The bus from Portreath to Hayle Towans is a double-decker today and I want to sit in the front seat at the top, to enjoy the views. Frustratingly a man and his child are in one seat and a couple are in the other. Damn. But then I recognise the woman in the couple: an old work colleague from Lincolnshire! Coincidence. We chat all the way to Hayle Towans and neither of us gets to see much of the view.
It has rained overnight and the morning is dull. Hayle Towans beach (3 miles of sand) stretches out in front of me, curving around to Godrevy Point and Godrevy Island with its lighthouse.
I walk along the top of the dunes for a while. Surfers are gathering in the waves below.
The three-mile trek along the beach is very enjoyable. It is the longest stretch of sand walking I’ve done since Sennen Beach near Lands End.
I see this long, wriggly thing and at first I think it’s a snake. Then I think it must be an eel. But it has no fins and no apparent gills. In the end I believe it is a slow-worm.
If it is a slow worm then it is a reptile and protected by law (unlike real worms and eels). Slow worms are commonly mistaken for snakes but are really legless lizards. But what is it doing here on the damp sand?
My camera has difficulty auto-focusing on the nebulous bodies – it prefers to concentrate on the scattering of sand on the surface of the creatures.
One day I really must get to grips with using my camera properly. I should be able to use the manual adjustments by now.
A father and son have set up a fishing rod. Godrevy Island makes a fabulous backdrop.
Further on is a swimming flag and a lifeguard surf board. No sign of any swimmers. The beach is huge and I can’t imagine it ever being crowded.
I am approaching the end of the beach. At low tide you can walk all the way from Hayle to Godrevy Point, but the tide is too high and I have to head up the cliffs.
Beyond here is Gwithian Beach. It is a lovely place with unspoilt sands where the land dips down to form a wide sweep of low dunes. A ridge separates the dune area from the beach proper. For the first time I begin to meet other walkers (strollers, not proper hikers) and the beach even begins to feel a little crowded.
The Atlantic swell creates consistent waves and provides reasonably good surfing. Not surprising then, to find a surf school is operating. The instructors wear yellow and stand in the water. The students cling to their boards.
I wait for some time, hoping to catch a photograph of some actual surfing. I almost manage to get an action shot – but the boy has to leap off his board as he hits the shore. (You can see him in the far right of the photo below.)
I walk around among the dunes for a while. It is mid August and there are some interesting thistle flowers growing.
If you came this way at high tide, you would have to walk over the dunes as the beach is covered by the sea. So, among the higher banks of sand, are signs showing the route of the South West Coast Path.
The signs are lovely, not the usual wooden pointers but substantial slabs of granite, bearing the familiar acorn etched on the stone surface.
At the far end of the beach is a river and I have to turn inland, following a well trodden path towards a narrow bridge where people can cross. The river is known as the ‘Red River’ but it looks colourless today.
The white building is the Sandsifter café and bar. It is 12:30 pm already but I want to keep going and plan to have lunch at the Hell’s Mouth café, about 3 miles further on along the coast path.
The South West Coast Path climbs up and over the sand dunes on the other side of the Red River. Fenced wooden walkways provide easy footing and protect the fragile dune grass.
From the top I get a good view of Godrevy Point and the island beyond. Below, a group of youngsters in wet suits and are jumping off one of the rocky outcrops just below. At first I think they are just mucking about but, as I get nearer, I realise they are part of a supervised adventure group.
I stop and have a snack on a handy bench. It is engraved in memory of Ken Bray, an ice cream man. At first glance, it looks as if he died at the young age of 20. Or does that mean he ran the ice cream van for 20 years?
[Later I find Ken’s obituary on the web and discover he died aged 60.]
Rounding the corner from Godrevy Point, I get a great view along the coast. Somewhere, in one of the indented coves ahead, is Portreath. But in the hazy distance I think I can see an island – it must be too far away to be marked on my current map. I feel confused. An island? Out there? What is it? [Later realise it must be Lundy Island.]
Below me, in the clear waters at the base of the rocks, a dark head appears. A seal! And another one. And another. I stand watching the seals bob up and down and I wish I had my telephoto lens with me. From this distance they are only blobs in the ocean below.
Further around and I see a crowd of people gathered around the edge of another cove, peering over the fence. There is an eerie silence. I wonder if a calamity has happened. Has someone slipped?
Then I see the information boards. Obviously this is a well-known place for seal spotting and the signs suggest you don’t make any noise because seals are very sensitive to sound. I step up to the edge and look down. There are no seals visible below. What a shame.
A bird watcher shouts out to his friend, “Look over there. A peregrine!” The seal watchers tut-tut at the noise. But I have already seen seals and now I get to watch a peregrine falcon hunting.
I have to leave eventually and I walk across an area of grassy heathland where ponies are grazing. This is National Trust property, the Knavocks. There is a wonderful view back over St Ives Bay.
From here the path winds through bushes, deviating away from the cliff edge above Fishing Cove. It is a rather boring section with poor views, until I eventually emerge by the side of the B3301 at Hell’s Mouth.
The best view of Hell’s Mouth is probably from the sea. But, if you haven’t got a handy boat, a photograph taken from further back along the path reveals the reason for the name. Sharp rocks stick out – forming a set of fierce teeth.
Down in Hell’s Mouth cove the waves swirl and the water is supposed to make booming noises as it surges through the cave systems at the base of the cliffs. I don’t notice any sound at the time.
Across the road is a small café and I pop in for lunch. The place is busy. I have an enormous prawn and crab salad – so huge that I am unable to finish it.
In addition, I realise I am about to cross over the edge of my OS Land’s End Explorer Map (number 102). This map had guided me from Trewavas Head, on the other side of Praa Sands, all the way past St Michael’s Mount and through Penzance, Mousehole, Lamorna Cove, Porthcurno, Land’s End, Sennen Cove, Cape Cornwall and St Ives. It has been some of the best walking I have ever done – wild and tough and beautiful.
I fold the map and stow it in my rucksack. It is like abandoning an old friend.
A view along the coast ahead reveals why there are forced diversions to the path. Multiple landslips scar the cliffs.
Now I turn to the OS Landranger number 203. The change in scale (from 1:25,000 to 1:50,000 seems to disturb my sense of distance and timing, because I find the next few miles tough going, seeming to make little progress despite some energetic walking. I know I must be drawing closer to Portreath, but I still can’t see it.
The most difficult part of the walk occurs towards the end. The footpath narrows and edges along the slide of slopes, dipping down into valleys and giving me the first steep climbs of the day – just when my legs are tiring.
But I am pleased to be walking by the sea again. The views are lovely and the wild flowers carpet the ground forming masses of colour.
I meet a couple coming towards me. They don’t stop to speak. He looks determined and she looks hot and tired. “We could have walked in the forest,” I hear her say.
The slopes are steep and I am grateful for the steps down to the bridge at the bottom. It is 4:30 pm and I have been walking since 10:30 with just a half hour break for lunch. But I’m not sure why I have made such slow progress. Must have been all the stops to watch surfers, seals and jelly fish.
I look back towards Godrevy Island and feel better. It looks a long way away. I have come quite a distance after all.
The rocks below remind me of teeth again. But I think the far one is called ‘Samphire Island’, an attractive sound.
Onwards. I must be nearly there.
I pull my map out. This must be ‘Ralph’s Cupboard’. What a fantastic name. Was Ralph a fisherman? Or a smuggler?
[Later I found this YouTube video of a Kayak expedition to Ralph’s Cupboard. Looks wonderful close up too. And I discovered that the cove was used for storing smuggled goods. Although it was also the home of the giant called Wrath who would hurl boulders at passing ships.]
I climb up the next headland and, suddenly, I am looking down on Portreath. It looks lovely.
Coming down off the headland takes some time. I abandon the too-well-worn South West Coast Path and follow smaller trails that stick to the edge of the cliff. Unfortunately, the trails turn out to be sheep tracks and they fade away and leave me stranded among the gorse. I have to turn back and retrace my steps.
The final section of the path, down into Portreath, is frighteningly steep – too tough for most holiday strollers. Perhaps this explains why I meet no other walkers.
It has been another wonderful day.
Miles walked today = 11.5
Total miles walked = 1,225
High Points: Seals off Godrevy Point.
Low Points: Path diversions because of crumbling cliffs.