300 miles on the Cornish Coast Path – walk 1
28th January 2014
I feel like I’m at school getting my bag all packed for the morning. Sandwich made, milk in a bright pink plastic bottle (left here by a 7 year girl ironically enough), both tucked up waiting in the fridge; flask on the counter ready for some fresh coffee, sitting next to some all important soon-to-be-crushed Cadbury’s mini rolls. Nothing healthy. It’s about 1am and I can’t sleep so I’ve decided to do something useful and get ready for the morning’s big walk. Map packed, guide book, hat, gloves, sketch book, spare fleece…anything I decide I don’t need I can leave at Katie’s in the morning. For now though, pack anything and everything, anything to save a few minutes in the morning. I’ve got enough to go hiking for a week.
My foul language gets lost on the strong wind: I’m half way to Katie’s on my bike and realise that although I’ve packed everything plus the kitchen sink for the walk, I’ve forgotten to put on my cycle helmet and there’s no time to turn back. Though I’m not sure precisely how long I’ve got because I’ve forgotten my watch as well. I just know I set my alarm wrong and got up an hour later than I intended. Being on time’s not my forte and is especially annoying when there’s a bus to catch, which really doesn’t care if I’m late or not.
Katie says she’s a bit nervous. Me too. Bike in the garage, dogs on their leads and fully laden rucksack on my back (because there’s no time to take out the kitchen sink) we head up to the bus stop. “It’s her first time on a bus”, Katie says to the driver. He thinks she means me but she means Polly, the puppy. We head to the back to find seats; I’ve forgotten to pick up my ticket and my £7 change. I can see why he’d think it was me. When we get off half an hour or so later he suggests we go to the 13th century inn and he’ll pick us up on his way back! It’s very tempting: it’s started raining. Hard. And cold.
Polly and Winston (Winnie) are soon off the lead and heading towards the big beach that sweeps out in front of us: Holywell Bay.
This is our first walk (hike if you prefer) in our quest to conquer the 300 miles of the Cornish Coast Path (CCP) and on a blustery (gale force!) day like today it feels like the beginning of an epic adventure. Today we’re walking 9 miles from Holywell Bay to St Agnes, not a conventional place to start this challenge, but it’s close to home. We’re both a bit nervous, not really because of the distance (it’s not that far in the scheme of running distances that we’ve covered at one time or another), but because we know we have a deadline – or the children will be standing all forlorn at the school gate! And what we’re not sure of is our walking pace on this very uppy-downy part of the coastline. We realise soon enough though that it’s the dogs who’ll set the pace: part whippet Polly isn’t hanging around!
Coming out of the bay we head round Penhale Point and feel the full brunt of the wind surge into our bodies and the hail stones coming in horizontally from the sea sting our faces better than any facial scrub out there. The first couple of miles are new to us both and the drama of the waves crashing through the caves below takes your breath away. It’s rugged and wild and the spume flies up above us like snow. The dogs chase it.
The sky’s as dramatic as the cliffs. It changes from leaden and stormy to a summer’s blue in minutes and I feel like I could touch the rainbows they seem so close.
The path winds dangerously close to the cliff edge in places and Polly and Winnie have been on their leads for a while now. There was real danger of being blown off, although Katie says Winnie the labrador was as good as an anchor! I have visions of her flying behind him like a kite. Another trudge upwards and my backside’s beginning to ache. I blame last night’s yoga. My arse is going to be humungous in a few months time.
Finally our feet sink into the wet sand of Perran Beach and there’s a mile or so level walk to the path back up the cliffs to Perranporth. We look for treasure in the vast amount of brightly coloured plastic flotsam concentrated on this section of the beach, washed up by the recent storms no doubt. (Sad to report we remain penniless.) We follow some huge footprints with a stride neither of us can match and speculate the size of the beast that made them. Quite frightening! Winnie finds a log to carry and looks hopefully at us. Frequently. Polly races around like she’s on speed. There’s no-one around and we have the whole beach to ourselves.
We stop at the Wateringhole, the bar on the beach, for lunch; it’s closed today but we borrow a picnic table under the sheltered veranda and watch the occasional cold, red-legged runners and dog walkers as we tuck into our sandwiches and a warming cup of coffee. The dogs probably add another mile to their walk by running up and down the sands while they wait for us. Perran Beach is familiar territory to us both, a great place for surfing and reading on the beach in the summer, as long as you don’t mind the hoards of tourists that come to enjoy it too. That’s the beauty of this time of year: you get the place to yourself.
We’ve got about 4 miles left to go now and we both know what’s coming: mega steep cliffs, particularly out of Perranporth and then further on at Trevellas Combe. Dogs back on the leads again we skirt past an air field and numerous mine shafts, noticing how the ground has changed from muddy and sandy paths to loose stoney tracks. Finally we head down the uneven steps cut into the cliff at the Combe, me dreading the energy sapping trek back up it with Katie making it look easy. She tells me about a fell running instructor, on a recent trip to Snowdonia, who said the trick to such steep inclines is really engaging the glutes. I think a good trick would be to just sit down and send Katie off for a mule!
Finally at the top we both feel a sense of euphoria: another mile or so and we’d be back in St Agnes – we hadn’t quite finished but we knew we’d made it in good time: the boys wouldn’t be abandoned at the school gate after all.
Before getting on with the rest of the day we need a cup of coffee! Leaning on the kitchen counter we wonder why more people don’t walk at this time of year (if we sat down we wouldn’t get up again!). It was invigorating. The quickly changing weather added more drama than you’d get in a production of Hamlet. The colours of the landscape were deep and rich one minute and delicate and fragile the next, the terrain was challenging. The overall feeling I had was of expansiveness. You’d have your head down and your hands sheltering your cheeks from the whipping rain, then as it passed you’d remember to look up and the sky seemed vast, the horizon stretched on for miles. I just wanted to open my arms wide and feel the space around me, breath it in. And I want more of this. So much more.
Walk 1 complete. Bring on walk 2: St Agnes to Portreath, if we can work out the transport! That’s another 9 miles planned for next week . I wonder what the weather will bring?
- Where: Holywell Bay (near Newquay) to St Agnes
- Route: North coast of Cornwall heading west. Some strenuous sections on the cliffs with 325′ total ascent. Numerous stiles.
- Distance: 9 miles
- Time: We were out for about 4.5 hours in total, including the bus journey and a lunch stop. Walking time was 2 hours 50 minutes.
- Parking: Free Car Park in central St Agnes (adjacent to the library), National Trust Car Park in Holywell Bay
- Public transport: Western Greyhound 587 Truro to Newquay route (we picked it up outside the Miners and Mechanics Institute in St Agnes and got off at The Treguth Inn at Holywell Bay)
- Map: OS Explorer 104 ‘Redruth & St Agnes’ SW 766589
- Guide Book: Trailblazer Cornwall Coast Path, SW Coast Path Part 2 – Bude to Plymouth ISBN 978-1-905864-44-7
- Notes: Plenty of pubs and cafes in both Holywell Bay and St Agnes, and midway in Perranporth. What we’d do differently: remember to check the tide times!