Date: 29th May 2014 Distance walked: 15 miles (131 miles total) Height climbed: 2548 ft
Part 2: Porthleven to Perranuthnoe – 8.5 miles
Previously on Coastlining: 14.1 Mullion to Perranuthnoe (Mullion to Porthleven)
Leaving Porthleven I appear to cross an invisible threshold. I perceive a change in the landscape. It is rougher, higher, more ‘remote’. Slate faced hedges cushioned with thrift. Grasses and plantains in flower. Kidney vetch, birdsfoot trefoil. Domes of wild carrot blooms like those brooch bouquets carried by brides who think that gems and paste can outdo real flowers. Foxglove spires spiking up from a cover of bracken below the path. Untouchable beaches below at Parc Trammel Cove and Porth Sulinces. The bulk of Trewavas Head in the distance, with its ruined engine houses perched on the edge. A seagull on the wing suddenly appears from below the cliff edge.
This is what it’s all about: with the sea to my left and a skylark up in the subconscious space above my right shoulder. Or a stonechat, clacking his pebbles together. I make time to sit on a tump of (non-flowering) thrift on the outer corner of the path’s hedge to take it all in. It can become a continuous moving backdrop to constant striding – I know that’s what I’m here for, the walking, but it’s important sometimes to pause, absorb. Feel the landscape as well as see it. Sometimes I remind myself too much of Alice Oswald’s ‘Slender Rush’:
… And for God’s sake where is she where on earth is she rushing?
Further and further by waysides, heaths and woodland tracts growing thinner and thinner.
It’s interesting here: different from that which I have seen before, although I seem to say this, think this, every week, every trek I take I exclaim over the attractiveness of a coastline unlike any stretch along which I have previously strode. Secret beaches, hard to get to. Steep steps down to the shore at Tremearne Par – but it’s a long walk from habitation or even a road to get there. A signpost like a road sign at where the path comes down from Tremearne Farm: Rinsey 1½ Praa Sands 2½. I’m making good headway. Brown and gold broad-striped rocks like layered fudge sliced through at Trequean Zawn. Then the bulk of the granite intrusion making up Trewavas Head: cracked grey crags with ravens perched on them like the textbook definition of rugged or remote. Rope lines and the orange crash-hats of a bunch of climbers in one corner of the rock face where bare rock walls upwards from the lower green slopes of the cliff.
Green bracken covering the steep incline at Trequean Cliff, the path a Z up the slope, warm and hard work. I begin to realise why this stretch of path has been graded strenuous. Old bluebell spikes underneath the thick green pile of the bracken carpet. The shells of old engine houses on Trewavas Head are perched right on the edge. There is something of the sandcastle about them, the cuboid shape broken off at the top, like a sandcastle that hasn’t quite made it out of the bucket properly. Inside shafts are cordoned off but uncapped. They are elegant buildings, somehow, their remains in the landscape not picturesque, maybe sublime in a sort of industrial way: the ‘danger’ element being their industriality, the hardship and fear of the physical mining work combined with the position right on the edge of the cliff. The grey granite extrusion corner the turn in the cliff: a pillar with a triangular head like a bird.
A single dwelling is perched right on the tip of Rinsey Head. I’m usually drawn to the remote locations, the ambitious houses way out of the way but I couldn’t imagine living there. It looks so exposed, deep caves in the cliff below, no trees or shelter between the house and the south-westerlies off the Atlantic. I remembered Rinsey Cove from a holiday in Cornwall when I was twelve: this was the nearest beach besides Praa Sands. I was drawn to the idea of a cove, having holidayed for much of my early life on shingle and saltmarsh flats with a pebble bank beach and sand and mudflats exposed at low tide. A cove was inviting, rocky, exciting. I remember a long walk down which became a longer walk up the cliff path afterwards. Large rocks covered with barnacles. My mum didn’t like it, or found it a bit tiring; I seem to remember its being quite hot.
I don’t go right down this time, not least because I’m on the lookout for a suitable place in which to relieve myself. So far on the coast path I seem to have been able to define ‘wildness’ by number of places – or lack of – to go for a wee. Everywhere is so exposed and I’ve such a clear view of the path and the land around both ahead and behind that I’ll just have to hold it in. If nothing else it meant I get quite a lot of ground covered this afternoon. Before I realise it I’ve nearly reached Hendra Beach and I haven’t stopped for lunch. I do so somewhere around Lesceave before heading down onto the shore.
The cliffs below Hendra are soft and layered: it’s clear they were freshly worn back by the winter’s storms. The sand of the beach is dotted with pebbles: tiny granite boulders like geological nougat. I can’t help picking them up as they snag my glance, attracted by their large rectangular crystals in contrasting colours. The word porphyry rolls around my head. I’ve got a gathering collection of stones picked up from the coastline so far at home. Whenever I walk I always seem to end up with pockets full of stones. Better the weight of stones in my pockets I think, than a weight of worry in my mind. I realise I’m philosophising. Or trying to be Thomas Clark.
Praa Sands is a potential stopping point as it’s one of the few places that (in addition to having public toilets – finally!) I can catch a bus with relative ease. But I’ve made good time and it feels too early to go back. It’s started spotting with rain, but I’ve got into my stride and so I set off up past the few houses of Sydney Cove – including one with a vegetable garden displaying a very individual deterrent to trespassers/veggie thieves – until I reach a bench where I’ll have a cup of tea. Sitting down is a mistake – I’m instantly more tired, but my head says keep on going. So I keep on going.
Suddenly I’m high up. Pairs of fulmars are tucked in to the creases of the cliff at Hoe Point. Honeysuckle in the hedgerows. Woody nightshade. Wild mustard’s acid yellow flowers look striking against the petrol blue of the sea. Native wild cabbage with ID markers, apparently part of a biological study by someone at my old university. (I followed the link on the markers when I got home but with little success. If anyone wishes to enlighten me, comments below as usual!)
Across the next curve of the coast a line of smoke rises from an old house at what must be Prussia Cove. I think I’ve spotted another potential future home to add the growing list of desirable locations I’ve collected along the coast so far. It’s actually a private estate, a Victorian complex built for the then Archdeadon of Cornwall’s retirement, but never fully completed due to the outbreak of war in the early twentieth century. The coast path skirts the main house, Porth-en-Alls, and I find myself wondering about secret passages to the cove below. However the house seems much older than it actually is, partly due to its neo-Elizabethan Arts and Crafts design and also due to the history and folklore attached to Prussia Cove. The area is named for the infamous eighteenth century wrecker and smuggler John Carter, nicknamed the King of Prussia after Frederick the Great of Prussia whom he was said to resemble. With its four concealed coves it is exactly the sort of setting you imagine as a child as the base for such a maritime miscreant, although, in typically Cornish fashion the King of Prussia was renowned for his honesty in the ‘profession’ and is recorded as a devout Methodist.
Having walked this far I’m not sure what I’ve committed myself to, as in order to get home I have to get back up from the coast to the main road to catch the bus back to Falmouth. Consulting the map I see I can take any number of paths up from Prussia Cove to the village of Rosudgeon on the A394. It’s about a mile away, not far, but if I head up now I’ll have a long wait for the next bus. If I continue round Cudden Point and head on round towards Perranuthnoe I can see I’ll have less of a walk from the coast to the main road, and I’ll use up some of the time before the next bus in getting there. After all, I’ve walked this far…
It starts raining properly as I round Cudden Point, a spiky, rocky finger that sticks out into Mount’s Bay. Hood up. Zip up. Not wet enough for the waterproof trousers though. Although technically I’ve been walking the coast of Mount’s Bay all day it is only after crossing this point that I feel I’m really in the area deserving that label. I have a clear view of the triangular shape St Michael’s Mount now. Well, when I say clear, I mean I can see where it is. In this weather the view is anything but clear. I don’t mind though. This is Cornish weather: they grey and the damp suit the coastline somehow. Beyond the tidal island I can see the paler line of Penzance and Newlyn on the grey shape of the coast. To the west, farthest to the west, the end point of the land out beyond Mousehole must be either Carn-du or maybe Tater-du beyond Lamorna. It feels quite dramatic to now be within view of the farthest western reaches of not only Cornwall but the whole of the south west of the UK. The rain shroud just serves to preserve its secrets for a little longer.
Actually I’m quite wet now. The point between not being very wet at all and realising that my jeans are soaked to the point that putting on waterproof trousers would only keep more water in than out seems to have eluded me. I’ve also realised that my jacket is not as weather resistant as it claims to be: the zip is letting the rain soak through to the lining in a manner somewhat disconcerting for a so-called waterproof coat.
Just past a field of either yellow turnips or swedes – depending on whether you are Cornish or not (basically the ones that go in pasties) – I take another of my accidental detours and reach the village of Perranuthnoe via a slightly inland path rather than by Perran Beach. The path crosses the road, marked with a familiar SWCP waymarker that tells me it continues onwards and is only two miles to Marazion. Or half a mile to the main road and a wait for the bus. I genuinely consider going another two miles and meeting the bus at Marazion cemetery until I realise that I am really tired now, as well as pretty wet. I wonder if there is a pub in the village whilst I wait before heading up to the road for the bus. I find a cafe that is just closing so I make do with watching a baby bunny from the bus shelter on the A394. When it comes it’s a double decker with comfy seats. I sit upstairs and steam in the warmth all the way back to Falmouth, relishing the fact that I’m seeing almost as much of the inner labyrinth of Cornwall by the bus routes as I am walking the edge. But that’s another story…
[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 probably several thousand photos of sea views, rocks and flowers.
Other than that, who knows? Watch this space.