You always know you’ve been for a good stomp when you get home and find mud half way up your backside, smeared across your forehead and sand in your ears. Well, this was my experience of a good walk recently anyway.
In my eyes, mud is wonderful…until you try to walk 6 miles in the stuff. When I was a kid, playing in the mud was always fun and getting dirty was all part and parcel of growing up in the countryside. Even now, there is something therapeutic about getting my wellies on and squelching through puddles of sludge. I’ve even experimented with a mud bath when I needed a bit of pampering because I’d read somewhere how beneficial it can be for the skin! I’m always willing to try new and wacky things!
This particular walk was one I’d really enjoyed organising and looked forward to. I was approached by a lovely lady who had been helping to organise a wonderful Cornish event called the ‘Fal River Autumn Festival – an 11-day festival dedicated to celebrating autumn in, on and around the River Fal in Cornwall. Crunchy leaves underfoot, crisp air that catches the back of your throat, leaves falling all around you (try to catch one, it’s lucky you know!) and the cosy feeling of merging flip flops into boots, barefoot into thick socks, t-shirts into oversized woolly jumpers and bobble hats in a multitude of colours. Autumn is my favourite time of year so any chance to celebrate it, I will – and especially through walking! There were all sorts of interesting events going on each day (suitable for all ages), from guided walks to open water swimming taster sessions, foraging expeditions and beach cleans. There were park runs, river cruises, Halloween adventures and you could even learn how to bake bread! In amongst all these festivities, I had been asked to arrange a guided walk through my walking group ‘Cornish Ramblings’ and to pick somewhere of my choosing, as long as it was around the River Fal. I decided upon a place I hadn’t frequented often and knew I wanted to visit; Portscatho.
Portscatho is an idyllic coastal fishing village on the Roseland Peninsula and lies in the South-westerly corner of Gerrans Bay. It sits within the ‘Cornwall Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty’ and during this walk, I could see why. Heading north from Portscatho along the cliff path you will stumble across not one, not two, not three or four, but FIVE stunning beaches with all sorts of hidden gems. The terrain on this particular day was extremely muddy and although I was slipping and sliding all over the place, this could be forgiven by the breath-taking expanse of blue water that lined my vision the entire way. The walk had previously been arranged for the day before but because of Storm Brian throwing a tantrum, I decided to change it to the following day where the weather forecast looked considerably better and not so blustery. After walking the first mile I was extremely thankful to have changed the date because the coast path was sometimes inches away from a sheer drop and one 60mph gust of wind could have potentially sent you hurtling over the edge. However, don’t be put off by this because as long as you stay to the left on these particular narrow edges and up on the grassy banks, you will be completely safe. After Storm Brian had calmed down it made way for sunshine, blue sky and white fluffy clouds. Even with all the mud it was a perfect day for a Cornish coastal walk.
Rugged cliffs and endless tantalising sea that tempts you with every footstep, it was hard not to run and jump in, especially after getting a little hot and sweaty on some of the ascents. In actual fact, we met a group of blokes along the way who were down from London on a lads break and were here running the coastal route FOR FUN!! Well, on this particular day it was more like fast walking because as one of the lads had unfortunately found out, running in mud is not easy and you are very likely to slip over!! But another one of the lads had just been for a dip and teased me with how refreshing it was. I didn’t venture in this time but watch this space…
The great thing about this 6 mile circular walk is that although it’s not too challenging, you do feel like you’ve been for a good hike. The inclines are occasionally steep but short-lived so it’s not long until you’re panting at the top with a lovely flat path in front of you to get your breath back. The views are immense and on a clear day, the beauty can be quite overwhelming. When it’s not been raining, the paths will be less muddy so you can really get a good stomp on and if you’ve got dogs, there are a couple of lovely beaches along the way where they’re allowed all year round called Porthbean and Porthcurnick. My little Cocker Spaniel, Purdy, had a whale of a time running up and down the beach! If you’ve got kids then there are many rock pools they can explore and streams they can splash around in. Although it’s a tidy 6 miles, there are enough places to stop for respite along the way and plenty of sand to build sandcastles or dig holes to distract them with.
One hidden gem that you’ll definitely want to visit is the Hidden Hut which can be found, tucked away, along the coastal path near Portscatho overlooking Porthcurnick Beach. The great thing about this walk is that the Hidden Hut is at the start and end of the route, so you can visit it twice! If you’re a bit of a foodie or just hungry and in need of refreshments, then this hidden treasure is a must have place to visit. It was around 2pm when we were nearing the end of our walk and the smell of freshly made soup (it was apparently Soup Sunday!) filled the air and drew me towards a gaggle of people laughing, eating and looking out across at the glistening sea. People clutching cardboard mugs of soup to their chests in an attempt to keep warm were dotted all over the beach and a large group congregated around the hut – I could feel the laughter and joviality before I’d even seen or heard it and the mood was infectious. The Hidden Hut is a ‘small café with a big difference’ and is, thankfully, open 7 days a week. During the day they serve a small menu of simple, freshly-made refreshments and you can just turn up, no need to book! If you want to take your food and drinks down onto the beach then they offer a takeaway service (just make sure you clear up after yourselves!) and all their menu is cooked using an outdoor stove and an indoor bakery oven…not a deep-fat fryer in sight! The menu is sourced using local ingredients and made fresh each morning and they also offer ticketed events to their open-air feast nights, bring your own plate affairs and adhoc lunch events. Although it’s not licensed, do not fret for you can also bring your own alcohol. Phew!
Throughout this walk, you will never get bored of the scenery. If you’re a lover of enchanting sculptured coastlines and never ending shorelines then this, amongst many others in Cornwall I’m smug to say, is the walk for you. Our coast paths are something to be admired and on days when it’s muddy, you can begin to see the work that needs to go into it to keep them safe and well maintained. Something as simple as adding a handrail and steps in particularly steep spots, keeping hedges and brambles cut back and making sure there haven’t been any fallen branches or debris that cover the pathways can make all the difference to an enjoyable and safe walk. But someone needs to look after them, so funding is required to keep our coastlines in tip top condition! During the Fal River Festival, the South West Coast Path (SWCP) were also promoting a challenge to try and get people on board to raise money for our beloved coastal paths. So I thought, why not? As well as walking as part of the festival, I also decided to raise money for SWCP.
Donned out in our striking red SWCP Challenge t-shirts, a small group of us began our walk from Portscatho and made our way to our first rest spot, and the halfway point of our hike; Pendower Beach. With it being a National Trust beach, not only does it boast a mile of beautiful sand and spectacular views of the coastline, it is also home to a quirky little beach café with an equally quirky name; Shallikabooky Beach Hut. Here you can refuel on light snacks, pasty’s, ice creams and hot drinks, including a delicious hot chocolate with all the trimmings. Set back from Pendower Beach, you can sit and enjoy the views as you rest your feet. There is even shelter if it does happen to rain!
With lots of rockpools and low cliffs, Pendower is a popular beach for families and at low tide, joins with Carne Beach making it an even lovelier place to explore.
Along the way from Portscatho to Pendower you will also have the opportunity to venture down to three other beaches as well as traipse through fields where horses graze and like a bit of attention. There is so much to take in along the way and that’s the beauty of this walk. On this particular day, with it being so muddy, the tops of my thighs were beginning to burn from clenching so hard in an attempt to prevent me from slipping over, so I was just about ready to sit down when Shallikabooky Beach Hut appeared – perfect timing! With it being a National Trust beach this also meant there were facilities we could use before we started the final half of the walk, preventing me from having to wild wee – not that wild weeing is something I am averse to doing seeing as I’ve done it more times than I care to admit!!
After refuelling and relieving ourselves, we started the journey back along the coast. The great thing about this walk is that you have two options. You can either go up higher and back around through fields and along the road, or in our case (and because we got a little lost in a field!) we decided to clamber over a rickety gate and make our way back along the coastal path so we could continue gawping at the views. I use a really great app on my phone called iWalk Cornwall which is full of over 200 walks you can download. It’s a great app because you can follow the simple directions or use the GPS map and it even gives you some information on the history of your location which I love to shout out randomly to my walking group. I tend to use this app on the majority of my walks because not only am I am prone to getting lost, it’s also chocka full of so many walks I have never done before that it’s given me the opportunity to really explore my beloved home of Cornwall. So if you’re ever in Cornwall or are already lucky enough, like me, to live here, then I recommend you download it now!
Even though it is a circular walk, when the weather is as delicious as it was for us, walking back the way we came seemed the best option. If you do decide to go back along the road though, you can pick this route up fairly easily and it’s still just as lovely. As we reached the end and made our way back across Porthcurnick Beach, my legs were satisfactorily achy and my lungs were burning happily and as we staggered up the steps towards the car park, I couldn’t help but take one last look at the sea and breathe in that proper Cornish air knowing I was going to sleep like a baby that night!
‘Ah! Seaweed smells from sandy caves
And thyme and mist in whiffs,
In-coming tide, Atlantic waves
Slapping the sunny cliffs,
Lark song and sea sounds in the air
And splendour, splendour everywhere’.
Sir John Betjeman
All details of the route I used, the South West Coast Path, Shallikabooky Beach Hut and the Hidden Hut can be found below – and if you’re in Cornwall and fancy joining my walking group ‘Cornish Ramblings’ for a hike then I’ve thrown that link in too!