What do you think of when you hear the name Cornwall? For me, I think of home, I think of the sea and I think of adventure. I spent my childhood exploring beaches with my family, and holidaying on Tresco. Although Tresco is only a few miles from Land’s End, it always felt like another world to me. Knowing there were plenty of places left to discover, a friend and I set off to walk around the most southerly point, where the Atlantic Ocean becomes the English Channel, along the colossal South West Coast Path.
We began at Penrose, where my family once lived, generations ago. The estate is now National Trust. Almost all of the coast seems to be National Trust in fact. We walked around the Loe Pool which is a bizarre place. It is the largest freshwater lake in Cornwall, separated from the sea by a sand bar. As we walked around the lake, the sand bar came into view through the trees. It doesn’t look like Cornwall here. As Donny pointed out, It looks decidedly French.
We dropped down from the cliff and walked across the Loe Bar, stopping to take a photograph. Walkers and beach goers had been busy creating rock piles. One creative had made a butterfly out of stones. The formation of the bar is unknown, but the most likely explanation is that it was formed by wave action, as sea levels rose during the Holocene… cue Bon Iver.
Across the Loe Bar, we joined the SWCP. After removing the bucket of sand from my boots, I was able to fuel my obsession with trail signs. I love the national trail acorn. It gives you a real sense of connection. I have followed acorns in the North Downs, alongside the M25 and now at the most southerly point of the country, alongside the Atlantic Ocean.
This was the easiest section of the trail. We were full of energy and full of adventure. The wind threatened to throw us off the cliff a few times. It was great. We passed a memorial to sailors who lost their lives in a wreck. We passed an old fish cellar, complete with winches fossilised in rust, which I assume were used to haul nets of fish up the cliff. Near Halzephron, we found a canvas angel sat on a wooden deck. She wore a rope around her neck which seemed quite macabre.
We checked over our shoulders regularly to see the progress we had made.
Parts of the path were awash with mud, meaning we had to mount the hedge to avoid sinking. If you want a rush, I suggest walking the top of a hedge in high winds on top of a cliff. Soon we were heading downhill towards a beach. There was an army of National Trust litter pickers clearing a path for us through the mass of rubbish that I assume had blown onto the beach during the recent storms. We were in Church Cove, which was disappointing as we had thought we might have found pub or cafe for refueling. Perhaps over the next hill we might find such a place. The acorns led the way.
At last we reached Poldhu Cove, a great little place with a trendy café. We ordered an enormous lunch and consulted our map. We had walked five miles by this point and were onto our second map. Donny calculated that we had seven miles in front of us until Kynance Cove. It’s amazing how much more detailed a real OS map is compared to google maps. There are so many named rocks and islands that google either mis names or simply misses altogether.
Refueled and guided by my favourite acorn mounted on a rock, we made our way up another hill, back to the SWCP. At the top of the cliff was a monument to Marconi. It said something about the first signal to be sent across the Atlantic. Reading up about this now, this was the very spot that in 1901 the three dots of the letter ‘S’ were sent via transatlantic radio signal. Fairly significant I guess…
From this point the going was pretty tough. We summited hill after hill and my knee began to seize up almost completely. I hurt my knee or maybe hamstring a few weeks ago walking back from the M25. I can pinpoint the moment of injury to a dark alleyway in South Norwood, in which I was definitely being followed. I accelerated my pace to a power walk, away from my potential murderer. Although I avoided being left for dead in the dark alleyway, cameraless and wallet free, I did something very painful to my leg. It turns out that someone was killed not far from there that same night, so perhaps a knee injury isn’t that bad.
The trusty acorn tried to confuse us at one point, pointing in every direction, but it is quite hard to get lost on a coastal path, as long as you keep the Ocean on the same side. We came to the top of Mullion Cove and found a cannon. I rode on the cannon, trying to look like one of those showgirls straddling a bomb like they used to paint on American bombers. We sank down into Mullion Cove, found lobster pots and an inquisitive cat, then summited yet another hill. There were now many groans and other manly sounds being made. We looked over at Mullion Island. Gulls swooped. The wind was incredible. We hunted for some shelter. Donny found a ditch and put his hand in cow shit. I laughed. We found a better spot and drank beer. Perfect.
From here, the landscape was bleak. The path seemed to disappear completely, and became a bog. We crossed a few streams and made our way across the endless undulating cliffs. There was an old airfield to our left and the darkening sea to our right. The last two and a half miles to Kynance felt longer than the first five. Eventually the magical sight of Asparagus Island came into view. From the top of the cliff, we could see the waves smashing against it. When I was planning this trip, I had hoped to make camp on the island. It became abundantly clear that a camp there would be a very, very bad idea. Not only was the island cut off by the tide, but it was sloped at a 45 degree angle almost all over. I imagined waking up in the night rolling down and plunging into the Atlantic. Plans are for abandoning afterall.
We made our way down to the beach. The stones were blood red, serpentine. I collected two, took a selfie (ironically I’m sure?!) and left the beach. Kynance Cove is a dramatic place.
The wondrous cliffs are polished with the waves,
And flash and flicker like huge mineral walls,
Their scaly sides are clothed with leafy gold,
And burn with beauty in the light of day.
The sands that lie on this Elysian cove
Are all ring-straked with painted serpentine:
John Harris (1885)