THE last day of February saw me continue with my walking, such that I had achieved three day’s worth of planned walks in two. Even though it was the twenty-ninth, and therefore a leap day in a leap year, I didn’t do any leaping from any of the cliffs.
The only leaping I engaged in was of the out of bed variety at just after seven, which was approximately sunrise. I forewent breakfast in favour of getting out as quickly as possible. This was out of keenness rather than any dissatisfaction with my hotel; the hotel was fine. I even had a sea view.
Newquay’s Eastern Beaches
I set off in high spirits along a road overlooking the sea front, calling in at a shop to buy water and snacks. I also intended to buy some sandwiches but failed to find any I fancied. This would become a bit of an issue later but for now I bounced along, full of happy thoughts while the path made its way past Newquay’s eastern beaches.
One in particular had a name that I couldn’t help but love:
A quick burst of research suggests that the name is derived from the Cornish for ‘a place to view blue boats’ but my minimal grasp of Cornish isn’t good enough to confirm that and the internet seems to be doing that thing where one person makes an unsubstantiated claim and a million other websites just quote them word for word.
Last time I encountered that phenomenon, it was perpetuating a load of erroneous twaddle about the Mew Stone in Devon. However ‘glas’ does mean ‘blue’, so this explanation is possible although why the boats would be blue remains unexplained.
A little bit further east than Lusty Glaze is Trevelgue Head, which is actually an island with a narrow footbridge linking it to the rest of Newquay.
Trevelgue Head is basically a park and the site of an Iron Age promontory fort and I rather enjoyed wandering around it. Joy turned to absolute delight when I heard a strangely high-pitched cry and noticed that three of the dozen or so crows that I could see had red beaks and feet. They were not crows; they were choughs.
I’ve said before that the Cornish chough is emblematic of Cornwall and forms the crest of Cornwall Council’s coat of arms. Even so, they became rare and then died out in Cornwall and had to be reintroduced from Wales.
All the information I’ve seen suggests they’re still limited to the wilder areas around the Lizard so to see three of them hopping about on Trevelgue Head, some way from the Lizard and within an urban area, was very pleasing indeed.
I was grinning from ear to ear as I passed out of Newquay and into the countryside.
The Coast Path
The path now ran alongside Watergate Bay, a two mile long embayment with dramatic cliffs overlooking sandy beaches. On my right, rolling fields covered Cornwall’s hills.
The going was pretty level and the ground was damp but not too muddy and I fairly raced along towards the middle of the bay, where a valley required a gentle descent and ascent.
Watergate Bay Hotel
In the valley, just above the beach, lay the Watergate Bay Hotel. This was a refurbished Victorian affair and close by it lay Fifteen Cornwall, a restaurant that was part of Jamie Oliver’s scheme to give troubled youths the chance to straighten out their lives with a chef apprenticeship.
About a mile inland from the hotel and restaurant was the tiny village of Tregurrian and Watergate Bay used to be known as Tregurrian Beach before the Victorian hoteliers moved in.
Towards the far end of Watergate Bay the path decided I’d been having it too easy and started to throw in a few ups and downs as it approached Griffin’s Point, the site of another promontory fort.
Once I was past a short section of up-and-downiness around Griffin’s Point and Beacon Cove I found myself rounding Berryl’s Point where I was frankly amazed by a dry stone wall beside the path. Why was I amazed? Well it was a bit mossy.
Vale of Mawgan
Having rounded Berryl’s Point, the path took me down to the beautiful sandy bay of Mawgan Porth. There the River Menalhyl (Dowr Melynheyl) reaches the sea with the hamlet of Mawgan Porth on one side, running into Trenance on the other.
The river takes its name from melyn heyl, Cornish for ‘estuary mills’ (although suitably garbled in its anglicised form) while the valley is called the Vale of Lanherne or Vale of Mawgan.
Lanherne is also the Cornish name of the village of St Mawgan, which lies a mile inland and is the home of an RAF base. In the late eighteenth century, it welcomed a community of Belgian nuns, who must have found their new environs strange.
I briefly pondered what may lie in St Mawgan and the nature of paths untrodden as I looked at a signpost pointing inland to the village before heading off in the other direction.
Mawgan Porth Village
Mawgan Porth is very small but it did have a handy shop in which I could buy more water and snacks before wandering down on to the beautiful and almost deserted beach to pick up the footpath again.
As I ambled beachwards, I spotted a little girl’s sugar pink sock on the path and concluded that the offended piskies are now openly mocking me.
Park Head & Bedruthan Steps
I paused for a rest overlooking the beach and then pressed on, with the path conveying me past Carnewas Island and Bedruthan Steps. The very name ‘Bedruthan Steps’ filled me with apprehension but I needn’t have worried; it referred not to any feature of the path but to a series of rocky stacks said to have been used as stepping stones by a giant named Bedruthan.
I was now heading for a headland named Park Head and there I passed an elderly couple who engaged me in a brief conversation about the lovely weather, how far we had each walked and were planning to walk and so on. Our superficial pleasantries exchanged, we then responded to some unseen signal, with the couple saying ‘well, we mustn’t keep you’ and me saying ‘well, I must press on,’ almost simultaneously.
And press on I did, driven in part by a desire for food. I was starting to regret not having bought a sandwich that morning.
Towards Trevose Head
The path dropped into a coombe at Porth Mear — which is an undeveloped stream mouth — and then, having climbed out again took me round to the village of Porthcothan. On my original three day plan, Porthcothan was to be the end of my second day of walking although that plan had long since been abandoned.
Another thing that had had to be abandoned was the hope of buying some lunch as Porthcothan’s shop appeared to be closed and so, disappointed, I kept going.
The coast was becomingly increasingly crinkly, with dozens of rocky coves along the way although the path remained fairly easy going. The next hamlet I reached was Treyarnon which had a rocky islet just offshore called Trethias Island.
Trethias Island had a cave that ran right through it and could be accessed at low tide although that still involved some wading that I was not prepared to do.
A little further on, rocks and cliffs gave way to dunes as the path edged past Constantine Bay, once one of Margaret Thatcher’s favourite holiday locations. I knew at this point that, if I nipped inland to the village of Constantine Bay, I could probably find something to eat but I decided to stay on the path.
Constantine Bay is named for St Constantine, who is in turn identified with King Constantine, a sixth century post-Roman British king of Dumnonia (modern Devon and Cornwall).
A Headland and Several Islets
After Constantine Bay the path took me to Trevose Head, a headland which I had been able to see from miles back, along with a small group of rocky islands about a mile offshore known as the Quies. There is also a small island much closer in called the Bull.
Round Hole (1)
Trevose Head Lighthouse
Mother Ivey’s Bay
Having rounded Trevose Head, I now skirted around Mother Ivey’s Bay, named for a sixteenth century witch.
As folklore has it, Mother Ivy approached the Hellyer family, who were wealthy from the pilchard industry, and asked them to donate to the people of Padstow a batch of pilchards that had been returned unsold; Padstow’s inhabitants were experiencing shortages at the time.
The Hellyers refused and ploughed the pilchards into their land as fertiliser upon which Mother Ivy cursed that land, decreeing that if the soil was broken death would follow. When the Hellyer’s eldest son was thrown from his horse and killed this was attributed to the curse and the field has lain fallow ever since.
The next bay after Mother Ivey’s was Harlyn Bay, wherein lies the tiny village of Harlyn. It had some houses, a pub and a bridge.
The path crossed the beach and left me with the choice of continuing on my way or heading into the village to find the Harlyn Inn. I was extremely tempted towards the latter but eventually decided it might make more sense to hunt down food in Trevone, the next village over, which was larger.
Well Parc Hotel
A short while later I found myself in a pub/hotel in Trevone where I sat and devoured a sandwich, washed down with gin and tonic. I hadn’t realised how hungry I was, which was ravenous.
I know I was really hungry because I actually looked at the salad that came with my ham sandwich and thought to myself ‘tomato, yes, I need some of that in here’ and added it to the sandwich along with raw green pepper. Normally, I loathe tomato, and much prefer my peppers cooked, but my body was craving the nutrients.
While I ate, a small black cat that had been sleeping on one of the seats woke up and came over to say hello. Now, cats generally love me anyway, for some reason or other, but I wasn’t fooled. This cat had clearly spotted Someone New With Food and was planning on being as cute as possible in the hope of obtaining some ham. Hopeful cat got fuss but no ham; I was too hungry to spare it.
About the Village
Trevone is Treavon in Cornish, from tre meaning ‘farmstead or settlement’, and avon meaning ‘river’.
It has one pub (the Well Parc, which fed me my sandwich), when previously it had several hotels and its Post Office has shut down.
A shop and café were also closed but that may just have been because I was visiting out of season.
Round Hole (2)
Padstow Bay & the Camel Estuary
Sandy bays now gave way to rugged cliffs as I headed towards Stepper Point, the western end of the Camel Estuary. Ahead I could see the Daymark, a stone tower built on Stepper Point as a navigational aid, while to my left, two miles offshore, was an islet called Gulland Rock.
The path began to undulate again and then found itself on a ridge-like hill not dissimilar to Bindon Hill in Dorset, which previously terrified me on account of the way it dropped on both sides. This time I was rather less concerned although I did notice as I climbed it some interesting tracks, oddly long and bifurcated. Either the local farmers were breeding mutant cows or the path had recently proven too steep for cows and they’d slipped.
Once I’d passed Stepper Point with its daymark and lookout station, I was traversing the edge of the Camel Estuary. The River Camel (Dowr Camel) derives its name from the Cornish word for ‘crooked’, also found in ‘Camborne’ (Kammbronn). It rises on Bodmin Moor.
Padstow War Memorial
I was running out of daylight now, so I hurried past various sandy coves, hoping to catch sight of my destination soon. Then, as I turned a corner, I saw a memorial cross silhouetted against the sky and, having turned again, Padstow lay before me.
Saints and Stuff
Padstow (Lannwedhenek) derives its English name from Petroc-stow, Anglo-Saxon for ‘the place of St Petroc’; St Petroc being a sixth century Welsh missionary (and also the patron saint of Devon).
A monastery was established in Padstow after Petroc’s death, although this was laid waste by Vikings in 981.
The town’s Cornish name refers to the church-site of Wethinoc, an earlier missionary to the Britons of Dumnonia.
No Time For Nourishment
Modern Padstow thrives as a tourist town, with Rick Stein’s fish restaurant helping to draw in trade. I contemplated finding more food upon arrival, or perhaps a pint at the Old Custom House, a St Austell Brewery pub, but quickly realised I only had fifteen minutes to find the bus stop before the last bus back to Newquay.
The bus stop turned out to be at the old station, the railway having arrived 1899 and been snatched away again in 1967 thanks Dr Beeching, whose short-sighted policies removed a third of Britain’s rail network without bringing the savings he predicted.
The Beeching Axe
Tasked with cutting Railway losses, Beeching, a former head of chemical giant ICI, misunderstood the nature of the beast. He thought that if your branch line was closed you’d just drive to the nearest main line and then catch a train, rather than, say, stay in your car for the entire journey.
As a result, his cuts didn’t just drop some unprofitable lines but amputated the entire feeder system for the main railway routes. In short, where railways were concerned the man was an idiot. This is perhaps most tragic for lines like the long-vanished Padstow Branch Line, once described by Sir John Betjeman as the most beautiful railway journey he knew.
Back to Newquay
Anyway, deprived of the railway, I caught the bus, which showed the wrong number for almost the entire journey, the driver having forgotten to change it.
The bus journey took an hour and a half of winding through many little villages, including passing over Harlyn Bay Bridge and taking that untaken path at Mawgan Porth so as to pass through St Mawgan. Eventually I returned to my hotel where I more or less ate my own bodyweight.
All in all a good day.
This time: 21½ miles
Total since Gravesend: 768 miles