It took me seven hours of travelling time and four different trains, but I am down in Cornwall for another three days of coastal walking along the South West Coast Path.
But I am on my own. This is both exhilarating and anxiety-provoking.
Without my husband, and with no public transport service operating along my route, I am entirely reliant on my two legs to get me from A to B. I’ve planned the itinerary more carefully than normal, with shorter walks than usual and pre-booking a series of B&Bs along the way. My luggage is being transported by http://www.luggagetransfers.co.uk/.
Hmmm. Let’s see. What could go wrong?
The Great British Weather!
Last time I was at the old Mawnan Church the sun was shining. Today it is raining – a steady drizzle – and the light is gloomy.
I’ve come prepared: wearing my gaiters, my most water-resistant jacket and with a new waterproof cover for my little rucksack.
So, undeterred, I find the footpath leading from the church and head down into the old woodland that lines the cliffs below. The path is wide and, although everything is moist and slightly muddy underfoot, the walk is easy. I swing my poles confidently. A spot of damp isn’t going to trouble me. I’m a proper walker!
Heading southwest along the coast path, I soon emerge from the trees and onto green fields. Now I can really see the view ahead – and it looks awful.
Dull. Grey. Wet. Mist.
In the distance, in the gloom, I must be looking at St Dennis Head and – what is the headland beyond? Usually I love to check the view ahead with the waypoints on my OS map, but today I can’t be bothered to undo my rucksack’s waterproof covering to get my map out.
I have to remind myself this is the same view I enjoyed a few weeks ago, when the sun was shining and every part of the distant coast looked crisp and clear. (As in the photo below taken on my previous walk.)
I remember my number one rule: “enjoy each and every walk.” I’m going to have to work hard to obey that rule today. However, I do come across a lovely meadow of wild flowers and stoop down to take some photographs of the colourful display.
The first place I come to along the South West Coast Path is Durgan – a tiny hamlet with a little beach and, from the shelter of a tree along the path, it is possible to enjoy the view over the sparkling water.
The next place along the path is the aptly named Helford Passage. Here a ferry crosses over to Helford, on the other side of the Helford River. The little village is very pretty and the pub looks inviting – a shame it is much too early for lunch.
The ferry-boat is small with a tiny cabin (it is on the far side of the little dock in the photo below). There is a kiosk on the beach, where I find the ferryman. He is drinking a mug of something hot and he suggests I wait to see if any other walkers join us for the crossing. He also suggests I might like to row myself across in the little row-boat (on this side of the dock in the photo). I think he is joking.
I wait on the beach in the rain. After a few minutes, with no sign of any other walkers joining my lonely queue, the ferryman takes pity on me and we set off. I enjoy the chance of sitting in the dry cabin.
On the other side there are a couple of cyclists waiting and I think about my husband while I watch them lift their bikes into the small boat.
Just after the ferry has left, a few more walkers arrive on this side of the crossing. One of them carries a huge back pack covered in a cape and shiny black nylon trousers. He is, I believe, more sensibly attired than I am – my walking trousers are water-repellent but not water-proof and are already damp. He moans about the overgrown path ahead and the brambles that have ripped his rucksack. Later, I realise his trousers were shiny because they were soaking wet.
A few minutes later, the rain begins to thud down – great big dolloping drops that thwack into the leaves of the trees above and bounce off the path. I shelter under a tree and, in the comparative shelter, risk taking out my camera for a few more photographs of Helford River estuary.
The rain continues without let-up for the next couple of hours and this ruins what would be a beautiful walk. It also limits the number of photographs I can take – not wanting to get my expensive camera wet.
I walk through the ford at Helford – yes, there really is one. I could have walked across the bridge instead, but where would be the fun in that?
The path becomes progressively more overgrown. Brambles reach and grab my trousers. Grasses and ferns lash my thighs and drip water down onto my legs. The bushes are so tall that they brush against my arms. My gaiters offer no protection from the water that is accumulating above my knees and actually seem to funnel rivulets down the inside of my trouser legs and straight into my boots. My waterproof jacket succeeds in keeping my body dry, but my arms are soon wet as they come into contact with water-laden bushes that block the path.
Somewhere along the route – just as I am beginning a scramble up a steep slope, fighting back wet branches with my poles – I meet two women walkers coming towards me. They are the first walkers I have met since leaving the ferry and they are even wetter than I am. One has fallen and cut her hand. But they are cheerful and we stand and chat for a few minutes. It turns out that I am going to stay in the B&B they have just left and they assure me of a warm welcome when I arrive.
I would imagine Dennis Head is beautiful. All I saw was overgrown paths, brambles and mist.
From Dennis Head, I walk along a path through open fields. I am grateful to be out in the open and away from the overgrown path and its dripping bushes. Best of all, the rain has lightened to a damp drizzle. From the field I have a misty view over the estuary below – a stretch of water called Gillan Harbour.
The two lady walkers told me there was a ferry at St Anthony-Meneage – a small collection of houses and a church on this side of Gillan Harbour. But when I get there it is low tide and no sign of a ferry. In any case, there is not enough water for a ferry crossing.
According to my research, at low tide you can cross the river using stepping-stones. A footpath sign points me in the right direction. I walk along the silty sand that lines the side of the river until I see the footpath marker post. Yes. There are stepping stone across the water. You can see them on the left in the photo below.
The stones are covered in green weed and are very slippery. I am grateful for my poles helping me to balance while I test each foothold before I more onto the next stone. Safely across, I feel very proud of myself.
I am standing on a large expanse of mud. I walk carefully across the surface – soft in places, slimy with weeds in others. But when I get near the far bank, I realise there is another channel of water separating me from the shore. I can’t believe it. I walk up and down, looking for a way across.
There is a place where I can see a line of stones and, up on the dry bank ahead, a familiar footpath sign. This must be the crossing place. But the stones are all under water. Some of them invisible beneath the fast flowing current. Strands of green weed lie horizontal in the water like streamers – further obscuring the stones. Their surfaces will be very slippery and – since it is impossible to see what lies below – it would be a leap of faith to cross here.
I hesitate for some time. It is an hour to go until low tide. Should I wait a bit longer? My boots are full of water anyway. Should I just wade across? I decide to wade but can’t see a flat area where I could do this safely. If I fell in I could ruin my iPhone and my camera.
In the end, I turn back defeated and make my cautious way back over the original line of stepping-stones – back to the north bank of Gillan Harbour.
I walk the long way round – up the estuary towards Manaccan. Much of this walk is along a quiet tree-lined road, through property that seems to belong to Prince Charles. The detour adds a couple of miles to my journey but at least it has stopped raining and by the time I get to the crossing area, I have dried out a little.
It is pretty here, near the bridge, with a couple of swans adding to the scene.
On the road, I meet another couple of women walkers coming towards me. They speak to me in european accents – maybe Dutch or German? They watched me trying to cross over the river they explained and when they saw me fail, they realised they would have to walk around the long way too.
I tell them to look out for the baby cygnets.
By this time I am very hungry and looking forward to finding a pub in Flushing or Gillan. I walk along the road, following footpath signs across a field and then down to the shore again. But when I reach Flushing – or is it Gillan? – there seems to be nothing there – just a beach and a few buildings.
If I turned inland and climbed the hill, maybe I would find a pub. But I am too damp and miserable to risk an uncertain detour. I stop to take a photograph, looking back across the small beach and I eat a snack bar . Then I squelch onwards.
The path winds above the shore – following the curve of coves and beaches. I soon reach Men-aver beach – a bay of rock and shingle that has a strange contraption sitting in the sea. I have no idea what it is doing here, but this is a Fugro Seacore platform. It is the most colourful thing I come across on this dismal day.
I am at Nare Point, where there is a small lookout station. The path now begins to climb, leading up to Nare Head. I stop to take photographs of the point. The low cliffs are covered in pretty flowers.
Nare Head? Haven’t I been here before? This is the other Nare Head – the previous one being lost in the misty view but I think it might be visible from here on a good day if you look up across Falmouth Bay and back to the coastline of the Roseland Peninsula.
Today I feel cheated by the weather. This section of the walk – Nare Head to Porthallow – would be truly beautiful if visibility was better. Even in the gloom, I can appreciate the rocky outcrops, the wild flowers, the clear water and – oh how wonderful – the glimpse of Porthallow ahead. This is where I will end today’s walk and have booked a B&B.
At the top of the climb up Nare Head, I meet a man in shorts with a large back pack coming towards me. He is in a hurry but stops to catch his breath and ask me how long it takes to get to the Helford Ferry. It is 4pm now. I’m not sure when the last ferry crossing is, but he will likely miss it. Even if he walks at twice my pace and misses out Dennis Head. He was planning to get to Falmouth tonight.
“I think I’ve bitten off too much today,” he says.
As I walk the last mile towards Porthallow, I muse on the difference between male and female walkers. There will be exceptions, of course, but in general women drift along slowly and are happy to stop for chats – while men put their heads down and aim to cover long distances. I wonder who gets the most out of their walking experiences?
The footpath drops down onto the small beach at Porthallow. I am pleased to see a pub. It is 4:40pm – too late for lunch and too early for the evening meal. I shall find my B&B, dry off and come back here later.
As I walk up the beach, I see a large stone monument. On it are inscribed words and phrases, all seemingly related to the local area. I think it might be a memorial stone or a piece of artwork. I am too tired to study it properly and I don’t stop to take a photograph.
[Later, I discover this was the half-way point or midway marker for the South West Coast Path and I am disappointed not to have taken a photo.]
Thank you @SallyJordan9
There are other good photos of the midway marker here: Prala – Half way stone – by Wright&Wright on Flickr and Midway Marker by ElbtheProf on Flickr
Miles walked today = 12
Total miles walked (from Kings Lynn) = 1111 – yes, a great number to end today with!