SOUTH WEST COAST PATH NATIONAL TRAIL
Stage 35: Land's End to Cape Cornwall
Monday, June 1, 2015
The first day of summer started out sunny in Penzance, but deteriorated rapidly during the 55 minute open-top bus ride to Land's End. By the time I set off from the First and Last Refreshment House in England on Dr Syntax's Head it was raining lightly and the wind was blowing in quite strongly from the north-east.
The Coast Path follows a well-worn trail around the top of Trevescan Cliff, with views northwards towards Cape Cornwall (picture 1) and offshore towards the Longships rocks, topped by the Longships Lighthouse (picture 2). Continuing along the National Trust-owned Mayon Cliff, the path reaches an old Coastguard lookout, built in 1912 on the headland of Pedn-men-du (picture 3). A plaque by the lookout explains that Mayon Cliff and several other cliffs in the area have been used since World War II to train British commandos.
From the lookout, the path descends a rocky path to the tiny harbour of mainland England's most westerly village, Sennen Cove (picture 4). Beyond the harbour, which was unsurprisingly deserted in the rough weather, the path passes behind the Sennen Lifeboat House and then along the sea-wall beside the main road.
When the road bears away from the beach, the Coast Path continues ahead through a carpark, climbing some steps beside a café at the far end and heading left along a sandy path through tall scrub and then across a hillside towards the combe of Carn Barges. The path crosses a tiny stream running through the combe via a plank bridge at a cluster of holiday cottages some distance back from the beach then heads down towards a World War II pillbox above the beach (picture 5).
Below jagged outcrops, the path skirts around the foot of Escalls Cliff, which separates Carn Barges from Gwynver Beach, where the entire bay seemed to be filled with white water (picture 6). The path runs above the back of the beach, passing by a small grove of trees -- a rarity on this part of the coast -- before winding its way around the boulder-strewn lower slopes of Aire Point (picture 7) and along Nanjulian Cliff (picture 8).
Beyond the little combe of Gazick, the Coast Path climbs up onto Carn Polpry, passing by an open mineshaft (picture 9) before circling around the clifftop above Polpry Cove and up onto the gorse-covered top of Gribba Point. A stony trail then zig-zags down the hillside through an area dotted with old mineshafts and adits (sloping drainage tunnels from ancient mines further up the hillside). Passing behind a large outcrop, the path then descends steeply down to a carpark at the abandoned mining hamlet of Porth Nanven at the foot of the Cot Valley (picture 10). Tin mining once thrived in this area, with both underground and surface mining operations running until the middle of the 20th century.
The Coast Path then follows the road up the valley for about 600 metres. The cold wind, getting ever stronger, was blowing right along the valley and about half way along the light rain that had been falling for most of the morning got heavier. That wasn't so bad until I reached the signpost where the path leaves the road and turns sharply back towards the sea, climbing diagonally up the hillside onto the very exposed Carn Gloose (picture 11), where there are numerous remnants of centuries of mining activity, including a tall chimney built partly of stone and partly of brick and several more mineshafts encircled by low stone walls.
The route passes well to the left of the chimney and to the left of the Ballowall Barrow (which I failed to notice with the wind and rain blowing directly into my face), passing a trig pillar and joining a road. Almost immediately the road reaches a pair of gateposts that no longer have their gate and becomes a rough track heading downhill beside the stone wall of the Cape Cornwall Golf and Leisure Club.
The descent into the combe on the near side of Cape Cornwall (picture 12) gave me some temporary shelter from the gale, but when I climbed back up to the small cluster of houses on the south side of the cape, the wind was blowing so hard that it was quite an effort to walk into it and remain upright. As the next part of the path makes a somewhat precarious ascent up to the chimney on the summit of the cape, I decided that it would be wise to save that for another day, leaving the Coast Path at a National Trust sign at the beginning of the climb.
The conditions had made the going quite slow, with the 11.3 kilometres from Land's End to Cape Cornwall taking me just a tick under five hours. Turning inland along Cape Cornwall Road, I managed a much better pace over the two-and-a-bit kilometres to the town of St Just with the wind at my back. The road is lined with stone walls for much of the way and these gave me some welcome relief from the freezing gale. Fortunately I was in good time to catch a bus back to Penzance, where it didn't take long to find a warm pub to dry out in.
Incidentally, Cape Cornwall, the only cape in England, is where the English Channel and the Atlantic Ocean officially meet. Thus it was a bit of a milestone for me as I have walked all the way around the coast from London over the past five years, having now covered the entire English coastline of the Channel. I hope that one day I'll get to walk the French side of the Channel too.