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Sunday, 13 October 2013

South West Coast Path - Helford to Coverack

Porthoustock

An 11 mile walk along the South West Coast Path between Helford and Coverack

A fairly easy section of the Cornish section of the South West Coast Path but it still presents some spectacular and rewarding scenery. With rivers to cross and charming fishing villages nestled in hidden coves this makes a well worthwhile full days trail.

Helford to Coverack Walk - Essential Information

Walk Statistics:

Start point
HelfordView in OS Map | View in Google Map
End Point
CoverackView in OS Map | View in Google Map
Total Walk distance
11.5 miles
Walk difficulty
Moderate - not many climbs
Terrain
Mainly footpath with some road walking
Obstacles
Paths around the woodland along the Helford estuary can be boggy as can the lowland areas before Coverack

Accommodation:

Mill Lane Camping and Caravan Park, PorthlevenView in OS Map | View in Google Map
Description
Mill Lane Camping and Caravan Park, Mill lane, Porthleven, Cornwall TR13 9LQ

Transport:

First Group - Bus Service
Service Number
35 - First Group 35 service linking Helston and Falmouth via Helford passage
Timetable
First Group - Bus Service
Service Number
2 - First Group 2 service linking Penzance, Helston, Falmouth and Truro
Timetable
First Group - Bus Service
Service Number
400 - First Group 400 service linking Falmouth and Helford passage
Timetable
First Group - Bus Service
Service Number
36 - First Group 36 service linking Helston and Coverack
Timetable

Walk Data

Date of Walk
2013-06-22
Walk Time
09:30 to 15:00
Walkers
Griffmonster, Kat
Weather Conditions
Overcast with some drizzle later in the day

Walk Notes

Overview of 2013 expedition to Cornwall

2013 saw the continuation of our sectional walk along the South West Coast Path with the years aim to get around to Hayle, filling in the sections missed during 2012 when the weather curtailed plans to complete the distance through to Lands End. The weeks walks began with the missed section between Helford and Coverack. As with the previous year a base camp was set up at Porthleven which was central to the walking area and gave easy access to Cornwall's excellent public transport network which would be used to navigate to and from each days walk. Not only did the services provide all the links but there was also a weekly family ticket available from First Group for a mere £30 which provided excellent value for a weeks unlimited travelling using the First Bus Cornwall network. This ticket was available for two adults plus up to two children, which was not a necessity, and could be purchased from the driver.

Unlike previous expeditions to the South West, this visit did not involve pre-booked campsites. This decision was taken following the previous years bad weather where three sites had been booked and the walking schedule had to be maintained despite the bad weather that ensued. The result was several diversions from the official route when the weather closed in resulting in safety concerns along some of the cliff sections. Without any pre-booked site the schedule could be adjusted according to weather conditions and with the visit being mid to late June the main summer holiday season was not underway leaving ample space on most sites. The first and only site that was used throughout this expedition was at Mill Lane in Porthleven, a site discovered the previous year. Although now undergoing an upgrade to the facilities it was nonetheless open for business and an ideal place to stay with the main bus service between Helston and Penzance running along the road 100 yards from the site and the village within 10 minutes walk. In addition, Porthleven is such an idyllic Cornish fishing village and a pleasure to explore. Although larger than the isolated picture postcard villages encountered throughout the Cornish section of the South West Coast Path, Porthleven has the advantage of having all the vital facilities including a small supermarket, three pubs and a charming harbour which features a distinctive church at its head and some fantastic views down towards the Lizard in one direction and out towards Marazion in the opposite direction. If there's ever a place to return to in Cornwall then personally I would select Porthleven as one of those places.

Getting to the start of the walk

There are a couple of bus routes to get to Helford Passage. Both the 35 service from Helston to Falmouth and a combination of the number 2 service to Falmouth and then the 400 service will deliver the traveller to Helford Passage Turn which is the closet public transport gets to the ferry service across the estuary. For this particular walk the latter alternative was used, and although the longer of the options it nonetheless arrives the earliest.

The bus stop appears to be in the middle of nowhere but can be identified when the bus reverses into the lane down to the ferry. It is about half a miles walk down the lane which ends with a deep descent to the shoreline of the estuary where there is a pub and a little kiosk from which the ferry across to Helford vilage can be booked. The ferry is a small motorised boat that offers an on demand service with the first crossing advertised as being at 10am. Despite this, when we arrived at 9.30am it was already taking a fare across the estuary and on return the ferryman noted how busy it had already been during the morning.

The ferry takes no more than a few minutes to cross the estuary and there is a then a walk into the village to find the first waymarker for the coast path. One of the first sights is an old pub called the Shipwright Arms with a had written plaque adorning its whitewashed wall declaring 'Enter with caution! This place can cast a spell on you. We were only meant to stay for one summer but a year on and we're still here' which seemed so true with this picturesque landscape that has a somewhat bewitching and luring charm.

The first part of the walk navigates out to Dennis Head, starting along a little lane which then leads into woodland along the hillside for virtually the entire distance. The week prior to this walk had seen a lot of rain and, indeed, the previous night the heavens had opened with a torrential downpour resulting in this woodland trail being particularly boggy and slippery. It wasn't long until we encountered another soul heading gingerly in the opposite direction. This elderly man offered us some words of advice on the way ahead, stating that it got no better and it had taken him 45 minutes to walk from Ponsense Cove where he had sought safe haven in his yacht during the previous nights storm. He needed to get supplies for his yacht including water and money and had to head in to Helford by foot before putting back out to sea. He obviously knew the trail as he stated 'it usually only takes me 15 minutes' but then I glanced at his footwear which was no more than everyday brogues. With decent boots we reckoned on completing the distance a little quicker, but in reality it was tough going and a little relief to get to the open meadows at Dennis Head.

Rivers to cross

Past Dennis Head the path turns to navigate around Gillan Creek. The guide book states that at low tide it is possible to cross the creek using the stepping stones. I was a little unconvinced by this instruction after reading Ruth Livingstone's account which she had posted on her blog a few weeks prior to this expedition. She had spent a lot of time in attempting to cross the estuary and had ended up having to retrace her steps and walk around the creek. As we walked along the lane that followed the creek it was clearly low tide with a small river of water flowing straight down to the sea and another riverlet that flowed across the far side of the estuary with the two stream meeting to form a wide river. The crossing point was marked by stepping stones across both streams of water with a large mass of seaweed covered stones separating them. On the opposite side of the estuary a family was attempting to cross the far stream. The man had managed to get across and he was coaxing his wife and two daughters to follow. This gave an impetus to attempt the crossing ourselves and without much consideration we sauntered across the seaweed covered beach to the obvious stepping stones. These were covered in slime and very slippery. After placing one footing the method was quickly disguarded. A man and a young boy were paddling a little further downstream where the waters appeared to be more shallow. The decision was taken to remove boots and socks and wade across at this point. The water was cold. The riverbed was stony and hard to tender feet. However it was not deep at this point and the current provided no major obstacle resulting in successfully crossing the stream in a couple of minutes.

From this point we headed over towards the family who were still trying to cross the far stream. There were more stepping stones here, the centre ones completely submerged, and they were equally as slippery as the first group. The man was holding out his hand to his wife who was cautiously stepping through the flowing waters. The water was a lot deeper here and had more of a flow to it than the first encounter. The man and his two daughters gave the positive proof that it was possible and the wife was sheepishly edging across with a lot of encouragement from her family. This crossing involved rolling up trouser legs, tying bootlaces together and hanging them around my neck and then cautiously edging out into the depths with hands held for support of Kat who followed me. Once again it was stony underfoot which pricked and jabbed at the feet. The current had a keen flow to it and each step had to be firmly footed before the next step was taken as any slip and the waters would surely take the balance and immerse us both. Even with trouser legs rolled up above the knees the waters still wet the cotton such was the depth, and as they lapped and wetted the next step bought the bank closer and shallower waters. It was a challenge but it was worth it and a good feeling of accomplishment once across the other side where a dry spot was found to sit down, dry the feet and replace the walking gear back on our feet.

The route out of the estuary was easily identified by a set of stone steps. As we made our way towards these a lone figure headed down from them and out towards the wide part of the estuary where the waters met. This figure, a man who was wearing shorts with long socks and boots and a rucksack and aided by two walking sticks headed towards the river without caution or consideration. No hesitation. No surveying the way ahead. He kept on at the same pace as if no river existed. Unnerved. We watched for a minute expecting him to change course or to come to a halt to assess the situation but he just kept on going. Maybe he was local who knew the estuary. Maybe he had walked this estuary many times before. Maybe he just didn't care. Maybe he was just a foolhardy adventurer with no fear. Maybe he was blind and was under the impression this was a major thoroughfare. Whatever the reason he seemed confident enough so we left him to it.

Cornish weather forecasting methods

Porthallow marks the half way point to the entire South West Coast Path with 315 miles covered and 315 miles to go. This is marked by a stone sculpture located on the edge of the pebbled beach of this small fishing village which is worth checking out before having a pint of ale at the Five Pilchards Inn. Opposite this sculpture is John's Weather Forecasting Stone ceremoniously hung on a the walls of a whitewashed building facing the beach. This device consists of a sizeable stone hung from a metal fixing on the wall and a chart behind the stone providing a translation of the observed state of the stone into the prevailing weather conditions at that moment. A simple but effective tool for all budding meteorologists and probably more reliable than the traditional Suffolk seaweed method.

It was worth testing this device and therefore I made a careful observation of the stones current condition. I noted that the stone was dry, its movement was still, not even a slight perturbation from the vertical line it hung from and finally looking at the ground it was obvious that there was shadow no cast. Armed with this information I could then use the translation index to determine the weather. I soon concluded that it was not raining, not windy and the sun was not shining. That matched the weather exactly. I was impressed. A most useful device. Though I did admit it was not totally fallible as if someone actually stole the stone it could easily be misinterpreted as a 'Tornado'.

Mud glorious mud

From Porthallow the path navigates inland to meet the coast again at the old quarry workings at Dean Point. There is a broad track around the quarry which makes some easy walking. It was through this section that a lingering and persistent drizzle began to fall. This had been threatening all day so it was not unexpected and we had to feel a little lucky in getting this far in the dry. This sort of precipitation is soul destroying - it hangs in the air and gets into all crevices of clothing making one feel decidedly damp without being actually wet. Droplets gathered and fell from my nose like a bad cold. Spectacles became useless for such practical purposes of clear vision. Without spectacles vision was blurred due to short-sightedness. With them it was blurred by a wash of water droplets. This is the time when one really did wish that automatic spectacle wipers existed in this universe. If they did exist then it is an article that I have yet to discover. In all the times I have visited opticians they have given me options of two-for-one offers, special tint variations, bifocals, varifocals, designer frames and prescription sunglasses but never ever have they offered rain resistant glasses with wipers.

Thoughts turned to John's Weather Forecasting Stone back at Porthallow. It made me wonder what state the stone was in at this moment in time. Maybe it was now wet which I could reference on the photo I had taken and conclude that this persistent annoying drizzle was in fact rain. Without the device I would never know for sure. Maybe someone will invent a portable version of John's Weather Forecasting Stone and this could be used in conjunction with rain resistant spectacles. Armed with such devices, when vision got a little blurred, one could reference the portable Johns Portable Weather Forecasting Stone, determine the weather was raining and then with confidence switch on the wipers to the rain resistant spectacles.

This part of the walk is along the low cliffs and it leads out onto Lowland Point which is a large flat headland covered in boggy and marshy ground. So far, despite the muddy conditions on parts of the path a clean and dry route had thus far been negotiated and there was even a lingering shine remaining on my new leather boots. Therefore, extra care was needed to be taken in getting across this area to keep it that way. Fortunately a myriad of objects had been left across the area which could act as stepping stones across the worse areas of bog. Sticks. Stones. All manner of jetsam and flotsam that could give a pivot or footing over the mud and mire that intercepted the right of way forward. At times it got so bad we had to retract and attempt an alternative route - the ground was open giving plenty of options.

Further onward the path became more defined and the options became limited with only alternatives being the beaten down vegetation that led to makeshift paths behind the headgerows. It was along this part that we encountered another young couple heading in the opposite direction. We met by a large quagmire of thick mud. They edged around this on a steep grassed bank to one side. There was just enough room to inch along and then a leap onto the ground where we stood facing them. They stopped before continuing, perching on the grass as they related that the path soon became a lot better which was not the same advice we could offer in return. Gazing at the mire that faced us an obvious way forward presented itself. A large stick had been placed almost central to the length of the mud and this could be used as a pivot point to lurch across the obstacle. With the couple watching I sprang forward with right foot leading in a move that was almost instinctive. A leap followed by a second leap from the pivot point all done without hesitation and in quick succession. The theory being that even if ones weight sunk the stick a little the time which it was used would be insufficient to plunge one into the mire. This idea did have the assumption that the mud was no more than a small pool where water had collected and mixed with the clay and dirt of the ground. What I had not bargained for was that this was a deep well of mud and the stick was merely floating on the surface. This being the case my left foot did not so much as pivot but rapidly sank all the way up to my knee. Luckily the other foot landed on a firmer surface from which I could wrench the leg from the mess. It was kind of obvious that my boot would have became muddied and soiled from this operation, but still thinking that miracles do happen I gazed down at article. It could not be seen for the cake of mud surrounding it. Unfortunately a miracle had not happened. The boot, my socks, and my trouser leg all the way up to the knee joint were camouflaged in wet clinging mud. It was not a nice experience. I could feel the mud seeping down the top of the boot. The couple laughed. It was a comical sight. Kat fared no better, the route she chose was just as disastrous.

The remaining distance into Coverack was accompanied by the distinctive squelching sound of mud immersed boots. Out of politeness we sat on the patio of the cafe at Coverack where we ordered two deserved pots of tea, our soiled feet hidden under the metallic table. With an hour until the bus there was time to clean up a little using the sea, the grass and anything that would remove mud. The result was that we could stand head held high on the bus that we were not dragging mud across its decks and then with confidence saunter into the Blue Anchor brewpub in Helston in full knowledge that our steps would not leave a muddy trail behind us

John's Weather Forecasting StoneSculpture marking the half way point to the South West Coast Path
On the left John's Weather Forecasting Stone; On the right Sculpture marking the half way point to the South West Coast Path

Directions

The South West Coast Path is well defined by the distinctive acorn logo waymarkers.

The bus stop for Helford Passage is at the turn to the road that leads down to the ferry. Conitnue down this road and the ferry can be booked at the little kiosk on the shoreside in front of the pub. The ferry operates daily and crosses to Helford village where the path continues alongside the esstuary. beyond Helford the route navigates through woodland through to Dennis Head where the path doubles back down to St Anthonny-in-Meneage. There is a choice at this point. When the estuary is at low tide it can be crossed with care. Use the stepping stones as a marker for the points to cross but it is better to wade across rather than use the stones as these are very slippy. The path on the other side continues up the steps and continues to follow the estuary round. At other times the route leads around the estuary and is marked by the usual waymarkers.

The path follows the coast through to Porthallow. It then leaves the village by way of the road alongside the Five Pilchards Inn. Keep to the road until it bends round to the right after which there is a track. Follow this up past the buildings and across the fields where it meets a road. Continue straight ahead. KEep baring left through Trenance and follow the road through until ta waymarker directs off to the right and down the hill to Porthoustock.

Keep to the road out of Porthoustock, up the steep hill and to the left at the junction. There is a footpath on the right that cuts diagonally across the fields and rejoins the road beyond. At Rosenithon take the left and follow the track back down to the coast. Keep to the main track in front of the quarry. This eventually turns to a footpath across lowland point which can be boggy. Beyond Lowland Point the path start to climb up the hills to meet a track that leads down intoCoverack. The bus stop is at the point where the surfaced track meets the main road into Coverack.

View towards Dennis Head
View towards Dennis Head

Pubs

Five Pilchards Inn, Porthallow View in OS Map | View in Google Map

Image of pub
Address
The Beach, Porthallow
Website

A charming Cornish fishing village pub with an abundance of artefacts covering the walls of the inn displaying the villages history. The name of Th Five Pilchards is derived from the traditional method of counting piclards in five.

It is believed that the pub is over 300 years old. The present building is an extension to the original forge and stable that still can be found on the premises.

Food from snacks to full meals is on offer. Bed and Breakfast is available. This is a freehouse with Cornish ales.

Review

Although very quiet on this particular lunchtime visit it was nonetheless welcoming. Sharps Doom Bar was available and a very good example of this fine ale as well. It would have been good to have spent more time at this lovely old inn but with a schedule to keep we had to make tracks.

Washing boots at Coverack
Washing boots at Coverack

Features

St Anthony-in-MeneageView in OS Map | View in Google Map

The parish church is dedicated to St Anthony and is situated near Gillan Harbour. It is medieval though parts are of different dates, a window in the chancel (Early English) is the earliest and the north aisle with an arcade of plain octagonal piers somewhat later. The tower was built in the 15th century of granite blocks at the west end. The font is ornamented with angels and a Latin inscription and is probably of the 15th century

References

The ManaclesView in OS Map | View in Google Map

The Manacles are a series of trecherous rocks just off the coast at Porthoustock. The names is derived from the Cornish term Meyn Eglos which translates as church stones as the top of St Keverne church can be seen from the area.

The groups of rocks are paritally submerged some only breaking the surface at low water. The northern group have Cornish names including Maen Chynoweth, Chyronos, Maen Gerrick and the Gwinges, the eastern group has Vase Rock and Pen Vin and the large group in the centre include the Minstrel Rock, Carn-dhu, Maen Voes and the Quants and Maen Land is in the south-west.

The rocks have been the cause of many wrecks over the centuries including HMS Primrose in 1809 where only one of the 126 on board survived, the SS Mohegan in 1898 whcih resulted in 106 fatalities and The John which resulted in the loss of 177 souls who were emigrating to Canada in 1855.

References
Former jetty to Dean Quarries
Former jetty to Dean Quarries

Images

Below are a selection of images taken from from the photo album for this walk. Feel free to browse through these or click on any image to view a larger version in the Gallery.

Click on an image below to view the Image Gallery

Maps

Below is the route depicted on the OpenStreetMap, Ordnance Survey Map and Google Map. Links to full page versions are found in the Essential Information

Summary of Document Changes

Last Updated: ... 2016-01-15

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