105 Polkerris to Par Sands to Charlestown

I start today’s walk from Polkerris where, due to recent rock falls, the South West Coast Path is diverted away from the cliff edge. Unfortunately, this means a hike along the road. The climb out of Polkerris is punishing, but my hip has miraculously healed itself overnight and I am pain-free.

I haven’t gone very far before I hear the sound of a car horn and, a few minutes later, encounter three sheep on the loose. This one gives me a haughty stare.

sheep on the road out of Polkerris, Ruth walking round the coast

The other two sheep have clambered up the steep banks on either side of the road and are munching on greenery. They have a look that is half guilty and half full of mischief – like children up to no good. I look around for a field where they might belong, but can’t see anything other than arable land and gardens. Since I can’t shooe them anywhere, I leave them where they are and hope the farmer finds them soon.

stile, South West Coast Path deviation, Ruth walking the coast of CornwallI walk along the edge of the A3082 for a hundred yards or so, then spot a stile. Here I see a footpath leading across fields and down to Par Sands.

Although it is a shame the South West Coast Path was closed, up here I have a great view across St Austell Bay. Unfortunately, the weather is dull and the forecast warned of rain later. What a change from yesterday, when the sun shone most of the day and I got sunburnt.

Walking across the field, I meet a couple of walkers coming towards me. These are the first – and only – serious walkers I meet all day. And I meet some more sheep.

more sheep, Ruth's coastal walk along South West Coast Path

When I was walking down from Gribbin Head yesterday, Par Sands looked very attractive – a wide beach at the apex of the bay. But that was from a distance. Closer to the beach, I realise that it is dominated by a factory complex on its western side. Although I am fond of industrial scenery, this probably explains why Par Sands is not a well-known tourist destination.

I am pleased to be down on a beach again and I enjoy my walk across the sand. The tide is out.

Par Sands, Ruth walking the South West Coast Path, Cornwall

At the other side of Par Sands, my way is barred by a river and the industrial area on the other side. There is a continuous rumbling noise from machinery and steam is pouring from one of the factory chimneys. I walk inland, following a path through a pleasant park.

river at Par Sands, Ruth's coast walkingMemorial to Toby, Par Sands, Ruth's coastal walkThrough a break in the bushes, I see a concrete slipway leading down to the river. It is very tempting –  and I follow it. I find I am standing on the banks of the fast-flowing Par River. There is a warning sign, a life ring, and a memorial wreath to somebody called ‘Toby’.

Toby must have died here, probably by drowning and maybe after following the enticing roadway formed by the slipway, just as I did. How sad.

I continue on. There is no proper coastal path here. You have to walk along the pavement of busy roads through Par in order to cross the river. I pass over a number of railway tracks leading into the industrial complex. I’m not sure if they are used or not. They look well-maintained. harbour office, Par Sands, Ruth's coastal walk, Cornwall

After crossing the river, and doubling back to the coast, I find I am walking behind the factory area. It seems deserted. Strange – because I could definitely hear noisy machinery while I was down on the beach.

There is even a Harbour Office – looking quite derelict. It is a Sunday, and that might account for the lack of activity.

After a while, I find the South West Coast Path leading off to the left. On the narrow path, tall bushes either side, I meet other people – dog walkers and a couple of families heading for the beach. The path climbs and at one point crosses over the industrial area by way of a narrow foot bridge.

Looking down, it is clear this section of the complex has fallen into disuse. There are weeds growing up and the railway tracks are rusted. But among all the debris, there are some new looking pipes.

 view of works from footbridge, Ruth walking in Cornwall, Par Sands

I emerge onto a small stretch of beach. This is Spit Point and it is not the view I was expecting to see – as it is not marked on my OS map as a sandy beach. This must be where the families were heading, although today it does look cold and uninviting.

view from Spit Point, Par Sands, Ruth coast walking

Across the bay, looking eastwards, I can see the village of Polkerris and the low cliffs where I should have walked this morning. The rock fall is clearly visible – a gash in the cliff with brown earth exposed and granite rocks tumbled on the beach beneath.

rock fall at Polkerris, Ruth's coastal walk. South West Coast Path

The South West Coast Path follows the edge of a golf course, along the shore. There are the usual warning signs telling me to beware of golf balls – although if I was to spot one flying towards me it is unlikely I would have time to duck – those things travel fast. Other signs warn me to take care on the path because of coastal erosion. I am not sure where I should be focusing my attention – on my feet or on stray golf balls.

I stop to look behind and take a photograph of the industrial area, before it vanishes from my view. A man walking his dog stops to talk to me. This was a china clay milling works, he tells me. Now only one section is still working. The rest has been abandoned. (This explains the noise and smoke at the far end, and the absence of any activity at this end.)

view back from golf course, Ruth's coastal walk

He tells me they are planning to pull the whole complex down and build a marina instead. The factory used to employ hundreds of men, he says. Now they are out of work.  I have mixed views on this but keep quiet. A marina would bring much-needed jobs and improve the appeal of Par Sands as a holiday resort. Whether this would make up for the lost jobs from the factory closing,  I don’t know. 

I find the next stretch of walk a bit tedious as I follow an apparently endless golf course. It seems busy and I hardly dare to stop in case I get shouted at by golfers for obstructing some green or driving area. I would like to have a rest and a drink, but feel I have to keep moving.

Eventually, I come to a long strip of sand. This is, I think, Carlyon Bay, and it looks like a disaster zone. There are derelict buildings, piles of stones, a fenced off beach – not very enticing. I believe some new development is planned. Shame about the mess.

Carlyon Bay, Cornwall, Ruth on the South West Coast Path

I don’t go down on the beach, although I am tempted to get a better look at what is going on. But I am growing tired and time is passing. I stick to the top of the low cliffs, following the South West Coast Path. It winds in front of a very nice looking hotel and I start coming across residential houses and follow the path downwards towards Charlestown.

Charlestown is lovely. I was expecting a seaside annex of St Austell, but it feels like a proper little port. The harbour opens into a deep dock with lock gates that allow largish ships to enter.

Charlestown, Ruth walking around the coast. CornwallRemnants of dockside equipment and structures hint at its past. In fact, Charlestown is a purpose-built Georgian port – built between 1790 and 1810 by Charles Rashleigh from whom it got its name – and once used to export copper and china clay.

Currently, the only ship in the dock is a fine, large, triple-masted sailing vessel.

I meet my husband and we have lunch in The Rashleigh Arms. When we come out, it is raining. Time to go home.

Here is a BBC News article about the cuts and closures at Par Docks.

And here is an interesting website – Carlyon Bay Watch – set up by locals angry at what has happened to Carlyon Beach.

Vital Stats: miles walked = 6

About Ruth Livingstone

Walker, writer, photographer, blogger, doctor, woman, etc.
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11 Responses to 105 Polkerris to Par Sands to Charlestown

  1. Walking that part of the coast path that is now in the sea was a formative part of my childhood and probably instrumental in my walking round the coast now. (I had a number of childhood holidays at the non-holiday-destination of Par Sands, playing on the big, flat, beach with its slightly unpleasant clay texture.) Of course that was back in the 70s and 80s when there was an actual china clay industry there too. And Carlyon Bay was the biggest theatrical/events venue in the region.

    I think I shall have a moment of melancholic nostalgia. Just a moment though. Wouldn’t want to overdo it.

    I love the ‘sheep in the road’ picture!

  2. mariekeates says:

    Another interesting walk. Love the sheep and the sailing ship. 🙂

  3. Wingclipped says:

    Great sheep picture! It’s all about who you meet on the way…

  4. Connie T says:

    The sheep in the road is a good photo.

  5. Simon says:

    Hi Ruth
    I am heading down to Somerset for the long weekend with the kids – can you recommend a good coastal walk for us??!!
    Kind Rdgs
    Simon Hamilton

    • Hi Simon

      Unfortunately I haven’t got to Somerset yet! It only has a north coastline and I am still working my way along the south coast. Hope you have a great time anyway. And we all hope the sun shines. BW, Ruth

  6. Alexis1 says:

    What a shame this has happened to the area. I spent a great camping holiday with my children at Par Sands in the early 70’s. I seem to remember that the clay in the sands and water was very good for our skin and complexions. The Cornish pasties at Carlyon Bay were to die for!

  7. Karen White says:

    I hope the Carlyon Bay development never goes ahead. How sad it would be to lose that beautiful beach.

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