20080813 SWCP_St.Keverne to Gwendreath Walk
When : 13 August 2008
Who : Just me
Where : Cornwall – England (South West Coast Path)
Approx distance : 19 km 12 miles
Significant height : 300 m ? guesstimate
Parking : Limited Parking in small square in St. Keverne. Beach CP at Kennack Sands.
Public Transport : Don’t know …. Guess probably a kind of rural service
Whilst on a family holiday, I generally try to get at least one walk under my belt, whether this is with my family or on my own. Our summer hol’s this year was on The Lizard on the South coast of Cornwall. Amazingly neither my wife nor I had ever holidayed this far south on Mainland England before, so everything was new to us. I had walked sections of the South West Coast Path (SWCP) before, in Dorset, South & North Devon and Somerset, and I’d had a week-end walking around the Fowey area (pronounced Foy I believe), but had not been around the Lizard area before.
Even though the forecasts had been pretty bad, the actual weather we were having was better than expected. On the Wednesday my family and I visited The Seal Sanctuary at Gweek on the Helford River, and then had a trip to Tesco’s in Helston to stock up on one or two provisions. I had planned to do the walk during the afternoon after the family sight-seeing trip and I had packed my rucksack in the morning for pretty much all eventualities. As it happened the weather again turned out quite acceptable, although quite windy (60 miles per hour gales had been forecast with heavy rain showers).
I decided to do the walk, to start at St. Keverne rather than Coverack so as to do a bit more distance and be able to take in the views across the bay as I walked into Coverack. As it happened the approx 9 miles I had estimated turned out to be a little under-estimated …. Probably because I was using a 1:50,000 map rather than the 1:25,000 scale I normally walk with. Also, estimating distances along coast paths always seems difficult. Using finger post markings I think the final distance turned out to be about 12 miles – ish.
After being dropped off in the centre of St.Keverne, I took a moment or two to gain my bearings. It’s often awkward finding the start of a walk in built up areas, but once on the right route it all tends to drop into place, so it’s worth spending a few minutes getting it right. It also saves some potential embarrassment of having to turn around and retrace your steps or worse still ending up miles down the wrong route!
The walk started on minor roads for a couple of miles, but this really didn’t matter as the roads were very quiet and it allowed me to stretch my legs out a bit and I soon found myself on a path skirting Deans Quarry to drop down to Lowland Point.
Some may say what an eye-sore the quarry is, and on a purely aesthetic level I don’t think anyone could disagree. Having said that, the boundary was well screened with trees and undergrowth helping to lessen the impact.
As the path reached the coast an information board explained that “Gabbro has been quarried here since the 1890s” and that “Blasted from the quarry face, the stone was pulverised and piled into heaps, graded by size. Until 2005, conveyor belts took the crushed rock to the jetty where it was loaded into waiting ships at high tide.”
I assume the inference is that since 2005, all the aggregates must now be transported by truck along the narrow country lanes of the Lizard peninsula and then out of Cornwall along congested major roads to the rest of the country. Ermm, I’m not convinced that sounds like progress to me. The same info’ board also explained about the local geology, flora & fauna and a little on ancient and more modern historical facts.
It was at this point that I realised that the length of walk could well be more than at first thought, and this added a little urgency to my pace (without turning it into a head-down route march) … I’d said I expected to be back at Gwendreath by 9:00/9:30pm latest and as I didn’t want the embarrassment of a coast guard call-out, I didn’t have time to dawdle.
Because of the terrain there are quite a few marshy reedy areas, but the way is aided through several of the more muddy sections by lines of strategically placed stepping stones. I would imagine in winter even these could struggle to keep boots clean and dry.
The afternoon had become much calmer and the benign water on my left belied the many ships that had succumbed to the rocky jagged reefs just offshore, including the famous Manacles reef where, according to the info board mentioned earlier, “hundreds of ships have sunk – including the liner Mohegan in 1898, whose 106 drowned passengers lie in St.Keverne churchyard”.
Route finding was easy … basically keeping the sea on my left and land on my right. I only saw two couples on this section of the walk and the lack of people (and therefore lack of noise) enhanced the walk considerably, with the sound of breaking waves lifting the spirits as I continued.
I suspect this gentle bit of coast is always less frequented than other more dramatic sections of high cliffs on the SWCP, and the few access points obviously helps in this respect.
The views South-Westwards over the bay to Coverack were not the most dramatic but were very pleasing and later as the path climbed to join the road into Coverack the height gained gave some lovely vistas across to the picturesque harbour sheltered in the lee of it’s own headland of Dolor point.
After the path had risen for a short while, it emerged into a little lane with a handful of idyllically placed properties (at least one proudly dispaying the Cornish flag) and I soon reached the metalled road into Coverack itself.
Another well placed finger post suggested 6½ miles to Kennack Sands. Despite wanting to press on to get back in reasonable time, I took a short stop on a bench just above the little harbour and took on board some food & drink (two blueberry muffins and a banana were washed down with plain water).
I resisted the temptation for a real Cornish-cream ice-cream … as delicious as they are I find ice-cream makes me thirsty and I didn’t need that as the path was now about to climb out towards Chynhalls point and on to Black Head.
From a fitness point of view, this section of the path caused me no problems, although it was more strenuous than before. However in classic coast path mode, slippery mud, bracken, stinging nettles, blackthorn and brambles made me wish I wish I’d worn long trousers instead of shorts and I slowed markedly because of this. None-the-less I pressed on and the scenery became much more rugged as the cliffs rose above the rocky coastline. The way ahead was helped by some well constructed wooden walk-ways through areas of reed-beds on the steep slopes. Black Head reached I used the coast guard look-out building as a base to take a photo of myself on the self-timer. Black Head afforded views back towards Lowland point from whence I’d come, but now also gave views across another broad bay to Lizard point.
This short breather over, the way was now generally Westwards and the path pretty much maintained most of it’s height for some distance, passing Trelever Cliff, Pedn Boar and Beagle point. There was then a classic sting in the route with a steep descent into the Downas Valley almost to sea level, only to immediately rise up again as a steep climb onto The Gaider cliff tops.
From now the way again pretty much held its height and although a little twisty-turny I was able to step-it-out and I made good time past the headland spur of Carrick Luz and across Eastern Cliff, where a lovely view down over the twin beaches of Kennack Sands opened up.
On this last section I had anticipated walking into a stiff breeze and perhaps even some squally showers, but as it happened, the weather was now pretty much settled and a totally unexpected problem had now manifested itself …. the setting sun, low on the horizon was blinding my vision ahead. I had to walk with hands held above my brow in order to see where I was going.
Several times I tried the mobile phone to give an updated finish time to my family, but I couldn’t find a signal, so I just had to press on as best I could. Across the bay the light from the Lizard Lighthouse could be seen blinking just above the headland every three seconds. The beam of light can be seen some 26 miles out-to-sea according to the lighthouse tour guide earlier in the week.
Descending to the sea wall at the East end of the East beach (Dogs allowed here by the way), I decided to drop down onto the beach to walk along on the firmer sand left by the ebbing tide. Easily fording the shallow outwash where a stream crossed the beach, I passed the low rocky promontory that separates the East and West beaches (no dogs allowed on the West beach).
Despite the now heavy dusky light, there were a group of surfers catching a few waves and a handful of people on the beach enjoying the end of the day :- a little girl on the waters edge getting her skirt wetter than her father would have liked ; a fisherman, rod in hand returning across the sand ; a couple of kite flyers and a family sizzling some sausages on a throw away barbecue tray.
The finger post here (near the car park) said Coverack 7 miles …. After a couple of little oranges and a slurp of water, I pressed on again, heading up directly away from the beach, on a slightly muddy footpath through a wood to emerge at the entrance to our Caravan Site maybe ½ a mile or so away from the beach. Finish time was about a quarter to nine, giving about 12 miles in about 4¼ hours (not bad I suppose) and as I opened the Caravan door I was greeted with a chorus, not of “Hello Daddy!” or “Yippee Daddy’s Home!” but a nice “You’re Late!!!” from my lovely kids and wife. Still, I suppose it was getting a bit close to the 9:00/9:30 latest estimated timings I’d given, oh, and I had walked in, right in the middle of Coronation Street
All in all, a good varied coastal walk … I’d like to do more … but I don’t intend to make a habit of starting a decent length walk at 4:30 pm too often in the future!!!
I hope you enjoyed my scribblings ….
Next post is s slightly flippant entry, but it’s a bit of fun = 20080920_Short walk to the Ricoh, Link = https://tothehills.wordpress.com/2008/09/20/20080920_short-walk-to-the-ricoh/