For 17 years Portreath had been the nearest beach to my Cornish home, but in 2012 I exchanged its pleasures for those of the Forest of Dean. I'm very happy about my move, though it has put many miles of boring motorway between me and my mum, who still lives near Portreath. I visited earlier this week and decided to seek out a few of my old haunts. It was time to return to Portreath.
There had been a few changes...
Colourful toilets (wow!). I love the bold proclamation that they are in Portreath Parish. Shades of Clochemerle, I felt, wondering whether the Parish Council chairperson had been called upon to perform the opening pee. With brass band accompaniment, of course.
A bi-lingual sign, though hardly a welcoming one. For all its splendour it simply warns (only in English) of possible pollution in the river and sea after heavy rain.
A hole in the sea wall. Portreath's harbour wall got a fearsome battering in 2014 and four years later, to the day, it happened again. By the time of my visit work was well in hand to plug the breach and protect the nearby houses.
You can see the houses most at risk on the far right of this photo. They were built on the old quayside some 20 years ago.
Portreath harbour was originally developed to export copper and tin ore for smelting in Wales, and to receive coal to power the mine engines. Coal traffic continued on into the 1970s, holding back Portreath's development as a holiday resort. The residents of a nearby house once told me that strong onshore winds would often blow coal dust up the valley and blacken any washing on the line. They learned to hang out the washing only when the wind blew offshore.
These days the only hazard to tourism is an occasional whiff of the Portreath Pong, produced when a blazing sun rots seaweed that collects at the far end of the harbour. Personally, I think they should bottle it and sell it for £10 a pint.
This little building used to be a signal station for controlling access to the harbour. It has the macabre name of Dead Man's Hut as it was occasionally used as a morgue for bodies recovered from the sea. You can see the other signal station at the end of the harbour wall in the photo below.
I presume that the safety tape was put there to deter sightseers during the recent storms.
Being a rebel at heart and sensing no danger, I stepped over the tape for a last look at the harbour entrance. Do you see the faint outline of another white building, above the cliff on the right? That is the Pepper Pot.
Here's a photo of it (not one of mine) on a much brighter day. It's a daymark for shipping – basically a lighthouse with no light. It has a claim to fame as the place where Laurence Binyon composed his famous poem, perhaps while watching a glorious sunset at the going down of the sun over Gull Rock:
They shall grown not old, as we that are left grow old.
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We shall remember them.