Penwith Pootle

Hitting the eject button with a two-day micro-adventure close to home in the far west of Cornwall. Linking together a bunch of muddy tracks and trails with a night on the cliffs made for a perfect journey of (re)discovery.

Self-employed life, working from home, during a pandemic is proving challenging from time to time. With daily interactions reduced to nothing more than an endless series of wants and demands from clients, bereft of meaningful conversation, I noticed recently that my ability to cope, and respond patiently, with the noise of emails, phone calls, and messages at all hours and days of the week was eroding rapidly. On Wednesday morning it became glaringly apparent that the time to hit the eject button and bail out for a few days had arrived. Hastily I threw sleeping bag and cake, and a few other essentials such as coffee and whisky, at my bike and pedalled away west, without a particular plan other than to follow my nose, for what turned out to be a much needed, low-key micro-adventure. Never more than 35km from home as the crow flies, but linking together 130km of muddy trails, tracks and byways through places that I know so well, and yet that delivered a wonderful journey of (re)discovery.

The Longships reef and light in the light of early morning. Two kilometres west of Lands End, the lighthouse was first lit in 1873. Built on the tallest islet of the reef, Carn Bras, it replaced an earlier light constructed in 1795. The tower took four years to build and has been automated since 1988.

Without phone, internet, urgency, or particular plans I was able to find some of that sense of freedom and absence of preoccupation that goes with a longer journey by bike, particularly in empty places. There are still very many tourists, and cars on the road, in Cornwall, however sticking mostly to tracks and trails sidestepped all of that, and as I headed farther west I picked up some trails I’d not used before and enjoyed the surprise, after 3 hours of fiddling my way through the inland ‘back-country’, of popping out on a road near a signpost saying “Penzance 5 miles”. I’d lost all sense of my location. Quite special.

Given the multiple challenges, environmental, societal, and health-related that are faced by modern society, having a bicycle occasionally feels like having a superpower.

Seeing people trying to manoeuvre huge 4x4s through the narrow lanes and tight bends approaching Porthgwarra gave cause to reflect on just what it is to ride a bicycle, especially in the context of finding an escape from my front door . To be able to travel anywhere, free from the burdens, financial and stress, that go with a dependence on two-tons of fossil-fuel burning metal felt like a remarkable thing, even after all these years. Given the multiple pressures and challenges – environmental, societal, and health-related,  faced by modern society, having a bicycle occasionally feels like having a superpower.

Anyway, enough of that, lest I be accused of being a “typical example of the sneering cycling class” again (it happened, amusingly); I can tell the rest of the story with pictures. The west of Cornwall is a special place, but it is not unique in offering opportunities for such a micro-adventure close to home. Cycling friends and acquaintances all over the world, regardless of whether they’re in cities or not, always inspire with the special places and adventures they find within a days ride of home. Life is short and I think it’s important to try and find ways to just park all the other stuff and force yourself out the door from time to time.

Sloppy and slippery. The dusty trails of summer are nothing more than a memory now. Mud brushes off easy enough before getting into a sleeping bag, and in some respects reinforces the connection to the environment and the roll of the seasons…. well, something like that…
… as does kipping out with just a tarp to keep the dew/showers off. Modern life is overwhelmingly comfortable and convenient, and disconnects us from the world we share with all other living things; I don’t think that is always a good thing, for us or the natural world. It was a chilly night, however buried in my sleeping bag it felt deliciously so (my tarp is blurry in the pic thanks to the fresh wind blowing).
I’d stretched it across a couple of boulders on the cliff edge in the far west. It was a fabulous evening and night. I lay out on the heather until late, gazing at the stars and letting my consciousness drift with just an occasional snap back into focus with the arrival of an unbidden thought. A great deal of dialogue/media these days around time in the outdoors, on bikes or otherwise, tends to use words like ‘extreme’, ‘smash’, and ‘conquer’. I don’t think that’s always a good thing either; simply ‘connecting’ also has its rewards, and quite likely, more durable, long-lasting rewards.
Waking in the pre-dawn light brought the sight of a perfect new moon rising in the cleft between the boulders. A moment to savour.
The view to Lands End at dusk. The complex at Lands End itself is a ghastly place. It’s beyond me how putting a tacky theme park in such a special spot could ever be thought a good idea. It’s all about the tourist ££…
Clifftop brew… tea and cake with a view. I found a hollow with some shelter from the brisk northerly wind; the late afternoon sun was pleasantly warm.
The cliffs here are magnificent with the granite glowing in the late afternoon sun.
The Atlantic was calm this time, I’m looking forward to visiting again when it is raging.
Coffee o’clock. The beauty of a tarp is also that it’s extremely low profile and discrete, and can be pitched or bundled away in seconds with the light.
A stretch of sublime Penwith bridleway…
Such stretches are often short but well worth a detour for.
Day marks on top of Gwennap Head. Erected by Trinity House in 1821, the two marks line up with the Runnel Stone offshore. For shipping, keeping the black and white cone visible ensures safe passage to the south of the hazard. When the red obscures the black, that’s when you’re on the rocks.
A better view of the inland marker. There were many shipwrecks on the rock here until the 6000 ton SS City of Westminster knocked the top clean off on 8th October 1923. She lies now in 30 metres of water, but without its top the rock is less dangerous and has seen no shipwrecks since.
The Kenidjack Valley near St Just is, these days, a quiet haven for wildlife and rare birds. It was not always so however; the ruins of a number of tin mines, and an arsenic factory, litter the valley
Kenidjack Valley with Cape Cornwall in the background.
The whole of Penwith is absolutely riddled with shafts and tunnels… somewhat like a giant swiss cheese. The underground achievements of men with shovels and pickaxes are quite mind-boggling. There are generally incidents each year and a dedicated team of volunteer rope rescue experts remain on standby at all times.
Wandering off-trail in some spots is not always recommended, although not always possible either….
More mining legacy at Botallack. There’s some nice byway along the “Tin Coast” that passes through an area of incredibly rich mining heritage. It is never boring.
Views to Pendeen Watch Lighthouse and foghorn. This is an extremely hazardous stretch of coast – exposed to the full force of the Atlantic with an abundance of submerged rocks and powerful tides. Constuction started in 1891 with commissioning in 1900.
Emerald carpets… heading back up onto the Penwith Moors from Morvah.
The coast road can be busy but inland is a different world.
The Ding Dong tin mine sits high on the moors north west of Penzance. The mine is thought to be one of the oldest in the UK. No date is known for when works started but they were ended by the drop in metal prices around the time of the first world war.
Even older.. the neolithic standing stones of the Boskednan Nine Maidens. I love it up here, it’s a wild and remote spot, and also very waterlogged at this time of year.

16 thoughts on “Penwith Pootle

  • Really enjoyed the update and brilliant stories, pictures and landmarks Mike. Hope you are able to rejoin the rat race refreshed after your adventure. All the best.

    • hey Andy, cheers for the feedback and glad you enjoyed the read. I’m sure come Monday I’ll be fine…. I hope you’re keeping it all together ok!

  • This: “… as does kipping out with just a tarp to keep the dew/showers off. Modern life is overwhelmingly comfortable and convenient, and disconnects us from the world we share with all other living things; I don’t think that is always a good thing, for us or the natural world.”
    The simplicity of a thin sheet above one’s head just to keep him/her out of the elements and yet allow connection with the outside while resting for the night is often lost on city folk. I much prefer a tarp over a tent, (unless is very buggy) as it allows me to do a reality check for the over-comfortable world I live in.
    Wonderful images of your camp at sunset

    • hey, thanks for taking the time and for the super feedback, much appreciated. That disconnect is so harmful to the planet too I think.. without any connection to the natural world it becomes little more than a place to ‘use’ to fulfil our own desires with little regard for the consequences.

      I get the buggy thing! I’ll likely use my tent more over the winter here when it’s wetter and windier, but not always. don’t know if that makes me a hypocrite or not …

  • “Having a bicycle occasionally feels like having a superpower.” That’s exactly how I like to think of it! I’m lucky that I can ride a bike and enjoy the freedom it brings.

    • hey, ha, it’s pretty nice around here although being destroyed by over-tourism, and increasingly concreted over by an over-abundance of development and second homes.

  • A superpower, I really like that. I have just come back from the shops on my Xtracycle. Providing your own propulsion is a special, empowering feeling.

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