Wednesday, 3 September 2008

A magical walk on the Cornish coast

One of the many advantages of living in Cornwall is the ready access to some of the most special coastline imaginable. Where I live though, close to the Tamar and well inland, I have to travel further than most residents of this county to get to the seaboard but what a reward when one arrives! It's difficult to say one section of coast outshines all others but there is one quite excellent area that really does tick all the boxes.

On the south coast there is a stretch about, I think, seven miles long between Polruan to the west and the well known village of Polperro to the east which provides the most wonderful walking and scenery one could wish for. A good part of it is owned by the National Trust and it has retained an absolutely timeless appeal. So on that one warm sunny day we had recently we made the decision that it was the place we had to revisit.

Of course different people have differing expectations when going to the coast. So if the hope was to drive right down to the beach and have a lot of facilities provided then one would be very disappointed in this instance. No this was all about great scenery and quietness, it was as simple as that.

To get to the start point it was a case of heading west through Callington and Liskeard and on through Dobwalls where I was keen to see the progression of the by-pass, due to finish later this year. Shortly after Dobwalls we turned left at East Taphouse onto the Looe/Polperro road but before reaching either of those two places it was a right turn and along the narrow lane for a couple of miles or so to Llansallos.

As one comes into the hamlet there is a pleasant little car park run by the National Trust with picnic tables and with a very modest charge (no time limit) of 50p via an honesty box. Out of the car park it was past the church, one of the very few buildings visible from that part of the coastal path we were about to walk. We had been in the church on a previous visit, sadly it had been the subject of an arson attack a few years ago, by some youths I believe, but the damage wasn't too severe and the restoration is now complete. Starting just below this venerable building is what must be one of the most beautiful approaches to the coast anywhere I should think. It is a sunken path, wide enough for pack horses, with thick vegetation either side. For much of its three quarters of a mile length it is accompanied by a swiftly flowing stream which the path crosses in one or two places. This path doesn't make a bee line for the coast; because of the way it curves around one doesn't view the sea till almost the last moment which all adds to the magic of it.

This point is roughly halfway between Polperro and Polruan and it was in the direction of the latter that we headed. We had walked the section east to Polperro before but apart from the fact it has one or two really severe climbs it doesn't quite match the other part in the scenery stakes. Not that this eastern section isn't worth walking, it's just that the coast from Llansallos to Polruan is so sublime!

Immediately below us lay the little crescent shape of Llansallos Cove, a fairly steeply sloping beach of somewhat gritty sand. There was once a corn mill here which took advantage of the small waterfall where the stream dropped down off a small bluff at the back of the cove. On this occasion we didn't do the beach diversion but carried on westward on the coast path. A word of warning here, the first one or two stone stiles are really quite tricky, and if you don't concentrate it is easy to miss your footing as my companion can confirm!

Llansallos Cove is effectively the northern apex of Lantivet Bay and it was to its prominent western bastion, Pencarrow Head that we made our way. Immediately west of Pencarrow and one looks down on the smaller Lantic Bay with its gently sloping sandy beaches. To get to these one has to make a steep descent but my water loving friend hadn't brought her swimming costume. Oh dear! I imagine that with its gently shelving sand and, it seemed, not much seaweed Lantic Bay would be an excellent place for a swim. We continued our walk a little way west of the bay but decided not to trek right through to Polruan on this occasion: this walk was all about quality not quantity!

I have to say that these small bays and beaches really appeal to me, it's their intimacy I suppose. Yes the views across Whitsand Bay west of Rame Head and along Start Bay in Devon's South Hams are special but these bays are on the big size for me. I'm more of a "small is beautiful" sort of person. So this indented bit of coast we walked was just the ticket.

It was good to see a fair few butterflies on the wing - plenty of red admirals, speckled woods and gatekeepers and one or two blue butterflies. On the flower front a goodly number of centaury and white flax were seen. One could just about forgive the dire summer, the weather was so perfect! It certainly wasn't the longest walk we had done but I can't think of another that provides more enjoyment.

A final point to note is that the area has been well photographed - if one goes to 'Images' on Google and puts in Llansallos Cove or Lantic Bay for example there are plenty of pictures of this bit of coast to view but of course nothing can replace the atmosphere of being there.

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