SOUTH WEST COAST PATH NATIONAL TRAIL
Stage 33: Penzance to Porthcurno
Sunday, June 8, 2014
The sky was rather overcast as I set off from the Jubilee Pool in Penzance (picture 1), heading westwards along the promenade beside the imaginatively named Western Promenade Road. After about 800 metres, I passed the Wherry Rocks, which give their name to the residential area acroos the road: Wherrytown. Here the path becomes separated from the road by a long, narrow park, in the middle of which is a strange, flat-topped mound (picture 2), the purpose of which escapes me -- answers on a postcard, please.
The path continues along the edge of the park towards the town of Newlyn (picture 3), just about conjoined to Penzance, and these days the major fishing port of West Cornwall and a well-known haunt of artistic types. At the end of the park, now in a part of Newlyn called Tolcarne, the path passes by a statue of a fisherman (picture 4) before bearing to the right of the Tolcarne Inn and crossing an ancient, single-arch stone bridge over a small stream with the rather grand name of the Newlyn Coombe River.
Now at an intersection by Newlyn's war memorial, the Coast Path heads southwards on The Strand, a narrow road that runs past a long warehouse and then begins a gentle climb beside Newlyn's large and busy harbour (picture 5). The Strand becomes Cliff Road as it climbs higher, eventually leaving Newlyn behind about a kilometre from the war memorial. The pavement beside the road is followed around a long right hand curve to the small hamlet of Roskilly (picture 6), where a long sea wall below the road protects both the road and the houses from being eroded away.
Beyond the far end of Roskilly, on Penlee Point. stands the disused Penlee Lifeboat Station, where a small memorial garden beside the road remembers the eight volunteer crewmen of the lifeboat Solomon Browne who lost their lives while attempting to rescue the crew and passengers of the stricken Union Star in a severe storm on the 19th of December 1981 (picture 7) -- a reminder that Cornwall's coast can still be just as treacherous in the modern day as it was in the days of sail. The lifeboat station was closed shortly after the tragedy, with the larger replacement lifeboat being stationed at Newlyn Harbour.
After rounding Penlee Point, the Coast Path continues beside the road on a long descent into the town of Mousehole, which I'm reliably informed is pronounced "Mowzell". Cliff Road soon becomes The Parade then, bearing away from the coast by a carpark, becomes Parade Hill as it heads between some attractive old cottages in the town centre. At the bottom of Parade Hill, the route turns left for a short distance on Commercial Road to reach the northern end of Mousehole Harbour (picture 8).
The route skirts around the inner edge of the harbour, passing the Harbour Office (picture 9) and some pretty stone cottages before climbing to the top of the high sea wall where the southern breakwater meets the coast. The narrow Gurnick Street is followed along the top of the sea wall before the route turns right between cottages to climb up a narrow lane to a left turn onto Raginnis Hill. The road climbs fairly steeply, with some good views back down to the town (picture 10) before the road levels out and leaves the last houses behind.
At a junction, the Coast Path turns left onto an enclosed path, and here the character of the path changes dramatically. Having been on tarmac all the way from Penzance, the path finally gets onto bare earth, following the contours of the steep hillsides for almost two kilometres to Kemyel Point (picture 11), where the path starts to become very rocky in places, and on to the headland of Carn-Du (picture 12).
On the southern side of Carn-Du, the Coast Path picks its way along the lower part of the steep hillside, traversing a couple of narrow granite ledges and passing close to a huge spoil heap from a nearby quarry on the approach to Lamorna Cove (picture 13). The path descends to meet the foot of the lane that comes down the combe from the village of Lamorna, about 500 metres inland. The broken end of the quay on the far side of the cove (picture 14) shows the ferocity of some of the winter storms that lash this part of the coast.
The Coast Path follows the road around the cove to a carpark above the remains of the quay, from which one must climb over and around several large boulders to find the correct path along the rock-strewn hillside of Lamorna Point (picture 15).
Once around the point, the path runs along the hillside of Rosemodress Cliff, past the small point of Carn Barges and on ahead to the more substantial headland of Tater-Du. The first half of this stretch is quite strenuous, scrambling over a very rocky and uneven surface as the path gradually gains height. For a time, the lighthouse on the tip of Tater-Du is visible from a distance, but by the time the path levels out and rounds the point about 100 metres inland (picture 16), the 15 metre high tower is hidden from view. The Tater-Du lighthouse is notable for being the newest along the South West Coast Path, first lit in July 1965.
After passing by some isolated cottages, the path continues along the edge of Boscawen Cliff to Boscawen Point, where there is a good view ahead, almost all the way to the end of the afternoon's walk (picture 17). From the point, the path descends into a small, sheltered oak wood above Paynter's Cove (picture 18).
The path continues to descend, soon arriving at the rocky beach of St Loys Cove (picture 19). Here one must very carefully pick a route over the large, rounded stones for about 50 metres to a small stream, which is crossed by a tiny stone bridge a few metres above the beach (picture 20). The path then winds its way through another small wood, passing behind a beachside property before emerging onto a grassy path around the scrub-covered Merthen Point.
The path now threads its way along the edge of Trevedran Cliff (picture 21) before dropping down a steep flight of steps into the lonely combe of Porthguarnon, crossing a footbridge over a small stream before climbing just as steeply up the other side, from which the best views of the cove may be enjoyed (picture 22).
Another stretch of clifftop walking follows, skirting the uninhabited Le Scathe Cove. The views along this part of the path are mostly hidden by tall scrub on both sides until the path begins to descend into a combe that harbours the small fishing hamlet of Penberth Cove (picture 23). In front of the small cluster of stone fisherman's cottages, the Coast Path crosses the shallow Penberth River via a line of stepping stones beside a ford (picture 24) then begins a steep climb up through scrub and onto Cribba Head.
Above the next cove the path bears a little inland, cutting across the back of the next headland and passing through the site of an Iron-Age hill fort. The headland that is skipped ends in a long, narrow spine of granite, marked on the map as Horrace and perhaps best viewed from a little further along the path on Treen Cliff (picture 25).
Before long, the scrub closes in around the path and the views are rather curtailed until the path comes up to Percella Point, overlooking the white sandy beach of Porthcurno (picture 26). The path winds its way down into the combe (picture 27) passing a nondescript little building (picture 28) just before reaching a junction of paths in the dunes. Here I left the Coast Path for the day, with 18.6 kilometres walked from Penzance.
The little building in the dunes once served a very important purpose, being the place from which fourteen under-sea telephone cables headed out under the beach, connecting England to the rest of the world. This critical communications link made Porthcurno an important strategic target of German bombers during World War II.
Further up the combe in Porthcurno village is the Telegraph Museum, which I had been intending to visit after the walk, but it turned out to be closed for several months for refurbishment. I still had a couple of hours to wait for a bus back to Penzance, so after exploring the village I went back down to relax on the beach for a while -- a very pleasant end to a most enjoyable day's walking.