SOUTH WEST COAST PATH NATIONAL TRAIL
Stage 32: Porthleven to Penzance
Saturday, June 7, 2014
The weather hadn't changed much by the time I returned to Porthleven to resume my walk late the following morning. There was still a rather strong and cold wind blowing in from the sea and as I walked along the quay on the west side of the harbour (picture 1) a few of the waves rolling into the harbour mouth were sending spray over the top of the walls.
Fortunately, the path soon starts to climb, curving away from the harbour on a street called Mount Pleasant, then bearing slightly left at a quiet junction to follow Ocean View past the last few houses of Porthleven and joining a well-worn path out along the edge of low clifftop fields on Tregear Point (picture 2). Before long, the path passes by a memorial erected in 1949 to mark the passing into law of the Grylls' Act in 1808. Prompted by the wreck of the HMS Anson on Loe Bar the previous year, the Grylls' Act allowed subsequent shipwreck victims to be buried in the nearest consecrated ground rather than on the clifftops as had previously been the practice in the absence of a way tell Christian victims apart from the rest.
The path continues along the undulating cliffs as they gradually curve around towards Trewavas Head, almost three kilometres distant. About halfway along this stretch of the path is a long section on Trewearne Cliff (picture 4) where the path has been fenced in to keep walkers from venturing too close to the edge of the cliff, which is eroding quite rapidly here due to being composed of slate instead of the harder granite to be found on either side of it.
Soon the path begins to climb steeply up through waist-high ferns to the top of Trequean Cliff and then a short way on to Trewavas Cliff, where a spectacular outcrop confirms the transition back to granite (picture 5). Another couple of minutes walking takes the path past the two distinctive Cornish engine houses of the Greystone Mines (picture 6). Engine houses like these contained giant beam engines that were used to pump water out of the mines.
These are the first relics of Cornwall's once great mining industry to be found on the Coast Path, but certainly won't be the last. For centuries, Cornwall produced most of the world's tin, a vital ingredient in making bronze. As cheaper sources of metal were developed in other countries during the 19th and early-20th centuries, Cornwall's mining industry went into a long decline and there is just one working mine left in the county. As the mines closed one by one, huge numbers of Cornish miners emigrated in search of a living, taking their technology with them -- Cornish engine houses can still be seen as far away as Chile and Australia.
The Coast Path continues around Trewavas Head, following the contours of the hillside towards another engine house, this time belonging to the Wheal Prosper Mine (picture 7), which stands on a grassy little plateau above the little cove of Porthcew, where the small beach was covered in white water from the crashing waves.
The path climbs up past the engine house to join a broad path leading up to a carpark. A long driveway heads left down to a lone house on the tip of Rinsey Head (picture 8), but the Coast Path continues ahead, cutting across the headland and climbing over a small ridge.
From the top of the ridge, the path winds its way downhill through the National Trust's Lesceave Cliff towards the long beach at Praa Sands (picture 9). The path initially runs across scrub-covered dunes just behind the beach, but is soon forced by the presence of beachside cottages to join a road through the Sea Meads Private Estate (picture 10) before being able to return to low clifftops where the path soon passes a memorial to the crew of a Sunderland Flying Boat who crash-landed at Praa Sands in June 1943 (picture 11). While ten of the eleven crew survived that incident, only two survived the war.
The scrub gives way to a lawn as the path approaches the busier end of the beach at Sydney Cove. Beyond a carpark at the end of the lawn, the path passes along the front of a beachside pub before climbing past some bungalows and back into scrub above the western end of Praa Sands on Hoe Point. Once around the point, the Coast Path runs along the clifftops just outside a series of irregularly shaped fields to reach the rugged little inlet of Pestreath Cove (picture 12), where a tiny beach nestles below the cliff.
Above Pestreath Cove, the Coast Path says goodbye to the fields for a while, crossing an area of scrub growing on the old spoil heaps of a nearby mine above the larger beach of Kenneggy Sands (picture 13). Above the far end of the beach, the path joins an unsealed lane that runs around the small King's Cove and up to the tip of the unnamed point that separates it from Bessy's Cove (picture 14), once the centre of a sizable smuggling enterprise.
Just after rounding the point the lane divides, the Coast Path following the left branch for a short distance until an enclosed path on the right takes the route through tall bushes, onto a driveway and then back onto the clifftop. From here, an undulating path heads for Cudden Point (picture 15), which the path shortcuts across to Arch Zawn, where I got my first view across Mounts Bay, with the famous St Michael's Mount standing just off the coast (picture 16).
For the next couple of kilometres the path winds its way through gorse and scrub above the ragged coast of Stackhouse Cove and then Trevean Cove (picture 17), eventually joining a vehicle track that runs inland of some small fields above Perran Sands. At the end of the track, the Coast Path crosses a lane leading down to the beach and cuts behind a café before once again returning to field edges, now too low to be described as cliffs.
The route skirts around Basore Point (picture 18) and then Trenow Cove (picture 19), crossing a short but very rocky stretch of beach with the view of St Michael's Mount growing ever larger (picture 20) until the path is forced to head inland to find a lane leading up to Turnpike Road, at the eastern end of the town of Marazion.
The Coast Path turns left, following the main road gradually downhill through the town, which stretches out along the coast for one and a half kilometres. On the way down to the town centre the road passes the Fire Engine pub on the left (picture 21) and a little later the town's war memorial on the right (picture 22). The road changes name about five times by the time it reaches the Godolphin Arms, which stands directly opposite St Michael's Mount, overlooking the causeway that connects the island to the mainland on the lower half of the tide (picture 23).
A short distance further along the road stands the Tudor Chippy, a fish and chip shop made up to look like a tudor building on the outside. Here I purchased a serving of fish and chips for a rather late lunch, which I enjoyed while sitting on the sea wall overlooking the Mount.
The Mount is topped by a castle, which started its existence in the 12th century as a Benedictine Priory before becoming a private home in the 16th century and being regularly modified and added to by successive owners. Although it's still a private home, the island and most of the castle are now in the care of the National Trust and are open to the public. If you can manage the steep climb up to the summit, there are 360 degree views over a large swathe of west Cornwall. One can also spend quite a long time exploring the terraced gardens below the castle on the steep seaward side of the island.
Having finished my meal I set off again, with the route heading along the sea wall and the dunes beside Marazion Beach for a while (picture 24) before the main road comes up right next to the beach and the route joins a bicycle path beside the road.
After about 300 metres the railway line to Penzance also comes in from the right. The main road bears away over the railway, while the Coast Path continues ahead past the Old Station House pub and back onto the top of the sea wall (picture 25). The path is now sandwiched between the beach and the railway for the next three kilometres, all the way to the end of the line at Penzance Station (picture 26).
The path emerges from its confinement at the back of the railway station's carpark, crossing the large stretch of tarmac to join Wharf Road, which passes the fairly large Penzance Harbour (picture 27) before continuing a short distance further to reach the Jubilee Pool (picture 28), which occupies a small headland just south of the harbour. At the time of my visit the pool had been closed for some time and a group of local people had been running a campaign to save it.
Here I left the Coast Path for the day, with a further 23.1 kilometres completed, heading off to my accomodation which was only a couple of minutes walk away. Since leaving Marazion, the weather had been very windy and quite gloomy, so I had been looking forward to getting indoors and warming up. In accordance with Murphy's Law, the sun came out just as I reached the end of the walk.