People say that Land’s End is a disappointing place – dominated by a large hotel and shopping complex, and an even larger car park. Yes, I thought the Lizard was more attractive, both in ambience and scenery. But Land’s End is Land’s End and will always have a special significance for long-distance walkers.
The sun is behind me as I look out at the Longships and the lighthouse. Finally, I get to take some decent photographs.
The first part of the walk is easy, along a wide path that gently curves over the top of the cliffs. This is a popular part of the South West Coast Path and relatively crowded. In the distance I can make out the mound of Cape Cornwall. Botallack lies a couple of miles beyond and that is where I shall catch the bus back to Penzance at the end of my walk.
Cape Cornwall looks deceptively close. I am anticipating an easy day of walking. I can take my time.
I see a number of bird watchers. They are looking out for Cornish Choughs, but haven’t seen any today, probably because there too many people around.
I see a wreck on the shore beneath the cliffs. This is all that remains of the R.M.S Mulheim, a cargo ship which ran aground in 2003 and has since been broken up and stripped down.
You can see some wonderful photos of both the original ship and its rusting remains on the Derelict Places web site.
Ahead is a building that looks like a small castle turret. Pedn-men-du. Approached from the landward side, the building doesn’t look very impressive but, when viewed from the sea, it overlooks a steep drop a jagged cliff.
I don’t stop. There are a fair number of tourists around and I want to get on.
Ahead I see a lovely stretch of sandy beach. This is Whitesand Band on my map but is more commonly called Sennen Cove. I’m surprised to find a sandy beach on such an exposed piece of shoreline.
I walk down towards the sands, passing a harbour wall and a lifeboat station. There are plenty of tourists down here too, all nationalities.
The sea seems relatively calm and there is only a light breeze blowing, but the waves are large and the beach is full of surfers. I stop and watch a surfing class on the sands.
Beyond Senna beach is a short walk along a narrow path to connect to the next section of sand. This is the smaller, but wilder, Gwynver beach. On the way I hear a young man coming up behind me, carrying a surfboard and hobbling on bare feet along the path. I step aside to let him pass. “You’re walking more quickly than I am,” I say. “But I’m sure you’re going further than me,” he says, politely.
Gwynver has surfers too – more experienced and serious looking people. I don’t stop but continue along the top of the low cliff and around the curve of the bay. Aire Point is ahead.
The fence is to keep humans out, rather than to keep adders in. I think of the barefooted young man. He is safely on the beach now.
I keep my eye open for snakes but, rather disappointingly, I don’t see any.
The path climbs steeply up to Aire Point and, just when I think I am nearly at the top, it disappears. I follow what seems to be a walking track, winding around below the main mass of rocks. At one point, I have to jump down a steep rock. I must be nearly round the point. I turn the next corner and find – nothing.
It’s a dead-end. Nothing ahead but ocean.
I turn back. Climbing up the steep rock is harder than jumping down – but I manage it. I’m rattled now. Where is the path? Retracing my steps, I think I discover where I’ve gone wrong.
Three red-faced young women, in shorts and t-shirts, are scrambling down a pile of tumbled stones.
“Is that the path? Is that the right way?” I ask them. They seem uncertain.
“It’s the way we’ve come,” they say.
A less than helpful answer.
I take a photo of the non-existent path with my rucksack in front. You can see how confusing it is. I am worried now. This is difficult. Too difficult for me. I’m never going to make it to Botallack in one piece.
In the end, when I have scrambled to the top, I realise this IS the right way. The worst may be over. Ahead is a gentle path, winding along beside the shore. I see two older women walkers ahead of me. Good. That gives me confidence. If they can do it, so can I.
But Cape Cornwall seems just as far away as ever.
This section of coastline is totally unspoiled and, from the coastal path, there is no sign of civilisation. No houses. No sight of distant roads. Just sea and rocks and grass and flowers. I meet no other walkers.
After a mile or so, the path dips down into a valley with a stream running through it. This is Maen Dower and I see a couple of people on the rocks close to the sea, stripped down to shorts and t-shirts, sunbathing. A couple of hikers are sitting by the stream, finishing their packed lunch.
I was planning to have lunch at Cape Cornwall, but it is nearly 1:00pm. The walking has been harder than I anticipated. I stop and sit down on a rock and have a snack lunch.
Continuing on, and climbing high above the sea, the path suddenly seems to disappear over the top of a precipice. Peering over, I can see it drops steeply down the side of a cliff. I’m glad I brought my walking poles today.
The path climbs and drops and sometimes runs narrow along the side of steep slopes. Despite the toughness of the terrain, I meet a dog-walker and a family group. Clear signs I am getting close to a car park.
I reach Porth Naven. Here a steep river valley ends in a narrow cove. The views are wonderful. My two lady walkers have stopped on a grassy patch, overlooking the cove, and are having a rest.
A track road leads to a car park at the base of the cove. This accounts for the increase in the number of people I have met on the path.
According to Wikipedia, another name for this beach is ‘Dinosaur Egg Beach’.
I have to walk 1/2 mile inland, in order to cross the stream at the bottom of the valley. On the way I meet some more bird watchers. They ask me if I have seen any Cornish Choughs. I explain I saw some close to St Michael’s Mount a couple of days ago, but I’ve seen none today. Everywhere I go, people seem obsessed by these birds.
After a long, slow climb upwards, I finally come to an easy path along the top of cliffs and then to a track, taking me down to Cape Cornwall. I am hot and tired. The sharp stones of the track hurt my feet.
I meet a woman who is trying to find a group of walkers wearing “Meningitis Research” t-shirts – bright purple. She drove here in a car, hoping to cheer them along on their sponsored walk. She is worried she may have missed them. Have I passed them? No.
In the car park at the bottom is “Annie’s Van”, selling drinks and snacks. I have a not-very-cold can of coke and a large slice of really good, home-made banana cake. I compliment the van lady on her baking skills, but it turns out she isn’t Annie – just a stand in.
I don’t walk around the peninsula. It is 3:00pm and I am worried about missing the last bus back to Penzance. Still two hours to go – but I have another steep river valley to negotiate, with another longish inland walk to find a crossing point.
Stopping to admire the view, a couple come up to me and say, “We’ve been inside that house.” The house they point to is perched on the edge of a cliff.
“They had an enormous telescope fixed to the floor in the living room. The night views were incredible. It broke their hearts to sell.”
“Why did they move?” I ask.
“She had a baby,” they say. “When he became a toddler, she couldn’t stand the stress.”
I tried to imagine it. At night, from this house, you would look straight out over the Atlantic. Nothing for thousands of miles. No light pollution. Yes, the night sky must have been a wonderful blaze of stars. But the garden drops down and ends in a precipice of rocks.
Night sky v. a living toddler. I could see why they decided they had to move.
You can see the house, on the far left, in the photograph below.
The river valley contains ruined mine workings and their associated buildings. It is threaded with numerous paths and I get lost, several times, before I find the bridge.
On the way down I meet a group of walkers – hot and sweaty from their upwards climb – wearing purple t-shirts decorated with the word “Meningitis”. I tell them someone is at Cape Cornwall, looking out for them. “We’re running late.” they say.
It takes me half an hour before I scramble up the other side and reach the coast again. From here the walk is easy, following the top of the cliffs. Around me, chimneys and mine-workings poke through the gorse. Below I see these amazing brick towers, perched on the side of the cliffs and glowing in the warm light of the late afternoon sunshine.
I must be approaching Botallack. The ground becomes flat and open, with more chimneys and ruined buildings. It’s a landscape that reeks of a lost industrial past, dotted with symbols of its former life. A graveyard.
This is National Trust Land and is crisscrossed with paths. I have difficulty finding the footpath I planned to take, leading into the village of Botallack. I go too far down a track and have to retrace my steps. Then, when I finally get to the village, there are no street signs and no indication of where I am. As I stand, looking at my map, the bus roars past.
Damn. There is only one bus an hour and I’ve just missed it. Luckily, when I find the bus stop, it turns out to be right beside the only pub in the village. What a sensible place to put a bus stop. I enjoy a bottle of cider and wait.
Miles walked today = 10 miles
Miles since start = 1,186