Turning the Last Corner
This has been a physically and mentally demanding week, but also immensely satisfying. Arriving at Land’s End, I completed one long walk that began at John o’ Groats in June last year. Meanwhile, the other walk - Victory Walk - has continued.
Headlands, lighthouses, the ‘Tin Coast’, pretty Cornish coves, donations, memorials, communications and walking milestones have all featured after I began another walking week from St Ives in thick fog. By the time I reached the first of my lighthouses, Pendeen, the sun shone brightly and old mine workings further down the coast, forming part of the UNESCO World Heritage Mining site, were clearly visible. The mines along a lengthy stretch of coast were used to produce, copper, tin and arsenic, the latter being a by-product of tin ore.
The National Trust has restored some of the remaining buildings at Levant, and a Beam Engine. Close by, Geevor tin mine, one of the last mines to close in Cornwall, is now a museum and heritage centre. Botallack’s old mine buildings and engine houses used in the filming of Poldark followed, and eventually this industrial landscape led me to Cape Cornwall. The UK only has two Capes and I’ve now visited both. Last year I walked to Cape Wrath in NW Scotland and this week to Cape Cornwall, just a few miles north of Land’s End; at one time this Cape saw more visitors than Land’s End.
The Longships Lighthouse lies barely two miles off-shore, close to Land’s End and the small village of Sennen Cove which has a lifeboat station. Between them, neither could save the RMS Mulheim that ran aground in unusual circumstances at Gramper Cove, March 2003. This small cove lies between Sennen and Land’s End and I saw some of the ship’s remains.
A subsequent enquiry learned that the Chief Officer, who’d been on watch at the time of the disaster, caught his trousers in the lever of his chair when trying to get up. His snared trousers caused him to fall and he was knocked unconscious. By the time he regained consciousness it was too late to save the ship. The ship’s six crew members were winched to safety by a Search and Rescue helicopter from RNAS Culdrose, and later treated for shock at Sennen’s lifeboat station.
Rounding Land’s End was definitely a special moment: it marked the end of my second John o’ Groats to Land’s End adventure. My first in 2007, via a more direct route, saw me walk 1,200 miles over 13 weeks. My second, as part of the Victory Walk lasted 37 weeks (excluding injury recovery time) and saw me walk 2,955 miles via the wriggliest route possible: across the top of Scotland, then southwards down the entire western coast of mainland UK. On this occasion, when I stood at that famous signpost it was bright sunshine, not the driving rain I experienced in 2007.
Having turned my last major corner, I set an easterly course along which I’ve been treated to a string of pretty coves and fishing harbours, starting with Porthcurno. In addition to its sandy beach the village is renowned for its open air Minack Theatre perched high up on granite cliffs with glorious sea views.
Porthcurno’s other claim to fame is the Telegraph Museum; the building was once the largest telegraph station in the world and became the hub for global communications. Underwater telegraph cables laid across the Atlantic and to other parts of the world, all came ashore here in this tiny Cornish village. Combining electricity and morse code enabled messages to go via cables laid along the seabed. Cable and Wireless also ran their Engineering training college from here and I saw some of the original training telegraph poles, produced in miniature.
Much later, on the Lizard, I visited another famous communications site at Poldhu, near Mullion. A monument records the location of Poldhu Wireless Station and Guglielmo Marconi’s transmitter for the first transatlantic radio message in December 1901. This technology was a precursor to radio, television, satellites and the internet of today. Despite Cornwall having once been at the forefront of communications, we’ve struggled to find any phone signal here for most of this past week!
After Porthcurno I was treated to a variety of small coves and harbours as I made my way to Penzance, Later I rounded Mount’s Bay dominated by St Michael’s Mount and then trekked on to Lizard Point. Villages and coves with well-known names such as Penberth, Lamorna, Mousehole, Mullion, Bessy’s Cove, Porthleven and Kynance have all been duly admired and passed through.
It was at Mousehole my ‘bootometer’ clocked 5,000 miles, but as the Victory Van was unable to squeeze through the narrow streets, we took our official photograph just beyond Penzance, using the beautiful St Michael’s Mount as a backdrop.
On the outskirts of Mousehole, at Penlee Point, I came across the former lifeboat shed of the ill-fated Solomon Browne that went to the rescue of MV Union Star on 19 December 1981. The eight crewmen all lost their lives as did those aboard the merchantman. The disaster, coming less than a week before Christmas, made national headlines and thousands donated to a special disaster fund.
The replacement lifeboat is now moored in Newlyn, a fishing port that lead me into Penzance. Here I came across my first Gold Post Box – painted to honour Helen Glover who, with her rowing partner Heather Stanning, won gold for the rowing women’s pairs in London’s 2012 Olympics.
After stopping to take photos at St Michael’s Mount I endured a very hot, humid and fly ridden walk to Praa Sands, where I’d a date with some members of West Cornwall’s Branch of the Association of Wrens. In spite of arriving late and resembling someone who’d just played a hard game of squash, I was very kindly treated to lunch in the local café and given some welcome donations. In addition, I received a homemade cake and a bottle of ‘fizz’ to mark my 5,000 miles. Unlike racing drivers, I didn’t spray the bottle’s contents over everyone but kept it for the purpose nature intended!
Afterwards I pushed along the path to Loe Bar, from where I walked inland to RNAS Culdrose. Next morning it was a treat to have coffee and biscuits with women serving at HMS Seahawk, before I collected more donations from people sited around the station. Culdrose is the largest helicopter base in Europe and the Merlin helicopters were out in force – constantly flying in and out.
I was sad to leave, but knew I had to reach my final milestone of the week - Lizard Point. The Lizard, as it’s commonly referred to, is the UK mainland’s most southerly point. Having already conquered the most easterly, northerly and westerly points, the Lizard completed my collection of cardinal points. I also planned to enjoy a cuppa in the UK’s most southerly café. but after a long day’s walk found it to be closed. I nearly had a tantrum!
And finally, on my travels I’ve been passed by local buses and noticed that they try to teach visitors Cornish. On the back there’s usually a Cornish word followed by an English translation.
Here’s my favourite example: Wassamatawidee. Meaning: What’s the matter?!
See Photo Album No 80 – Turning the Last Corner