The littoral west of Portwrinkle is a lovely and remote bit of coast – not more than half-a-dozen miles from Plymouth city centre – although it might as well be on the edge of the Scillies on a blustery autumn day when no one's about.
This column first ventured along the magical section between Portwrinkle and Downderry when it was first opened up for the South West Coast Path some 13 years ago.
Before that walkers had to take to the narrow, windy and often busy B3247 if they wanted to follow the old route of the path along this part of the coast. It was one of the few places where Britain's longest continuous right-of-way gave up the ghost, left the cliff-sides and the shores, and headed inland along the road.
All that was put right through a deal between the council and the landowners, and a two-mile stretch of virgin path has opened between the two villages – partly thanks to the indefatigable efforts of the late Eric Wallis who, for many years, was secretary of the South West Coast Path Association.
Eric did so much to ensure that the remaining bits of the best right-of-way in the world did what it promised on the tin – ie, that the path stuck to the coast… And I would like to take this opportunity of doffing my walking cap to his memory, as we all can enjoy miles of seaside walk today that would otherwise have remained sadly inland had it not been for his sterling efforts.
Whitsand Bay is the big east-west indentation that stretches between Rame Head, just outside Plymouth, all the way down to St George's – or Looe Island.
As long ago as the early 1930s, the well known writer JRA Hockin was complaining about accessibility to the local coast in his book Walking In Cornwall: "Unfortunately there is no practicable way along the cliffs – in spite of the presence of coastguards in Portwrinkle. Paths do wander about, but they lead only to fields or potato patches and there is no alternative to the dangerous shore except to trudge up the hill to the bus road."
To find Portwrinkle you must go to the ridge-top village of Crafthole, just south of the A374 road to Torpoint. A sea-facing lane drops down over the hill to the little community which is dominated by a number of new villas built high on the slope. There's a car park down by the beach, a cafe and a small horseshoe of a harbour among the rocks just west of the houses.
It is pleasant to discover such a Cornish looking cove so close to Plymouth – but this is the place that they call the "Forgotten Corner of Cornwall" so it perhaps shouldn't be too much of a surprise...
To find the coast path walkers must make their way a few yards up the hill from the harbour. Just beyond what may well be old coastguard houses there's a gate on the left and it introduces you to the fields through gardens.
The path now begins its work in earnest by dipping along the edge of the field to the cliff-top, and then marching with it until the first steep climb. As is its endless habit, the coast path along here ascends and descends with much gusto – no right-of-way in the world climbs, dips and dives with such determined aplomb.
Up and up go the steps, just so that you can avoid a sea-facing ravine – and the moment you crest this gut – you are on your way back down. Now you find yourself in an enchanting world that, for the most part, remains unsullied by the hand of man. A bay wriggles this way and that far below, and you can see how the path descends gently under Cobland Hill only to climb again around the small headland that overlooks the lonely rock called The Brawn.
Far below, on the gritty sand of the beach, human footprints punctuated the shore. They were, in fact, my own. Earlier that day I'd descended to the beach in order to explore for the WMN's Secret Seaside series – and made a right old mess of my business suit in doing so. Don't even ask why I was so ludicrously dressed – but now I was in all the right gear having attended a meeting and got all the boring stuff behind me.
There is a secret path down to the shore – but be warned, it's a bramble-filled slip of a thing which the average goat would refuse to descend.
Above The Brawn I looked west and could follow the coast all the way to The Dodman. You can see that dreaded, terrible, beautiful headland from The Lizard to Rame Head – you can even glimpse its dark and dangerous finger from the heights of Dartmoor.
A quick walk along Battern Cliffs above the Long Stone and I entered the hill-clinging village of Downderry – where the wind got up and the rain started to fall. So I abandoned my lonely high-tea picnic on the shore to scarper east again from whence I'd come to Portwrinkle.
I'm not normally one for there-and-back hikes, but this really is a beautiful stretch of shoreline and hiking along it gave me a rather belated opportunity to pay my private respects to the late Eric Wallis who did so much to secure, promote and generally care for our fantastic, world-famous, South West Coast Path.