I wasn't expecting that!
The plan was straightforward. I would drive to a nearby location and then walk about a mile to my destination where I would photograph the scenery including coastal cliffs and an 18th Century Watchman's Hut. I knew it was too late for dawn images, but the sky overhead was promising with intermittent squally showers alternating with clear winter sunshine. In essence this was a photo walk and location recce. I was well shod and clad against the brisk winter wind and I had snacks and good coffee to come back to.
What could possibly go wrong…
Let me first describe the location. Dodman point is a headland jutting out into the sea on the south coast of Cornwall near the attractive village of Gorran Haven. It is accessible either via the coastal footpath from Gorran, or via a slightly shorter path direct to the point from a National Trust Car Park at a small hamlet called Penare. Penare is also the name of the nearby farm which is linked with the National Trust as they graze their pedigree Dexter cattle on the nearby land including the cliffs also owned by the Trust. This is all part of a policy to maintain delicate coastal habitats using grazing animals to replicate natural ecosystems. All clear? No, well it will become clear. I’ll also describe some of the local folklore regarding the point and give some of it’s history. Later.
The path from this point was up a steep muddy farm track and signposted as being a mile to my destination. I set off up the hill and as I crested the brow of the hill the biting wind kicked in. I raised the hood of my waterproof and put my gloves on and carried through a field gate and out on to the open cliff. The views to either side were crystal clear, but in the distance rain was falling. After a short walk over bumpy turf, I came to a gate. There I could either go right and skirt the massive Bulwark of the ancient Iron Age fort enclosing the headland or go straight on onto the headland itself.
I chose to go straight on, briefly reading the Information board provided by the National Trust about the rare flora and fauna protected by their management as well as the Napoleonic wars era Watch hut. Then I met them, the welcoming committee. This consisted of four Dartmoor ponies who rapidly advanced led by one with a flash of white on his (or her) brow. Now one Dartmoor pony on its own is quite cute, but four with one about a foot away was a little intimidating. It was evident that they equated the presence of a human with food, despite the sign warning not to feed them. I nervously patted the leaded on its nose, but although it accepted this, it was not what it wanted and the group drifted away. The encounter did of course provide a good opportunity to break free of my comfort zone and take pictures of the animals in their natural environment as they grazed and played.
Growing in the area were gnarled Hawthorn trees of great age and further to the tip of the headland there were wonderful views in both directions. Also a huge stone cross erected in 1896 as a navigational aid which also made for a good image. To the left and right cliffs covered in bracken, gorse and grass. The bracken had turned a rusty orange colour and the hurrying clouds over formed a pleasant panorama. It was by now approaching 11am and the light was harsh, so after a few more images, I turned and made my way back. But just before I went there was another surprise. A Peregrine Falcon arrived from nowhere hovering, then swooping, looking for prey. Then it was gone again. Sorry no images, I am no bird photographer, but it is always fantastic to see these wonderful creatures. On the way back
On return to my car and hot coffee, I reflected on the trip which was a good invigorating walk in beautiful scenery with photographs holding the promise of more when the light is right. Despite this being a crowded island, I saw no one at all. I had met the guardians of the land and seen a fabulous Raptor. Also, Cornwall is very much a land of myth and legend. We have King Arthur and An Gof and Trelawny to name but three. Locally, the legend of Dodman point involves a cunning doctor doing away with a troublesome giant which gives it its other name of Deadmans Point. The story is too long to tell here and there are many other historical details of this fascinating place to recount, so I will provide some links for you to peruse below.
The Hack and Cast (Legend of Dodman Point)
Scheduled ancient Monument (Historic England)
Suggested Walk with Map (courtesy National Trust)
The Dodman - full information including access & parking (National Trust)