Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Day 13 - September 16th 2014 - Seaton (Cornwall) to Par Sands

What would turn out to magnificent day of walking started with a big climb up from the beach at Seaton. Initially the path goes up a lane, then through woods before opening out onto farmland. A diversion took the route even higher than usual to what I understand is it's highest point in South Cornwall. By the time I reached the top I'd already worked up a good sweat and was glad I'd chosen to carry extra fluids. As forecast the day was already warm and muggy, the air hazy. I could just about make out the shape of Looe Island ahead of me in the reduced visibility.

For a while I walked along a lane through typical farmland a little way inland from the coast. Whilst still on this diversion I passed the entrance of a monkey sanctuary, one of the last things I'd expected to see in this part of the world. I moved on quickly in case they took me in.

The path returned to the cliff-tops and offered more hazy coastal views at Bodigga Cliff before dropping sharply down to Millandreath Beach. The holiday resort here looked well kept and upmarket. For some reason all the signs referred to the beach as Black Rock. I had to double-check my map to make sure I really was at Millandreath. I can only assume the owners have done this for marketing reasons. A similar thing has happened near my home in Exmouth. The company who run the large holiday camp at Sandy Bay have been promoting the location as Devon Cliffs for years. Local people all still know it as Sandy Bay and I'm sure they always will.

After a sharp climb then descent through a residential area I soon reached Looe. By now I could make out buildings on Looe Island through the murky air. After passing through East Looe I crossed over the bridge to West Looe where I met Lea and took a short break. I thought Looe was absolutely charming. The pretty harbour surrounded on either side by narrow streets full of character with many interesting small shops. Small boats were always chugging in and out, a passenger ferry doing good business despite being quite close to the bridge. If I'd had more time I'd have liked to stay longer, but I had plenty of walking to do. As I left town I passed an impressive statue of a seal, then along the part of the front that offered the best views of Looe Island.

From Looe to Talland the path was a relatively easy cliff-top walk over undulating downland. This section was surprisingly popular, well worn and very busy in the fine weather. There was a steady stream of walkers going in both directions. All types and fitness levels could be seen. Everything from local dog walkers to long distance types like me, family groups, people of all ages many who must be in retirement. Everybody was very polite, greetings being exchanged between passing strangers almost without exception. Slower people were happily stepping aside to let faster people through. No litter anywhere. If only our towns and cities could be like this too.

Road access to Polperro looked very difficult so I'd arranged to meet Lea nearby at tiny Talland Cove for our lunch-break instead. The cafĂ© where Lea was waiting in the car park was doing good business. We enjoyed a spot of people-watching as we ate with so many other walkers passing through.

Due to a cliff-fall and path diversion the route west out of Talland was up a long steep narrow lane marked 'unsuitable for motors'. Several walkers going up the hill were visibly struggling on the sharp gradient in the heat of the day. Those coming down looked smug. I was amused to note how different people coped with the difficulty. The male half of a young couple ahead of me took a couple of minutes to re-tie a shoe lace half-way up before stopping to adjust it again, twice. He wasn't fooling me, I doubt if he was fooling her either. A portly middle-aged lady a bit further on was far more honest, announcing loudly to her group and anybody within earshot 'I need a sit-down' before plonking her backside on the verge. Good on her.

Shortly after returning to the cliff-top the path dropped down to Polperro. This wonderful fishing village built on hills surrounding a small harbour was absolutely gorgeous. Full of character, totally unspoilt, the tiny roads too narrow for vehicles. Unsurprisingly on such a nice day Polperro was fairly crowded. Even so I absolutely loved the place and took many pictures as I slowly passed through.

The walking had already been great today, and it was about to get even better. The long section of the South West Coast Path between Polperro and Polruan was nothing less than spectacular. Rugged and isolated, breath-taking scenery all the way, right up there with the finest walks I've ever enjoyed. The path was hard going with the sun beating down, always going up or down, many steep sections, the surfaces rocky and uneven giving a sense of danger. There were far fewer people out here than I'd seen earlier in the day, the tough terrain clearly demanding a much higher level of fitness. Those of us brave enough to take it on were rewarded with amazing views, the sea crashing into numerous small coves and over rocky outcrops. No roads or buildings could be seen for miles, blue skies above. I was loving it, this is what coast walking is all about.

Around Raphael Cliffs the eerie sound of a clanging bell-buoy out in the sea mist added to the sense of drama. One of my favourite spots was Llansallos Cove. I couldn't resist diverting away from the main path down a very steep track to walk across the sand. A handful of sunbathers who must have arrived on foot were spending their day here. There was also a wonderful display of English eccentricity. A young couple were enjoying a picnic on a slightly dangerous looking outcrop above the cove. They had the full works; a table covered with a white tablecloth, two chairs, silver cutlery, a bottle of wine and two cool-boxes full of provisions. The female half of the couple was sat facing the sea enjoying a glass of wine while the male half was serving. I wondered if this was a special occasion, it must have taken a big effort to carry it all there. It looked very romantic, maybe he was proposing to her, maybe my imagination was running riot.

Lantic Bay was another highlight. Two remote sandy beaches below the cliffs looked as good as any I've ever seen before, the water very clear, a wonderful shade of blue. Access to the beaches looked difficult and dangerous, only a few people had made it down. Shetland ponies were grazing next to the path where I stood, high above taking in the amazing views.

Eventually I emerged at Polruan. I passed a National Coastwatch Institution lookout next to an eighth century ruin. The views across the River Fowey and out to sea from there were superb. I dropped down into town through more of those typical steep narrow Cornish lanes then quickly found the passenger ferry that would take me across the river to the town of Fowey. Lea was supposed to be waiting here but was nowhere to be seen. Fortunately this was one of the few times we both had mobile phone signal in Cornwall. I called and established she was waiting by a car ferry quite a way upstream, nowhere near the coastpath or the much smaller ferry I was aboard. It was no big deal, meeting-up on unfamiliar coasts is much harder than you'd imagine, it was inevitable we'd miss each other eventually. We decided to blame it on the sat-nav. I didn't have time to wait around and was carrying plenty of provisions, so Lea made her way on to our next planned meeting point while I continued walking.

The path got easier again after Fowey, more cliff-top walking over gentle downland took me toward Gribbin Head. Polridmouth Cove was a wonderful surprise, an attractive lake here set just behind the beach. The path crosses a small dam. As I passed through the occupants of the cottage were setting up a barbecue. What with all the walking I'd worked-up quite an appetite and would have happily joined them. Being so close to sea-level I wondered how the lake had fared in the vicious storms last winter, there was no sign of any damage.

Approaching Gribben Head I'd been able to make out a silhouette in the haze which I'd assumed was some sort of disused industrial chimney. Only when I got quite close did I realise it was a tall tower painted bright red and white. An information board explained it was built in 1832 as a navigational aid. Here I got my first views across misty St.Austell Bay, I could just about make out the shape of a rocky island on the far side. Par Sands, my intended destination for the day was closer and easier to see. I continued on to Polkerris, more easy going, I had the deserted path all to myself in this area. After making the steep descent down to the beach I was pleased to see Lea was here too. After a hot day I didn't take me long to down a pint of ice-cold cola purchased in the pub. Families with young children were enjoying the late afternoon sunshine, everybody seemed happy.

The last couple of miles to Par Sands didn't take long. Horses were being exercised on the sand, people were playing. I saw a huge flock of geese and some swans in the lake behind the beach. The way through was somewhat confusing due to a caravan park and private grounds of the nearby industrial works getting in the way. More by luck than judgment I found myself on the correct path that took me through to the street where Lea was patiently waiting in her car.

The walking today had been absolutely amazing, unforgettable. I'd seen so many wonderful places in the space of just a few hours. It was very clear why everybody loves Cornwall so much.

 Distance Walked Today 23.19 miles (37.32km)

Walking Time; 7 hours 45 minutes

Average Walking Speed 3.0 mph

Cumulative Distance Walked 289.24 miles (465.49km)

GPS Track; https://www.strava.com/activities/528241622

The steep diversion where many walkers struggled, Talland Cove is at the foot of the climb,
the popular downland section west of Looe in the distance


Rugged coastline at Raphael's Cliff, spot the path if you can

Llansallos Cove, if you look closely you'll see the young couple enjoying their picnic just above centre

Lantic Bay and the two beaches

The Gribbin Tower, built as a navigational aid in 1832

Polridmouth Cove

Arriving at Par Sands at the end of a magnificent day


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