Down by the Sea – Porthpean to Charlestown
Welcome to the first in a new series for the blog! In Westcountry Wanderings posts I’ll be featuring walks and places to visit in the southwest of England, with a focus on places that are accessible without a car. So many online walking routes seem to start at car parks in the middle of nowhere with no mention of nearby public transport routes. Fantastic if you drive, but not so great for those who want to leave the car at home and walk Cornwall/Devon. I’ll be approaching these in the same way that I do my other blogs, just with a little more information on where I actually am, so hopefully it won’t be too boring for those of you who are further afield!
Penrice Hospital · Porthpean Beach · Charlestown Harbour
- Distance: 1.89 miles from A to B (without considering time spent running around the beach like a crazy fool).
- Dog Friendly? Seasonal dog ban on Porthpean beach from Easter day to 1st October. Year round dog ban on Charlestown beach. Dogs welcome along the coast path if you don’t mind skipping the beaches though!
- Access: There are bus stops at Penrice Hospital and again in Charlestown. You can find out current bus times through Traveline SW. The coast path has some steep steps and pits in the path so some people may struggle.
Penrice Hospital (St. Austell)
Yesterday I set out to a familiar stretch of the south west coast path, between Porthpean and Charlestown. The sea air is wonderful for cleansing my thoughts, and after a trip to the hospital I was certainly in need of the calming power of nature.
Penrice Hospital conveniently has a bus stop, making this a pretty good place to start your journey even if you haven’t been subjected to the wonderful experience of ultrasound gunk being rubbed over your stomach prior to setting off, which hopefully you haven’t.
I’d originally intended to set off in the other direction towards Mevagissey, but after getting out of the hospital I decided I was in the mood for a far more casual approach to the day. The idea of chilling on the beach for a while and letting the waves wash away my worries sounded like just what I needed.
I headed out of the hospital grounds, turning right onto Porthpean Road and then left onto Porthpean Beach Road shortly further on. Following the road down it won’t take long before you end up at the beach. If you’d prefer to drive there is a car park here. I don’t have any photos from this first part of the walk, but if you click here or on the map below you’ll be magically transported to the MapMyWalk page I’ve created where you’ll be able to find elevation details and, upon clicking ‘view route full screen’, step by step route directions too.
Porthpean is a nice little sheltered beach and a safe swimming location, making it a popular choice for families though never horribly busy, at least in my experience. In the summer months the toilets are open and there’s a little tea shack offering refreshments.
I’d bought along a homemade packed lunch and I couldn’t wait to dig in. Nothing beats having something to eat outside with a beautiful view and the crystal clear waters certainly didn’t disappoint. I took pleasure watching a small black-headed gull, a nice change from the usual seagulls (although there was plenty of those too), wander around whilst I ate.
The beach is a mixture of small pebbles and sand, with some good rock pools to the west if you catch low tide. I LOVE rock pooling, but it’s rare that get a chance to as I’m never usually without the staffie shadow. Having left him behind I thought I’d take advantage of being dog free for a change and do some investigating.
It wasn’t long before I’d found a ton of common prawns and a couple of different sea anemones, as well as hundreds of varying molluscs. Once I started lifting up a few rocks, always replacing them exactly where I found them of course, I began to find lots of tiny little crabs no bigger than my thumbnail too. Sadly no sign of the recently rediscovered St. Piran’s hermit crab though! I’d also hoped I might come across sea stars or pipe fish, for no other reason than that both are adorable, but had no such luck with them either. Later I started noticing lots of tiny flatworms, glistening as the light hit them.
I lost hours on the beach, a much welcomed distraction. Happily lost in my own little world, I spent much of my afternoon snapping photos, pocketing sea glass for future craft projects, and picking up any litter I came across as I always do. I’m always enchanted by the beautiful contrasting colours and textures along rocky shorelines. It’s a fascination that grows ever stronger since signing up to be involved in the citizen science project Capturing Our Coast, a lottery funded data collection project taking place across the UK. I highly recommend checking it out if you’ve got an interest in marine biology, I’ve learnt loads!
Just as I was leaving the beach I came across a washed up jellyfish, and shortly afterwards a second one. It’s been in the news that a sperm whale sadly washed up on a Cornish beach last week and was unable to be saved. Since then, the onshore winds have apparently been responsible for stranding jellyfish in their thousands to Perranporth beach. It’s heartbreaking to see animals needlessly dying, even when that animal is a gelatinous blob. They’re fascinating creatures and, despite the sad circumstances, it’s always intriguing when you get to see one up close, which is a pretty regular occurrence for those of us who live on the coast.
South West Coast Path
Head along the promenade to the opposite end of the beach where you’ll find a steep set of steps that will take you up onto the coast path. The path cuts across Carrickowel Point where you’ll spot an old world war two lookout tower on your right. It’s a pretty ugly structure, as so many things remaining from the war are, but go ahead and climb up it for a great view of the bay!
Sadly whilst walking along I came across a slow worm that had been trodden on. They’re such beautiful animals and numbers are in decline, as with so many species. We can only hope that it was an accident and not a malicious act.
Following the path further along you’ll come across Duporth, meaning ‘two coves’ in Cornish, beach. It’s a privately owned beach only accessible by the coast path, but you’re still welcome to explore it. There does seem to be some information online suggesting that the public aren’t welcome, but the sign at the entrance just give some restrictions rather than putting a total ban in place. I didn’t venture onto the beach on this occasion, but it’s a lovely place to spend some time and if you’ve read my previous posts you’ll have seen some photos of it turning beautifully pink at dusk.
There’s been some pretty bad cliff erosion in the area, resulting in access to the coast path at the opposite end to the beach being closed off, so be mindful of that if you do choose to explore it. At low tide it is possible to clamber across the rocks round onto Charlestown beach, but I wouldn’t recommend it if you don’t know the area – I’d rather not be responsible for you being washed out to sea!
The coast path takes you alongside the end of gardens belonging to residents of Duporth. I often look at them and wonder how many of them are second homes left mostly empty, like so much of Cornwall sadly is, but that’s a rant for another day. There’s some gorgeous smelling honeysuckle along here that really comes alive in the evenings right now. I always expect it to attract far more in the way of insect life than it does though, which worries me a little.
Crinnis Cliff Battery
As you reach the end of the gardens you’ll enter into a small area of woodland, at the end of which you’ll come across Crinnis Cliff gun battery, built in 1793 to defend Charlestown against possible attacks from those pesky French. You can head straight past down the coast path, but I prefer to take a small detour inside. I usually stop on the bench, refuel on caffeine from my flask, and take some time out to look for critters.
It’s here that I found the ant’s nest on a previous visit. On this occasion I came across a fair few common red soldier beetles chilling on some cow parsley, a couple of brown butterflies, a couple of pill millipedes, and a rather dramatic yellow and black fly that I now know to be a dark-winged fungus gnat. What a name! The find of the day though was a beautiful female lesser stag beetle. She’s the first I’ve seen in a long time so I was very excited!
Heading out of the battery and down the coastal path you’ll end up in Charlestown harbour, a location you might just recognise from it’s numerous television appearances. It’s a lovely little place with two pebbled beaches to explore and often the chance to see the stunning tall ship Pheonix moored, though she was out at sea on this occasion.
I decided to walk down onto the east beach, stopping to sit in the entrance of a cave and collect my thoughts before walking home. Caves always manage to send my imagination running wild with fantastical tales of dragons, and of Cornwall’s smuggling past of course!
Back in the harbor I was amused to see a crow perched on top of one of the ship’s masts… So that’s why they call it a crows nest! Sadly this ship didn’t have one though… Poor nestless corvid.
Following the road up you’ll come across the bus stop, where my short route ends. Don’t be too quick to jump on a bus though, it’s definitely a location worth exploring further. If you like ships then the Shipwreck and Heritage Center is probably going to be of interest to you. There’s also plenty of places to stop for a drink or some food.
Walking back home I took pleasure in watching some crazy beautiful cloud formations. Cornwall certainly gets some fantastic skies! As always, check out the slideshow below for more photos from the day.
I’ll be writing about walks that link up with this one soon though, so make sure to check back or subscribe on Bloglovin! What else would you like to see on the blog? Let me know in the comments!