124a – Portreath to St Agnes Head

I set off early from Portreath. The beach is deserted and I can look back at the headland I walked over yesterday. It doesn’t seem as steep as I remembered.

Portreath, Cornwall, Ruth's coastal walk

I follow a road that winds as it climbs up the hill, losing the sea view. I am looking forward to branching off on the coast path, but I soon come across a common problem.

 Path closed signs, Portreath, Ruths coast walkThe footpath is closed. This must have happened a few years ago because there is a piece of fence blocking the way and the sign has been changed around so that the ‘coast path’ finger points along the road.

I climb up and look over the fence – but the cliff has crumbled and there is no alternative, I have to follow the road.

At a layby, I find I can rejoin the coast path but then, suddenly,  a white van pulls up. This causes me a momentary pang of anxiety. I am never worried by other walkers, but a man in a van on an isolated road is a different matter. He watches me with a frown on his face as I walk past. Feeling uneasy I speed up.

Rounding the curve of the bay and looking back, I see the reason why he was watching me so intently. He is relieving himself by the side of the layby. I resist the urge to take his photograph.

Instead I take a photo of the cliff whose crumbling top forced me to deviate.  Beyond is the bay where Portreath lies nestled, its harbour and beach are just out of sight. The tall rock sticking out of the sea is called Horse Rock and Gull Rock is visible beyond. In the distance I can see Godrevy Island with its lighthouse. The farthest promontory must be St Ives.

03 looking back at Portreath and Godrevy Island, Ruth walking in Cornwall

I always love looking back and tracing my previous walks along the coastline.

Ahead of me the path sticks to high ground on the sloping cliff and I walk along the tall fences of Ministry of Defence property, where my map indicates there is an old, disused airfield. Far ahead I can two rocks poking out of the sea. These are either called Bawden Rocks or, alternatively, the much more descriptive name of Man & his Man.

MOD property, Ruth walking the Cornish Coast, SWCP

It is a lovely August morning. The air is clear and fresh and I meet nobody else. I fall into an easy rhythm and feel I could walk a hundred miles without tiring.

 Gullyn Rock, towards Agnes Head, Ruth walking the South West Coast Path

I come across ruins of past industrial buildings and/or military installations. Not sure which. Ahead I can see a village. That must be Porthtowan. I am making good progress.

ruins on way to Porthtowan, Ruth walking the coast, SWCP, Cornwall

There are many sections of this walk where the cliffs have slid down into the sea and in some places the path runs very close to crumbling slopes. The harshness of the eroding landscape is softened by carpets of wild flowers on either side of the path.

flowers on way to Porthtowan, Ruth walking the coast

Port Towan beach is a lovely stretch of sand in a cove bounded by rocky cliffs. The waves, despite the calmness of the day, are large and the sea is full of surfboarders.

Porthtowan Beach, Ruth walking around the coast

The best view of Porthtowan, from the point of view of photography, is from the other side of the bay.

 Porth Towan beach, Ruth's coastal walk

Over the headland and I am soon looking down at another beach, Chapel Porth. This one is narrow with a steeper descent down the cliff. The waves are funnelled into the cove and the water is wild and exciting.

Chapel Porth, Ruth walking around Cornwall, South West Coast Path

[Later I discover that Chapel Porth is home to the World Bellyboard Championships!]

I stop and buy an ice-cream from the single shop next to the car parking area. I eat it slowly, putting off the steep climb up the other side of the gully. (Did I really believe I could walk a 100 miles without tiring?)

When I struggle to the top, I see the path ahead is wide and clearly marked. It climbs slowly across open heathland and winds through the remains of industrial buildings.

Industrial ruins, looking towards Tubby's Head, Ruth's coast walk

There are a number of sightseers strolling about and I feel a surge of resentment that I have to share my coastal path with mere ‘tourists’!

Wheal Coates pumping engine house, Ruth on coast in CornwallThis area is owned by the National Trust and all around  is evidence of old mining activity.

The tall building with a chimney is the remains of the old Towanroath mine pumping engine house. They claim some of the finest tin in the world was mined here.

mine shaft covering, Ruth's coastal walk, Cornwall, UkTo prevent nasty accidents,  old mine shafts are covered in a wire trellis formed into a pyramid shape.

At first I wondered why they use these flimsy constructions. The cones look fragile and seem unlikely to deter an inquisitive explorer.
mine shaft covering with flowers, Ruth LivingstoneBut later I realise that I have been walking past conical clumps of heather – without understanding that this is a deliberate device.

Over time, the heathland plants climb up and embed themselves within the man-made mesh. Thus  constructing a substantial and scenically attractive ‘cap’ and sealing off the treacherous mine shafts.

Clever idea.

I believe I am approaching St Agnes’ Head. But, when I get there, I realise I’m mistaken. This little finger of rock is only Tubby’s Head. St Agnes’ Head lies a mile further along the coast.

Agnes Head, Ruth walking the SWCP

Yet again, I am confused by having to switch maps. For my walk today I’ve been using the OS Landranger Map no. 203, which covers the end of Cornwall: the long coastline all the way from Lizard Point, round Land’s End, through St Ives and up to Tubby’s Head. But this map stops short of St Agnes. From here I suddenly realise there is a gap before the next map (no. 200) takes over at Perranporth.

A gap between the maps? I can’t believe it. Have they really missed St Agnes off altogether?

No. I realise my mistake. There is an insert box on the number 203 map and this covers the short piece of coastline running from Tubby’s Head to St Agnes’ Head and then onwards to the town of St Agnes. Whew! I’m glad there is an explanation.

 Ruth on Agnes Head, Coastal walking, North CornwallSt Agnes’ Head is one large rounded piece of headland and it is hard to pick a spot that you could claim was the Head itself. It is not particularly scenic, being covered in heathland and rubble.

I find a rock and perch my camera on it and manage to take a self-portrait. Then I hurry onwards. The extra, unexpected piece of coastline has added more than a hour to my walk and I am nervous about missing the last bus back to Portreath.

Onwards… continued…


About Ruth Livingstone

Walker, writer, photographer, blogger, Doctor, woman, etc.
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8 Responses to 124a – Portreath to St Agnes Head

  1. Another superb entry. This brings back great memories for me; I walked this section heading south as part of my end-to-end route in 2010 (I used the SW Coast Path from Padstow to Portreath before cutting across to Mounts Bay http://bit.ly/Msfyu0 ).

    If I remember correctly it’s fairly tough going either side of St.Agnes Head, I hope something awful doesn’t happen in part b!

    • Thank you Gary and enjoyed reading of your own experience on that stretch. Isn’t it interesting to read other people’s account of the same walk? We all experience it in different ways. And yes, I survived St Agnes – but those cliffs were killers. (Just posted up the second part of the walk.)

      • Absolutely, I enjoy reading other accounts immensely. Though I have to say that your lower daily mileage allows a much more detailed and interesting account of each days adventure than I managed.
        All my daily entries were carefully typed out on my iPhone in the evening, soon after I finished walking. Usually in a pub over dinner and a couple of pints. Apart from the later addition of pictures they all stand uneditted, exactly as typed out on the day.

  2. I’m very excited to find your post as I’ve just booked a holiday in St. Agnes for first week in June. I don’t think I’m up to the cliff walking so it is great to read your description x
    Look forward to reading the rest!

    • I was wondering; did you enjoy it?

      • Hi Ruth I’m sorry I did not reply earlier~ no excuses, I’m hopeless. I actually did not have such a good holiday in Cornwall. We chose the only week with poor visibility and lots of rain. It was so sad as we could not see the sea most of the time. We also chose a lovely lodge which was perfect but it was set in a wood and I was rather scared at night going out to the car alone as I have to collect my hubby from the hospital in Truro very late at night ~ he has to have dialysis 3 times a week.
        It was a very expensive holiday and not very enjoyable sadly. Better luck next year!
        However if you read my latest post you will know that my girls took pity on me and took me to Spain for a week recently. My hubby couldn’t come sadly, but I had a wonderful time. Thanks for asking x

  3. Had a great couple of walks along this stretch a couple of months ago, that ministry of defense place was actually a chemical weapon storage site back during the Cold War

  4. Pingback: September miles – iwalkalone.co.uk

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