North coast discoveries: Chapel Porth to St Agnes

When my partner and I moved down to Cornwall, we stayed in a cottage on the outskirts of St Agnes for a few months while we desperately searched for a place to rent. It was a strange and difficult period in my life. My Grandma died that April and I sought solace in the rugged landscape, bracing winds and long walks along the coast path. Although we now live in Falmouth, St Agnes and the surrounding countryside will always be a special place for me.

Last Monday it was my partner’s birthday, so he booked the day off work and we drove up to the north coast for a peaceful wander away from the increasingly busy streets and beaches of Falmouth. I’ve often followed the path up onto the beacon or down along the cliff edge, past the much-photographed Wheal Coates engine houses. This time, however, we set off exploring a new route.

Following the stream from Chapel Porth beach up through the valley, the ground was blanketed with a rich tapestry of cow parsley, red campion, ferns, thorny bushes and grasses of various kinds. Though undoubtedly scratchy and a no-go for my shorts-clad legs, it looked invitingly soft.

The earth rose up either side of us, nestling us in the bosom of two small hills. Up ahead on the right the skeleton of an engine house was silhouetted against the dazzling blue sky, possibly the remains of Charlotte United Mine. Beyond that, a pimple of bare, exposed earth poked out through the green.

Trees cast dappled shadows across the path ahead, our sweaty bodies welcoming the shade after the roasting sun. It felt exciting to be discovering a new, hidden part of this area I thought I knew so well. How naïve to think I had seen all there was to see here.

In my mind the land surrounding St Agnes was open, rugged, scarred but beautiful, with very few trees. Here, however, was a completely different character: a pocket of lush green bordering the stream. Through a gap in the trees I saw giant leaves basking in the sun. Gunnera, I think. Past plants and random bric-a-brac for sale and an honesty box, blowing out flies that seemed determined to fly up our noses or into our mouths. Our feet padded across a carpet of fluffy catkins. Could these be white poplars overhead? I thought they didn’t drop their cotton-like seeds until late summer. Surely the start of June would be too early?

Beautiful red-roofed houses emerged through the trees up ahead, as the path led us past a family enjoying the sun in their garden. How the other half live. Oh to wake each morning to breakfast on the patio, nestled in amongst the woodland, far from the noise of traffic and human existence. One day I’ll write that triple figure bestselling novel. One day…

We re-emerged blinking into the sunlight, to join the familiar road that leads up from the village. The beacon beckoned, and we clambered up the hill, toes digging in to the dusty earth as we made our way up and over, then down the other side to the car. I felt as if we had returned from a brief spell in a different world. I had learnt the valuable lesson that, no matter how well you think you know a place, there is always more to explore.

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