Treen to Penzance
“At length, as we plodded along the dusty roads, our thoughts became as dusty as they, all thought indeed stopped, thinking broke down, or proceeded only passively in a sort of rhythmical cadence of the confused material of thought…”
-Henry David Thoreau, ‘A Walk to Wachusett’ (1843)
When I was planning this trip, I was worried that the third day, concluding in Penzance, might be tame following the strenuous glories of the first two days.
I needn’t have worried. It’s an uneventful day, but tougher than I thought.
The clocks have gone forward in the night for British Summer Time, and the weather instantly responds, giving us bright sunshine from a clear blue sky as we shoulder our packs and retrace our steps through Treen and down to the coast. The Prof is much recovered. The air is thin and cool and fresh.
The walking continues in a very different vein to the north Cornwall variety. The Path has palpably changed character, probably as a result of the more sheltered, south-facing aspect of the coastline here. We stride across grassy hilltops and by the time we reach St Loy’s Cove, we are surrounded by much more vegetation than on the bleaker north coast, with trees, yellow gorse and a faint aroma of wild garlic. The sound of running water from hillside streams is more prominent than the noise of the waves.
There is no shortage of mud, however, and we are pleased when we find ourselves some way inland on a broad track that soon reaches a road among trees. I say to the Professor, “It hardly seems like a coast path at all, at this point.”
It turns out that this is because it isn’t a coast path: when we consult the map, we find that we have lost the route. We have to navigate back towards the coast on a scruffy field path lined in places with brambles and heaps of old tires.
(I think the Path has grown tired of my faithlessness. We don’t have the bond we used to have. It’s my fault – I turn up out of the blue and for a few days at a time the Path is the complete focus of my attention. Then I disappear for months on end, before expecting to pick up where we left off. I can understand why it plays mean tricks.)
Past St Loy’s and on past Boscawen, the Path sticks close to the shoreline, with large boulders to be clambered over, more mud, and a succession of sharp ascents and descents. The morning’s walk is turning out not to be the brief stroll I expected. It is quite hard going to Lamorna Cove, where we scramble down from the rocks to find – glory be! – that there is a cafe, where we stop for coffee and cake.
After Lamorna Cove, the best of the day’s walk is behind us. We climb out of the Cove over a combination of boulders and mud. At the top, the Path bestows on us a pleasing view of Mount’s Bay, including St Michael’s Mount, which is further away than the end of our journey.
Unfortunately, the Path also bestows on us another hour of arduous, slow plodding over boulder-strewn slopes, with pockets of clinging mud, until at last we stroll downhill into Mousehole, where we stop for lunch in the Ship Inn. Mousehole was once described by Dylan Thomas as the loveliest village in England. But there’s a darker side: the landlord of the Ship Inn, we discover, was among the crew of the lifeboat Solomon Brown, which was lost in 1981, in a tragedy that devastated the village.
After Mousehole, the walk is mainly along the road, through Newlyn and into the slightly faded Victorian elegance of Penzance. The scenic Path is over, for now.
We travel back to London by the Night Riviera sleeper train. This is an adventure in itself, although not one involving a great deal of sleep.
On the journey I reflect on progress. Since April 2016, I have walked 273 miles from Minehead. According to the South West Coast Path website, in two years I have almost completed the fourth week’s walking (of their recommended eight).
Despite my sense of having rounded the corner at Land’s End, I have 368 miles to go.