Kynance Cove to Lizard Point

A beautiful blue sea at Kynance
A beautiful blue sea at Kynance

I haven’t been in Cornwall much over the last couple of weeks, but before I went ‘up country’ I enjoyed a glorious sunny day on the Lizard. It really was a beautiful day, with clear blue skies, flowers finally daring to poke their heads out and plenty of people out on the cliffs making the most of the warmth.

I parked in the National Trust car park at Kynance Cove, but rather than setting off down to the beach, I headed south along the coastal path, with two aims, to find Land Quillwort, and to see some Choughs.

On the coastal path near Kynance
On the coastal path near Kynance

Now, if there’s one thing I should know from past experience, it is that if I set off to find something in particular, I will NOT find it. True to form, I didn’t…Even more frustratingly, I had had described to me roughly where the Land Quillwort would be found, but either it had upped roots and moved (not likely) or I just didn’t have my eye in properly. Those of you in the know will be well aware that this plant is one of the Lizard specialities, so I’ll be off on another, and hopefully more successful, hunt soon.

If you imagine a red beak and photoshop in some red legs, this could be a Chough...maybe?
If you imagine a red beak and photoshop in some red legs, this could be a Chough…maybe?

As for the Choughs, well I had a great chat with the knowledgeable volunteers at the Chough watch point at Lizard Point, who hadn’t seen them much round there on the day, but knew they had been feeding on some fields near to the Lloyds Signal Station within the last hour. Off I trotted – no Choughs. I did see two black dots in the distance flying back the other way – it was probably them!

To make matters worse, almost everyone I passed on the walk said: ‘Have you seen the seal? It’s a really big one, really obvious – you can’t miss it…’. If only noone had said anything, then I’d definitely have seen it!

The sky really was this blue
The sky really was this blue

Now, all of this not quite seeing things made me a bit grumpy, which is why, for me at least, it’s always a good idea to set off and ‘see what I can see’, rather than having anything in particular to search for. Because, of course, I did see some lovely things on a beautiful day along the coast.

Round-leaved Water Crowfoot - one small flower left...
Round-leaved Water Crowfoot – one small flower left…

For example, I found this delicate Water Crowfoot – not the rarer Three-lobed Crowfoot that is another Lizard delight – but what I think is Round-leaved Crowfoot (the Water Crowfoots can be hard for a non-expert like me to distinguish). At first glance, this plant doesn’t look like much, and is found in boggy wet places – but in the early spring its pretty small white flowers appear.

To make up for the lack of Choughs, a Kestrel posed for me on a nearby rock, the soft pink displays of Common Centaury and rich yellow Gorse brightened the cliffs and, round by Lizard Point, the tasty smell of Three-cornered Garlic filled the air before the plants themselves came into view.

Three-cornered Garlic
Three-cornered Garlic

I’m hoping for some more bright days soon, so I can enjoy exploring – but without an aim in mind this time!

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A short walk in Penrose

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Well, it’s still cold, but the sun came out for a time here in Cornwall over Easter weekend. Of course, this is the weekend I get a streaming cold and cough palaver, and have no energy to go anywhere!

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Never mind – I had to go into Helston for some medicine, so rather than going back to crawl under my duvet at home straight away, I decided to go for a short walk through part of Penrose, near Helston. This is one of my favourite places in Cornwall, but normally I park in the National Trust car park about half way down the road to Porthleven, and make my way through the Penrose Estate down towards the sea (see my first ever post here on this blog about the wonderful Loe Bar!). But today I was only up for a short stroll, so I parked opposite the Boating Lake and had a wander through the Penrose Amenity Area.

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After a more open grassy area by the side of the Cober the way takes you into wet willow woodland, full of the signs of spring. There are so many small winding paths, I found myself meandering about happily without getting very far at all, as I kept doubling back on myself, attracted by this flower or those steps or that clump of fungi, or meeting and greeting friendly dogs and their owners. The runny nose and sore throat was almost forgotten!

Stitchwort with its delicately divided petals
Stitchwort with its delicately divided petals
Looking like its own name - navelwort.
Looking like its own name – navelwort.
One of the many winding paths...
One of the many winding paths…

How nice it was to find a bit of nature ‘on the doorstep’. There may not have been the sweeping views of the Lizard or the North Coast, but sometimes you just need something a bit more close to home and comforting…

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Kynance Cove on a Spring morning

Shell on Serpentine, Kynance Cove

I went to Kynance Cove on The Lizard this Saturday morning, complete with my lovely sister and a small dog called Podge. As far as we know it was Podge’s first trip to the sea (she is a rescue dog), and she had a whale of a time, once she realised how water behaves on a beach!

With Podge, discovering the sea
With Podge, discovering the sea

It was a lovely day, sun shining, a crisp but not-too-cold breeze, salt on the air, and a very quiet beach, with only a few other friendly people sharing the beauty of the sea and sand. Dogs are allowed from 1 October until Easter, and Podge, after scrambling nervously down onto the beach from the rocks (she only has little legs), enjoyed the experience as much as we did.

Kynance Cove is lovely to visit in summer – it’s warm and you can paddle and enjoy an ice cream at the cafe – but it’s also very crowded. At this earlier time of the year, when the cold edge is leaving the air but the visitors haven’t yet arrived, it’s a different place – more peaceful, relatively secluded. You have longer to contemplate the view and investigate the swirling patterns of the serpentine in the rocks.

Kynance Cove
Kynance Cove
Sea campion at Kynance Cove
Sea campion at Kynance Cove

On our way across the beach towards the cafe we enjoyed some of the early signs of spring, including lesser celandine and sea campion. The mass of flowers that will soon adorn the cliffs are not yet there, but this made the sight of these few early flowers bravely blooming all the more lovely, with no competition to detract from their prettiness. Seeing them, these short-lived plants of delicate beauty, set against the aeons-old famous exposures of serpentine, the swirling waves of the sea and the warm-coloured sand, is a reminder of the amazing contrasts of time and form we find in nature.

Kynance sky
Kynance sky

Also amazing was the delicious apple cake we enjoyed at the cafe, which we were delighted to find open!

If you want to take a spring trip to Kynance Cove, you can park in the National Trust car park signposted from the A3083 just before you get to Lizard Village. Parking there is free to National Trust members, but otherwise there’s a charge (less this time of the year than in the summer). It’s worth checking the tide times, as the beach is much more restricted at high tide.  But then, you can always take the path that avoids the high tide and enjoy a delicious cake in the cafe while you’re waiting for the beach to reappear…

Serpentine, Kynance Cove

Playing detective on Pennance Point

I was sorting through photographs today, and I found some from a couple of years ago when I went to visit Pennance Point, not far from Swanpool and Falmouth on the South Cornwall coast.  The images brought back some lovely memories – I remember it as a blowy, cold-ish November day, but in the company of good friends from the ecology course I was studying.

The view from Pennance Point (photo credit: Amanda Scott)
The view from Pennance Point (photo credit: Amanda Scott)

It’s a beautiful spot, a County Wildlife site lying within the Cornwall Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and the neighbouring coastline is an Important Bird Area and Special Area of Conservation. Dominated as it is by cliffs, broadleaf woodland and scrub means there are lots of different things to see and discover.

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We were in fact practising doing a habitat survey – and that meant we were searching for all kinds of signs and evidence for what might be snuffling in the undergrowth or curled up underground, keeping safely out of sight. Looking for ‘micro-signs’ like this means you catch so many small details that you would otherwise miss – a nibbled acorn, a footprint, hairs caught on a low branch, scratches in the bark of a tree. Put all these little things back together into one big canvas and you end up with a much more complete sense of what’s happening around you.

So, what did we find, on our day as nature detectives?

  • Honeysuckle plus hazel = dormice. We didn’t find any dormice themselves (they’re nocturnal of course and would already be hibernating by November), but hazel nuts to nibble and honeysuckle for building nests are big clues that they may have been there, snoring away.

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  • Deep gouge on fallen log = badger (probably!). This was quite a big deep scratch – it would have to have been a powerful animal that made it – so we felt pretty sure it was a badger. We also saw badger paths – the characteristic trodden down trails through the undergrowth, made because a badger takes the same route every evening as it forages for food, and a footprint. So lots of clues for badger!
  • Many of the trees were old with cracks and crevices = good spots for bats to use as roosts..
  • Spraint is a really good field sign – different animals have different shaped ‘poo’, with characteristic smells. We decided this was fox. Do you agree?

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English: Creeping buttercup (Ranunculus repens...
Creeping buttercup (Ranunculus repens) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We saw lots else of course, out in the open. A kestrel hovered over some scrub, and other birds dashed from tree to tree – long-tailed tits, wrens, chaffinches, dunnocks, goldcrests, and a song thrush perched high on a branch. The wood was full of lovely old trees – sycamore, silver and downy birch, hawthorn, oak, holly, beech and ash. Smaller plants included angelica, old man’s beard, creeping buttercup, sea campion, red campion, navelwort and common dog-violet. We saw a honey bee and a red admiral, and a spectacular drinker moth caterpillar cavorted through some scrub. Nothing out of the ordinary, but no less lovely for it.

Looking back through the photos has prompted me to get back there soon, and see how it looks in early spring. If you want to visit and see what signs and clues you can find, or just enjoy the sea air in your face, then park in the carpark at Swanpool and head south a few metres to make your way on to the path to Pennance Point. You won’t regret it.

A walk round Stithians Lake

At the edge of Stithians Lake (photo credit: Amanda Scott)
At the edge of Stithians Lake (photo credit: Amanda Scott)

So far in this blog, I’ve focussed on discovering and sharing places new to me in Cornwall, but I thought it was high time to turn my attention closer to home.  Stithians Reservoir is a 15 minute walk from my front door, and I’m a conservation volunteer there, so I spend a fair number of hours walking round the lake, spotting wildlife and helping out with management tasks. Familiarity, however, far from breeding contempt, makes me love it all the more, and there’s always something new to find.

The Reservoir is owned by South West Water, but is managed for conservation and recreation by the fantastic team at South West Lakes Trust, who look after a number of reservoirs across Devon and Cornwall. Check out their website here to find out more. If you’re a watersports lover and live in the area, you probably know the lake really well, as do the many dog owners who enjoy walking with their pets beside the water, but there’s a lot of wildlife there, too! Here’s some examples.

Buzzard at Stithians (photo credit: Amanda Scott)
Buzzard at Stithians (photo credit: Amanda Scott)

Earlier this year, I turned a corner and came eyeball to eyeball with this buzzard! It won the ‘staring-out’ contest, posed for the photo, and then glided off across the fields.  It’s unusual not to see a buzzard on a Stithians walk, but I’ve never been as close as I was this time.

The lake is in fact well known for birdlife, including many wintering water birds as well as residents.  The Cornwall Bird Watching and Preservation Society manage two areas on the reserve – under the watchful eye of their Stithians Warden, my chum Simon, – and there’s a public hide near the Watersports centre (opposite the Golden Lion Pub) if you want to see what you can spot.

Burnet moth (photo credit: Amanda Scott)
Burnet moth (photo credit: Amanda Scott)

In the summer, you’ll find a lot of butterflies and day-flying moths (maybe not this summer – it was pretty dreadful – but here’s hoping for more sun next year!). Burnet moths were two-a-penny for much of the summer, brightening up the grasses with their vivid colours.  Did you know their colouring is a warning to would-be predators? Burnet moths – both the five-spot and six-spot variety – contain cyanide, so are poisonous.

The butterfly species I saw most of this year was the plain and simple but rather fetching Ringlet, but I did also spot this very nice Gatekeeper, posing sweetly for me!

Gatekeeper Butterfly, Stithians Lake (photo credit: Amanda Scott)
Gatekeeper Butterfly, Stithians Lake (photo credit: Amanda Scott)
Common Valerian: Stithians Lake (photo credit: Amanda Scott)
Common Valerian: Stithians Lake (photo credit: Amanda Scott)

In the spring and summer, the areas around the lake are brimming with wildflowers. Even today, in December, some Red Campion was still flowering. Common Valerian (pictured) was beautiful back in July. It’s a constant battle, though, to keep the bracken and bramble cut back.  We need a mix of habitats round the lake. Some thick scrub is good – for ground-nesting birds in the spring and summer, cover for other birds as well as for reptiles and amphibians and small mammals – but we also need more open areas where wildflowers can thrive, providing nectar for bees, butterflies and other insects.   The conservation team have been doing a bit of ‘scrub-bashing’ this year, so we’re hoping to get lots of wildflowers (and butterflies etc.) next year!

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You can walk pretty much all the way round the lake (it’s about 5 miles: it took me 2.5 hours this morning, dawdling a bit, though, taking photos), apart from one section where you have to detour for maybe half a mile onto the main road. This time of year, wear your wellies, though – the path is very muddy in places. The best place to start from is the Angling and Watersports Centre at the northwest corner of the lake (TR16 6NW). There’s also a cycle path, and you can even hire a bike there – details here.

If you time it right, you can end up at the Golden Lion, not far from the Watersports Centre. A good lunch, a pint in hand, and the mud and chill are soon forgotten!!

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Devichoys Wood

…or why dead wood can be a good thing…

Entrance to Devichoys Wood (photo credit: Amanda Scott)
Entrance to Devichoys Wood (photo credit: Amanda Scott)

Yesterday started off here in Cornwall as a perfect autumn day: the sun was shining, the garden was coated with frost and the air was crisp.  So I decided to head off to a local area of ancient woodland – Devichoys Nature Reserve – owned and managed by Cornwall Wildlife Trust.

Carpet of fallen oak leaves (photo credit: Amanda Scott)
Carpet of fallen oak leaves (photo credit: Amanda Scott)

There is very little that can beat a woodland for an autumn walk – the colours, the leafless branches twisting darkly against the sky, wood pigeons dashing from tree to tree or bright robins perching close by hoping you’ll kick up something interesting to eat, rime-coated leaves, the roar of cars and lorries…oh, yes, Devichoys runs along the main A39 between Falmouth and Truro, and the traffic noise is constant.  At first I thought I’d find it distracting, but I was surprised how quickly I shut it out (possibly a skill gained from living in London!), and focussed instead on the stillness and delicate noises of the woods.

Tree branches twisting in Devichoys Wood: beneath the gold-covered slopes beyond lies the A39! (Photo credit: Amanda Scott)
Tree branches twisting in Devichoys Wood: at the foot of the gold-covered slopes beyond lies the A39! (Photo credit: Amanda Scott)

Devichoys is a 40-acre site of ancient woodland. This does not mean it is a relic of wildwood or primeval forest – ancient woodland means a wood that is generally at least 400 years old and with a predominance of natural not human-planted trees, but which nonetheless bears the hallmarks of traditional sustainable management, such as coppicing. Look at a plantation of oaks, with their straight trunks and almost uniform shapes and height, and then look at the crooked, weaving branches of the sessile oaks (Quercus petraea), clearly of different ages, that dominate Devichoys Wood. Very little ancient woodland like this remains in Cornwall – much was felled to fuel the tin mining industry – so fragments like this are beautiful to find.

Coppiced oak, Devichoys Wood
Coppiced oak, Devichoys Wood (photo credit: Amanda Scott)

As you walk round the circular track in Devichoys you can spot the familiar signs of coppicing everywhere – several stems growing from one central ‘stool’ where the tree has been cut – making use of the natural ability of the tree to regenerate and provide a continuous source of wood.  The very informative sign at the entrance to the reserve told me that coppicing stopped here about 60 years ago, but that the Wildlife Trust has now restarted it as a conservation practice.

We are used to thinking of human impact on the environment as bad for wildlife, but in fact these traditional and low-impact management practices are beneficial, by creating a varied structure and open spaces to suit different species. The Trust is also creating ‘rides’ through the wood – clear avenues where the trees have been cut to create lighter areas. I’ll definitely be visiting in the summer to enjoy the colours of the wildflowers and butterflies that will be thriving there! These spaces can also be good for some bat species that like a varied environment.

Bat boxes - a sign that conservationists are present, as well as bats! (Photo credit: Amanda Scott)
Bat boxes – a sign that conservationists are present, as well as bats! (Photo credit: Amanda Scott)

There is plenty to see in the late autumn, though. I started my walk early, so the frost was still decorating the leaves and acorns, catching the low sun.

Look at this rime-covered acorn:

Rime-covered acorn (photo credit: Amanda Scott)
Rime-covered acorn (photo credit: Amanda Scott)

And what’s been nibbling this one?

Nibbled acorn (Photo credit: Amanda Scott)
Nibbled acorn (Photo credit: Amanda Scott)
Felled wood, left to decay, and quickly covered in growth (photo credit: Amanda Scott)
Felled wood, left to decay, and quickly covered in growth (photo credit: Amanda Scott)

In case you were beginning to wonder about the subtitle of this post – the management of the wood also incorporates leaving plenty of dead wood lying around, and I loved seeing all the different shapes of fallen and felled logs and branches.  Why is dead wood so good? Well, it is of course part of the cycle of nature for plants to decay and return their nutrients to the earth. And in the meantime it provides a home for mosses, lichens, fungi and invertebrates.

These lichens are enjoying the dead wood!

Lichens like dead wood! (Photo credit: Amanda Scott)
Lichens like dead wood! (Photo credit: Amanda Scott)

And so is this fungus!

Fungus enjoying dead wood! (Photo credit: Amanda Scott)
Fungus likes dead wood! (Photo credit: Amanda Scott)

I spent a lovely, muddy, crisp two hours in Devichoys Wood, spotting lovely old trees of hazel, holly, beech (which hold their browny-gold autumn leaves through much of the winter) as well as the gnarled oaks and the bramble (still trying to flower!).

I even managed to get lost (not a surprise to anyone familiar with my sense of direction), and found myself at the edge of the wood, admiring the trees curving away around a field edge. It always gives me a thrill to approach a wood, to wonder what I’ll find under its branches, but it is even more entrancing to stand beneath the trees, looking outward, wrapped in its peace and privacy.

For more about Devichoys Wood and how to get there – it is off the A39 close to Perranaworthal and about 3 miles north of Penryn –  see the Cornwall Wildlife Trust‘s website. Be warned – parking is limited.

To find out more about ancient woodland, I don’t think you can do better than Oliver Rackham‘s Woodlands, published in Collins New Naturalist Library series.

Cut wood, Devichoys Wood

Porkellis Moor

So, in my last post, I said I would visit one of Cornwall’s hidden gems, somewhere  a bit off the tourist trail. In the end, I didn’t pick one of the places I listed last week, but somewhere I’ve been passing by everytime I head towards Helston and keep meaning to explore – Porkellis Moor.

It’s been on my list for a number of reasons:  1. I love bogs, fens, ponds, puddles and mud, and Porkellis Moor is apparently full of them.  2. It is part of the West Cornwall Bryophytes SSSI, so is a haven for some rare liverwort species – very nice if you like boggy places, like me.  3. It’s pretty close to where I live, so it’s high time I went.

The first lesson was, don’t take the car. I did in the end manage to tuck my car away somewhere, but there’s not really anywhere to park at any of the entrances to the reserve. So if my description below tempts you to visit, take the bicycle, or make it part of a longer walk in the area round Stithians and the Reservoir: a good OS map will give you the footpaths.

Entering by a small kissing gate on the south side of the area, a hedgerow-lined path takes you towards the moor but hides it from sight.  A fox ran across the path in front of me, stared me out for a few seconds, and then shot fast into the undergrowth.  Having had a morning getting fed up doing shopping and other chores, and depressed by the dull day, it was one of those ‘entering another world through the wardrobe’ moments and, despite the drizzle, my spirits lifted. I followed the fox.

Porkellis Moor in November (Photo credit: Amanda Scott)
Dumb buddle on Porkellis Moor (Photo credit: Amanda Scott)

I lost sight of my guide, but soon found the moor. It is definitely, decidedly boggy. Take your wellies!  It is in fact not only a lovely marshy area – I’m sure in the spring and summer it is going to be humming with butterflies, dragonflies, damselflies and lovely boggy plant species – but is also part of the Cornish tin mining heritage, with various remains, including a couple of ‘dumb buddles’.  A buddle was a circular pit, fitted with rotating brushes and used to concentrate the tin ore, and a dumb buddle was the manual version. It’s fun to explore round some of these ruins, and at this time of year I suspect you will have the place largely to yourself – I did – apart from locals enjoying a good place for a walk. It would be a fantastic place for dogs to enjoy – lots of lovely puddles to splash in!

I made a half-hearted attempt to look for rare bryophytes, but I’m no expert, and will need to ask for some help from more knowledgeable friends in finding them. If any readers happen to know their liverworts, the species found here are Cephaloziella integerrima, C. massalongi and C. nicholsonii.

Yellow Brain Fungus (Photo credit: Amanda Scott)

But I did find some other more common but still lovely things.  Yellow brain fungus for one was in its full yellow splendour after the rain.  This inedible golden-coloured fungus of dead and decaying wood – Tremella mesenterica – shrivels up in dry weather, but with wet conditions (of which we’ve had plenty) it swells up and contorts, looking something like a brain, and hence its common name. Not over-large (no more than 10 cm) it’s still a bright sight on a dull day!

And look at this amazing fruticose lichen – an Usnea sp., I think.

Fruticose lichen (Usnea sp.) (Photo credit: Amanda Scott)

Or this beauty, which I think is Parmotrema perlatum.

Parmotrema perlatum (Photo credit: Amanda Scott)

It just goes to show that even on a mizzly November day, when birds and other beasts are keeping out of sight, there is still plenty that is wonderful to see, if you’re prepared to look at the smaller scale.  A hand lens is a great and inexpensive investment to bring a new world to life.

Before leaving, I explored an area of wet willow woodland.  Even wearing wellies it was tough going in the muddy conditions, so I stopped instead for a few moments, listening to the sounds of the wood – drippings, rustlings, scurryings – still and quiet and yet also full of noises. The more I listened, the more I tuned in to the vibrant undercurrent of life amongst the willows with their weaving branches. As I turned to go, I caught a flash of red moving through the trees. Goodbye for now, fox – see you next time!

Wet willow woodland, Porkellis Moor (Photo credit: Amanda Scott)

Working together for nature

I’ve been heard to express doubt about whether wildlife NGOs work together often enough. Acting in partnership gives not only strength in numbers and clout, but means that people and organisations, both at local and national levels, get to share views, good practice and ideas.

So I’m always glad when I’m forced to eat my words on this point.

Coverack Harbour on the east coast of the Lizard. Photo credit: Amanda Scott

A great example where I’m proved wrong in Cornwall is the “Linking the Lizard” project. Part of Cornwall Wildlife Trust‘s Living Landscapes initiative, the Trust is working in partnership with the National Farmers Union, Natural England, the National Trust, and Cornwall Area of Outstanding National Beauty to deliver changes across the landscape that will benefit both wildlife and those who live and work there on the land and sea by supporting sustainable business, agriculture and tourism. Wildlife will gain from those involved being able to work across boundaries to link habitats and species. I’ll be watching the project develop with interest!

Nationally, it’s also good to see the NGOs speaking out together on issues. The RSPB, Wildlife Trusts and Institute of European Environmental Policy have recently written to the Prime Minister urging him to push for wise spending on environmental policies. They’ve told him the key is not more expenditure, but in a time of economic austerity, to target it in the most effective way, to improve the environment for all EU citizens. It’s very powerful when wildlife NGOs and an independent policy thinktank speak out together – let’s hope Mr. Cameron listens.

Around St. Agnes in the rain

Yesterday, I should have been staying at home doing some work, but the sun was shining, and what’s a person to do!

View from St. Agnes Beacon (Photo credit: Amanda Scott)

I decided to explore somewhere new but not too far, so I threw my walking boots in the car and headed off to St. Agnes on the north coast.  First I negotiated the one-way system in the village, stopped off at a local shop for crisps and chocolate, and then drove to near St. Agnes Head, parked, pulled on several layers of clothing and set off on the South West Coast Path.

English: Tubby's Head & Chapel Porth Walking t...
Tubby’s Head & Chapel Porth (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The view was stunning, the sea a beautiful greeney-blue, and the path stony but level-ish. I quickly arrived at the intriguingly named Tubby’s Head, and sat for a few moments on a bench, in the seat of which there was fixed a small brass plaque: “June Claydon, Resting in Peace by the Sea, July 1992“. I wondered who June was.  I thought of her, maybe sitting on this bench in this same spot, doing pretty much the same as me, gazing out to sea and enjoying the crisp air on her skin. It is wonderful how you can be touched by the life of someone you know nothing about, simply because you occupy the same space, maybe feeling similar things, albeit in a different time.

Towanroath Mine Engine House, nr. St. Agnes, Cornwall (Photo credit: Amanda Scott)

You may already have noticed a discrepancy between the heading of this post and my reference to the sun in the opening paragraph. Well, by this, paragraph 4, the discrepancy disappears. Yes, from this point it started to drizzle, though it fortunately never became a downpour! Never mind, I continued on to admire the industrial archaeology of the Wheal Coates Tin Mine and Towanroath mine engine house, and then on to join the dog walkers and their happy dogs on Chapel Porth Beach.

After this I turned inland up Chapel Coombe, walking through woods on a muddy path alongside a stream. The sea was forgotten, and I was in a world of trees, farmland and  woodland birds until, emerging on to an upward track, I finally reached the top of St. Agnes Beacon. What a view! Wet and cold, but still…The heathland here is an important habitat, looked after by the National Trust. I was a little late in the year for the full heather display, but some Bell Heather was still flowering, its purple contrasting with the vibrant yellow gorse. A bird of prey hovered – what did it see? A vole or mouse (prey)? A pile of stones on top of the hill, meaningless to it? A wet human (not particularly interesting to your average raptor!)?

English: Bell Heather (Erica cinerea) The tip ...
Bell Heather (Erica cinerea) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After this, the weather was getting the better of me, so I headed back to the coast, enjoying the (very distant!) sun shining through breaks in the clouds lighting up the horizon, and then walked along the cliffs and back to my car.

As I drove home, I thought again about June Claydon. I’d like to think that, when my time comes, Cornwall will be enough my home, and enough people will think well of me, that there will be a bench here for me, too.

You can find a similar walk to mine, plus others, at The St. Agnes Forum Website.

And I’d love to hear from anyone who knows who June Claydon was.

Crossing the Bar

Enjoying Loe Bar – photo credit: Katherine Cho

So, this is my first post on my first ever blog.  I feel quite nervous, even when it’s just my keyboard and me. But I want to share my thoughts, views and enthusiasm for the natural world in Cornwall, so here goes!  I’m conscious I’m joining many others already writing about this wonderful county, but it has enough to offer to inspire many more again.  My main focus will be to write about the many exciting things going on in Cornwall for conservation and biodiversity and about the places of natural beauty to visit west of the Tamar, as well as about some of the great people living in the county who are working hard for conservation.  My first post is more reflective, as I start a new journey in life – but there’ll be plenty of more down-to-earth stuff to come!

Everyone needs a place to call ‘home’ – a breathing space, a port in a storm, or whatever phrase you prefer. Deciding to move to Cornwall permanently earlier in 2012 after a year studying near Falmouth confirmed to me that home is not so much about ‘four walls’ as it is about a place of inner retreat, a safe emotional haven to recuperate before setting off on the next adventure, but it can still be anchored in real places and people.  My family in London are my main anchorage, friends in other parts of the country are others, but in terms of places, my first Cornish anchoring point, as a student back in 2010, was Loe Bar.

I was living just outside of Helston, at the top of the Lizard Peninsula, about four miles away from Loe Bar, so I set off to explore.  Loe Bar, lying between the Atlantic waves and Cornwall’s largest natural freshwater lake, Loe Pool (or simply The Loe – Loe derives from the Cornish logh, meaning pool), is nationally, even internationally, renowned in geological terms as a fine example of a bay-bar, a bar of sandy, silty sediment formed across a bay, creating a lake behind it. In the case of Loe Bar, it lies across the original but now drowned estuary of the River Cober.

Loe Bar (photo credit:  Amanda Scott)

Both The Loe and Loe Bar have some mysteries attached to them.  The Bar itself is mainly composed of sediment that is nothing to do with the nearby cliffs.  The geological jury is out, but the most likely explanation is that the grit and sand has been transported by the strong (and treacherous currents) from over 100 miles up the coastline. On the subject of those treacherous currents, the drownings and shipwrecks they have caused through the centuries have probably led to the tradition that The Loe claims a life every seven years (definitely not a place for a swim).  Tradition also has it that The Loe reclaimed Excalibur – it is a contender for the site where Sir Bedivere threw Arthur’s sword into the waters.

Loe Bar is however atmospheric enough without the need for myths and legends.  You can reach it by a gentle two-mile walk from Porthleven to the west along the SW coast path, but my favourite route, and the way I first approached it, is to park in the public car park at Penrose and walk through the National Trust-owned Penrose Estate.  I’ll talk about the lovely Penrose in a future blog soon, but for now the point is that, walking this way, you approach The Bar from above, and the effect of emerging from the wooded path to the sight of the Pool, the Bar and the waves of the sea beyond them opening before you is straight away to expand and refresh your spirit.

English: Overlooking Loe Bar nr Helston on a s...
English: Overlooking Loe Bar nr Helston on a spring day from Penrose Walks nr Helston (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Once your feet are walking in the sand of the Bar (like any beach, it’s hard to resist shedding your shoes), the reality doesn’t disappoint. I’m always struck by the different characters of the sea and pool sides of the bar, helped by the steepness of the slope meaning that you cannot always see both except in the middle strip. At the lake edge, the vegetation changes from salt to freshwater (the sea has little if any influence on the composition of The Loe’s waters), in the winter visiting birds rest and feed on the water (including my favourite Shovellers and Tufted Ducks), and once I eyeballed an adder before she disappeared fast into the undergrowth.  On the ‘other side’ you are clearly on a beach, sea fishermen sit by the waves with their lines, and you can see gannets speeding close to the water, as well as the ever-present gulls.  But they are not really apart from each other – gazing at the waters of The Loe you can still hear the crashing waves just out of sight, while looking out to sea, you remain aware of the still presence of the lake, ever behind you.

The Loe Pool - geograph.org.uk - 716608
The Loe Pool – geograph.org.uk – 716608 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In my more fanciful moments, I like to think of Loe Bar as a symbol of one of those life transitions, with the move from peaceful woods and walking across its sands towards the sea standing for moving on to new challenges, new adventures, but with the security of your safe anchorage always ready behind you.  Whatever, Loe Bar is an entrancing place to visit, so do try to get there to clear your head and widen your horizons before setting your feet on the road again.

Check out the National Trust website for more about Penrose and Loe Bar.

And enjoy the engaging ‘Man on a Beach’s mini-interviews on Loe Bar.