We returned to the coast path after a week showing a friend St Agnes beacon (and avoiding some horrid weather). It promised to be a lovely day and we set off from Gorran Haven in bright sun with the sea absolutely flat and translucently blue.
We had rather taken to Gorran Haven which, although cramped at the water’s edge, seemed a friendly place.
The books told us that the walk was going to be ‘Moderate’, followed by ‘Strenuous’ and finally ‘Easy’. The path certainly started ‘Moderate’ and we enjoyed the walk towards Turbot Point, walking on rolling cliffs and thinking how lucky we were. This is sometimes a mistake.
The first delight was the little complex of houses on Chapel Point. Completed in 1935-38 by architect John Campbell in an Arts and Crafts style, they were intended as the first of a small development which was interrupted by WWII. He was about to get planning permission for more when he tragically died and the development halted.
The three houses with their accompanying trees appear to have their own private beaches (not so, apparently) and fill the view for some time.
Before long we were dropping down into Portmellon, now effectively a suburb of Mevagissey but actually a lovely little cove of its own.
Local boatbuilder, Percy Mitchell, had his yard here and the shed and slipway are still visible. The latter was installed to stop him lifting boats over the harbour wall, a form of launching which had unfortunately consequences for it was not unknown for a boat to be brought rapidly back into the boatyard immediately after its launching.
We spotted Porthgwarra cottage in Portmellon and wondered whether there was a Portmellon Cottage in Porthgwarra (we did not remember one) and hoped that the postman was not dyslexic.
Around the point and Mevagissey itself appeared to view. It is something of a mini St Ives and we tried hard not to think how many of the houses were second homes. Some were in need of a bit of TLC but others wore their recent coats of paint with pride, their parking places carefully guarded by chains, ropes and bossy notices.
The streets are painfully narrow – certainly too narrow for many of the 4x4s that were trying to wind they ways through and we were just thankful that we had not visited at peak season.
Leaving Meva, we noted the interesting rock formation on Penare Point which is similar to the ‘on end’ slate floors in some of the churches we have been visiting. Before we could enjoy it to its fullest extent, we saw Pentewan in front of us. Oh dear.
The low land behind a lovely wide sandy beach has been colonised by a large campsite of tents and touring caravans. This is one of those places on the coast path where it is clear that the local landowners dislike walkers for the path has to skirt the inland side of the campsite, threatened by noisy notices about the site, and thus the beach, being for ‘residents only’.
The little village of Pentewan itself lies just beyond the campsite and is actually rather charming, if you ignore the inevitable attempts to attract campers with signs saying ‘bucket of chips all day’ and the like.
Built in the early years of the C19, at much the same time as Charlestown, this was another attempt to create a small harbour. Sadly, it continued to silt up and was finally abandoned in 1945.
A particular joy was an ancient sign which said ‘Car FREE Park’. Now where has anyone seen one of those in Cornwall in recent years?
The path leads up the hill past a small terrace which looks suspiciously earlier than its 1820 date. At one end of this stands All Saints church. Thankfully – confirmed by a resident – some trees block the view over the campsite.
We had faced a few nasty ups and downs but thought the worst was over. We were wrong. Despite the fact that Black Head, our chosen lunch stop, was getting close, we did not factor in two or three steep coombes which had thoughtfully been provided with steps to make even the strong-hearted go weak at the knees.
We made our way onward, however, noting the lovely little cottage at Hallane which is a useful stand-in if the Hammick one is not available. It had a tiny stream through its garden and beach pretty much of its own.
Eventually, we reached Black Head in time to collapse for some lunch. The wind was getting up and the earlier clear skies had been replaced with cloud and its was beginning to get close.
The fortifications of the Iron Age fort were very visible, as were some later pieces of iron which will need further investigation.
We delighted in the tasteful and well-designed 8ft monument to A L Rowse, aware that we were entering his part of the county.
Our pains were not over, however, for the ups and downs continued along the north-south coast to the extent that we were beginning to wonder where the ‘Easy’ bit was due to start.
Eventually we emerged on Porthpean sands which was familiar territory. The British were doing what they do on beaches: playing with balls, hesitantly going near the water, using canoes and sleeping in what remained of the sun.
The path had more delights in store for we reached the top of the first hill to find a sign saying ‘Footpath closed. Dangerous tree. Here is a detour of 1.5 miles.’ They did not mention that it was all on roads.
As it happened, the tree was right in front of us and some previous walkers had thoughtfully tramped a way through and so we ignored the signs (which were not replicated on the far side). Our suspicions were aroused for the path alongside the houses above Du Porth has been a matter of dispute in the past. We did not like the houses which had that selective air which is so foreign to the Cornish landscape. We were not much impressed by their gardens either: dull lawns mowed to look like golf course greens and unimaginatively-placed brash hydrangeas.
Passing Rashleigh’s small coastal battery, in an overgrown copse, the path dropped down in Charlestown itself. We tried not to think too hard of the Ondein Line, Poldark (both versions) and almost every Rosamunde Pilcher film that was ever made. But it is undeniably scenic.
The tide was out and we walked across the small lock bridge, saving ourselves the tramp up to the end and back, and set off uphill to our waiting car.
Fate had two last joys in store. The first was some original pilchard pressing points in the side of a building. Pieces of timber would be slotted into these, a barrel filled with pilchards set under it and a weight hung on the far end to press the pilchards down.
The other was the locked and barred public toilets, not the first that we had seen on the walk. Remember this if you do this walk. Cornwall Council prefers you to cross your legs, grit your teeth and smile: or use a bush.
We had walked just over ten miles in about four and half miles and had ‘gained’ over 1300ft. Parts were definitely ‘strenuous’.