Cornish Coastal Path Traveller Tale
Walkers' Britain travellers Mary & Joe Richardson talk to us about their journey to England and their experiences on our Cornish Coastal Path - Marazion to Mevagissey trip.
Why did you choose your trip?
I have wanted to walk the coast of Cornwall ever since reading Frenchman's Creek by Daphne du Maurier as a young teenager. Later, a more mature interest in history enforced my fascination with the area.
However, we had another reason for taking this particular trip – my husband I have somehow become senior citizens, and we were looking for a walk that would be a bit easy on our old bodies yet still be fascinating and beautiful. My husband has a brand new stainless steel knee, and I have a condition which affects balance. So, he was pokey climbing up hills and stairs, and I was cautious coming down - walking together we were slow as mud. We looked at each day and found ways to shorten the walk to accommodate our disabilities – and we still had a great time.
How did you prepare?
We live near the Louisiana coast in the United States. The elevation is 13 feet above sea level and there's not a real hill in the whole state, so we relied on the gym for training almost every day. None of the machines are a good substitute for walking real hills on uneven terrain, but it was the best we could do.
What was the best part of your trip?
Before talking about the scenery, I have to admit that one of the reasons I love Sherpa walking tours is the accommodations. Each night I could count on a room that not only had a hot shower, but also a hair dryer and good smelling shampoo. Moreover, each place is always lovely and has personality. The inns' owners are enviably helpful and give loads of information about where to go, where to eat, and what to make sure we don't miss (special thanks to the wonderful people at Gallentreath in Porthallow and at Bacchus B&B in Mevagissey).
Then there was the scenery. We experienced cliffs in a variety of ways, each with charm. There was only one bright-blue-sky day, which was of course gorgeous. One day we walked in deep fog. We could hear the surf crashing below us, but we couldn't see it. We were cocooned in a white mist that made every flower stand out in sharp relief and every bird call sound like it was just out of reach. Then, every once in a while, the fog would part and we got a glimpse of grey blue sea and shoreline before it closed in again. That day was lovely.
Another day, the wind was blowing at gale force and the red warning balls were up. I felt secure because the wind was blowing us toward the land, not over the cliffs. It gave us a sense of the power of nature in Cornwall. The many stories of shipwrecks on the reefs below seemed very real.
A personal highlight was going into all the Anglican churches along the path and in the villages. One not to be missed is the Little Church of St. Winwalloe (Day 3). It dates mainly from the 15th century and older, and is still being used. It is tucked right into a cliff near the beach. The stained glass windows in the Church of England in St. Mawes are outstanding and well worth a climb up the hill.
We happened to be in the village of Portloe on a Sunday and I attended a Church of England service (hiking clothes are considered church-appropriate). The people were exceptionally welcoming, and I got to see the preparations for a wedding between two families who had lived in the area for centuries. Attending Sunday service in this historic Anglican/Methodist church was my most intensely moving moment of our trip.
The single most beautiful place for me was the tiny beach at Mullion Cove. We were pleasantly tired from the descent, and we joined several other hikers on a little wooden bench facing the sea. The sun broke out and hikers started peeling jackets, loosening hiking boots, and breaking out granola bars in companionable silence. The combination of warm sun, blue water, fresh breeze, rocky cliffs, and old stone houses made me realize why people are passionate about Cornwall. I just wish there had been time for a nap.
...and the most challenging part?
The most challenging part was figuring out how we could see as much as possible with our physical limitations. We knew that if a walk was listed as “six hours” in the Sherpa guidebooks, it might take us 12. And in most places we couldn't get a really early start because breakfast wasn't served until around 8 am; each breakfast was so good that skipping wasn't an option.
We shortened each day, usually by substituting walks along country roads for the worst of the ascents/descents from cliff to beach. We augmented the maps supplied by Sherpa with local road maps, and these were very helpful. We also caught rides part way on two occasions. We were always afraid of missing something spectacular, and I'm sure we did. However, each shortcut brought its own special experiences and encounters with people, their dogs, and in one case, a blueberry picker who offered us a ride.
Your favourite destination?
We were so fascinated with the town of Mevagissey that we were glad we came to it at the end of the hike and could stay a couple extra days. Many of the original stone 17th century buildings have been repurposed into restaurants and stores (including the best Cornish ice cream stand of the whole walk), but it is still a working fishing village. You can buy raw, fresh-caught fish on the dock. The tide, as everywhere in Cornwall, is a force to behold. In the inner harbour, fishing boats would be perched on dry harbour-bottom, then, 12 or so hours later, they would be floating almost even with the sidewalks. There is a quirky museum filled with local artefacts, and a charming little aquarium housed in an old lifeboat station. I liked the aquarium because it displayed the fish that people actually catch in the area; I could see what the filets I had been eating looked like when they were still swimming.
Best food and drink?
Pub food is fantastic! We learned early on to avoid the cheaper fish and chip places, and head to the pubs. Although the fish and chips at the 15th century Fountain Inn in Mevagissey were the best of our entire stay in England. The overall best pub was The Five Pilchards Inn in Porthallow. The menu includes all manner of seafood including king prawns and mussels, not to mention what I ordered – Fillet of Hake with crushed new potatoes and mange tout, served with a Crab, White Wine & Saffron Sauce. That was followed by a made-just-for-me (honest!) Summer Berry Pavlova with Clotted Cream.
I had not known that pubs were family affairs. Small children and dogs were plentiful, and very welcome. Fish and eggs are both fresh in Cornwall. A sign in The Ship Inn in Portloe said, “Tomorrow's menu is still in the sea” and I believe it was. At breakfast, the eggs were almost always free range.
MARY'S TOP TIPS
- Look at the shirts the bartenders in the pubs are wearing. Often they will have an insignia for the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, which is a volunteer organization that saves lives at sea. These young men are involved in the welfare of their fishing communities.
- A very important note about ferries: An “on demand” ferry means that you are supposed to turn a sign on a billboard to let the ferry operator know you want to go across. We were at the ferry at Helford (Day 5) for a long time. I didn't mind because it was near the location of “Frenchman's Creek” and I wanted to look around. But when the ferry finally came, the operator told us we hadn't flipped the sign – if someone on the other side hadn't wanted to cross, he would never have come.
- Buy hiking pants that zip off at the knee. Most of the dirt, mud, and sheep dung will be on the lower parts of your pants, so you can unzip them and wash just the most dirty parts in the sink. It works beautifully.
- If you are from the United States, don't mention the Doc Martin TV show, no matter how much you like it. People in Cornwall think it's stupid. One told me it makes Cornwall residents look “dense.” I'm looking at that show differently now.
> View the Marazion to Mevagissey walking tour.
> View all tours along Cornwall and the South West Coast Path.