We first walked this route in the dying days of the last millennium, and in the opposite direction. A bright sunny day in late September was too much of temptation and so we set off to do it again, the other way around.
We will admit to any amount of bias but this surely the ‘best’ bit of the whole Cornish coast. The cliffs are rugged granite; the views are spectacular; and there is a real sense of progress as one starts by walking westward, heads south and then ends up walking eastwards. The cliff and rock formations are therefore seen in different lights. On this day, the sea was flat calm and an astonishing array of different colours ranging from deep blue to a watery green.
Central to the view are the Longships rocks and lighthouse but utterly forgettable is the mess of buildings around the Land’s End hotel. The Wolf Rock lighthouse was also visible on the horizon but the haze prevented us seeing Scilly.
But enough of the summary, let’s start walking.
We parked at the top of Sennen Cove, admiring the wide sweep of Whitesand bay around to the lovely Cape Cornwall.
It is not hard to understand why Cape Cornwall was an ancient harbour. A Bronze Age coasting boat making its way northwards from Mount’s Bay would have few options for landing along the south coast of Penwith but, rounding Land’s End, would be presented by the great sweep of soft sand and the promontory of Cape Cornwall to guide them: two options for a safe landing. Both would be protected from the prevailing south-westerlies.
The going was easy with numerous wide tracks, many of them paved with rough stones to reduce the wear and tear. ‘It is strange, there are no signs. I think this is the way,‘ said one passing traveller, heading towards Sennen Cove which was visible at the foot of the cliff directly below her.
The white bulk of the theme park is not attractive from any direction. Once there was simply a hotel but now there is a mess of buildings to extract money from wallets. Thankfully, the coastal path has right of way and we could walk past the First and Last house and the hotel without paying any dues, our eyes fixed firmly on the Longships.
It took Cornwall Council 50 minutes of debate recently to decide whether it was Land’s End or Lands End. Finally, they consulted Craig Weatherhill because, through some curious logic, they said ‘he is an expert in the Cornish language’. Thankfully, he declared it to be ‘Land’s End’ and honour was satisfied. Not wishing to deprive him of the credit and fame, they could simply have looked at the cover of the OS map.
We paused to admire the Armed Knight. He is surely positioned here to defend Cornwall against all comers from the west. Behind him, and on many promontories to the east, lay the dragons of Cornwall, their noses half under water, watching the northern and southern coasts. The Rumps and Cudden being perhaps the best examples.
We stopped again overlooking Enys Dodman to sip some coffee. By now the crowds of over-formally coach party tourists had thinned out. The usual inverse square law applied: the proportion of tourists at any point is inversely proportional to the square of the distance from the car park.
As we approached Carn Boel the selection of paths finally collapsed into the familiar 30-40cm wide coastal path with which we are so familiar. The bracken and gorse closed about our legs This was clearly beyond the area of heavy tourist use.
What a view they missed. Below us was the great sweep of Nanjizal or Mill bay, the gentle surf sparkling at the edge of the green water. Above the bay a single white house perched precariously, staring westwards to Lyonesse. Alongside us were some Iron Age fields, each with a stone cluster in their middle, no doubt placed there as rubbing posts for cattle.
The southern headland of Nanjizal bay is Carn Les Boel, a small Iron Age cliff castle with a prominent gate stone protecting the neck of land.
This is famous as being the starting, or is it finishing, point of the Great Ley line. This, with its accompanying and wandering Michael and Mary lines, stretches from here, through places like St Michael’s Mount, Glastonbury, Avebury … onwards to the Norfolk coast at Hopton. A positive micro-industry has grown up around this but we cannot say that we felt any unusual energies as we passed across the line.
The cliffs around here had a wonderful ruggedness. Seemingly constructed of large semi-rectangular boulders, they seemed placed there by giants playing with their Lego sets.
Below, sliced into the cliffs, were great caves and zawns: chasms open to the sea often with a skirt of boiling white foam. Sadly, neither ‘zawn’ nor ‘fogou’ is permitted by Scrabble, no doubt regarded as being Cornish words despite being in common usage on OS maps.
The coastguard lookout on Gwennap Head beckoned us onwards. We passed it and the Runnelstone landmarks, the buoy itself moaning softly like a herd of cows in need of milking, and descended to the tiny cove of Porthgwarra where we once again met visitors. It is still recovering from its recent inclusion in the Poldark series. Here we stopped for lunch.
A step further on and we were passing above Porth Chapel, where one of us mis-spent his youth, surfing and swimming. At the head of the beach stands the small overgrown chapel and holy well of St Levan, matching the well and chapel of St Agnes at its sister cove of Chapel Porth on the north coast.
One headland and there before us was one of the most famous views in Cornwall: Treryn Dinas with its Logan rock. In front of us was the Minack rock. The sounds of Chicago the musical could just be heard on the breeze, emanating from the matinee performance at the theatre. This area is as familiar to us as the view from Cudden head or the sweep of Kenneggy bay.
As we passed Porth Chapel, we had met a couple heading slowly westwards who enquired the distance to Land’s End. ‘We are completing the coast path and thought we would go for the big finale: a sunset at Land’s End.’ What a wonderful way to end their walk. It looked very likely they would have a spectacular finale indeed. Where better?
We had covered the 5.8 miles in about 3.5 hours, our speed constantly slowed by the need to take photographs or simply breathe-in the views.