I am in Cornwall. Don’t think I’ve ever been here before and feel like an explorer standing on the edge of an unknown world. How exciting. Land’s End, here I come!
From the Cremyll Ferry, the South West Coast Path follows the shore line along the western bank of Plymouth Sound. The first part of the walk is easy-going, along a wide track that hugs the edge of the Mount Edgcumbe Country Park, and passing through some wonderful woods.
Apparently Mount Edgcumbe House hosts a national collection of camellias. But I resist the opportunity to head off track to look at this – and, being very ignorant of gardening, I am not even sure if they would be in flower at this time of year.
To begin with, the path is fairly crowded with ambling families and groups of friends who have come to enjoy this Easter Saturday. But, as usually happens when I put distance between myself and the nearest car-park, I soon leave the crowds behind.
The path is steep in places, with newly built steps and diverted sections, due to landslips.
Through the trees, there are great views across Plymouth Sound and I can seen Plymouth Hoe, from where I started my walk this morning, with the wheel and Smeaton’s Tower.
Further along Plymouth Sound, I look over the low line of the breakwater, at the coastline where I walked yesterday. There is the familiar hump of the Great Mew Stone, with the Renney rocks in front and the tiny peak of Shag Stone just visible above the waves.
I follow a path along the side of the wooded slope, keeping high so that I can see the views, eventually emerging into open countryside.
In front of me is the sweep of Cawsand Bay and the twin villages of Kingsand and Cawsand.
When I looked at my map this morning, and measured the route with my trusty string, I thought I would be having an early lunch in Kingsand. In fact, after getting lost in Plymouth and spending too much time taking photographs across Plymouth Sound, it is now nearly 1pm and I am running later than I expected.
I stop at the first pub I come to. It is small and crowded. I’m warned there will be a wait before the kitchen can serve me, because they are unusually busy. I share a table with some other groups of walkers. They soon start up a conversation, but exclude me and I feel strangely annoyed at being treated as if I’m invisible.
The lunch, however, is excellent. Scallops. Very fresh and cooked perfectly.
Kingsand and Cawsand are pretty places with pastel coloured houses, but rather touristy. Despite the sun it is very chilly today, with an easterly wind blowing, and the small beaches are almost deserted. I can imagine these coves being popular and crowded in the summer.
I walk quickly along the next section of the path, keen to make Rame Head in good time. So I don’t take many photographs. But, on the final climb up towards the headland, I do stop to admire the view back along the rugged shore.
Just as I get my camera lined up and in focus, a dog bounds around the corner. Here it is, captured in the photo, just before he rushes up to me and fusses around my rucksack, looking for food, I think.
I remember the black labradors who greeted us this morning on the Hoe. Obviously, today is a day for doggy encounters.
The flower heads are beginning to look a bit worn and so, I presume, they are being grown for their bulbs.
In my home territory, East Anglia, we grow a great many bulbs – and a lot of tulips. Every year there is stunning flower parade in Spalding – a fen town surrounded by bulb fields. Floats decorated with the discarded flowers tour the streets and there are competitions between local organisations to put on the best display.
I walk quickly onwards, towards Rame Head. As I leave the shelter of Plymouth Sound behind, the east wind blows with ferocity. Walking along the headland is unpleasant, with the cold wind in my face and the bright sun in my eyes. Consequently, I don’t stop to take any photographs of the steep hill, or the ruined chapel perched at its top.
The path up is quite a scramble, with steep steps at the final ascent to the rocky summit. I stop to catch my breath and, turning away from the wind, I do take a photograph looking back down the path. As usual with photos, the steepness of the ascent is not really captured in the image.
At the top of Rame Head there is a windblown family, distributing small chocolate eggs among their children. I suspect the eggs were the bribe to get them up here. I hang around, looking hungry, but don’t get offered one. Shame!
The family leave and a middle-aged couple – who were given easter eggs – remain sheltering by the side of the chapel. They kindly take my photo. Behind me is the entrance to Plymouth Sound and the far shoreline is Devon.
But I am more interested in looking ahead along the Cornish coast.
Ahead stretches the curved shore of Whitsand Bay. The rocks look grey and rugged. The cliffs, although not very high, are steeply sloped. So this is Cornwall. It seems more remote, wilder, more foreign to me, than the familiar Jurassic coast of Devon.
I feel a thrill of excitement mixed with fear. Cornwall! I wonder how difficult the walking will be.
Leaving Rame Head behind, and glad the wind is blowing at my back, and not in my face, I walk towards Polhawn Cove, seen below. Coming down off the high land, I overtake a group of three chattering girls – either Spanish or Italian.
From Polhawn Cove, the South West Coast path runs along the side of the gently sloping cliff. The path is wide and looks easy-going, but proves deceptively difficult to walk along because it is not flat, and each step I take is on a slope. This means the small muscles of my calves and feet are constantly having to make balancing adjustments. It is four o’clock in the afternoon and I am growing tired.
I had anticipated a gentle walk along the sand of Whitsand Bay, because, according to my OS map, there is a wide stretch of sandy beach below me. Not true! All I see are jagged rocks. Maybe there is sand at very low tide – but no sign of any today – and it is only 2 hours past low tide.
Ahead, the path begins a long, straight and steep ascent. I meet a family (mum, dad and two young kids) running down the path towards me. As they get nearer, I realise they can’t stop – the path is too steep!
I can hear a road above me and see the occasional flash of a car through the bushes. The path, meanwhile, decides to take on a rambling life of its own. It doubles back on itself, going down, only to curve round in a tight bend and take me up again. After several similar, and seemingly pointless, detours, I begin to feel very irritable. Just because walkers like walking, there is no need to make us walk further than we have to. This path is a joke! But I have to follow its ridiculous meanderings because the bushes on either side are too dense for shortcuts.
Dotted around the slope are a number of cabins. Holiday homes? They have great views.
It is quarter past five. I am supposed to be meeting my husband at the Tregantle Fort car park. I have more than two miles to go and could cover the ground in an hour, but not if this path continues with these ridiculous hair-pin bends.
It is almost with relief that I come across ‘path closed’ signs. I debate trying to continue – it is never clear how ‘closed’ these closed footpaths actually are. But the thought of finishing my walk along the straight, flat road seems very tempting.
While trying to make up my mind, I sit on a convenient bench for a snack and a drink. Below me, I watch a man who seems to be clearing out his cabin. He is lugging an old mattress up a path, towards the road at the top of the slope. It looks hard work.
Mind made up, I scramble up to the road, which is only a few metres above me. Traffic is infrequent and I make good progress. The three girls I passed earlier catch up with me and overtake me. They walk in the middle of the road, causing me some concern and giving the few drivers we meet a series of minor heart attacks.
The view back to Rame Head is lovely.
Miles = 10
High points = crossing into Cornwall, lovely Mount Edgcumbe Country Park, and the exhilaration of Rame Head.
Low points = pointlessly meandering path above Whitsand Bay.