Two saints that add real class to the north coast of Cornwall

Moving around England’s tip, Cornwall’s north coast is a high drama of high, angry cliffs separated by gentle, crescent-shaped coves of soft sand. The complete range, & more, of the blue palette colours the hugeness of sky and the vastly distant ocean. Both are disrupted by the force of white weather. Clouds build and isolate as cotton wool is spread across the heavens by high winds. The ocean is blown up by the same winds into a ferocious bombardment, throwing itself upon beach, rocks or harbour wall in line upon line of snarling white beasts attempting to break down the land’s resistance.

The beach fleurons, bitten out of the cliffs are magnificent, particularly at low tide when their true dramatic beauty can be truely appreciated. Most are inaccessible on foot although some can be reached by scrambling down cliff paths. The more accessible ones have been taken over by fishing or farming or mining communities who use the ocean as their main livelihood or as an essential means of transporting goods, produce or materials.

Porthmeor Beach, St Ives

St Ives is such a vibrant town with its narrow alleys and lanes that all focus on the harbour.

The high tide lashes up against the encircling stone jetties. As it recedes, the town’s beaches merge outside the harbour walls. Holidaymakers enjoy the range of artesan shops, the pasties, the pubs & bars & restaurants or just wandering the streets at tourist pace. Where’s Wally? Nah, Meet Marky, in pic below!

A sign of the holidaymakers life today is the number of Status Dogs they bring with them. They yap & bark and tangle around legs & paws & feet. These posing, sniffing, prancing bundles of shag pile rug demand a great deal of attention and require lots of care & protection. Maybe St Ivez is a particularly hazardous place. I’ve seen them put in knitted wool tunics, in wheeled carts pulled behind bicycles, carried in the arms of owners, pushed along in buggies, placed in a material basket under the table in a restaurant, sitting on pub seats, peeking out of a coat pocket. A dog should be treated like a dog, not like a four legged, shaggy Tamagotchi.

Portreath

Porthtowan

Most of St Agnes is up on the cliff tops but if you maneuver you way down to the beach and the old, now sea-destroyed harbour, a dramatic cove awaits you. Sandwiched between sharp, steep cliffs with the nibbled coastline stretching away, the white breakers crash down on the rattling pebbles. A few sturdy souls brave the water …..with no wet suits! Up on the top, minute figures stand at the edge along the coastal path, gazing down at us from a great height.

Surfing and family fun at Perranporth.

Surfing at Fistral Beach, Newquay

Landsend is the end of the world

Carrying on down towards the west, the first village on the coast is Mullion Cove. Sea mist had descended and the harbour and beach were hidden in a grey wash. A single boat had been left high, the only object with clear, sharp features.

Portleven is an energetic little place although parking is not easy, especially when wedding guests seemed to hog most of the available places. The local gig crew were out on the water, small, designer huts were set up with wares for visiting tourists and a farmers’ market was in session.

The hugely impressive & privstely owned St Michael’s Mount is linked to Marazion by a stone causeway. At high tide this is completely covered by water and a boat ferries visitors across. At mid to low tide it is possible to walk over. The best images of both places are afforded from the middle point.

Penzance is a pretty ordinary place. The boat to the Sicilly Isles operates from the small working harbour.

The art deco Jubilee Pool fills up at high tide so folk can swim in the cold waters all day long, irrespective of where the tide is. High tide comes right up to the sea wall and so it is impossible to describe the beach here.

Newlyn harbour is a large working dock where fishing boats unload their catch, overlooked by old workers’ cottages and owners’ dwellings.

Mousehole is a lovely fishing village, full of character, with small, narrow streets that steepen down to the harbour as the main focal point. Today the ocean was knocking at the harbour walls, throwing its strength against the stone and sending huge plumes of angry spray up & over to cover the cars parked on the jetty behind. And, yes, Hugh, we found the cafe!

The beach at Porthcurno is truely dramatic. Sliding down a steep, rope-railinged, pitted path its magnificence is revealed at the bottom. Glorious, soft sands are pinched by grey slabs of huge sharks’ teeth rocks on one side and the rising heights of towering, blue/black/grey cliffs topped by the silhouetted fences of Minack open-air Theatre on the other. In between the roar of surf crashes out all noise and a lone surfer-dude challenges the power of the ocean in front of a handful of spectators sitting along the beach.

I’ll leave you with the end of a passing shower at Sennen Cove. It just goes to show there is a pot of gold at the end of this rainbow.

I’m not going to spend time on Landsend. Just to say it is categorised as a theme park and costs £7 to park!!!!!

A UK Coastal Trip – Falmouth

Several ferries across the estuary of the River Fal, keep the historic village of St Mawes and the historic town of Falmouth connected. The King Harry chain link car ferry rattles across just up from the mouth, whilst the St Mawes passenger ferry runs between the two harbours, aided by several water taxis. Henry VIII built a fort on each bank to protect the south coast from the French.

Falmouth itself has two distinct parts. The historic old town reflects Georgian wealth and Victorian charm. Looking up at the upper stories of the high streets is a clear indication how affluent this place was in the past. The buildings are dual aspect. Business is done from the front facing the street whilst goods are bought in by boat at the rear facing the water. On Customs House Quay the imposing offices of officials, the harbourmaster and merchants overlook their demain.

The pier has a certain Victorian charm & elegance to it amongst the yachts and trawlers and even warships. Like a bus ferminal, several ferries and boat trips collect and drop of their passengers from its iron superstructure.

West out of Falmouth runs the resort part of the town where a cliff road, lined with elegant homes and apartment bocks, runs above soft-sanded beach, although you only see it properly at low tide, when sharp rocks appear to cut off access to the sea.

Swanpool anf Maenporth are two more sandy beaches that are easily accessible to families.

Porthallow has a grey, coarse beach semi-circled by homes and fishing paraphernalia.

Porthoustock has a similar coarse beach. It is a working village with part of the cliff knocked through to provide access to a quarry. A digger loads stone onto a large vessel.

Coverack is a large, friendly village spread along the cliffs that line the bay. The car park is at one end and it is a gentle walk down and up the road with comfortable dwellings and gardens on the land side, with view over the beach on the other. Sharks teeth rocks run out from the sea wall with soft sand only exposed at low tide.

Some fishing still goes on, alongside water activities for visitors.

The small cafe at the top is open through the summer and serves the most amazing pizzas and toasted sandwiches. It is a friendly place. Sitting at a table in the sun with two local ladies, they tell the story of the Night of the Giant Hailstones when stones the size of fists were thrown at the village, destroying sheds & conservatories and causing outbuildings, cars and the road to slide into the sea. A friendly place with a strong sense of community.

A UK Coastal Trip – St Mawes

Now, Cornwall is renowned for its narrow lanes and high sided hedges. On this trip I discovered what this means in reality. On a map these villages are linked by white lines & B roads that criss cross the area between larger towns in a random, haphazard pattern that is the product of land & mine ownership rather than any logical arrangement of farmers’ fields.

Portmellon

The roads fall into two distinct categories. The B roads may have faded white lines in the middle at certain places and tend to have enough room for vehicles to pass – in places. Tourists, lorries, buses mostly use these roads. Most of the roads (huh) fall into the next category. They are syphon shaped in that at the junction they seem wide and open enough for two vehicles to pass comfortably but within a few metres the sides, now 3 metre high hedges, have squeezed in to within centimetre or two of your mirrors. The hedges are weapons of this hellish game of Mario carts. Not only do they breathe down on you from a great height, they also hide large rocks behind their cover of pretty, green vegetation. It looks like you can squeeze in to the foliage to make some room but if you do this there is a squeaking sound of metal bending. Miles are done on these lanes, accompagnied by prayers that nothing will come up the other way and making mental notes of each potential passing place.

Gorran Haven

When (not if) it does, there is then the Drivers Standoff. Two cars face off, engines tick over, drivers stare & snarl through gritted teeth calculating where the passing place behind is, waiting for the first to break. One breaks. That one practices, again, their wing mirror reversing technique, which, I have to say, I got pretty good at, particularly when I came head to head with the local bus who in no way was going to reverse and gently kept me company as I made room in a gateway 100 metres behind. The other driver breathes a sigh of relief and follows the sharply zigzagging vehicle in front, whistling happily. It’ll be their turn next.

East Portholland

West Portholland

Fingers tighten on the wheel and conversation becomes tense as the journey progress. A few miles takes 30 minutes of slow 2nd gear driving and the Passing Dance occurs at least a couple of times on the way, wether you’re the passer or the passee. The relief of reaching your destination is enormous. Aaaarhhhh. Take the photo and repeat.

The villages are very similar. Usually at the bottom of a wooded hill where a brook meets the sea. A cluster of converted fishermen’s cottages clutter around a small beach that is totally covered at high tide, revealing stone, pebbles and sand, in places, as the tide goes out. There’s usually a chapel to look after the souls of lost and past fisherfolk. Many have also been converted. Modern, more expensive homes hover around the edges of the cove in prime positions, with huge open windows bringing the view indoors while keeping the owners, not sure if these are first or second ones, away from the elements, the history, the visitors.

Portloe

Portscaro

St Mawes

A UK Coastal Trip – Mevagissy

From Polperro it is a short drive to the Boddinick Ferry, of the chain link variety, which crosses the River Fowey to the historic town of the same name. On the north bank Polruan faces Fowey.

On the south bank Fowey faces Polruan.

Linking the two are numerous water taxis, the Polruan Ferry for passengers and the car ferry further up the river. Fowey is built in narrow climbing streets that create a winding maze lined with what feels like 100s of bakeries selling thousands of pasties or an equal number of parlours selling Cornish icecreams, craft retailers & the necessary seafaring gear for city dwellers. Needless to say that every seat or step, houses the bottom of a visitor with their mouth around a pasty or their tongue licking out, lizard style, at a creamy ice.

Polkerris is a small village down a narrow lane with a pub on the beach.

Par Sands beach is a wide dune-backed beach with soft sands and a large free carpark. In the far distance, what look like farm buildings crowd around an an old wharf but other that an ugly sight it does not impinge on family fun amongst the dunes.

Charlestown, a few miles further along the coast, is the harbour setting for all those tv episodes of sexy Aiden Turner playing Poldark. A private harbour, it has been turned into an historic setting, cobbled and stoned, with wharves & jetties. It certainly has the feel of past seafaring adventures even if the cafe umbrellas, pub tables & icecream stalls take some of the gloss away. A good place to visit to get a feel of Drake and sailing the Spanish Main.

And then Mevagissy. Two harbours, enveloped by clawing walls, ooze history around their wharves and merchants’ houses. Yes, it gets its shares of visitors. But by the evening they have left, the fish & chip shops emptied, the pubs have quietened down and a calmness falls over the moorings and the cobbled streets.

A UK Coastal Trip – Polperro

Torpoint’s chain link car ferry across the Tamar marks my leaving of Plymouth and heralds my arrival in Cornwall.

Come with me as I travel along Cornwall’s south coast to Landsend and back up its northern face to Padstow. The first day provides the full Cornish fayre of beach settlements.

The first two are raw Cornwall where high tide swallows any beach and low tide reveals angles of cheese-grater rocks mixed with sea-smoothed slabs of rocks, stones and pebbles.The only road into Portwrinkle runs below whitewashed bungalows and comfortable homes. At the end of the road a gnarled, circular stone wall, created from rocks & stones from the beach, provides a refuge to a couple of lonely, open boats that are just waiting for the tide to lift them up to higher spirits. In both directions sharp files of rocks await any careless sailor or fisherman.

There is little to welcome tthe seaside-seeking family here. Only those whose idea of fun is a battering from the elements. The same us true of Downderry.

At low tide the fullness of emerald slime-covered rocks, squelches of brown seaweed and snags of multi-sized pebbles & stones is fully revealed. The saving grace is a thriving & friendly local community which offers everyone, visitors & locals alike, sausage, bacon & egg rolls and a cuppa for £3 from the village hall.

Then there is Looe. A magical name but I missed out on any magic in its narrow streets. I’m not sure what it was: maybe the crowds of visitors with their packs of unnecessary designer-dogs, maybe the car parks that seem to dominate the drag alongside the slimey estuary, maybe the lack of a quaint harbour or a old centre, maybe the newish developments along the river banks. Maybe it was just the weather.

And then Polperro saved the day. A walk from the out-of-village car park, down narrow, squeezing lanes leads down to the harbour where history oozes out of every crack. I’ll leave you with fudge-box perfect images of a real Cornish coastal experience.

A UK Coastal Trip – Plymouth

I am off on the last leg of my coastal trip around England and Wales. My aim is to use two centres to visit all the coastal settlements of any size in Cornwall, which, you may be surprised to discover, I have never really explore before. But first I have to continue from where I finished in South Devon last time.

Travelling down on the A303, a magnificent road scenically, brought back happy memories of youthful nautical adventures and years of cricket tours to Dorset. Breaking the journey at Buckfast Abbey Hotel seemed a good idea with the peace of the lavendar garden contrasting with the roar of traffic. Maybe be slightly too much, especially when dinner was taken in a rather basic monks’ refectory with me almost the youngest amongst the other grey-haired guests.

I hit the coast at Hope Cove – a lovely, rather ordinary place, surrounded by glorious landscapes. It felt like a tight, local community lived here throughout the year. There is evidence of some history in the rock walls that create an ancient harbour and also of facilities and activities that litter the beach.

It is a short drive to Bigbury-on-Sea. Here, the small resort protect a real nugget. Burgh Island is connected to the mainland by a beach causeway that is gradually exposed as the tide recedes and completely covered either side of high tide. Guests to the art deco hotel, a luxury, unique establishment where rooms start at£450 a night, are transported at the latter time on the sea tractor. I’m not sure if famous guests like Noel Coward and Churchill took the same route. There is a pub next door that serves the rest of us pints and shorts before being herded into the cave on wheels to be returned to the mainland.

And then to Plymouth. The Hoe, Drake, Hen nights, the castle, shopping, partying. Much of the seafront has been moulded into permanent features that will last into the next millenium. The beach has become concrete layers & strips of a beach cake – hard surfaces facing the westerly weather. Even the lido laughs at any attempt to soften its 20’s lines.

The sky greys roll in and drip precipitation onto the party wharfs of the Barbican. Sensible people would wear a coat ……but not a party girl, in Plymouth (or anywhere else for that matter). As the beer tents drip, the skirts get shorter and the dresses get to queeze onto Barbies of assorted sizes from new XXL to XS.