I’d love to retire somewhere like Winchester, where you have one foot on the pavement but a sense of being in the country as well. – Hugh Bonneville
Today was a day of huge contrasts, agricultural landscape giving way to connurbation. We left Zennor after a vast breakfast courtesy of Sue, bid farewell to her extraordinary house and garden, regretfully missing out seeing the Mermaid of Zennor because the church of St Sennara was not yet open. We took the ancient field path from Zennor to St Ives which gave us constant views out over the slow Atlantic swell, soft going underfoot and a direct 8km from Zennor to the town.
One of the most striking features of this track are the Cornish hedges: traditional dry stone field boundary walls made of sometimes vast granite boulders, quite mystifyingly raised and fitted together, and packed with soil to host a fantastic range of flora and fauna, providing a powerful contrast to the rugged coastal path.
A note on Cornish stiles
Cornish stiles have an aesthetic all of their own. They come in various forms, but all feature improbably-huge granite blocks. One form, the coffen stile, is the precursor to cattle grids: the rectangular granite beams are laid over a pit (‘coffen’ being an old Cornish word for a hole in the ground), and act as easily traversable stepping stones:
Comfortable too to negotiate were the sheep stiles: nicely-spaced steps built transversely out of a wall, like a staircase:
What I was dreading though, were the form of stile which was a feature of the end of yesterday‘s walk as we came off the coastal path and turned in towards Zennor at our most tired. These are the infamous cattle stiles: huge slabs of granite placed as giant steps with awkwardly high risers, an even more enormous block acting as a hurdle over the top, raised so daylight is visible underneath it, and just too wide to step over easily or safely. Quite an impressive feat of engineering… perhaps even over-engineering. They seem designed to frustrate and exhaust walkers and damage knees:
Cow and walker stymied
Arriving in Saint Ives was a considerable culture shock. Easter Day, and the town was full of holidaymakers: that wonderful sound of children shrieking with pleasure on the beach over the constant hypnotic hiss and crash of the waves in the background.
It was also the start of the pavement slog. We reckoned that a good half of today’s nearly 22 km was on roads or pavements. Having said that, the south west coast path is designed to incorporate unexpected strips of shady earthen paths between houses and roads – what I would have called a ‘twitten’ growing up in the south-east, extremely narrow woods which somehow succeed in screening you from suburbia.
So it wasn’t all pavement – but it was still mostly pavement. The pounding on the knees and feet was offset by stunning views of more glorious seascape: the path gives breathtaking outlooks over the perfect sweep of St Ives bay, the beaches of Porthminster, Carbis Bay, Porthkidney Sands and the Hayle estuary all connected at that time of day by the receding tide.
We considered cutting across the sands, but figured that sand in walking boots makes for deep unhappiness. We walked on through the dunes and saved the beaches, like Zennor’s mermaid, for another day.
As more temperature records fell nationally, we walked through Lelant in the swelter of the mid-day heat, appreciating the kindness of strangers in giving us directions and preventing a route-finding error, and then a packet of salty crisps, a drink and a sock swap-over in a pub. The subsequent concrete and asphalt kilometres of Hayle to our stopping point were relieved by the various wetland habitats created by the estuary, and the wading birds, and some tiny Easter eggs gifted by a colleague.
Stats for today
Distance walked: 21.65km
Insect bites: 2
Ice creams: 1
Providential public toilets: 1
Miles of pavement: a quantity stretching into an Escheresque infinity