SOUTH WEST COAST PATH NATIONAL TRAIL
Stage 29: Falmouth to Coverack
Monday, June 2, 2014
It was a rather grey and cold morning when I returned to Falmouth to resume my walk along the Coast Path. Rejoining the path above Tunnel Beach, I followed the pavement beside Cliff Road for about a kilometre to reach the broader Gyllyngvase Beach (picture 1). The road descends behind the beach, allowing the Coast Path to turn left onto the sand behind a small lifeguard station (picture 2).
I can imagine a lot of walkers taking a break here on a sunny day, but as it was rather chilly, I moved on fairly hastily, joining a path that climbs up from the western end of the beach to run around the low bluff of Swanpool Point for about 600 metres to sandy Swanpool Beach at the back of a deep cove (picture 3). The area is named after a large lake that stretches about 500 metres inland behind the beach, though the name may have more to do with swamps than swans.
The route descends to the eastern end of the beach, crossing the sand to join Swanpool Road, which climbs above the far end of the beach before swinging inland. As the road straightens, a Coast Path signpost points along a fenced path that runs parallel to a long driveway. After a couple of minutes walking the path continues ahead into pleasant woodland on Pennance Point (picture 4).
As the path rounds the tip of Pennance Point it passes a stone memorial, mostly hidden in the foliage. The memorial commemorates the Falmouth Home Guard, who patrolled the coastline at night for much of the Second World War. It is worth remembering that much of the Coast Path exists due to the need to patrol the cliffs during both World Wars and in earlier times when the Coastguard established coastal paths to patrol for smugglers.
From Pennance Point the path continues to follow the scrub-covered clifftop above the shallow Sunny Cove. As the path climbs up to the edge of a golf course, there is a view across the mouth of the Fal Estuary to St Anthony Head and its lighthouse (picture 5).
The golf course is screened from the path by tall scrub and one could easily fail to notice it at all, particularly on a day like this when most golfers would stay warm at home. The golf course is soon left behind and the path continues through the scrub as the cliffs gradually curve around to turn into the deep, east-facing cove of Maenporth (picture 6).
The path runs along the back of the sandy beach, briefly joining the road at the far end before finding a footpath on the left that leads uphill onto High Cliff. The path is fairly shady for the next kilometre as it runs along the cliffs before descending to the quiet Bream Cove (picture 7).
No sooner has the path descended than it climbs again, heading up onto National Trust land at Rosemullion Head (picture 8). One must be careful to follow the correct route here: the path first climbs up on top of the neck of the headland, but then leaves the obvious well-worn path, bearing left to take a lower-level course along the clifftops for an almost complete circuit of the headland.
After coming off Rosemullion Head, the path continues along the clifftops beside empty fields for almost a kilometre to reach Parson's Beach. The Coast Path follows the cliffs above the narrow strip of sand to Toll Point at the mouth of the Helford River. Shortly after rounding the point there are excellent views westwards along the river (picture 9), which is home to hundreds of small pleasure boats, but lacks any commercial shipping, making it a much more peaceful anchorage than the Fal.
From Toll Point the path follows the north bank of the river, soon descending to a tiny, rocky beach at Porthallack then climbing back onto the low clifftop for a short stretch along the edge of a field to the slightly larger beach of Porth Saxon. The path crosses the back of the beach then climbs through trees into a large meadow of long grass, part of the National Trust's Bosloe estate, with a rather grand looking house up ahead.
About a hundred metres short of the house, the path bears left into trees, crossing a Cornish stile (basically three stone slabs with gaps between them) to meet a quiet lane. The lane is followed through the trees and down to the close-packed little hamlet of Durgan (picture 11).
The lane swings up into the middle of the village before the path turns sharp left to climb up a well-worn path in front of a house and then up a longish flight of wooden steps into a field, the steps having been newly constructed to take the path around an area of subsidence. The path crosses the field, gradually bearing downhill to rejoin the original route, which descends to Polgwidden Cove, where the path crosses the bottom of a combe behind a small private beach. Climbing back out of the combe, the path runs along the bottom of another long field to reach the more substantial village of Helford Passage (picture 12).
On the beach below the Ferry Boat Inn is a pontoon, from which the small Helford Ferry crosses the river from Helford Passage to Helford Village. The pace of life here is rather relaxed, and after about 20 minutes the ferry man appeared from the pub and conducted me across the river.
The ferry landing is on the tip of a point on the western side of the mouth of Helford Creek. The Coast Path follows a narrow lane along the edge of the creek, winding its way between whitewashed and thatched buildings, including the small Shipwrights Arms pub (picture 13), before continuing along the edge of the creek to a ford and a footbridge (picture 14), where one can cross to the other half of the village.
The route now heads downstream to the carpark of the Helford River Sailing Club, following a narrow path through pleasant woodland for a few minutes to join a quiet lane in the Bosahan Estate. After passing a seemingly abandoned stone cottage, the path leaves the lane and meanders through Padgagarrack Wood, running parallel to the Helford River, of which gaps in the trees regularly offer a good view. This undulating stretch of the path was quite difficult due to the surface being quite muddy in places and crossed by many slippery tree roots.
The path dips down to the quiet Bosahan Cove before taking on another short but strenuous stretch of woodland walking to Ponsence Cove (picture 15). From here a short climb out of the woods takes the route up to a much easier path that skirts a series of fields for almost a kilometre to reach a three-way path junction on Dennis Head.
The official route of the Coast Path continues ahead, following a 400 metre loop through dense scrub before returning to the junction and bearing left across a field overlooking Gillan Creek (picture 16), which is separated from the Helford River by Dennis Head.
At the bottom of the field the path dips down into a hollow that shelters the tiny hamlet of St Anthony-in-Meneage where a few holiday cottages huddle around the church of the same name (picture 17), separated from the creek by a small boatyard. The Coast Path joins a lane by the church, following it a short distance along the creek to a point where the creek narrows considerably and it is usually possible to scramble down the bank at low-tide and walk across the creek-bed on stepping stones to the village of Flushing.
Although I had timed my arrival well, I found a notice attached to a Coast Path signpost indicating that this crossing was temporarily closed due to erosion of the bank. Thus I was forced to take the alternate high-tide route, which follows the lane for another kilometre alongside the creek (picture 18) to a bridge and then follows another road uphill through farmland and then back down through the village of Flushing to return to the banks of the creek at Flushing Cove (picture 19). In total this diversion added three kilometres to the route.
From Flushing, a fenced path leads around low clifftops to the next cove, where the route crosses the back of the beach by a line of small boats to find some rough steps up into The Herra, which belongs to the National Trust. The path climbs up through trees to join a field-edge path that runs around Men-Aver Point, finally leaving Gillan Creek behind. The path now runs along the edge of Trewarnevas Cliff (picture 20), another National Trust property.
The Coast Path crosses a small wooded valley before joining a vehicle track leading onto Nare Point, a flat and grassy finger of land with a lookout station at the tip (picture 21) and distant views northwards towards Falmouth. The route runs all the way around the point, without taking any shortcuts, then skirts around rocky Polnare Cove to find a narrow path around the flank of the steep sided Nare Head.
The path now heads south along the clifftops for one and a half kilometres to the village of Porthallow (picture 22), in the process crossing a geological boundary between the slate rocks that make up much of the Cornish coast and several rock types that are unique to the Lizard Peninsula.
A fenced path leads down to the back of the beach, where one of the buildings houses a very scientific meteorological instrument (picture 23). A little further along the beach is a tall obelisk marking the official midway point of the South West Coast Path (picture 24). On one side is a poem about Porthallow, while on the other sides are long lists of plants and animals to be encountered on the Coast Path.
There is no coastal path around the next headland, and instead the Coast Path must take a detour inland for about two kilometres, turning up a lane in front of the Five Pilchards Inn. The lane snakes its way uphill for about 500 metres until a signpost on the left points into a driveway and then ahead on an enclosed path just outside the left-hand side of a small apple orchard.
The path emerges at a junction of lanes, where a Coast Path signpost points straight ahead along one of them. At the next junction, the route turns left into another lane, soon curving to the right before reaching a sharp left, where the route leaves the lane by crossing a Cornish stile into a field.
There is no obvious path in this field, the correct route heading downhill to find another Cornish stile in the left-hand field boundary, giving access to another field overlooking the small coastal village of Porthoustock (picture 25). Following the fence down the right-hand edge of the field leads down to a driveway and thence to a lane in the centre of the small village, about 100 metres behind the sheltered little beach. This is as close to the coast as the route gets for a little while, as the next headland, which is occupied by a large quarry, also lacks a coastal path.
The route follows the lane as it swings inland, soon meeting a junction and continuing ahead for a short distance on a hedge-lined lane to find a stile on the right. The path now climbs diagonally across three consecutive meadows to join a lane leading into the sleepy village of Rosenithon. At the only junction in the village, the route turns down another lane beside a stone building with a postbox built into the wall. The lane ends at the front gate of a house called Chynhale, and here the Coast Path turns left on an enclosed path that leads downhill between fields to Godrevy Cove (picture 26).
A short stretch of path along a low cliff takes the Coast Path into the Dean Quarry (picture 27), where a kind of rock called Gabbro is extracted for use in road building. A well-marked path skirts around the seaward edge of the quarry, eventually reaching a stone boundary wall that is crossed by a Cornish stile. The path now rounds Lowland Point, a low, flat headland where the grassy foreshore is strewn with rocks, making this stretch of the path quite heavy going, despite it being very level. This terrain continues for another two kilometres after the path rounds the point, changing direction from south to west.
Just when I was getting a bit tired of picking my way carefully over the rocky path, it mercifully climbs uphill to the end of a lane on the edge of the village of Coverack, my destination for the day. The lane runs down amongst holiday houses to reach a junction with the B3294 above the town's beach (picture 28), where some heavy earthmoving equipment was being used to rebuild the seawall beside the road. Here I left the Coast Path for the day, having completed another 32 kilometres of the official route.
Getting back to my accommodation from Coverack turned out to be a bit of an adventure. I had about an hour to wait for the last bus of the day, which failed to appear by half an hour after the scheduled time. A phone call to the bus company revealed that the bus had suffered some mechanical problems but was still on its way. The bus eventually arrived about 90 minutes behind schedule, and was met by a mechanic, who followed the bus all the way back to the town of Helston, the Lizard Peninsula's main transport hub. Three or four times along the way the driver had to pull over for the mechanic to refill the bus's radiator.
Eventually making it to Helston at eight o'clock, I discovered that I had about 90 minutes to wait for the onward bus to Redruth, where I could catch a train back to Truro. Fortunately, directly opposite the bus stop is a small pub, with attached microbrewery, called the Blue Anchor Inn, which I had been planning to visit anyway on account of its being one of only four pubs in Britain to have been listed in every edition of CAMRA's Good Beer Guide. This makes it a sacred site to real ale fanatics such as myself. Incidentally, one of the other pubs listed in every Good Beer Guide is not far from the Coast Path at Worth Matravers in Dorset.
After sipping a couple of pints of the pub's excellent microbrewed Spingo Ales, I wandered over the road to catch my bus up to Redruth Station, where I caught a ride on the last train of the day to Truro, finally arriving back at my accommodation at 11PM, six hours after finishing my walk.