Our mission today: to walk the 11 moderate to strenuous miles between Coverack and Helford, passing such memorable places as Porthkerris Point and Gillan Creek. But this is far from a routine day, for a number of reasons. For one thing, it’s the end of The Lizard. Schist, gneiss, serpentine, grabbo, asbestos and talc give way to more conventional Cornish geology. For another, we’ve well and truly turned the corner and the scenery will soon look very different – goodbye to rugged granite cliffs for a while and hello to dense vegetation, pleasure boats and muddy creek beds.
But the most important reason of all is that this stage includes the halfway point. 315 miles of the 630 total. And where does this happen? In a little settlement called Porthallow (pronounced Pr’alla) which has some contented cats sunbathing on cottage roofs, a nautical pub called the Five Pilchards and we think some public toilets, but please don’t rely on our being right.
We sent our luggage on again this morning, partly in anticipation of more rain and partly to defeat our B&B proprietor, who seemed absolutely intent on getting us into a taxi for Helford ourselves (after a long battle in which we had to almost forcibly hand back the bus timetable). The bitter experience of yesterday’s wetting meant we left Coverack clad from head to foot in waterproofs – the full works, jacket, trousers and gaiters. Lisa always wears the minimum amount of clothing under waterproofs, to avoid getting hot, and so that if the waterproofing does break there’s as little as possible to soak up the wet. Which meant that when we found ourselves strolling along sans rucksacks in the brilliant sunshine, she was stuck wearing the plastic trousers or walking in her underwear. Still, at least the gaiters could come off.
The morning involved beautiful, unusual scenery at sea level. Soon after Coverack the path swings out onto Lowland Point. This is a pebbly beach backing onto boggy fields, with high cliffs a couple of hundred yards inland – evidence of sea levels dropping in this area, apparently. Once you are round this you climb up into Dean Quarries. A schizophrenic waymark tries to send you three ways at once, and this marks the diversion inland that you need to take if the quarry is blasting when you want to pass. We were lucky and able to walk through. You would have thought a quarry would be the last thing you’d welcome on the coast path – intrusive industry ripping away the very land we want to walk on. Instead, we found it a fascinating experience. The path was well waymarked and the few workers we saw nodded friendly greetings rather than looking at us as if we were mad, as tourists often do. There was no feeling that the management begrudged having to allow walkers through, and seeing all the piles of differently-graded aggregate and gravel close up was interesting. Oh yes it was.
After that, the path cut inland to Rosenithon and we took the opportunity of mobile phone reception to phone ahead to the pub in Helford and arrange dinner. This turned out to be a good thing as they admitted to having no vegetarian main courses on the menu. Normally this wouldn’t impress us at all (we don’t expect special treatment, but to not have even one? In the only eaterie in the village?) However in this case they were so guilt-stricken on the phone that it was impossible to complain and we negotiated a meal involving large portions of vegetarian starters.
The path briefly rejoins the sea at Porthoustock, which looked pleasant but mainly sticks in our memory because of the time spent waiting for the phone box to come free – the heavily-smoking woman and small child in it seemed to have taken up permanent residence. Another inland detour ended in our long-anticipated arrival at Porthallow and a dive into the Five Pilchards to celebrate our achievement with a half (each!) of Sharp’s Doom Bar and a heroically-sized pub lunch before taking photos of ourselves on the beach.
The afternoon involved a long slog around Gillan Creek because we didn’t realise a five minutes wait would have seen the tide uncover the stepping stones crossing it. Instead we ended up walking two miles round it, taking the day’s total to 13 miles. Actually, it was a lovely walk and we would recommend it. Consult your tide tables and do the circuit as an afternoon stroll.
There’s a similarly lovely church at the far side – St Anthony in Meneage – and a boatyard with a shop that sells ice creams. The path is confusing on Dennis Head and if you manage a logical loop around it you had more luck than we did. A leafy walk follows into Helford, where our B&B turned out to be the most palatial house, run by a pleasant young man who was looking after it with his wife while his parents spent the year abroad. Why they were doing B&B is anyone’s guess as it was like a Virginia Water stockbroker mansion with a magnificent sea view – only rather nicer because of the imagination and individuality that had gone into the decoration. An enjoyable evening stroll back into Helford saw the afternoon’s telephone negotiations pay off with a perfectly good, if slightly cobbled together, meal.