Water-crowfoots

In the world of plant-fancying, it’s often the showier plants that take the glory. However, I have a real fondness for smaller plants that are less distinctive at first glance, but which, on a closer look, are really beautiful.

Last week, I was walking a very squelchy, at times very splashy footpath through a small local nature reserve close to where I live in West Cornwall. I was delighted to find thousands of small Crowfoot plants, strewn out along the path, clinging to the sticky mud and floating in the puddles.

Now, the members of the Crowfoot sub-genus (which belong to the Buttercup – Ranunculus – family) are notoriously tricky to tell apart. The BSBI has an entire (and excellent) Plant Crib dedicated to their identification. It contains ominous phrases such as “Most species…are impossible to identify in the vegetative state” and mentions the dreaded “hybridisation” word. It is my firm belief that plants should not be allowed to hybridise – it’s hard enough trying to ID them as it is!  Ah, well.

Round-leaved CrowfootHaving said that, from location (in the southwest) and general leaf shape, I am fairly sure the Crowfoot I found on my muddy walk will be Round-leaved Crowfoot (Ranunculus omiophyllus). Here it is, to the right, snapped on the iPhone. It’s a little too early for the delicate white, yellow-tinged flowers to appear, but a little later in March and early April they’ll be putting on a pretty show, given the numbers of them I found.

The Crowfoot I’m most familiar with is Three-lobed Crowfoot (R. tripartitus). This is much rarer than its Round-leaved cousin, and is largely restricted to Wales and sites in South and West England. Here in Cornwall, The Lizard is one of the best places to go looking for it, and I blogged about it recently in the context of the Grochall Track, a good place to find it. The tracks from Predannack down to Kynance, as well as Windmill Farm, are also fine Three-lobed Crowfoot sites.

28/2/11 R. tripartitus, Lizard Downs

If you compare Round-leaved Crowfoot in the above image with the photograph of Three-lobed Crowfoot to the left, you can see that the former is much ‘chunkier’ than the delicate R. tripartitus (the images are at different scales, but you can still see the differences in leaf shape).

I’m not at all sure, mind you, that the BSBI would approve of using chunkiness as an identifying feature. There doesn’t seem to be any reference to it in the Plant Crib.

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 winter treasure: Three-lobed Crowfoot and the Grochall Track

The more traditional way to visit Kynance Cove on The Lizard is to park in the National Trust car park, walk down the footpath to the cove itself and enjoy the shimmering sea and serpentine followed by a cup of tea and slice of cake in the cafe. Then follows the steep but short slog back up the hill to the car.

Kynance Cove
Kynance Cove

It will be spring or summer, and on a sunny day there will be many other people at this understandably popular spot. You might take a walk along the cliff top, either north towards Soapy Cove or south towards Caerthillian and Lizard Point. You will be rewarded by the wonderful flora of The Lizard all along the tops of the cliffs, from the Thrift that is everywhere to sweet-scented Chamomile to the rarer clovers that The Lizard is rightly renowned for.

The warmer months are, however, not my favourite time of year to make a trip to Kynance, and neither is this route the way I prefer to arrive there. I like to make the journey in winter, or early spring, starting from further east, taking a route across the Lizard Downs. The footpath is called by many the Grochall Track, though it does not call it that on the OS map, and it starts next to Kynance Garage petrol station at Mile End. It is not the most enticing of entryways, and on a dull winter day even less so.

The gate onto the Grochall track
The gate through to the Lizard Downs National Nature Reserve

Bear with it, though. Two or three minutes along a hedge-bound path and you arrive at a gate announcing you have arrived at the Lizard Downs. Enter, and find a wonderful world. The track heads pretty much straight south-west. To the north lies a small-holding (marked Grochall on the OS map), now managed for conservation and owned by the National Trust since 2009. Walking westwards you find yourself on the National Nature Reserve, managed by the local Natural England team. In summer, when there has been enough sunshine, the track itself will be largely dry, its pale buff-coloured soil firm beneath your feet. There will be the beautiful Cornish Heath blooming in later summer, pink flowers of Common Centaury and, if you keep your eyes peeled, its tiny cousin Yellow Centaury, opening its petals to the warmth of the sun. Around you the Downs stretch out, coconut-scented gorse, heathers and grasses, in an expanse of green. Summer is a nice time to go, I admit.

It is a bit bleak, though, even in summer. Not many folk walk this way, away from the cliffs and coast. You cannot even see the sea until you get a mile or so further west. In winter, though, it takes on a bleakness at quite another level. A brisk, cool and bright day is great, but I much prefer it when it is vaguely misty and mizzly. The path is clear enough that it is impossible to get lost, but with your eyes cast downwards and your collar up, dim shapes hover at the edge of sight and the world contracts around you. The ubiquitous Purple Moor-grass takes on a whole new purpose: its knobbly clumps serve as stepping stones as you stomp and splash along what is now a path of sticky mud and puddles.

It is wonderful. Rather than lifting up your eyes to seek the horizon and the first sight of the sea, with Kynance the end goal, you are focussed on the ground, and so you notice things closer to your feet. Early frogspawn, for example, or the fine filaments of stoneworts in the puddles. And it will also be impossible to miss the winter treasure of my title: Three-lobed Crowfoot.

28/2/11 R. tripartitus, Lizard Downs
Three-lobed Crowfoot, Lizard Downs

It hardly looks like anything in the cold winter months, compared to some of the showier plants with which it shares the Downs. When I was studying at Tremough, I spent many weeks, in both winter and summer, surveying for Crowfoot on the west side of The Lizard, including the Grochall Track. Despite saying a few sentences ago that it is hard to miss, you do need to get your eye in. At first, I would stop at every puddle along the track looking for the plant hopefully: separating out its delicate small leaves from other vegetation could sometimes take several minutes. Eventually, though, the distinctive crowfoot shape imprinted itself firmly into my brain and I would find it quickly and with ease. As I closed my eyes at the end of a day surveying, lying pleasantly exhausted in bed, I would see crowfoot leaves floating before me.

“It grows into your soul like a favourite song”

I came to love it. I love the sight of a few of its leaves lying on the surface of a puddle as if they have been placed there, hidden in full sight for the weary traveller to find. I love it when you find a place where it has exploded, carpeting a shallow pool with exuberant abundance. I love the shape of it: the graceful smooth notches in the leaves creating the three-lobed form, the fairy-like gentle green colour. An unpretentious little plant, it grows into your soul like a favourite song.

Then, in the earliest days of spring, it blossoms. Tiny, white, yellow-centred flowers held on stiff little stalks above the leaves. I remember the first time I saw its flowers, after weeks of searching for and counting the leaves. My amazement was out of all proportion to its diminutive petals. Maybe I was brain-fuddled by all the surveying, but I think it was rather that it was so precious to see this brave flower, holding out in the still cold depths of the downlands.

Three-lobed Water Crowfoot in flower
Three-lobed Water Crowfoot in flower

Three-lobed Crowfoot is a national rarity. Its range has reduced considerably over the last few decades. It is still found in western Pembrokeshire, the New Forest, and on some sites in Devon and West Cornwall, but The Lizard remains one of its last strongholds. It is one of a few plants growing on the trackways that benefit from a low-level of disturbance, something that once would have been provided by the horse-drawn carts carrying serpentine from The Lizard’s quarries to the serpentine craft workshops (the Grochall track was one of these routes, before the toll road – now the main vehicular access to Kynance – was created in the 1930s). Disturbance reduces competition from other plants, so in order to conserve the Crowfoot, conservation managers now need to recreate similar levels of human activity, either by using grazing stock or by driving vehicles up and down the tracks – a fun thing to do, but with a serious point to it.

When I walk the Grochall Track in winter or early spring, arriving at Kynance is almost incidental. Sometimes I walk down the switchback path at the northern side of the cove, in order to feel the sand beneath my feet and admire the serpentine rocks. More often, though, I find a sheltered place to sit at the top of the cliffs and eat a sandwich, looking down on Kynance and Asparagus Island, at peace with the view and reflecting on the tranquillity of the Downs. Then I pick up my rucksack and head back along the Grochall Track, looking for more Crowfoot.

Kynance Cove

 

Getting to the Grochall track:

Travelling south through The Lizard down the A3083, at Mile End you will see Kynance Garage on your right (SW700145). Turn left immediately opposite and there is a small area on the left where you can park. Cross the A3083, taking care to avoid cars which shoot up and down the road here, and you will see the footpath starting to the left of the garage. The track (which is clearly marked on Ordnance survey maps) heads straight from here, bearing south-west until you reach the cliffs and sea and the road switchbacking down to the cove (SW685134). If you have left the car at Mile End, you will need to walk back the same way, unless you take the National Trust access (toll) road back to the A3083 and then walk north along the main road until you get back to Mile End. I would not recommend it, however – the A3083, although seldom chock-a-block full of traffic, is a straight and fast road. There is nothing to complain about in enjoying the Grochall Track twice – and it is safer.

Related walk:

I blogged before about a walk starting on the Grochall Track, but which then turns north before you get to Kynance and visits Lower Predannack and Kynance Gate prehistoric village. It was a summer walk, and I wouldn’t recommend it in winter (or summer) unless you have a good map and possibly even a compass if you are unfamiliar with The Lizard, as the paths away from the Grochall Track are not always as clear. In winter, if you think the Grochall Track is muddy, some of the other tracks leading away from it are spectacularly boggy. Sturdy walking boots are essential, and it is amazing how disorientating just a bit of mist can be. 

Find out more:

Bates, Robin and Scolding, Bill, 2002. Wild Flowers of The Lizard.  Cornwall Council, Truro (a great and accessible little book that will fit in your rucksack, written by two local experts, with good photos and available from most bookshops and gift shops in the area).

Find out more about Three-lobed Crowfoot on the Discovering the Natural Lizard website here, or on the Plantlife website here.

For anyone that wants to find out more about how low-level disturbance is of practical use in conserving Three-lobed Crowfoot and some of the other Lizard rarities, here is a link to the one scientific paper I have to my name, which explains the positive outcome of conservation work at nearby Windmill Farm. I may be the lead author (it came out of my university project study), but my co-authors are infinitely more knowledgeable: Scott A, Maclean IMD, Byfield A, Pay AR and Wilson RJ, 2012. Artificial disturbance promotes recovery of rare Mediterranean temporary pond plant species on the Lizard Peninsula, Cornwall, England. Conservation Evidence, 9, 79-86

Back to blogging…

Well, it’s near the beginning of 2016 and I haven’t written a blog post for a while, which gives you a big clue about my New Year’s resolution. Yes, it was to get back to blogging regularly about Cornwall’s wildlife and the places I’ve been as I continue to explore this wonderful end of Britain.

In order to ease myself back into it gently, in this my first post of 2016 I’m sharing a few photographic memories of some of my best Cornwall wildlife moments from last year. It serves as a quick catch-up on some of the things I got up to when I should have been blogging.

There were plenty of special moments – finding a rare Western Bee-fly, climbing Godolphin Hill (what an unexpectedly wonderful view!), discovering local woodlands, meeting the improbably but aptly named Swollen-thighed Beetle for the first time (and then seeing them everywhere). The weather wasn’t always great, but there was still plenty to see and do.

 

Clockwise from top left, the photographs are:

The view from Godolphin Hill, between Helston and Penzance.

Water falling at Kennall Vale, a Cornwall Wildlife Trust-owned reserve near Ponsanooth.

Sunset at Godrevy.

The Western Bee-fly, which is like a mini Golden Snitch, and which I found on a beautiful sunny day at Poltesco on The Lizard. Here’s a link to a column I wrote about it.

Lesser Celandine lightening up a hedgerow on a lane near where I live.

The Swollen-thighed Beetle. What a wonderful insect it is!

Kiefferia pericarpiicola gall growing on Wild Carrot.

Kehelland Apple Day – lots of Cornish varieties of scrumptious apples, music and plenty of good fun.

Two Shield Bugs having a romantic moment in my garden.

A Silver-studded Blue butterfly, photographed on a wonderful day with Cornwall Butterfly Conservation near Godrevy.

Here’s hoping for plenty more special moments in 2016.

Goonhilly, catkins, water drops and an eclipse…

I went out to Goonhilly Downs on the day of the recent partial eclipse. I thought the wide open plateau of these ancient downs – farmed since prehistory and now a National Nature Reserve – would provide an excellent spot to view the eclipse. Goonhilly has so much sky.

Sky

It was a gorgeously sunny day here in the south-west. Arriving about half an hour before the eclipse was due to begin, I pottered about taking photos of the soft yellow catkins that were everywhere, and of the water droplets clinging to them.

Willow catkins at Goonhilly (photo: Amanda Scott)
Willow catkins at Goonhilly (photo: Amanda Scott)

In fact, given I had neither eclipse-watching glasses nor the proper filter for my camera, I spent quite a bit of time lining up an image of the sun in a water drop, using my macro lens. It would have made for a fantastic photo once the eclipse started…or at least it would have if the sun hadn’t edged into a new position just a little too early. As I tried to realign my set-up, the water drop duly dropped and was no more. Ah well, the best laid schemes, and all that…

Water droplet (without reflection of eclipse…) (Photo: Amanda Scott)
Water droplet (without reflection of eclipse…) (photo: Amanda Scott)

Instead, I found a muddy puddle that held a reflection of the sun. The light breeze rippling its surface was very pretty, but did make for a fuzzy eclipse shot. Here’s the best I could do, in a very under-exposed sort of way.

Partial eclipse in a muddy under-exposed puddle (Bad photo by Amanda Scott!)
Partial eclipse in a muddy under-exposed puddle (photo: Amanda Scott)

So, at this point I gave up and decided to enjoy the atmosphere. And it was very eerie. It didn’t get that dark. It was just a little greyer, a little more chill. But…everything also felt just a little different, like stepping slightly out of phase with the rest of the world. The birds began to sing their evening songs and flowers closed up their petals. I sneaked some split-second glances at the sun as the moon passed over its face and, even though I know all the scientific things that are going on, I felt just a little uneasy. For a moment, it became possible to step into the shoes of those Goonhilly ancestors of ours from prehistory and to share a little of their awe and fear.

What awed me most of all was seeing the edge of the moon’s shadow – the penumbra – high above me. The sun’s part of the sky was bright and blue, but northward it was clearly a darker, more grey-blue colour. The narrow boundary between them was an arc across the sky, from horizon to horizon. It’s a cliche to say it, but I felt very very small.

And then the eclipse finished, the birds and flowers got on with their daytime activities again, and I trotted back to my trusty old car. But that sense of strangeness, of wonder even, given me by the eclipse had lifted my heart for the rest of the day.

Gorse

A walk on The Lizard: Grochall to Lower Predannack

I’ve been visiting family away from Cornwall for a while, so first of all apologies for not having posted for three weeks. But I’m back now, and I’ve been enjoying getting out and about in all this glorious sunshine. A little earlier this week, I went to visit some old haunts of mine on The Lizard – read on to discover what I found.

Chamomile, Kynance

Scented carpets, ancient homes, flying boats and crackling gorse…a walk from Grochall to Lower Predannack, and back again

Over the summer of of 2010 I had the blissful task of surveying for rare plants on some of the trackways on The Lizard. The plants I was looking for were mainly opportunistic annuals that spring into action when conditions are right and competition from other plants is limited, and I was researching into how they were faring. It was interesting to study (as well as fairly idyllic spending so much time in beautiful surroundings in the name of work!), and I ought to explain more about it in a future post.

Yellow Centaury (Cicendia filiformis) on the Lizard Downs in 2010 (photo: Amanda Scott)
Yellow Centaury (Cicendia filiformis) on the Lizard Downs in 2010 (photo: Amanda Scott)

In the meantime, this week I thought I would pay a visit to a couple of the tracks I surveyed back in 2010 to see if I could spot one particular plant – Yellow Centaury – in locations where I know it appears. You can see this delightful, tiny plant, with its yellow flower that only opens in the sunshine, as early as the beginning of June on The Lizard in good years, but the bad weather earlier in 2013 put paid to that timing. However, with the complete turnaround in the weather, I thought I might be in luck. In the end, I only found two individual plants in separate places (hopefully the first of more), but I’ve given you a photograph from 2010 so you can admire its delicate beauty.

The gate to the Grochall Track (photo: Amanda Scott)
The gate to the Grochall Track (photo: Amanda Scott)

But even though I didn’t find much Yellow Centaury, there was plenty else to keep me interested on my way through the heathland. This is a nice walk, so I’ve tried to explain my route so you can follow it on a map if you’d like to try it yourselves.

I set off on my walk on the Grochall Track. This old trackway begins immediately to the south of the Kynance Garage (on the A3083 to Lizard Village). Walk a few metres along the public footpath, and you come to a gate that tells you that you have arrived at The Lizard National Nature Reserve. Enter, close the gate behind you, and start your journey…

The Grochall Track - the older way to Kynance Cove (photo: Amanda Scott)
The Grochall Track – the older way to Kynance Cove (photo: Amanda Scott)

The Grochall Track has a long history. Until the early part of the twentieth century it was the main transport route to Kynance, crossing in a straight path across the Lizard Downs until it reaches the Cove itself. Now it is a sandy, rocky and sometimes grassy footpath, pretty boggy in the wetter months but dry and dusty in this hot weather. The track itself can seem a little bleak and dull at first glance, even on a sunny day: it is almost entirely straight, surrounded by flat heathland landscape, with the drone of cars passing on the A3083 behind you. The sea only appears on the horizon from about three-quarters of the way along the path. But it isn’t only interesting because of where it is leading…just look and listen…!

Cornish Heath (Erica vagans) by the Grochall Track (photo: Amanda Scott)
Cornish Heath (Erica vagans) by the Grochall Track (photo: Amanda Scott)

Ahead of me a solitary crow sat on a shrub, standing sentinel over the way to the west. Birds chattered in the gorse, making mad dashes across the path ahead of me. Butterflies (Small Heaths, Common Blues in hundreds) danced with each other through the bracken and grasses and across the heather. Ah yes – the heather! It was at the start of its season of glory, just beginning to bloom: Bell Heather (Erica cinerea), Cross-leaved Heath (E. tetralix), and the lovely Cornish Heath (E. vagans). I also found Lesser Water-plantain (Baldellia ranunculoides), another of the plants I surveyed for in 2010. This plant of water’s edges and boggy places has a fairly stable foothold in the west of Britain, but is declining elsewhere due to habit loss and eutrophication. Its species name of ranunculoides derives from the fact that its seedhead appears very similar to that of a buttercup (Buttercup family=Ranunculus), but it is in fact in a different family altogether.

Lesser Water-plantain (Baldellia ranunculoides) (photo: Amanda Scott)
Lesser Water-plantain (Baldellia ranunculoides) (photo: Amanda Scott)
Sailing through Kynance (photo: Amanda Scott)
Sailing through Kynance (photo: Amanda Scott)

I didn’t go all the way to Kynance Cove, but instead turned right (north) to head towards the prehistoric village at Kynance Gate. Before I did so, I watched a yacht with one red and one white sail move across the Cove. In the heat haze it was hard to distinguish sea from sky at the horizon, and the boat could almost have been flying through the air, companion to the gulls of Asparagus Island.

I followed a rough stony track downhill until I reached the small wooden bridge across a stream at the entrance to the Kynance Farm, still part of the National Nature Reserve. Here I marvelled at dragonflies and damselflies, including a Broad-bodied Chaser and the quick weaving azure flight of two Beautiful Demoiselles.

Roundhouse at Kynance Gate prehistoric village (photo: Amanda Scott)
Roundhouse at Kynance Gate prehistoric village (photo: Amanda Scott)

Go through the gate and the path bends to the left and upwards, but you can first detour here on to the much vaguer path to the right and head up the hill until you find the roundhouses of Kynance Gate prehistoric village. Occupied on and off between 1200BC and Roman times, the site was probably only used in the summer for grazing. They reminded me of those I visited at Bodrifty in my last post: quiet and empty of human life, but teeming with the hum of life that bees, butterflies and plants bring.

Returning to the main path at the gate to Kynance Farm, I made my way uphill until the path forks. The arrow points you to the right-hand fork so, of course, I went left (the paths rejoin each other in any case). Eventually you arrive at a large farm gate. To follow my route you need to go through the gate and turn right up a gravelled straight track, but first it’s important to take a moment (or several) to enjoy the view to the left, back to Kynance Cove across a field of low grass and wild flowers. At this time of year, the wild Chamomile is beginning to carpet the field and the apple-scent as you walk through the grass is uplifting.

Chamomile field (photo: Amanda Scott)
Chamomile field above Kynance (photo: Amanda Scott)

Back on the path and I was heading north towards Lower Predannack and Jolly Town Farm. A stream runs across the path just below Jolly Town, heading downhill towards Soapy Cove to the west, but here it pauses for a moment, forming a shallow pool even in the heatwave conditions, home to surface hopping insects and tadpoles.

Tadpoles below Jolly Town (photo: Amanda Scott)
Tadpoles below Jolly Town (photo: Amanda Scott)
Entrance to the bridleway within the perimeter of Predannack Airfield. Turn  right - don't go straight on! (Photo: Amanda Scott)
Entrance to the bridleway within the perimeter of Predannack Airfield. Turn right – don’t go straight on! (Photo: Amanda Scott)

Just beyond here, the track goes through a gate and becomes grassy, and you walk, still heading north, with the heathland to your right and a hedge to your left until you reach another gate and turn right up a surfaced path. A couple of hundred metres further and you meet a sturdy metal gate and this scary sign at the entrance to Predannack Airfield, linked to RNAS Culdrose. Never fear! – there is a public right of way (bridleway) within the perimeter of the airfield. Go right here and follow the path (another site for Yellow Centaury), which eventually turns left until you meet an equally scary sign and exit from the bridleway back on to the heath.

From here, it is a little difficult to explain, so please please please come armed with decent map and compass if you are following this route for the first time! On the OS map it looks easy – a clear path from the SE corner of the airfield, heading south-east past Die’s Pool (non-existent in the dry weather) until rejoining the Grochall Track and heading back to your starting point. On the ground…..well. That clear south-east track is very faint and overgrown over the heathland, and you end up in a hollow with a fence to your left, going through a gate into a wooded area, taking stepping stones over a small stream, out the other side through another gate, across a boggy patch (muddy even in this weather!), until thankfully picking up a clearer path back to the Grochall Track.

A Gorse pod - just popped! (Photo: Amanda Scott)
A Gorse pod – just popped! (Photo: Amanda Scott)

I’m less fond of this part of the route, I have to admit, probably because it’s at the end and I’m tired (I should try the walk the other way round, maybe!). This time, though, I was surprised by something unexpected. Just before going through that first gate to the wooded area, pausing to catch my breath and grumble at the bramble trailing across the path, I became aware of a constant crackling and popping from all around me. My first thought was wildfire…but suddenly there was a loud crack only inches away from me, making me jump! I realised I’d heard of this before but never experienced it – hundreds of Gorse pods popping open in the heat to display their shiny black fruit. It definitely made this ‘grumpier’ part of the walk worth the effort.

This walk is a good one if you want a mix of heathland, grassland and sea views, with a bit of archaeology thrown in for good measure. If you want to make it longer, you can head further north and go all the way up to Predannack and Mullion before heading south again, either inland or on the coastal path, or you can divert to Kynance or Soapy Cove. Definitely have a good OS map, though, not just to show you all the trackways: if it gets misty (as it might in less clement weather), it’s easier than you think to get disorientated. Enjoy!

Erica cinerea, Grochall Track

Coverack to Lowland Point – a wildflower walk in the sunshine

Heading east from Coverack on SW Coast Path

The weather has been so beautiful recently, and at long last the wildflowers are in full bloom along the Cornish coast, giving us a spectacular display. On Sunday, I decided to head off for Coverack on the east coast of The Lizard, and made my way from there along the South West Coast Path up to Lowland Point.

Coverack from the east (photo: Amanda Scott)
Coverack from the east (photo: Amanda Scott)

Coverack itself is of course a lovely coastal village and working harbour, with a very active community – see their website here for lots of information and details of events. However, this time I didn’t linger there, although after parking the car, fairly early with just me and two or three dog walkers about, I did spend a moment or two simply enjoying the salty, seaweedy smell and the sounds of the sea.

Speckled Wood butterfly - posing nicely for me on the path out of Coverack (photo: Amanda Scott)
Speckled Wood butterfly – posing nicely for me on the path out of Coverack (photo: Amanda Scott)

As you set off east out of the village, first of all along a narrow lane through houses and then a gravel track, the path is gently wooded. There is a bench fairly early on, generously provided by a nearby house owner: I didn’t need to rest, but walkers who have put more miles in must love to sit and relish the sea view ! It was good to see butterflies flitting about, warming their wings in the early sunlight: I spotted this Speckled Wood, and also saw a Wall butterfly and a few Common Blues and Green-veined Whites.

The South West Coast Path then turns right down a descending rocky path. This had very much an ‘edge of the wood’ feel to it: Beech and Ivy arch overhead creating a woven ceiling to the path, a Woodpigeon gazed at me before diving into the trees, a stream chattered away to the right…but glimpses of the sea and the constant rush of waves beneath the woodland birdsong were a reminder that the coast was very near.

And then the wood ends and the view opens out.

Sparkling sea (photo: Amanda Scott)
Sparkling sea (photo: Amanda Scott)
Heading east from Coverack on SW Coast Path
The cliff drops down to the beach near to Lowland Point, and Thrift and other clifftop flowers grow at the beach edge (photo: Amanda Scott)

The way to Lowland Point is about 1.5 miles long from Coverack: it is straight and clear,  beginning along higher cliffs but ending much lower, first passing alongside low sandy crumbly cliffs (a raised beach in geological terms) and finally dropping down to the same level as the pebbly beach, before rising slightly again at Lowland Point – it is easy to see how this headland gets its name. The landscape round here, as well as being lovely in the ‘here and now’, is also full of history, with archaeological sites from the prehistoric era, the remains of mediaeval field systems, and some Romano-British saltworks (Trebarveth) right at the edge of the cliffs. I failed to find the latter – very frustratingly as I must have walked right past it – and I’ll have to go back for another look!

Thrift and Kidney Vetch (photo: Amanda Scott)
Thrift and Kidney Vetch (photo: Amanda Scott)

But the real stars of the day were the flowers. Milkwort, Thrift, Kidney Vetch, Foxgloves finally out, together with Sea Campion, Red Campion, Yellow Irises just starting to bloom alongside Cuckooflower and Ragged Robin in the boggier patches, Bluebells, Tormentil…I could go on and on and on…Instead, I’ve added a species list of what I found at the end of this post (which is probably only a small proportion of what was there…).

Coverack from the wildflower meadow on the coastal path (photo: Amanda Scott)
Coverack from the wildflower meadow on the coastal path (photo: Amanda Scott)

One of my favourite places was a beautiful wildflower meadow, to the left of the path approximately midway between Coverack and Lowland Point. I carefully walked through it: many of the plants were up to waist height and more. This was the first place and time this year I had seen Foxgloves properly out, looking fresh and pink.

Common Milkwort (photo: Amanda Scott)
Common Milkwort: this small delicate flower was abundant in both the woods and on the cliffs (photo: Amanda Scott)
English Stonecrop was just beginning to flower on rocks at the cliff edge (photo: Amanda Scott)
English Stonecrop was just beginning to flower on rocks at the cliff edge (photo: Amanda Scott)

A lovely walk, beautiful scenery, sea, cliffs, geology, archaeology, rich flora, insects and other fauna – what a wonderful way to spend a Sunday morning! Mine was a ‘there and back again’ walk as I was loathe to leave the cliff top flowers and sea view, but there are circular walks in the area – see this one for example.

PLANT SPECIES LIST:

Thrift (photo: Amanda Scott)
Thrift (photo: Amanda Scott)

Beech
Bluebell
Bracken
Bugle
Cock’s-foot
Common Dog Violet
Common Milkwort
Common Sorrel
Creeping Buttercup
Cuckooflower
English Stonecrop
European Gorse
Foxglove
Greater Plantain
Greater Stitchwort

Kidney Vetch (photo: Amanda Scott)
Bird’s-foot Trefoil (photo: Amanda Scott)

Hazel
Herb Robert
Honeysuckle
Ivy
Kidney Vetch
Lesser Spearwort
Lesser Stitchwort
Meadow Buttercup
Navelwort
Pignut
Ragged Robin
Red Campion
Ribwort Plantain
Round-leaved Crowfoot
Sea Campion
Sweet Vernal Grass
Three-cornered Leek
Thrift
Tormentil
Wild Clematis
Yellow Iris

Sea Campion