Portreath to St Agnes on the South West Coast Path

This August, I walked 66 miles (110 km) from St Ives to Padstow on the west coast of Cornwall, over 5 and a half days. This is day 3 of the walk — Go back to day 2 (Lelant to Portreath).

I left Portreath and went back to the clifftops via the road since the foot path from the harbour was closed due to landslip risk. My legs were a little stiff, but the steady climb got me moving again. Most of the way to Porthtowan, the next village, I walked in the space between fenced off land and the cliff edges, and was constrained to a single path through the heather. If I looked to the fence on my right I felt hemmed in, but the ocean was always open on my left.

Once up on the cliffs, the walk to Porthtowan was flat, with just a single dip where a stream emptied out to the ocean. It was still fairly early and I hadn’t seen anyone all morning, so at the bottom of the dip where the prickly heather and gorse finally gave way to grass I ducked into as hidden a corner as I could find — but still rather open — to have a pee. (No bushes to go behind!) Of course, it was just after this that I saw an oncoming walker at the top of the other side of the dip, and I was glad of my timing.

After this, and for much of the rest of the morning, the path went past disused mining infrastructure — parts of buildings and fenced-off old mine shafts. I couldn’t imagine leaving behind the ocean air to go work each day in an underground mine, and I’m grateful that’s not a prospect I face.

Just before Porthtowan, I spotted another side path to a cove – this one much more obviously a path and much less scary than Basset’s Cove the day before, with steps cut into the rocks and a rope strung up as a handrail. It had clouded over again, and the beach and cliffs were less beautiful than Basset’s Cove, but considering how busy Cornwall is with tourists in summer, there’s still a slight thrill in standing on a beach where the only footprints are your own.

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I had this beach to myself

After coffee in Porthtowan (I cannot get over how civilized walking in Britain is!) I pressed on to Pel Porth, where I stopped to watch the hang-gliders and eat the huge slab of bacon and egg pie I’d bought in a bakery at Portreath. I was joined briefly by a large brown dog who came bounding over when he saw someone with food out here on the cliffs — his name was Douglas, I learned when his humans caught up to him and tried to convince him to leave the poor lunching walker alone.

Over lunch, I read a couple of chapters of Island Home by Tim Winton, which I’d started the day before. Winton is a writer from Perth, and in Island Home he explores how the landscapes of Western Australia have shaped him as a writer, as well as the interaction between landscape and Australian culture. His descriptions of the south coast of Western Australia had been playing on my mind as I’d walked that morning, and I realized the overcast coastal landscape in Cornwall was making me feel nostalgic for family summer holidays on “the hilly, crenellated coast […] covered by olive-silver heath growing […] low and spare” under “a sky as grey and cheerless as a sodden army blanket”.

The cover photo of this post is one I sent to my sister with the comment, “Could totally be near Albany, right?”
“Something’s a little different,” she replied.
Actually, all the details were wrong. The type of rock (slate, rather than granite), the vegetation (heather everywhere; no trees), the traditional industry (mining, not whaling, and no freight ports around), the shape of the cliffs (too vertical). But somehow it all still felt vaguely familiar. Maybe the ocean is the ocean. Or maybe I was doing the inverse of the British colonists who came to Australia and saw British landscapes because they hadn’t learned how to read the foreign scene in front of them.

In the afternoon, the sun came out, making the colours of the vegetation stand out against the blue of the ocean. I was wearing long trousers to give my slightly pink legs a break from the sun, and by the time I got to Trevaunance Cove, I was hot. This was the point where I’d turn off from the path to head inland to St Agnes, where I was staying the night, but before I did, I wanted to take advantage of a beach with public toilets where I could change into my bathers.

The water was cold, somewhere between “refreshing” and “biting”. There’s a reason most people swimming in the ocean in Cornwall wear wetsuits! The waves were gentle and the breeze wasn’t too strong, though, and even though I’m not much of a beach person usually, I loved the chance to be in the ocean. Near me, a man was teaching his granddaughter how to body board, and I was reminded of trips to the beach with my Oma and with my Dad. I didn’t stay in the water long, but my quick dip made me feel like I’d enjoyed another full day on the coast.

On to part 4 (St Agnes to Newquay)…


2 thoughts on “Portreath to St Agnes on the South West Coast Path

  1. Pingback: Lelant to Portreath on the South West Coast Path | Where's Zoe now?

  2. Pingback: St Agnes to Newquay on the South West Coast Path | Where's Zoe now?

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