Saturday, 31 December 2016

ST MARY'S, ISLES OF SCILLY



When I was growing up in Penzance in the 1960s during Harold Wilson’s time as Prime Minister you could guarantee that every summer, regular as clockwork, the local news would feature the arrival of the PM at Penzance station en route to his holiday retreat on the island of St Mary’s.  On arriving at the station he would transfer to the Scillonian for the choppy crossing to the Scillies, then he and his wife Mary and their two sons would set up in their three-bedroom bungalow, Lowenva, a Cornish word meaning “house of happiness”.  Wilson’s idyllic time on the island nearly came to a dramatic end in 1973, when he got into difficulties trying to get into a rubber dinghy.  His submersion in the cold water brought him close to death, but luckily a passing family from Rugby were able to fetch a boat to rescue him with.

The sea crossing, now on the Scillonian III, is still going, but the helicopter service that once supplemented it ended in 2012, prompting fears among the Scillonians that economic decline would ensue.  However, earlier this year it was reported that a multi-million pound investment was being unveiled for a resumption of the helicopter crossing.  An alternative air crossing is available from Land’s End Airport.  St Mary’s is the largest island in the Scillies, and the main town is Hugh Town, which occupies a narrow neck of land to the south-west of the island, between Porthcressa Beach and Town Bay.  This is where the Scillonian anchors, and  inter-island boat trips set off from here.  There are also round island coach tours available from Hugh Town which are geared up for day trippers off the Scillonian. The busiest time of the year is during May Day bank holiday weekend, when the World Pilot Gig Championships are held. For a list of events on the islands, follow this link.



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Hugh Town. Photo by Chris Downer, via Wikimedia Commons

Saturday, 17 December 2016

SENNEN



When I was growing up in Cornwall Sennen was one of my favourite places to go to the beach, with the long sweeping sands of Whitesands Beach backed by sheltered dunes.  Sennen is one of Cornwall’s most popular surfing spots, and not wanting to miss out on the action, I acquired a polystyrene child’s surfboard which was meant to be used lying down.  However one day, in a fit of surfing dude envy, I decided I was going to stand on it and it promptly broke, and that, sadly, was the end of my surfing ambitions.

The village itself is small, with a pub and a small collection of cafes and shops, and a gallery which occupies a building known as the Roundhouse, a distinctive round building which was erected in 1876 to house a large capstan wheel which was previously open to the elements.  And the elements here can be dramatic, given Sennen’s exposed location at the end of the country.  In February 2014 the village was battered by a monster storm during which massive waves up to 200 feet crashed over the shore.  Follow this link for footage of the action.  Up the hill from the village is another pub called the First And Last Inn which is famous for being haunted by a landlady from the 1800s called Annie George.  She was left to drown on the beach after giving evidence of the actions of a notorious local smuggler.  She has been seen roaming the corridors and in her old bedroom, and other manifestations include glasses moving of their own accord.  Sennen was a hive of smuggling activity at that time, when ‘wreckers’ would lure ships to the rocks, kill the crew and loot the cargo.  Tunnels at the pub were used to conceal the contraband.

From Sennen, the South West Coast Path heads past the Mayon Old Coastguard Lookout, and barely a mile further on we come to Land’s End, which is where I started this blog in January 2011!  But don’t go away, because there’s still the Scillies and the coast of Northern Ireland to come.

Map of the area.

Live streaming webcam of the beach.

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Photo by Nilfanion, via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

CAPE CORNWALL AND ST JUST



Cape Cornwall is the second most prominent headland on the West Cornwall coast after Land’s End.  In my very first post at the start of this blog, I cautioned that Land’s End is not the cheap option it once was, due to the ‘Disneyfication’ of the site with a range of shops and attractions.  Some people like that sort of thing, but for those who do not, I strongly recommend a visit to Cape Cornwall, where you will get the same “end of the world” feeling without the fanfare.  There is a National Trust car park (free to members), and a refreshment van, and that is about it, apart from the Cape Cornwall Golf Club just above the headland.  For those who want to stretch their legs there is a path around the headland, and wonderful views of Land’s End and the Longships lighthouse.  The Cape is crowned by the chimney which is all that remains of the Cape Cornwall Mine, a tin mine which operated between 1838 and 1883.   Another option for walkers is the path descending from the car park to Priest’s Cove, from where the South West Coast Path heads southwards, passing Ballowall Barrow, a Bronze Age burial chamber (English Heritage, free entry).

Cape Cornwall is reached by a minor road from the vibrant small town of St Just, England’s most westerly town.  The town was a thriving hive of activity during Victorian times thanks to the area’s tin-mining activities.  Up to the 17th century medieval miracle plays were performed in Plain-an-Gwarry, the natural grassy amphitheatre in the centre of St Just, and this continues to be used today for more modern festivities such as the annual Lafrowda Festival in July, a vibrant and colourful music and arts festival.  St Just is also home to the original Warren’s Bakery, founded in 1860, which now has branches all over the county, and which makes some of the best pasties around.

Map of the area. 

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Photo by Judithili, via Wikimedia Commons

Saturday, 26 November 2016

BOTALLACK AND KENIDJACK



Continuing the mining theme, just along the road from Pendeen are the neighbouring villages of Botallack and Kenidjack.  The mining landscape between the villages and the coast path is come of the best in Cornwall, and includes the remains the engine house Wheal Edward, part of the Wheal Owles Mine Sett.  In 1893 Wheal Owles was the scene of a tragic accident, when water came rushing in from a flooded neighbouring mine, a common hazard in the Cornish mines, which often extended far out under the sea.  20 men were drowned in the accident, almost half the men who were down the mine at the time.  The Botallack Count House Workshop, owned by the National Trust but free to enter, has information on mining in the area and on Poldark, as well as a cafe, all housed in a building which performed an essential role as the place where the miners went to collect their pay.  The nearby Crowns Engine Houses in Botallack occupy a dramatic position towards the lower end of the cliff, and featured in the latest Poldark series.  Kenidjack Headland is home to an Iron Age cliff castle, and there are Bronze Age cairns in the area.  The views of Cape Cornwall from here and, on a clear day the Scilly Islands, are spectacular.  If all this is not enough to tempt walkers out onto the headland, birding enthusiasts will have the added pleasure of keeping an eye out for peregrine falcons and Cornish choughs, identifiable by their red bills.

Map of the area.

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Crowns Engine Houses. Photo by Nilfanion, via Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, 17 November 2016

PENDEEN



The village of Pendeen is strung out along the B3306, with Carn Eanes, known locally as “The Carn”, towering over it.  The moorlands above the village are dotted with prehistoric sites and relics of the local mining industry.  The village is separated from the coastal path by fields with assorted farm animals.  Over in the distance the handsome whitewash lighthouse known as Pendeen Watch, built in 1891, still lights up as soon as dusk descends, warning passing ships off this treacherous stretch of coast.  The coastal path heading east from the lighthouse leads to the delightfully secluded Portheras Cove.  Pendeen was otherwise known as Boskaswal Wartha, and the present-day village is divided into Higher Boscaswell and Lower Boscaswell.  Anyone wanting to get a sense of the landscape around here should read ‘A Perfectly Good Man’ by Patrick Gale.  My mother and stepfather live in the village, and reading this book the description of the main character’s house and surroundings felt eerily familiar.

                                                         View towards Pendeen Watch


Between Pendeen and the neighbouring village of Trewellard is the entrance to Geevor Tin Mine, which offers tours of the old mine workings.  The mine was operational for a good part of the 20th century, and owes its existence to a group of St Just miners who had emigrated to South Africa but were forced to return due to the outbreak of the Second Boer War.  Being claustrophobic, I have not been on the mine tour, in spite of its proximity to my relatives’ house.  However, I can vouch for the novel experience of walking through this evocative industrial landscape.  It is a steep and uneven walk down to the coastal path below, but well worth it for the chance to perch on the cliff top and gaze down at the sea crashing against the rocks.  Near Geevor Mine is the Levant Mine and BeamEngine, owned by the National Trust.  Poldark fans may recognise it, as it doubled up as Tressiders Rolling Mill in the TV series.

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Relics of the mining industry at Geevor


Pendeen Lighthouse, by Barbara Ashley


Map of the area.

Friday, 11 November 2016

GURNARD'S HEAD



This prominent headland on the stretch of coast between St Ives and Lands End got its name from the fact that its shape is reminiscent of the gurnard fish.  There has always been a lone pub on the headland as long as I can remember.  Back in the day it was a normal, unassuming St Austell Ales inn, but now, as a sign of the times, it has been turned into a smart hotel and gastropub, no doubt a welcome stop along this wild coast for those walking the South West Coast Path. 

There is an iron age hill fort called Trereen Dinas (‘fort at the farm on the point’) on the headland, the remnants of which can still just about be made out in the form of a ditch and a bank with some drystone walling.  In the early 1800s there was a copper mine named Wheal Treen in operation on Gurnard’s Head, but it fell into disuse in 1877.  Now there is just the hotel and the nearby village of Treen.  The nearest beach to the headland is Treen Cove, a short distance to the east of the headland.  Probably not one for families, as there are no facilities and no lifeguard cover, just the wild beauty of the Atlantic breakers crashing on to the shore.

Map of the area. 

Gurnard's Head, by Barbara Ashley