South West Coastal Path in Cornwall, England (2004)

For our first visit to Cornwall, we decided on a gentleman’s ramble (Paul, Mark and myself) on the South West Coast Path, which stretches an impressive 630 miles (1014 km) through Devon, Cornwall and Dorset.  We decided on a 69 mile (110 km) westbound section starting at The Lizard peninsula and ending in the charming town of St Ives.

We first visited Peter’s family (Mark’s friend from his University of Exeter days) in the quaint parish of Ruan Minor in Helston.  We received a warm welcome, a hearty home-cooked meal and an endless supply of gin & tonics.   It was a generous and auspicious start to our five-day ramble.

We departed the next morning from Lizard Point beneath brilliant blue skies and hot sunshine, which accompanied us for the entire journey thanks to Paul’s good-weather karma.

It was a relaxing walk, not too strenuous and easy to navigate.  It was our first (and only) ramble that did not require Ordinance Survey maps, the path was well signposted and fairly obvious (as long as the ocean is in plain view).  As usual, we enjoyed fresh air and open spaces, good conversation, local pubs, tea shops and curry restaurants.  England has no shortage of any of these key ramble ingredients.

The scenery was strikingly beautiful, surpassing at times the best beaches of the Caribbean and the rocky coast of Maine.  I am still amazed that there is still so much public access to the shore — in the nearly 70 miles we walked probably 99% of the footpath was directly on the cliffs and beaches with a third of the land cared for by the National Trust.  So unlike the United States where prime land is largely held by private owners and off-limits to the pedestrian.

Highlights of the walk:

  • watching the sun fall into the sea from the sweeping views at the Atlantic Inn in the handsome stone town of Porthleven
  • the Marconi Monument at Poldhu Point where in 1901 the first transatlantic wireless transmission between the US and UK was received from Cape Cod, Massachusetts (a favorite beach of my teen years, my brother and I used to swing from the steel cable jutting from the dune near the radio station)
  • feasting on Indian curry in Penzance after a long day on the trail
  • Land’s End, the south-westernmost point of the British mainland, where we managed to enjoy the hokey “sea rescue” re-enactment at the theme park just above the precipitous cliffs
  • the long sandy stretches near the pretty village of Porthcurno, with nearby Minack Theatre carved scenically into the cliffs high above the Atlantic
  • fresh, hot Cornish pasties every day
  • quality one-on-one time with Mark during our rugged walk from Pendeen; we had great conversations and male bonding (Paul, with blistered feet, rode the bus that day with a “blind” local who pointed out all the sights along the road — he thinks the bloke was just scamming a free ride)
  • stately St Ives with an excellent Tate Museum, cobblestone alleyways, refined pubs, and stellar accommodation — an agreeable end to our foot journey

With another fine ramble under my belt, my appreciation for the public footpaths in the United Kingdom and my pleasure with great family memories grew stronger still.

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