SOUTH WEST COAST PATH NATIONAL TRAIL
Stage 31: The Lizard to Porthleven
Friday, June 6, 2014
I made a rather late start to this stage, which covers the entire western side of the Lizard Peninsula, setting off from the carpark above Lizard Point just before three in the afternoon.
The path heads west along the clifftops above a jagged, rocky shore to Old Lizard Head (picture 1), where there's a good view back to the old lifeboat station in the cove below Lizard Point (picture 2). The path rounds the headland and turns northwards, following a dry-stone wall outside a meadow and soon passing a rather spectacular rock outcrop (picture 3). A few minutes further along at Venton Hill Point, one can see the next few kilometres of the path stretching out ahead (picture 4).
The path winds its way along the cliffs above Pentreath Beach (picture 5), crossing a couple of steep-sided combes before reaching a point overlooking Kynance Cove, where a small shingle beach is sheltered by several rocky little islands (picture 6). The Coast Path descends to join a broader path coming down from a National Trust carpark to the beach. Being close to high-tide, the water was almost lapping at the foot of the cliffs and I had to carefully pick my way across the narrow strip of shingle between waves to keep my boots dry.
The route crosses in front of the café that shelters in the combe behind the cove then climbs past a few more huge outcrops on Kynance Cliff before rounding Rill Point (picture 7). After dipping down to cross the combe of Gew-graze, the path skirts around the little coves of Pol Cornick and Parc Bean Cove before tackling the prominent headland of Predannack (picture 8).
From the northern side of Predannack, there are views over Mullion Island (picture 9), a haven for birds. The path continues, on stepping stones for a while, towards Mullion Cove (picture 10), where a small harbour with stout stone walls sits at the bottom of a deep combe. The Coast Path drops down into the combe, crossing behind the harbour to find steps up between houses to regain the clifftop in front of the Mullion Cove Hotel.
The route briefly follows a cul-de-sac road past the hotel to join a well-worn path across another cliff to an unsealed lane in front of a row of bungalows overlooking the south end of the sandy beach at Polurrian Cove. Just before an intersection of lanes, a signpost directs the Coast Path along a sunken footpath that passes under a small wooden footbridge before descending to cross a small stream that flows down into the cove. The Coast Path then climbs past the lone house overlooking the north end of the beach (picture 11), striking out across the National Trust's Meres Cliff to Poldhu Point, where the rather weather-beaten Marconi Monument (picture 12) commemorates the first wireless telegraph message transmitted across the Atlantic, sent from Poldhu Point to St John's in Newfoundland on December 12, 1901.
From the monument, the path skirts around the seaward side of the Marconi Centre to join its access road, which descends beside the deep, sandy inlet of Poldhu Cove (picture 13). The road is followed around the back of the cove (picture 14), before the path climbs across a short stretch of clifftop to Church Cove (picture 15). Here I began to notice the sky getting darker, the wind picking up and the temperature falling.
Once again, the path skirts around the back of the cove, following the edge of the beach below a golf links, and passing about a hundred metres inland of the medieval church of St Winwalloe (picture 16), which shelters in the dunes behind a small, isolated headland.
By a National Trust sign, the path climbs stone steps built into a retaining wall and heads out across the dunes of Gunwalloe Towans, behind Dollar Cove. The path soon climbs up onto the headland of Halzephron Cliff, taking a zig-zag route along the clifftop beside fields, eventually gaining views over Halzephron Cove (picture 17).
Above the cove, the path runs parallel to a road for a short distance before turning away over a stile beside a high stone wall to take a path across the next stretch of cliffs to the tiny hamlet of Gunwalloe Fishing Cove (picture 18). The path descends to cross the track leading down to the beach, then climbs past a clifftop stone building that once served as a fish cellar.
For the next two kilometres, the route follows a well-worn and fairly level path along a sloping hillside above a long sandy beach, against which the waves were crashing quite loudly in the strengthening wind (picture 19). Eventually the path begins to descend gently to the Loe Bar, a large sand bank that separates the freshwater Loe Pool from the sea (picture 20). In early medieval times, the town of Helston, a few kilometres inland on the River Cober was a thriving port, but by the late 13th century, the Loe Bar had completely cut off the town's access to the sea.
The path down to the beach passes just to the landward side of a white cross erected in memory of 130 lives that were lost in 1807, when the frigate HMS Anson ran aground on the Loe Bar in a savage storm. The disaster prompted local man Henry Trengrouse to invent the Breeches Buoy the following year. The device used a rocket to fire a rope from the shore to a ship in distress to help the occupants get to shore safely.
With no specific path across the ever-shifting sands of the 500 metre long sand bar, the idea is to head for the seaward end of the cliff opposite. Not being sure of the route, I headed a bit further to the right at first, stopping briefly to take in the view of the Loe Pool (picture 21), before continuing ahead to find a large group of teenagers setting up tents and preparing to camp under the cliff.
Having returned to the correct course, I followed a wide track uphill onto low, crumbling cliffs. The track is a disused, unsurfaced lane that has been cut off by cliff erosion about a kilometre further on near Western Tye on the outskirts of the town of Porthleven and is now only usable by walkers. With the seas now positively boiling away below the cliffs, it wasn't hard to see how part of the lane had disappeared.
At Western Tye, the path climbs a little higher up the hillside to get around the gap in the lane before descending to follow the lane past the first houses of Porthleven (picture 22). After another 500 metres walking through a residential area, the path reaches Porthleven's harbour (picture 23), rounding a building topped by a distinctive clock tower to follow the quayside up to the B3304 road at the back of the harbour (picture 24) and the end of the day's walk, with 23.4 kilometres completed. It was getting quite dark by this time -- darker than the last picture implies -- being twenty minutes to ten at night, about fifteen minutes after sunset.
There was a bus stop on the B3304, right by the harbour, but I had about an hour to wait for the next bus. As it was now a little too cold for sitting still to seem like a good idea, I wandered off to explore the area around the harbour for a while. By the time I did get the bus and arrived at my accommodation in Penzance, it was almost midnight; too late to head to a pub for a well-earned pint, but I could always make up for that tomorrow.