Post 156: 11 April 1998 (note – many of the photographs and drawings were taken/drawn later and some even EARLIER than this walk!) )
I had my traditional weigh in (update – by chance I am exactly the same weight today as I was then!). I Arrived at York station at 11.15am and I was delighted to find my 11.43am train already at the station. There was no one on the train and it was very pleasant to be able to pick my seat instead of having to fight for one as is the more usual occurrence. Due to incredibly heavy rainfall there was some doubt as to whether the train would go right through to Penzance. The previous day it stopped at Birmingham and buses ferried passengers to Bristol to circumvent the floods. However, fortunately the line was clear and the train sped down and through Bristol and onto the attractive coastal section beyond Exeter. Between York and Exeter the train had filled up with passengers but beyond Exeter it began to empty again so that by the time I reached Penzance at 8.27pm my carriage was empty.
My first stop in Penzance was at the fish and chip shop. Why is it that fish and chips always taste so much better with a sea breeze? I walked past the harbour to see the Scillonian in dock. The Trinity House National Lighthouse Centre situated in the former Trinity House buoy store was closed and would be saved for another day. On reaching the art-deco style open-air Jubilee Bathing Pool I briefly admired the Penzance promenade lights reflecting in the sea, the promenade being the only one in Cornwall. I began to ascend Chapel Street where, some twenty-two years earlier, I had been employed by Penwith District Council in an office with a direct view over the harbour. One of my starkest memories of those years was of watching a dolphin playing with a small rowing boat, pushing it from left to right in the harbour.
Chapel Street contains some fine examples of Regency and Early Georgian houses and the imposing 19th-century Church of St Mary. Notable features of the church include the alms box of 1612 from the old St Mary’s Chapel, the huge East Window installed after a fire in 1985 showing amongst other things the Scillonian, the font of serpentine dating from 1874, and the Gallery running around three sides of the church. Within the grounds are the remains of a cross from an early Chapel that stood around here in 1425.
The road is full of sea-faring history with the Turks Head pub, the Admiral Benbow, and the Maritime Museum. The Union Hotel is reputed to be the first place in England that news of Lord Nelson’s death and his victory at Trafalgar was announced by the Lord Mayor at a ball. One of the houses in the street, identified by a plaque, was the home of the mother of the Brontë sisters. Marie Branwell, then twenty-nine, moved from Penzance to Yorkshire in 1837. For me, this is not the only link between Yorkshire and the Land’s End Peninsula as both landscapes have an affinity with wildness and the elements of nature. The rather unusual ornate Egyptian House was passed; now accommodating a National Trust shop. At the top of Chapel Street, near the Market House, is the statue of Sir Humphry Davy holding a miner’s safety lamp, which he invented. Penzance was his birth-place.
As I turned left along Alverton Street the pubs were beginning to fill with youngsters, eager to have a good Saturday night out. My priority was to find the hostel and I walked swiftly on. Just before the Pirate Inn I turned right along a narrow dark lane signed Castle Horneck Youth Hostel. The trees and shadows waved eerily in the breeze but, after crossing the Penzance by-pass, some lights could be seen ahead through more trees. I soon reached the youth hostel, an early Georgian manor house, to enter the reception and dining room adorned with flags from around the world. There was also a huge menu board advertising their speciality of freshly baked pizzas; I vowed there and then to have one when I returned the following week after my walk.
My dormitory was occupied by four middle-aged men who had that day walked from Penzance to St Just, a distance I intended to do in two days. Even allowing for the fact I would be carrying a pack they had grossly underestimated the effort required and one of the group had nearly collapsed on his return to the hostel. I doubt whether any of them had enjoyed the day’s walk but their consolation was in the distance they had covered. However, walking in Cornwall should never be a foot-march; it is too varied and beautiful for that.
12 April : Penzance to Treen. 9 Miles.
My wife had been in Penzance the week before visiting friends and when I had asked whether I needed to bring shorts or a body warmer she had said shorts. She confidently informed me of this from her mobile telephone as she walked back from St Michael’s Mount and could see men in shorts. She must have been enjoying the sight as she did not notice the tide was coming in until water was lapping around her shoes! In the end I decided to take both.
I had an early night and woke as dawn broke in anticipation of the day ahead. Looking through the steamed up window I could see trees blowing in a strong wind and horizontal rain; not very encouraging. After a full English breakfast I left the hostel just as snow started to fall. This was to say the least somewhat unexpected for the Land’s End peninisula.
By the time I reached Newlyn Art Gallery the snow had turned to sleet. Situated on Newlyn Green overlooking St Michael’s Mount the Gallery provides a programme of contemporary art and related events throughout the year. It centres on artists and exhibitions of regional, national and international importance. In Edwardian times the area was famous for the work of artists of The Newlyn School – Stanhope Forbes, Frank Bramley, Lamorna Birch and others who brought this rocky coast and its fisherman to the walls of the Royal Academy. At the time Newlyn was of greater artistic significance than St Ives. Unfortunately, on this occasion, I arrived too early to gain access.
After crossing a bridge leading to the harbour, ‘The Pilchard Works’ came into view off a road to the right. This is Britain’s only working salt pilchard factory. Cornish pilchards have been sold to Italy since 1905 though exports from Cornwall started as early as 1555. Shoals of up to thirteen million fish were caught in one haul. Wandering around the works the packing pressing of pilchards into wooden boxes and barrels can be seen in the 1926 Press Room as well as the salting of the fish using the traditional Cornish ‘cure’ that has been used since Elizabethan times. It is possible to walk over some of the original concrete tanks, each of which used to hold sixteen to twenty tons of fish, ‘roused’ (mixed) with salt and layered up to nine feet deep. Boards were placed every three feet to prevent the tank man disappearing below the brine when the fish were taken out. There are seventy-year old screw presses that are still in use and which ensure most of the fresh water is extracted giving Pilchards a shelf life of over a year if kept chilled. The sample tasting is an unforgetable experience!
Other images from Newlyn Harbour
Following the harbour road, a memorial dedicated to Louisa A M McGrigor was soon reached. She died on British Red Cross service March 31, 1917.
It was time to leave the coast and ascend along quiet lanes to the village of Paul. The lanes are briefly left to cross a field from where there are superb views towards Mounts Bay with St Michael’s Mount rising prominently from the blue sea. The tower of the church of St Pol-de-Leon comes into view, this at eighty-six feet being one of the tallest in Cornwall and a landmark for sailors. The church dates from rebuilding at the end of the 16th century, the previous church having been set on fire and largely destroyed by a Spanish raiding party.
In the wall of the churchyard is a monument to Dolly Pentreath, a Mousehole fish-wife who died in 1777 at the reputed age of 102. Dolly was believed to be the last person to converse solely in the ancient Cornish language as her native tongue. In the church there is granite boulder memorial weighing a ton, brought from Lamorna Cove. On it is inscription commemorating the eight men of the Penlee lifeboat, the Solomon Browne, from Mousehole who gave their lives attempting to save other seamen on the night of 19th December 1981. On top, the ship’s lantern was made by unemployed youngsters from Cornwall.
After leaving Paul, a steep descent led into Mousehole (pronounce Mouz’l) where I rested by the picturesque granite-walled harbour for an icecream, I was accosted by a National Trust volunteer actively recruiting new members. The name Mousehole is believed to originate from the mouth of a cave in the cliff to the South of the village. I wandered through the narrow streets adorned with craft shops and galleries before ascending a narrow lane, Ragginnis Hill, to pass the Mousehole Wild Bird Hospital and Sanctuary. Founded in 1928 by Misses Dorothy and Phyllis Yglesias, the Sanctuary has become famous especially after the Torrey Canyon disaster when over 8,000 oiled birds passed through the Hospital. The RSPCA took over the hospital in 1953 but at the end of February 1975 withdrew financial support. On 28th July 1976 the Santuary became a charity in its own right funded by voluntary contributions. In July 1978 the Mobil Oil Company presented a cheque for £10,000 to put the sanctuary on a firmer financial footing.
I soon left the lane along a rough track leading to the pleasant coastal path and the Kemyel Crease Nature Reserve (Cornwall trust for Nature Conservation), a lovely wooded area adorned with wild flowers.
After rounding the headland of Carn-du the picturesque but popular Lamorna Cove came into view. I stopped in sun-shine at the harbour to have lunch whilst watching the divers come and go on small boats. One of the delights of this walk is the descents to little coves which are all different, each having its own character. In Victorian times, since 1849, Lamorna Cove has been a centre for for quarrying high quality granite. A timber jetty was first used to load the granite on to ships but this was replaced with stone pier in 1854. Heavy seas often delayed loading of stone and put moored vessels at risk. The price of Lamorna granite became prohibitive and transport by sea was abondoned in favour of overland transport to Penzance. The quarries ceased productions in 1911. Although there is still some evidence of quarrying nature has restored the beauty of the cove so that it has become popular with artists and tourists. My lunch in these pleasant surroundings was cut short by dark clouds and a hail storm.
However, back on the coastal path the sun came out again to lift my spirits. I soon arrived at Dominack, the former home of the late author Derek Tangye, whose books became best-sellers.
Derek and his wife gave up successful jobs in the rat race of London to live at this isolated farm. They struggled to live growing daffodils and other local plants in the face of Atlantic storms and in writing enthusiastically about their animals, including cats and a donkey, they acquired many fans.
At this point I decided to leave the coast and head back in almost the same direction as I had come. To me walking is not about getting from A to B. It is about finding the best and most interesting route and I wanted to visit the ‘Merry Maidens’ stone circle, apparently the best preserved of its type in the County of Cornwall.
I soon found myself back in the wooded valley of Lamorna near the village hall. I followed the narrow lane until reaching a pleasant bridleway off left, leading past Menwinnion Country House for the elderly and retired. I then followed the quiet country lane, leaving it shortly after passing the converted Borah Chapel to cross a field to the B3315. Crossing the road carefully the Pipers standing stones can be seen in the fields beyond.
Although on private land gates do give access. The two huge granite standing stones are the largest menhirs (Cornish word for standing stones put up in the prehistoric period) to remain in Cornwall, being fifteen and thirteen feet. They are aligned north-east to south-west which is thought to represent the twin aspects of a male deity.
I then followed the B3315 which was shortly left by a stile to cross two fields, the second of which contained the ‘Merry Maidens’.
This is a precise circle of 19 evenly spaced erect stones (as I and Cotton in 1826 only drew 18, I suspect one went missing), dating from 2400-800BC, with the tallest stones to the south-west and the shorter ones to the north. It is thought that they reflect the phases of the moon, sun and life. The circle is also known as Rosemodress, the Boleigh Circle and as Dawns Men, Cornish for ‘the stone dance’. The popular term ‘Merry Maidens’ is a folk name relating to numerous fanciful stories of young girls turned to stone for dancing on Sundays. The true purpose of the stone cicles is unclear but may have had cultural or religious significance.
A little further along the B3315 is Tregiffian Barrow.
This is an excavated entrance of a megalothic chambered tomb built during the third millennium BC in the Neolothic period. The northern half of the tomb is obliterated by the road. In the 1960’s the eastern flanking stone to the entrance was found to have a random design of thirteen circular and twelve oval ‘cup marks’. This stone has been replaced by a cast replica by English Heritage.
Continuing along B3315 Boskenna Cross was reached opposite a lane to St Buryan. For many years the cross was buried below the Cornish hedge until it was ‘discovered’ again in 1869. The front of the cross has a figure wearing a tunic with the feet turned outwards. The Saxon King Athelstan granted a charter of extended sanctuary to St Buryan enabling wrongdoers to remain in safety within a mile or so of the church, rather than within the normal sanctuary of the immediate confines of the church. There are a lot of ancient crosses around St Buryan that may have been sanctuary markers.
It was now time to return to the scenic coastal path and so I headed across fields to Boskenna and St Loy, the latter valley being lush with trees, flowers and other vegetation, it being almost sub-tropical.
A climb out of the valley leads to undulating coastline which tests tired legs but a rest can be had at the tiny hamlet and cove of Penberth where a number of the fisherman’s cottages are owned by the National Trust.
One further climb and Logan’s Rock comes into view an eighty-ton once rockable stone which in 1824 was dislodged by Lieutenant Hugh Goldsmith and a dozen sailors from his cutter. Such was the outrage of locals that he had to pay a princely sum to have it re-instated. The headland, ‘Treryn Dinas’, on which it is situated was once an Iron Age fortress settlement; four lines of ditch and rampart were constructed between third and first centuries BC and remnants still remain.
Opposite the headland I took the pleasant path through fields to the village of Treen, my overnight stop. After passing the small Post Office and shop my bed and breakfast was located and I was delighted to be able to have a soothing shower.
An American lawyer, Rosemary, was in the adjacent room and we decided to try out the local hostelry, the Logan Rock Inn, together. She was not feeling well and declined the food on offer. I was ravenous and devoured my meal quickly. She seemed to be suffering from a mixture of jet lag, over exposure to South Westerlies and exhaustion from walking the cliff paths. It is very difficult to ‘do’ the Penwith peninsula in a week from the States as she had planned. She had even arranged for a one man company called ‘Lightfoot’ to transport her belongings between her accommodation. Having carried my 28lb pack up and down the cliff paths I was quite envious and decided that in a few years time it might be an option to consider. However, I would hate losing the sense of independence of carrying all my needs on my back, not true backpacking with a tent of course as I was staying in hostels or bed and breakfast. ‘Lightfoot’ turned up at the pub to ask how my American acquaintance was getting on. I was impressed by this personal service and was not surprised to find he was doing a roaring trade.