff’ and although the sea looks pretty placid now there’s nothing between here and the expanse of the Atlantic. The currents along this stretch of coast are notorious. Ahead is the long and invitingly sandy stretch of Loe Bar and Porthleven Sands, a beautiful beach but deadly to swimmers. Someone died here swimming at new year. All along the coastline are memorials, many to ships wrecked. Just before Loe Pool a white marble cross to the 100 officiers and men of the HMS Anson who drowned when the ship was wrecked here on 29th December 1807. Local man Henry Trengrouse was inspired by the tragedy to invent the life saving rocket apparatus.
A line of rusting winches on the cliff by the fish cellars at Gunwalloe Fishing Cove. I pass though out-of-season heath. The smell of sand wafts up from the beach below. A sand and shingle bar cuts off the largest freshwater pool in Cornwall – Loe Pool, or just The Loe – from the sea.
The long beach looks a flat and inviting stretch all the way to Porthleven: I will walk along the shore, I think. I get down onto the sand of Loe Bar. It’s coarser sand than it looks. It’s also really hard work to walk on – as well as filling my boots. In Ancient Greece athletic races such as the original Olympic Games would be run on sand to make it more difficult. When I first heard this as a child I didn’t understand, thinking of the hard, flat, damp compacted sand of a sand bank at low tide. I change my mind about walking along the beach to Porthleven and ascend the path above the beach on the other side of Loe Bar. At the edge of the beach the cliff look fresh cut through vertically, exposing the layers sand-and-stone topsoil and a shaley mass below.
The skies look heavy by the time I reach Porthleven: a granite grey harbour village under iron grey cloud. The church tower at the base of the outer harbour’s pier is familiar from photos of it being battered by tower-high waves during winter storms. Warning signs – danger of death, do not enter pier in high seas. The tide is fairly low, boats are on the mud within the inner harbour, a land rover driven right down off the slipway.
The village is busy with tourists. It’s half term and Open Studios for the local artists – of which there are plenty in Porthleven. Fishing doesn’t provide the income that the tourists buying artisanal goods do. It’s pleasant but I don’t want to be in a bustling fishing village now so I make my escape, to-ing and fro-ing about whether or not to use the public toilets whilst I’m there. I don’t but fairly soon after I make it out of the village I wish I had. This ends up propelling me a lot faster along the next stretch of coastline as there are not only no places of habitation between here and Praa Sands, but no bushes, trees or suitable walls behind which to hide.
I’ve split this post into two, partly due to length, and partly due to the nature of the landscape rendering it vey much a walk of two parts. Check back tomorrow for Porthleven to Perranuthnoe…
[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 reached Marsland Mouth where a small river enters the Atlantic Ocean and I stepped back into Devon.
Why? Because it’s there. Because I am here. Because I can, and because I want to.
What was gained from the expedition? Unquantifiable experiences, an unimaginable amount of mud on my boots, clothes and face, and several thousand photos of sea views, rocks and flowers.
Other than that, who knows? Watch this space.