Date: Monday 2nd June 2014 Distance walked: 6 miles Total distance: 143.5 miles
I’m struggling to remember the last time I slept in a room with a sea view. Outside my window in the farmhouse above Lamorna where I’m staying for the night there are just three small fields between me and the cliff edge. For the next few days I’ll be taking on the coastline of West Penwith – the stub end of the toe of Cornwall and the most south-westerly edge of mainland Britain; staying overnight at strategic points between here and St Ives to minimise the time wasted travelling to and from home. I’ve been looking forward to this bit. Westest Cornwall is one of my favourite parts and I can’t wait to get a close up view from on foot.
Arriving in Penzance by train after this afternoon and I felt like I was on familiar territory, having found myself there three times within a week having only really been there properly for the first time last Monday. I retraced my steps, this time without the cardboard cutlass and frock coat, out of the station, past the harbour with the boats keeled on mud at low tide, over the swing bridge, past the Dolphin Inn and along Western Promenade. It feels a lot longer than a week since I was here for the attempt on the world record of the most pirates in one place. Here and there a sticker from the event is still stuck to the pavement, the bunting’s still up, and the odd Jolly Roger’s still flapping dejectedly about.
I had to pause for a rest by the skate park at Wherry Town at the other end of the prom. I’d already delivered the bulk of the belongings that I’ll need for the next few days ahead to this evening’s destination (hence the detour before yesterday’s walk) but I stupidly decided I could carry a few bits, including my not-so-portably-weighted laptop with me today. I’d barely gone half a mile and already it was seeming like a less than great idea. I adjusted my layers of clothing – it was a warmer afternoon than it had promised to be – tried to rejig my backpack, and headed on, trying to avoid the promenade repair works.
Newlyn was fishy on an industrial scale: not fishy and quaint like Cadgwith. This was mechanised, warehouse-sized fish operatives: an ice factory whirring; the freshly sluiced, concreted fish market. Overhead the sky was dramatic looking back towards Penzance and beyond to Cudden Point: deep layers of three dimensional cloud with dark bases. A commemorative statue to the Cornish fishermen who have died at sea looks like he’s about to cast a rope into the oblivion with his backdrop of grim cloud. There was a pile of ice on the slipway. Rows of fishing vessels. A yacht bald of paint. The tide low but rising.
The path out of Newlyn wasn’t difficult but tedious as it followed the road and then branched off along the shoreline following a concreted cycle way. I can’t decide if the artwork is a mural or graffiti. Not waving but… inscribed one artist on a patch that’s definitely unofficial. I, too, have always been much further out than anyone ever realises…
A disused quarry now appears to be full off caravans. Then towards Mousehole the gardens got prettier. Lupins. Roses. Vegetable allotments. One with at least seven different sorts of scarecrow, which, when I uploaded the photo to facebook, the face recognition technology kept insisting I tag as my friends. I could see St Clements Isle looking more like a low shelf of rock from onland. A concrete-squared ‘Rock Pool’ like a version of the Penzance Lido downscaled for crabs and shrimp. Around the next corner Mousehole’s photogenic harbour appeared, sandy at low tide, witth radial lines of the anchor cables like spokes of a half wheel where the tide drained out the narrow harbour entrance. A boat was having its rust-coloured sail hoisted in the middle of the harbour even though the rising tide was still feet away.
I was hot so I decided it was high time for an ice cream, although I kept walking because I wanted to get off the road. I struggled uphill out of the village until finally I came to a barely legible waymarker stone topped with moss and surrounded by arum lilies. At one point it might have borne the word LAMORNA. I took the hint and the footpath. A pair of ponies were scratching each other’s backs in a very satisfying way in the neighbouring field. Naturalised fuchsia dangled red and purple flower-drops in the hedgerows. The walking was harder going than the flat paved way of the Penzance-Newlyn conurbation, but easier too. I’m always more at ease off-road. The stones underfoot were granite now. There were porphyries in the steps. I’d mistaken the irregular hatched lines on the map of this part of the coastline as coastal houses instead of the mass of scored blocks of granite that they actually depict.
A runner passed me. Really? I thought, trying to shoulder my backpack into a more comfortable position and thinking for the umpteenth time today how glad I am not to be carrying all my baggage the whole way round Cornwall. I discovered it was better without the chest strap, allowing me to move my head without my neck aching and for the bag to sit better into the curve of my back. A stream coursing down between the rocks crossed and then joined the path before trickling down off the cliff. At a bend in the path one boulder was the perfect height for a seat despite being in the middle of the track. It then occurred to me how much lighter my bag would be once I’d used up some of the tea. The lid of my thermos is getting scratched from several years of being placed in nooks in rocks and rested on various terrains around Cornwall and the rest of Britain. But that’s a good thing, like a map getting dog-eared from frequent use, wrinkled from walking in the rain. Better a scratched thermos on a coastal rock than a pristine one in the cupboard! Better boots heavy with mud than a mind heavy with woe. Besides, my thermos is one of those floral enamelled ones, it’s far too pretty to stay hidden in a cupboard.
From Penzance the line of the coast follows a southerly course, leaning south-south-east between Newlyn and Penlee Point, and after Mousehole heading south-south-west towards the point of Carn-du. The last section before Carn-du is groved with monterry pines and copses of trees: Kemyel Crease. It is a landmarker used by sailors, the dark mass of trees clearly defining this corner and differentiating it from other parts of the coastline. It is also a nature reserve as its unusual vegetation provides a refuge for wildlife on a typically more exposed part of the coast.
Out of the woods and up. Shallow steps hewn into the cliff slope up, up onto Carn-du. The wind hit from the south-west. I made for the shelter of the tor-like boulders on top of the point, and was surprised at how close Lamorna Cove looked, round in the crook of the coast, with Tater-du lighthouse peeping over the next headland, low to the shoreline and much closer to Lamorna than it looks on the map. I could feel droplets of mizzle, and beyond Tater-du what little that ought to have been visible of the sea horizon was thickening and blurring. You can tell the weather by the colour of the sea – and specifically if you can’t see the sea, it’s because the water’s as much in the sky as not. Time to put the leggings back on, and the jacket, and head on, way down to Lamorna, and into the Weather. Welcome to the Far West, I thought. Pennwydh agaz dynergh.
The path cleaves close to the brink, granite building blocks with hairy lichen skins appearing balanced, the distinctive piled-up mass of blocks filling up the space between sea and vegetation. An escaped rose was strikingly magenta in the wayside as I passed below a the rubble of a disused quarry tip. The mizzle thickened to drizzle, the cloud caught between the cliffs on either side of the cove. I wound my way through dripping woodland thick with the scent of may blossom, elderflowers and damp earth. Cuckoo spit clotted stems. Roots tangled path. Ferns unfurled. Lamorna Valley looks and feels how it sounds: a storybook vale of trees and twists, streams ribboning through, the rain held off by the thick canopy, sounding heavier each time the wind stirred the branches sending showers of droplets down through layers of leaves. I had no idea where I was besides heading in the general direction I knew I needed to be, but I was enjoying myself so much. I followed one twist in the path to a footbridge leading right up to a beautiful Arts and Crafts house nestled right by the river. I took another turn that eventually lead through a gate onto the road. It was only on closing the gate behind me that I discovered a large sign on it saying Private Keep Out. Well it’s all very well telling me that on the way out of the woods…
Tregurnow Farm is right up on the hillside on the western edge of Lamorna. I followed the hairpin of the road up and struck out across the countryside through a high-sided track pink-hedged with foxgloves and campion. It seems an appropriate place to be staying: Tre-Gurnow – tre-kernow – Cornwall Farm. Just after I arrived, dried off, and got settled in my room a fox appeared in the field below my window, brindled and earth-toned, with large dark ears and fluffy tail. He undulated across the furrows like a piece of animated earth. I spent the longest I’ve ever done watching a fox through my binoculars as he bumbled around with his head up in the air, weaving in and out somewhat in the manner of a cat on the skulk, stopping every now and then to eat a bit of grass. Beyond the fox field the farmland slopes away, two fields, scrub, cliff, sea. Across the bay the length of the Lizard Peninsula a dull line on the horizon.
It’s dark now – the proper dark of the middle of nowhere. I won’t need to draw the curtains tonight. There’d be an unpolluted view of millions of stars if it were a clear sky. As it is the scattering of coast-lights and those of the few vessels on the sea are all that breaks the black. A moment ago a sudden flash of light through the window startled me. I’ve just realised it’s the lighthouse on Lizard Point, beaming out its full intensity across 16 nautical miles of Mount’s Bay, as intense as someone standing outside my window in the fox field with a searchlight. Astonishing, exciting, uplifting. A light shines in the darkness; and the darkness did not comprehend it. Maybe I will need those curtains closed after all.
[coastlining [′kōst‚līn·iŋ] – the process of obtaining data from which the coastline can be charted]