The Original Silicon Valley, Land's End and St Michael's Way
At some point over Christmas when we were staying near Bude and walking part of the South West Coastal Path (SWCP) for a couple of hours I asked Vivien if she fancied a holiday for a week walking parts of it.
Well she organised it! It took quite a bit of time to find suitable accommodation and I ended up using Airbnb but even so some days were further than others! Monday April 3rd saw us waiting with two backpacking sacs for the train to Penzance. After a trip to WH Smith in Penzance for a map we set off for Mousehole, easy walking along roads and just as well, it is a long time since either of us carried anything other than a day sac. I also found a luggage transfer service so was able to arrange for one sac to be taken to our next accommodation each day so Rob only had a day sac for 2, to carry each day! The Ship Inn provided evening meal, bed and a full English breakfast to fortify us for the next leg.
Trendennan Farm near Porthcurno was our next stopping place. One tends to think of coastal walking as level and easy, this section dispels those images, it is constantly rising and falling by 100metres or so and in places hands are needed to get over and around and down boulders. It is a section full of wild spring flowers, daffs, gorse, bluebells, primroses, etc., etc. At Lamorna Cove we came across an enormous rhubarb like plant, called gunnerra, that was 5ft high and grows to 15ft. At Penberth Cove we found a very steep cobble slipway and an enormous hand operated windlass to pull the small inshore fishing boats up. The boats have steel shoes on the keel and they have worn a groove in the stones.
The next prominant headland has a rock on it called the Logan Rock. There are several Logan Rocks along the walk but this one is notable because it used to rock, however in the 18th century a group of drunken RN sailors and a lieutenant pushed it onto the beach about 100 feet below. The locals were so incensed by this that they complained to the Admiralty. The sailors were commanded to replace the rock at their own expense and were fined 3 months wages. The Logan Rock pub provided our evening meal and Trendennan farm a bed and another hearty breakfast of bacon, sausage and eggs.
Porthcurno is famous for two things. Firstly it is the bay where all the early transatlantic telegraph and telephone cables to Europe and North America left the UK. There was a college of communications (IT in modern parlance) and a school to teach maintainance of the cables etc. Secondly, the Minack open air theatre is perched among the rocks on the headland at the south side of the bay. We did not explore the theatre because there was a production on that morning, so along the cliffs to Porthgwarra we went. Porthgwarra is well known locally because some scenes from the television drama Poldark were filmed there, if you can manage to put that to the back of your mind you will find yourself in a delightful outport (NL expression for a small fishing community) with a lovely beach and tunnels in the rocks.
The hill out of Porthgwarra leads to a heathland plateau, on past the coastguard look out and so to Land's End. After the peace of the coastal footpath Land's End is a nasty shock, a hotel, hotdog and donut stand, a theme park, and souvenir shops. [ :( *10 ]. All we wanted to do was run away, so we did, down into Sennen Cove and to our B and B. But we did make use of their toilets!
Day 4 proved to be long, and slow, I had developed a cold and was feeling ill and we had 18 km to our next accommodation. Progress along Sennon Cove beach was further slowed by watching surfers, and the rapidly rising tempratures meant several disrobing stops. 3Km of undulating path brought us to Port Nanven and the Cot Valley, here the path turns inland for a kilometer to find a bridge. At first this seems a shame however the valley is very pretty and it was several minutes before we saw that hidden in the trees and bushes was an old tin mine. As we walked back towards the sea we realised that we were looking at an industrial waste land reclaimed by nature. North of Cape Cornwall there was abundant evidence of Cornwall's long gone tin mining industry, the area around Pendeen is still a waste land. The National Trust have set up an out door museum here.
Our accomdation for the night was with Mary in her little tin miner's cottage near Morvah. Mary is probably about our age, she is a small slight woman with a smile to brighten your day and has the energy of the energiser bunny with supercharged batteries. I woke too ill to continue walking and she allowed me to sit in the sun in her little garden and later on took us by car to our next port of call near Zennor.
The section from Zennor to St Ives continues winding and climbing and dropping through the rock and sea scenery that, sad to say, we had become so used to it no longer seemed so spectacular. St Ives, a fishing village and small comercial port in the 18th and 19th centuries, is now a bustling holiday town with numerous art galleries. It was a very hot Saturday and the beaches and town were crowded, in our walking boots and walking gear we felt very out of place amongst the holidaymakers in St Ives. Neither of us fancied the walk though the town so we took the “ holiday makers” train to Lelant Sidings. We then sauntered along to the find our next bed and breakfast, a million pound house set in the middle of the golf course. At first we thought we had got the wrong house. Owned by John, a former MD of Xerox Asia, it is an enourmous contrast to Mary's! It turned out that John is an avid hiker and has walked most of the long distance paths in the UK and raised 15,000 for charity by walking from Lands End to John O Groats.
From here our route turned towards Penzance as we followed the pilgrim route to St Michaels Mount at Marazion. The historical significance lies in the fact that it is part of a network of pilgrim routes that lead to St James' Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela in Northern Spain, one of the three most important sites of Christian pilgimage in the world. Pilgrims from Ireland going to Santiago de Compostela would land at Lelant and walk to Marazion to avoid the treachourous sea trip around Land's End. It is the only foot path in Britain that is part of a designated European Cultural Route. You can read more here and here.
The walking is easy, but not without intrest. It crosses Trencom hill where there is a neolithic fort and a giant used to live. He had a cousin at St Michael's mount and they used to throw boulders at each other. We had planned on soup at the pub at Ludgavan however they were only serving roast beef Sunday dinner so we had a cuppa and the chatty landlord allowed us to sit at his picnic table and eat our backup sandwiches on the promise of sending him a post card from NS to add to his bar room collection.
Crossing Marazion Marsh, a bird sanctuary, brought us to the Marazion hotel, and the following morning we finished our pilgrimage by walking the causway to St. Michael's Mount before getting a taxi back to Penzance station. We had planned to walk this with both packs but Rob was still unwell.