Penzance to Porthleven

Wednesday 21st April 2010
15 miles along South West Coast Path
The National Trail Guide describes the leg from Penzance to Porthleven as 'an easy stretch' which 'could be walked by anyone able to cross stiles and walk along a beach'. In contrast, the South West Coast Path Association Guide, whilst describing the stretch from Penzance to Marazion as easy, and the section from Marazion to Prussia Cove as moderate, considers the stretch from Prussia Cove to Porthleven as strenuous. The truth is probably somewhere between the two descriptions; the section from Prussia Cove is mostly OK but it has some strenuous patches. Overall it was a most attractive and varied walk, on a lovely sunny day.
We had sorted out our luggage before breakfast, so it wasn't a problem when we went down to breakfast at 8am to discover that our luggage was to be collected by Luggage Transfers SW at 9.15am. Breakfast, cooked by Chris, was delicious - I had an 'Old Vivian' sausage and tomato, and we met another couple of guests who appeared to be staying at The Tremont for work. We left at 8.55am and walked into Penzance, stopping to photograph the statue of Sir Humphrey Davy and buy filled rolls, apples and tissues, then we cut back down to the coast.
The Coast Path leaves Penzance from the corner of the car park by the bus station, just before the railway station. The way out of Penzance, by way of a concrete path, wasn't terribly inspiring, but it soon improved and the views towards St Michael's Mount were good. We passed Penzance Heliport and gradually edged our way around St Michael's Bay to Marazion. Just before Marazion we passed the nature reserve that we'd crossed at the beginning of St Michael's Way last year, and we enjoyed watching swans, rabbits and a heron. A coach had just arrived at Marazion, and the ferries were beginning to plough backwards and forwards to St Michael's Mount (it being high tide) but I'm sure it was nothing like as busy as it becomes later in the summer.

The South West Coast Path Association Guide rather has it in for the stretch from Marizion to Prussia Cove saying "Walkers are treated badly at the beginning of this section, as there is no path at all for a while and then the first coastal section is on a beach...walk along the beach (but not when the tide is very high) and ascend some hideous metal steps." Actually there was a footpath by the road on the climb out of Marizion and splendid views to St Michael's Mount. We then followed a driveway and path down to the beach; the steps at the end weren't particularly beautiful, but the beach itself was attractive and very peaceful.

We meandered our way around the coast to Perranuthnoe, with a diversion inland between Trenow Cove and Basore Point because of a cliff fall. The path doesn't actually go into Perranuthnoe, but the top of the church tower was visible across the fields for some time and the views back to the village and to St Michael's Mount from a rather different angle were both attractive. There were pretty wildflowers - thrift, sea campion, primroses, violets, bluebells, orchids and (as I later identified on i-spot) squill, plus masses of white-flowered hawthorn and yellow gorse. We continued towards Cudden Point, with some climbing. We stopped to photograph a young bird of prey and saw what we thought were horses on the skyline in front of us. They were indeed horses - the 'small herd of Shetland Ponies introduced onto Cudden Point by the National Trust to help with grazing'. They didn't show much interest in grazing, but they were suitably photogenic.

We stopped for lunch just past Cudden Point and then climbed up and down around Piskies Cove and Bessy's Cove (Prussia Cove), home of smugglers; Prussia Cove is named after the King of Prussia, also known as John Carter, a notorious smuggler. Slightly further on, Porth En Alls is the base for masterclasses of the International Musicians' Seminar. We walked above Kennegy Sand, with some sand visible eventually, as the tide went out. The rock here is slate-like, with caves visible on the beach and a track down the the sea cut through the rock.

We rounded Hoe Point and descended to Sydney Cove at the start of Praa Sands (where 'Praa', we discovered later, is pronounced 'prey'). I imagine that the beach is horribly busy in season but it was almost empty today. We stopped for a cup of tea from a kiosk and then had some difficulty interpreting the instructions. They were literally correct - past the Welloe Rock Inn and then up to the car park - but the Welloe Rock Inn looked more like a beach cafe than an inn and the instructions didn't mention the crossing of a stream on the beach (which was quite tricky), so we initially tried to get to the car park from behind the Welloe Rock Inn (which doesn't appear to be possible). Anyway, having eventually found our way to the car park, we crossed Praa Green (scrubland), with a dogleg left and then right in the middle, before turning right along a private road through the Sea Meads private estate, full of holiday homes.

At the end of Praa Sands we climbed, crossing first Lesceave Cliff and then Rinsey Head, now walking on gorse-covered granite. We reached the restored engine house of Wheal Prosper - slightly difficult to photograph because a group of people were eating lunch right next to it! However we preferred the isolated engine house remains on Trewavas Head in any case.
The next leg of walking was quite stenuous, with a steep descent to a stream and then a climb up again. Then the route followed a narrow path long the cliff edge around coves, climbing up above each one, walking parallel to it, then descending. We were now on slate again, with seabirds nesting on the cliffs. We eventually reached the white house that had been visible in the distance for some time and from here it was only a short distance to Porthleven, passing a granite cross commemorating those who drowned at sea, who were buried along the cliffs before the passing of Gryll's Act in 1808 allowed them to be buried on the nearest consecrated ground to where their body came ashore.
We turned the corner and Porthleven Harbour was in front of us, with its prominent clock tower building. We accidentally took the upper road not the lower road down to the harbour and here we found a huge beer tent being erected for the Food and Music Festival that was happening the following week. We walked along the other side of the harbour to the 'castellated town council building with its clock tower' - and as seen on Wycliffe. We turned left along Cliff Road, climbing away from the coast path, and then left onto Peverell Terrace. Janice and Frank Hallam and their two dogs welcomed us to Seefar Guest House with a cup of tea (and coffee for Richard) and we chatted about their children (one daughter waiting to hear if her holiday flight is on or off - UK airspace has just been reopened following a six day closure becuase of ash from an Icelandic volcano) and the chickens they are collecting at 6.30pm. Our room had an amazing view (shown in the photo on the left) - you really could see far. In the evening we walked back into the town (oops! - village). There was a good choice of places to eat; we opted for the Lugger Bistro where we had delicious baked cod a Helford River Cider and the company of just two other couples (a young couple expecting a baby and a German couple who couldn't remember their PIN). As we walked back to the Seefar Guest House we admired the sunset, though unfortunately it was not in the right place for photography.