We got up in Portreath to be greeted with a breakfast buffet featuring vegetarian sausages – the very best thing to set you up for a long day’s walking. We were accompanied at breakfast by a talkative couple from Somerset who were regular visitors to the establishment. What can we say? We’re not morning people… The B and B owners were friendly and interested as we left, and were able to tell us a bit about the path ahead. After stopping to buy lunch at a local store, stocking up on cheese and biscuits, it was definitely time to wander out of Portreath and get under way with the usual dreadful post-breakfast climb back up to the top of the cliffs. We think we spotted a rare chippy but hardly felt the need after last night’s excellent dinner. We located a vertiginous path and were stuck for a long time with what we call ‘Wells lifeboat house syndrome’ after a walk on the Norfolk coast path – that is, being able to see back to a particular landmark for miles up the coast. In this case it is, rather depressingly, our B and B.
Having made it to the top of Western Hill, we are anticipating an unwelcome immediate drop and climb but it does not materialise – the valley we see on the map actually stops short of Western Cove. A short cliff-top walk takes us to the steep drop of Carvannel Downs. Lisa wants to find the path on the map that goes round the back, but Andy can’t see the point. It becomes academic anyway, as that path is simply not visible. The drop is much easier than expected as it goes in shallow sweeps across the valley wall. The climb is harder but not a real ordeal. Immediately after comes another drop, this time unnamed. It doesn’t go as deep, but it is steeper. It doesn’t take long on this path before you become obsessed with the depth and steepness of valleys. Mirrose Well is the first of many car parks for us to pass today – little sign of the well, though. More easy clifftop walking then we hit the next in the car park series. At one we stop for a rest, lying against a low stone wall, resting (and photographing) our feet and feeling content. The mood is broken when Andy spots a spider marching briskly across Lisa’s hat.
Hell’s Mouth has a café but the actual cove is a bit tame, given its name – you have to wonder if theologians have been exaggerating for all these years. A low wooden barrier protects the edge of a perfectly adequate but decidedly non-diabolic cove. In the café we decipher the complex toilet arrangements and have tea and cake. There are three young staff members there. When an elderly couple order slices of chocolate cake, they argue behind the scenes. Slices are supposed to be £1 but they feel this is too much. (The other cake, a coffee cake, has slices fit for mountaineers to climb and £1 is a perfectly fair price.) In the kitchen, the staff can clearly be heard: “We can’t charge £1 a slice for this, the whole thing only cost £3.” “We’re not the National Trust.” They eventually settle on 60p. Andy has the £1 coffee cake, but will dine out on the argument for some time to come.
After the tea and cake we cross the road and eat our packed lunches on the grass. After that, the path onto Navax Point is confusing and we start off down a path which drops steeply to the cove before Andy can be convinced that Lisa’s usually unruly instinct on which route to take is right this time. The Navacks are grazed by placid Shetland ponies (why not Dartmoor ponies?) which are fully prepared to have their photos taken (for a small consideration) and to be walked close to without being spooked. Godrevy Point is famous, possibly worldwide, for being Virginia Woolf’s lighthouse. We have seen many lighthouses on this walk since 1997 but this is one of the best. Many photos are taken. The approach to Gwithian’s beach completely baffles in a navigational sense – there is what looks like a quarry right where a beach, or sand dunes, or at any rate something other than that ought to be. We cross the Red River – an industrial run-off that looks cleaner than it perhaps is – in the company of many barefoot surfers, who hop painfully over the stones. Still baffled by the map, we walk along the bank of stones set up to keep the sea out of the industrial works. Today is a day of particularly high tides and the sea is just brushing against the very base of this bank.
At the far end of the sea wall Andy falls in with a loud clang – the path goes inland along three sides of a square and we have – inevitably – walked along the fourth. We leave the beach (unimpressive with this high a tide) and promptly get lost in a village of holiday chalets where you get the impression casual wanderers are not necessarily welcomed. We reach Gwithian village by wallking back along one of the three unwalked sides of the square, along dunes and we could, frankly, have done without it. Even so, we decide not to disturb out next landlady, a farmer’s wife, by phoning ahead for a lift. She did tell us that lots of people do walk the mile or so inland to her farm. We are standing by a post pointing to it and decide to go for it. Not clever. The path goes on forever, it seems, much of it is uphill and there are plenty of signs with cheerful messages (“It’s worth it!) which do not cheer us up one bit.
But it IS worth it when we get there. We are staying at an old farmhouse in an isolated, idyllic spot, which is half historical and half Changing Rooms chic. The floor of our room shook alarmingly when you walked on it, and the ceiling plaster was rougher than sections of the path – but the huge bathroom was bright and modern, the welcome was really friendly and we were given a lift to the pub and back for our evening meal – which was a story in itself, as we were taken to the locals’ hearts. Once we had been sized up by the landlord and he had decided we passed muster, we spent the evening swapping funny stories and yarning. Halves of Sharp’s Doom Bar all round. A great evening had by us and, we hope, all.
Start: 11.30am (taking into account the time it took us to get back onto the path); lunch: one hour approx; end: 5.30pm; time on path: 6 hours.