I wake up to grey skies and drizzle. Having asked for an early breakfast (earning a disapproving grunt from the B&B landlord), I feel I must get up. My heart sinks. Another day of walking in the rain. I can barely face it.
But, by the time I’ve set off along the streets of Newquay, the sun is shining and my spirits lift. The weather forecast was right after all. It is going to be a glorious day.
I walk above Newquay Bay. I can see why this place has become a popular holiday resort, it is surrounded on three sides by glorious beaches.
Along the top of steep cliffs, the view is obscured by an ugly wire fence, punctuated by bunches of flowers. I’m becoming used to these reminders of lost lives and am no longer moved in the way I used to be. Today, in the streaming sunshine of a summer’s day, I am ashamed to say that I feel irritated by those who mar a place by choosing it as a suicide spot.
Later, I find an article in the Daily Mail about a recent death on the beach below and understand that many of the recorded incidents are not suicide attempts, but terrible accidents precipitated by alcohol, drugs and youthful high spirits.
I walk above small coves and rocks with wonderful names; Criggers, Lusty Glaze, Wine Cove. Beyond the outcrop of Trevelgue Head, on Porth Island, I can see the bay curves as the coast runs northwards. Past Park Head, somewhere along that coast, is Porthcothan, my destination for today. But I can see all the way up to Dinas Head and The Bull rock, with Trevose Head beyond. The distant rocks of Quies stick out of the sea, looking like great ships.
After walking down a section of residential road, I come to the next bay and Porth Beach. Here there is a strip of sand, with a stream running down the centre. The tide is out and there is a wide expanse of empty beach exposed. A lovely place.
On the other side of Porth Beach is Porth Island, linked by a walkway to the mainland, and Trevelgue Head. This is the site of an Iron Age Settlement and you can clamber over the ancient humps and hollows, all that now remains of a place where our ancestors lived and worked.
But I don’t stop to explore. I have walking to do.
The next section of sand has the wonderful name of Whipsiderry Beach. A long flight of steep steps leads down and signs warn the beach becomes cut off at high tide – 3 hours from now. I hesitate. I think I can walk along the sand from here along the length of Watergate Bay.
If I can’t, it’s a long way back up.
I take a photo of the view along Whipsiderry beach from the top, but I don’t take any decent photographs of the steps themselves. You can get an idea of their steepness on Cornwall 365.
[Sadly, following the wettest winter on record, there have been rock falls along the cliffs of Whipsiderry Beach and access has been temporarily closed off.]
This is a magical place, surrounded by steep cliffs pocked with caves, almost empty of people at 10:30 in the morning. I walk across virgin sand towards a group of large rocks at the far end, Zacry’s Islands.
The sea is washing up against the edge of the rocks, the waves visibly encroaching across the sands as I walk. There is a narrow gap between the largest rock and the cliffs of the shore. Is this the way through? Or not? I begin to worry.
The rocks loom much larger than I anticipated as I get near, I still can’t see a clear way through. A ledge of rocks lies across the gap and sea water is already beginning to swill around. If I’m going to find a way, I need to get on with it.
I scramble up the ledge and see, much to my relief, that I can clamber through and onto the beach on the other side. There are several rock pools to navigate on the way, but I manage it.
What a relief! I don’t have to climb back up all those steps.
[Later I learn that it is not unusual to find yourself cut off here at high tide.]
The next stretch of sand is empty. I take out my map to find I am looking across Fruitful Cove, past Sweden Rock and Horse Rock, right down the mile and a half of Watergate Beach (also marked Tregurrian Beach on my map).
Someone else has walked here recently, I can see their tracks in the sand.
There is something both enjoyable and ominous about this section of my walk. Nobody about. High cliffs to my right, bearing the scars of recent rock-falls. The tide encroaching to my left. Unmarked sands that are pocked with pools of water and sticky in other places, sucking at my feet as if trying to pull me under.
No seaweed. No jelly fish. No people.
Without many landmarks, it is hard to see I am making progress, but gradually the cliffs at the far end begin to rise higher. The waves are taller now. White breakers that throw off spray, shrouding the end of the beach in a light mist. Tiny dots turn out to be people on sands and in the sea.
At Tregurrian, where the sea is full of surfers, I am forced to leave the beach before it comes to a dead-end. Here there is a hotel, cafes and holiday homes and this is where the surfers have parked. I buy a drink of lemonade and take it with me, planning to drink it when I get to the top of the cliffs.
It is a steep climb but the views are magnificent. I find a patch of grass and perch on the cliff edge to drink my lemonade, looking back along Watergate beach to Zacry’s rocks and the gap I climbed through. Beyond is Porth Island and then Newquay.
From here the path is easy, undulating across grassy land at the top of the cliffs. It is a popular walk and I meet lots of people. I follow behind a young woman who strides energetically and an overweight young man who is clearly struggling to keep up with her.
After a mile or so, the ground falls down into a succession of small coves (Stem Cove and Beacon Cove) and, as I struggle with the climb, I wonder how the young man has coped with the steep descents and ascents. Then I see the couple are taking a rest, sitting on a rocky shelf above the rolling waves.
I continue onwards, around Beryl’s Point and am soon looking down on the next bay – Mawgan Porth. It’s 12:30 and time for lunch.
To be continued…