#3 THE SEA, THE SEA LIONS

Welcome to LEJoG Day 3

Day 3 pre-amble

First of all, another disclaimer for literary readers: I have invoked the title of Iris Murdoch’s Booker-winning 1978 novel purely because it’s quite catchy, the sea is obviously a constant companion on the South West Coast Path, and this stretch was also highlighted by the guidebook as an ideal location for spotting sea lions. I really wouldn’t want anyone to assume that, to the limited extent this blog is a memoir, it will be used as an exercise in self-satisfied, egotistical, selfish, romantic idealising of past loves or indeed self-obsessional, self-aggrandising mulling over past rejections. I dare say that one or two love stories might creep in. Literally one or two. But not today.

And if they do appear one day, it’ll be for amusement value.

LEJoG Day 3 (Bank Holiday Monday 1 May 2017)

St. Ives to Portreath (18 miles)

Cumulative: 41 miles

Facts: Time on the walk (excluding breaks): 6 hours 20 minutes. Average speed: 2.84 mph. Weather: Cool, cloudy and windy (sometimes very windy) all day but no rain.

Practicalities: No buses or taxis this morning: straight out of the Western Hotel after check-in and back to Street-an-Pol.

Evening accommodation: The Portreath Arms, Portreath.

As this was the end of my first section, a quick word on Tuesday morning practicalities. Arranged a taxi from the Portreath Arms to Redruth, the nearest town with a rail station. Caught pre-booked morning trains from Redruth to home via Plymouth, the first leg on Great Western Railway and the second Cross Country. If you have to use trains, I always recommend pre-booking to save money.

The walk

Start: Street-an-Pol, St. Ives, 9:55am. End: Portreath Arms, Portreath, 4:50pm.

My memory has played tricks on me. The title of this blog post is a little misleading. Checking my maps nearly two years later, I note that a very high proportion of the first half of this walk isn’t by the sea at all. Certainly not as close as I’d become accustomed. You make your way from St. Ives to Carbis Bay on a series of streets and footpaths, marked with the now familiar National Trail acorn sign. Dropping quite steeply into the village itself, you cross a railway bridge near Carbis Bay station and then embark on the first testing climb of the day. This hill is the last quarter mile of pavement walking for a while though; at the top you gain access to a footpath that takes you back to the cliffs.

After reaching the suitably-named ‘Edge o’ Cliff’, the path heads inland, running parallel with the railway for a couple of miles and passing West Cornwall Golf Club. Approaching the Hayle estuary (much more of that shortly), you cross the railway and head south for St. Uny’s Church and the village of Lelant. And now you really are back on the road again…

It’s the mid-section of this stage that demoralises LEJoGgers. It’s this bit that makes you question why you bothered, perhaps for the first time. My brother contacted me on Sunday night and, keen to follow my progress, asked what I’d be doing when I reached the Hayle estuary. The honest answer is that there is no way to avoid a tedious three-mile trudge through Lelant and then – much worse – along the busy B3301 into Hayle. At certain times it is necessary to cross the B3301 due to running out of pavement. It can take a while to find a gap in the traffic. It’s easily the lowlight so far – just endure it.

At first sight Hayle is an unprepossessing little town with nothing to distinguish it from so many others – big Asda, Domino’s Pizza, chippy. Turn left at the Asda, heading for the North Quay, pass a caravan and chalet site and finally – finally – you reach something that resembles the coast path of your imagination. You’re overlooking an expansive beach, where you can see kite-surfers and water-skiers. This is Hayle Towans, and (assuming you started early enough) it makes an ideal spot for your lunch break.

Kite surfers at Hayle Towans (LEJoG Day 3)

Hayle Towans, with tiny little kite-surfer in black

Regardless of whether or not you have your guidebook and compass with you, the next two or three miles are “interesting”. Sand dunes, and nothing else. Occasionally you will see a National Trail marker post, though very few of them are black and white, indeed more often than not they are just carved into grey stone and easy to miss. You’re not always close enough to the sea to keep it visible on your left, so keep your wits and bearings about you. Eventually Gwithian Beach comes into view, and with it the usual resort amenities: long-stay car park, café, surf shop. There’s a choice here: beach, rocks or dunes. You probably won’t choose the dunes, unless you’re a masochist.

A short climb now, in order to reach the path that leads to Godrevy Point. On a map of Cornwall this, at the eastern end of St. Ives Bay, is the most prominent headland you will have come across on the walk so far. There are two other reasons to stay a while: first is the lighthouse (pictured below) and around the corner from there – at last! – the sea lions. Unlike the Carracks (day 2) it’s hard to miss them from here, and unless the weather is foul you will share the viewing area with plenty of parents and children.

Godrevy Lighthouse, from Godrevy Point (LEJoG Day 3)

Godrevy Lighthouse, from Godrevy Point

Still 6-7 miles to go, and not much that really stands out. ‘Hell’s Mouth’, a sheer cliff drop near the eponymous café, certainly sounds promising. Indeed you wouldn’t want to get too close to the edge, and there’s a barrier preventing you from doing just that. But really, by this time only the truly spectacular could distract you from thoughts of the finish. The path follows the B3301 to Portreath, but mercifully it runs closer to the Godrevy Heritage Coast than the road for most of that time. Also, it’s a relatively fast cliff-top route, with few of those punishing descents and ascents.

However, be warned: about a mile before Portreath, there is a cruel twist: Carvannel Downs, possibly the single toughest river mouth on the route thus far. A steep descent on a stairway, followed by a long zig-zag path up the cliff on the opposite side. After 16-17 miles, it’s a bit of a killer. Nothing compared to the relentlessness of, say, Day 11, but you will feel it.

The route from here to Portreath is clear and well-signposted. Portreath is a cosy little fishing village and you shouldn’t have any difficulty finding your accommodation.

On arrival at the Portreath Arms I was told that two fellow guests had walked all the way from Bodmin that day (around 30 miles). One thing that distance walking soon teaches you: humility. There’s always going to be someone who’s gone a bit further, pushed themselves harder. See the Pre-Amble for examples. But in the end, you just need to be the best version of yourself. Three days in, the end of the first section, no major problems.

That’s good enough for anyone.

Postscript – My Listening Pleasure (Stage 1)

As a solo walker I like to have something to listen to on long walks. For each section, starting here, I’ll share with you what I was listening to and you can all judge me accordingly… I am a non-snobby musical semi-obsessive – I’m sure that description will make more sense the more I share.

For Days 1 to 3 it was:

  • the Kermode and Mayo film review podcast, aka Wittertainment. This is not a blog about walking. Tinkety tonk old fruit and down with the Nazis. Etc.
  • A home-made compilation of 64 funk and disco songs. I don’t have a link, but if anyone wants to guess what was on it I will say yes or no. Never meant to be definitive, just what I was into when I compiled it the previous autumn.
  • Purple Rain by Prince and the Revolution. I wrote plenty about Prince here: this album is my favourite of his, one of my three all-time favourites by anyone, and the one I was still listening to 10 days after the first anniversary of his death.
  • Heh heh heh. Not apologising for this, and nor is it a “guilty” pleasure: a home-made compilation of 25 of the best songs by the greatest British pop act of the 21st century. Just deal, or at least investigate them yourself before challenging me.
  • Ray of Light and Confessions On A Dance Floor by Madonna. My teenage obsession, for reasons not entirely down to her music, with, respectively, the first decent album she did after I turned 20 and the last album of hers I have any interest in.

Picture (1 May 2017) is a zoom in on the sea lions shortly after Godrevy Point.

Next: Day 4 (17 June 2017)… in which the sky’s the limit and you know that you keep on, keep on.

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