We returned in September 2020 for another week long section continuing from St Ives round the southern tip of Land’s End and Lizard Point to to the town and port of Falmouth.
In summary this was another great and varied hike, mostly following trails above coastal cliffs but also along beaches and through many small harbour towns. We camped all the way with a mix of commercial campsites and wild camping.
Day 1 St Ives to Pendeen 7th September 2020 We returned to where we left off last year at the Hellesveor campsite just above St Ives after a long drive south from Scotland, stopping to visit the weird and wonderful town of Glastonbury and hike up historic Glastonbury Tor.
Starting late morning, we walked a trail about 3/4 mile down to join the coastal path to the sound of booming atlantic waves. Heading south the trail was clear and undulating over granite boulders, making for slow but scenic going. It was hot and muggy and we were sharing the path with quite a few people- seemingly the stretch from St Ives down to Zennor is a popular day trip – helped by a regular bus service.
At Zennor we saw a group of rare choughs along with ravens and birds of prey. Bosigran provided a rest stop allowing us to look at the fine cliffs, scene of many past fantastic rock climbing trips for us.
At about 6pm we reached Porthmeor Cove, a wild spot with a huge swell producing crashing waves onto the beach. This provided a good spot to stop to cook up dinner on a granite boulder with a seal popping up in the breaking waves studying the beach.
After dinner we shuffled on looking for a decent water supply and wild camp site- it proved a bit tricky but just past Pendeen lighthouse we came to a road end and a very basic commercial camp site so we called it a day- and it was a fine start!
Day 2 Pendeen to east of Land’s End It was bright as we awoke and we set off early past a huge old mining area at Boscaswell with an atmospheric misty wisp to the air. Some of the derelict tin mines are perched down steep cliffs overlooking the sea and it’s a dramatic area.
After taking a valley inland for a bit at Kenidjack we soon reached Cape Cornwall, a small spit of land reaching out into the sea with breakers crashing on the rocks. Plenty of people around here including a painting class at the shore. We chatted to the NTS attendant who said that the sea was calm at the moment – but it looked pretty wild to us! On to the huge beaches of Whitesand Bay which led to the harbour of Sennan- again familiar to us from past trips for its climbing and surfing.
From Sennan it is a short hop to the touristy Land’s End but the views are great out to various small islands and lighthouse. We left the crowds to turn south east along the cliff tops for a way and found a superb wild campsite around Carn Boel. After scrambling down to the shore, Martina had a swim in an amazingly scenic tidal pool. We watched gannets soaring by the cliffs and diving into the water in the evening- another good day.
Day 3 Carn Boel to Penzance More cliff top hiking with good views in the morning and we descended down to the shore at Nanjizal beach to explore an arch and cave with seals lolling about in the waves just offshore.
At Gwennap Head we passed a lookout station above another familiar climbing area of Chair Ladder. Mist descended though so we moved on to Porthgwarra and its small cafe was an irresistible stop. A steep drop on stairs took us into Porthcurno – home to the cliffside theatre of Minack. The mist thickened a bit with us getting a soaking from brushing through the undergrowth at the sides of the trail. The air was super sticky and muggy and a fine drizzle added to the all over wetness.
Our direction turned to the north east now towards the town and harbour of Mousehole. A scenic and popular tourist destination it was too, but we headed on in the hope that we could find accommodation in Penzance for the night to ‘de-stick’ and dry out. The way to Penzance was built up but the hiking was pleasant. During this time of Covid-19 closures, there were fewer hotels and B&Bs open and nothing was available for the night, so we hiked through to the other side of Penzance to find an ok urban campsite- at least it was next to a Tesco grocery store for food supplies!
Day 4 Penzanceto Porthleven After posting my defunkt camera back home we hiked north out of Penzance alongside the beach with the distinctive island landmark of St Michael’s Mount on the horizon. Today was a mellow sort of day with wall to wall sunshine and lots of people out enjoying themselves on the beaches- including some dudes on weird motorised surfboards zipping around.
An early stop for cakes at Marazion town opposite the Mount was hard to resist- this is not a route for losing weight with so many cafes along the way! Easier hiking along a rocky low shore followed and we managed a stop for a swim in beautiful green blue waters.
We arrived in the evening at Porthleven – another busy but picturesque harbour town. After pizza at the quayside we hiked uphill for a bit to locate the spacious Treva campsite for the night.
Day 5 Porthleven to Lizard More mellow cliff walking and pretty harbours in a south easterly direction took us to Lizard Point- the southernmost point in mainland Britain. The rock is more metamorphic here (after the granite of Land’s End) exposed in twisted and contorted cliffs. Just below the lighthouse and foghorns at the point we found a superb tiny spot for the tent looking out to open water. After bathing our feet in a gurgling rock pool we settled in with the sweeping beam from the lighthouse above us and the odd light on the horizon from shipping – a superb spot!
Day 6 Lizard to near Porthallow The cloud descended about 5am with rain and this triggered the foghorn from the lighthouse right above us- so that was us very awake!
After breakfast though the cloud cleared and we set off in the sun. The downside of the early shower was that we got a bit of a soaking on the trail from bracken and other vegetation overgrowing the path. But the going on undulating cliff tops was pleasant with a flat sea below as we had now turned generally northwards and were sheltered from the winds.
We stopped at Kennack Sands cafe for the obligatory tea,coffee and cake whilst the tent and sleeping bags were drying in the sun. More pleasant walking took us to Coverack for lunch overlooking the harbour. From there the going was flatter, past a fairly ugly quarry at Dean Point, although it was nice to see the crystalline igneous gabbro rock there (famously good climbing rock occuring in the Isle of Skye in Scotland).
An excursion inland for a wee while made for a bit of a change along hedgerows and through fields before we popped out at the ‘Fat Apple’ cafe. We couldn’t resist and ended up camping here with the availability of showers sealing the deal.
Day 7 PorthallowTo Falmouth A clear night with plenty of owls and woodland bird songs in the morning with our campsite being away from the coast. There was some dew early on but the trail was drier than yesterday and it was easy hiking as we headed west into the huge Helford River estuary. This was quite mellow, through woods down to the water and a few pleasant small coves.
We waded the muddy inlet at Gillan Harbour and just managed to get across with the tide coming in. Strangely we met another backpacker just before who had hiked past quickly saying it wasn’t possible to cross, but we have heard that many times over the years and like to look and decide ourselves- it was fine!
Further inland on the estuary we reached Helford town and set a yellow sign up at the ferry crossing to signal for the boat. After a little doubt, it did come over and gave us a lift across to the northern shore, weaving through the many sailing boats moored in this sheltered water.
The sun was out, and being Sunday, the area was mobbed with sailing boats and people enjoying the beaches. It was hot going back along the northern shore of the bay and we made it to Maenporth for late lunch. This was the busiest beach we had seen so far but we did manage at least to buy a couple of paninis and crawl away to eat them in the shade.
From there it was just some straightforward but hot and sweaty hiking into the large port town of Falmouth- and this time we had managed to get a hotel room for a good clean at the end of our hike.
This was a grand 7 days of hiking around the south tip of England with a good mix of cliffs, beaches and towns. Falmouth turned out to be a fine place for eating out and we were able in the morning to get a bus and train back the short distance to our car and start point. What to do next to relax in St Ives area? Surfing was the only option!
In April 2019 we hiked for a week along part of the 630 mile long South West Coast Path in England. The path itself takes a huge loop round the south west tip of England from Minehead to Bournemouth through Devon, Cornwall and Dorset. We walked a section from Bude to St Ives on the west coast of Cornwall.
We have visited Cornwall a number of times on rock climbing trips. Sea cliffs like Bosigran and Chair Ladder near Lands End have provided us with some of the best climbing anywhere on golden granite with Atlantic rollers crashing into the shore for atmosphere. In between the climbing days we have also walked along the coast path and thoroughly enjoyed these too.
I was also encouraged to see that the incredibly well travelled hikers, Amy and James from California, had included the coastal path in their top 10.
Summary We had a great hike. The trail follows the coast closely, mostly along the top of steep cliffs at the margins of farmlands. The quality of the trail is excellent and the scenery is tremendous with huge waves, cliffs, wide beaches, and grassy rolling fields. The coastal towns and villages are a standout too and hiking through was a pleasure adding variety to the wilder cliff top scenery. It was the Easter holidays and there was a lot of people out hiking near to the towns and surf beaches, but away from these it was quiet, particularly in the mornings and evenings.
We hope to return for more of the south west coast path! Stop press we did in 2020- see our blog here.
Resources We had a Cicerone guidebook. This was another reliable and recommended Cicerone guide which comes in printed and ebook formats providing trail descriptions, background info and strip maps. I also had OS maps for Cornwall on my android phone using the trusted Viewranger app. The trail is well marked and pretty clear most of the way, so there was a lot less need to consult the maps for navigation than we are normally used to.
We camped along the way. Although wild camping is technically not allowed, we were able to camp stealthily out of sight from the trail away from the villages. There are some fantastic wild cliff spots to be had if willing to search away from the trail, but there could be times when tent spots are limited, so a little planning ahead each day paid dividends. We didn’t see too many attractive commercial campsites on our hike (other than the recommended Hellesveor at St Ives) as most were holiday village style fixed caravans which don’t appeal to us (example here).
As the trail passed through towns every day, we took all our water from taps without any need for treatment which was nice. There are also lots of streams but it was simpler and safer to collect clean water from the towns. The towns also meant that we didn’t have to carry much food with us at all. The trail also passes an abundance of great cafes on the way with tempting cakes and Cornish Pasties!
Day 1 Bude to Dizzard We made it to Bude on the west coast of Cornwall by about 3.30pm after taking buses and trains from Bristol Airport. We picked up water and some veggie pasties and headed south on the trail away from the bustling town, busy with the start of the easter holidays.
We soon settled into hiking on a good cliff top trail looking down to the sea with fins of rock projected out from the shore into the water. There was a fair bit of up and down before we arrived at the lovely National Trust oak woodland of Dizzard. Just beyond we found a place to camp off trail and sheltered from the strong easterly breeze that we were to experience for most of the week.
Day 2 Dizzard to South of Tintagel The trail dips down to sea level often to cross bays and harbours and we are getting used to the steep dirt steps that take a direct line up and down the slopes. Our first harbour is Crackington Haven and we dive inside a cafe here to escape the cold easterly wind and devour some cakes.
More roller coaster cliff top meandering to Boscastle for late lunch (another harbour town and one which flooded in 2004). There are quite a few tourists here at this picturesque cove and with attractions including the Museum of Witchcraft.
We continue south with some great wild coastal scenery to Tintagel, with its popular castle, where we stop for a drink, to take on water for overnight and to buy some more pasties for dinner. Take an old (possibly mining) path down from the cliff top to find a superb tiny spot to pitch the tent overlooking the broiling sea.
Day 3 South of Tintagel to Padstow The sun came out today lifting the temperature from the previous hazy days. Saw plenty of birdlife including fulmars, guillemots, ravens and peregrine falcon feeding a chick. Passed through pretty Port Isaac which was mobbed with tourists- seemingly a TV series Doc Martin was filmed here which explains the tourist numbers!
We crossed sandflats at the mouth of a huge estuary to get to a ferry crossing to the larger town of Padstow where we chickened out and went for the comfort of a B&B for the night!
Day 4 Padstow to Porthcothan Moist but warm morning as we hike out on the south shore of the estuary over flat trails and beaches. We traversed out to two peninsulas today- Stepper Point and Trevose Head. Along the way we passed a few cool huge vertical holes in the cliffs with the sea breaking down below. There were also a number of pleasant beaches between the rocks; Butterhole, Trevone and Harlyn- where we stopped to eat our now nearly obligatory Cornish Pastie! This one a rare ‘Mediterranean veggie’ flavour carried out from Padstow.
The next beach at Polventon had remarkably clean sands backed by green blue water. At the far end there is a RNLI lifeboat station with a massive ramp system for the boats to slide into the water.
After Trevose lighthouse the skies darkened and we were pounded with rain for the rest of the afternoon before taking refuge in the lovely cafe/shop in Porthcothan.
Day 5 Porthcothan to Newquay to Ligger point The rain thankfully stopped in the morning as we returned to the cliff top walking along to Bedruthan. We descended steps here to the sea with the waves broiling in against the cliffs. As we neared the large town of Newquay it got busier and we passed many surfers braving the cold air and even colder sea temperature!
Bustling Newquay provided all facilities so we did some quick shopping and sat on the grass in a park eating our pasties in the sun. On the way out of town we hiked right through the dry sandy harbour at low tide. We pushed on to The Gannel south of town, this is a large estuary best crossed by a causeway exposed at low tide. Onwards a good trail took us out of suburban Newquay and past a series of rocky beaches to look for a campsite. Unfortunately into the evening we found ourselves passing a large MOD area near Ligger Point and we hiked on quickly to find a tiny site on a grassy ridge leading from the clifftop down to the sea.
Day 6 Ligger Point to south of Portreath Sun today and more lovely surf beaches, cliff tops and the odd town. We stopped for early morning warming coffee in Perranporth. We passed Cligga Head with its granite quarry- a bit of a landmark for us being the first granite we had seen on the hike and reminding us of the great climbing further south on granite cliffs.
Not far on we were distracted by the irresistible cozy cafe in Trevaunance and sat outside in the garden with cakes and tea. Mining was the theme of the day culminating with the stark outline of the chimney at Wheal Coates. This is a popular spot and there were more people out on the trails than previously.
At Portreath we had great pizza for dinner outside the Portreath Arms and collected overnight water before hiking on into the evening to camp.
Day 7 To St Ives A gentle start today along good flatish trails out to the lighthouse at prominent Godrevy Point. Near here we looked straight down onto a crowd of grey seals basking on a lovely sandy beach. From the point we could see St Ives ahead at the far end of a huge wide cove of sandy beaches. The hiking there was deceptively long though as we had to circumnavigate the estuary at the town of Hayle. Hiking through town did give us the advantage of picking up a Subway sub for lunch- superb! Today was scenic, but away from the wilds as the trail mostly passed through populated areas.
St Ives is a touristy but loveable town and we all but finished our hike through the harbour at low tide and onto the high street shopping areas.