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Enjoy warming winter walks by blustery seas

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: December 14, 2013

  • There is nothing better than climbing as high into the heavens as you can get without leaving terra-firma, or heading out to where the land meets the big oceanic weather systems

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We're entering that period commonly known as the "depths of winter" – which I always think is a bit unfair on the season because it seems to suggest we hit some kind of annual nadir.

Unless we're millionaires who can afford to escape to sunnier climes, winter plays a big and inescapable part in our lives – so I reckon the best thing to do is get used to it, get out in it, and enjoy it.

There's no better way of doing this than facing the big blowy darkness head-on – which in our Westcountry case means either climbing as high into the heavens as we can get without leaving terra-firma, or heading out west to where the land meets the big oceanic weather systems that throw themselves our way.

Of course, you can't get much closer to the Atlantic than Land's End, which is a compulsory draw for people visiting the most far-flung bit of this region – and there are some truly excellent coastal walks to be had both sides of the famous head-land.

One of the best and most interesting is a five-mile coastal hike just to the north – beginning at another great bastion of westerly rock which some believe is more enigmatic than Land's End.

Why so? Well, apart from anything else, I am reliably informed that the real definition of a "cape" is a headland where two oceans or channels meet. And it is indeed at Cape Cornwall – not at Land's End – where the English Channel and St Georges Channel go their individual ways.

And so the basic plan for this walk is to park at nearby St Just and find the lane which descends to reveal the glories of England's only cape – then walk south along the coast path.

The mighty trail climbs steeply out of pretty but rocky Priest Cove, tucked away under the southern ramparts of the Cape. It is a charming place with a dozen or so small fishing boats pulled up on the slip.

Up past the golf course and onto the downs above Carn Gloose cliffs the path wends – and it remains at this high level with stupendous views for some half a mile. But do take the slight detour of a just 100 metres along the paved lane to see the remarkable chambered cairn called Ballowall Barrow.

The elaborate edifice, which boasts two concentric inner walls in a ring, was restored a while back and is now in the care of the National Trust and English Heritage. Not one, but three stone cists were discovered in its sizeable interior – two with evidence of cremations inside. The entire round ring was originally covered with a huge cairn of stones, but now lies open for the perusal of passers by.

From here the coast path begins a long decent into the fascinating Cot Valley. This green and silent place is, like so many parts of West Penwith, ravaged with the remains of mining. There are addits and shafts dotted all over the place – not that we had any time to explore because there was now the long haul over Gribba Point, past Little Hendra to be walked.

Now we drop into the lovely valley of Nanquidno with its rock beach and clear waters. I'm told that Nanquidno is held in high regard by birdwatchers who flock here during seasonal gales at this time of year to see what rare birds have been blown in. Last week, alas, there were no birds at all that I could see – not a single chirrup, squawk or feather.

We are now directly under the main flight path of the Skybus aeroplanes which fly back and forth from the Scillonian archipelago, which you can see lurking on the horizon 28 miles west on a clear day.

The next part of the path passes around an area called Nanjulian Cliff, From here we head due south again along the contours underneath Gurland Farm and on down to Aire Point, where we finally reach Whitesand Bay.

This great indentation derives its name from the pure white testaceous sand from which it is formed. It is about 1.4 miles in length, extending from Carn Aire in the parish of St Just, to Pedn mên du, in the parish of Sennen.

Legend has it that King Athelstan sailed from here for the Scillies, while King Stephen is said to have landed here along with King John on his return from Ireland and the rebel Perkin Warbeck.

I wonder if they had better luck with the weather than me – I had intended walking all the way to Land's End but rain had passed the massive off-shore reef known as the Cowloe and was falling heavily upon me.

My enthusiasm for gaining the great Westcountry icon of Land's End was waning and at Sennen Cove I happened to meet someone I knew who was driving back to St Just. I leapt in and 20 minutes later was adjusting my windscreen wipers switch to maximum thrust.

This is all part of the price you pay for heading to the western extremities of our northerly land in that period known as the depths of winter. However, some years ago while exploring this amazing corner of Cornwall in more clement conditions I did follow and inland route back to St Just, which I'd recommend if you've the time…

Returning north from Sennen you leave the Coast Path and ascend to a place called Carn Towan perched above Whitesand Bay. This upper path follows the downs along the ridge past Carn Barges to Escalls Cliff where you can take the small lane on your right which wiggles around to Trevedra Cliff.

From there another footpath heads across the downs to pass Tregiffian and then crosses the length of the ridge to the lower corner of Nanquidno Downs. Climbing the contours from here it joins the small lane which runs a few more metres north to Trevegean Farm. On the sharp right-hand bend a track continues north again, only to turn into a footpath which crosses the patchwork fields to eventually reach the Cot Valley.

A quick left then right in the lane introduces you to another path which climbs up to St Just, passing under Tom Thumb Rock, and entering the Carrallack lane which takes you right back into town.

Either way – by either walking back or catching a bus, taxi or getting a lift – you will beat the midwinter blues by enjoying some of the best wild, oceanic, walking the region has to offer.

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