For the first two days of our Cornish explorations we made the charming town of Padstow our homebase. This little fishing port on the north coast of Cornwall was perfect for an introduction to this part of the United Kingdom.
The first evening we walked around the harbor and got a feel for the town, then enjoyed a fabulous meal at restaurateur Rick Stein’s The Seafood Restaurant.
After feasting on fresh scallops and lobster, we didn’t have far to go to settle in at the inn because our accommodations for the night were actually part of the Restaurant.
The next day found us crossing the bay to the town of Rock where we began our walking tour. With that introduction under our belts, we were ready to move on, on foot of course, to St. Ives the following morning.
The route would take us on a tightrope type of walk traversing the edge of the cliffs that jut above the Celtic Sea along Stepper Point. But before we reached the perilous part of our journey we got a little warm up by walking along River Camel leading out to the open water.
As Padstow disappeared behind us, we came to a Celtic Cross overlooking the city. This was erected as a monument to the soldiers lost in The Great War, or what became known later as World War I. The poignant tribute stands in a beautiful setting, and we learned as we traveled across Cornwall that nearly every town has one.
From the memorial it was just a short walk to the high point on the edge of the bay formed by the river, where we noticed a lookout post perched above us. As we curiously, and cautiously, worked our way up toward it the two men inside waved for us to come on in.
They were happy to have the company it seemed, but they were also performing a part of their duties as volunteer members of the National Coastwatch Institution. Besides watching for trouble at sea, the patrollers take a description of every hiker that passes by to aid in search and rescue should it become necessary.
The crew of NCI Stepper Point Lookout Station was glad to explain their mission of watching over the entrance to the Camel estuary and the port of Padstow and, perhaps most importantly, keeping an eye on the notorious Doom Bar. This sandbar that blocks the entrance at low tide has caused over six hundred vessels to wreck or run aground so a close watch is of primary importance.
Local legend has it that the Doom Bar was created as the dying curse of the Mermaid of Padstow. Some knucklehead supposedly shot her when she refused to marry him, so she cursed the harbor with a “bar of doom.”
No matter the folklore, navigation has been tricky in these parts for quite a while, as evidenced by the stone tower near the coast guard station. Known simply as the Daymark, this navigation tower was built centuries ago to help guide ships around this treacherous point. It was originally lime-washed white to make it visible out to sea, but most of that has long since faded away.
From the tower we excitedly proceeded along the South West Coast Path, England’s longest and perhaps most scenic long distance trail. Onward to the cliffs!
The shoreline dropped off nearly straight down about one hundred feet, making it a little disturbing to get too close to the edge. However, there were a couple of places where we just couldn’t resist going in for a closer look.
The first of these was Pepper Hole. This collapsed sea cave has become a small arch, but it takes a bit of daring to get a good look at it. Coping a careful squat allowed for a peek at the ocean through the hole.
Ambling along a little farther we exchanged intrigued glances with several sheep and learned to climb over the old stone fences that keep them in.
Most of the time we kept a healthy distance between us and the sheer drop off that ran along the coast, but before long we spotted another formation that had us headed for the edge once again.
The rock pinnacles at Gunver Head insisted on closer inspection, so we inched our way over to the precipice for some cautious consideration of the formation.
These cliffs are made of Devonian slate, a sedimentary rock which is extremely brittle and breaks along its layers leaving large flat surfaces.
This characteristic is why this coastline is so craggy and, in the case at Gunver, the crashing surf has created sharp peaks that stand like sentries along the shore.
While we gawked the wind began to kick up, making our precarious perch feel all the more dicey. Before being blown over, we decided to get moving toward the town of Trevone.
When we reached the seaside village, we were wind-blown and ready to take a little break. Spotting an ad for tea at a tiny beachside café, we knew that the time was right, even if it wasn’t officially teatime.
In Cornwall the classic British afternoon ritual is called cream tea, because clotted cream is a star of the show. This butter-like whipped cream is liberally laid out on scones that are lighter than most, in fact they reminded us of good ole southern biscuits.
It is proper to plop a good dollop of strawberry jam down on top of that delicious combination, then wash the whole thing down with hot tea. While we partook the rain did not materialize, so we headed back out and while we walked along the cliffs relented.
The steep coastline gave way to a sandy beach at Harlyn Bay while the sky once again took on an ominous tone. The threatening skies didn’t discourage the handful of surfers and small crowd of beachcombers though, still we made the call to proceed on to our final destination by bus.
When we jumped off at our stop in Constantine Bay, the sky opened up and chased us inside the Treglos Hotel for our second tea of the afternoon.
We inquired as to the lack of etiquette involved with partaking in a double feature when it comes to taking tea, and were assured that it was allowed as long as one was on holiday.
Still, we were fairly certain that this is not what they mean when they say tea for two.
David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com
See more from our Cornwall walking tour here.