This walk had many similarities to our recent ones and not just because it was along a cliff. It included cliff, hills and flat; tarmac, path and sand-walking; a clear objective – Godrevy lighthouse – which could be seen almost from the beginning of the walk which ‘simply’ needed reeling in. ‘Reeling in’ does not mean that one always walks towards the objective. To the lighthouse!
Parking outside St Ives – high parking fees are not an alluring attraction – we followed a lovely bit of cliff path before entering the charming delights of St Ives.
It is difficult to believe that two such contrasting towns as St Ives and Newquay can be so physically close and yet so different. St Ives is, of course, filled with alluring signs to artists’ studios and aquamarine and turquoise gift shops, but its architecture is generally of a good quality, granite and robust.
It is impossible to understand the light in St Ives. Like Scilly, it is simply different: clearer and more translucent. Listing the possible constituents does not point to an obvious solution. Cornwall generally benefits from clean, clear air, scrubbed and salted by the Atlantic. Other places have golden sand allowing the sea to take on its azure clarity. Other places have sheltered shallow waters. None of these is unique and so it has to be a combination of them: the protected east-facing bay of shallow sandy-filled water may just help to reflect the light back up into the sky to give St Ives its special soft light.
Whatever the cause, walking into St Ives can sometimes feel like walking into a painting. Quite apart from the bright sun and acres of golden sand, it is hard not to be impressed by St Ives, in or out of season.
The visitors – or tourists – ambling along the quayside, wondering how to ‘use’ the town now that they have arrived, wondering whether to give into the blandishments of the ‘boat trip to see the seals’. It is undoubtedly a tourist trap but thankfully only a few shops let the side down and hint at the slippery slope towards Newquay.
A visit to St Ia’s church was essential, a gentle smell of incense filling our nostrils as we made our way southwards towards Porthminster beach and Carbis Bay, Godrevy lighthouse beckoning us on.
The path here was a mix of dried mud and rough lane, thankfully relieved of any further tarmac, as we made our way through lush greenery. On one side we had a variety of ‘more exclusive houses’ bordering the sea, and the railway line, surely one of the most scenic short journeys in the country. The views were constantly amazing.
Passing Carbis Bay, the sands of Porth Kidney stretched out, seemingly continuous with Hayle Sands. Only a small blue line seemed to separate the two.
The St Michael’s Way joined us as we approached Lelant golf course where the managers had erected various bossy notices about their right to bombard us with random golf balls, warning us to keep firmly to the path as though this might protect us. The thought of the important St Uny church drawing us onwards.
There are moments when one wishes for some stepping stones or a small ferry. This was one of them for the next couple of miles were eminently forgettable. Lelant turned out to have some lovely granite C18 and C19 houses reflecting its former importance as a small port on this now-silted up estuary.
The tramp, for tramp it was, around the saltings was pretty uninspiring, tarmac, traffic and a decayed landscape contrasting to the views we had been experiencing so far. The nadir was the entrance into Hayle itself, along a clinker-covered path towards an ultra-modern supermarket replacing the former Harvey’s factory at the centre of the town.
Escaping Hayle, we started the long sandy path through the Towans, the distant view of St Uny cheering us and reminding us of the missing stepping stones.
The Towans, a great expanse of grassy sand dunes, has been populated by holiday shacks of all sorts and sizes. Where these are unique they have a certain charm but sadly great estates of them have emerged which are less acceptable.
Signage is essential here and has been well done with standing stone monoliths indicating the way in a landscape which looks positively extra-terrestrial. We had plenty of time to speculate as to how Mexico or Upton Towans got their names.
Our only minor complaint was that the marked distances were distinctly Cornish. Initially signed as being 4 miles, it was still 4 miles about half an hour later and adding in the value on the reverse made the total distance around 5.5 miles. Maybe they were as lost as we were.
We did enjoy the wildlife, though. The flower species of the walk was undoubtedly valerian, available in its white, red and strong red versions. Above us birds sang and a kestrel went hunting, undisturbed by the distant kite-surfers.
By now Godrevy light appeared within reach, clear in the azure sea. We eventually emerged from this sand-waste to discover Gwithian car park from where it was an easy step, with the tide still out, onto the beach and along the strand to the NT car park.
We had covered a distance of about 12.5 miles – although the gps said it was further – in five hours of fairly steady walking and felt we needed a rest. We had also visited two churches: St Ives and St Uny and planned to pop into Gwithian on the way home. The memories of the blues – ‘improbably blue sea’ (Pevsner) – and golds of the day will stay with us for some time.