A dramatic walk in the Mount Edgcumbe Country Park
and a house famous for its artistic treasures
I was intending to come to Kingsands and Cawsands for a holiday this March, but without my husband, it didn't seem right. However, Viv had been waxing lyrical about the two 17th century fishing villages, so I was looking forward to this walk, intrigued by the fact that Kingsands was once in Devon, with Cawsands in Cornwall. Ever one for useless detail, I also liked the idea that in days gone by, life for the smugglers of Kingsands and Cawsands was a constant battle with Customs: girls apparently took brandy into Plymouth under their petticoats.
Back to the present day, and minus petticoats, we took the A374 and followed signs to Millbrook, then headed into the picturesque village of Cawsands, where we parked in the car park in the middle of the village. From there, Mark, who ran the car park, gave us directions and a map, and we turned left up the street, past the village shop and turned right, past the Rising Sun Inn. Lost already, we got instructions from a friendly Welsh builder to go up the hill then turn right into Mount Edgcumbe Country Park.
Ahead lay Minadew Brakes, a wide grassy area with fabulous views stretching out over the huge expanse of Cawsand Bay, and Plymouth Sound further up. Fort Picklecombe could be seen ahead, and woods up on our left: this is a popular walk for walkers and dogs, who were both soon covered in the brick red mud typical of this area.
It was a raw grey winter's day, but beautiful nonetheless: a kestrel hovered overhead, and waves crashed angrily on the rocks to our right. But spring showed promise with daffodil buds shyly peeping out from walls of dried bracken and gorse flower the only colour on this scowling day. “Gorse in flower, kissing in season,” said Viv optimistically, though there was no one en route on which to try this out.
Heading for Maker church, we passed what might have been a quarry where huge trees hovered over us with bare roots like tortured arms, and branches like belly dancer's limbs; supple and bendy looking.
At the end of Minadew Brakes, we came to a kissing gate where we turned sharp right onto a lane which led in front of a large house and Hooe Lake on our right, then first left through an iron gate. Ahead of us were three paths – we should have taken the left hand path which leads straight to Maker Church, but we started off on the middle path – luckily two German walkers put us right and we found ourselves at the top of what looked like a grassy, incredibly steep canyon, which we had to cross.
Sliding down was one thing, but half way up the almost vertical bank opposite, I looked nervously back at Viv, who has a heart condition. She was puffing but was alive which was a bonus. Reaching the top, I looked back over Plymouth Sound and noted two Navy destroyers coming in. Rain clouds loomed on the horizon and above us, in the middle of miles of gracious parkland, a helicopter hovered: at any minute I expected machine guns to rain down on us, forcing us to flatten ourselves to the ground. But the helicopter moved on, and we continued our walk towards Maker Church that peeped out of the winter gloom like Rapunzel's tower.
Passing woods on our left, with dead branches waving ghostly grey fingers, we reached the top of the hill which must be one of the highest points of Cornwall – there is such a feeling of space here, looking out over Plymouth Sound, the River Tamar and Plymouth Docks, with Edgcumbe Park stretching magnificently in front of us. Behind us were fields and fields of emerald green with hardly a house in sight.
We decided to pay a quick visit to the church, the tower of which was used as a naval signal station, but it was locked so we turned our attention to Edgcumbe House and Park. Sir Richard Edgcumbe of Cotehele built the original house in his deer park in 1547-50. It was largely destroyed in the Plymouth blitz of 1941 but has now been restored and houses paintings by Sir Joshua Reynolds, Gerard Edema and William van der Velde, 16th century tapestries, Irish bronze age horns and 18th century Chinese and Plymouth porcelain. In the 18th century the family created formal gardens, temples, follies and woodlands with Californian Redwood trees sheltering a herd of wild fallow deer.
Setting off through the park once again, we headed along a path towards Harbour View Seat. The path disappeared and we were concerned that we would end up in Cremyll when we'd only got 6 hours of car parking time. Unable to find Harbour View Seat, we headed right, past the impressive Grotton Plantation on our left, and a herd of delicate deer gazing at us in the distance. “Is it rutting season?” said Viv, stumbling over the rough path. “No, I replied stoutly, “that's April isn't it?” I had no idea, but walked faster just in case.
The paths on our map bore no resemblance to the parkland we walked through, but we headed back towards the sea where Viv was determined to find Fort Picklecombe, which was hard enough to say when sober. We found ourselves on the seaward side of the canyon we traversed earlier, and a very steep path roughened by sliding hoof marks led us back to the iron gate near the road and we retraced our steps past Hooe Lake, with Kingsands and Cawsands nestled in the cliffs ahead of us.
“If we'd turned left, do you think we'd get to Fort Picklecombe?” said Viv hopefully. Seeing my frozen face, she added, “I don't want to do it today. Perhaps another time?”
From here we reached a sign saying Kingsand 1 mile and retraced our steps along the Minadew where we sat on a bench and ate the last of our sandwiches. This walk is full of beauty - the sheer size and scope of the parkland, the water and the woods – but wrap up warmly, for it is exposed on all sides.
We'll definitely come back to this forgotten area of Cornwall: we want to explore the villages, which boast several pubs and art galleries, as well as the many and varied walks. “Though we'd better get in training,” said Viv, sharing a biscuit with the dogs. “With the SAS.”
OS Map 201 Plymouth and Launceston
Length: Approx 3.5 miles
Time: 2 hours
Grade: - some very steep hills, can be extremely muddy.
Refreshments: Rising Sun Inn and Cross Keys - www.crosskeyscawsand.co.uk
and plenty of other pubs
Mount Edgcumbe House and Garden – 01752 822236 www.mountedgcumbe.gov.uk
A passenger ferry operates between Cawsands and Kingsands and the Barbican in Plymouth.
Whitsand Bay, the longest sandy beach in England, is nearby.
Parking in Cawsands: £1 for 6 hours at time of walking.
Public Toilets next to car park in Cawsands.
Galleries - www.westcroftgallery.co.uk
CT July 2011