In April 2019 we hiked for a week along part of the 630 mile long South West Coast Path in England. We walked a section from Bude to St Ives on the west coast of Cornwall.
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 Penzance to 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 Porthallow To 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!