One of the great acheivements of my life is having walked the South West Coast Path. It covers 630 miles of coastal walking around the south-west peninsula of the UK, from Minehead in north Somerset to Poole in south Dorset. As long-time customers of Classic Canes may remember, I walked it in eight week-long sessions from 2003 to 2010, accompanied by my husband Malcolm, my father Ben for some stretches and a succession of Golden Retrievers: Teddy, Sammy and finally Boris.
The terrain is varied: high clifftop walks, coastal fishing villages, army ranges, moorland, beaches, valleys and woodlands. The overall ascent for the whole path is 115,000ft, so we certainly needed our Classic Canes trekking poles
. Many is the time you look from one side of a steep coastal valley to your destination on the other side, with 200 steps down and 200 steps back up. If it weren't for the regular opportunities to restore morale with ice creams, pasties and pints of Doom or Rattler, it could be a very daunting experience.
We usually walked in May or early June to make the most of the profusion of wildflowers that grow along the coast path. Even their names are very evocative: devil's-bit scabious, bladder campion and of course the exuberant pink sea thrift that clings to the cliffs and stone walls. However, it was in October 2021 that we were able to return to south west Cornwall, for my first holiday in two years thanks to the Covid-19 hiatus.
Whilst studing the Ordnance Survey map for St Ives and Penzance to pinpoint our holiday cottage, I traced a finger round the coast path to St Loys Cove and felt I had to check something in my coast path diary of 2003. The nagging feeling was right: on a long hot day all those years ago, we had erroneously turned left instead of right at St Loys and found ourselves fairly well inland. This had enabled us to appreciate the impressive Merry Maidens stone circle (local lasses turned to stone for dancing on the Sabbath, at least in the Victorian version of its history), but meant we had skipped a fairly lengthy stretch of the coast path itself. We had come into Lamorna on a bridlepath and followed a lane down into Mousehole to reach that evening's bed and breakfast.
This meant a great treat: a beautiful section of coast path from St Loys to Mousehole that we had never walked, rather like discovering an overlooked chapter in a much-loved book after many years. A plan was immediately hatched: one day walking from Lamorna west to St Loy, and another from Mousehole back to Lamorna. The Lord was on the side of the righteous and we had beautiful sunshine, which sparkled on the sea and made it seem like a summer holiday in southern Europe. This year, Malcolm and I were joined by Morag, our current Golden Retriever and now the fourth to have walked the South West Coast Path with us.
We parked at Lamorna, famous for the Lamorna School of artists that lived and worked there in the early part of the twentieth century, including Harold and Laura Knight and the famous equestrian artist, Alfred Munnings. A Big Brother numberplate recognition system and a sum total of only £4 of coins on us meant we had to complete our walk and remove the car within four hours, or face a £100 fine. We were using Classic Canes thumbsticks
for this section of the South West Coast Path as it was a relatively short walk without rucksacks. On a week-long walk, with the added weight of rucksacks, I would always favour a trekking pole in each hand for stability on the rocky paths and to reduce the strain on the knees and other joints.
Heading west from Lamorna Cove, the first section is an energetic scramble over boulders, with dramatic views out to sea over the granite rocks. Once past this section, the path opens up into classic coast path walking, high up and undulating, with exhilarating vistas opening up before and behind. Blue hydrangeas abounded. At St Loys Cove, which is notable for its beautiful white boulders, we found the fateful divergence in the coast path where we had turned inland: these things happen when you are tired and plodding along with a rucksack. This time we fared better, not losing the path for another 30 yards when, our lesson of 2003 not learned, we continued up the more well-worn path and missed our turning back to Lamorna. And so it was that we found ourselves visiting the Merry Maidens stone circle by accident for the second time in 18 years. We did just make it back to the car park in the nick of time.
The next day, we parked at the appealing village of Mousehole. There is a beautiful harbour and a famous children's story about the Mouser of Mousehole, created by one of the many artists who come here for the scenery and the ravishing light. There are many cats in the village so we said hello to a few, sat in the sun by the harbour and finally found our way out through the houses onto the coast path. Another glorious day: October in the sunshine certainly beats a lacklustre summer. There is an interesting little woodland of Monterey Pines on the coast here at Kemyel Crease, notable as the only patch of trees along this part of the coast and a special habitat. On our visit, there were large, snow white mushrooms looking rather other-wordly under the trees. However, the most dramatic encounter with Nature was a wasp nest on the path fifty yards further on. Disturbed first by Morag, the furious inhabitants stung her face and ears, and stung me too when I was flicking them off her. We ran for it, and spent a couple of hours licking our wounds, literally in Morag's case.
We climbed down through dramatic rocky outcrops to Lamorna Cove, where we paddled in the warm sea and watched some short, portly divers set off in their wetsuits. Other walkers and dogs arrived, full of waspy tales of woe, so we had to gather our courage for the return trip back along the path. This time we were ready for them and sprinted past their nest before they could attack again; I do fear for the girl who passed in very short denim cut-offs....
Back in Mousehole we lunched at the Ship Inn, home of the famous stargazy pie (pilchards in a pie, their heads poking through the pastry as if gazing up at the stars). The Ship Inn lost its landlord, Charles Greenhaugh, in the Penlee Lifeboat disaster of December 1981: he was a member of the lifeboat crew who perished attempting the rescue of those onboard the stricken Union Star. There is a memorial plaque to him on the outside of the pub and the tragedy is still well-remembered in these parts.
The South West Coast Path is one of the great treasures of the UK. The history, scenery and physical exhilaration make it a very special experience for the thousands of people who walk some or all of it every year. To find a bonus section 11 years after having thought we had completed it was wonderful. Some parts are very remote and challenging, some are very easy and accessible: I urge you to take up a Classic Canes trekking pole or two and try some of it for yourself. Life is short, and little things like a day's walking on the coast path often turn out to be the most important things of all.
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