First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Looking back from the coast path as we climbed out of Gorran Haven, we saw the old pilchard-fishing port as a tumble of solid stone houses, whitewashed under grey slate roofs. A bold swimmer in a red bathing dress was just stepping gingerly into the icy green shallows of the harbour.
A massive L-shaped granite breakwater spoke of the village’s past; the present lay in plain view along the clifftops opposite, a flotilla of modern houses with glass walls looking seaward.
The path ran south to Maenease Point along banks of primroses. An astonishing display of violets, too, thickly carpeting the slopes in shades ranging from deep purple to the palest blue. White elbowed into the colour contest in the shape of stitchwort, fat-bladdered sea campion, and the hanging bells of three-cornered leek.
A flowery coastal spring walk in a thousand, up and down along the cliffs by way of flights of steps that soon had my knees complaining. A catamaran idled past with a faint putter of engines, while further out to sea a little scarlet trawler lay at work under a swirling cloud of herring gulls.
It was a day for walking slowly, stopping often to look at what was happening right under our noses. Congregations of St Mark’s flies had just hatched, the large black males trailing their legs like seaplane skids as they circled the flowering gorse bushes in jerky flight, the females crouched motionless below on the bright yellow petals.
A great black-backed gull, the bully of the coastal skies, emitted harsh barks like an over-excited terrier as it showed an intruding buzzard out of its territory. In the gorse a great outbreak of twittering among the goldfinches feeding there, followed by a deathly silence, gave warning of a kestrel that floated in slow circles over the slopes, head down as it looked for the ultraviolet scent trails left by voles, or the sudden movements of small birds.
The cliff path skirted the long curve of great sand at Vault Beach, a young couple with their dog the only occupants this morning. Just beyond the bay we crossed through the bushy rampart of The Bulwark, an Iron Age earthwork built to seal off the outer extremities of Dodman Point’s blunt-nosed promontory.
From the big granite cross that makes a seamark out at the tip of the headland we looked south to misted lines of cliffs, south as far as the long bar of the Lizard, north to Nare Head and the slanted sea stack of Gull Rock. On the northern skyline marched the Cornish Alps, tall conical spoil-heaps of the declining china clay industry, their dazzling whiteness now greening over.
More steps, more clifftop rambling. An ice-cold paddle in the surf on deserted Hemmick Beach, then on past the jagged rock pinnacles at Lambsowden Cove, and down through the sycamore woods to the broad sands of Porthluney Cove under the battlemented walls of Caerhays Castle.
How hard is it? 5 miles; moderate coast walk; some steps and steep sections
Start: Gorran Haven, near Mevagissey PL26 6JG (SX 013416)
Finish: Caerhays car park, Porthluney Cove PL26 6LY (OS ref SW 974413)
Getting there: Bus 471/23 (St Austell)
Road – Gorran Haven is signposted from Mevagissey (B3273. from A390 at St Austell)
The Walk (OS Explorer 105): At Gorran Haven harbour, turn right and follow South West Coast Path for 5 miles to Porthluney Cove. Return by pre-arranged taxi (Mevagissey Cars, 07513-774529, £16 approx.)
Lunch: Caerhays Beach Café, Porthluney Cove (01872-501115)
Accommodation: Llawnroc Hotel, Chute Lane, Gorran Haven PL26 6NU (01726-843461, thellawnroc.co.uk)
Caerhays Castle: visit.caerhays.co.uk