Saturday, 7th March 2015 (Day 6, week 9)
Can you believe we’re almost at the end of week 9!
Today we went back to Cadgwith. Having had a short walk here earlier in the week (read about it here) we had promised ourselves a return visit to explore further afield. I’ve got some interesting local history and industrial archaeology for you this time (no….don’t go away, it is interesting!)
Target: 1000 miles in one year (20 miles a week)
Achieved so far: 196.4 miles (Target 180 miles)
Achieved this week: 19.8 miles
Cadgwith circular via Ruan Minor and Poltesco (4.4 miles)
We started today with a hop over the stile leading to an enclosure protecting a Holy Well. This little listed building sits in the corner of a field and is dedicated to St Ruan, a 6th century Cornish saint, a bishop, and patron saint of Tavistock.
Little is known about St Ruan, also known as Rumon, although it is said that he was invulnerable to wolves and responsible for driving them out of The Lizard. Some even say he was a werewolf. It’s probable however, that this story is a 10th century adaptation of the life of St Ronan of Brittany. Whatever his relationship to wolves, he is undoubtedly well connected with this part of Cornwall as several places are named after him including the ‘Ruans’ Minor and Major, and nearby ‘Polruan’.
Crossing the fields away from the well, we enter Ruan Minor, a quiet village, which still amazingly has a post office (just saying). We take a
wrong path quick diversion to have a look at the Church of St Ruan which sits in the middle of a very well kept graveyard.
The church itself is a bit grim and forbidding, full of dark wood including the rafters and ceiling. There is, however, an interesting font cover dedicated to the memory of Admiral ELS King, a Rear Admiral in the Royal Navy during the second world war and also Church Warden. A nearby stained glass window is also dedicated in the name of Lilian King, presumably his wife.
Leaving the church we walk back to the road and start downhill towards Poltesco. Much of this area is now owned and managed by the National Trust, who are developing it as a site of historical interest. Halfway down the hill we pass Poltesco Mill, a listed building, in need of repair, but with the water wheel still in situ. There have been mills on this site since 1396, although this building doesn’t date back that far.
It’s a short walk then through the National Trust visitor centre and along a wooded track to the coast path leading down to Carleon Cove passing a beautifully carved bench on the way:
Carleon Cove is the site of the Poltesco Serpentine Works, built in 1855 on former pilchard cellars. This is an unlikely location for what was once a busy factory, with steam engines, storehouses and it’s own little harbour, processing local serpentine rock to produce architectural and decorative stone fireplaces, gravestones, shop fronts and other polished ornaments, transporting them by sea all over the country. Indeed, transport by sea must have been the only option as this cove at the mouth of the Poltesco valley would be inaccessible by any other means apart from on foot.
Serpentine (or serpentinite as it is properly known) is only found in this location in England and is easily carved into shape and polished to a high sheen. In 1846 Queen Victoria and Prince Albert visited the area and were so taken by the rock that their subsequent patronage spawned a whole industry. However the rock decays quickly in the pollution of urban environments and this, along with changing fashions and the import of marble from Italy and Spain led to a decline in the market.
The footprint of the now derelict factory encompasses the entire left side of the cove. 20 men and 3 boys were employed here, working a 25 foot water wheel, saw frames and a man-powered winch, used to haul flat bottomed barges up onto the shingle so they could be loaded and sent off out to cargo ships anchored in the bay.
We have a good wander around, marvelling at the size of the remaining structures and the ingenuity of producing such objects here in this inaccessible place before making our way via a fairly new and very substantial wooden bridge over the tumbling stream, back to the coast path.
From here it’s coast path all the way back to Cadgwith, sometimes steep, sometimes through grassy moorland and often over slippery serpentine rock. We hear lots of birdsong, although apart from a couple of blue tits and some crows, there’s not much to see here – just the gorgeous coastline. In the distance is the tower of the Church of St Grada which sits near the end of our walk.
In less time than we think it’ll take, we’re walking down the steep hill into Cadgwith, past that Huer’s Hut on the cliff top and then up the even steeper hill the other side, pausing for a quick look back at this pretty fishing village with it’s thatched rooves and pebbly beach.
The walk now follows the same route we took on Monday, but in reverse. Past the Devil’s Frying Pan and around the corner, we soon find a bench for a quick sit down and a bite to eat whilst gazing out at the misty sea and watching the cormorants scooting back and forth over the water. Then it’s on again along the coast path, noting the shags still sitting on the same rock and spotting kittiwakes swooping over the water. At one point a crow flies right across our path, his beak full of what must be half a nest which he carries down over the cliff, disappearing from view. Pity it’s not a chough I think! (Crikey – I’m not turning into a real birdwatcher am I??)
The coast path, of course continues around The Lizard Peninsula, but we soon turn inland and make our way up to the road which eventually passes the still duckless pond and the lane to the Church of St Grada.
We decide not to risk the fields behind the church, which were a quagmire on our last visit and instead take the long straight road back to the car.
Associated artwork for Ricketyrambler by Andrew Major: