Airing our hangovers with “foreign” friends from over the Tamar
I originally met John and Annie as they lived in the same village as my mum. Over the last few years we've had holidays together: my husband did the cooking, while John and Annie and I explored before settling down to enjoy Pip’s cooking. Last time, John had a bad back so we decided on a shortish circular walk starting off at Par Beach to air our hangovers.
From Fowey, we took the main St Austell road (A3082), turning left just before the railway bridge at the bottom of Polmear Hill, past the Ship pub. Continuing along this road for several hundred yards, we parked in the car park on the left, near Par Beach, which is free in winter.
We walked back towards the Ship pub with a row of almshouses next door: these were built in 1650 by the Rashleigh family and converted into modern houses in 1977/8. By Chapel Cottage there is a Saints Way sign and a yellow waymark leading uphill to a very steep path, populated by holly trees with rich red berries and festooned with particularly vicious nettles which weren't good for myself and John, both wearing shorts. We struggled and panted up the path which led to a large field at the top of the hill populated by five very lovely horses.
John was route master for this walk, and directed us across the field where a faint path could be seen through the grass heading towards the trees on the skyline. Looking down over the huge Par Beach is a fabulous sight: St Austell Bay stretched out in the distance, while the china clay chimneys smouldered around Par Harbour, and we could see a huge pool, next door to the caravan park.
John found some mushrooms here but discarded them as not being good enough – having picked them since he was a child he is something of a connoisseur. We turned right here, parallel to the hedge, heading inland until we reached another stile on the right, with a rotted waymark sign lying forlornly on the ground. We walked diagonally left until we reached a double wooden and granite stile in the corner of the field which led us to the busy, fast road heading down Polmear Hill.
Hurrying over the road we reached the pavement on the opposite side and headed uphill. Ahead was a road sign to Polkerris Beach and Menabilly on the right and we took that, past the sign to Trill Horse Trail and walked along, passed a lone letterbox. Turning right again down to Polkerris, the clouds parted and we walked down the narrow and steep hill with high banks on either side smelling of warm wet earth from the recent rain, fresh autumn air, and a sudden blast of white sunshine gleaming off glossy ivy leaves. Blackbirds sang on either side as we passed underneath the remains of a footbridge, with dense, ivy clad woods on either side.
We walked past a cottage draped in Virginia Creeper and a couple of blue tits feeding in the garden and continued down to Polkerris which consists of several pretty whitewashed cottages with beautiful fuchsias growing in abundance outside. Until the end of the 19th century, Polkerris had one of the largest fish cellars in Cornwall, which still dominate the beach, and a huge fleet of seine boats.
At the bottom of the hill is the Rashleigh Arms, which was orginally in what is now the car park: the present pub building was once a boat shed. The granite wall of the harbour curved like a strong protective arm, and John pointed out several canons tipped up to act as bollards. This pier was built by the Rashleigh family around 1730 and what is now Sam's cafe was the old lifeboat house. John disappeared into the pub to get coffee for our hangovers, while Annie and Mollie and I sat outside in the garden admiring the view over St Austell Bay with the stunningly placed golf course off to the right.
“Don't get too comfortable,” John said a few minutes later. “They don't open till 12.” As it was only 10.30, we headed up the hill in front of a couple of cottages with gardens on either side, planted on an almost sheer cliff face. Fishing nets had been used as bird cages to tend the late raspberries, and Evening Primrose towered on either side of us, nodding lemon yellow heads as we climbed.
At the top we found a bench where we sat and digested the view as we sipped our bottles of water. Far below us a very young father with baby strapped to his body, wandered from the beach to the cafe, back into the car park. “He's probably been awake all night and is frantic for caffeine,” said Annie.
Heading back along the coastal path, we were greeted by the last of the blackberries, devoured by Annie, gradually acquiring a black mouth. Bright red and orange berries glistened in the hedges next to big fat sloes, making us think of sloe gin, and winter log fires. Old Man's Beard grew in abundance next to hawthorn bushes covered in grey-green fingers of lichen.
A cacophony of crows gathered and screeched above us, warned off by seagulls. “What's the collective noun for a group of crows?” asked John. “A congregation?” None of us knew, but having looked it up it is “a murder”: very apt, thinking of The Birds, and this being du Maurier country.
The sun was shining silver on the water far out to sea so we stopped and stared in admiration, while the tip of Gribben Head was just visible over the tops of the far hills. As we looked back, the young father appeared, baby still strapped to his stomach, and suddenly a skein of Canada geese flew over head, honking loudly. To our left, over the sea, flew a bunch of oyster catchers with their eerie scream as we turned the corner and a beautiful hill rose up on our right, in smooth emerald green. The path wound round back to where we started at Par beach, and we noticed the Canada Geese coming in to land on the pond at Par.
As we walked the last of the footpath, the ground was splattered with dark blackberry juice and we climbed down steep steps, over a little bridge and back to where we'd parked the car. Climbing onto the sand dunes, we looked out over Par Sands, where a couple of collies played tag in the lazy waves rippling on the edge of the sea. The sand was studded with silvery reflections and the sun beat down like a blessing. We sighed happily, hangovers gone. What could be better?
OS Explorer Map 107 St Austell and Liskeard
Grading: a few steep hills, paths can be very muddy after rain. Varied views, landscape and wildlife.
Walk: 2.5 miles
Length: just under 1.5 hours
Dogs are allowed on Par Beach all year round.
Car park at Par Beach £2.10 all day at time of writing. Car park also at Polkerris.
Public toilets at Polkerris
Refreshments: Ship Inn at Par, Rashleigh Arms and Sam's cafe, Polkerris cafe at Polkerris
Cornwall Today 2011