Cornwall is justly famous for its coastal paths but they can get crowded. They’ve been a major draw for Europeans but travel restrictions are keeping them away. So this is a rare chance to enjoy the quiet trails, pristine nature, and wild rugged cliffs in peace and quiet. And after St Ives, it comes as something of a relief.
Day 1- St Ives to Marazion – 14 kms – 4.5.hours
It’s early when I set out from St Ives, yet there are already a few brave souls in the sea. I leave the coast and head up St Michael’s Way, part of the ancient pilgrimage route leading to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. Of course, I’m not going that far, just cross country to Cornwall’s south coast and St Michael’s Mount.
The path climbs and I’m soon at Trencorn Hill, a Neolithic Hill Fort, reputedly home to the Trecobben, the distinctive rocks, his furniture.
Day 2 – Mousehole to Porthcurno -13.25 kms – 5 hours
From Penzance to Mousehole, road walking is the only option so again I take the bus. It’s early and there are only a couple of wet-suited swimmers in Mousehole Harbour, once described by Dylan Thomas as ‘the loveliest village in England’. I climb up out of the port and follow the cliffs to Lamorna, another pretty village, captured by Post-Impressionists in the early part of the 20th century.
The beach here is one of Cornwall’s best and this is another Poldark location. It doubled as Nampara Cove in the dream sequence where Ross and Demelza strolled across the white sand.
Day 3 – Porthcurno to Sennen Cove – 11kms – 4 hours
The coastal scenery today is spectacular, with turquoise sea hosting white breakers seeking out the caves and arches hollowed out of the imposing cliff cathedrals of stone. In the far distance, I can see Land’s End and the Runnel Stone Reef, the infamous wrecker of numerous vessels.
After an hour I arrive at Porthgwarra Beach, another Poldark location, where Ross took a skinny dip in its crystal waters. I climb up to Hella Point and then across Gwennap Head, past two huge navigation cones, to the coastguard lookout. There’s more Poldark here, the location for many sunset gallops across the cliffs.
I’m slightly dreading the crowds at Land’s End but it’s mercilessly quiet and I make my way to the First and Last House in England for ice cream. Offshore are a group of rocky islets known as The Longships with their very own solitary lighthouse, dating from the 19th century.
Day 4 – Sennen Cove to Pendeen – 13.5 kms – 6 hours
I start the morning trudging across the enormous expanse of Whitesand Bay, the shallows full of apprentice surfers learning to catch Atlantic rollers. Soon I’m back on the cliffs getting close to the Botallack tin mining area and signs warn of concealed shafts.
Further along, near Pendeen, is Levant Mine. The steam engine, which powered the mine, has been restored and is now the only working example in the UK. Its buildings served as the location for Tressiders Rolling Mill in Poldark.
Day 5 Pendeen to Zennor – 14.75 km – 4.5 hours
Geevor mine was the last mine to close in 1991and is now a museum. The winding tower and engine house still survive and the changing rooms where the miners set off to go underground are like the Marie Celeste. It makes for a fascinating couple of hours and you can even walk through 18th century underground tunnels.
Day 6 Zennor to St Ives – 10.3 km – 4 hours
I’ve been warned that today’s walk is one of the toughest parts of the South West Coastal Path, so I’m keen to get going. I descend to a bay and encounter my first obstacle. There’s a huge field of boulders, with no obvious marked path, which requires a certain amount of scrambling.
The coast grows gradually less wild and I’m soon on my last climb up to Hellesveor Cliff. SuThe Tate St Ives overlooks the beach, and I go inside and reflect on what a long fantastic walk it’s been.