Roger Butler traces the undulating ‘mediterranean’ South West Coast Path to Cornwall’s Land’s End

A PARLIAMENT OF ROOKS echoed into a bright blue sky as a squabble of seagulls announced our arrival on the South West Coast Path, in south Cornwall. It’s a well-established part of the new and much larger England Coast Path.

Colourful floats and lobster pots decorated a cottage garden where walls were festooned with thick mats of moss and lichen.

The lush track down to the rocky shore at St Loy had a Mediterranean feel and the tall pines gave only glimpses of the sparkling sea. A granite headland formed a bookend at one side of the bay and swathes of blackthorn blossom swept along the top of the cliff.

Here and there, tiny allotment patches had been carved from the slopes above the waves and we guessed these would have been much more productive in times gone by. The path narrowed and pushed its way through nettles, ivy and ferns before the steep drop to Porthguarnon. I once read a walker’s blog which claimed this was the steepest of all the slopes on his jaunt up to John O’Groat’s and it was certainly a real knee cruncher.

The sea glistened and hurt my eyes but, without warning, we then dropped steeply downhill again. The tiny harbour at Penberth was full of small boats, lobster pots, anchors and rope, but the views from the next set of cliffs were just as photogenic.

Castellated promontories and crumpled fingers of rock surrounded inaccessible bays of tawny sand and geological colours ranging from pale grey to burnt orange. One huge horizontal slab gently rose and rolled like the back of a blue whale.

The lush track down to the rocky shore at St Loy had a Mediterranean feel and the tall pines gave only glimpses of the sparkling sea.

Turrets and towers on the England Coast Path

The distinctive Logan Rock, just east of Porthcurno, was a fairy castle of turrets and towers surrounded by a restless Atlantic moat. I could imagine a king shouting from the highest pinnacle and near the top one single boulder can be rocked on its base. Tales describe how a naval officer in the 19th century made it sway a little too much and sent it crashing into the sea. The Navy took a dim view and ordered him, at his own expense, to hire a gang of workers to winch the rock back into place!

The beach below the rock was nothing short of stunning and, after a helter skelter descent, we allowed ourselves a couple of hours of R and R. Azure waves rolled onto the south facing sands and the recent winter battering was already fading into the past. Suitably refreshed, it was now time to gamble on bus timetables and we reckoned we could storm out to Land’s End just in time to catch the last bus of the day.

The three miles beyond Porthgwarra were a little easier, with only one big dipper at Nanjizal where a tall tunnel beyond the beach is called the Song of the Sea. Choughs wheeled overhead as a narrow terrace led past old stone walls to the well-worn slopes that surround the package of visitor attractions at Land’s End.

The bus was waiting at the back of an empty car park and I unfolded our map in front of the driver. We had assumed he would be dropping us at St Buryan, two miles from where we started, but – as if by magic – his regular route turned south from there on a minor road leading right back to the car. A perfect end to a perfect day, but how on earth do you choose the best bit of the South West Coast Path? You can’t, you’ve really got to do it all.

Roger Butler - author and OWPG member

Roger Butler – author and OWPG member

This article is due to appear in a UK walking magazine 2021, and is re-published here with the author’s permission. © Roger Butler 2020. All rights reserved.
Roger Butler is a geographer and landscape architect turned freelance writer, photographer and lecturer. He contributes to a wide range of magazines and lectures throughout the UK. His interests include hill walking, wildlife and the countryside, canals and industrial archaeology. He is a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, a Licentiate of the Royal Photographic Society and a Chartered Member of the Landscape Institute. He is also a member of the Outdoor Writers and Photographers Guild and is available for commissions and new projects.

Books and maps for this part of the coast