The final week of March saw our first visit to the Coast Path in 2023.
We were returning to Par, our endpoint last time, hoping to see its better side.
This was a wet week in a very wet month. While dodging the rain as much as possible, our minimum target was to reach the Cremyll ferry.
In the event, we managed to complete the predominantly urban stretch through the outskirts of Plymouth, as far as the Mount Batten Ferry, so ensuring we can begin next time with the City firmly behind us.
We completed a total of 47.4 miles, so we are now 418 miles along the Coast Path, with some 212 still to go.
Our base for the week was Looe – West Looe to be precise – and our walking schedule evolved as follows:
- Saturday: Par to Fowey (6.8m)
- Sunday: Polruan to Looe (12.1m)
- Monday: Looe to the Whitsand Bay Battery (12.3m)
- Tuesday: Whitsand Bay Battery to Plymouth, Stonehouse (c.10m)
- Wednesday: Rest Day
- Thursday: Plymouth Stonehouse to Mount Batten Point (c.6.2m)
Saturday, Tuesday and Wednesday were predominantly wet; Sunday and Thursday were predominantly dry; and Monday was predominantly beautiful.
We caught the familiar 12:04 GWR departure from London Paddington, alighting at Liskeard some three-and-a-half hours later.
Here we joined the 15:50 Looe Valley Line service. This opened in 1860, but didn’t carry passengers until 1879. It was taken over by GWR in 1909 and only just escaped Beeching’s Axe.
The single track loops anti-clockwise to the north of Liskeard before the driver changes ends at Coombe Junction, heading south to Looe, alongside the East Looe River, via St Keyne Wishing Well Halt, Causeland and Sandplace.
Arriving in Looe half-an-hour later, we trundled our suitcases across Looe Bridge, around the Harbour and on up the Hannafore Road towards our apartment.
We had booked, via AirB’n’B, a one bedroom, single storey property with views of East Looe and its beach through the intervening rooftops. It cost some £630 for the week, but met our needs almost perfectly, barring only a warm bath in which to soak our aching limbs.
We arrived shortly before the appointed check-in time, meeting the owner’s daughter. She very kindly left us with a small bottle of wine, which we drank after unpacking and before heading out for food, dinner and orientation.
Looe (from the Cornish for ‘deep water inlet’) evolved as two separate settlements on either side of the narrow estuary.
The Domesday Book attributes East Looe to the Manor of Pendrym, held by the King himself, and West Looe to the Manors of Portalla and Portbyhan respectively.
The twin villages began to evolve in the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries. The first stone bridge connecting them was built in 1436. West Looe was made a Parliamentary Borough in 1553, East Looe following suit in 1571.
In 1625, the port was raided by Barbary pirates, who burned the buildings and took 80 men as slaves.
By the beginning of the Nineteenth Century, the area had entered a decline, but its fortunes were restored by the construction of, first, the Liskeard and Looe Canal (completed in 1828) and, second, the Railway.
The Town recovered its fortunes during the copper mining boom, which lasted until the 1880s. Then tourism took over.
Katherine Mansfield stayed here in 1918, trying to recover from tuberculosis. She stayed with artist Ann Estelle Rice (1877-1959), who painted her portrait.
The most famous inhabitant was otherwise Nelson, a one-eyed grey seal, who lived on nearby Looe Island and regularly cavorted in the Harbour. Sadly he died in 2003, but has since been replaced by a prominent bronze statue.
Purchasing our food supplies from one of the two Co-ops, we made a brief tour which culminated in Catch, a fish and chip shop. We took our dinner back home, escaping the frantic gulls, and enjoyed it greatly.
Other Looe outlets we visited during the week included:
- The Jolly Sailor, said to have been built in 1516, where we ate (pie, mash and mushy peas) and drank on Saturday night.
- The Salutation Inn, where we enjoyed fish pie and (in my case) a nice pint of Doombar.
- Daisy’s Café, where we had breakfast before starting our Monday walk out of Looe, and where I particularly enjoyed the ‘70s ambience.
- The Lookout, where we had a good breakfast and very nice coffee on our rest day, squeezing in alongside the Coffee Morning.
- The Cornish Bakery, where we enjoyed afternoon coffee and cake on our rest day.
- The Sardine Factory, which hosted our traditional slap-up dinner on the final evening.
Saturday: Par to Fowey
It was dry, though overcast, as we walked towards Looe Station, in time to catch a train departing just after 09:00. Several gigs rowed past, seawards, as we waited.
Changing on to the mainline service at Liskeard, we were soon deposited in Par, where we made our way through the park and down to the coast path at its junction with Par Green.
Soon we were passing through a marshy area, once a river estuary. In the first half of the Nineteenth Century, Par was also major centre for copper mining, thanks to the Fowey Consols Mine at nearby St Blazey.
The River was enlarged into a canal, by which means the ore was transported to Par’s Harbour.
From the 1860s, however, the china clay industry assumed dominance.
By 1885 some 200,000 tons were transported from here annually, by boat and train. More recently, china clay slurry has been piped to the Harbour, though this ended in 2007.
There have been various plans since then to redevelop the decayed industrial landscape, but none has yet come to fruition.
With some relief, we turned in the opposite direction, joining several people exercising their dogs along the windswept beach.
Turning inland, we stopped for a much-needed caffeine injection and a delicious chocolate traybake at Cognitive Coffee. We remained half-an-hour here before setting off again towards Polkerris.
This tiny beach and harbour has its own pub, The Rashleigh Inn, which boasts this mustachioed figurehead.
Daphne Du Maurier (1907-89) is closely associated with these parts. In 1927 her family bought a summer home at Bodinnick, on the Fowey Estuary, lying opposite the town of Fowey.
Exploring the locality, she discovered an abandoned house at Menabilly, midway between Polkerris and Gribbin Head. This influenced her description of Manderley, the house in ‘Rebecca’ (1938).
Later, she had it renovated, leasing it from John Rashleigh, then heir to the Rashleigh Estate, and living there from 1943 to 1969.
Shortly after Polkerris, the rain began in earnest, growing steadily heavier. Soon we could see the Gribbin Daymark, perched on Gribbin Head, an 84-foot red-and-white striped ‘Greco Gothic square tower’, built by Trinity House in 1832.
It was listed in 1974 and, in 2015, featured in the opening episode of BBC series ‘The Coroner’, in which a teenager was found dead at its foot.
The entrance was locked, but we sheltered in the doorway to eat our sandwiches. Even in the relentless drizzle, the view across Polridmouth Cove towards Fowey was enchanting
But it was hard to leave our shelter for the rain.
We descended to Polridmouth, admiring the small lake to the rear of the beach, before ascending again through woodland, on to Lankelly Cliff.
Looking down, we spotted what looked like a large wheel sitting upon the rocks. What we assumed was mining equipment turned out to be the wreckage of The Kantoeng, a huge Dutch bucket tin dredger which capsized here in 1937.
Soon we could see the squat red tower of St Catharine’s Point Lighthouse. Nearby are the ruins of St Catharine’s Castle, built by Henry VIII. It fell into disrepair during the Seventeenth Century, but the headland later housed gun batteries during both the Crimean and Second World Wars.
On the opposite side of the Estuary we could see a small white cross on the rocks. This is Punches Cross, long associated with ropey old legends that Jesus visited these shores, but most likely marking the territory falling under the jurisdiction of the Prior of Tywardreath.
We made our way down to Readymoney Cove, its name derived from the Cornish for ‘mineral house cove’.
We sat for a while in the shelter overlooking the beach, then it was on past the house where Dawn French and Lenny Henry once lived and into the mean streets of Fowey itself.
Fowey was a thriving medieval trading settlement which hosted a bunch of privateers – the so-called Fowey Gallants – during the Hundred Years War. It was attacked in turn by French pirates in 1457, and a later Dutch attack was repulsed in 1667.
The parish church dates from the Fourteenth Century, though its font survives from a predecessor, most likely Eleventh Century.
Fowey Harbour also entered a decline, but was redeveloped in Victorian times. Novelist Arthur Quiller-Couch lived here and is buried in the churchyard. Kenneth Grahame and Leo Walmsley were also once residents.
We walked through the crowds to the point where the ferry crosses over to Polruan, admired the Rook with a Book, and did a little window shopping before finding our way to the Safe Harbour bus stop for the 15:05 25 bus back to Par Station.
To our consternation, this failed to turn up, but a suitable 24 service arrived half an hour later and we were back in Looe by 17:45.
Sunday: Polruan to Looe
On Saturday evening we successfully engaged Crystal Cars to take us to Polruan the following morning, having discovered there was no way we could get there by public transport on a Sunday!
Tracy – who always adjudicates on these matters – has previously decreed that we do not need to complete ferry crossings, just as long as we resume walking from the point where the ferry would have landed us.
We were picked up by our taxi at 09:45 on Sunday morning and soon deposited beside The Lugger in Polruan. The trip cost us a reasonable £30, including tip.
Our driver told us that someone had recently tried to drive down the coast path in his car, only just failing to reverse over a cliff!
It was a beautiful blue-skied morning as we gazed over the water to Fowey on the opposite bank. We kindly allowed the ferryman to push in front of us, to fill his jerry can from the sink in the toilet – he said the ferry wouldn’t move without it!
Historically, Polruan was a shipbuilding community and traditionally supplied the Harbour pilots. Its Fourteenth Century blockhouse is one of a pair, the other on the Fowey side: a chain was suspended between them, which could be raised to prevent enemy ships from entering the Harbour.
Peter Skellern once lived here – as did Raynor Winn and the playwright N.F. Simpson.
We climbed up to the Polruan Lookout, operated by the National Coastwatch Institution, then along the cliff towards Lantic Bay.
As we closed in on Little Lantic Beach and Pencarrow Head we had to slow down, to allow a gentleman to finish relieving himself just ahead!
We passed a small house perched on the rocks below us, which still looked inhabited and in good repair.
The clouds had now begun to roll in and a black beetle crossed my path.
We could see the tower of Lanteglos-by-fowey Parish Church, where Du Maurier was married, across the fields. It contains a monument to John Mohun and his wife Anne Code, who died of sweating sickness in 1508.
We stopped for coffee.
By midday we had rounded Pencarrow Head and were soon passing the waterfall at Lansallos Beach, Parson’s Cove and a stone marker above Broad Cove.
Lunch was taken above Nealand Point and we arrived in quaintly photogenic Polperro shortly after 14:00.
There was already a fishing village here by the Thirteenth Century and, within another century, it was thriving.
By the late Eighteenth Century it had become a prominent pilchard fishing community, with some forty boats and three processing factories.
Jonathan Couch (1789-1870) was born in Polperro and returned to it as a doctor, serving in that capacity for some sixty years. His antiquarian studies formed the basis of a History of Polperro, published by his son Thomas in 1871 shortly after his death. Thomas was the father and Jonathan the grandfather of Arthur Quiller Couch.
Three more writers are associated with Polperro: Hugh Walpole (1884-1941) lived here from 1913 to 1914; Angela Brazil (1868-1947) kept a cottage here (‘The Warren’) until her death in 1947; and Walter Greenwood was periodically resident from the mid-‘Thirties until he retired to the Isle of Man in 1965.
We passed through after taking a few photographs, including one of the Noughts and Crosses where our friend James spent his honeymoon in the late ‘Fifties.
As we exited, we were much taken with the silhouette of a young man, looking at his phone underneath a projecting cliff, and then with Reuben’s Walk, named after former resident Reuben Oliver (1897-1973).
It was a relatively short hop round to Talland Bay, with its twin beaches and red-tinged rocks. The Talland Bay Beach Café supplied us with coffee, millionaire’s shortbread and some more water.
Soon after resuming, we spotted the greenish-yellow Hore Stone and then our first glimpses of Looe Island. This is another site alleged to have been visited by Joseph of Arimathea with the infant Jesus, and it certainly had religious significance for early Christians.
During the Second World War it was bombed by the Luftwaffe, presumably by mistake. Later on it was inhabited by two elderly sisters, who lived there until their deaths in 1997 and 2004 respectively. It is now a nature reserve managed by the Cornwall Wildlife Trust.
Approaching Hannafore, we came across the ruins of the Priory of Lammana. There were two chapels – one here, the other on Looe Island – and the monks’ living quarters.
The date of foundation is unknown, but there is documentary evidence of the Priory’s existence as early as 1144. The chapels were used until the Dissolution.
We concluded our walk following the road through Hannafore, reaching West Looe by 16:45.
Monday: Looe to the Whitsand Bay Battery
Having emerged from Daisy’s Café into a balmy morning, we climbed to the path along the East Cliff.
Here we found the tracks of the car mentioned by our taxi driver the day before – and shortly afterwards passed a man and woman discussing this feat.
Fortunately, the car itself had been removed.
We passed through Plaidy and Millendreath before rejoining the clifftop path down to Seaton. All the coast path signs along this stretch have been given eyes!
At Seaton we missed the entrance to the Seaton Beach Café, so headed instead to The Beach House, beside the Smugglers’ Inn. A couple chatting with the cashier told us we’d had a narrow escape! We sat outside to watch the world go by.
Resuming, we walked as far as we could along the sea wall, despite the alarming signs. Rather than continuing along the full length of Downderry Beach, we cut up to the road sooner, more by accident than design.
Eventually we reached a far more pleasant section with woodland to seaward and rolling fields inland, offering views across towards St Germans. We passed two ladies collecting wild garlic.
On the way into Portwrinkle we encountered a solitary gentleman coming the other way, who stopped to tell us we faced a difficult section ahead. But, as is so often the case, we didn’t really find it so.
We stopped for lunch on a bench outside Portwrinkle, having enjoyed two kestrels sporting in the breeze just above Eglarooze Cliff.
Continuing into Portwrinkle, along Finnygook Lane, we availed ourselves of the public conveniences and admired the former Whitsand Bay Hotel.
This was once Thanckes House in Torpoint, ancestral home of the Graves family. It eventually found its way into the hands of a syndicate of Plymouth businessmen, who decided to relocate it from Torpoint to Portwrinkle. This was undertaken in 1909.
The Hotel closed in 2018 and the building has recently been offered for sale – for a cool £1.5m.
I was much taken by a real seagull perched on a stone eagle!
Next we made our way alongside Whitsand Bay Golf Club and then into the army ranges that occupy the land between the beach and Tregantle Fort. There is a permissive path through, as long as the ranges are not in use.
The Fort itself was constructed between 1858 and 1866 and the ranges have been here since 1903. Wikipedia says they are infamous amongst the armed forces because so many slope steeply seaward. The beach is also used for forces training – a Royal Marine drowned during an exercise here in January 2020.
Having finally escaped the military land, which somehow casts a negative atmosphere, we were headed towards Freathy but missed our turning – the sign was missing – and found ourselves heading down on to the beach. A surfer was climbing in the opposite direction.
We retraced our steps and eventually began skirting fields, over which we could see the shape of Rame Head in the distance.
The next section is a little uninspiring since it follows Military Road all the way through Freathy to Whitsand Bay Fort.
The Fort itself is now a Holiday Park, but there are also dozens of small chalets built between the road and the sea, along Treginnow and Wiggle Cliffs.
Since 1957, many of these have been rented out by Cornwall and Plymouth Councils on 21-year leases. They own the land, which forms part of the Mount Edgcumbe Country Park estate, and the income derived from rents helps to maintain it.
Since 2021, though, they have reportedly offered only one year leases and drastically increased the ground rent, citing straitened public finances. They are, of course, under no obligation even to renew the leases.
We stopped at the Cliff Top Café, located amongst these chalets, eating ice creams while waiting for the bus to take us down to Cremyll.
We had contemplated walking on further, past Rame Head to Cawsand, given that the weather was still beautiful, while Tuesday’s forecast was dire.
However, we decided eventually to conserve our energies.
From Cremyll we crossed on the 17:00 ferry to Plymouth. This anticipated a non-walking element of Tuesday’s session, but was deemed acceptable by Tracy, our arbiter on all points of contention.
Once on the other side, we walked up to the Station, to catch a train back to Liskeard, and from thence to Looe.
Close by we spotted North Street East for my brother Mike, who lived in a bedsit there for the summer when he was just 18.
Back in Looe, while returning home from dinner at the Salutation Inn, I lost my footing on the pavement and toppled over, the weight of food shopping in my rucksack preventing me from regaining my balance.
Just another drunken tourist! Though, to be fair, it was close to being my 40,000th step of the day, so I had some cause to be weary.
Tuesday: Whitsand Bay Fort to Plymouth (Stonehouse)
After our beautiful Monday, Tuesday dawned even wetter and duller than we had anticipated.
We again needed Crystal Taxis to convey us back to Whitsand Bay Fort, given that it would be afternoon before public transport could deliver us there.
We had arrived by around 10:30 and, within a few minutes of leaving the car, our waterproofs were completely wet and the rain was seeping into all unprotected nooks and crannies.
Initially we followed a path through the chalets, which eventually became a more significant track, before diminishing to a path again some way before Polhawn Fort, now a wedding venue.
On reaching Rame Head, part of the Mount Edgcumbe Country Park, we contemplated climbing the steep slope up to St Michael’s Chapel, to find some shelter from the relentless downpour, but decided to press on instead.
There was once an Iron Age promontory fort here, then later a hermitage. The present Chapel was in use by the beginning of the Fifteenth Century and was subsequently employed as a lighthouse and watchtower. A small radar station was built here in 1940.
Eventually we reached Penlee Point on the other end of the headland and sought refuge in Queen Adelaide’s Grotto, just above Penlee Point.
There is thought to have been a watch house here prior to the Gothication of the cave, to commemorate a visit by William IV and his wife in the 1820s, during the lifetime of Richard, the Second Earl of Mount Edgcumbe.
It was just midday, so we decided to have an early lunch, while a helicopter and a lifeboat went past in the murk outside.
Continuing on a road through a strip of woodland, we passed above Pier Cellars, where a Brennan Torpedo Station was constructed in 1888/89.
Invented by Louis Brennan (1852-1932), this primitive guided missile was adapted by the War Office for harbour defence.
The structure was later modified for use by midget submarines and now hosts naval training exercises.
Eventually we reached Cawsand and neighbouring Kingsand, looking fairly grim in the rain. Prior to 1844, the Cornwall-Devon boundary passed between these two settlements.
We watched an old-fashioned sailing vessel manoeuvring offshore, then continued on our way, losing it for a while in the damp streets of Kingsand.
Next we passed a succession of landmarks in the Edgcumbe Estate, including Picklecombe Seat, Mount Edgcumbe Folly, Milton’s Temple and The Orangery, finally reaching the Cremyll Ferry by 14:20.
We chatted with an elderly lady (heading over for a hospital appointment) and an elderly gentleman (collecting his grandson from primary school).
On the other side we followed Plymouth’s Waterfront Walkway as far as Tinside Lido, built in 1935, but failed to spot the correct exit from the colossal Royal William Yard.
Walking up from the waterfront through Hoe Park to Royal Parade, we eventually caught a 72 bus all the way back to West Looe. For some reason, the driver waved everyone on board without paying.
That evening we watched the first two episodes of the final series of Happy Valley, completing it with a four-episode binge on Wednesday evening.
Thursday: Plymouth (Stonehouse) to Mountbatten Point
We caught the 09:55 72 service back into Plymouth and retraced our steps from the evening before last.
Despite the intervening rest day, we were both still tired.
We stopped for a coffee in Dutton’s Tea Room, formerly a magazine and armoury, and later got lost while rounding Hooe Lake, despite faithfully following the instructions in the official guide!
There’s not much joy to be had in navigating one’s way round the suburbs of Plymouth. We reached Mount Batten by 14:00 and finished our sandwiches before crossing on the ferry to Sutton Harbour.
Here we diverted a short way to take afternoon tea at the delightfully anachronistic Tudor Rose Tea Rooms, where the wall clock drew our attention. A lady with a lot to say spoiled the genteelly civilized atmosphere.
Eventually we caught the 16:20 bus back to Looe.
Our plans for a relaxed journey were dashed when we learned from Tracy’s sister – holidaying in St Ives – that our train from Plymouth to Paddington had been cancelled, owing to a shortage of train crew.
So we hastily completed our packing and, instead of catching our connecting trains to Plymouth as planned, once again climbed aboard the 72 bus, hoping to board an earlier train home from there.
But, while en route to Plymouth, our service was miraculously reinstated. A ticket salesperson at the Station calculated that it would now cost us over £70 to change on to an earlier service, so we had no choice but to wait for a couple of hours.
Tracy’s sister joined us aboard the train and, when I hinted that she might perhaps have had something to do with our stressful morning, she replied as follows (and I promised to quote her verbatim):
‘I received the e-mail, and I thought I would just tell my sister and Tim that the train was cancelled. Because I wanted to ensure we were all travelling together; because we hadn’t seen each other for such a long time; because I was performing my duty of care to the old fogeys!’
We made it to Paddington on time and without further incident.