South Cornwall Hike Day 10, Land’s End
160-Mile Hike On The South West Coast Path, South Cornwall – The Journal
Day 10 Lamorna to Land’s End
Friday 14th October 2022
Weather: overcast and warm
Index to all entries from this South Cornwall Hike
The Last Day Of South Cornwall!
Land’s End is just 10 miles away, the finish line for this year’s hike of south Cornwall – wow! 10 days wasn’t what I had in mind though, and nor was a section hike. It was supposed to be a 160-mile backpacking adventure over 9 days including travel, but things don’t always work out the way you plan. If you’ve been following along you’ll know why.
I’d been berating myself for my ‘thru-hike failure’ (it’s not a failure!), but that morning when I broke camp none of it mattered at all. I knew the path ahead and how much fun it would be, how much more demanding it is (which I love) and how spectacular the scenery becomes – and first up was St Loy’s Cove: dinosaur egg beach!
The boulders on the raised ‘storm beach’ fill me with childlike wonder, the result of thousands (and thousands!) of years of wave action, knocking and rocking as you negotiate your way across to pick up a woodland track on the other side.
Into The Woods
The primordial feelings continue under the dripping canopy. The smell of autumn, the sound of a stream, wet leaves on the ground after the rain – all your senses alive.
The sea disappears from view for a while so my eyes focus downwards, rather than ahead or on the everpresent horizon, and it’s like entering a whole other world. Springs and ankle-deep mud, weird and wonderful fungus that I don’t recognise, fallen leaves from familiar trees, but best of all, right here, a steep flight of fantasy ‘root steps’.
They’re deceptive and steeper than they look in the photo. Thick and slick, exposed by soil erosion, they could have been working their way to the surface for centuries. I climbed onwards and upwards, rooted (forgive the pun) and deeply connected to this landscape, a small link in the chain of humanity that climbed here before.
There’s a sense of the past all along this part of the coast, whether it’s in the trees or the geology, ancient hill forts or tiny hamlets like Penberth, less than a couple of miles ahead.
You come round and down a steep rocky track to Penberth, another tiny traditional fishing cove, which is owned by the National Trust. Pilchards were landed here in the past, but now it’s mostly lobster and crabs – the pots piled high on the cobbled slip along with a few small fishing boats.
As well as a smattering of granite cottages, there’s a restored wooden capstan (boat winch) at the top of the slip, which makes you feel like you’ve stepped back into the 18th or 19th century. However, no long-bearded men with clay pipes or fisher-women with their wicker baskets were in sight – just the solitary figure of a woman taking a ‘wild swim’ in the cold sea. What could be more contemporary than that? (Apart from the 4×4’s parked up nearby!)
There’s a short sharp climb out of Penberth Cove to a patch of open scrub and gorse, another typical landscape along the south Cornwall coast, especially here in West Penwith (links to a fantastic walk that takes in lots of neolithic sites) in the far west of the county.
Porthcurno – Paradise In South Cornwall
After a mile and a half or so I know I’m getting close to the halfway point of the day’s hike: Porthcurno.
Porthcurno is another historic place of national, and international, importance – the start of the global communications networks we know today began right here in south Cornwall!
” Built in 1929, this modest little building [the Porthcurno cable hut] is where undersea telegraph cables came ashore from all corners of the world.” (Museum of Global Communications)
If you can’t get to Porthcurno, check out the museum’s website, it’s absolutely fascinating. (Check out the Marconi Wireless Station on the Lizard Peninsula too – one of my favourite walks of this hike.)
If that isn’t enough, Porthcurno’s also famous for its natural beauty, and deservedly so. It’s breathtaking, a true paradise – you really do take a deep intake of breath when you see it from the cliffs.
But the joys don’t stop there. There’s another steep climb to the top of the valley where you pass through the work of art that is the Minnack Open Air Theatre. Rowena Cade built it by hand virtually single-handedly (with the help of her gardener and a few locals) creating a sublime place to sit and watch a performance, with the cliffs and sea the only the only scenery you need
Nanjizal – The Seal
The drama continued.
I’d been walking faster for a while, trying to make up time lost to enjoying the views and taking photographs, knowing that if I missed the 12:15 bus at Land’s End I’d have a 2-hour wait till the next one. It would be a close-run thing, but by the time I got to Nanjizal I gave up the bother.
Nanjizal is gorgeous. There’s a stunning beach at low tide and a narrow cave and arch that every amateur photographer adds to their itinerary, waiting for the magical moment the low sun shines through (do a Google search and you’ll see hundreds). There were a couple of photographers there when I got there, but there was no sun and the tide was high, so they obviously weren’t there for the ubiquitous shot.
I walked round a bit, looking down at a tiny patch of sand, thinking that I’d forego the dip I’d considered when I planned the hike – it was choppy and cold. As I stood there, looking at the horizon, one of the photographers approached me “Shall I tell you what we’re doing here?”, he said in a low voice. “Ok!” I smiled. “We’re from British Divers Marine Life Rescue and we’re monitoring the seal pup.” He pointed to a logo on his beanie hat and then at a well-camouflaged seal pup on the top of the beach, less than 10 metres away. My heart skipped a beat!
“I didn’t think this was a ‘seal beach'” I said, “No, we think it’s a first-time mother that may have just gone into labour, usually they’re round the coast a bit. She’s a shy one and we’re worried that she’s not coming up to feed the pup enough, but we’re keeping our fingers crossed. It should be ready to go out to sea in a few days”. They’d been monitoring it for 3 weeks, volunteers standing vigil for 6 hours at a time, warning people not to go on the beach and to keep dogs on leads. And keeping a close eye on its health.
I love encounters like this. I learn so much and it makes hiking an even richer experience – the depth of knowledge, the care and passion – it gives you renewed hope for the world. Even when a seal pup’s lying helpless on the beach, surrounded by old drink cans and washed-up rope.
The bus would be about ready to leave Land’s End now, and there was still a mile and a half or so to go. What’s the rush anyway? It was the thought of being stuck at Land’s End for 2 hours, that’s what.
The cliffs and rocky islands are wild, home to colonies of gulls and gannets, cormorants and kittiwakes, but there’s a total eyesore right behind you that you can’t ignore: ‘The Land’s End Experience‘ has killed the experience of being in nature. It’s a fucking disgrace that it was ever allowed to be built – a theme park there for no other reason than to rip off the unsuspecting day-tripper.
It’s seriously awful, and it was a tragedy that the National Trust was outbid when it was sold in the ’80s. Nowadays the only time to really experience the wonder of the place is when it’s shut up for winter and the storms are raging. (Don’t get me wrong though, everyone should be able to experience Land’s End, but surely in the way nature intended, not in the way some cynical businessmen decided to make a quick and easy buck.)
I try and suppress the feelings of sadness and linger along the cliff edge, listening to the gulls below and the pair of Cornish choughs I can hear above. I smile at the child who points to a rabbit hole and excitedly tells his mum he’s found a “mouse hole” – there is still magic here. And it gradually dawns on me that I’ve reached the end of the hike.
Plymouth to Land’s End – south Cornwall, you were, as ever, extraordinary. Totally magical.
Today’s Trail Costs
- Bus from Land’s End to Penzance £3.50
- Bottle of drink at Land’s End £3.00 (absolute rip-off – twice the price of anywhere else)
- Train from Penzance to Truro £5.20 with a Devon and Cornwall Railcard
More Entries From The South Cornwall Hike
- Day 1 Plymouth, Kingsand-Cawsand, Rame Head, Whitsand Bay (14.5 miles)
- Day 2 Portwrinkle, Looe, Polperro, Lantic Bay (20 miles)
- Day 3 Lantic Bay, Fowey, Charlestown, Pentewan (20 miles)
- Day 4 Pentewan, Mevagissey, Gorran Haven, Portscatho, Towan Beach (23 miles)
- Day 5 Towan, St Anthony, St Mawes, Falmouth (6 miles)
- Day 6 Falmouth, Helford Passage, Coverack (19 miles)
- Day 7 Coverack, Cadwith, Lizard Point, Kynance Cove, Mulllion (Predannick) (18 miles)
- Day 8 Mullion Harbour, Gunwalloe, Porthleven (8.5 miles)
- Day 9 Porthleven, Penzance, Mousehole, Lamorna (21 miles)
- Day 10
Where Next? Try These!
The Women’s End2End Relay – I Did It! – leading a challenge hike on the north Cornwall coast
South Cornwall – the end of the hike is tomorrow! I hope you’ve enjoyed my journal from the trail; it was a first for me and something I’d love to do again. Let me know in the comments if you’d like more diary posts from national trails in the future. I’m working on my bucket list goal to hike all 15 so I have the perfect opportunity to do it. (It’s my goal to hike them before I get to the grand old age of 60, which feels a bit too close for comfort tbh. I need to get a move on!)
Thanks for reading – here’s to the next one.
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