Coasting Cornwall

A six—day coastal hike offers up the best of Cornish scenery, history and, of course, pasties

cornwall coast.jpegYou’ll find the best Cornish pasties in all of Cornwall in Porthleven,” the walker told me, leaning on the bar of the Tinners Arms in the village of Zennor. With his walking stick propped against a stool, he was your stereotypical British rambler, and his unshaven and tanned appearance suggested that he’d been hiking for many days. He was probably a long-hauler, walking the full 630 miles of England’s longest footpath — the spectacular South West Coast Path.

In a roller coaster of stunning scenery, the trail scales the tops of rugged cliff lines, descends into isolated sandy beaches where the only company for the walker are seals and gulls. It skirts the ruins of old tin mines, mounts numerous stiles over stone walls dating back to the Bronze Age, and drops each night into one of many traditional mining and fishing villages along the way.

The South West Coast Path is partly based on trails created by coastguards patrolling the area for the many smugglers that abounded in these parts up until the turn of the last century. For this reason, the path literally hugs the coast.

harbour town of St IvsWith limited time I’d chosen to walk  the most scenic six day section, walking from St Ives, around Land’s End  (Britain’s most westerly point) to Lizard Point (Britain’s most southerly point) — a total of 65 miles of Cornwall at its best.

It was an early September day punctuated with the raucous cries of seagulls. Down on St Ives harbour side, amusement arcades rang with the sounds of one-armed bandit machines, while the sea air was tinged with the sickly sweet aroma of candyfloss and toffee apples. Colourfully painted fishing boats were just returning with the day’s catch, salty characters loaded off their catch of crab, kippers and had dock, destined for the town’s numerous fish and chip shops.

In the early sunshine, I walked along the waterfront, past the Three Ferrets where I had indulged in a celebratory few the night before and climbed up the steep road lined with terraced fishermen’s cottages out on to the coastal heathland above the town.

village of porthlevenThe sea breeze whipped the tangy scents of salt and seaweed into our lungs as I pulled away from St Ives. The views of the rooftops soon slipped beyond the farmers’ fields and hedgerows. A few miles further on the going quickly got tough. The trail began a series of plunging descents into rock-strewn coves and torturously steep ascents on to headlands offering panoramic views of turquoise waters below.

The secretive nature of this rugged coastline was perfectly suited to the nefarious trade of smuggling, which for centuries was a way of line in Cornwall. In the 1800s, it became a highly recognised business. Elaborate codes using flashing lights or fires were sent from strategic positions in the numerous coves to let smuggling vessels know of the whereabouts of the excise men.

While walking, I imagined the clandestine landing parties pulling their heavily loaded boats up the beach, to be met by the local residents who, in the dead of night were waiting to cart the contraband away. The clifftops above provided the perfect lookout for anyone approaching from either direction along the coastal pathway.

For my first morning, seven miles wasn’t bad start, and the Tinners Arms, the one-time home of DH Lawrence in 1916, provided a welcome lunch stop. You will get an eyeful of the old copper mines in the next two days and be sure to have a pint at The Star in St Just,” continued the walker in sporadic bursts between mouthfuls of fisherman’s pie.

village of Mousehole“Well it’s all up and down from here to St Ives,” I replied. “And watch yourself around the badger’s sett near Polgassick Cove; it’s right on the path and big enough to fall into.” It was a typical exchange of walkers going in opposite directions on the path.

By 7.30pm that first evening, after a marathon 18 miles to St Just, a B&B had never looked so good and a watering down at The Star was just the ticket to wash away the salt and lubricate my aching muscles. The first day set the scene for the days to come and the good weather continued. Blazing blue skies and no hint of the infamous fogs that can turn the clifftop trail into a treacherous trap.

Day two offered everything the walker at the Tinners Arms had predicted. Like empty eye sockets, the windows of derelict mine pumping stations followed me as I strode past. Old chimneys pointed at the sky like bony fingers and mine shafts dug into sheer cliff faces disappeared into the depths of the earth.

lone outpostThe path skirted past the picturesque engine houses of the Crowns Shaft of Botallack perched far below on a rocky outcrop. The workings once stretched well under the sea and it was said that the miners could hear the boulders rumbling over the seabed above their heads. It was certainly a tough life in such a dangerous and wet environment.

Land’s End is a milestone and, for the British, this magnificent rugged headland marks the most westerly point of the country. For walkers, it is a paradox of beauty and ugliness, but, perhaps more significantly, it’s a left hand turn on the final stretch.

Peter de Savary’s theme park sits like an ugly white elephant on this iconic point. A vast river of cars streams into the car park, disgorging visitors set on having their photos taken under the famous signboard for a few quid. I felt a sense of smugness as I walked past the queue, continuing on my way.

Although mining is the focus along the rugged west Penwith Coast, as I turned east, fishing took over and quaint villages punctuated the gentler terrain. Dropping into hidey-hole villages like Mousehole and Porthleven was a highlight and the promised Cornish pasties at the Porthleven bakery were beyond expectations.

Fishing has long been the mainstay of the economy and many of the towns have wonderful medieval harbour walls where an assortment of colourful boats lies at varying degrees depending on the tide. This is quintessential Cornwall at its most picturesque.

My last stretch was a gentle amble along grassy cliff tips, climbing over numerous stone stiles between fields with only a few steep plunges into wide sandy bays.

After only six days of walking, it was with a tinge of regret that I first caught a glimpse of Lizard Point. The freedom of literally tramping through a land rich with natural beauty and history was addictive. And as I climbed up on to England’s most southerly point, I was already plotting another six days further along the South West Coast Path.

Courtesy by K.T.

chough bakery, padstow

cornish fishing village

beckoning shores


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Driving The Causeway Coast – Northern Ireland


gofl in portrushRoyal Portrush golf course first sneaks into view from around a curve in Northern Ireland’s County Antrim Coast Road, it provides an unforgettable sight: its green fairways hiding amongst shaggy-topped sand dunes, the great headland of Inishowen contrasting vividly with the low line of the Skerries and the sea beyond.

Portrush belongs to one of the most glorious stretches of links land in all of Ireland. Along with Portstewart, Castlerock and Ballycastle, they comprise four of the most natural links courses you are ever likely to find so close together. Dotting the coastline, they are spread like gems — created by nature and linked together to form a necklace of beauty. This is golf with a uniquely Irish flavour.

Dunluce Castle

But it’s not only classic golfcourses that reign supreme here. Steeped in myth and legend and inhabited by giants, ghosts and banshees wailing through the sea mist, the Causeway Coast has one of the most dramatic coastlines in the British Isles. It is also home to the spectacular Giant’s Causeway and some wonderful seaside towns with legendary Irish hospitality.

“Fire away lads,” says the starter as I study the course guide and nervously draw a three-wood from the bag. Royal Portrush throws down the gauntlet right from the very first tee. Established in May 1888 and included in every list of the world’s top 100 golf courses, Portrush has long been regarded as a great test of a golfer’s skill. Had it been more suitable in other respects for staging a modern British Open Championship, it would almost certainly have held more than the one it did host in 195 1, when  England’s eccentric Max Faulkner lifted the trophy.

big footed - giant's causewayThis is links golf at its very best, with everything you expect to find on seaside courses — blind shots, deep pot bunkers, running fairways, lightning fast greens, strong winds and the taste of salt in the sea air. Not golf for the fainthearted, to-be-sure, to-be-sure…

There are plenty of great holes but there is one in particular that will almost certainly be etched in your memory long after you leave. This is the 210-yard par three 14th known as Calamity. It calls for an accurate long iron or hybrid shot that must not go right. To slice or push the ball will earn you an almost sure double bogey, because the links land falls away severely down a steep slope. Don’t be ashamed of taking a four at Calamity — threes are as rare as an unfriendly Irishman.

Acquiring a new supply of golf balls proves a more challenging task than losing them in the penalising rough of Portrush, so we head to nearby Bush-foot Golf Club, a quirky 9-hole course just down the road.

fourth best course outside us“l’ll take you to see Mary Neil, the local golf ball dealer,” says Hutch the affable barman, after we explain our predicament. Inside the small shed in Mary’s backyard, quality golf balls are neatly arranged in separate compartments. “The golfers keep losing them and I keep finding them,” says Mary with a smile. “I’ve found 1,900 golf balls since January. The price is £5 for twelve.” We stock up with a four-dozen assortment ready to face our next big challenge just a few kilometres up the coast — the classic links of Portstewart.

It’s a claim that’s often made — Portstewart has the best opening hole in Irish golf. Played from a high tee with topography that bucks and plunges like a raging river, the golfer needs more than the stunning coastal views of nearby Donegal to steady the nerves. But it is the sixth-hole, aptly named ‘Five Penny Piece’, which often proves the toughest challenge. Although only 125 metres, depending on the wind, it can call for anything from a three-iron to a wedge.

Over the next few days, we play some of the most challenging golf courses to be found anywhere. The driving in between is pure pleasure. The road hugs the coast with spectacular ocean views occasionally going through small towns that retain old seaside charm.

Just a few kilometres out of Portrush are the haunting ruins of Dunluce Castle that date back to the 16th and 17th centuries. It perches precariously on the edge of a rocky headland, thanks to a violent storm in 1639 that caused a portion of the castle’s kitchen, along with the cooks to tumble into the sea. It was the main fort of the Irish MacDonnells chiefs of Antrim. Tours of the castle are offered regularly throughout the summer months.

Close by is the small town that is home to ‘Old Bushmills’ — the oldest licensed whiskey distillery in the world. It celebrated its 400th birthday in 2008 and behind that milestone is a tale of ingenuity, craftsmanship and a quest to perfect the art of distilling.

coastal charmsA couple of par-5’s away from Bushmills is the world famous Giant’s Causeway. Legend has it that the causeway— steps made up of thousands of hexagonal pillars that climb out of the Atlantic Ocean — was created by Finn MacCool, an Irish giant that lived along the Antrim Coast. The logical and less romantic version is that about 60 million years ago there was intense volcanic activity along the coast, after which the lava cooled very quickly. The uneven cooling rate resulted in the basalti contracting into hexagonal and octagonal pillar shapes.

Another attraction in the area is the stunning Carrick-a-rede rope bridge that spans a gaping chasm between the coast and a small island used by fishermen,

The terrifying 50-metre drop can be crossed via a swinging rope bridge — not an experience for the fainthearted. Tourism in Northern Ireland is definitely on the increase and visiting the Causeway Coast is a great place to begin. The golf courses are a string focus and there are plenty of other diversions, but it will ultimately be the people you meet that will make the most lasting impression.Portstewart

Lone Win

rope bridge


The capital of Saxony may have been flattened during World War ll, but its spectacular revival — not a bunch of ruins — is what nine million tourists go to see every year.

street view dresdenA trip to Dresden? Isn’t that the place that was bombed to bits in 1945? Surely there’s nothing left; why would you want to go there?” This was the standard refrain from friends and family as I packed my bags for this historic German city. Pitched in the far east of the country, 3 0 miles from the Czech border, Dresden is the capital of the German state of Saxony.

Who can blame the sceptics? Dresden’s past is indeed sombre. Flattened by Allied bombers in the Second World War, its reduced-to-rubble buildings were left in shambles for decades in a city that wore a ruinous look. Well, no more. Through the well-synergised efforts of the government and the local civic bodies, Dresden has risen Phoenix-like to be a stunning metropolis that attracts nine million tourists a year today.

As I look around, the abundance of Baroque architecture still looks incredibly substantial, despite what was lost during the war. The city’s rebuilding isn’t over yet, I’m told, and it’s heartening to see that its architects have followed the old street plan to a T.

The most spectacular reconstruction is of course the Frauenkirche, Dresden’s Protestant cathedral. For 200 years, it was the pivot around which Dresden flowed, Gerrnany’s riposte to St Paul’s.  But during the war, the church was whittled down to debris. It was reconstructed for the city’s 800th anniversary in 2006 like a gigantic jigsaw puzzle along with a phalanx of other structures like the Zwinger Palace and the Semperoper. Such is the cathedral’s aura that I get goose bumps as the sound of its bells ricochet across the cobbled square.

Dresden is chockfull of other historic sights: a unique, world-famous baroque quarter; the notorious Church of Our Lady and museums that rival the most splendid in Paris and Rome. How interesting to see one of the world’s finest art collections in a city that is itself a baroque masterpiece.

elbe riverDresden’s historic core, mostly dating back to the 18th century, is spliced into two by the glutinous River Elbe. The grand churches and museums of the Altstadt nestle on the south bank, the elegant streets and shops of the Neustadt on the north side.

I begin my explorations smack dab in the heart of town — at the Zwinger, the sprawling palace complex at Theaterplatz. Even if you’re the non-artsy kind, you’ll find the Zwinger enchanting. In its innards are some wonderful paintings including Raphael’s serene Sistine Madonna, whose sullen angels have become Dresden’s unofficial mascots. However, the main attraction is Canaletto’s cityscapes, depicting this city as it used to be and has become again.

Basically, the Zwinger is an assemblage of galleries and pavilions, one of the many city landmarks commissioned by Augustus the Strong, elector of Saxony and Dresden’s most controversial monarch who also became king of Poland. Augustus’ ostentatious tastes gave Dresden its ornate beauty as also its moniker — ‘Florence of the North’.

I saunter into the Grunes Gewolbe museum and am gobsmacked by Augustus’ eye-popping collection of precious  objects, from amber cabinets and ivory  carvings to the effervescent jewelled  creations of his goldsmiths. Most are housed within this museum inside mirrored rooms designed as a walk-in treasure chest inside the royal palace.

moritzberg castleTo take a break from baroque, I head to Neustadt, the artsy-meets-punk district where a pulsating arts and cultural scene and a zinging pub and nightlife exist. You can party all night long in this neighbourhood, my guide informs me, as the place has the highest bar and club density in Germany. The area was largely spared by bombing and is a trove of 19th-century patrician houses and trendy cafés and shops. I stumble across the Bohemian enclave of Louisenstrasse with its charming boutiques and bars and record shops.

Basically, Neustadt is a series of intertwining courtyards designed by a collective of local artists. It is dotted with shrubby alcoves and trickling water features encircled by vast apartment-front installations. Its tiny courtyards house studios and ateliers. In the heart of Neustadt also exists the delightful Kunsthofpassage complex, home to a turquoise building that has rigged its drains  (which are shaped like instruments), to  play “water music” during the rains!

Since the fall of the Wall, Dresden has mimicked Berlin’s frenetic artistic emancipation, but while the German capital struck me (on an earlier visit) as over-the-top, Neustadt suffers from no such affliction. It is irreverent and scruffy and offers a refreshing antidote to Dresden’s medieval Old Town.

Dresden’s tranquil setting on the leafy  banks of the river Elbe, surrounded by  rolling hills and lush green meadows, is  also a world away from the cosmopolitan  bustle of, say, Frankfurt or Munich.

on the dot-tramsAs my affable guide, Seema Prakash, who has been a Dresden resident for four years, put it, “I love the city because it’s not just a perfect holiday destination but also a perfect living destination. The spaces of leisure, of natural beauty, architectural magnificence and history are integrated into daily life. One does not have to ‘escape’ somewhere else to feel transported. Amidst joyful possibilities, one is already there.

So, while retaining its cosmopolitan streak, Dresden allows you to be close to nature as well. Amble along the Elbe, past farms and vineyards, out into its open fields. There’s a lovely riverside palace, Schloss Pillnitz, which you can reach by paddle-steamer from the city centre, and the knights-in-armour castle, Moritzburg, just a short ride away on an old steam train.

Although the key sights can be negotiated on foot, public transport is excellent. Red double-decker buses emblezoned with ‘STADTRUNDFAHRT are ubiquitous, as are trams. These quirky wooden carriages radiate the charm of a museum piece as they ratlle and shake their way along metalic tram lines cutting through the cobbles. German efficiency helps, too — traind, trams and buses arrive on the dot — so you can get around without hassles.

One cloudless day, I take a steamboat upriver past some of Europe’s steepest and most verdant vineyards. Paddle steamers once dominated the Europeanriver systems, but no more. In Dresdan, however, a whole fleet of these old beauties operates from the Elbe. They chug valiantly — funnels billowing, paddles thumping the water — upriver to the castle at Pillnitz,Augustus’s summer palace, and then onwards into mountainous Saxon Switzerland.

As the ship hoots, and my fun-filled hour-long ride comes to an end, I disembark close to the city. Almost immediately I get sucked into the urban whirligig a world away from the misty pastures I was eyeing not so long ago. Surely, this feat is possible only in a metropolitan like Dresden, which straddles the modern and the medieval with equal élan!

dresden square

 pricession of princes mural

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