XXXVIII – Plymouth to Looe

Hasteful MammalDy’ Sul, my a wrug kerdhes dhiworth Aberplymm dhe Logh (ha dhiworth Dewnans dhe Gernow ynwedh).

Or, in English…

On Sunday, I walked from Plymouth to Looe (and also from Devon to Cornwall). Although technically I didn’t actually walk from Devon to Cornwall as that bit was handled by the Cremyll Ferry as it crossed the Hamoaze, the estuarine part of the River Tamar.

Weather Forecast

The weather forecast was for sunshine and haze when I left my hotel at the western end of Plymouth Hoe and sunshine and haze is exactly what I got all day.


Duke of Cornwall Hotel

The enormous bulk of the Santander Ferry was just sailing out from the docks as I made my way, via a shop to buy a bottle of water, past the magnificent classical-gothic facade of the Duke of Cornwall Hotel (built in 1863 and saved from decline in the 1970s by a campaign led by Sir John Betjeman).

Plymouth Pavilions

Soon after, I passed Plymouth Pavilions, a large leisure and entertainment complex which was, according to posters, celebrating its twentieth year. This surprised me for some reason, although I definitely remember they were building it while I was a student. Sometimes I find it hard to believe that that was two decades ago.

Pavilions was built on the site of the former Plymouth Millbay Station, opened in 1849 by the South Devon Railway on a line that would be closed in 1971.

Union Street

From the Pavilions I headed into Union Street, a long, straight street linking (indeed uniting) Plymouth, East Stonehouse and Devonport, the three towns that merged to form modern Plymouth.

Union Street was constructed between 1812 and 1820 and designed as a grand and genteel boulevard, lined by expensive homes. By WW2, it was a major shopping thoroughfare but was badly damaged by bombing, as was much of Plymouth.

These days, it comprises some unimpressive-looking council flats, a few shops, some derelict buildings and nightclubs. Many nightclubs. Union Street is where the bulk of Plymouth’s nightclubs reside, with the locals, the armed forces and students all having their own favoured venues, more-or-less side by side. As a result, it has a bit of a reputation for trouble late at night, but there’s actually surprisingly little — mostly because of a strong police presence when the clubs close in the small hours.

Because so much of the street is nightclubs, which are windowless at street level and closed during daylight, the street resembles an urban wasteland as you walk along it in the morning.

Palace Theatre
The Palace Theatre
This building perfectly embodies Union Street. The Palace Theatre was opened as a music hall in 1898, became a bingo hall in 1961 and a nightclub in 1983 – it was my favourite. It closed in 2006 after the police showed it to have developed a drugs problem. Now it simply moulders and decays.


East and West

Union Street carried me into Stonehouse, which was originally the separate town of East Stonehouse. Its counterpart, West Stonehouse, lay in what is now Mount Edgcumbe Country Park and was destroyed by the French in 1350.

Royal Navy

East Stonehouse, by contrast, became a centre for the Royal Navy and the Royal William Victualling Yard was its major victualling depot.

Stonehouse is also a home to the Royal Marines, and my route took me straight past the gate of Stonehouse Barracks.

Stonehouse Barracks
Stonehouse barracks
If you want to tell it to the marines, they’re in there.

Stonehouse Barracks were built in 1781 in direct consequence of the American War of Independence, which had led to more marines being on hand for embarkation than could reasonably be billeted in private houses.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

About a hundred years later, not far from the barracks’ main gate in Durnford Street, a young doctor named Arthur Conan Doyle first practised medicine in 1882.

Cremyll Ferry

The Cremyll Ferry is a small passenger ferry that departs from a slipway called Admirals Hard.

There has been a Cremyll ferry since the eleventh century, for much of that time owned by the powerful Edgcumbe family. The current ferry boat, Northern Belle, is operated by Tamar Cruising.

Proper Shop

There was a newsagent nearby, into which I nipped to buy snacks for later. Finding I had a twenty pound note but no change I checked with the newsagent that he had sufficient change.

‘Yes, this is a proper shop’ he said.

Elvira’s Café

I then enjoyed a bacon sandwich in Elvira’s Café, right next to the hard, while I waited for the first ferry of the day.

The Crossing

All in a Good Cause

When it appeaered, the ferry was surprisingly busy for quarter past nine on a Sunday morning. It transpired that there was some sort of charity run talking place.

Poor Parenting

The crossing took the usual eight minutes, during which an elderly chap earned my support and admiration. We were sat inside the passenger cabin when a young woman standing in the stern put her screaming son in with us, saying something like:

‘That’s naughty, you can sit in here for that.’

Elderly Chap immediately told her ‘no thank you,’ and made it abundantly clear that shutting your screaming kids in with a group of unsuspecting strangers and then walking away is not an acceptable way to deal with things.

Royal William Victualling Yard

Once Screaming Son had been removed, we sat back to look at the Royal William Victualling Yard as we passed by it. Designed by Sir John Rennie, it was built between 1826 and 1835 and named for William IV. Grade I listed, it was closed in 1992 to become a mixed-use development. The flats in it are not cheap.

Rame Peninsula


I alighted at Cremyll in the Mount Edgcumbe Country Park, which comprises a great swathe of the Rame Peninsula.

Signage Evolution

Last year, I noticed that Cornwall is rediscovering Cornish as both its heritage and a branding exercise, it having its own language being an obvious differentiator from neighbouring Devon (even if that language is, while not technically dead, pretty much comatose).

This year, I found that the country park had updated its welcome sign with an incremental increase in Cornishness. Where previously under ‘Welcome to Mount Edgcumbe’ it had read ‘Mount Edgcumbe a’gas dynnergh’ they had now Cornicised ‘mount’ to menydh.

The Old Battery
old battery, Mount Edgcumbe
Mount Edgcumbe welcomes you…with guns. This is the Old Battery, with its view across the Tamar to Stonehouse. It sits in front of a blockhouse from the time of Henry VIII.
Drake’s Island

Most of the country park has an informal appearance and it wasn’t long before I was surrounded by trees, enjoying a leafy path in dappled sunlight. The promised sea haze had materialised in spades and it lent Drake’s Island a mysterious air.

Drake's Island, veiled by haze
I suppose the air’s not that mysterious. It’s full of stuff that isn’t air. That’s why its hazy.
Fitness and Folly

I bounded up a set of steps that had caught me by surprise last year and grinned to myself as I passed a bench I’d needed to collapse on in 2010.

Just as I was feeling smug, a young couple with a black and white dog overtook me, walking at a brisk pace at least half as fast again as mine.

As I laughed at the folly of my smugness I passed beneath this 1747 folly. It was built as an artificial ruin to replace an original but boring navigational obelisk.
Hooe Lake Point

I pressed on, and the trees started to give way to gorse bushes. Before long I caught sight of my first destination – the twin villages of Kingsand and Cawsand. Or Porthmyghtern and Porthbugh in Cornish.

Kingsand & Cawsand in the distance
Cawsand is on the left, Kingsand on the right.

Although both are now in Cornwall and essentially a single village, before 1844 Kingsand was in Devon. The old border is still marked on the wall of one of the houses, which has taken its name from the sign ‘Devon-Corn’.

A steep and narrow street. A sign proclaims "Unsuitable for motors"
A typical Kingsand street. Traffic is really not a problem.
Kingsand’s clocktower
Kingsand’s clocktower was erected in honour of George V’s coronation in 1911.

I weaved my way through Kingsand’s tiny streets – once home to naval officer John Pollard who, as a midshipman, served under Nelson and shot the French sailor who killed the admiral — and entered Cawsand


Cawsand nestled beneath an 1860s Royal Commission fort, which in turn was built on the site of a 1779 battery. The fort was released by the MOD in 1926.

The village had a shop, where I purchased a cold drink and I rested briefly on the beach to consume it.

Penlee Point

From Cawsand, the path was a gentle climb to Penlee Point, another former site of a fort (as one of the navy’s principal ports, Plymouth Sound had been well-guarded) and now a nature reserve.

As I rounded Penlee Point, I could see the mound and chapel of Rame Head.

Rame Head was originally the site of an Iron Age hill fort. Iron age builders had a proper sense of the dramatic.
Rame Head

St Michael’s Chapel, which sat atop Rame Head, was built in 1397 on the site of an earlier Celtic hermitage. It already had a long religious history — in 981, Rame Head was given to Tavistock Abbey by Earl Ordulf, an uncle of King Ethelred and the owner of vast estates across the West Country. The abbey had been founded by the earl.

St Michael’s Chapel. Is this what they mean by ‘High Church’?

I paused by the chapel to smother myself in sunscreen, for the sun was pretty fierce and the haze was no protection.

Whitsand Bay

Polhawn Cove

When I was suitably screened, I pressed on, only to find that the path soon joined a track, which joined a road near Polhawn Cove.

From there, as the coast arced round to form Whitsand Bay, I had the choice of walking on the path or the coast road; the path was clearly visible from the road and undulated considerably more. So, as I had a specific train to catch that evening, I decided to make good time by sticking to the tarmac.

coast road along Whitsand Bay, Cornwall
Although not literally; it wasn’t that hot.
Emergency Response

SHortly thereafter, I came to find myself hastily stepping off the road as HM Coastguard roared past in a 4×4, blue lights blazing. Smoke from a flare coiled up from Polhawn Cove and a helicopter soon flew overhead.

I paused to look upon this with an elderly couple, who said that a coastguard had told them that someone was believed to be dead. It was a sobering thought that on this warm and sunny Sunday, with countless people enjoying the beaches, that someone’s weekend had ended with some sort of tragedy.

Tregonhawke & Freathy

I decided not to stop at a café in Tregonhawke which, like nearby Freathy, appeared to comprise nothing but holiday accommodation.

Tregantle Fort

Just over half a mile after leaving Freathy, I found myself standing at the gates to the MOD firing range at Tregantle Fort. The gates were open and no red flags were flying, which meant I could use the permissive path across the ranges without being shot.

I did so. I wasn’t shot.

Tregantle Fort
Tregantle Fort was a Royal Commission fort built in 1865 to hold 1,000 men and 35 guns. Unlike many, it is still in use and serves as a training centre for the Royal Marines.

The path across the MoD land passed a number of firing ranges and then struck out across pasture land dotted by cows. On the far side of this lay Portwrinkle (Porthwikkel) a former fishing village, some of whose buildings incorporated the walls of the seventeenth century pilchard cellars.

Portwrinkle was dominated by a hotel at one end and had a café at the other, where I stopped to buy water and rest and my legs. I was glad of the café as there were no shops in Portwrinkle. The village of Crafthole, three quarters of a mile away, had a Post Office but as it was Sunday, that would no doubt have been shut.

View west from Portwrinkle with hills looming ahead
Looking onwards from Portwrinkle, I could see some hills looming.
Piebald Dog Pair

The path out of Portwrinkle left the road and climbed steeply, soon devolving into steps. I was overtaken at the top of them by a familiar-looking young couple with a black and white dog who turned out to be the same ones as had overtaken me in Mount Edgcumbe.

They too were walking from Cremyll to Looe and observed that they had spotted me at least five times along the route. I waved them off as they bombed ahead at a phenomenal pace.

Portwrinkle, as seen from the hillside.
Portwrinkle, as seen from the hillside.

Towards Looe Bay


The path now undulated across high cliffs as it approached the village of Downderry. I passed the Piebald Dog Pair at least once (the dog needed a rest, they told me) only to be overtaken by them yet again. I was feeling pretty slow as I made my way down into Downderry.

The Long Stone, near Downderry
Visibility was still poor. This is the Long Stone, on the approach to Downderry.

Downderry (Downderri) is ostensibly an old fishing village now turning to tourism but its past involved almost as much smuggling as fishing, with spices, brandy and silk behind secretly landed there.

Three small boys were playing in the road with brightly coloured plastic toy pistols, making gun noises and generally fighting their own special war. As I walked past one proudly showed his blue plastic pistol to the others, saying loudly: ‘It’s just like a real AK… AK… Ak… er… MP5!’. Wrong on both counts.


The path followed the road out of Downderry and so whisked me quickly enough to Seaton (Sethyn) where the siren call of the ice cream finally overwhelmed me. Its beach of grey sand and shingle was surprisingly busy given that a sandier beach was just round the corner by Downderry.

Seaton, Cornwall
This Seaton is smaller and has fewer brightly coloured bicycles than its Devon namesake.

Seaton sits on the mouth of the River Seaton, which rises at the southern edge of Bodmin Moor. There is a monkey sanctuary to the west, whose grounds I must have passed right by; I didn’t see any monkeys. I did however see a couple with a black and white dog.

Looe Bay

St George’s Island

I was now starting to be worried that I might miss my train and so pressed on at speed, overtaking the Piebald Dog Pair. The path became leafy and used more steps as it progressed. Ahead, in the haze, I could see the first proper signs of my final destination.

St George's Island
St George’s Island was trying very hard to outdo Drake’s Island for hazy mystery.

St George’s Island, also called Looe Island (Enys Lann-Managh in Cornish, ‘Monks’ Enclosure Island’), sits a mile off Looe and was at one time owned by Glastonbury Abbey but later became the property of the Trelawney family.

Finn’, the man who lived on the Mewstone for seven years, moved there afterwards on account of being so used to island seclusion. It is perhaps no coincidence that it also has a history of smuggling.


Then, as the path approached Millendreath, I saw something amazing:

A maze cut into the turf
The labyrinth was made to enhance the coast path apparently. I rather like it.

The path now dipped down to Millendreath, a village on the outskirts of Looe which comprises a number of holiday chalets and the mouldering remains of a Mediterranean-looking holiday complex.

Millendreath’s beach was busy with people enjoying the last of the afternoon sun. I quickened my pace, knowing I was nearly at Looe but even so was soon overtaken by the Piebald Dog Pair again.


East Looe

An urban path skirted around the coastline to bring me down a hill into East Looe. I had made it. Now I just had ten minutes to find the station, if I wanted to make the train I was aiming for.

My mad dash through Looe was disappointing, if only because I like Looe and I hardly got to spend any time there. I passed the Piebald Dog Pair for the last time, wishing them good bye, and dashed up to the station where two annoyed-looking teenagers told me they had just seen the train pull out five minutes early. Right.

A street in East Looe
Looe. I can’t think of a nicer place to miss your train.

Looe (Logh) is divided into East Looe and West Looe by the River Looe, with an arched bridge connecting the two. The area around it has been inhabited since about 1000 BC and after the Conquest it was held directly in Royal demesne by William the Conqueror as part of the manor of Pendrym.

Its railway came in 1860, built on the towpath of the ailing Liskeard and Looe Union Canal (itself built in 1828). Its railway timetable is fiction. Apparently.

Heading Home

Racing the Train

I jumped in a taxi to Liskeard so as to make my railway connection and made an angry phone call to First Great Western. The man on the other end of the call seemed nonplussed that I wasn’t chasing compensation; I just wanted to makes sure my complaint was recorded and to get an explanation if there was one. He took my details. We’ll see, I thought.

The taxi whisked me to Liskeard well in advance of the early-leaving train and I made my connection with plenty of time, heading back to London and home.

Later (of course), FGW sent me a nice letter to say that their train left on time and that I and the two teenagers were clearly mistaken. Of course we were. And all the clocks in Looe. How silly of us.

Distance Summary

Hasteful MammalThis time: 20 miles
Total since Gravesend: 574 miles

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