23rd August 2023
From Glenfeadon Castle, without a car, it’s an early morning coast walk in search of a tidal pool, then kayaking to a secret cove for a picnic lunch…
It’s early August. Storms have swept the UK for the past few days, and the news shows Cornwall’s beachgoers swapping the swimsuits and sunbathing for wave-watching in waterproofs. Today, however, it’s a different story. With the sky over the historic harbour town of Portreath a perfect blue, the rising sun bowls its light down the valley, bouncing it off white walls and windows. The beach looks incredible in the sun.
We’re up and out early today, armed with a plan: a bracing dip in the tidal pool that hugs Portreath’s harbour, then the coast path to Porthtowan and back – all before the seasonal front of windbreakers, body boards and beach mats blow in.
We walk past sleepy cottages to a soundtrack of birdsong, through the arch of the old stone tramroad bridge, and across the empty car park. A cold breeze wakes the lungs.
Down on the beach, we watch a dog walker being pulled by a tangle of pugs, and then ask her how to get to the tidal pool. “It’s down them steps,” she says. “But the one at Porthtowan is better.” Given we can still see our own breath, this information feels timely. We decide to walk first, and earn a less bracing dip further round the coast.
We’re soon winding up the hill to the start of the South West Coast Path, just past the Pepperpot, an old landmark for passing ships that was once a coastguard’s lookout. Within minutes of going off road, we’re handed a breathtaking gift: as the land falls away under our feet, a crescent of untouched golden sand reveals itself far below, its scattered rocks calling up through the clear blue waters. We fall into the fantasy: imagine that paradise all to ourselves.
Not that we’re feeling crowded. The first time we see other souls, it’s to exchange small talk about how happy they are that they’re going down Ulla Steps – the near-vertical old stairway we just climbed. We’re too out of breath to point out they’re about to have to climb another set we just descended. Later, we’re given a couple of Hobnobs each by a group of women with hiking poles and bright backpacks. We take a snack break on a headland above Sally’s Bottom, another magical cove, and watch the gannets dive.
We pass Wheal Tye, breathing in the history of the area’s tin mine ruins, and soon find ourselves nearing Porthtowan. A steep rugged descent, and we’re back down to earth, right by the beach. Here, surfers carve elegant lines that mimic the aged hills they’re facing. We’re too early for a coffee at the beach-side Blue Bar. Instead, we scramble over the rocks looking for the sea pool, and find it nestled at the base of the cliff. It’s cold, but you have to savour that moment when your head goes under; when time, with all its corners, dissolves.
The circular route back winds us through country lanes. We peer over farmhouse gates at chickens and family trampolines, and feel a kinship with the t-shirts finally getting to hang in the sun. An unusually long van is parked in a lay-by, its owner sits shirtless, smoking outside. “Morning!” he shouts. “Lovely, innit. I’m just sat here chilling.” His dog suns itself in the middle of the road.
Soon enough, we find ourselves in the woods near Portreath, having joined the coast-to-coast mineral tramway, a popular cycle route that stretches all the way to Devoran. It’s a surprise to realise it’s only lunch time. We begin to discuss food options, keen not to pop this idyllic bubble we’ve created. That’s when we remember the cove. After a coffee and pastry pitstop, we pick up a couple of pasties and shuffle over to the hire centre to see about renting kayaks.
In the shallows, the boarding process is mercifully brief. Soon, we’re like two old sea dogs on our two-seater, albeit with woefully coordinated paddle strokes. Pushing out past the old harbour wall, at the foot of the giant cliffs, we stop to drift. Time stops again. The only sound is the water lapping – and the dull thud of an errant paddle on plastic.
Soon we’re at the cove, dragging our craft up the sand. We unpack our lunch, and sit in the sun.
By the time we return to the castle, we’re giddy but exhausted. All that sea air takes it out of you. We make a date: later, we’ll wander through the back gate and up the hill, past the knotty old trees, woodland camps, and the trickling stream, to cap the day eating seafood beneath the setting sun, up at the Terrace restaurant.
But first, we find the perfect way to fill the luxurious gap before we have to move again. We go out to the book cabinet outside, open the flimsy latch, and take out a well-thumbed volume – promising to return it before we go.
With that, we settle in for the rest of the afternoon: feet up on the sofa, cool Cornish cider in hand, reading aloud the opening lines of another new adventure. “One mid-winter day off the coast of Massachusetts, the crew of a mackerel schooner spotted a bottle with a note in it…”
Early morning rambles, paddling to paradise, and uncovering hidden tidal pools – leave the car behind for the day when you stay by the sea…