The streets in Polperro are still quiet. I am here early. The tide is out and a few people are working on their boats, beached in the muddy harbour area.
We have come down for a weekend of walking. It is a long drive, but the forecast is good. The sun is shining and I am dying to get out on the South West Coast Path once again. I hope to make Fowey for lunch – and beyond to Par Sands, if the weather holds and my legs keep going.
I follow the path up out of the village and am standing on Chapel Cliff, looking down on the mouth of the estuary. Across is the headland I walked down on my last visit, when the landscape was buffeted by wind. The rocky inlet is calmer today. The rocks are still jagged.
The sun is shining and I grow hot, stripping off to my T-shirt – first time this year! I stop and telephone my eldest daughter. It is her birthday today and I am sorry not to be with her.
With my eyes on the view, and my thoughts on my daughter, I’m not watching my feet. A sixth sense warns me of danger. Something is slithering across the path ahead. It is too late to stop, but I manage to sidestep.
It is only the size of a thick shoe lace. A baby adder. It rears up – just as a grown snake would do – and flicks a forked tongue out, looking at me. As I swing my camera up, it slides away into the grass.
Would such a tiny snake carry much poison? I don’t know. But I’m glad I am wearing good walking boots and have long trousers on.
From Chapel Cliff, I can see back to the east, to Hannafore Point, the entrance to Looe and the sweep of the land in the distance around Whitsand Bay. I can even make out the little hump of the old ruined chapel on Rame Head. (Just out of sight on the photograph below.)
This is a wonderful day for walking. The sea is blue and quiet. The jagged Cornish rocks – a hostile grey last time I walked the coast – seem friendlier in the sunshine.
The gorse is out – cheerful yellow flowers, buzzing with insects and butterflies. They carry the scent of posh sea-side resorts – Saint Tropez, the Riviera – or how I imagine such places would smell. It is the whiff of coconut and something slightly sweeter – something I can’t quite put a name to – that recreates a heady mix of cologne and suntan oil.
Why are we so bad at describing smells? We don’t seem to have the right words in the English language and so we are forced to simply list other things with similar scents.
The official South West Coast Path guides describe this section of the walk as “challenging”. I think I am making good progress, but soon come across a series of steep dips in the land. This one is called East Combe.
A man is taking his time on the steps ahead. At first I think he is a tired walker, having a rest. Then I realise he is working – replacing some of the wooden supports that create steps up the steep sides of this valley.
He is very friendly when I stop for a breather and watch him. Actually, everybody in Cornwall is very friendly. It seems to be the law here. He tells me he is a local contractor and is working for the National Trust. According to my OS map, the NT owns all the coastal strip from Talland Bay to Polruan – looking after 8 miles of unspoilt coastline.
The next stretch of the path goes up and down. The coast is furrowed by little streams. Ahead I can see Pencarrow Head – my next waypoint. Beyond is a headland with a tower -Gribbin Head. I discover the name when I pull out my next OS map. And beyond? St Austell and Mevagissey Bay.
I pass through more gorse bushes and an increased smell of coconut and suntan oil. I realise I am getting sunburnt. I put sunblock on my face, but forgot about my arms, not realising how warm the day was going to be. Ah well. Too late now.
The sea here is remarkably clear. I love looking down on the rock formations and the pools. I realise that despite walking a 1,000 miles around the coast of the UK I’ve never seen such clear water before.
Devon is beautiful, but sediment is washed into the water from the colourful sandstone rocks – bleeding yellow ochre or russet red into the sea. Where there are dramatic chalk cliffs, such as Beachy Head, they fill the water with a milky-white wash.
Cornwall has granite rocks, not easily eroded. They may be grey and less ‘friendly’ than the other cliffs I’ve walked across, but the sea remains beautifully clear.
Below I see a family on an outcrop of jagged rock. Fishing. It would have been a scramble to get up there. I hope they catch something.
I stop for a rest and take a self-portrait.
I’m not happy with my appearance. Despite all my walking, I am portly around the tummy. I also look slightly eccentric, with my sun hat and walking poles and flapping anorak. The sun burn makes me glow.
I’m approaching Pencarrow Head. More people appear on the path. There must be a car park nearby.
Ahead of me is a family. An overweight father, rotund mother, two lagging children and a yappy dog. I feel annoyed. After an hour of walking without seeing anybody, my arrival at Pencarrow Head is marred by their intrusion in my landscape. How dare they walk on the same path as me?
The little dog is yapping at something. The daughter follows behind. I realise she is wearing flimsy sandals totally inappropriate for a walk across rocky terrain. Her feet must be hurting.
Then I realise why the dog was yapping.
There are bullocks on Pencarrow Head. About six or seven of them. Big. Nearly full-grown. Powerful. One strides towards the yapping dog. The mother picks up the little dog and walks with it in her arms looking back at her daughter, oblivious to the advancing bull.
I feel like shouting, ‘Put the dog down!’, but I am too inhibited. Instead, I hang back, not wanting to get close and put myself in danger.
Luckily, the little dog stops yapping and the bull loses interest. The family continues on, seemingly unaware of the danger they have just been in. I wait until they are out of sight.
Pencarrow Head is a beautiful spot. Despite the bulls.
I stop and take photographs, have a rest and a drink, all the time keeping an eye on the surrounding cattle. They go back to munching grass and ignoring me.
Here is a photograph of the view back to West Combe across Lantivet Bay. The church on the hill is the parish church of Lansallos .
I look at my watch. It is past 1pm and I need to get moving. There is some way to go until I get to Fowey, although I find it hard to judge the distance as I need to move onto the next OS map in a mile or so.
I meet a lot of other walkers in the area around Pencarrow Head. The reason is the car park above Lantic Bay and, of course, the beautiful scenery of Lantic Bay itself. This took me by surprise. A gleaming white beach, bright blue water, a perfect beach tucked into a little cove. Unspoilt.
The descent down to the beach is steep. I see the family with the yapping dog are going down the path towards the shore.
It is nearly 2 pm and I must keep moving.
So, I stay on the high ground above the bay. In the photo, you can see the South West Coast Path curving round above the steep slopes. On the other side of the bay, I stop to take a few more photographs of Lantic Beach. It really is beautiful.
Now I hurry on.
The landscape opens out. More gorse bushes. Fields. Sheep grazing. Ahead I look across the mouth of the estuary. Sailing boats are out. Polruan is just around the corner.
Polruan is the first village I have come to since Polperro. I stick to the outskirts, walking on the official South West Path as it follows the headland.
I pass a lookout station. The wind has picked up and is blowing straight in from the sea. I head across a car park and down a narrow street.
Through gaps in the buildings I see some great views across the estuary to Fowey. Is that a castle on the other side? It is very pretty view.
My husband has found a pub in Polruan and texts me. They stop serving food at 3:00 – so he will order something for me. (Why do pubs do this?)
Walking too quickly, I walk straight past the pub without realising. Luckily, my husband sees me jogging past the window and rushes out to catch me. He has bought me a plate of prawns and crab salad. A great choice.
Despite the sunshine, there is a fire burning in the pub. Other people come in and try to order food. They are disappointed – it is too late.
After lunch, we walk down to the jetty where the ferry will take us across to Fowey.
I did consider ending my walk at this point. I am tired and the walk this morning was, indeed, ‘strenuous’. But it is a shame to miss out on a sunny afternoon. So I will press on to Polkerris.
Miles walked = 8