Loe Bar in February

In winter, it’s as if everything is waiting. And, of course, it is. Waiting for spring. February is still winter, but trees already have buds ready to unfurl, early birds are beginning to pair off, on milder days overwintering butterflies and bumblebees make brief appearances to find food, and rosettes of plant leaves are beginning to unfurl from the earth. Spring is just round the corner.

One of the places I love to visit in the winter is Loe Pool and Loe Bar, near Porthleven. When I first came to Cornwall this sandbar, separating the waters of Loe Pool from the sea, was just down the road from me, and I’d be there at least once a fortnight. In my view, it’s best approached by parking at the National Trust’s Penrose Estate and walking down along the woodland path above the waters of Loe Pool. That way, your first sight of Loe Bar is from above, glimpsing hints of it through trees before the roar of waves announces your arrival at the seashore.

Loe Pool and Loe Bar
Loe Pool and Loe Bar

A walk along the bar is strange in winter. It’s wide enough that, if you walk along the middle, you can’t see both sea and lake at the same time, and with very few people about it feels as if you are on your own betwixt and between two landscapes, but belonging to neither. Occasionally a lone soul will be fishing at the edge of the sea, long poles poised skyward, sitting patiently. Move to the lakeside and there will be swans or mallards floating quietly on the water, against a background of bare trees on the far shore. Stand on the crest of the bar, however, and you’re nowhere, neither land nor sea, and, apart from the cold wind, it could be any season, winter or spring.

At other times of the year it feels different. Still beautiful, but also more immediate and lively, with children playing, walkers and their dogs, tourists and locals alike enjoying the warmth of the sand and sun. In summer, the woodland path down to the Bar is populated by joggers and cyclists (I used to jog there myself when I lived closer). I’ve met and chatted to loads of people as I’ve explored the Loe and Loe Bar, through rain and shine. It’s clear that a lot of people, like me, are very attached to this spot.

5/3/11 Loe Bar
Sea fishing from Loe Bar

And yet, it still feels like my spot, my first haunt in Cornwall and the one I keep coming back to. The house I lived in then that first winter, just outside of Helston, overlooks the Cober Valley. The view was wonderful. One of my first mornings there I spotted a pair of swans flying eastwards, heading towards Helston’s boating lake. That evening, back they flew again, seeking the west and the quieter waters of Loe Pool. And that’s what those swans did, every day. I used to watch out for them, and worry if I missed seeing them fly by. The image of the two swans has become something of a symbol for me of my earliest months in Cornwall. The small repetition of their daily flight, day in, day out, was mysterious, even mystical to my city-attuned eyes, but with familiarity became something comfortable and welcoming. I hope they’re still making the daily commute.

5/3/11 Loe Bar

 

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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My top ten Cornish wildlife-related moments

So, here I am, almost at the end of 2012. The year started with my permanent move westward to Cornwall, and the year is now close to its end as I sit here, in my lovely Cornish cottage, enjoying a G&T (I am writing this after 6pm, honest) and contemplating how I got here.  It’s been a tough year – bereavement, a change of career, lifelong friends and family now many miles away. But it’s also been an amazing year – new friends,  a new home, a different life, fresh challenges.

If I’ve learned one thing, it’s that change is either good or bad, depending on how you greet it.  I hope I’ve greeted it well – sadness, joy, but absolutely no regrets!

So, having got that self-reflection out of my system, I started to think about my Cornish wildlife highlights of the year.  Looking back over 2012, what do I remember about the things I’ve seen and done, each of which have taken me forward a few steps in learning about how wonderful and amazing our world is? It was quite hard wittling the number down to only a few, but here’s my top ten Cornish wildlife highlights of the year…

1. Great nature-loving people: There are so many people in Cornwall who care about the environment, from academics, to farmers, to conservationists, to ordinary people like you and me.  My first real experience of this was turning up at the Cornwall Butterfly Conservation branch AGM in January (I can’t even remember why I went – I might even have just been bored, and keen to get out for an evening!). I came away having felt welcomed, had loads of fun, and chatted to some wonderful folk who know an amazing amount about butterflies and moths (and plenty of other wildlife-related things). Now, a few months on, I’m the Branch Secretary!

Red-billed Chough flying in Penwith, Cornwall,...
Chough (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

2. Choughs: I mentioned choughs a few weeks back as residents of my Cornish Ark.  Recently, I had a meeting with the RSPB down on the Lizard. Walking back to the village car park from Lizard Point Cafe, we spotted two choughs in a field – not only a pair of choughs, but THE pair of choughs, the original two who came back to the Lizard in 2001. That was pretty cool..!

3. Long-headed clover: OK, not everyone is particularly interested in planty things.  But I love them, and the Lizard Peninsula, that planty hotspot, hosts clover species that you can’t find anywhere else in the UK. I headed off to Caerthillion Cove in May last year looking for Long-headed Clover.  Could I find it anywhere? No. Despondent, I plopped myself down on a grassy patch and gazed disconsolately around me…at a slope filled with Long-headed Clover! Stop looking, start seeing – that’s the message I learned there!! I haven’t been back in 2012, but I’m aiming to go on a new hunt in 2013.

Dormouse on hand
Dormouse on hand (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

4. Dormice: This isn’t a Cornwall story, but I’m justifying it because it could have happened in Cornwall, as we have dormice here. But I had nipped just over the border to Devon with South West Lakes Trust to help with some dormouse monitoring. I’m not sure I will ever ever forget the experience of holding a very fast-asleep dormouse in the cup of my hands, and listening to her actually snoring! I felt both awed and protective in equal measure…

5. Science in the Square: I’ve been working for the University of Exeter’s College of Life and Environmental Sciences at the Cornwall Campus for the last year, and they are doing tonnes of work to engage with young people.  As part of Falmouth Week 2012, we held a humungous science event in Events Square in Falmouth in August – it rained all day, but we were in a huge marquee with earthquakes, mini-beasts, raptors, mammals etc. Lots of kids there and they were amazing!

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

6. A Very-Close-Buzzard: I’ve already mentioned this in a recent post about Stithians Lake, but I was stunned by my very close encounter with a Buzzard. What amazed me most was how unphased this bird, happily sitting in a tree,  was by me – there I was, having turned a corner and surprised both of us, pointing lens-y things at it and generally behaving not like your average dog walker. The buzzard stared, glared, and then soared away.

7. Screechy wildlife noises: In London, I was often woken up in the middle of the night by foxes screeching. In Cornwall,  I’m also often woken up by foxes screeching – a nice reminder that wildlife knows no boundaries. However, the other night it was a barn owl screeching that woke me up – I can’t remember ever hearing that in London!!

8. Pearl-bordered fritillaries: With my new-found friends at Cornwall Butterfly Conservation I went looking for these on Bunny’s Hill, on Bodmin, earlier in 2012.  We found them! These lovely butterflies are endangered, but are hanging on in a few locations.

Adder
Adder (Photo credit: wildlifewanderer)

9. Adders: Nosing about at Loe Bar earlier in the year, I caught sight of an adder – probably several seconds after she caught sight of me. She slithered away into the undergrowth, but I watched her and there was a moment – only a few seconds – when we were eyeballing each other. A bit like my buzzard, there is something both uncanny and empowering about meeting a wild creature’s eye.

10. Last but not least: So, two years ago, the view from my office was the London smog. Now, it’s this. Need I say more?

Predannack Downs on the Lizard (photo credit: Amanda Scott)
Predannack Downs on the Lizard (photo credit: Amanda Scott)

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.