Thursday, 30 April 2015

Holywell to Newquay (South West Coast Path 72)

Holywell Bay

We resumed the route at the pub in Holywell we ended up at last night and promptly took the wrong path - ending up heading away from the beach rather than towards it. That sounds ridiculous, but the beach is concealed behind a complicated network of large dunes. Once we realised our mistake we took corrective action and soon found the first of a series of waymarks which kept us straight thereafter.

These guided us from the back of the dunes and soon we had a good view of the beach and Carter's Rocks offshore. We also spotted the first Wall butterflies of the year.

Soon we climbed up to a grassy clifftop area with a lovely view back. The beach is noticeably quiet and lacking in amenities. We suspect it may be owned by the MOD whose training camp dominates nearby Penhale Point. 

Easy walking, a relief after the soft sand of the dunes, brought us round Kelsey Head to the wonderfully named Porth Joke, a long shallow cove of golden sand. The tide was out and suddenly there were lots of people on the coast path and on the exposed sand - then we noticed the car park half a mile inland.

The path follows the outsides of the cove. Although it might have been tempting to just walk across the sand there was no visible way up on the other side. Anyway, it would have violated the ethos of walking the coast path!

The clifftop path continued around Pentire Point West to reveal the massive sandy Crantock Beach, with Pentire visible in the far left corner.

 We carried on round the edge, passing a colony of Kittiwakes nesting on the cliff face.

Passing behind more dunes and crossing a car park brought us onto a track leading down to the Gannel, which flows out of the back of the beach. It is a quite shallow, but wide, tidal river. There is a ferry but it is not yet open, and at Penpol there is a foot crossing available only within three hours either side of low water. We were delighted that we were within that magic window as the next crossing point adds about three miles to the route.  As we approached the foot crossing it became clear that a wide loop around was necessary to negotiate a creek of the river.

This we duly followed and then headed across a wide expanse of sand to cross the little walkway you can see in the picture above.

You then walk through the streets of Pentire to find yourself at one end of Fistral Beach, home of the National Surfing Centre. The massive Headland Hotel can be seen at the far end.The waves were clearly not good, as there were very few people in the sea.

We took a pause here to enjoy an excellent lunch at Rick Stein's newly opened fish and chip shop. Afterwards we walked up to Towan Head and unnecessarily as we realised once we looked at the map, walked right to the very tip, marked by a small open hut with a gothic doorway.

We headed on into Newquay passing the wonderful Huer's Hut by the wayside. This was where a watchman kept a look for shoals of pilchards and urgently signalled to the fisherman in the nearby harbour when he spotted some. The chimney and external staircase are apparently 15th century and the overall effect is rather like a small church of the kind you find in Greece.

A bit further on we descended to view Newquay's small harbour. The beaches can seen in the background. The tide is fairly full now.

It remained only to walk through the fairly ordinary town.

Conditions: sunny and mild.

Grading: Moderate.

Map: Explorer 104 (Redruth and St Agnes).

Distance: 8.1 miles (distance traveled now 439.8 miles).

Rating: four stars.

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Chapel Porth to Holywell (South West Coast Path 71)

Chapel Porth

We set out from the delightful cove at Chapel Porth and headed uphill. The forecast had been bad, but the sky was pretty clear and there was a great view back towards Godrevy lighthouse and St Ives, with a little sandy cove in the foreground. 

Soon we saw again the tin mining buildings we spotted yesterday. 

As we approached the area of St Agnes Head I attempted one last picture of the massive sweep of coast back to St Ives.

Round the corner from St Agnes Head, Newdowns Head concealed our first destination, Trevaunce Cove. 

This was in fact not very pretty, but we stopped for a restorative drink and then climbed up to the high plateau above. The view back was more appealing.

We descended to Cross Combe, another mining area, and encountered a party who had caught the bus from Perranporth who enquired after the route, having first checked if we had been that way before. We pointed out the acorn symbol and yellow arrows used as direction signs, but they looked a little unprepared. We think the steep climb up from the Combe may have deterred them.

This led to another high level plateau, with Perranporth Airfield inland of us. We saw what looked like air raid shelters and guessed that it probably dated from the Second World War and Wikipedia confirmed that this was right - it was a Spitfire base. It is still in use for gliding and small planes.

Further on I admired some lovely rock formations.

We were now in another former mining area and looking down we seemed to see copper deposits. 

The next phase of the walk was rather depressing: the remnants of mines and quarries abandoned without a care. Cigga Head was especially desolate.

Soon however we approached Perranporth and could admire its two sections of beach split by high dunes because the tide was in.

As we got nearer to the town we were charmed by this structure, which turned out to be the Millenium Sundial.

We had originally intended to finish here, but for various reasons we decided we would continue on to Holywell, four or so miles further on. After a break for refreshments, we headed off across the sand to reach and then climb the high dunes. The view back was wonderful.

The dunes here were both surprisingly high and far-reaching. When we finally reached the other side, the view ahead was simply magnificent.

We now walked along the beach for well over a mile, noting that the stones seemed to become smaller as we progressed.

At the end we climbed up more, higher, dunes and enjoyed a great view back. After Ligger Point, we thought we were nearly there as Penhale Point came into view. But gradually it became clear that we would have to circumnavigate an army training camp before we could reach Holywell. This we duly did.

Conditions: mild and quite bright.

Grading: Moderate.

Map: Explorer 104 (Redruth and St Agnes).

Distance: 11.4 miles (distance traveled now 431.7 miles. Now under 200 miles to go!).

Rating: four stars. A sort of averaging out of the wonderful and the grim.

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Portreath to Chapel Porth (South West Coast Path 70)

 Portreath harbour

We resumed the Coast Path by walking inland from the beach and harbour of Portreath to climb up out of the village. The view back shows them both.

Soon there was a diversion inland because of subsidence and we rejoined the Coast Path proper above Gooden Heane Cove.

We were struck by the amount of wild flowers: Celandine, Red Campion, Violet, Bladder Campion, Primroses. Soon there was a classic Coast Path descent and ascent at a seemingly un-named cove ...

 ... and later a fine view ahead over the broom towards St Agnes Head.

As we approached the famous Sally's Bottom, there were fine rock formations and a curious tower on the horizon. 

Sally's Bottom turned out to be a small cove requiring a steep descent from the clifftop at maybe 80 metres to sea level and back up again. The degree of erosion on the far side was striking.

But why Sally's Bottom? It had a very industrial look and a helpful plaque revealed that it was once the site of a bottom mine (presumably under the sea bottom) called Wheal Sally (for some reason many tin mines have women's names). It was plugged in 1998. So it seems like a rather fanciful piece of naming, guaranteed to provoke a snigger.

Earlier we had skirted MOD land and seen a curious round shaped structure. A giant tomato? A massive topiary? Who could say? But once it appeared on the near horizon behind us I thought I could get away with a photo without falling foul of the Official Secrets Act. Godrevy Island can be seen in the distance, with St Ives behind it.

Soon we reached the obelisk viewed earlier. Rather disappointingly it seemed to be merely another mine structure.

The coast towards St Agnes Head stretched out invitingly ahead ...

 ... And after passing through a disused quarry we reached Porthtowan, evidently a surfing centre.

 After a climb out of the village and a short walk along the clifftop we reached Chapel Porth and admired a selection of mining structures on the opposite hillside. It was a pretty cove.

Conditions: mild and quite bright. We were quite relieved as before we left home the forecast had been for heavy rain.

Grading: Moderate.

Map: Explorer 104 (Redruth and St Agnes).

Distance: 5.3 miles (distance traveled now 420.3 miles).

Rating: three and a half stars.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

El Montgri

 Castel del Montgri

You can see Castel del Montgri, high on its mountain, from miles around and we are very excited to be climbing up to it today. Access is from the town of Torroella de Montgri and you park at the top end of the town. The path head away uphill.

The track quickly becomes rutted and then stony as it makes its zigzag path upwards. One straight section, going round the side of the mountain, points towards the nearby peak of el Taronger.

 We walk beneath a rocky massif with a wonderful mix of coloured stone.

Further up the path winds between three small wayside pilgrim's chapels; here are two of them.

Then the col de la Creu looms above, marked by a cross. The path has now become very rocky - the foreground of the picture is the path.

It is at 199m and the views over the country, especially toward the Hermitage of San Caterina, beyond are wonderful. 

 Now the path swings around to the right to begin the climb to the castle. After a while, we were staggered to see a view of the Bay of Roses opening up to the north. After numerous traverses across the slope, the castle can finally be seen. It stands at 302m.

The story of the castle is rather sad. It was built between 1294 and 1301 as a result of a local feud, but never completed. The design was influenced by Crusader castles in the Holy Land. Inside there is now just an empty shell, although a spiral staircase in one tower allows access to the walkway around the battlements.

There are great views in all directions. This is the Bay of Roses to the north ...

...  and this is looking towards the Medes Islands to the east.

The area around the castle was fairly flat and proved a good place to see some butterflies. I started to see some Swallowtails and some others: Painted Lady, Wall, Southern Scarce Swallowtail, Southern Small White. There had been quite a few on the way up - notably the Provence Orange Tip, with its yellow wings, but none had paused to be photographed. Here is a Swallowtail.

Inviting paths run away across the plateau, but heavy cloud was heading toward us and as we had spent a long time exploring the castle we decided to head back down.

Conditions: clear, sunny and hot until we headed home.

Distance: about 3.5 miles.

Rating: four and half stars.  It reminded me of the Rocky Mountain that we climbed near Wanaka in New Zealand.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Llafranc and Timariu


We are staying with our friend Maggie in the delightful resort of Llafranc. We left Maggie's apartment to begin the coast path (cami de ronda) at the top of the steps which lead up from the north end of Llafranc's lovely sandy beach. Mysterious works are underway involving moving sand from one end of the beach to the other. 

The coast path here is all along the road, but we made it more interesting by reviewing every new house as we went along. Most seemed to have serious faults: tasteless shiny blue ceramic tiles, wood veneer that was already starting to age, that sort of thing.

At the top of the climb there is a great view back down the coast, with Llafranc in the foreground and Callella round the next headland.

The key landmark is the San Sebastia lighthouse, with to our eyes, a very unusual design involving a rather lovely rectangular building of 1867 as the base for the light.

Next up is the San Sebastia hotel and behind it, new since we were last here in 2008 is the site of a village of the Iberian people, dating from somewhere between the 6th century BC and the Roman conquest early in the first century.

 Following, as we thought, the direction of a finger post, we passed inland of the hotel and were entranced by a beautiful iris by the roadside.

Perhaps for this reason, we headed blindly on down the road, despite a nagging feeling that we should be nearer the coast. We soon found a track, then another section of road and a further track (a local rather than long distance path) all signposted to Timariu. The last section of track involved a steep and rather exciting descent through woodland with cork oaks among the various trees. This ended in a suburban housing estate from which we found our way down into Timariu. Although this had been the wrong route, we had enjoyed a profusion of flowers especially Cistus (both pink and white) and Mimosa, plus wild lavender and rosemary among many others. 

After lunch, which enabled us to avoid some rain, we headed back along the coast path. The view back gave the best impression of Timariu: a village built inside a rocky cove with a lovely sandy beach.

Just round the headland we crossed a fabulous rocky area, skipping like mountain goats across the uneven surface. Such fun!

The next cove offered an appealing view, although we couldn't identify the dark yellow flower in the foreground.

Soon, after a steep and twisting descent, we reached Cala Pedrosa, a narrow rocky beach where our previous attempt to do this walk had floundered, resulting in a very short walk indeed. 

A steep climb brought us to a high path which led us past fields and through woodland to the 15th century watchtower at the back of the hotel.

We now climbed quite steeply and emerged into the Iberian village site. It was a bit frustrating to see how close we had been to the correct path.

Conditions: a bit of everything, cloudy and cool at first, hot and sunny, wet, dull and mild.

Distance: about seven miles.

Rating: Four stars, an excellent walk. Our walk book (Costa Brava by Roger Budeler, published by Rother) calls this one of the most beautiful coastal areas of the Costa Brava). It describes a walk which goes inland from Llafranc and then follows much of our erroneous route to Timariu and back along the coast. Rather droll really.