Monday, 6 May 2013

South West Coast Path Section 37 Looe to Whitsand Bay


Looe Station Welcome
Another re-walk today as I complete the second half of the section from Looe to Plymouth that I had once walked as one day.  This time I completed the section from Looe to Whitsand Bay and finally encountered my first rain of the trip!

Looe Harbour
I had a slightly more convoluted bus journey today as I had to take two buses via Liskeard, which meant rather more bus time than I would normally like.  However, I managed to get to Looe at a fairly decent starting time.  I had wanted to arrive by train but opted for the bus as the connections weren’t very convenient.  I did get off near to Looe station though and took a look at the very basic little terminus before heading on.  I’d forgotten that it is a modern affair and in fact doesn’t occupy the same location as the original station, which was once sited where the police station is now.  Nevertheless the line is a survivor of the Beeching cuts and has been thriving in recent years.

The Streets of Looe
I wandered into town and past what looked to be utter chaos as the roads were in the process of being resurfaced, which meant all sorts of closures of side roads and temporary traffic lights.  It did not look fun for drivers and I was glad that I had alighted from the bus early.

The Old Lifeboat Station
I got some provisions in town before wandering down through the narrow streets of this lovely town.  Looe is quite rightly a tourist honeypot in this part of Cornwall although on this rather miserable and grey morning the town seemed to be full of only locals and not tourists. I felt rather self conscious as I wandered down towards the seafront.

Looe Beach
Despite the drizzle that had already started there were a few kids on the beach digging in the sand seemingly untroubled by the weather.  Good for them I say!  I took a look at the lifeboat stations, old and new.  Both are striking looking buildings and it was good to see that a use had been made for the old one without being knocked down.  I climbed up the steps away from the seafront and along a pleasant if very damp tarmac path towards Millandreath.  This is a less appealing end of Looe, dominated by a rather uninspiring looking holiday park. To be fair it probably looks a lot better on a sunny summer’s day than it does on a grey spring one.

Ellie's Haven
The climb up and out of Millandreath was quite a tough one up a steep road, which eventually became a bridleway.  A hint of what was to come was provided by a sign warning of an uneven path and I could see what the problem was just ahead.  Part of the path had subsided and I guess with a bit more rain will probably give way entirely.  When I finally got to the top of the hill that is exactly what did happen to the next section, which I remember passing below the monkey sanctuary.  Sadly this whole section had been closed and I faced a very boring trudge along the lanes to get to Seaton instead.  I thought about wandering along the cul-de-sac of path still open but thought better of it.  The sheep in the next field, together with a curious robin all stared at me possibly wondering what my intentions were.

Crumbling Path
Seaton does not have the charm of its namesake in Devon, although the approach down the road suggested that it would be quite popular on a sunny day.  Even on this grey and slightly drizzly day there were a few brave souls on the beach.  I have come to the conclusion on this trip that there are a select group of people who just think ‘bugger the weather’ and get on with whatever it is they had intended doing.

Ramsons Flower
I crossed the low valley and headed along the narrow and rather scary road into Downderry.  This was a slightly more interesting looking place than Seaton and also had more of a community feel, with churches, a school and a shop.  Its main reason for being though is to provide housing with sea views and the village seemed to go on forever, strung out as it is along the coast road.  I didn’t even have the out of going down onto the alternative route along the beach front as that path was closed!

Cheeky Robin
Eventually after a bit of a scary walk along the road ducking into the edges as cars came along (the pavement was very intermittent, mostly non-existent), I finally started climbing up the hill at the back of the village.  I was most relieved to see that my onward route did not include any more road walking, for I was by now most frustrated by how much I had had to do.  I had remembered this section being heavy on road walking, but this has temporarily been made a lot worse by all the path closures.

Being Watched
The next section for me though was the highlight of the day.  The weather had relented and I plodded up the hill to one of the highest points on the south coast of Cornwall (a rather surprising place to find it!).  There were hints that I might even get some sunshine on what had been a resolutely grey day so far.  Climbing up to the top felt good as I got lungfuls of fresh air at the top.  The views along the coast were what I had come for and these were fantastic, unlike the earlier section along the country roads.

Dog Violet
At the summit of the hill I wanted to find St German’s Hut, mentioned in the guide book.  I spotted the long barrow in the field adjacent to the path and keenly looked around in the scrub on the coastal side.  It was just about possible to spot some ruins but they were completely overgrown and barely visible.  It was sad to see how the place had become – seeing an old picture of it later suggested that it was quite a place.  Originally built as a shooting lodge it later became a teahouse (although must have been a nightmare to service).  I am guessing that it has had no use whatsoever since at least World War II.

View above Downderry
From the hut it was mostly downhill to the next village, Portwrinkle.  It had by far the most character of any of the places I had visited thus far today.  I should by now be enjoying the great sweep of Whitsand Bay ahead of me but in truth it was largely lost in the mist.  As I approached the village I noticed a funny little white box in the field next to me.  Apparently this was once some kind of navigation beacon, but looking at it now I doubt whether it has been used in a while.

Approaching Portwrinkle
When I entered the village I notice a fair amount of birdlife.  I had already noted a few blackcaps en route but I was also serenaded by robins, chaffinches, blackbirds and sparrows as well as the normal range of gulls and crows.  I couldn’t help but smile as I noted what looked like a bit of a turf war between a crow and a gull on top of a chimney pot of one of the houses.

Stand Off
At Portwrinkle I was entertained by the surfers offshore.  There was one particular chap that I enjoyed watching that seemed to be quite proficient.  I am curious as to how these guys find the time to go out to play when the surfs up?  At the far end of Portwrinkle I passed by the Whitsand Bay Hotel, a striking looking building that surprisingly wasn’t originally built here, but in Torpoint about 10 miles away.  It was moved 30 years after being originally built, something of an undertaking in the early 20th Century!
Portwrinkle Surfing

I climbed once again up to the top of the hill outside Portwrinkle to continue alongside the golf course that must be quite testing when the wind blows!  Here I had a disaster with the camera as my battery ran out.  I then discovered that I had brought the ‘wrong’ spare, finding the one in my camera bag also out of juice!  I therefore had to walk the last couple of miles without any pictures to show for my efforts.
Whitsand Bay Hotel

It was especially disappointing as further on I was able to use an opportunity denied me last time I came this way.  A new path continues to the coastward side of Tregantle Fort, still very much a Ministry of Defence establishment.  Last time I came this way the fort seemed to be almost permanently flying the red flags denoting that firing was taking place in the rifle ranges.  Now the situation seems to be different – access seems more often than not.  This must be a relief to walkers as the previous route along the road was pretty unpleasant. 
Looking Back to Portwrinkle

The views of the fort are quite different from the coast side than from the road.  I was most disappointed that I couldn’t have taken any and despite my best intentions of coming back to take a few later on I never managed it and will have to do this another time I guess.

Whitsand Bay
This is a most frustrating section of the walk and I understand why it is often combined with the onward part into Plymouth as that section would definitely dilute its long sections of road walking and make them less memorable.  To have the batteries on my camera run out seemed to add insult to injury…

3 comments:

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  2. Wonderful photographs and it has been a pleasure reading your blog :D

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    Replies
    1. Thanks very much - pleased you liked it :)

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