45. Penzance to Porthleven

September 2011

After my explore of the Isles of Scilly I’m back on the mainland now, returning to the South West Coast path and the Cornish coast. It had been a windy and stormy night and as I was camping I had not slept well with all the noise and movement from the tent and in the morning I also discovered my tent had a small leak, but thankfully the only thing wet was a towel so I decided to hope for the best and get a new one when I got home, so I moved anything important away from the leaky area.

I soon set off for Penzance and parked at the station car park, which was right opposite the bus station, as I’d be returning by bus. The storm from the previous night was still much in evidence with a very strong wind and lots of mist, but thankfully there was only the odd spot of rain in the air. I heard on the radio on the way to Penzance that the Isles of Scilly were cut off today as the Scillonian III sailing had been cancelled due to the weather and the flights (both helicopter and plane) were all grounded due to the mist, fog and wind. This didn’t bode especially well for my walk, but I don’t like changing plans, so I carry on anyway.

Misty Penzance

Misty Penzance

The walk begins from right alongside the railway station on a Penzance sea front and follows a concrete path between the railway line on the left and the sea and sea defences on the right, which are piles of boulders here. Penzance is at the west of Mounts Bay, named after St Michael’s Mount at it’s eastern end and is one of the most beautiful bays in the world although I’m not seeing it at it’s best.

After about half a mile there is a bit of a beach to my right beyond the boulders, and a path down to it. It is a mixture of sand and shingle although it’s far from beach weather today.

The beach near Penzance

The beach near Penzance

I carry on along the path, passing no one else, and soon coming to a bridge over the railway line, which connects the path with the A30, but the coast path continues on the sea wall path ahead. Soon I’m passing the heliport used by the helicopter services to Scilly (sadly now ceased, the heliport is now a Sainsbury’s supermarket) and I can see the helicopter is still inside the hanger, not venturing out in this weather.

Penzance Heliport as it was - look here now and you will see a supermarket

Penzance Heliport as it was – look here now and you will see a supermarket

Keeping to the path I’m soon passing another supermarket, Morrisons and then the Long Rock train depot, where I can see the sleeper train from London now in the sidings. Penzance is lucky to have a sleeper train and I’ve thought about using it in the past but been rather put off by the fact you have to share a cabin unless you pay a supplement, which makes it very expensive and being a light sleeper I wonder how much sleep I’d actually get.

Just after I pass the depot I can finally make out St Michael’s Mount in the gloom and the mist, as it was invisible in Penzance today.

St Michael's Mount emerging from the gloom

St Michael’s Mount emerging from the gloom

This is a beautiful place, a tidal island with a castle and chapel on it, which has been home to the same family since around 1650. Today the island is part open to the public and owned by the National Trust. As it’s a tidal island there is a boat service at high tide and you can walk to the island on a causeway at low tide. I went there many years ago and was considering a return visit today too.

Looking back I can also see Penzance and Newlyn (it’s difficult to tell where one ends and the other begins), which are larger towns than I realised. I soon pass a cycle path sign which also shows I’m following the route of St Michael’s Way, another long distance walking route which links Penzance with Lelant providing a Cornish coast-to-coast walk.

Once the train depot ends on my left I’m passing the small village of Long Rock which seems to be a mixture of light industrial and housing. The coast however has improved, with the rocky sea defences now giving way to pleasant sand dunes and a nice sandy beach beyond.

The beach at Marazion

The beach at Marazion

A short distance further and the railway line turns left, away from the coast. I have been to this part of the coast a whil before, a llittle over 10 years ago now and I remember there used to be some old pullman coaches rusting away in the sidings here, but they have been removed now, although I’ve no idea if for scrap or restoration – it always seemed such a shame to leave them there.

The mist is now clearing a bit and St Michael’s mount is emerging from the mist. Now the railway line on my left has gone, it has been replaced with a road and I briefly have to walk in the parking layby beside it, as the coast path follows it. Just after this it heads back through dunes until I reach a small river, known as Red River presumably because it was once polluted with the waste of mines – it’s not red anymore although the name has obviously stuck. There is a little bridge over this and the path continues through the dunes and then past a car park to reach the road at Marazion. This is a lovely little village perhaps best known for St Michaels’ mount just off the coast. I looked at visiting the mount as I had made good time, but the tide was in and the boats wern’t running because of the weather, so I gave up with that idea.

Marazion

Marazion

The coast path heads thorough Marazion Square the main focal point of the town and a pub called Cutty Sark which seems oddly out of place (the Cutty Sark being in London). The road walking continues along Fore Street (every Westcountry town must have a Fore Street) as there is no path along the coast here. I did have a look to see if I could walk along the beach instead of the road walking but had to give up and turn back after a short distance as the tide was too far up so back to the road it was.

St Michael's Mount

St Michael’s Mount

Marazion

Marazion

The centre of the village soon gives way to houses and the walk begins to become a bit tedious. The rain is also starting again and getting heavier which doesn’t help my mood.

Near the end of the village the path at last leaves the road and heads south along a lane to a house and back to the coast. There are low cliffs here and the path is fairly flat, running along the top of these low cliffs. I can look back at St Michaels’ Mount now disappearing into the distance with Penzance now nothing more than a grey smudge in the distance.

View back to Penzance

View back to Penzance

I pass the rock and sandy beach of Trenow Cove which is deserted. Onwards I reach Basore Point and just off shore is a rock called The Greeb. Inland is a little village called Perranuthnoe and rounding Maen-du Point I reach the beach of Perran Sands, the second beach I have passed with this name in Cornwall. There are rocks and a little bit of sand at the low water mark but I suspect there is more in the way of beach at lower tide and in less stormy weather.

Perran Sands

Perran Sands

The path now heads a bit inland again a field or so back from the coast passing a couple of houses and then returning to the coast at Trebarvah Cliff, another low cliff. The weather is worsening and the photo when I look back is very gloomy. I can see ahead to Cudden Point and the rocky beach at Trevean Cove ahead. Looking back, St Michael’s mount is also disappearing into the distance. The cliffs get a bit higher as I go around the next beach, Stackhouse Cove. The tide is reaching the back of the beach today so there is no chance of going down onto the beach safely.

The weather was by now beginning to improve and soon the coast path began to climb on a lovely path that hugs the cliffs as it heads up to Cudden Point, which is owned by the National Trust.

Approaching Cudden Point

Approaching Cudden Point

The height gained offers a better view back over the coast I have been walking with the weather having cleared a bit I can see back to Penzance once more.

View back to Marazion

View back to Marazion

As I’m rounding the cliffs at Cudden Point I spot a bird of prey sitting on the rocks. A kestrel I think although I’m not sure, but it’s a lovely sight. I wonder what it is watching as I would think these birds mostly eat mice rather than fish, which is more the domain of the seagull.

A bird of prey - a Kestrel I think

A bird of prey – a Kestrel I think

Cudden Point is lovely, with some heather in bloom near the tip of the headland. It’s lovely. On reaching the tip I can make out the next major headland, Lizard Point in the mist.

The path soon descends from the top of the headland passing Piskies Cove which looks to be a nice sandy beach from the map, but the tide is up so there is only sea.

Piskies Cove

Piskies Cove

A short cliff top stretch brings me down to the oddly named Prussia Cove. There are just a few houses here perched on the cliff top. The hamlet is said to get it’s name from and 18th Century shipwrecker and smuggled John Carter who lived here and was also known as King of Prussia from a childhood game, hence the name of the cove. The beach itself is called Bessy’s Cove though. A drive passes another cliff top house and gives a good view back over the hamlet of Prussia Cove

Prussia Cove

Prussia Cove

The house itself is also impressive, and looks to be built from lots of flat stones piled on top of each other.

House at Prussia Cove

House at Prussia Cove

Once around the headland I have reached Kenneggy Sand which does have some sand and shingle, as the tide is now beginning to go out and the weather calming down. A sign here says the coast path ahead is closed, but I ignore it and carry on along the coastal route. At one point there is some orange temporary fencing around a part of the path that has suffered a minor cliff fall, but it is perfectly possible to squeeze past. You can just make out the orange fence on the closed section of path in the photo below.

Kenneggy Sand

Kenneggy Sand

Ahead the coast looks fairly flat to the next headland, Hoe Point. There is the small cove of Pestreath Cove to pass first where I realise it’s not all flat, as the path descends more or less to sea level to cross a small stream and back up the other side. The path now climbs fairly steadily to the top of Hoe Point. This gives me a good view of Praa Sands ahead.

Praa Sands

Praa Sands

This is one of the most pooular beaches in the area with good soft sand and is also known for it’s surfing as it faces south west. I stopped to have lunch here and would liked to have stayed longer had the weather been better. As it is the lifeguard has very little to do since I can’t see a single other person on the beach. As is often the case, the coast path here goes in the dunes at the back of the beach, but I much preferred to head down onto the beach itself and walk along the soft sands of the beach.

There is a path back up at the end of the beach, thankfully so I can rejoin the coast path and get a view back over the beach. A World War II pillbox sits on the back of the beach, a victim of coastal erosion no doubt.

View back over Praa Sands

View back over Praa Sands

The path now climbs again up to the open land of Rinsey Head, where there is an old engine house from a mine.

Rinsey Head

Rinsey Head

At the end of the cliff is an isolated house, some distance from any other buildings. I think the sort of place that would be lovely in the summer but perhaps a bit scary during a storm in winter. There is a sandy beach ahead here, Porthcew, a lovely and unspoilt beach although given the weather I decide against going down, unusually. There are more engine houses at the back of the beach which suggests it wasn’t always this way. With so much development taking place now it is nice to see some places which have returned to nature having been industrialised in the past.

Porthcew

Porthcew

The scenery is far more spectacular here than I had expected and very reminiscent of the North Cornwall coast.There is an odd rock formation on the cliffs as I head out to Trewavas Head. This is a lovely rugged headland, with granite outcrops mixed in with heather and gorse, a really wild and beautiful stretch of the path.

Trewavas

Trewavas

At the end I have a view ahead and what a view – such a classic Cornish view, beautiful coastline dotted with the atmospheric remains of the numerous mine engine houses of this once industrialised area.

Classic Cornwall - ruined Engine houses and spectacular coast

Classic Cornwall – ruined Engine houses and spectacular coast

It is quite a moving scene trying to imagine this valley crowded with miners in the past. I make my way past the crumbing remains along Trewavas Cliff and Trequean Cliff. In the distance I can see my destination, Porthleven now.

Porthleven ahead

Porthleven ahead

There is still a bit of effort to go before I get there though, with the valley at Trequean Zawn my next obstacle, where the path descends to sea level more or less and then zig-zags back up the other side. The rain has now returned giving the added hazard of a muddy slippery path. The cliffs slowly descend again as I head east to Tremearne Cliff and then the shingle and sand beach at Porth Sulinces. I don’t think there is access to this beach without a boat however, as the coast path keeps to the cliffs above it.

Porth Sulinces

Porth Sulinces

Just around the corner is another sandy beach backed with high cliffs, this time Parc Trammel Cove. The map shows the beach as being quite square in shape, as if a block of cliff has been cut away, so I’m not sure if this is man-made or natural, although I think it probably is natural. There is now a low cliff top path ahead leading me to Porthleven.

This passes a memorial on the way and then joins the road leading down into Porthleven.

Approaching Porthleven

Approaching Porthleven

The building at the end of the harbour with the clock tower looks a bit like a church but is in fact the council offices. The town took something of a battering during the storms of early 2014 with several boats in the harbour wrecked.

There is quite a long narrow harbour entrance leading to a larger inner harbour with houses all around.

Porthleven

Porthleven

It is quite a pleasant town. I follow the road down beside the harbour and walk to the back of the harbour where the tide is now going out enough many of the boats are now resting on the sand. I took the bus from here back to Penzance, which offers a nice view over St Michael’s mount once more.

This was a good walk rather spoilt at the start by the terrible weather. Thankfully it cleared for the more rugged parts of the path further east and there are some beautiful and remote beaches on this stretch to enjoy too.

Here is the public transport needed for this walk.

First Service 2 : Falmouth – Penryn – Helston – PorthlevenPraa Sands – Perran Crossroads – Marazion – Long Rock – Penzance. This bus runs hourly Monday – Saturday and once every two hours on Sundays. Helpfully there is also an evening service (except Sunday) too.

Here is the complete set of photographs from this walk : Main Link | Details | Slideshow

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One Response to 45. Penzance to Porthleven

  1. Shame about the weather. I did this stretch in 2 sections and the weather was foul for me, as well, as I got thoroughly soaked walking along Praa sands and had the beach to myself.

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