Walking along the Cornish Coast Path with intermittent showers and sunshine a rainbow appears and dramatically dives in to the blue seas below. Taking its many colours down to the depths of the ocean we wonder about the elusive pot of gold or could this rainbow be pointing towards one of the many shipwrecks that scatter this stunning stretch of Cornwall. Today we have set off from Gyllyngvase Beach (only a 15 minute walk from the Captain’s House) leaving the popular Gylly café behind us we walk up onto the Cornish Coastal Path that offers spectacular views both east and west. We can see back to Pendennis head and across the mouth of Falmouth harbour to the lighthouse on St Anthony Point. With the historic Pendennis Castle behind us, we head westwards with panoramic views that also pan across to Rosemullion head, which is the mouth of the Helford River and then to just east of the Lizard and the Manacles Rocks. We are heading towards Maenporth beach on the coastal path that passes the two headlands of Swanpool and Pennance Points before heading down to the pretty beach at Maenporth. The Manacles Rocks, which we see in the distance, derive their name from the Cornish, ‘maen eglos’ meaning church rocks, as there is a church nearby called St Keverne where many of the drowned sailors were buried. On a sunny day you can see the Church spire and see how it also proved a landmark to many sailors. Looking across we are reminded how more than one hundred ships have been wrecked along this coastline with almost a thousand lives lost. Known as the ‘graveyard of ships’ these shores are now the resting place for many a wreck, including the Mohegan in 1898, the Primrose in 1809 and the John in 1855 with a total of about 400 people lost their lives. Another sad ending happened for the Anglola in 1895, which wrecked just off the Manacles. The 2,093 ton steel full rigged steel ship was only built two years previously and was returning from a trading trip to Seattle loaded up with 2000 tons of grain and 100 tons of Tacoma. She took two months to cross the Atlantic and then finished up here on the Cornwall coast. Bad weather and also bad seamanship were often the cause of such wrecks. It was so much harder to navigate all those centuries ago, especially as there were no lighthouses along this stretch until the 18th Century. So many sailors would come in close to the shore to navigate their way along the coast and check their position; then ended up crashing into rocks and sinking below the waves. Cornwall’s maritime history is famous for the mass of ships and smugglers that sailed here to trade, whether officially or unofficially. From the early days of trading in tin and copper, to a regular stream of ships and sailors that traveled along this coastline and headed into Falmouth to deliver and collect cargo of all types. The rugged and uninhabited Cornish coastline was very suitable to smugglers and one of the most famous smuggling gangs or ‘free traders’ in the early 17th century was the Killigrew family. They were so successful that they paid for the development of Falmouth and the harbour. The period up until the end of the 18th Century was the smuggling boom years until the Revenue Men were put in charge of sorting out smuggling practices and cleaning up the trading business. Whether smuggling in untaxed goods like silk and cottons or millions of gallons of brandy over the years or officially trading in tin and copper this stunning coastline has centuries of stories and history to ponder about while walking the Cornish Coastal Path. As today’s rainbow disappears and the clouds disintegrate into clear blue skies with calm seas below we leave the memories of shipwrecks and smugglers behind us and walk down onto Maenport beach and enjoy a welcome cup of tea at the Life’s a Beach Café.
We walked the Cornish Coast Path from Gyllyngvase Beach to Maenporth via Swanpool beach (about 3 miles of easy walking). Read more about shipwrecks and smugglers when you visit the Captain’s House as we have left books on the subject for our guests to borrow.