SOUTH WEST COAST PATH NATIONAL TRAIL
Stage 23: Looe to Fowey
Saturday, May 24, 2014
After a day off, I caught the train back to Looe on what started out as a sunny Saturday morning. As the train trundled down the little branch line from Liskeard, a band of dark clouds swept in from the west, accompanied by a rather chilly breeze.
I rejoined the Coast Path on the stone Victorian bridge that links East and West Looe, crossing to the west bank of the East Looe River and walking along the quayside beside Hannafore Road. Where the river narrows near its mouth, there is a good view back upstream towards the bridge (picture 1). Here the path temporarily diverges from the road, following the low sea wall past a bronze statue of Nelson the One-eyed Seal (picture 2), a regular visitor to Looe Harbour for 25 years until his passing in 2003.
Just beyond the statue the path climbs stone steps to rejoin the road, which soon changes its name to Marine Drive as it reaches the first houses of the village of Hannafore, overlooking the mouth of the river. The long narrow village is spread out along the landward side of the road for the next kilometre. This rocky stretch of coastline is where the Coast Path has its closest view of Looe Island (picture 3) before the route continues along the pavement to the western end of the village (picture 4). The island has been a nature reserve since being bequeathed to the Cornwall Wildlife Trust in 2004 and can be visited during the summer months.
At the end of the village the road ends abruptly and the Coast Path heads through a kissing gate onto a grassy hillside above rocky Wallace Beach and Portnadler Bay (picture 5). The next stretch of the path circles the bay, sticking fairly close to the lower edge of the hillside where steep cliffs drop away to a shoreline littered with jagged rocks. This undulating path passes through several areas of thick scrub and crosses a couple of small streams before entering the National Trust-owned Hendersick property, which occupies the headland on the western side of the bay.
Reaching the tip of the headland, the path passes close to Bridge Rocks (picture 6), where there is one last view across the bay to Hannafore (picture 7) before the path rounds the point and heads westwards along a gorse-covered hillside known as Aesop's Bed (picture 8).
After a little more than a kilometre the path reaches Talland Bay (picture 9), descending to join a lane that runs behind the bay's two little shingle beaches, the latter of which has a café and a few beach huts.
Just beyond the second beach, an enclosed footpath begins to climb up Talland Cliff, but a short distance up the path where the route turns left up a few steps, I found the path blocked by temporary fencing on which a diversion notice indicated that the route around the clifftop had been closed for six months due to erosion. The marked alternate route continued up the footpath to join a steeply climbing lane, which at least offered some good views back across the bay and the surrounding patchwork fields (picture 10).
At the top of the climb a gate on the left takes the path into a field to a stile halfway along the right hand side, where the route crosses through the field boundary to follow the left hand side of the adjoining field downhill to rejoin the regular route of the Coast Path on Downend Point (picture 11). The path then resumes its run along the clifftops for another 600 metres to the mouth of the harbour of the fishing village of Polperro (picture 12).
As the path heads down into the village it joins a narrow lane called The Warren, which has views over the inner harbour (picture 13) before descending between whitewashed harbourside fisherman's houses. Part of the way along The Warren I passed by the Shell House (picture 14), where the entire frontage is covered in patterns made of seashells.
The lane emerges at the rear of the harbour, where the Coast Path crosses the stone Roman Bridge over the little River Pol that flows down the valley between steep hillsides to feed the harbour. Here I temporarily left the Coast Path to explore the village, which extends almost a kilometre up the valley (picture 15).
Polperro has existed as a fishing port since at least as far back as 1303 and was also a centre of smuggling until the 19th century. Pilchard stocks declined during the 20th century and today the village's fishing fleet is a fraction of it's former size. In modern times tourism has taken over as Polperro's primary industry and the village is thronged with visitors in summer.
On the way back down to the harbour, I stopped off at the Chip Ahoy on Lansallos Street, to buy some fish and chips for lunch. I soon found a seat on the busy quayside to stop and eat my lunch with a nice view across to the old fisherman's houses lining the inner harbour and the more modern houses clinging to the steep hillside above (picture 16).
From the quayside, the Coast Path follows Quay Road for a short distance to a signpost pointing up a ramp leading to a footpath that climbs past the last few houses of Polperro, giving one last view back over the village (picture 17) before the path rounds the point and enters the National Trust's Chapel Cliff (picture 18).
For the next three kilometres the path runs along the gorse-covered clifftops of Chapel Cliff and Raphael Cliff (also owned by the National Trust). At several places along this quiet stretch of the path one can see where the exposed rocks show the strata turned almost vertical by ancient geological movements (picture 19). There are several short but steep climbs and descents along these cliffs before the path reaches a longer descent from Raphael Cliff into East Coombe (picture 20).
Beside the path in the bottom of East Coombe is a stone daymark (picture 21), placed to warn passing ships of dangerous rocks hidden just below the surface a short distance offshore. Beyond East Coombe the path continues around Lanivet Bay (picture 22), climbing over a couple of hills before descending into West Coombe, where a waterfall flows down to a small sheltered beach (picture 23).
The path crosses a small footbridge above the waterfall then climbs out of the coombe to continue around the bay over several more short ups and downs and onto the prominent headland of Pencarrow Head (picture 24).
The route goes around Pencarrow Head to the isolated Lantic Bay (picture 25), where the path runs along the low cliffs behind the little beach at the back of the bay before climbing onto the somewhat higher cliffs of Blackbottle (picture 26) and Furze Park (picture 27), the two combining to form a two kilometre stretch of windswept coastline owned by the National Trust.
At the end of Furze Park, the path curves inland to a gate by a road on the edge of the village of Polruan. Turning left along the road, the route soon passes a barrier and crosses a grassy park in front of a National Coastwatch Institute lookout and a tall fragment of a thick stone wall that is the only remnant of the medieval St Saviour's Chapel (picture 28).
After passing the lookout's carpark, the path skirts around St Saviour's Point at the mouth of the Fowey estuary (picture 29), soon joining Battery Lane and following it down to a right turn into West Street, from which there are good views over Fowey Harbour (picture 30). The Coast Path follows West Street downhill through the closely-packed houses of Polruan (picture 31) to find a left turn down to Polruan Quay (picture 32) and the end of a 19.8 kilometre walk from Looe Bridge.
The town of Polruan has a long history as a port and shipbuilding centre. In past centuries, shipbuilders in the town made small, fast ships for importing fruit from the West Indies and the Mediterranean and larger ships for exporting tin, china clay and wine.
From the quay the Coast Path takes the small Polruan Ferry across the harbour to the larger town of Fowey, another historic fishing port. Depending on the time of day and the state of the tide, the ferry either goes to Whitehouse Quay, directly opposite Polruan Quay, or further upstream to Fowey's Town Quay, much nearer the town centre. On this occasion, the ferry crossed to the Town Quay, from which I had a fairly steep climb up through the town's narrow streets to the Safe Harbour pub, where the town's main bus stop can be found.
Fowey's old medieval streets are too narrow for modern buses to get down into the town centre, but as I had about 90 minutes to wait for the next bus to the railway station at Par, the bus stop being right outside the pub proved to be rather convenient.