Walking the South West Coast Path Part 1 – Penzance to St Ives

Well – as lockdown continues to enforce my hermitage I thought I’d live vicariously through 2020 Emma and Sean – and note down a long distance walk we did in late summer. ‘Late summer’ is probably quite a stretch actually considering we completed the bulk of the walk in October, which leads me to my first piece of advice:

You probably don’t want to walk the South West Coast Path in October

– Write a citation? Why WordPress? This is just me talking… oh fine: Emma Mulliner, Feb 2021

But anyway – that’s what we did! And a fair few weather-based shit sh*ws ensued. But anyway, let’s start at the beginning..

What’s the South West Coast Path?

I could take my time and write this up properly from my perspective, but why bother when Wikipedia has already done the hard work!

The South West Coast Path is England’s longest waymarked long-distance footpath and a National Trail. It stretches for 630 miles, running from Minehead in Somerset, along the coasts of Devon and Cornwall, to Poole Harbour in Dorset.

Mr Wikipedia

On this trip, we decided we wanted to walk from Penzance to Padstow – one of the reasons being we really like alliteration. And this post will deal with the first leg – Penzance to St Ives.

The journey took us four days, which is quite funny considering it only takes 18 minutes to drive…

Getting to Penzance

The train from London to Penzance takes about 5 hours and was pretty cheap as we’d booked it a fair while in advance. Penzance is the furthest you can go on the lower South West coast by train, and it’s also where the ferries depart and return from the Isle of Scilly. (We actually went to Scilly ourselves to kick off this trip, but that would be for another blog post I reckon!).

In Penzance, we were staying near the train station, and after we’d gone to Scilly and back, we were ready to go on the adventure!

Or were we? Well not quite actually. Even though we hadn’t already started the walk, I was already getting a bit aggy about the weight of my backpack as I’d done a bit of walking on the islands. I ended up asking my friend Rosie if I could post loads of excess stuff to her, as otherwise I didn’t think I was going to get very far. That included posting:

  • My bird spotting book
  • Binoculars
  • Nail polishes and nail file (cummon Emma..)
  • Converse
  • Jeans
  • And loads of other unnecessary and v weighty items

So here’s my second piece of advice when you’re going on a long-distance walking trip:

Don’t take nail polishes.

Again, Emma Mulliner. Ground-breaking stuff.

When our packs were lighter, we set off on the first leg in earnest.

Penzance to Porthcurno: 11.5 miles

The first day was pretty idyllic in the morning! Blue skies, fairly easy walking (although the second half of the day was quite hilly) and nice things to see. You start off walking alongside Penzance Promenade, and via a lovely town called Mousehole.

The hills did start to get a bit intense in the afternoon, but it was all doable. And I maintained my good cheer by thinking about the buns of steel I was surely honing and eating loads of snacks (potentially counter-productive but never mind).

We ended at a lovely campsite overlooking the open air Minack Theatre and Pedn Vounder beach. Both quite famous – and both utterly lost on me as I was bloody knackered and couldn’t even rouse the will to take a photo. (I thought I’d be able to take some snaps the day after – but the weather had other plans.)

When we arrived the owner told us a bad storm was coming in. Excellent. So we pitched up by some hedges, ate a rehydrated curry, and waited for the storm to come in. Pure relaxation.

Porthcurno to Cape Cornwall/St Just: 11.4 miles

The weather in the night was quite bad, but we still both got a reasonable sleep. Then we started packing up in the morning in the pouring rain, which is never fun – especially as I almost got blown away by unpegging the tent whilst it still had the poles in, and creating some kind of super-powerful box tent that nearly blew me up and away a la Mary Poppins.

It was this morning Sean realised he hadn’t brought a waterproof jacket. But luckily we had a back up – a Big Bus Tours cagoule. The height of rambling attire.

I ask you..

We persevered on the trail through the rain.

By early afternoon, the rain had cleared, and we arrived at what (in retrospect) I can now confirm was one of the nicest beaches we saw – Nanjizal. This had already been recommended to me by a Cornish man from work, and it did not disappoint!

We eventually got to Land’s End, which is kind of like Blackpool or Morecambe but with the added ‘attraction’ of an Arthurian-themed light and sound show narrated by Brain Blessed which scores 2.4 out of 5 on TripAdvior – and a bizarrely-placed cliff-top petting zoo.

We didn’t stick around for long; just enough for a big hot dog and the decision that I was going to get a taxi to our hotel in St Just cause I wasn’t up to much leg-wise, whilst Sean continued on via Sennen Cove and the Penwith Heritage Coast to Cape Cornwall – before turning inland to St Just.

As you might remember from the first leg of my loosely named ‘cycling trip’, I’m pretty fluid with modes of transport. So had no qualms getting a taxi on this walking trip – or the bus later on!

One of the few shots you can get at Land’s End and not pay £20 for.

As soon as I got to the hotel I set about air drying the tent from the night before, and doing a bit of washing. When Sean ambled along a couple of hours later we went out for tea and then stayed up watching telly. Nice.

Cape Cornwall to Zennor Head: 11.2 miles

We started the day walking past the National Trust Levant Mine and Beam Engine. According to Wikipedia, its ‘main attraction is that it has the world’s only Cornish beam engine still operated by steam on its original site’. So now you know!

A snap from the front this time! Variety is the spice of life.

If I’d thought the weather was shit before this day, I was in for a rude awakening. As this day tore it a new one! There’s no point going into details but Sean – without a proper waterproof – looked like a drowned rat and had the charisma of one too. (That’s probably as this was the day Sean developed an ear infection from all the rain buffeting into his ear on the coastal side – which he had for about three months. Really selling this walking holiday lark aren’t I?)

The weather was so bad we ended up leaving the coastal path to get on a main road until we reached a pub – The Gurnard’s Head in Zennor – which looked suspiciously like a slice of heaven after walking in the sodden rain for four hours. They didn’t let us in at first (we hadn’t booked and they have social distancing/Test and Trace measures in), but eventually we were let in for a nice warming pint!

We then caught a bus to St Ives. Not the purist approach – but a much dryer one.

Zennor Head to St Ives: 6.5 miles

So this should have been the walk for the next day, and I want to keep it in for clarity. But as discussed we had taken a bus to this point. And what a point it is!

On the first night in St Ives, as we were there unexpectedly, we stayed in a great B&B – the Beachside Guest House – run by a nice man called Bob. He gave us two recommendations for some good places to eat in St Ives, and neither disappointed! The Seafood Cafe is a semi-posh fish restaurant on the main shopping strip, and the ‘Beach Cafe’ which is right opposite Tate St Ives. Both were brilliant.

For the next two nights, we stayed in a hostel we’d booked in advance that was pretty cool – it had a bit of a sea-ship theme. And because it’s the Covid Times, we had a dorm room to ourselves. Perfect for hanging out washing, boiling water for Pot Noodles and feeling glamorous.

As well as mooching around the shops and art galleries on our rest day, we also went to the Sloop Inn (one of Cornwall’s oldest pubs), the Tate St Ives, and the Barbara Hepworth Museum. I hadn’t realised the B. Hepworth Museum was a fully separate entity from Tate St Ives, so we hadn’t booked our tickets in advance. But we managed to get in around 3pm. So my top tip here is:

Make sure you book tickets for things ahead of time if you’re interested!

Stick with me, kid. I’m going places.

The next blog post will talk about the second leg of the journey – St Ives to Padstow, with a cheeky bit of Tintagel thrown in. At my current rate of pace, that should be live around Sept 2023. See you soon!

Looking back over St Ives as we were leaving – TTFN!

Ideas for other trips

Thinking of doing a South West Coast-based walking tour yourself after reading this blog (are you mad?)?

A great trip would be to get the train into Penzance, then walk to Newquay to get the train back; or visa versa. Taking you slightly beyond where I’ve ended the blog here.

On reflection this would have made the trip much easier for us – but because we are like ‘treat-orientated’ rescue dogs, approximately 70% of our focus in life is food-based. And so we wanted to continue the walk beyond Newquay and it’s convenient train station, all the way to Padstow/Pad-stein, (very near Rock for Paul Ainsworth’s place) and then on to Port Issac for the Nathan Outlaw restaurant.

The food at Stein’s The Seafood Cafe in Padstow was awesome (thank you Mags and Don for the treat!). But we didn’t actually manage to get to Ainsworth’s or Outlaw’s due to general time mismanagement and – again – not booking enough in advance.

By the time we finished, we were well past Newquay and had to continue North-East to get to Barnstaple train station – which took a whole day and three separate buses! We weren’t in London anymore Toto.. You live and learn.

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