First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Polruan’s streets and houses fall steeply away to the narrow mouth of the Fowey estuary, mirroring the avalanche-like tumble of the grey and white houses of Fowey directly opposite. It’s an iconic Cornish prospect, and as we climbed the stepways and lanes of the village towards the cliff path we stopped often to look back and savour the view.
A young blackbird as yet uncertain of his flying powers squatted under a sprig of willowherb in Battery Lane, keeping stock still, hoping not to be noticed. We sidled round him and went on to where the village lanes gave way to a skein of narrow paths running east along the cliffs.
A kestrel streaked upriver, displaying its russet back and long slim tail. On the cliffs the wild grasses grew ungrazed, each seed-head darkened and weighted by the morning’s rain. A new shower came drifting through from the southwest in a flurry of milky air, lining every blade of grass with a row of pearls.
No matter how many times you walk these Cornish cliffs, the long views never fail to stun. Looking back into the west the bays curved away to the red and white striped tower on Gribbin Head, to the long dark arm of Dodman Point, and in the far distance a hint of the Lizard Peninsula. To the east the cliffs advanced seaward, lowering long grey arms of rock into lacy cuffs of white foam.
Every few steps we came to a halt, entranced by the wild flowers – yellow petals and crimson fruits of sweet amber, pale flax with a tiny brilliant blue stamen spot, buttery bird’s-foot trefoil, the soft pink of musk mallow’s large clustered flowers, the dusky pink bonnets of tuberous pea and little clumps of pungent-smelling wild thyme. Wrens chattered in the bracken, and stonechats with black caps and apricot chests perched on the highest sprigs of gorse they could find to give out their abrupt little calls: whist-tchik-tchik!
Beyond Sandheap Point we crossed a stream bouncing down the combe from Lansallos, and followed it uphill in a leafy dell to the church of St Ildierna, ‘of whom little is known’. Whomever he or she was, St Ildierna’s Church is as large as a rural cathedral, splendid both inside and out, and furnished with finely carved bench ends – a good place to linger after this lovely walk as you wait for the bus to Polruan.
Start: Polruan Quay, PL23 1PA (SX 126510) or Polruan main car park, St Saviours Hill PL23 1PZ
Getting there: Ferry from Fowey.
Polruan Bus from Looe (01726-870719, looe.org/polruanbus).
Road: Polruan is reached by minor road from A387 at Polperro, or B3359 at Pelynt or Lanreath.
Walk (5 miles, strenuous, OS Explorer 107): From jetty, past Lugger Inn and climb Garrett Steps. Right at top. In 400m, left up Battery Lane (‘Coast Path’). Follow CP signs past main car park, coastguard lookout and Polruan Academy, to reach open cliffs at Furze Park (CP is poorly waymarked here – keep to lower path). Follow CP for 3½ miles. Beyond Sandheap Point, descend to cross stone stile, then stream from Lansallos at West Combe. In 50m, through next gate (pink arrow on reverse); left here (166513) up path. In 150m CP crosses (‘Polruan’, ‘Polperro’); but keep ahead through 2 gates, up woodland path (occasional yellow arrow) to Lansallos Church and bus stop (173516). Return by bus (see above), or taxi (07870-280114).
Accommodation: Hormond House, 55 Fore Street, Fowey PL23 1PH (01726-870853, hormondhouse.com)