Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Treasure of West Pentire

A coastal walk taking in Polly Joke beach, West Pentire and Cubert Common

My husband introduced me to Polly Joke shortly after we first met: he'd lived there with his uncle and aunt in the 1960s and was keen to show me “this bit of heaven”. It's now one of our favourite walks, but is best appreciated out of season.

On a clear, bright Friday morning I set off with photographer Rebecca, my husband and Mollie Dog with a holiday sense of excitement that only a trip to Polly Joke can bring. En route were welcome bursts of colour: daffodil shoots nudging green noses skyward; purple scatterings of crocus and miniature wild iris dotted the hedgerow.

At Chiverton Cross roundabout we took the A3075 to Newquay and continued past Goonhavern until we reached a small left hand turn signposted to West Pentire and Crantock. After Crantock village we followed signs to West Pentire, and at the end of the road found Crantock Bay Hotel on our right and the Bowgie (Cornish for cow shed) pub straight ahead. A public car park is just round the corner on the left.

From this car park we returned to the main road and turned left to go through a gate leading to West Pentire Head. Peering over the tamarisk hedges to our right, the sun glistened on the River Gannel estuary and the sand dunes of Crantock Beach. We continued along this path and reached the grassy headland of West Pentire that at various times of the year is dotted with cowslips and poppies.

Today our attention was distracted by a skylark above us that winged its way, higher and higher, singing loudly as it flew – they do this to detract from their nest on the ground. Rebecca and I watched as it soared up, before plummeting back down to the ground in silence. We looked at each other in awe, but our reverie was broken by a bark from Mollie. She stood with her head on one side and I could almost see the bubble over her head saying, “what are you DOING? Come on!”

Obediently moving on, we noticed feral rock pigeons swooping and diving under the cliffs. I rushed to restrain Mollie from chasing them and we followed the coastal path round to the left, looking out on an azure sea covered in foam. We headed downhill, past the spot where my husband buried some Cornish tin jewellery for luck, forever marked by stunted tamarisk trees that are windblown and sparse.

Looking down at Polly Joke was like stumbling across a cove in paradise, it was so perfect, so unspoilt. We stood in silence, then my husband said happily, “it's just sitting there quietly, waiting for us to visit.”

It seemed it was, so we hurried down to the beach. When the tide is out, there is a wide expanse of pure golden sand, dotted with secret caves of swirly slate. These rocks were apparently formed during the Devonian period, about 350 million years ago, and quartz veins can be seen running through them.

A wide stream bisects the beach, and Mollie tore along the sand as we followed, shells crunching underfoot. Families lit half term barbecues and played games of cricket with tennis balls – a sport that an uninvited Mollie joined in with great aplomb. As usual the surfing brigade bobbed in the waves like sleek seals and sheep grazed on Kelsey Head opposite, silhouetted against a deep blue sky.

After a picnic on the beach, we crossed a footbridge and Mollie disappeared into a thicket. Nothing happened for a few minutes, then a huge rabbit lolloped out, white tail bobbing confidently as Mollie followed, with no hope of catching it. Undeterred, she chased a few more rabbits before joining us on a narrow sandy path leading inland through a valley with white pussy willow buds emerging, while buzzards mewed above, searching for prey.

Passing through several gates we emerged into a small field that is a National Trust car park and stopped. Before us was Treago Mill, and Cubert Common to our right, where the winter sunshine cast swooping shadows over the marram grass. The only sounds were the rustling stream, skylarks tweeting above, and Mollie's excited panting. No cars, no sign of life in the deserted campsite opposite. Just us. Another moment to treasure.

We passed through another gate and followed a rough track through Cubert Common looking out for Bronze Age barrows. According to legend, if any of these are disturbed, disaster will come upon Cubert village. As they are all intact, it seems that legend is a good deterrent.

Reaching another gate we saw Higher Moor on our left which is where my husband spent many of his summer holidays. Now there is a fishing pond, where a lone fisherman enjoyed the winter sun, surrounded by a gaggle of Barnacle geese. Gorsebushes sprouted behind, sprinkled with gold bloom and in the hedge was a cluster of pale yellow primroses.

Climbing the hill, Treago Farm campsite sprawled on our right and at the top of the hill we came to a T junction and turned left along the road that we came in on that led back to the car park. We walked in silence, wrapped in our thoughts, aware that it was nearly time to go. Even Mollie was quiet as we settled ourselves on a bench outside the pub.

A visit to Polly Joke is always special, but that day was even more so, for the intense clarity of the light, for the unexpected sunshine warming our backs. I carry an image with me, like a favourite snapshot in the tattered wallet of my mind. Four friends (counting Mollie of course) sitting like sparrows on a bench, drinking in the perfect splendour before us. Vibrant spray crashing off Goose Island, long waves rolling up the Gannel Estuary, and the misty outline of Trevose Head in the distance. What more could anyone wish for?

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