Wednesday, 30 April 2014

The South West Coast Path - South Cornwall: A review


Plymouth: Royal William Victualling Yard


Cornwall as a whole accounts for 287 of the 630 miles of the South West Coast Path. The Guide produced by the South West Coast Path Association divides the county into three sections, South, West and North, which seems very sensible and I am going to do the same. We have just finished South Cornwall - from the Tamar to Carrick Roads at St Anthony Head, a distance of 74 miles - and here are our impressions.


Most of this section was completed this year, when we have embarked on a policy of doing more frequent walks with the intention of bringing forward the completion date.

We started by crossing the Tamar from Plymouth and it was good to quickly escape the long urban section around Plymouth, by far the largest settlement on the Coast Path.

As ever, the route was dominated by some major headlands. Initially, Rame Head, seen below looking back from Portwrinkle, then Gribbin Head with its red and white beacon and later Black Head and Nare Head, where we were memorably drenched. It was only after Nare Head that the coast was anything other than up and down.

There were pretty fishing ports such as Looe, Polperro (below) and Mevagissey

And there were some lovely secluded beaches. This is Great Lantic Beach, between Polperro and Polruan.

The section between Looe and Polperro was easily the busiest we have yet encountered on the entire coast.

There were churches named after unusual saints such as St Fimbarrus in Fowey and villages with strange names too like London Apprentice and Readymoney.

We thought there were fewer holiday villages than in South Devon, although there was a big one between Lower Portpean and Mevagissey at Pentewan.

One abiding memory will be the unusual warning sign on the same section advising of "undermining" by badgers. It seemed to suggest deliberate sabotage by these creatures.


40 Plymouth (Cremyll Ferry) to Rame Head

41 Rame Head to Portwrinkle

42 Portwrinkle to Looe

43 Looe to Polperro

44 Polperro to Polruan

45 Fowey to Lower Porthpean

46 Lower Porthpean to Mevagissey

47 Mevagissey to Gorran Haven

48 Gorran Haven to Portloe

49 Portloe to Portscatho

50 Portscatho to St Anthony

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Portscatho to St Anthony (South West Coast Path 50)

 Portscatho beach

This is the final walk of this trip and we set off from Portscatho following the sea front. This is a bit of a novelty as the last two walks have begun with a steep climb. It is low water and the beach looks more interesting that we had realised.

There is soon a great view across a very calm Gerrand Bay and yesterday's landmarks, Nare Head and Gull Rock are very clear, with the day before's, Dodman Point, also in view behind.

We are soon walking along a grassy low cliff and noticing how different this section of coast is: low rocky shelves rather than sandy coves.

This soon gives way to the large sandy expanse of Towan Beach.

At the back of the beach is a what looks at first sight like a sort of totem pole, or perhaps something for kids to climb up. It turns out it is called the Wreck Post was put there by the coastguard to help practice rescuing people from a ship using a breeches buoy. It is meant to simulate a ship's mast.

A little further on you come to Kilgerran Head where there another fine view back.

The view west is lovely too, with The Lizard on the horizon and Zone Point in the foreground. 

As we head uphill towards zone point we pass above the inviting sandy beach at Porthbeor. Unfortunately, according to a National Trust notice, there is now no safe way down following a rock fall. Suddenly the view to the right opens up with a view across to St Mawes on the other side of the Roseland Peninsula.

 Soon after this, we reach St Anthony Head and pass the remains of World War II gun emplacements.
 Pendennis Castle can be seen across Carrick Roads, with Falmouth behind.

This is another view across Carrick Roads, with the top of the St Anthony lighthouse.

We climb down to near the waterside to continue round towards Place House and soon enjoy this fantastic view towards St Mawes castle. It was built 1540-43 and was one of the large network of coastal defences constructed by Henry VIII.

Around about here the path was definitively closed by a rockfall and we had no option but to turn back.

Conditions: warm and bright.

Grading: Easy.

Distance: 6.2 miles. Distance now covered: 295.4 miles.

Map: Explorer 105 (Falmouth & Mevagissey).

Rating: four stars.

Saturday, 26 April 2014

Portloe to Portscatho (South West Coast Path 49)

 Looking back to Portloe

After such a lovely day yesterday, we knew from the weather forecast that today would not be so good and we duly set out from Portloe in cloud and drizzle. We made the inevitable steep climb up out of the village and headed along the cliff to turn Menare Point, and lose sight of Portloe behind us. We could see the headland of The Blouth ahead with Gull Rock beyond it.

Having crossed it, we descended a steep-sided grassy bottom at the back of Kiberick Cove. This is the view looking down from the opposite side.

As we approached the main landmark of this leg, Nare Head, it began to rain heavily and photography had to be suspended as we plodded on in driving rain. Just as we turned the corner, the rain abated and we saw the expanse of Gerrans Bay, with what looked like rather lower cliff tops ahead than we have become used to.

We gradually descended to sea level from the 90 or so metres of Nare Head and had a good view along wave-tossed Carne Beach. Portscatho is the white smudge on the left.

We decided to break for lunch at the Nare Hotel. This was the view back over the beach towards Nare Head. It is just possible to make out two dots in the water which are all that is visible of two mad boys using their body boards.

We had a pleasant enough lunch in the hotel dining room, feeling slightly out of place in our wet walking clothes, and looped round the hotel to rejoin the coast path. Unfortunately, it had started raining again. After Pendower Beach, we followed the high path along a sloping cliff where there was a most impressive crop of Early Purple Orchids.

We descended to briefly walk on Portbean Beach and climbed up through what seemed to be an abandoned garden to descend again to a (Coastguard?) lookout station. There was a nice view back to Nare Head and Gull Rock in a spell of late afternoon sunshine.

Across the small bay, Portscatho, still surprisingly far away, glistened whitely.

Conditions: wet at first, but brighter later.

Rating of this section: Moderate.

Distance: 7.5 miles. Distance now covered: 289.2 miles.

Map: Explorer 105 (Falmouth & Mevagissey).

Rating: 3 and half stars.

Friday, 25 April 2014

Gorran Haven to Portloe (South West Coast Path 48)

Back on the South West Coast Path. We climbed up from Gorran Haven and enjoyed a great view over the deceptively large beach.  As we walked along the grassy cliff top there was soon (minor) excitement when I spotted my first Green Veined White of the year.

We followed a charming path descending towards sea level.

We followed the path round the headland and had our first views of Dodman Point, with Bow or Vault Beach (it says on the map)  in the foreground. 

Once we reached Dodman Point we saw that there is a large, but rather crude, cross erected in 1886. The Lizard can be glimpsed on the horizon to the left.

The next section of coast stretched away invitingly.

We followed a grassy cliff top path to reach to a rather nice, quiet beach at Hemmick.

Greeb Point offered a nice view back over this part of Veryan Bay towards Dodman Point.

After a while, we reached Portluney Cove, with Caerhays Castle improbably behind it.

Seen from the road which passes the back of the beach, the castle is undeniably picturesque. It was built in 1808 by John Nash of Brighton Pavilion fame for John Bettesworth-Trevanion. Later in the 19th century new owners opened up the view to the sea. It now has a garden famous for its collection of magnolias and azalias.

The next landmark was the very exposed village of East Portholland with its substantial sea defences.

A little further along is the smaller West Portholland where we visited friends in October 2006 and had our first and never-to-be-forgotten encounter with the coast path. We were dropped off somewhere - we can't quite remember where - and walked back to their house. It took us far longer than we could ever imagined and we arrived in the gathering dusk with them wondering what had happened to us. A couple of photos from 2006 strongly suggest that we walked from Portscatho, via Portloe - 9.5 miles. Well outside what we what we would have regarded as normal!

Just beyond West Portholland there was a fine view across the whole bay to Dodman Point. We never tire of saying "look how far we've come".

The final two miles to Portloe are rated as strenuous and this was well justified. I did see however see my first Wall (or Wall Brown) butterflies of the year.  Soon afterwards we encountered a rather ill-matched couple: she was wearing black leather boots and a dress, he was wearing walking clothes. We wondered if perhaps they had met for a first date with rather different expectations.

The wildflowers, which we had seen in profusion all day, were extremely numerous. It was like walking through an overgrown herbaceous border.

We were also struck by dense drifts of bluebells on both sides on the path on one sloping section. 

As we approached Portloe, we could see the next big landmarks - Nare Head and Gull Rock, with Zone Point behind them. One of the inlets concealed Portloe, but which one would it be?

Of course, it was one of the further ones, but finally we made it to the pretty village of Portloe.

Conditions: mostly bright and sunny, but clouding over towards the end.

Grading: Moderate becoming Strenuous.

Distance: 8.8 miles. Distance now covered: 281.7 miles.

Map: Explorer 105 (Falmouth & Mevagissey).

Rating: four stars.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014



I met up with Merv for a walk in the Cotswolds to celebrate his retirement and to inaugurate a new era of mid-week walks. We started on the edge of the village of Hazleton and walked down the hill towards Hazleton's church, hidden behind what looked to be the Manor House.

We then headed north along a field-edge path in the direction of Salperton, turning east to follow the Gloucestershire Way along the edge of Salperton Park.

At Farnhill Farm we came down off the high plateau we had been on, and walked down through rape fields into a new landscape of ridges and dry valleys.

At the other side of the rape we turned right and then left, winding our way up a twisting shallow valley.

This brought us to the edge of Notgrove and we walked round the attractive village to visit the Norman church church of St Bartholomew. An information sheet inside the church, where there are fine Norman columns with scalloped capitals, says that the tower is 700 years old. There is also evidence, confirmed by Pevsner ,of Victorian restoration (i.e. rebuilding). The 17th century Manor House makes and impressive backdrop.

As we headed away from the village, there was a fine line of trees on the ridge opposite.

From here we continued to follow the Gloucestershire Way to Cold Ashton, where we passed the impressive 16th century church without a thought to reach the Plough Inn, where we had an excellent fish and chip lunch.

Thus fortified, we set off again in steady light rain to follow the unsigned Macmillan Way, past the strangely named Bangup Barn down and then up to skirt the village of Turkdean.

The track towards Hazleton went through another beautiful landscape of valleys and spurs, uplifting despite the gloom and drizzle.

We swung round to the left and passed Lower Barn to make one final long climb back up to the start.

Conditions: cloud and rain.

Map: Explorer OL 45 (The Cotswolds).

Distance: 8 miles or perhaps a bit more.

Rating: four stars.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Bryanston to Hammoon (Stour Valley Path 5)

Today we continued walking the Stour Valley Path, picking up the route at Bryanston Village. The first challenge to find our way through Bryanston School. It did offer a nice view back over the village (above).

We also had a good view of the house which was the basis of the school when it was founded in 1928. Richard Norman Shaw built the house in the 1890s for the 2nd Viscount Portman.

Having eventually found our way out of the school - why were there no signs? - we followed the road to the village of Durweston, with the Stour on our right.

The rape field on the left created a dramatic block of colour, contrasting with the bright blue sky.

As we entered the village we saw this old station sign by the local school.

We crossed the A357 and headed towards Stourpaine, passing a rather unexciting mill and under a railway bridge. The defunct line is now a "Trailway".

 The church at Stourpaine was quite picturesque: the tower is old, but the rest was by T H Wyatt (whose work we saw yesterday at Spetisbury).  The deceptively gentle curve of Hod Hill can be seen in the background.

Walking along the main street of this interesting village, we were very taken by this formal garden on the left hand side. The gate was open, but there was no sign and we were unsure whether it was a public or private space.

Soon we began the ascent of Hod Hill, eschewing the option to make a circuit if its base. On the way up, I saw my first Speckled Wood of the year. The poor thing is lacking an antenna.

 Hod Hill was the site of an iron age hill fort and the defensive ditch is still very prominent. It was also covered in the Cowslips can that be seen in the foreground. I was surprised to see a Kite in the sky above. They are now extremely common in the Thames Valley, but I can't recall seeing one in Dorset before.

As you approach the top (143m) of this wide almost flat hill, there are views all around: it is almost a 360 degree panorama. This is the view to the north east.

You can't however see past Hambledon Hill straight ahead.

We descended Hod Hill by the main path, crossed the road and climbed up a steep slope to join a ridge, appropriately enough part of the Wessex Ridgeway. There was a good view north towards Iwerne Minster, with Canford Chase further to the east.

We followed the ridge onto Hambledon Hill itself. It too was the site of a iron age hill fort: were they allies of Hod Hill or rivals? We climbed the tiny pimple which is at 193m its highest point and continued along to the end. It appears to be a cliff edge as you approach, but reveals a sort of lower terrace. When you get down to this, there is another one.

There is a great view down towards the drive of trees which leads to the Manor House of Child Okeford.

Having found a lateral way down, we followed a path then a road into the centre of Child Okeford, where we had refreshments at the village pub before carrying on our way westwards. This led us across fields which offered a view back towards Hambledon Hill, the pimple of the summit could be clearly seen, as could the stages of our descent.

We rejoined the river Stour briefly, crossing over a concrete bridge. It must be admitted that at this point in its life it is not an especially attractive river. We picked up a track heading north and at Ham Hill natural burial ground were diverted onto the route of a railway line which once went all the way to Wincanton. We followed this until we met a road where a right turn led us finally to Hammoon.

Hammoon is a tiny hamlet, but boasts a nice little 12th or 13th century church (St Paul), with a Victorian wooden belfry.

There is also a surprising thatched manor house, much altered over its life. Pevsner dates the bay on the right to the early 16th century and the porch to about 1600. The entrance doorway may be later.


I have decided to add interest to my butterfly spotting this year by noting when I first see each species. Today we saw Peacock, Small Tortoisehell, Small White, Comma, Speckled Wood, Orange Tip, Brimstone. The Comma was also the first of the year.

Conditions: warm and sunny.

Distance: 7.25 miles. Total now covered almost 40 miles - two-thirds of the way.

Guide: The new Stour Valley Path by Edward R Griffiths, Greenfield Books, 1998, but sadly out of print

Map: Explorer 117 (Cerne Abbas & Bere Regis), 118 (Shaftesbury and Cranfield Chase) and 129 (Yeovil & Sherborne)

Rating: four and a half stars. Full of variety and interest. The two hills were a revelation. Much more dramatic than any previous part of this walk.