SOUTH WEST COAST PATH NATIONAL TRAIL
Stage 39: Portreath to Perranporth
Saturday, June 6, 2015
The 20.2 kilometre stage from Portreath to Perranporth is a straightforward walk along fairly level clifftop paths, except for regular crossings of steep-sided valleys, but none of these is particularly taxing.
From the bus stop by Portreath's beach, the Coast Path follows the B3301 through the town and past the back of the harbour, turning left in front of the Portreath Arms to climb Lighthouse Hill, which rises above the far side of the harbour (picture 1). Overlooking the narrow harbour entrance, the road switches back sharply to the right and the town gradually gives way to fields as the road continues to climb gently.
Eventually a Coast Path signpost points off the road and onto a clifftop path, lined with colourful flowers, that runs above Gooden Heane Cove and onto Gooden Heane Point (picture 2). The path cuts across the back of the point, turning right to rejoin the clifftop and almost immediately passes a sign warning that the path is now on Ministry of Defence land.
For the next three kilometres the path is sandwiched between the clifftop and the high wire fence of a military airfield. The path soon dips down into the steep-sided combe of Hayle Ulla then climbs up to a fairly level stretch of path with far-reaching views (picture 3). About two-thirds of the way along the edge of the airfield the path reaches its next obstacle, Sally's Bottom (picture 4).
After the steep climb up from Sally's Bottom, the path levels out and passes by some old mining ruins then shortcuts across another little headland to run past a tall stone obelisk and through the remains of a small smelting site. A broad track now heads along a kilometre of fairly featureless gorse-covered clifftop with the long beach of Porthtowan gradually coming into view ahead (picture 5). Finally reaching the tip of a headland, the path turns sharp right, joining a narrow lane called West Cliff and descending into the village of Porthtowan, which is set well back from the beach at the junction of two valleys (picture 6).
Reaching the foot of the lane, the Coast Path turns right past the village hall for about 50 metres and then sharp left on Beach Road, following it back towards the beach. Beyond a large carpark, a surf shop and a beachside restaurant, the road ends and the Coast Path continues ahead on a broad path that climbs onto another headland overlooking the beach (picture 7). At the top of the climb the route turns onto a narrow but well-worn trail, soon entering the National Trust's Wheal Charlotte property (picture 8), the name indicating another former mining site.
The path runs along the sloping cliffs of Wheal Charlotte above the long, sandy beach for just over a kilometre to reach the next coombe of Chapel Porth, also owned by the National Trust (picture 9). The path angles down the side of the valley, reaching its floor some distance inland before turning to follow a flatter path beside a tiny stream back to the NT carpark and café behind the beach (picture 10).
The route crosses the stream by a footbridge at the back corner of the carpark then climbs the road from the opposite corner of the carpark for a short distance to find a well-trodden stony path that climbs over a small hill, crosses a shallow valley and then climbs back onto the cliffs above the beach. A few hundred metres later, the path passes the engine house of the Wheal Coates Mine, which stands above the end of the beach (picture 11). Beyond the engine house the path climbs steadily up to Tubby's Head, from which there is a nice view back down the long beach to Porthtowan (picture 12).
Above the low finger of Tubby's Head, the path passes an abandoned mineshaft (picture 13) and then continues on along the cliffs to round St Agnes Head below a National Coastwatch Institute lookout. A few minutes walk further is Newdowns Head (picture 14), beyond which the path runs through a rare patch of shade in a small hollow (picture 15) before starting to descend, sometimes a little precariously, to the rocky Trevaunance Cove (picture 16), formerly the port of the mining town of St Agnes, a kilometre inland. The hills behind the cove are dotted with engine houses and chimneys, and the area is another of the ten distracts that make up the Cornish Mining World Heritage Site.
On the windswept point above the beach, the Coast Path joins a lane heading down into the village, but soon bears right on an enclosed path behind some houses and the main village carpark to emerge on Rocky Lane. Fifty metres to the left is the sprawling Driftwood Spars pub (picture 17), where I had been looking forward to stopping for lunch and a pint of the pub's own real ale, brewed on the premises.
From the lower corner of the pub, the Coast Path climbs a narrow path through tall scrub to regain the clifftop and a view over the cove (picture 18). A few minutes later the path comes up above Trevellas Cove (picture 19) and starts to descend again, ending up about 300 metres inland behind the cove in Trellas Combe.
The valley is filled with many more relics of the mining industry (picture 20), including one that is still in operation on a fairly small scale. The Blue Hills Tin Stream showcases the traditional methods for refining tin ore extracted from both underground lodes and surface deposits found in the stream that runs down the valley. Blue Hills is now the only commercial tin producer in Cornwall, the last of an industry that once employed tens of thousands of Cornish men and women.
The path crosses the stream and heads down the valley to a carpark above the rocky little beach, from which an obvious path climbs steeply out of the valley and back to the clifftops. For the next couple of kilometres the path follows the ragged cliffs along the edge of the Perranporth Airfield, which was constructed during the Second World War. Along the way the path encounters the remains of several gun emplacements and an underground bunker (picture 21).
At the far end of the airfield the path turns left onto Cligga Head, which is heavily scarred by former quarrying operations and still has the remains of several related buildings (picture 22). Below the buildings a signpost points to the right and along the cliffs from Cligga Head to Droskyn Point (picture 23). A short distance further on the path comes up beside a low stone wall and follows it along to a gate onto Tregundy Lane on the edge of Perranporth.
A hundred metres down the lane the route turns left onto Cliff Road, which has good views over the large beach (picture 24) as the road curves downhill to the end of the day's walk at the short beachside promenade by the large beach carpark.
Perranporth is one of the larger towns on Cornwall's north coast, and I spent a couple of hours wandering around the town centre before catching the last bus of the day just before eight o'clock. It was quite a long journey back to Penzance afterwards, with the bus taking almost an hour on its circuitous route to Truro and then another half hour on a train to get back to my accommodation in Penzance at half past nine, just as it was starting to get dark. Coming from a place where the latest sunset of the year is at seven o'clock (and we don't have daylight savings time), it's great to be able to make the most of England's long summer days.