A night on the Roseland Peninsula: my first solo wild camping trip
Date: 24 – 25 September, 2022
Location: St Anthony Head, Roseland Peninsula, Cornwall
Total distance: 8.5 kilometres (5.3 miles)
Summary: My first ever solo camping trip took me to the remote Roseland Peninsula in Cornwall.
Highlights: Seeing a barn owl while setting up camp, swimming at Great Molunan beach, finally getting to tick "solo wild camping" off the bucket list
Since Brett and I started camping together in 2020, I've been wanting to try solo camping. (Not that I don't love camping with Brett, but because it's a new challenge that seemed like the logical next thing to check off of my adventure bucket list).
One Friday afternoon in late September, I realised the weather looked promising for a camping trip over the weekend. Autumn was definitely setting in, and I wanted to make the most of whatever remaining warmth was left before the cold, rainy weather arrived.
After eating dinner, I pulled out my OS map of the area and, with the help of Google Maps, tried to find somewhere easily accessible by public transport from Falmouth that I could spend a night. I'd heard good things about the Roseland Peninsula, so I decided it was a good bet for my first solo camping experience. Using satellite view on Google Maps and the contour lines of the OS map, I scouted potential wild camping spots.
The following morning, after the aerial fitness taster session on campus, I came home and packed my bag for a one-night camping trip. Unfortunately I had left my head torch back in the Netherlands, but lucky for me one of my housemates was around while I was packing and let me borrow hers. I made sure my family and housemates were aware of my plans before I set off – I shared where I was planning on camping as well as when I was expecting to be back in Falmouth the following day. Although I wasn't sure if there would be reliable service on the peninsula, I never had a problem and was able to stay in regular contact with both Brett and my parents, which definitely made the experience less lonely.
To get to the starting point of this adventure, I had to catch two ferries: the first from Falmouth to St Mawes, and the second from St Mawes to Place. Although it was windy, the sun was out and the journeys were pleasant. Plus, there were dogs on both ferries, which makes everything instantly better. If you're planning on travelling from Falmouth to Place, it's worth getting the "St Mawes & Place Ferry Combo," as this will save money when compared to buying separate St Mawes and Place ferry tickets.
After disembarking at the Place ferry dock, I joined the South West Coast Path (SWCP). Although it wasn't my first time hiking on the SWCP since moving to Cornwall, it was my first time visiting the Roseland Peninsula. The first part of the hike went through a forest, leaving the water's edge to go around the Place Estate manor house, passing an old church and graveyard. The forest quickly gave way to open fields, with views over the water towards St Mawes and, in the distance, towards Falmouth and Penryn.
When I approached the area I had identified as a good spot for camping, I found a potential option, but I soon found somewhere that felt more sheltered and private. Pleased to have sorted my camping arrangements, I continued on the SWCP towards the beaches.
I followed the SWCP around the first small headland and soon found my way down to Great Molunan beach. I was surprised to see that I had the whole beach to myself! Not wanting to waste the opportunity, I changed into my swimsuit, clambered down the rocks and went for a short swim. It was my first swim in Cornwall with my new goggles, and I thoroughly enjoyed seeing all the rocks and small fish underwater.
After my swim, I warmed up by hiking to the St Anthony Head WWII gun battery. Although it was cool to see the historic site, I was mostly just grateful for a real toilet.
I made my way down to the lighthouse then retraced my steps back to Great Molunan beach, where I ate olive bread for dinner and read in the grass for hours as the sun began to set.
Around 19:00, I grabbed my stuff and made my way back along the coast path to the spot I had identified as a potential camping location, tucked away in the side of an open field.
It's worth mentioning that wild camping is not technically legal in the United Kingdom, and it is actively discouraged in many places (including Cornwall). With that being said, as long as you leave no trace, pick a discrete campsite and set up as it's getting dark/pack up before sunrise, you probably won't encounter many issues. Brett and I have wild camped twice on the SWCP so far, and haven't had any issues. To read more about the legality of wild camping in the UK, you can visit this website.
As it was growing dark, I began to set up camp, feeling grateful I had decided to pack my bivy, as the spot I had chosen would not have been flat enough for a tent! While I was blowing up my sleeping pad, I saw a white bird sweeping over the far end of the field. I recognised it as a bird of prey without knowing what it was. A few minutes later, it flew past and turned its head to look right at me. It briefly flew towards me and I immediately recognised its face as that of a barn owl. Obviously uninterested, it turned again and flew to the other corner of the field, where I saw it dive into the longer grass. I was almost moved to tears by this close interaction with nature that I likely wouldn't have had if I had been camping with someone else.
By the time I had set up my bivy, it was only 20:00 (and already dark outside), so I spent a few hours reading before heading to sleep. I was surprised to feel that I wasn't scared of encountering any people – I had only seen a handful of people on the path in the afternoon, and had seen no one for hours. With that being said, I was slightly frightened by the sound of mooing cows in the distance (see this blog post for why I'm slightly traumatised by cows while camping).
Although my camping spot felt very remote and wild, my proximity to civilisation was evident by the amount of noise I could hear carried over the harbour from St Mawes. It was slightly disconcerting at first, but I eventually realised the voices were far away and weren't about to kick me out of my very cosy camping spot.
I woke up at 1 in the morning and was amazed to see a cloudless sky through the mesh of my bivy. The night sky was filled with an incredible number of stars – the lack of light pollution was one of the reasons I was especially excited about moving to Cornwall. Although I was reluctant to get out of my warm sleeping bag, I dragged myself out into the night to photograph the starry sky. I also set up my TLR film camera to attempt to capture a star trail (which meant getting up again at 5 to stop the exposure – oh the things we do for photography...).
After manoeuvring myself back into my sleeping bag, I managed to fall back to sleep relatively quickly. I awoke a few times throughout the night, startled awake perhaps by the rustling in the hedge nearby. The mesh opening of my bivy doesn't provide any protection from the cold, so my face felt very cold and I tried my best to snuggle deeper into my sleeping bag.
My alarm woke me at 6 in the morning and I packed up my campsite as the sky began to grow bright. I still had hours before the first ferry of the morning, so I decided to head back to the beach to wait. As I began the walk back to Great Molunan, the sunrise cast a purple glow across the St Mawes harbour and the sky came alive with colour.
Once again, I was the only person at the beach, so I took the opportunity to shoot some self portraits. I contemplated going for a swim, but realised I would probably struggle to warm up with the sun not out yet. Instead, I read on the grassy bank above the beach. An hour or so later, a couple appeared with their very energetic spaniel puppy named Gylly. I watched as he ran straight into the sea.
At around 9:00, I began the walk back to the ferry. I was slightly worried that the low tide would prevent the ferry from running, but apparently this only happens during especially low tides. Waiting at the ferry dock, I felt in awe at how peaceful the surrounding environment felt. The sun was out, the skies were blue and the water was perfectly still.
Having arrived in St Mawes, I grabbed a vegan sausage roll for breakfast from the bakery. Whether it was my hunger, the beautiful weather or a particularly good recipe, it was the best vegan sausage roll I've ever had. Just a few minutes later, I boarded the ferry back to Falmouth.
My first attempt at solo camping complete, I can say that while I would happily do it again, I do prefer going on these adventures with someone else. It's more enjoyable to share these experiences, to have a friend there to marvel with at the beauty of nature. With that being said, I'm very proud of myself for going solo camping, for facing a fear and stepping outside of my comfort zone. This amazing night has made me even more excited about all the camping I'll get to do next summer in Cornwall!