I hadn’t planned on coming here really, I just caught a glimpse of it from the A390 on a sunny but cold Saturday in April and felt the pull as it is a small part of my own history.
Helman Tor is an out-of-place segment of moorland in the midst of the green pasture and agriculture of Mid-Cornwall. Buffered by the Clay to the west and rising out – and forming the start – of the mysterious and dark Luxulyan Valley.
Helman Tor was once a Neolithic community, a tor enclosure, you can still see the remnants of this.
The enterprising, master stone workers created a semi-organic architecture, bulding dry-stone walls that weave into and around the existing weathered granite outcrops (that look almost artificial themselves).
Helman is old, it feels old but it is also popular. There are always people here. It’s a good walk, easy, light with excellent views East to the real moors, west to the Clay, south to Fowey and North to Wadebridge.
The hobbled hawthorn and stunted grass of a moor, in the distance is the Clay. Clay Country. A world unto itself in Cornwall. These heaps loomed over my hometown, my primary school even- always brooding, breeding rain and mist. If the gutted engine houses of Cornwall are the gravestones of industry then these are the burial mounds.
Before the Cornish turned their attention, at the initiative of one William Cookworthy, to mining the Kaolin present within the granite, that area would have looked alot like Helman Tor, alot like Bodmin Moor and West Penwith. One of the four granite knuckles of the Cornubian Batholith.
There is actually a very rare and beautiful type of granite to be found in this modest little area. Inventively named Luxullianite, it is very dark with a pinky-orange mottle.
Tis rather sought after and comprises the Duke of Wellington’s monument in St. Paul’s Cathedral indeed.
Lansalwys is the Cornish language name it seems, I don’t know which I prefer.
Today being the first consistently warm, yet crisp, Spring day I had to get out and jettison my school workload.
Pretty much the only I’ll say about Lansallos is go. On a sun soaked day it is easily one of my top picks for Cornish beaches.
It’s to be found west of Polperro and East of Polruan. There’s very little of anything in the considerable space between those two places so you’ll find it, if you don’t you’ll find the almost equally as lovely Lantic Bay and if you happen to miss that you’ll still be in one of the most overlooked and unspoilt parts of Kernow.
You walk down a track from the alluringly quiet little hamlet and end up here. Totally worth the slog back up.
The way the rocks have been carved here often breaks any breeze and allows for a pretty perfect little suntrap.
It is quite popular in the height of Summer but never what you’d call crowded. It tends to be the preferred haunt of the locals of Polperro, Polruan and Looe.
There was a solitary but supremely content and relaxed fisherman here today, casually watching the rod tip with little care.
The Church and Churchyard are definitely worth the time too. Although don’t hold out too much hope for the proudly advertised book sale. Unless you happen to be after a Haynes manual for a Hyundai Pony.
The headland in the distance on the bottom right is the Dodman. FYI.
I haven’t lived here long. Ent no Looe boy. I did grow up in close proximity to a very similar place though; Mevagissey.
It’s scarcely a hidden wonder. A summer town, out n’out. Packed to the gills in Summer, dead as the by-catch in the winter.
Visitors have a complex relation to Cornwall but Cornwall has an equally complex relation with visitors. We rely on Tourism, no doubt, but there’s an air of putting up with it. Whether it be eye rolls at mispronunciations (Fow -ee) or slightly more than an eye roll at the inexplicable inability to judge the width of a vehicle.
Any tourism hotspot comes with a more jaded side, locals in these areas, wherever it may be – Ko Pha-Ngan, Paris or Polperro – can be aloof, cynical, even a tad superior. Its static vs mobile. This faint strain in the collective mentality is most readily visible in the sometimes muttered Cornish name for tourists; ‘Emmets’, meaning ‘ants’. I dislike this, we are all tourists at some point.
“There are good people everywhere. Except Cornwall.” My Grandad, a Lancashire man, said that, one of the few people I know who remains completely impervious to absolutely anything the place has to offer. That is a subtly valuable piece of advice but we can safely include his omission; there are most certainly good people here too.
Cornwall is contradictory. Welcoming and aloof, friendly and mean, beautiful and ugly, inordinately wealthy and soul sappingly poor. I can say this I feel, the way you feel you can criticse your parents.
In a stark contrast to anything people tend to write about the county, the spine towns; St. Austell, Bodmin, Liskeard, Redruth or Cambourne. – where most Cornish people actually live – are littered with social problems; drugs, violence and poverty and these problems can spill over into places like Looe, Mevagissey St. Agnes and the like. Stick around Looe or Mevagissey into the small hours on a busy weekend and you’ll see what I mean. Again though, you are far more likely to end up embraced, singing sea shanties with a Cornish fisherman. Who’ll then deck you. No, I’m joking of course.
These things are also not peculiar to Cornwall of course, they are rife anywhere a town loses its soul, and Cornwall’s soul, for long time, was mining and industry. Particularly clay and tin (fishing also, but that survived though not unscathed). This soul is being gradually filled by tourism, and thanks be to that, but this slow renourishing has yet to – and probably won’t – reach the spine towns. Have a look at them and you’ll see this and why.
If you allow for a collective essence of a land then the Cornish are not poetic and mysterious like the Irish, not really as empassioned and virile as the Welsh or as self-confident and proud as the Scots but they are quietly, yet fiendishly, practical and industrious and it feels that we have yet to find a viable collective outlet for this in the modern age. It feels, to me at least, as though options are limited.
That is whimsical talk though and should not be given a shred of credibility. I’m supposed to be an academic.
I like it though on the whole, its brash and a bit rough around the edges but it manages as a place to appeal to all people, it is far more kitsch than Polperro or Fowey but all the more endearing for that.
There are a few pockets of very English Riveria’esque buildings. This is undoubtedly unusual on the South Coast. The vast majority of towns did not become tourist destinations until mobility and modern transport links (functioning roads) opened them up. This is why quaintness reigns supreme in small coastal villages and they predominantly retain their muddled squatness – they were inaccessible and thus off the radar of the Victorian and Georgian trends of holiday and spared the resultant development.
It was no suprise then to learn that Looe was indeed a destination for the affluent middle classes of Plymouth and beyond, who had presumably grown tired of the swiftly cliched bucket-and-spade desitnations of Paignton, Torquay and Teignmouth, instead opting for something slightly more rustic. Hipsters are, it seems, a historical constant.
Looe splits – like U.S. Hip hop – into East and West. I’m not entirely sure which was first, probably both sprung up along side of each other (early settlers would have just paddled/sailed between). East Looe has the most development so was probably historically consistently more populous. This is where the high street and the standard seasidey shops are to be found – apparently people do actually buy whitewashed planks with meaningless words on them, who knew.
The West is slightly more affluent and quiet (I live in the West but whilst I may be quiet I am most certainly not affluent). It stretches out to Hannafore Point, with a long promenade around the point looking out to Looe Island.
Looe island is an interesting place, steeped in history. Prior to the advent of Christianity is pretty much open to speculation but it’s a good defensive position and given the propensity of the Iron Age folk to build and dwell on pronounced coastal areas it was probably inhabited as a promontory fort. A bold theory even posits J.C. himself landing here, which is frankly a rather big claim for somewhere so innocuous. A hermitry and celtic chapel sprung up when the pious tide reached Cornwall, a sister chapel on Hannfore Point still remains as foundations and it retains a beautiful name; Lammana. After a fair old stretch of intrigue and smuggling, during which presumably the current buildings were built, the Island was somehow purchased by two enterprising sisters who wrote about their purchase and subsequent (enviable) life in two excellent books.
The Island was generously bequeathed to the Cornish Wildlife Trust after Bab’s death and it can be reached today. I don’t intend to pay for the price of entry, I have a certain aversion to such things, but I do aim to paddle out there at some point and the results will of course be published here.
It’s actually hard to write about a place you live in. I think can sum this entry up simply enough though.
Looe is Looe. That’s all. It’s all of the contradictions and moods of Cornwall in one place. Visit though, for that reason.
I am fond of Downderry. I had never heard of it until I found myself toiling in the fields and polytunnels around this docile and fertile patch during a long summer.
Drop into from the Rame side and you will be met with a peculiar strip of a village. The road goes straight through, parrallel to the sea with most of the houses between the cliff and the beach, to Seaton (basically the same place, the houses of Downderry adjoin Seaton).
You might note Downderry and Seaton are linguistically out of place amongst the Cornish place-name corpus.
I have to admit, my curiosity drives me to tedium at times.
It seems I have given up my Sunday morning trying to figure out the history of Downderry based on etymological clues, poor quality internet research and a patchy knowledge of local history.
To get this anywhere near credibility would require an academic endeavour, involving libraries and local history books, which I might (won’t) undertake in the future but right now there’s a pretty brutal South Easterly trying to break my window and it’s Sunday. So, pure speculation it is!
Seaton is easy – Sea Ton – it’s a modern version of the Old English ‘Tun’ which means house or farm. So Sea-farm, there are indeed some ancient farmsteads in the area. This is common enough, there is Seaton in Devon and a veritable tonne of ‘tons’ all over England. Not many in Cornwall.
Downderry is slightly more anomalous. Both Down and Derry are traceable to Irish Gaelic, a different branch of the Celtic language to Cornish (which sits on the Brythonic side, with Welsh and Breton) which is why it is unusual to Cornwall. However whilst ‘Dun’ (‘Down’) means ‘fort’ or ‘castle’ in Gaelic it also means ‘hill’ in Old English.
So, if Seaton traces it etymology to Old English then it follows Downderry would too, there are , perhaps unsurprisingly, hills/cliffs around so the Dun fits here. The plot thickens when we learn there is a Cursus very nearby, lending itself to the Gaelic links as well.
If Old English, where does Derry come from?
I can find no explanation of Derry as a place name in Old English, only in Gaelic where it means Oak; Oak Tree or Oak Woodland.
There are oak trees here so maybe, as Cornwall has historic links to Irish proselytizing do-gooders, it is possible a wayward missionary found it and named it accordingly.
However the North Coast, for obvious reasons, was the standard entry point for these piously minded glory hunters and there’s no old church here (it’s Victorian at the earliest and the Normans tended to build on existing, Celtic Christian sites set up by missionaries) and there’s also no mention of it in the Domesday book.
After trawling through the oldest maps of Cornwall there is no mention of a Downderry until John Cary who produced his pompously titled ‘New and Correct Map‘ in
As the title of Cary’s map suggests though, cartography was not an exact science (it still is a bit off) for a long time, hence why the Tudor and Stuart maps of Claxton and John Speed resemble rather than represent.
On a side note, the accuracy of cartography and advancements in naval technology are linked, it’s pretty easy to see why this is so and equally as easy to see the evidence; compare the Speed map with Cary’s.
So, I reckon the evidence points to it being a relatively new village with a relatively new name and thus a super-imposition of an Irish name onto the expanding village, by either someone Irish or with a penchant for Ireland. Possibly someone linked to or from the Port Eliot estate. That’s the best guess I can do and I’m pretty damn sure I’m wrong. Correct me if so.
So, Downderry then. It’s charming in it’s way. I like it at least. Village-y, community-like and pretty welcoming. The pebble-shingle beach here stretches the length of the Village and in the Summer the sun bakes the south facing pebbles to warm up on after swimming. There’s a decent enough pub right on the beach too. Boody.
The water is pleasant here too, far better than the more popular Seaton beach. Generally, beaches at the end of a river valley have poorer water quality. When heavy rain hits – pretty often – it washes the agricultural chemicals and silage into the river from the valley slopes, which can be horribly visible as a brown smudge bleeding out into the ocean.
South East Cornwall lives up to it’s tourist moniker; ‘The Forgotten Corner’. Cawsand to Polruan.
There’s a hell of a lot to explore here in this part of the world, hell of a lot to show. I thought I’d start with another, lesser known beach. We just call it Shag Rock beach. Which is apt…
As this place is widely accepted as nudey beach. So whether or not that’s your bag or no you should be aware you’m likely to see naturists sunning themselves.
I’ve been down here a fair few times now and only once ever saw people other than the people I was with. It’s also massive. So, your call.
I hadn’t ever skinny dipped until I came here, dusty and sweaty from hoiking stubborn vegetables from hard ground all day, on one long balmy summer evening in 2014. I was with my girlfriend of the time and possessing English embarrassment thresholds, we checked the beach was empty, stripped and went in.
Skinny dipping is bleddy ansum but my experience turned into another of a different kind when I was stung in my newly freed privates by a jellyfish. Which was unfortunate in the scheme of things.
You get here by walking the coast path from Downderry. It’s not far. You can go the beach way at low tides too I believe.
There’s a metal gatepost facing back on the path with a little Duchy of Cornwall notice, absolving themselves of your death should you meet it here.
The path down to the beach is steep, snaking and pleasingly surreal, it is a wooded cliff face. There are some seriously old, twisted trees here and this is what a lot of the coast would have looked like for a long time. It’s quite primordial in places.
Also perched on the steep route down is a derelict hunting lodge, abandoned by the Port Eliot estate. Perhaps after all of the pheasants of Cornwall migrated to Caerhays.
This is the end result then. Shag Rock is the little stub of a sea stack at the far end, also called the Long Stone.
Lone males on beaches like this make a statement I didn’t want to make today so I didn’t go all the way down.
Tide was coming in too.
As I got back to the village, the last little section of coastpath skirts a property that is carefully hidden by large hedges from the eyes of the passing walker. This is irresistible to me.
So I clambered up the bank and, with a supporting hand on an elder sapling, looked into the grounds at a large, handsome Victorian three story house.
Until I hear;
“What are you doing?!…I say, you there, what are you doing there??” In a strong female, upper-middle class accent.
Down the coastpath a sturdy woman in a floppy hat is clutching a branch and craning her neck at me.
“Um, just avin a look..?”
“Bit nosey isn’t it?!”
“…Yes. It is.”
“…Well, come over here then and look properly.”
The dear old maid proceeded to give me a little tour of the garden and history of the place. Which she owns and is named Downderry Lodge.
Previously owned by the Port Eliot estate, again, built in the early 1800’s as a supplement to the aforementioned hunting lodge and sold off after the War apparently.
It’s a grand old place in beautiful gardens leading straight to the sea. I didn’t ask to take photos (I always feel these people – who have evidently always been well off – have a personalised and complex nexus of manners that is alien to me) and she didn’t explicitly give me the go ahead, she was some bird though. Bustling, talkative and a little brusque but with a wry sense of humour lurking not very far away.
I often hear Hemmick spoken of in reverential tones; friends, family and strangers all utter soft, dreamy cooing sounds when the name is mentioned. They bleddy love the place basically.
Soft sand, clear water (my Father and I, keen swimmers, always note that the water feels colder here than in the St. Austell bay) isolated, almost never crowded and unusually for the South, can pick up a good swell. Here is where I would say the similarities with the south west of Wales and Cornwall become particularly close.
What I think produces such doe-eyed fondness, particularly amongst locals, is the almost overwhelming envious desire to dwell within the little cottage on the right. Look at it! It’s perfect. Anyone with a fondness for the moods of the ocean is instantly consumed with property lust and covetousness.
I just looked at the prices. Holy hellfire. Maybe not. Park up your wagon in the car park for free or camp on the beach as we have done countless times before. Indeed, I’m fairly sure a few enduring relationships (or STIs, whatever) have started here after sandy coitus and too much booze.
This is the western, more exposed side of the Dodman.
I consider the greatest asset to Hemmick is that you can harvest wild Mussels here.
It’s safe (the local expression goes anything west of Portgiskey – the far side of Pentewan Sands – is safe). Be discerning and don’t go mental, it is a sensitive ecosystem and Mussels do a lot.
Wild Garlic grows like a weed in most woodlands locally but the nearest place I know for sure is the little lane from the to nearby Portholland. The second hamlet over from here, westward.
So, if you fancy a relatively cheap gormet experience, drive-by harvest said Wild Garlic, and head to the beach with a campstove (or you can use a well built fire), two bottles of white wine (one for drinking one for cooking and drinking so whatever your taste dictates) and possibly some single or double cream.
Boil a few drams of seawater in a wok or large pan, add the wine (mussels should be about half covered with liquid), boil quickly, add the garlic, a bit of cream if you want, then chuck the mussels in, de-bearded of course. Put a lid on and wait about 5 mins. Keep an eye though, if you eat mussels you know when they’re done. If you don’t then 5 mins will be fine.
I have an inexplicably vivid memory of watching the Two Fat Ladies, when I was about 6, harvest Mussels here. Back when TV cooking shows (and chefs) were altogether less polished and self conscious.
Well, even I wasn’t expected a cookery diversion when I started this post but there you go. Wild harvests and culinary treats. How vogue. Prehaps I’ll grow a beard and get a nautically themed sleeve tattoo…replete with rolled up jeans and braces. Enough. Moving on. Go to Falmouth if you want that shit.
So if you walk up the footpath on the Dodman side of the beach you can find a precipitous Fisherman’s Path that leads down to a decent fishing mark.
It’s not the easiest to do with rods and tackle, it’s also slightly vertiginous, but it’s a boody (translation; beauty) of a spot.
Fisherman’s Paths are hard to notice. Zealously guarded and often unspoken about to the uninitiated. So, out of respect for tradition, I’ll only say it’s on the right if your walking eastward on the coastpath.
These paths are often just marked by a gap in a hedge, or slightly trodden grass, so can be fairly easily confused for fox/badger paths. A mistake I have made before and been blackthorned and gorse prickled to within an inch of my life. Train your mind to see them and you will, on every headland in the land. Each of them a favoured ‘secret’ spot by some pioneering soul.
I didn’t catch a bleddy thing.
I was super excited aswell after being told the mackerel were in early by the lady of Snozzle (St. Austell) tackle shop, who is amazing by the way, but that is fishing.
I did encounter a huge Grey Seal, peering at me curiously as they do, he didn’t want to be photographed though. Which is fair.
It’s now known by the less macabre name; Dodman Point, or just ‘The Dodman’.
Well known to sailors for centuries, it’s steep forbiding cliffs reached by rounding the Lizard, marked the real beginning of the channel, the end of the wild Atlantic and home.
It’s a hard, windswept place still. The granite cross stands mute and resolute at it’s head, facing the sea down.
The sloping gentleness of the Coast from the Gribbin to Gorran gives its thanks to this ragged and remote headland. If The Lizard protects the Roseland from the Atlantic’s brutality then the Dodman shelters St. Austell bay and beyond.
The Dodman is wholly ancient. You can feel this when you walk it. The peninsula is the remnant of a promontory fort. Too large to be a purely defensive dwelling, the most coherent explanation is this was a small enclosed Bronze and Iron-age town. Although this source states there was a village here as late as the early to mid 19th century.
This was the first place I walked on my own, late teens.
I’m no spiritualist, I shed the religion I was brought up with and am in no hurry to replace it. But. Here you can humble yourself with something. It’s intuitively and simultaneously ancient, powerful, wild, remote and dangerous. Those things together bring humans to earth. Which is, after all, where they belong.
The only building left on this little lump of land is an old Coastguard hut.
This has been restored by the NT (who own and manage the whole area) and you can shelter and sleep if the weather closes in. As far as I can tell (by the litter and graffiti but also past experience) it is mainly a well chosen spot to get drunk underage.
There’s a story that is told about this unassuming little place and it sums the area up. It’s hazy on the exact details so I made them up.
In a not too distant century, say before the automobile and after the Civil War, a middle aged and portly Coastguard had been sheltering in this little hut from a particularly punishing sou-westerly gale. As he grumpily and soberly huddled over a weak fire, something tugged at him, as sometimes happens to people when something needs to be seen. Reluctantly stepping out into horizontal rain he saw, after a minute, in a gap in the racing clouds, that the exposed moon was shining dolefully on a clipper, broken masted and on a lee shore.
He knew this was his moment to shine having been relegated to this position by the community due to untoward and lewd behaviour. Having also been somewhat athletic in his youth and full of hope of redemption and anxiety for the stricken sailors, the man ran the ragged and gale hammered two miles of coast to his birthplace, Gorran Haven, a small fishing hamlet situated comfortably in the armpit of the Dodman. Bursting into the pub, where the local fisherman inevitably drank each evening, he clearly and efficiently informed the red-faced coal-warm drinkers of the situation who dropped their pewter mugs and rushed to their boats. Dripping and panting in the doorway, watching the men run to their vessels the man promptly dropped dead, unforgiven.
Fun huh? Here’s a tree bent in respect of the sou-westerly.
‘Everyone? I think there might be about 3 people who will read this’
‘I just don’t want everyone to know about it.’
Secret beaches are never secret. Find somewhere that feels like only you know about it and it’s ansum but it’s also certain a fair amount of other people know it and think the same. So whilst I somewhat agree with the above objection, raised by a friend, then I also think that those who want to see it should.
It was a greyish day, but use your imagination.
This is right next to Porthluney (and it’s free). If coming to the main beach from The Dodman/Gorran side then continue past the beach and ‘castle’ up to the top of the next hill. Park in the layby and hop the steel gate on the east side of said layby. Continue straight down the hill. Encounter this:
Owned by the estate of course, an old lookout now converted into a ‘wild wedding’ venue, but in my opinion an excellent place for a wild camp.
Continue directly diagonally down from here towards the bottom right (west) side of the field, usually inhabited by sheep but sometimes Highland Cattle (and in the autumn Horse Mushrooms grow), there is a metal gatepost. Hop that and carry on down the path.
It’s an abseil rather than a walk. This photo doesnt really do the gradient justice. Some kindly soul has attached the fishing rope to buoys to help but it’s always hellish slippery.
And after a few hundred metres of slipping and grasping you will arrive at the beach. I have never actually encountered another person on here, but there were fresh footprints this time around (you can tell alot from footprints on a beach; no. of people, male/female, types of shoe, time spent, direction walked, what they looked at, what dog they had etc.).
I’m not sure what other people do on a beach other than lie about and swim, but there is a flock of Oystercatchers here that are always idignant and you can find Cowrie shells if you look hard enough. Also the rockpools are teaming with various types of life that are less abundant on more well travelled beaches. The jetsam is usually interesting too, I found a chunk of redwood here once. They grow in California.
I regret not taking photographs here a few years ago. A person/persons unknown had made some seriously impressive drystone sculptures. Some over 6 foot in height. Perfectly geometrical behives, cairns and towers and a small footbridge. I thought they might still be standing but the storms must have had their way with them. Ah well.
Maybe in the future they will reappear so watch this space or go have a gander yourself.