56. Looe to Portwrinkle

March 2012

This was the first of a 4 day break in Cornwall in March as I had leave from work I had to take before 1st April. I headed from home with the intention of getting to Portwrinkle, the bus on from there to Looe and a walk back, before it got dark.

I had a good journey to Cornwall although the last part of the journey along the winding and narrow roads to Portwrinkle was a bit slower. I parked in the car park on the sea front in Portwrinkle, an amusingly named village with a rock and sandy beach, a large hotel and a few houses. The car park was free in the winter at the time of writing (although I don’t think that is the case any longer).

I had worked out a plan that involved taking a bus from Portwrinkle to a place called Widegates, where I could catch a second bus on to Looe. The bus arrived in time in Portwrinkle and helpfully stopped right in front of the car park. I asked if there was a through ticket to Looe (as at the time, both routes were operated by Western Greyhound), but sadly there was not. So I asked for a ticket to Widegates instead, a small village where I had worked out I could change buses. The bus got me to Widegates and as soon as I saw the sign welcoming me to the village I pressed the button and the driver stopped at a muddly layby beside the road. It wasn’t marked as a bus stop though and I was a little concerned as to whether the second bus to Looe would stop here for me. If it didn’t, it would mess up my plans. As I had about 10 minutes, I walked a little up the road and saw another bus stop on the A374 to the right. Walking up to this though, there was no timetable for the bus and not being sure of the route, I decided to head back to the muddy layby, before the road split as I knew the bus must come this way. Thankfully it did stop and an hour and a quarter after leaving Portwrinkle I had arrived in Looe. It was around 1pm by now though, so I needed to get on to get to Portwrinkle before dark.

Looe is a pretty town, split into East and West Looe, separated by the wide Looe River. There is a bridge over the river carrying the A387 on to Polperro. I got off the bus near this bridge and took in the view of the town.

Looe

The tide was out so much of the river bed was exposed and many of the boats high and dry. I stopped for a sandwich at the Co-Op and carried on down to the beach.

Looe

I remember visiting Looe from time to time when I lived in Exeter. Whilst the beach was sandy, it always seemed to be covered in deep piles of sea weed, which made it rather less attractive (and rather stinky too at times). Happily today the beach was clean and free of sea weed although virtually deserted.

Looe beach

There is a little promenade at the back of the beach and these are steps here leading up to the road above the town, where I join the official route of the coast path.

At the top I have a good view back over the beach, the Banjo Pier and the Looe River beyond. I can also see Looe Island just around the corner.

IMG_5395

The road soon ends and the path ahead becomes a track, although it is surfaced throughout. Once up the coast path is fairly flat and I have good views back to Looe and out to Looe Island. The path soon rejoins the road again, now in Plaidy, essentially a suburb of Looe. Here there is a path down to the beach which I take, as it’s not far down. The beach is a mixture of sand, broken shells and shingle and is deserted today.

Plaidy

Heading back up the path I return to the path which heads along the minor road east of Plaidy, still past house to reach the village of Millendreath and .. oh dear. Millendreath has a nice beach, but everything else in the village seems to be either derelict and boarded up or very run down. There are terraces of 1960s holiday chalets heading up the hill. Some look occupied, others look derelict. There is what looks like it was once a shop or cafe on the sea front, now boarded up and derelict. I understand the village was essentially created in the 1960s as a holiday village but it has become run down. However since I walked here some of the old area has been redeveloped as “Black Rock Beach Resort”, with a new cafe and some replacement accommodation. Perhaps things are looking up for the village now, which is good, but it was in a sorry state when I was there.

Millendreath

Still heading down onto the sands, it is rather more beautiful with a view back over the sands to Looe and the island.

Millendreath

There is also the remains of a harbour at the east of the beach. The coast path goes behind this on a track past a few houses and then heading up onto the cliffs. It’s a fairly steep climb and nearing the top, the path becomes a road once more, soon leading to a view point on the right, where the coast path leaves the road. I stop here to enjoy the view and take a photograph. A man sitting here comments that “this is the best view in Cornwall” and that he comes up here every day. I can see why. Even on a rather grey day it is a beautiful, with Looe below, the calm seas and Looe Island all laid out below.

View back to Looe

The gorse is already coming into flower and I imagine it’s even prettier in the summer. The coast path now becomes a bit more coastal, heading closer to the sea on the top of the eroding cliffs. The path undulates along the top heading into the scrub and gorse from time to time.

Part way along I come to a sign welcoming me to Bucklawren a local nature reserve with a Donkey Sanctuary nearby. When approaching Looe from the west you didn’t see much of the town until almost there, but looking back I can still make out Looe and it’s island clearly even though I’ve walked a couple of miles now.

The coast path near Seaton

The path continues on the cliffs for a while, continuing it’s up and down and then climbs to reach the road, Looe Hill, where I turn right along the road and descend into the village of Seaton – not to be confused with another town called Seaton on the Devon coast. Here a river flows out onto the beach and to the sea. The beach is grey shingle and it looks mostly residential, with the beach backed by houses.

Seaton

I follow the road heading down hill to reach the B3247 and turn right on the road, as it goes on a bridge over the river Seaton. At the eastern end of the beach by a cafe, which is the last building in the village, there are two routes of the coast path marked on the map. A coastal route and a route along the B3247. You’d choose the more coastal route given the choice, surely? But the reason for there being two paths soon becomes apparent, with this warning sign.

Warning notice at Seaton

Pah, I’m not taking any notice of that and opted for the former – the sea wall, since the road is fairly busy and doesn’t have a pavement for much of the way. My experience is usually that when a sign says a path is dangerous or closed, you can still get through (although sometimes with a bit of extra care) and the warnings tend to overstate the risks.

The sea wall protects (or rather, protected) the village of Downderry, a large linear village that stretches for about a mile along the road. It starts off good enough, a wide concrete path on top of the wall. Later it becomes a good path between the cliffs and some rock armour. Out to sea there are low grey rocks, no doubt a menace to shipping. The sun is now breaking through the clouds and it’s quite beautiful as the sea breaks over the rocks.

The coast at Downderry

I’d be missing all of this on the road. After a while the path leaves the sea wall on steps and heads down onto the beach. The remains of the sea wall ahead is now breaking up and in pieces in places. This part probably wouldn’t be possible at high tide though (and not advisable in windy or stormy weather, either).

The coast at Downderry

With the cliffs now only protected by the worn and broken sea wall and houses right behind I wonder how the householders feel – they have little protection from the sea now. Soon I pass a sign, with the old Caradon District Council name warning naturists to “keep away from the school and residential property”. Obviously a naturist beach then, but March is a bit cold for anyone to be making any use of it. Here the path heads inland along the track and back to the road, joining the (now) official route.

Back on the main road I turn right and the road soon reaches a hair-pin bend at the east of the village, as it climbs steeply up the cliffs. This gives a quite spectacular view ahead.

View east from Downderry

At the first corner of the hairpin bend, the coast path leaves the road and continues ahead. There is a steep zig-zag climb up onto the top of the cliffs, Battern Cliffs. It is hard work but the view from the top makes it worthwhile, as always. Looking back I can see the houses of Downderry and along the bay to Looe ahead. The town is now largely out of sight in the haze, but the island is still clearly visible.

Battern Cliffs near Downderry

Once up though, the going gets easier as the path follows the now gently undulating cliffs, along the edge of fields and between occasional gorse bushes. A glance inland and I can see a double-decker bus making it’s way along a road barely any wider than the bus itself. This is a very enjoyable stretch of path with fine views and fairly easy walking, so I make a good pace. At Cargloth Cliffs the path seems to reach it’s summit and ahead I can now see Portwrinkle, which doesn’t look that far away now. On the cliff top I can also see Crafthole.

Approaching Portwrinkle

The path now descends away from the headland and indeed it’s largely down hill all the rest of the way. At the foot of the cliffs are rocky and pebble beaches, accessible only by boat I imagine. The path now follows between the cliff edge and a barbed wire fence that seem to go on all the way into Portwrinkle.

Approaching Portwrinkle

The path continues to descend gradually and ahead I can see along the wide expanse of Whitsand Bay, a glorious sandy bay, with the headland of Rame Head at the far end. Not much beyond this, and probably within sight from it, is Plymouth, which is of course in Devon and therefore it becomes apparent I am nearing the end of Cornwall.

Approaching Portwrinkle

As I continue the weather improves, with the sun now finally breaking through the cloud, warming up the temperature and making the views so much better.

Approaching Portwrinkle

The route ahead is now obvious, on the grassy path alongside the seemingly never ending barbed-wire fence. It’s a lovely end to the walk and almost totally deserted.

Approaching Portwrinkle

Soon Portwrinkle comes back into view, now just a few hundred metres ahead.

Approaching Portwrinkle

The village looks especially attractive in the now early evening sunshine and I obviously need not have any worries about making it before dark. The cliffs ahead have all sorts of colours, including some areas of red, perhaps where there is a lot of iron.

Soon the path heads around the sandy beach at the west of the village and joins the road, by the small harbour. I didn’t notice the harbour when I was here earlier, and it doesn’t look much used, with just a couple of boats on the slipway at the back, covered in tarpaulin, probably for the winter. Beyond it, is a lovely sandy beach, deserted now but with many footprints it has obviously been well visited earlier.

Approaching Portwrinkle

To the east of here the coast is a mixture of rocky beach and rocks, with the sea breaking over the rocks. It’s very photogenic and another more professional photographer has a tripod set up so he is making the most of the view and the lovely evening light.

Portwrinkle

I love watching the sea splashing over rocks like this, so I stop and take a few photos too. I’m sure my efforts don’t compare, but I was still pretty happy with my attempt.

Looking west I have an un-interuppted view over to Rame Head and Whitsand Bay. The rocks here are unusual, with many colours presumably indicating there are many different minerals in the rocks.

Portwrinkle

Portwrinkle

Yes, it’s certainly photogenic here. Reaching the eastern edge of the village, there is another good sandy beach, the oddly named Finnygook beach. It is deserted now but I imagine is busy in the summer.

Portwrinkle

It is nearing sunset now and the suns rays are visible through the clouds shining out to sea.

Portwrinkle

It is a lovely way to end the day and a reminder, as if I needed one, of why I love coast walking so much. Reluctantly, I head back from the beach and find a car park and cafe, the Gook Cafe. I thought it might be nice to have dinner here, but it’s closed (why is it so many places always close at 5pm in the UK!). I stop for a last look back over the beach and then head back to my car.

Portwrinkle

As it’s winter I’m not camping so opted for the Travelodge in Saltash, which is at a run-down services on the A38. It is hardly glamorous, but it is cheap and clean. Sadly the only eating options seem to be a Little Chef (only open for breakfast) and a Burger King – it is a rather basic services.

I enjoyed this walk very much. The first part through Looe is a little urban, but the second half glorious, with good cliff top paths and wonderful views all the way. It would be a good idea to try to plan this walk for low tide (I didn’t but got lucky) so you can follow the sea wall and beach (at your own risk, of course) past Downderry rather than the rather tedious road walk with limited coastal views, which is the official route now.

Here are details of the public transport for this walk. It is suggested to take the bus 32A below from Portwrinkle to Liskeard, then the train or bus from there to Looe.

Plymouth Citybus route 32A (scroll down) Plymouth – Plymouth Station – Torpoint – Antony – Sheviock – Crafthole – Portwrinkle – Downderry – Seaton – Hessenford – Widegates – Liskeard – Liskeard Station. 5 buses per day Monday – Saturday only.

First Great Western Trains : Liskeard to Looe. (The Looe Valley Line)

Plymouth Citybus (Go Cornwall) route 573 : Polperro – West Looe – Hannafore Point – East Looe and on to Liskeard. Broadly hourly, Monday – Saturday.

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

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