120 Botallack to Gurnard’s Head

I catch the number 10 bus from Penzance to Botallack. The driver corrects my pronunciation. It’s BOW-ta-lack, not Bo-TA-lack.

From the village I try to take a footpath towards the coast but soon end up lost in a field and have to double back, eventually finding the same boring gravel track I walked along yesterday.
 gravel track from Botallack, Ruth's coastal walk
It is easy going and I hurry along, angry at the ‘wasted’ walking. It is already 11:00am and I mustn’t miss the last bus back.

I soon come to Levant Zawn and the Levant Tin Mine, with shafts that stretch 1.6 kilometres out to sea and plunge 1/2 kilometre below the seabed. I believe you can look around the mine but I see no obvious visitor centre.

Engine House, Cornwall, Ruth walking the SWCP
There are the remains of an old railway track, the old machinery is still lying around, looking wonderfully rusted.

train track, Levant Mine, SWCP, Ruth Livingstone

Levant Mine arsenic works, Ruth walking around Cornwall, SWCP Little signs explain how the mine worked and the purposes of the various ruined buildings.

One of the by-products of tin mining was arsenic, produced when tin was roasted in ovens to drive off impurities. This poisonous substance was scraped off by hand.

arsenic crystals, Ruth in Levant Mine, Cornwall

The old ovens remain and the cyanide crystals can still be seen coating the surface of the structures, lying particularly thick on the ceiling. It seems weird to find the crystals are still there. Sinister.

I cross over a boggy patch where a river runs, and into an area called Trewellard Bottoms and, from there, the path rises up.

There is a great view back looking over the old mining ruins. The sea is a deep blue and, against the dark granite of the cliff, run streaks of blue-green coppery colours. Lovely.

copper colouring the rocks, Levant Mine, SWCP

Looking ahead along the coast I can see Pendeen Watch, with its lighthouse and fog horns.

06 Pendeen Watch, Ruth walking round the coast, SWCP, CornwallWhen I get to Pendeen, there is a car park and people are walking around. A track leads down the other side of Pendeen Cliff but I don’t see anybody walking this way and I worry that I have lost the official path. It’s always a relief to see the familiar yellow acorn sign and discover I’m not lost after all

06 Pendeen Watch, Ruth walking round the coast, SWCP, Cornwall
The path takes me around the top of a cliff. Below is a beautiful cove with a sandy beach, one of the most beautiful and unspoilt beaches I come across in Cornwall. Portheras Cove.

Portheras beach, Ruth on South West Coast Path, Cornwall

The way down is difficult, inaccessible by road, and involves scrambling down a steep path that runs along the side of a tumbling stream. I see surfers and a few family groups and a trio of walkers standing on the sands. A painter is perched on the slope above, painting the scene.

I would love to linger, but I have to hurry on.

The climb up the other side (Carn Clough) is very steep and I am soon sweating in the July sunshine. Sadly, when I get to the top, the cliff is wide and the path travels along some way  inland from the actual coast. The view is flat and underwhelming.

09 across heathland, SWCP, Ruth in Cornwall, Tregaminion Cliff
I meet one or two other walkers, but otherwise the area is deserted.

Ruth, across heathland, SWCP, Ruth in Cornwall, Tregaminion CliffThe ground becomes boggy. Small streams meander across the path – although “stream” is too poetic a word for the swampy mess that results.

Luckily there are stepping-stones, many of which appear to have been artificially laid, and this makes the route easier to follow.

I am relieved when I leave the marshy bog behind and encounter a firmer surface. But now the swamp gives way to rocks and the going is difficult – stony and uneven underfoot and I can’t walk quickly because each step has to be placed carefully. I am glad I have my poles with me.

Gurnard’s Head is drawing nearer but still remains tantalising far away with numerous rocky coves to navigate before I get there.

Ruth walking the coast, Looking to Gurnard's head

Reliant on public transport for the next few days, I have had to plan this walk carefully. The area is sparsely populated and there are few villages around. The bus sticks to the ‘main’ road, which runs a mile or so inland of the coast.  It is 10 miles from Botallack to Grunard’s Head. From there I will walk inland to the tiny hamlet of Treen, where I know there is a bus stop.

rocks and walkers, Trevean Cliff, Ruth on South West Coast Path, Cornwall As the walk becomes more interesting, I begin to meet more people.

Today is a Saturday and there are a lot of couples out walking, some in brand-new walking kit. When couples walk together, it is the man who usually leads the way, striding purposefully and setting the pace, while the woman follows, looking hot and bothered.

This couple are breaking that rule – the woman is leading and the man is struggling behind.

climbers, Ruth Livingstone, CornwallThe cliffs are very dramatic and I see a climber perched on top of a rocky outcrop. He/She is holding a rope and I guess another climber is following up on the other side. I have no desire to climb rocks. Walking is challenging enough.

I reach an area where the land is covered in a scrubby growth of prickly plants between patches of stones. The path is narrow, kept clear in places by strimming. This is a really scenic walk, with few people about, and unspoilt by signs or fences, and I really enjoy myself.

But, when I leave the path to take a photograph, I find myself plunged into a state of panic. Because of the covering of low bushes and the narrowness of the way, once you step off the path it is impossible to see the path. Is this really the right way? Or am I on a sheep track?

Gurnard's Head, Ruths coastal walk, Cornwall

I wish I could see or meet some other walkers. Help!

Then my path suddenly becomes more obviously a ‘path‘ and I relax again. Not for long. Instead of heading around the top of the cliffs, the path plunges down a steep slope towards the sea below. I begin to wonder if I will ever make it to Gurnards Head. It is gone 3pm. The last bus leaves the Gurnard’s Head Hotel in Treen at 4:57.

Porthmeor Cove, Ruth walking round the coast, Cornwall

This part of the walk is spectacular and, apart from my fear of losing the path and my fear of missing the bus, it would be the best part of the day.

16 Bridge, Porthmeor Cove, Ruth in CornwallThe cove I am walking around is called Porthmeor Cove. It has a rocky beach and is, I guess, not very suitable for swimming, but it is very beautiful, unspoilt and has amazingly clear, blue sea.

I see a strange wire hoist running down the steep sides of the valley. At the bottom, a sign explains that the old granite bridge is too unstable to use. The temporary wooden replacement looks pretty good. I suppose the wire has been used to lift timbers down to this inaccessible place.

On the way up I meet a woman and her daughter. They are as hot and tired as I am, but they have just stopped for a drink at Gurnard’s Head Hotel. It’s not far, they tell me, but they came across the fields.

I have an hour until the bus leaves. I hope it is less than an hour around by the sea. For a moment I am tempted to cut inland across the fields, the way they have come.
“We had to walk some of the way along the road,” they say.

No. I will stick to the coast.

The climb out of the cove looks steep, but the footpath runs across the side of the slope and rises gently up to Porthmeor Point, so the going is easier than I anticipated. At the top, the path is clear and reasonably flat as it winds around towards the headland.

Last stretch to Gurnard's Head, Ruth on coastal path, Cornwall

Gurnard’s Head is a rocky finger sticking out into the blue sea. There is a footpath that runs right to the end and I would like to have gone and sat on the rocks there. But I have 20 minutes until the last bus. I hurry onwards.

Rounding the top, above Gurnard’s Head, I look down on Treen Cove. This is another unspoilt area, only a single house is perched looking down on the clear waters of the bay. Tomorrow I will be walking over those headlands. I am looking forward to it already.

Across Treen Cove, Ruth on her coastal walk around the UK, Cornwall

When I arrive at the hotel, I realise I have completely misjudged the time, arriving an hour before the next, and last, bus is due. There is a garden with noisy families but I choose to sit inside at the quiet bar and have a cider.

Miles walked = 9
Total from start = 1195


About Ruth Livingstone

Walker, writer, photographer, blogger, doctor, woman, etc.
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14 Responses to 120 Botallack to Gurnard’s Head

  1. Wingclipped says:

    Oh no! So you could have gone and say on the rocks after all!

  2. Brian Britten says:

    I can recall a similar incident when the footpath veered to the side of a golf course. It led me to the cliff edge and too close for comfort. Best wishes, Brian Britten

  3. The inland path would have been the coffin path, quite literally an old, straight track (of the sort allegedly eloved of piskies) and a truly ancient right of way. Being just a straight track through some fields and along some roads, it’s not actually very interesting though.

  4. mariekeates says:

    I’m glad I’m not the only one who gets a bit lost and panicky. What a shame you didn’t get to sit on the rocks.

  5. jcombe says:

    I wonder how much money the hotel at Gurnards Head makes from those waiting for the bus? When Western Greyhound used to run the local buses, you had to change buses there for some journeys so I imagine they had even more custom then if the connection was delayed!

  6. afishy says:

    looks beautiful . many thanks for sharing your endevour.

  7. Karen White says:

    The blue of the sea at Porthmeor Cove is amazing. Wonderful photos and lovely descriptive writing.

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