August Bank holiday is an attractive time to go away, what with it being a 3 day weekend and towards the end of summer when the weather is likely to still be quite good. But the downside is the traffic is usually terrible and accommodation expensive and often fully booked, so it is not always the relaxing time you might hope. So I hadn’t planned to go away this Bank Holiday but instead planned to take a couple of day trips, probably by train, to avoid the traffic. I hadn’t originally thought that a trip to Cornwall might be one of those trips. What could possibly go wrong?
However whilst for most of the year, the first train service from London to the South West is rather late in the day in my view (and goes the slow route via Bristol), during the summer the train company, First Great Western, run additional trains to and from Newquay. On Summer Saturdays, the first of these trains is in fact the first train from London to the South West and is also a fast service, taking the more direct route via Newbury and stopping only at Reading, Exeter, Plymouth, Par and Newquay. I had already walked the north coast and knew the line from Par to Newquay is very slow, so ruled out Newquay. But I hadn’t, at the time, walked any of the south coast of Cornwall. Working out a schedule, I found the train would get me to Par at 11:41 and the train home would leave Par at 18:22, giving a decent enough amount of time to do some walking on a part of the coast I had not walked before. I also knew that despite a long journey, it was a very beautiful one, so the journey would be part of the enjoyment. Best of all, despite it being August Bank Holiday, the return fare from the local station was only £28, when booked in advance, as I did and included a reserved seat. A bargain, then – it would cost me more than that to drive and without the added cost of a hotel. You might question the wisdom of such a plan, but then you might also question the sanity of walking the coast of the UK, and I’m doing that.
A 20 minute drive from home took me to the station from where I can get a direct train. This got me to Reading on time, where I got the train at 08:06 for the long journey to Cornwall. The first few miles are not that interesting, but soon we are passing the chalk downlands of Wiltshire, the rolling hills of Somerset and then over the Somerset levels to Taunton and south to Exeter, the first stop since I got on at Reading. I knew from here the best was to come. The train makes it’s way alongside the beautiful Exe estuary offering fine views to Topsham and Exmouth on the other bank. It then rounds the corner and follows the coast along the sea wall and through the cliffs to Teignmouth, then the banks of the Teign Estuary up to Newton Abbot. From here the train passes the Dart Valley and the pretty town of Totnes, goes around the south edge of Dartmoor, with views to the odd rocky tor, and then descends alongside the river Plym into Plymouth, the second stop. Soon we were on the way out of Devon and into Cornwall, with the line climbing high over the docks of Plymouth and crossing the Tamar into Cornwall. The tracks follow the numerous creeks and estuaries of South East Cornwall, and the wooded valleys in between. We pass through Liskeard, with the Looe line far below and soon arrive at Par, on time, around 3 and a half hours after I left Reading. It had been a long journey, but a pleasant one, with the train not being too busy and lovely views throughout. If only this service could run all year round!
When I booked the tickets I hadn’t decided whether to head west or east from Par, having at the time not walked either direction, but I settled on west, with the aim (not realised) of reaching Gorran Haven in time to catch a bus back and then the train home. The downside was I had a deadline to meet, as my return train ticket was only valid on the booked train, which was the last one anyway and finding somewhere to stay in Cornwall, if I missed the train, on the August bank holiday at the last minute was unlikely to be the simplest of tasks.
So on reaching Par I left the quiet little station, as Par is just a village and probably only served by long-distance trains because it is the junction for the branch line to Newquay. I left the station and turned right on a path leading into a park, past an Athletics track on the left which brought me down to a residential road. Par itself being a small village which largely grew up as a result of the China clay works and mines in the area. On reaching the road I turn right and soon spot the South West Coast path sign directing me on a tarmac path between houses. This emerges onto a second street, this one with smaller terrace houses. Here I turn right alongside the busy A3082 still with no sight of the sea and the smell of diesel in the air. The road soon comes to a railway bridge, where the tracks cross above the road and beyond that the scenery has transitioned from residential to industrial. Another railway crosses the road, this time with the tracks embedded in the road and an old wooden manually operated level crossing – I presume it is not used much (if at all). At the end of the road at the junction I turn left with the road and the coast path. The railway line I just passed is now parallel to the road on the left and soon I pass under another railway line again – the main line to Penzance. On my left now is the large china clay works, china clay being one of the biggest exports from Cornwall. The area around Par and St Austell is the main area for these mines and quarries and the Eden Project is built in an old quarry. Just as the road is about to pass under the railway line for the third time, the coast path diverts off on a not very promising path beside the industry.
Initially it is squeezed in between the road, a thin strip of trees and the works, but soon it rises and crosses part of the works on a bridge. Looking back at the works, they look in poor repair and I wondered if some of it is derelict, but there were humming noises from some of the buildings, so it’s clearly used to some degree.
Once over the access road of the works the path cuts between the works and a golf course to reach the beach and the sea at last, even if it is at a rather unpromising sounding Spit Point.
Although it is early in the walk, it was an early start, so I stop for lunch here. The path continues on a path along the low cliffs, past a few small sandy beaches.
The cliffs get gradually higher as I head west to Fishing Point, with the sea to my left and the golf course to my right. The path soon comes to a much larger beach, Carlyon Bay. This is a long sandy beach which from here looks lovely (but sadly it won’t stay this way).
In fact, I think this view may already have changed. Sadly and shockingly, a developer, Commercial Estates Group has got planning permission to build 511 luxury apartments (they are always luxury, aren’t they?) not behind the beach, but on it. I’m afraid this makes me angry. I can think of few places less appropriate for permanent housing than a beach. Are we really so desperate to cram ever more people onto our island that building on a beach is the only option? Now to be fair, the beach has been developed in the past. The western part of the beach was home to the Cornwall Colliseum, an architecturally bland and ugly building, but one that attracted some big names to Cornwall, including The Who, The Clash, Iron Maiden, Slade, Bon Jovi, and many more. It really was an impressive line-up of names that came to the far west of England to play, so it’s rather a shame it didn’t last. The venue declined with the opening of the Plymouth Pavilions in Plymouth and was gradually wound down, with the entire sight closing in I think 2003. Since then the building was left to become derelict and a few years ago, the developers removed the roofs of all the buildings, letting in the water and allowing them to deteriorate much more quickly. Now what is left look more like a war-zone and hence the developers can now pitch their development as “regeneration”. The problem is, it would result in development over far more of the beach than was ever developed before, leaving just a thin strip of sand near the shoreline. There have also been issues over public access, with the developer blocking access to the beach from time to time, leading to a (successful) campaign to prove there is a right of way to the beach, preserving public access (although the developer has claimed they always intended to continue to allow public access). Another problem is that although planning permission was granted around 5 years ago, the only work done is to partly demolish the existing buildings, install some ugly metal shuttering (which doesn’t have planning permission), dump some rocks and put in a sales hut.
Recalling the storms of last winter, which led to the railway line at Dawlish being washed into the sea, and much destruction in Cawsand, it is hard to imagine living on a beach during that kind of weather. I certainly wouldn’t want to live in one of those flats, worrying about flooding from the sea, or rocks washed up by the waves crashing through the windows. You’d also quite possibly suffer the windows getting sand-blasted from the sand blown up from the beach during storms. I think it’s a crazy plan, and you can read more about this saga at Carloyn Bay Watch.
On with the walk, the path runs along the back of the beach, where trees are now growing at the back of the beach (but presumably, not for much longer).
However the view ahead is not good….
Not pretty is it? This is what remains of the Cornwall Colliseum. Near the top of the beach there is a car park and I take the access down to the beach. At least at the shoreline, it still looks quite nice.
At the end of the beach the coast path climbs up, past the car park and onto a field to the front of the rather grand looking Carlyon Bay Hotel, which is a world away from the beach it shares it’s name with. I can see the harbour at Charlestown ahead as the path climbs up to the cliff tops.
The path now goes between the cliffs and the bottom of the gardens of the houses to the right.
Soon the houses end and I am descending to Charlestown. Here there is a nice beach, a mixture of sand and shingle.
The harbour is pretty too and the coast path goes round the back of it. There is a lovely masted sailing boat moored up in the harbour.
Behind the harbour are large stone walls – this was obviously a more important place in the past and probably once packed with boats – now there is just one. Soon I reach the back of the harbour and continue back to the coast on the west side of the harbour. It is lovely to be back at the sea and away from the industry and decaying beaches around Par.
Unfortunately I soon come across an un-welcome sign. The sign tells me the coast path ahead is closed and directs me on a long diversion on roads around the back of Duporth. This is not welcome and I decide to see if I can get through anyway, as in my experience you often can. The path soon climbs out and gives me a good view back to the village and it’s impressive harbour walls.
The path becomes increasingly overgrown, as it runs along the bottom of gardens. The sign said the path is closed for a landslip, but before I reach this it has been blocked, probably by one of the local residents with thick bushes and brambles dumped along the path, making it impossible to get through. Frustrated, I have to return to Charlestown and follow the long diversion on Tregorrick Road around the back of Duporth, passing the hospital and then back to the road near Lower Porthpean.
This is a good little beach in a secluded and sheltered spot. Despite being dry, warm and fairly humid (albeit not that sunny) and probably the busiest weekend of the year, there are only a few people on the beach.
Descending to the beach there is a concrete wall behind, with an ice cream kiosk, but not a lot more. The path briefly joins the road up from the beach, where I’m amused to see the double yellow lines painted on the road, with a sign above “Cornwall Council Vehicle Parking” – so the double yellow lines don’t apply to the Council?!
The road gives a nice view back to the beach which also has yacht hire.
The path now leaves Porthpean and climbs up away from the beach. Now having left the large conurbation of Par, St Austell and St Blazey behind, the rest of the walk is now rural – and as it turns out, far more demanding. The path gives a good view back around St Austell Bay as I gain more height.
Soon though the coast path is back to it’s old tricks, and I’m descending down back to sea level to cross a stream, then back up the other side to Phoebe’s Point. No sooner am I up than it is back down to another steep wooded valley.
When I had planned this walk I thought Gorran Haven should be quite easy to reach as I had though the South Cornwall coast would be rather gentler than that of North Cornwall. Clearly I was wrong, and should have checked a more detailed map!
Once up the other side, there is a lovely beach which looks inaccessible, but the sea is a wonderful colour. This is the beach just south of Silvermine Point.
Beyond this beach though the coast path heads a little inland, along the edge of the woodland of Ropehaven Cliffs Nature Reserve. It briefly joins a minor road and when this forks I turn left, by some remote houses. Here I’m stopped by a man who has driven down the road and onto the rough track and wants to get to the beach at Black Head. I’m not sure if there is a road any further but show him my map and he decides to continue although I’m not sure if he ever made it.
Soon I am back out of the woodland and onto the cliffs tops around a field, giving a good view of Black Head ahead.
It is a fairly narrow and long headland. The coast path doesn’t go out onto it and with being pressed for time, after the diversion after Charlestown, I decided to skip going out to the end of it. Instead I pass the rocky little beach at Drennick and then come to the little beach at Hallane. Here there is an isolated little cottage with a beautiful garden backing onto the shingle beach.
It’s a steep climb up the track around the back of the house over a stream past an unusual statue of a naked women and a dog. Well of course.
The climb is hard and I’m getting rather hot now in the mid-afternoon heat, as it is a humid day. No sooner is height gained than it is lost again, but the descent is gentler and gives a lovely view. I can see the houses of Mevagissey in the distance, but it is still some way off.
The path then descends back to sea level again at Porthtowan.
Here there is another pebble and sand beach. The path then climbs again around the beautiful green cliffs. This is one difference I have noticed between the north and south coast. The more sheltered south coast allows more vegetation to grow on the cliffs. This part of the coast is beautiful and unspoilt.
The path soon descends again down to the remote beach of Polrudden Cove. It’s a lovely view back to Black Head and the photo makes it clear how demanding this bit of the coast is – it’s never flat with the path going up and down the valleys.
This stretch of coast has been beautiful, if demanding. However climbing up the next cliff, Gamas Point I can see things are about to change, and not for the better.
It’s a lovely beach but what a shame about all those caravans at the back of it. This is Pentewan The path turns turns to the right here passing a small harbour and reaching the square of this small village.
The stone buildings look especially attractive with the bunting out. The path now rounds the back of the small harbour, which is devoid of any boats.
Sadly the coast path does not immediately return to the coast, but follows the road out of Pentewan to the fairly busy B3273 around the back of the huge caravan site. The path alternates between walking on the road and on a path just parallel to the road and seperated from it by a hedge. At the south edge of the beach the path thankfully turns off, away from the road and back to the sea.
I can see that the coast ahead is not going to get any easier, though!
It’s a good path though, right along the cliff top, and soon descends to Portgiskey, a small little beach separate from Pentewan except at low tide.
As I’m leaving the beach, the weather changes, with a short shower, which thankfully doesn’t make me that wet, as it doesn’t last long. More height is gained, giving a good view back to Pentwean.
Beyond that I can also see back to Black Head and beyond to Gribbin Head.
At Penare Point I can now see Mevagissey ahead. The walk has turned out to be harder than I expected, and I’ve long since given up on getting to Gorran Haven. And checking the time I realise I’m cutting it fine for reaching Mevagissey, too.
The coast at Penare Point is very jagged. Looking ahead I’m relieved to see I am nearing Mevagissey.
The cliffs are high here and almost sheer above Polstreath beach. I had missed from the map there is another steep descent and ascent first though, past another little stream and back behind Polstreath Beach. There are steep steps down to the beach but sadly I don’t have time to explore and continue on the coast path now on a grassy field and behind houses to descend into Mevagissey.
I follow the road around the south side of the harbour to the back of the harbour, looking for the bus. Sadly I don’t really have time to do Mevagissey justice, as I need to catch the bus back to Par in order to catch my train home. The bus timetable doesn’t give a street name and I only have a few minutes to find it now. I soon find it, at the back of the harbour and I reach there just in time, as my bus has just pulled in and is already loading up. I have just enough time to get my wallet and then get the bus back to Par.
This runs on time and although it changes route number at St Austell, it carries on back to Par a journey of around 45 minutes. I make it with enough time to catch my train.
This was an interesting walk. The first part through heavy industry and the rather ugly urban sprawl of St Austell and it’s neighbouring towns. But the second part of the walk was beautiful, through an unspoilt and rugged coast, with many pretty little beaches that felt a world away from the nearby towns.
It was now time for the long journey home, but I was pleased I had managed to make the most of the day and get in a good walk along a lovely stretch of the coast. The train journey back was on time and I enjoyed the views of the Tamar and the South Devon coast again, as we headed back east. I even got a good photo from the train of the magnificent Royal Albert Bridge over the Tamar.
By the time we reach Newton Abbot it is dusk and it is soon dark as we reach Exeter. The train on the way back stops more but arrives in Reading on time. Here I realise something I hadn’t noticed when I booked my tickets, my train as far as Wokingham is in fact a dreaded rail-replacement bus, which I could really do without at this time of the evening and after such a long day. It does however get me there without too much trouble, for the train the rest of the way. I get back home around 11:30pm.
It was certainly an ambitious trip, but I’m pleased I managed to get another walk in on the wonderful south west coast path and I enjoyed the day very much, despite much of the day spent travelling.
Here are details of the transport needed for this walk.
First Devon and Cornwall service 24 : Fowey – Par – St Blazey – Charlestown – St Austell – London Apprentice – Mevagissey. This bus runs Monday – Saturday only, there is no Sunday service. It runs twice per hour between Fowey and St Austell and hourly beyond St Austell to Mevagissey.