After lunch I walk up the side of Boscastle Harbour, following the South West Coast Path and heading for Penally Point. The tide is out and the water in the harbour is low. But the sun is shining and this has brought many people out for a stroll.
I climb steadily up the slope of Penally Hill, and pause to take a photograph of Boscastle village below.
From the top there is a wonderful view of the coast and I can trace the course of the coastal path along the side of the cliffs. The tallest point is Fire Beacon Point. After that I can see the long finger of Cambeak. My destination is out of sight on the other side of Cambeak, a place with a northern sounding name – Crackington Haven.
But first I have to cope with a steep drop into a gully, at the bottom of which I cross over a stream. This place is called Pentargon.
The climb down into the gully is long and steep and so is the climb up the other side. I stop for a rest, look back across and take a photograph of the path down. (If you enlarge the photo, you can see the tiny figure of a walker making his way back up the slope.)
Once on top of the cliffs and I come to a divergence in the path and am forced to make a decision.
For some reason, the main path seems to veer inland, although an ‘optional’ route is indicated and this continues straight along the coast. I pull out my map and the inland route is not even marked. Now, do I go inland or do I stick to the ‘optional’ coast path?
Straight ahead the path looks well trodden and I don’t anticipate any problems. So, I choose the coastal route, of course!
(But in retrospect, I realise I should have questioned why an alternative route was provided. I am soon going to find out…)
The path is very narrow and, when I meet an oncoming group of European walkers, I am forced to balance on the side while I wait for them to pass.
Perhaps this is why the route is ‘optional’? A narrow path and a steep slope? Yes, that would explain it.
But a little further on and this is what I see ahead of me.
I pull out my map and check. This must be Fire Beacon Point. The map does show the path crossing a number of tightly packed contour lines, implying something steep. But I didn’t realise it would be a precipice.
I climb up slowly. The rocks are loose and I am glad of my poles. I stop for a breather and take a photo of the view ahead. Cambeak is the nearest promontory. In the distance I can see as far as Hartland Point, many days walking away.
Suddenly I come across a small, flat area. And a bench. It is dedicated to the memory of Paul Heard from the Cornwall Ambulance Service, who died in 1994. I am surprised to find the seat in such an isolated spot, and in such excellent condition.
It takes me 1/2 an hour to climb to the top of Fire Beacon Point. The view is worth it. I can see all the way back to Tintagel and can even make out a couple of headlands beyond, although I can’t work out what they are. Rumps Point near Padstow? And then what? Trevose Head? Maybe.
And looking straight out to sea, I think I can see something out there. Is that Wales? It can’t be. Or an island? I look at my map but it doesn’t show any land out in the sea.
[Later I realise I am looking at Lundy Island, about 30 miles away and well outside the range of my current map, beyond Hartland Point.]
From here the path follows the top of the cliff, running straight and flat. I stop for a drink and a snack and am surprised when a family with young children come strolling past. Despite the apparent isolation of the area, a short footpath connects the coastal path with a small road that runs a few hundred yards inland, just over the ridge.
Below, a steep cliff ends in harsh rocks and a blue sea. It is a beautiful place.
I walk on and notice the land falls down to the beach ahead of me. But I am not too worried, being convinced from my map that the path will continue around and along the top of the cliffs. But it doesn’t.
This is Rusey Cliff. Below is a rocky beach and the footpath leads down, winding down a drop of around 200 metres, almost to sea level. It is not the path down that worries me. It is the near vertical steps up the other side.
The steps are steep and go on and on and on.
It takes me half an hour to climb them and, by the time I reach the top, I am exhausted. This is my fourth massive climb today. Rocky Valley, Pentargon, Fire Beacon Point and now Rusey Cliff. And, of course, there have been numerous smaller climbs inbetween.
Somewhere near the top I find a bench and have a rest. I am almost too tired to appreciate the view.
It is 3:50pm and I must press on.
The walk is lovely. Ahead are two beaches called The Stranglers and Little Strand. There is rock with a hole through the middle, called Northern Door. The furthermost rock is the tip of Cambeak. It still looks a long way away.
On this section I meet a fellow walker. Not a stroller, a proper walker with a back pack. He has his head down and seems too tired to speak. I wonder where he has come from and where he is heading. Boscastle? There is no other village. He still has a fair way to go.
The South West Coast Path heads north until it reaches Cambeak. Then it takes a sharp turn to the right, leading east to Crackington Haven.
I still have over an hour before I am due to meet my husband, and so I decide to leave the main path and climb a mound that lies just before the rocky tip of Cambeak. At the top I sit and have a snack. The sun is sinking low behind me and the wind is tugging at my back, but Crackington Haven looks beautiful, glowing in the mellow light of the late afternoon.
I walk the last section with tired legs. The wind picks up, blowing with increasing strength from the west, pushing me along. At Crackington Haven, the waves roll in along the narrow beach and, despite the lateness and the wind, a few brave men are out surfing.
There is nothing much at Crackington Haven. Just a few houses and – yippee – I can see a pub. And it is open.
The wind is even fiercer and makes sitting outside difficult, but without a mobile signal, I have to keep a watch on the road while I wait for my husband to arrive. My cider tastes wonderful.
Crackington Haven was given to the National Trust in 1959 by Wing Commander Parnall “in memory of his brother – Flight Lieutenant Parnell RAF – and all who gave their lives in the Battle of Britain 1940.”
I think of all the brave airmen who died in WW2. And I think of all the people who have donated land, or raised subscriptions to buy land, so that the National Trust can keep these wonderful places open for the whole nation to enjoy.
This has been an amazing walk and a perfect day. I feel lucky to be alive.
Miles walked this afternoon = 7
Total today = 12
Total distance = 1,310
Vertical height climbed today (according to Andrew Lack’s wonderful calculator) is 4,000 feet or just over 1,200 metres.