The purple double decker broke free of the housing estate and we were riding high above the hedgerows, surrounded by frozen white fields. We’d crossed the River Tamar on the Plymouth Torpoint ferry, watching from the top of the bus as Cornwall draw imperceptibly closer. And now the world suddenly opened out, with a dizzying vision of long rolling white waves. This was Whitsand, where we planned to connect with the South West Coastal path and walk the Rame Peninsula.
The driver stopped for us and we stood dazzled, listening to the roar of the sea, and watched two tiny silhouettes walk in unison across the hard sand, each carrying a surf board. Off in the distance was the tip of the peninsula, crowned by the small silhouette of St. Michael’s chapel, our first destination. The view reminded me of winter travels in the Mediterranean. True, here there was frost on the grass, but the dazzling light engulfed us just the same.
Unable to resist, we took a detour down to the sands, and followed someone else’s footprints, negotiating the rocks and channels without getting our feet wet. We were eventually led back up the cliff to the clearly marked coastal path, neatly furnished with stiles, steps and copious wooden seats, for this is clearly a walk that invites contemplation.
The climax of the walk was at the top of the steep rocky path of Rame Head. The 13th century chapel windows frame England’s wild fringes, where fallow deer were foraging among gorse and bracken, Dartmoor ponies were cropping a smooth turf, and kestrels hovered, as swirling surf broke up on the rocks. Looking out into the radiance of the open sea, there’s a sense of history: it was here the Invincible Armada was first spotted.
The way continues on the other side of the peninsula, warm and sheltered among thick spiny scrub, where gorse was in full bloom. By Queen Adelaide’s Grotto at Penlee Point, a robin hopped conspicuously around the seats, working the walkers. A muesli bar was duly shared.
The path plunged into dark damp woods, reaching the merging villages of Kingsand and Cawsand, where seaside strings of coloured bulbs adorned the icy streets.
After a quick coffee and cake stop, we climbed out among the houses, and back into the rays of the sinking sun. Gilded chaffinches, robins and bullfinches were busy foraging. Crows, jackdaws and gulls flew across the twilight sky with intention. We turned round one last time to see the small boat cross the bay, bathed in angelic light, before diving into the deep shadow of the Edgcumbe country park woods.
Now only glimpsing the sea through thick groves of evergreen Holm oak, we emerged by ornamental gardens, protected by fortress-like hedges. Ducks splashed among chunks of ice, and leaves were preserved in frost. Near the gates to the Edgcumbe estate is the landing stage for the Cremyll ferry, which deposited us in Plymouth, halfway up a cobbled alley among glittering mounds of seaweed, just outside a cafe.