Saturday was a very early start – Jump out of bed, feed the cats, have a glass of milk, and then by 6am I was out scraping the car, ahead of a long day on the road.
A few weeks ago, I came up with the idea of walking around the coastal path of Britain. I can’t remember how I came up with the idea – possibly the book I read set in Cornwall over Christmas – but after telling Corrie about my idea, we decided we’d start it this weekend.
Our starting point: Land’s End seemed to make sense. Then it was a question of which way round the country we’d walk. We settled for anti-clockwise. Along the South Coast, towards Kent. Though it might be a few years before we get anywhere near that – without taking a year off work, walking the coast will not be quick!
I picked Corrie up a few minutes later and we got on the road. Tony Blackburn’s Sounds of the ’60s keeping us (well – me – Corrie had her headphones in) as we got on the M5. Shortly after we stopped for breakfast. A sausage bap and a hot chocolate at Gloucester Services – then at 06:49 it was back on to the road.
We had a clear run all the way down. I left Tony Blackburn’s show on. I was surprised when Corrie started singing to Sounds of the ’60s – but then she explained: “The Mighty Quinn” (Manfred Mann) is the song of the rugby team she supports – Harlequins. I should have known…
At one point I said “we’ll stop at the next services” – before shooting past it in the fast lane without realising. By the time we stopped at Exeter Services at 08:32, I remember thinking to myself “I’m sure there should have been a service station at Collumpton – Or were we further down the motorway than we thought!?”. Anyway…. A quick stop, then back on the road. A quick refuel at Tesco in Redruth, then on to Land’s End where we arrived at 10:43.
The weather was overcast, but dry – not too hot, and not too cold (we had of course wrapped up warm). We’d driven through some heavy showers on the way down, but by the time we got to Land’s End the clouds were starting to clear.
Our aim for this first coastal walk was to get to Porthcurno. It is about 5 miles. Of course, we’d then have to get back to the car once reaching Porthcurno – one of the reasons for such an early start. The good news is that the days are getting longer, so when I do the next leg in a few weeks, I’ll have a bit longer. Corrie won’t be with me every time I go walking – but I’ve promised to let her know where and when I go.
A photo by the sign (with very few tourists at this time of year, it’s brilliant) we just stood outside the fence and got it for free), then we set off. We perhaps took a little longer than we should have done, as we stopped to take photos of the rocky coastline. (I do like the coast of Cornwall). After about an hourwe reached Mill Bay – otherwise known as Nanjizal. Quite a secluded beach, with no direct access road (the nearest car park is an hour away), the beach has steps down to it from the coastal path, and as the Sun had come out by this time, a fair few people had wandered down to enjoy the sandy beach looking at its best. Taking our time on the beach, taking photos, enjoying a short rest, we then rejoined the footpath.
The next leg of our walk took us through the RSPB Porthgwarra reserve. It was quite muddy in places, the path narrow and the cliffs high: We were glad the wind hadn’t got up yet! I did enjoy watching the cows running past – probably in search of their next meal! After another hour we arrived at the small fishing cove of Porthgwarra. We sat down and had a short rest.
Our final destination was close – A sign told us the Minack Theatre was just over a mile away. Land’s End about 3 and a half. We’d covered most of the distance. We continued on. We didn’t go in to the Minack Theatre – but I will be paying it a visit before I start the next leg of my coastal footpath walk – the starting point for that will of course be Porthcurno.
Before reaching Porthcurno, we walked past Porthchapel Beach – We enjoyed watching a family of dogs running in and out of the waves! Porthchapel has a very steep and rocky access point, so we didn’t make it down to the beach itself. I might not have got back up!
The Minack Theatre is of particular interest – not least because one of the BBC One TV idents from the 2002 set of “Rhythm and Movement” idents was filmed there. The Minack Theatre ident was a sombre ident rarely used though – most notably following the death of the Queen Mother – and in 2006 it was the last ident from the set to be played out before BBC One introduced its new ‘Circles’ branding.
But I am sure I will write more about the Minack Theatre when I eventually get to it.
Finally – 2 hours and 49 minutes after we left Land’s End – we made it down to the beach at Porthcurno.
I remember many years ago visiting Porthcurno and its Telegraph Museum. A hub of global communications, at its peak 14 separate undersea cables connected to Britain at Porthcurno. It was the largest telegraph station in the world.
While the original systems which operated at Porthcurno are no longer used, Porthcurno still plays an important role in Britain’s communication with the outside world. With 97% of overseas digital communications, undersea fibre optic cables still come ashore at Porthcurno and are still in use today!
At the museum we had time for lunch (a tasty pesto pasta and cheese), stocked up with a couple of cans of water to drink on the walk back, looked around inside the museum and underground bunkers (as well as in the ‘Radio Shack’ – my favourite room – then a quick look around the shop, where I got a couple of books to add to my pile of books to read.
As we left the museum a bus turned up signed for Land’s End and we thought we should maybe catch it….but as there was no one else at the bus stop it didn’t hang around long enough for us to catch it! We checked out the timetable: Next bus was over 3 hours away. We decided to walk it. But useful to know.
Next time I think I’ll park the car at my ‘end point’ for the walk, then get the bus to Porthcurno and walk from there to the car. Should work as long as I time my journeys in line with the bus timetable.
We took a slightly different route back – It was at 15:15 when we left the museum and it would be getting dark within a couple of hours. If it took us the same amount of time to walk back as it did earlier in the day, we’d be walking in the dark – and didn’t much like the idea of being on top of the cliffs in the dark.
As we were trying to interpret the map to find a more direct route, a local walker suggested a good route to take. We found a footpath which took us across the fields, taking a more direct route back rather than hugging the coastline. It meant we made it back in 2hrs 6mins – 43 minutes less than our walk in the morning – and it was still daylight when we got back in the car.
A clear run most of the way back (although I always get stuck behind a tractor when leaving Land’s End and there’s no opportunity to overtake until clear of Penzance). Getting in the wrong lane coming in to Penzance gave us the opportunity to stop at Tesco, Corrie got a charger for her phone (being on the move all day with our GPS trackers going had meant both our phones were low, but we only had one car charger between us).
When planning the trip we originally wondered whether to call my Aunt in Exeter – but we decided against it on driving back, as when we left Penzance at 18:09 we guessed it woult be at least 2 hours to Exeter and we’d be getting home late anyway – so instead we kept it simple, and just stopped off at Exeter Services for a KFC before getting back on the road. Finally a brief stop at Michaelwood Services (the Gloucestershire border) because I was thirsty (I got a milkshake – cheaper than a bottle of water!) then the final few miles back to Cirencester. I dropped Corrie back at hers, then got home at 22:44. It was a long day but we did well I think!
Sunday has been a bit quieter and more relaxing. My next coastal walk will be in about 2-3 weeks.
Distance driven: 481.92 miles (775.58 km)
Distance walked: 10.94 miles (17.6km)
On the car stereo: Tony Blackburn (BBC Radio 2), Caroline Cook (BBC Radio Devon), Jack Murley (BBC Radio Cornwall), James Dundon (BBC Radio Cornwall), Paul Gambaccini (Greatest Hits Radio), Sarah Gosling (BBC Radio Cornwall – BBC Radio Devon – BBC Radio Somerset), James Threlfall (BBC Radio Bristol), David White (BBC Radio Gloucestershire)