Perranporth to Portreath

Today it took us some time to get going – we could happily have stayed put nursing our aches and pains for some hours yet, then spent a couple of days pottering around the beach and the second-hand book shop, eating microwaved pasta meals, drinking wine and doing day walks. But on we must go, and this is one of the sad paradoxes about long-distance hiking – you feel you might be leaving several fun holidays behind each time.

We have a reasonably good start – we are finally beginning to get ‘walked in’ and Perranporth marks the end of the worst of the blisters and the muscle strains. Rucksack packing is also automatic by now. We have a most unusual circumstance on our hands this morning – going downhill to get to the path! But, having got going, it all starts to be a bit of an effort. We are worried that the day will turn into another slog like the previous one and there’s an element of rebellion against having to continue with it regardless day after day – another occupational hazard of the pre-booked B and B regime that we favour.

Out from Perranporth, we pass a youth hostel in a pretty castellated building, then Droskyn Point and Shag Rock. It is very interesting walking, with lots of evidence of mining which has almost been turned on like a switch after Perranporth following a brief stretch around Tintagel. There are lots of mines to look at, many capped with mesh screens to ensure bats can get access. The geology is also fascinating. Cligga Head – what an appropriate name! There is also a deserted WW2 airfield now used by gliders and light aircraft, hawks riding the thermals at the cliff edge and lots of industrial archaeology.

We have our first not very pleasant stop at Trevaunce Cove having travelled 3.7 miles, and having promised ourselves a rest stop soon. First we cut off a headland by scrambling over rocks – not at all unlike visiting a favourite childhood beach of ours in Somerset – rock pools, and lots of fun. But the cove itself is a bleak place with rocks and stones and plenty of late-season holidaymakers trying to make something of the day. It’s not particularly unspoilt either, with a fair bit of development at the back of the beach. Plus, the sun goes in for the first time all holiday and the frame rucksacks have a nasty habit of leaving you with a wet back, feeling very clammy and cold. It is almost a relief to go up on St Agnes Head, something we have been looking forward to seeing since a previous holdiay in the area.

But a wibble follows. What’s it all for? We march all around the head, then feel a bit better. One problem is balancing the distance and challenge aspects against the concept of having fun. Another is the lack of any sort of thinking time or opportunity to do non-walking-related things, be it bathing or looking at old churches or even having much time to read a book.

Soon St Agnes Head and the worst of the wibble are behind us. There are more quarries, mines and bleak rocky scenery, heather and gorse to look at. Tubby’s Head has more of the conical mesh things which allow bats to get in and out of the mine shafts, but many are unaccountably blocked. Wheal Coate has surprisingly difficult paths which caused one of us to slip and fall, but this famous industrial ruin is a sight (or a site) worth seeing. At Chapel Porth there are more surfers and the sense of community made it all see more ‘real’ – its members knew each other well rather than being a lot of poseurs visiting for two weeks who had just picked up a surfboard for the first time. This place has an excellent and highly-recommended café – we had hot drinks and a chat with the manager. The food looked fantastic.

At Porthtowan we had lunch on the beach and swapped one horrible clammy t-shirt for a fleece in the hope it would be more breathable. Surfing was going on off the beach, which made for an entertaining lunch followed by a hike to the toilets where loo roll rationing was going on in the Ladies’ – only one cubicle had any. Another great climb up a private road where two red MGF sports cars were parked with matching registration plates ending in the names ‘Rob’ and ‘Pam’. We discuss settling here and opening an Internet café for all the surfers, but decide it isn’t a goer. On the beach, some sad individual has put a little ‘private’ sign on every single rock outside their house…

Up onto the clifftop and it’s more nominally ‘flat’ walking past Nancekuke – a RAF base with a name that Andy says sounds like Inuit. Not many other similarities to the frozen North, luckily. However, it is a big contrast with the day’s earlier RAF base – this has what the guide describes as “an unpleasant fence” which seems to go most of the way to Portreath. The next ‘feature of interest’ (read ‘bloody hard climb’) is Sally’s Bottom, a former mining area characterised by powerful gradients, hundreds of little steps cut into the hillside and a large party of posh people walking labradors who we have trouble keeping ahead of, but eventually shake off – no mean feat when you have backpacks, and they do not. The steps themselves are faced with a rare form of green-veined Portugese granite, and we wonder why? Is it to distract us from the pain of climbing? We were all set for an easy clifftop walk into Portreath until we found someone had put a quarry in our way – almost as deep as Sally’s Bottom itself, helpfully characterised by a disgusted Andy as ‘Sally’s Arse.’ Around Gooden Heane Cove the path is squeezed between a cliff and a car park and looks uncannily like life back in London – youths idling in souped-up cars, very alarming to the passing walker.

At last, Portreath looms up, plenty of houses high on hills. A quick call the the B and B establishes it is none of the ones we are standing close to. Through town and the pain is really starting to hit us – but the difference today is that we are in a town and not four miles away over difficult terrain. A quick stop for a cold drink or three then we follow the owners’ instructions – right, left, right then up a one-in-three road to a lovely B and B where we are declared to look exhausted and shown to our room. Off with the sweaty clothes and on with the liniment, and everything looks a bit rosier. Dinner takes place in a nice, homely pub called the Portreath Arms where there is a copy of the yesterday’s Daily Mail (any port in a storm) for us to read. Good starters – tempura and breaded camemberts. Main meals not bad either, and an enormous selection of single malts behind the bar (Andy has his eye on the Knockando) but we are tired and we have some miniatures back in our rucksacks at the B & B…

Start: 10.35am; lunch: one hour approx; end: 6.45pm; time on path: 8.2 hours.