A ramble around the rich maritime heritage of Lamorna
PUBLISHED: 11:08 26 March 2019
Forever associated with painters and writers, Lamorna has plenty to offer walkers too, writes Robert Hesketh
Lamorna has both charm and great natural beauty. Not surprisingly, writers have found inspiration here. Novelist John le Carre (1931–), the creator of George Smiley, has had his home on the cliffs near Lamorna since 1969. The area features and is beautifully described in The Night Manager (though this was filmed at Blackpool Mill near Hartland Quay).
Derek Tangye (1912–1996) and his wife Jeannie were close neighbours of John le Carre (real name David Cornwell). They moved to Dorminack on the cliffs near Lamorna in the 1950s, growing daffodils on a smallholding, where Tangye wrote the popular Minack Chronicles.
Both Tangye and Cornwell had worked for the British Secret Services, as had Mary Wesley (the pen name of Mary Siepmann, nee Farmar, 1912–2002). Although Wesley did not have her first adult novel published until she was 70, she went on to write ten best sellers, including Camomile Lawn, set on the Roseland Peninsula. However, the house that inspired it was Boskenna Manor near Lamorna, where from 1935 the author found a Bohemian second home, well away from her interfering parents.
This exploration of the Coast Path west of Lamorna begins from the quay, built to serve the quarries which were worked from 1849 to 1911 and line the eastern side of Lamorna’s sheltered valley.
Lamorna granite was used in several great public buildings, including Dover’s Admiralty Pier, the Thames Embankment and Portland Breakwater, as well as Bishop’s Rock Lighthouse, Wolf Rock Lighthouse and Mousehole’s north pier.
Tumbled granite boulders bestrew the first 1km (½ mile) of the coast path and St Loy’s beach. A designated site of special scientific interest (SSSI) and a nationally important geological site, St Loy’s is a boulder storm beach. The boulders are rocks that fell from the cliffs above and have been rounded by the action of the sea.
The beach’s surreal appearance is heightened by what looks like a rusting modernist sculpture, but is really part of a wrecked ship. Among the most notable shipwrecks here was the Abertay, a French steamer which ran aground in thick fog in October 1912. Her crew scrambled to safety onto the hull of SS America, which had been wrecked here seven months before. They climbed ashore next day.
Sailing this rocky coast has been made much safer since Tater Du Lighthouse was built in 1965. Cornwall’s most recent lighthouse, it was completed after a Spanish coaster, the Juan Ferrer, capsized on Boscawen Point with the loss of eleven lives.
More can be learned of Lamorna’s rich maritime heritage by visiting the Lamorna Wink, which has a great collection of maritime photographs and memorabilia. The inn’s curious name alludes to smuggling – winking being a signal that contraband was available. Notice the well painted inn sign, showing actor Robert Newton tipping a crafty wink in his role as Long John Silver in the 1950 film Treasure Island. Newton (1905–56) was educated in Lamorna and his ashes were scattered in the sea here by his son, Nicholas Newton.
Boots on? Let’s go!
Start: Follow the coast path west from the far end of the car park on Lamorna’s pretty quay. Here you can divert into the Derek and Jeannie Tangye Nature Reserve as sign posted.
This 18-acre reserve was bought by the Tangyes to conserve its natural flora and fauna. It is particularly attractive in spring, when full of wildflowers such as bluebells and campion.
Continue west along the coast path, past the entrance to Tater Du lighthouse to Tregiffian (please respect the owners’ privacy). At this point you may wish to retrace your steps to Lamorna, reducing the walk by 1.7km (1 mile) each way. Otherwise, continue to St Loy’s Cove. From here the coast path crosses a stream and follows it inland, then winds steeply uphill.
At the top of the slope, you may turn inland and follow paths to Boskenna and Boskenna Cross and thence back to Lamorna. However, the route is difficult and complicated in parts and I do not recommend it.
Retracing your steps along the coast path is straightforward and more scenic. There are several places of refreshment in Lamorna, including the handy Cove Café and the Lamorna Wink.
Distance: 7.6km/4 ¾ miles return or 4.2km/2 ¾ miles
Time: 2 ½ or 1 ½ hours
Start/parking: Lamorna Quay car park
Terrain Coast path: The first 1km is over granite boulders is moderately demanding. After a short, steep section relieved by steps, the footing is somewhat easier.
Child/dog friendly: Suitable for dogs on leads and older children.
Maps: Ordnance Survey Explorer 102; Landranger 203; Harvey’s SWCP 2
Refreshments: Lamorna Cove Café 01736 731734; Lamorna Wink; Lamorna Cove Hotel; Lamorna Pottery.
Public toilets: at start
Public transport: First Kernow A1, Penzance/Land’s End route daily,travelinesw.com
More Walks: Writers’ Walks on the Cornish Coast, Robert Hesketh Bossiney Books, 2019.