travel · U.K.

The Cornish Coast: Land’s End, Porthcurno Beach, and Stops Inbetween

I took what I thought was a short cut back to the bus from St. Ives. I should have stuck to my garden path but instead took a meandering walk along the beach, up a winding cliff side path and then up some more until I found myself drenched in sweat, carrying large bags full of heavy ceramics up a busy road at a 40 or so degree incline. I was a good ten minutes late and Google Maps had me trudging to closed gate after closed gate on the enormous Tregenna Castle estate. Finally, I found a way in, though ignoring all Wrong Way signs and saw my little green bus dutifully waiting.

Ignoring some heckles and explaining to the guide, again, that just because I’m not 90 doesn’t mean I, 1) can’t get hurt – I was still limping from two days before and, 2) can’t get lost. We lumbered off, bags loaded, to Land’s End, rolling past derelict mines, sweeping coastlines, and rolling hills dotted with sheep.IMG_20170517_152327.jpg

Our driver gave us some mining history before my tourmates launched into a robust discussion of Captain Poldark, PBS funding, and whether women should still want to marry a fictional character who’s kind of a drunk and cheats on his pregnant wife with his best friend’s wife. “But he’s very dashing,” was the going reason.

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At Land’s End, we were set loose to wander the many foot paths. If the weather cleared, we could see the distant Scilly Islands – also on my to-do list but apparently quite difficult to get to given the odd flooding problems with the local Cornish airport. I busied myself with sea thrift, birding boards, and coastal landmarks.

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Further along the coast we stopped at Porthcurno Beach, a very private cove beneath the Minnack Theatre. Minnack Theatre was hosting a sea shanty group and was unfortunately closed to visitors until the show. We took a winding, soft path down to the beach, made a precarious climb down double height stairs, took off our shoes and made our way to the water like freshly hatched sea turtles. The water was cold and crisp on my toes – a good pick me up for the rest of our stops.

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The light glowed in the canyon as the teal water broke along the yellow shore in white, frothy strips. A few gulls hovered overhead as toddlers splashed in rock pools and some campers set up their tent for high tide. I dusted off my feet at the top of the stairs and headed back.

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A few minutes later we were at the Merry Maids stone circle. It was hidden behind a cattle gate and stone wall, locked in by a rainwater mote. We gingerly leapt over the large puddle, swung the gates, and were greeted by a large circle of neolithic stones each carefully placed in a wide circle. Some were blessed with little crops of wildflowers and others with softly etched designs and lichen. Also known as the Dawn’s Men circle (a misspelling of local Cornish translating to Stone Dance), legend says that the nineteen maidens were punished for dancing on a Sunday and turned to Stone. Further north, are the Pipers, another set of stones which some say symbolize the musicians turned to stone as they fled. They overlooked the gently rolling hills heading down towards the sea and visitors trudged along their exterior, gracing each with a solemn touch to the shoulder for luck and remembrance. A few snickered at this but I completed the ritual – less so for luck and more out of respect for those who created it, a nod to their time, effort, and way of life.

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Our last stop was Mousehole, a tiny, quaint little town with a built up protected harbor. Shops were closing for the day, so we sat along the harbor walls with little glasses of wine and tea, eating chips and ice cream as the sun began to set.

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