After an August off enjoying the company of guests we were feeling in need of a good walk and chose a wonderful sunny September day to re-start our journey.
We started in Polruan with a last look across the water at Fowey with Place and St Fimbarrus looking peaceful in the warm sun. We set our faces eastwards and rounded the headland, away from civilisation.
The book had assured us that this would be ‘strenuous … a connoisseur’s section: it is quiet and remote; it is scenic, with beautiful large sandy bays and smaller coves plus impressive headlands … it is quite hard work …’ We agree with all of that and underline the last bit. A friend had warned us of some ‘killer coombes’. Put simply: you have to like steps.
For the first part of the walk, the view westward was familiar: the striped landmark on Gribbin Head and the stretch of St Austell Bay to Black Head and the Nare had been with us for many miles. Ahead of us was Lantic Bay which lay with its two little beaches completely peaceful at the base of Pencarrow Head.
We braced ourselves as we approached West Coombe, expecting the worst but simply found the delights of Palace Cove and Parson’s Cove, muttering ‘smugglers’ under our breaths. Lansallos church winked at us behind some trees but the extra 1km there and back early on what was to be a long walk seemed too much to bear.
At East Coombe, we began to learn what the path could do. Steps down and up again stretched in front of us. It was a long and slow climb up the steps on the other side, past a large landmark indicating an offshore rock. The bell buoy in the distance tolled ominously as we ascended the staircase.
The going became a bit easier thereafter but with regular stretches of lung-busting steps. As the path began to turn the corner, we expected Polperro to begin to appear. The only hint was the occasional fishing boat packed with tourists which seemed to disappear into the cliffs. A small white marker on a distant rock suggested that something might be hidden away.
The entry into Polperro was splendid: sudden and surprising. One moment there was nothing other than a gradually widening path, the next the full glory of a quintessential white Cornish fishing village appeared in front of us.
Like many such places, it is mandatory to take the same photograph as everyone else from the same vantage point. None of them can capture the sounds: the screech of the seagulls demanding food and attention, drowning out the call of the boatman, gathering their flocks of tourists.
Polperro thinks of itself as the former capital of smuggling thanks to the history of Zephaniah Job, the so-called Smugglers’ Banker. His story has been told, re-told, embellished and swallowed by many an eager – or gullible – journalist or presenter, usually in return for some liquid refreshment. We did not add ourselves to the list but simply enjoyed the sun.
After a break for lunch we headed eastwards once again, thankful to be leaving some of our fellow human beings, some of whom we suspected would have found the going well beyond their capabilities.
Almost immediately we found ourselves on a diversion away from the cliff route. The ‘elves’ had arrived before us, declared the cliff unsafe and had created a diversion around a smart and exclusive-looking house onto an immensely dull, straight and steep metalled road which we followed down into the behind Talland beach. The air was blue with imprecations at the presumed selfishness of the owners and the lack of initiative being shown by the authorities in restoring the original route.
A short diversion to Talland church was well worth the effort. It is only a field beyond the path and had much of interest, not least a tower which appeared to be half buried in the hillside.
Rounding the corner, Looe or St George’s island came into view: once the home of Benedictine monks and one of the fabled arrival sites of Jesus and Joseph of Arimathea.
In the distance the ghostly outline of Rame Head reminded us how close we were to the end of our south coast journey. This bay will be our companion for the rest of our trip.
It would be good to say that the entrance into Looe was as much of a surprise and delight as that to Polperro but sadly not. Marine Drive through Hannafore stretches like a white housing estate transplanted from Surbiton with sadly modern houses, smart lawns and the inevitable tennis, bowls and boules club which invited blazers and smart dresses.
East Looe as seen by ‘Nelson’We tolerated, rather than enjoyed it, especially as the pavement was littered with sun-worshippers in deck chairs, who had spilled a few yards out of their cars, removed clothing and turned too much bare flesh to the afternoon sun like so many beached walruses.
The twin towns of West and East Looe are not in the same league as Polperro and are strangely modern. We sat discussing architectural mistakes as we drank a restorative coffee on the west side of the bridge, pleased at the distance covered and the evidence that we had not lost the use of our legs over the last four weeks.
We had covered 12.1 miles in 4:45 hours for a height gain of 1515ft. On the way home we visited Lanteglos by Fowey, hidden away on the side of a hill outside Polruan: a Simon Jenkins ** church.