Slippin' and a Slidin'
I have a feeling this is going to be my favourite blog to write so far...
I have a wonderful rambler, Jenny, who joined Cornish Ramblings back in the summer of 2021 and since then, has booked on to more or less every walk. Jenny has become one of my regular ramblers who helps me out by staying at the back of the group to keep everyone safe, and I just love to see her happy face as she gives me the thumbs up that everyone is counted for.
At the end of every ramble, without fail, Jenny has taken to coming up to me with a mega smile whilst saying, "Jody, that was my favourite walk so far."
Trying to find a wonderful new rambling route to beat the last one has now become my mission, but I must admit on this particular walk back in January at Port Isaac, I wasn't expecting to hear Jenny's famous one-liner as we crawled back to the car park. Buckle up and get ready for this six-mile adventure...
The Route: Port Gaverne to Barrett's Zawn, 6 miles
After accidentally telling everyone the wrong postcode in the email comms and turning up to an empty car park, I didn't have the best feeling about this ramble from the start. Luckily, the car park postcode I had given them was only a few minutes up the road from the one I was anxiously pacing back and forth in, and so by 10:15am I was surrounded by an excitable bubble of ramblers ready to take on this strenuous section of the coast path.
As we headed down the steep hill from Port Isaac, we were greeted with the sheltered narrow cove of Port Gaverne. Nestled between rugged cliffs, the name Gaverne (pronounced Gay-verne as one of my ramblers corrected me!) is thought to originate from 'Karn Hun' meaning rocky haven. It was also the perfect spot for a group shot before we left this quaint cove to proceed uphill, and onto the coastal path.
On this grey and mizzly Saturday back at the end of January, this mighty stretch of coast was looking particularly strapping, with its carved-out v-shape clefts and craggy sheer rock faces. As we made our way uphill, soaring over the tops of the cliffs were several fulmars
According to iWalk Cornwall, "the fulmar is a grey and white bird related to an albatross, although it can be mistaken at a distance for a gull." The fulmar has a tube on its beak which is visible as a black bar from a distance. This tube is a gland for excreting salt from the seawater as they drink and, as a defence mechanism, the fulmar regurgitates foul-smelling oil from its stomach.
Most of the rambles I organise will include at least one stile. Some of the stiles we have stumbled across so far whilst out on a ramble include:
A badly constructed one made out of gates
Stonewall stiles you have to take a leap at in order to get over
A huge gaping hole with an electric fence to contend with on the other side
High slabs of slippery slate which require lifting dogs over
Rickety ladders you hope won't collapse beneath you
The most common of stiles, the step stile - these can also include a special doggy stile too
The slender squeeze stile you have to breathe in to get through
My favourite, the Cornish stile, which consists of a series of granite rail steps placed horizontally, with a pit beneath them
Slippery stone steps
And this is where our Port Gaverne ramble continues: the stone stile!
One of my favourite things about Cornish Ramblings and the people who join me is how no one is left out and everyone will support one another when or if it is needed. A prime example is whilst out on this walk and how 35 ramblers had to navigate FIVE of these slippery stone stiles, each of which had us precariously climbing up one side, pirouetting at the top before descending carefully down the other, usually landing in a muddy puddle as the pièce de résistance.
On top of the awkwardness of getting over these stiles, is also how high these stiles aka walls can be, alongside the slipperiness when the weather is wet. On this walk, you guessed it, the stones were wet. Thankfully, one of my kind ramblers was there with an open hand to guide anyone down who may have felt a little wobbly, and because of this everyone made it down safe and sound each time.
Ranie Point to Barrett's Zawn
The coastal section of this route is spectacular and even though the weather was pretty rotten, you could still see just how impressive the views were. The headlands jutted out creating vast shadows against the mist and when the low clouds were blown away, it revealed more of their beauty. However, there are two main climbs on this route that are very steep, one of which is the climb up to Barrett's Zawn after Ranie Point.
When I say this was probably one of the more challenging walks I've organised, I wouldn't be exaggerating. The coast around Port Isaac is notorious for its persistent ascents and descents, and this route certainly lived up to its reputation. I can handle uphill, I don't mind the burning thighs or the raised heart rate. In fact, it's one of the reasons I love hiking so much. What I do mind, however, is constantly skidding along on my arse and struggling to stay upright - regardless of how much I laugh whilst doing so.
Before reaching the climb to Barrett's Zawn, you will find a descent just after Ranie Point that on a dry day, may not be as challenging. However, when it's been heavily raining, be mindful that the ground below will be extremely slippery. There were many shouts of "oh shits" and "oooffs" and "nearly wents" behind me as we slowly navigated our way downhill. Although there was plenty of laughter too which is always reassuring when leading a group of people on a challenging ramble!
After we had all made it to the bottom I could hear a lot of relieved exhales, including my own sigh of relief to see everyone smiling and in one piece. However, as we continued on it was then where we started the uphill challenge towards Barrett's Zawn that left me pretty much going up on my hands and knees, with those behind me getting an eyeful as I tentatively stepped my way up whilst gripping onto anything in arms reach - including gorse which I don't recommend!
Occasionally glancing behind me, I could see everyone taking up a similar stance as myself; the closer to the ground, the less distance to fall is my motto. And throughout it all, there were still joyful sounds emitting from my ramblers who were taking the challenge on with absolute determination and enthusiasm.
If I wasn't concentrating so much on staying upright and not toppling back down and taking everyone out with me, I would have probably taken more pictures to share with you. However, I needed both hands to grasp onto the rocks and tufts of grass in front of me; I'm not sure what's worse, sliding uphill or downhill?
The beach at the bottom of the cliffs is Barrett's Zawn and can only be accessed by sea or through the now disused tunnel on the north side of Delebole Point, which was known locally as Donkey Hole because (can you guess?!) it was once used by donkeys to bring slate up from the beach quarry below.
Although it is still possible to crawl through the tunnel to the beach, part of the tunnel roof has collapsed and it is not recommended due to the high cliffs above being unstable. It is also pitch black once inside and you will be required to slide down on your belly at one point to get over a rock - I thought I'd best leave the tunnel out of this ramble!
Once we had made it to the top, I thought it about time we found somewhere stable and flat to take a break. I also wanted to find out how everyone was really feeling, especially as over half of the group were all new to Cornish Ramblings that day! Thankfully, I got a resoundingly positive response from all, even if a couple were feeling a little done in. I was so proud of everyone and even felt a sense of pride in myself for creating a walking group filled with such incredible people.
As we took a moment to refuel and recharge, I could see everyone chatting amongst the little groups that had been created. I spoke with a few of the new folks and explained how not all my rambles are like this one, but it seemed no one was put off because, since this particular walk, almost everyone who came along has either booked onto future walks, or emailed to say they will be coming back. Result!
The last leg of the ramble took us inland across fields and thankfully, the final 2-miles was a flat stank along the road back towards Port Gaverne beach - just be mindful of this during peak season as this road can get very busy. I thought the adventures of this walk had finished but there was one more to keep us on our toes. A fence climb!
To be fair, it was actually quite fun seeing everyone scramble through the horse jump-esque fence and a bit of light relief after a few tense moments along the coast path.
As we reached the last bit of road walking, we turned left and followed the footpath to emerge beside the Port Gaverne Hotel; originally the Union Inn frequented by crews of the slate vessels. Here, we made our way back towards the beach for one last before and "after" group shot, before making our way back up the hill towards the car park. On saying our weary goodbyes, one voice shouted back at me "Jody, that was my favourite walk so far."
Do we believe Jenny?
“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.”
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