Following on from Part 1 of England’s Longest Coastal Path – the South West Coast Path we cross into Cornwall following the coast along Bude Bay in a series of sandy beaches backed by lofty, crumbling cliffs. At low tide many of the beaches merge into one another to create continuous stretches of sand, providing enjoyable beach walking.
Bude and its surrounding areas are one of the most fascinating geological areas of Cornwall. The geology along this section of the Path is called the “Bude Formation” comprising of sand and mud layers deposited in a giant tropical “Lake Bude” 300 million years ago which were folded due to Britain and France colliding, forming a Cornish mountain range, before dinosaurs existed.
Wave eroded chevron folds – part of the Bude Formation showing at Wrangle Point. The beach here is characterised by dramatic sandstone formations, eroded from vertical strata and below the sandstone and shale beds folded into a syncline.
Passing through Crackington Haven I eventually reach Boscastle and just beyond is Willapark, a headland with a coastguard lookout on top. The name Willapark is made from two ancient Celtic words meaning ‘Lookout’ and ‘Enclosed’ and is therefore still highly apt. The modern lookout sits within the site of an Iron Age promontory fort, parts of which are still visible on the headland as a bank and ditch. The bay is known as Western Blackapit.
Just before Port Isaac, I came across an impressive piece of footpath engineering which takes the South West Coast Path down from the heights of Scarnor Point to Reedy Cliff seen below with Downgate Cove hidden below and Kellan Head in the distance. If there is anywhere that highlights the “rollercoaster” nature of the path it is this section.
As you can see from Reedy Cliff I was fortunate to visit the area when the sea thrift was in full flower and nowhere was this more colourful than at Bedruthan Steps, a truly spectacular landscape, a few miles east of Newquay.
The cliffs have been systematically eroded over the years, leaving a series of impressive volcanic rock stacks. These pillars of detached cliff rise majestically from Bedruthan Beach, forming a series of columns that stretch across the bay from Pendarves Island to Diggory’s Island.
One of the stacks is known as the ‘Samaritan’. The Samaritan was a cargo vessel that was wrecked against the pillar in 1846, with the loss of nine lives. The local population benefited from the tragedy by salvaging the ‘Samaritans’ cargo of barrelled beef and printed cloth. From time to time the strong currents that are prevalent in the bay, shift the sands from around the base of the ‘Samaritan’, exposing the remnants of the rotting keel of its namesake.
Passing along St Agnes and Godreavy/Portreath Heritage Coasts I head into West Cornwall where the most well-known location is likely to be Land’s End which is located approximately nine miles west of Penzance and it is the most westerly point of the English mainland. This famous landmark at the tip of Cornwall is where the granite on which the county sits meets the Atlantic Ocean and the awe-inspiring scenery of savage cliffs, reefs and steep-sided inlets is spectacular.
Around the Penwith or Land’s End Peninsula just after Penzance is the famous St.Michael’s Mount. St Michael’s Mount is a tidal island 400 yds off the Mount’s Bay coast. It is united with the town of Marazion by a man-made causeway of granite setts, passable between mid-tide and low water. Originally the site of a Benedictine Chapel, the spectacular castle on the rock dates from the 14th Century and is well worth a visit.
We move on now to South Cornwall and Kynance Cove which is located on the Lizard peninsula – white sand, turquoise water, and islands of multicoloured serpentine rock with stacks and arches hidden amongst the towering cliffs – long considered one of the most beautiful places in Cornwall.
Returning to Devon, the third largest of the English Counties. South Devon is the southern part of Devon and the area is not precisely defined, but because Devon has two coasts, with its major population centres on the two coasts, the county is commonly divided informally into North Devon and South Devon. The significant stretch of coast between Lizard Point and Plymouth is the first of two on the Path that I have as yet to explore and something I would hope to put right in the near future.
After circumnavigating Plymouth one of the first main beaches is at Bigbury-on-Sea where like St. Michael’s at low tide you can walk across to Burgh Island. There are several buildings on the island, the largest being the Art Deco Burgh Island Hotel. The other buildings are three private houses, and a public house, The Pilchard Inn, run by the hotel.
Start Point is a promontory and marks the southern limit of Start Bay, which extends northwards to the estuary of the River Dart. The name “Start” derives from an Anglo-Saxon word steort, meaning a tail. This root also appears in the names of birds with distinctive tails, like the redstart. As a result of the many shipwrecks in the area, the Start Point lighthouse was built in 1836 to alert ships to the danger of the point and its surrounding rocks.
Rounding Start Point I’m entering the second stretch of the Path I have not walked preferring to avoid the holiday hotspots and urban environment of the towns of Dartmouth, Brixham, Paignton, Torquay, Teignmouth almost blending into one before hitting the city of Exeter.
Just beyond Exmouth is the start of the Jurassic Coast which extends 100 miles almost to the end of the South West Coast Path. The Jurassic Coast is England’s first natural UNESCO World Heritage Site granted for its outstanding geology with parts dating back over 185 million years. It ranks among the Great Barrier Reef and the Grand Canyon as one of the wonders of the natural world.
Continuing along the Jurassic Coast I enter the final county Dorset and eventually the end of the path at South Haven Point on the Studland Peninsula which forms one shore of Poole Harbour, one of the largest natural harbours in the world. Before that, I follow the shores of the Isle of Purbeck – past Bat’s Head and Swyre Head, and on to Durdle Door, a natural arch which has been described as “one of Dorset’s most recognisable features”. This lies just to the west of the Lulworth Cove, the most visited geological locality in Britain.
Well, I don’t know about you but just writing this and thinking about making the journey along the path has worn me out but hopefully, it has allowed you to see, enjoy and understand why it is considered to be one of the best walks in the world.
In 2020 it is due to be overtaken as our longest coastal path by The England Coast Path which will be a new national trail all around England’s coast. When it is complete it will be one of the longest coastal walking routes in the world at 2795 miles long including of course the 630 miles of the South West Coast Path.
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