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Portreath to Lelant

Wednesday 20th June 2009

16 miles of walking including 15.5 miles on South West Coast Path

Our night at the Portreath Arms was better than I'd expected it would be; we weren't disturbed by noise from the bar or by those enjoying the 'taste of italy' and we had a pleasant breakfast served by a helpful girl. The other guest was a rather difficult elderly frenchman who was only just coping; I'm not sure if the major problem was his lack of English or his age. There were some convenient shops just across the road -  the post office was useful both for posting goodies to Helen and for purchasing fruit and we bought cheese and bacon nibbles for lunch at the Portreath Bakery. The weather was dry but cloudy and the sun came out later in the day.
We left Portreath at around the same time as the friendly German or Dutch (?) couple we'd met yesterday. Towards the top of Battery Hill the route was unclear; they took one route and we took the other - and we were right! The correct route descends into a little valley before climbing Western Hill (with wonderful views).
We passed Western Cove and 'Ralph's Cupboard' which,  when viewed in a particular direction, appears to be surrounded by a circle of razer sharp edges. There was one steep descent and ascent followed by a more minor one, but then the walking as relatively level, with a number of car parks and, in one place (around Derrick Cove), the path had been widened and levelled to allow wheelchair access. Godrevy Island with its lighthouse was in view for much of the time and the walking was pleasant enough.
We stopped for ice cream at Hell's Mouth cafe and then walked out towards Navax Point and round it to Godrevy Point. There's another car park just around Godrevy Point and it was a Saturday, so there were more people about. However we found the ideal picnic spot, on rocks overlooking Godrevy Island. Apparently Godrevy Island with its lighthouse was the inspiration for Virginia Woolf's 'To the lighthouse'. The guidebook also told us that the lighthouse marks the landward end of a treacherous line of rocks known as 'The Stones'; these have caused many wrecks, including one in 1646 in which some of King Charles I's personal effects were lost.
We walked through the car park and along a path close to the road until we reached the Red River, so called because it once discharged thousands of tons a day of red iron oxide, residue from the tin mines. The water also contained small particles of cassiterite lost from the mines' processing operations and some of this was recovered by a series of tin-streaming works in the Red River valley (though most got through to the sea bed). It was interesting to see how closely juxtaposed the industrial areas and tourist areas are here; there were spoil heaps by the Red River just inland from the busy beach, and a chimney by the car park at Gwithlan Bridge. We crossed the Red River by a footbridge and then walked across the first part of the beach that stretches from here towards the Hayle Estuary. There were lots of surfers and good views behind us to Godrevy Island and across the bay to St Ives.

The official route to Hayle goes through the ‘towans’ (Cornish for sand dunes) but the guidebooks suggest that you may prefer to walk along the beach if the tide is out. High tide was approaching so we thought we’d have to walk through the dunes - the route through Gwithian Towans and Upton Towans was OK; the signposting was reasonable (we just got lost once) and the dunes were well established so we were walking on grass not sand, and the other plants were pretty.
We passed some deserted buildings (an explosives factory?) and found our way beneath the caravans and chalets of Upton Towans, but then we found ourselves in a car park not shown on the map and the only obvious exit point led down to the beach. There was still about an hour until high tide and it was obvious that there would some beach left even at high tide, so we decided to walk along the beach for the next mile or so. This was a definite improvement. There were still people surfing but the kite surfers were packing up for the day (their ‘kites’ are huge). We walked on the last of the harder, damp sand remaining from the previous high tide; this had just about been covered by the time we left the beach by the lifeguard’s hut at Black Cliff.

We rounded the little headland, with good views across the Hayle Estuary to the point we’d reached two years ago on a walk from St Ives. The route of the coast path into Hayle wasn’t terribly clear but we found it OK; first of all we passed wooden chalets then we reached a harbour area. We emerged at the Harbourmaster’s Office and crossed the swing bridge – the guidebooks make much of this (apparently it is very wide – having been built for the Great Western Railway’s broad gauge railway – and it is the oldest swing bridge in the UK with its machinery intact) but we couldn’t see what all the fuss was about. However the rest of Hayle, which is where we now were, was a pleasant surprise. Some of the guidebooks are distinctly less than complimentary (e.g. the Atrium guide says ‘This sprawling village wins no points for prettiness and its industrial past is all too evident’) but we found it a fascinating place. Hayle used to consist of two quite separate industrial communities, with bitter rivalry between them. Hayle was best known for its foundries, with Harvey’s being pre-eminent. They made engines for mines and also provided iron work e.g. for Istanbard Kingdom Brunel’s bridge across the Tamar. The engineer Richard Trevithick was also associated with Harvey’s.
We reached Hayle around 3pm and decided to walk on to Lelant (since we’d also walked from St Ives to Lelant and back this would leave us with a day free to do something else tomorrow). We visited Hayle Station to check the times of trains to Penzance tomorrow (with the idea of walking back along St Michael’s Way) but with it being a Sunday the first train wasn’t until 11.30am and buses didn’t look much better. Bother! However we did discover that there was a bus back from Lelant Post Office to Hayle at shortly after 5pm today, so if we carried on walking we’d be able to get back.
The guidebooks are also damning of the road walking around the Hayle Estuary but actually it was fine. The road was busy out of Hayle and along ‘The Causeway’ [you can go round South Quay but we didn’t do this because we wanted to be sure of catching the bus back from Lelant] but the views across the estuary at low tide were lovely. We turned down a minor road at Griggs Quay and then along the main road to St Ives for a little while, before following a minor road to Lelant Station. We photographed the station and the old station building, now a tea shop, where we had stopped for a drink when we were here two years ago. Then we climbed up through a pretty wooded areas to the main road to await the bus.
The bus dropped us back at Hayle Viaduct and we walked past the shops and along Hayle Terrace/Commercial Road for about half a mile to ‘Fernleigh’ on the right-hand side. It wasn’t yet 5.30pm, but Lynn Refford seemed anxious that we were late. We later discovered that her husband Mike was ill so she was both worried about him and having to do all the work – and she very thoughtfully gave us a room on the front of the house because of nesting seagulls at the back. The guesthouse was very pleasant and in the evening we celebrated the fact that we had ‘closed the gap’ and so walked the South West Coast Path from Minehead to Penzance, with fish pie and a pint of Rattler cider at the Cornish Arms just down the road. On the way back to Fernleigh we stopped to admire another little tidal inlet just across the road.