Bedruthan Steps, Cornwall: 1982

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I have been waiting for this tea towel to rise to the top of the airing cupboard pile.  Not only is it one of my favourite National Trust tea towels but Bedruthan Steps is one of my favourite places.  It has everything I love; it’s a geological feature on the coast; it is stunningly beautiful; it has bleached sand; it has a history, some of which is legend; it has a small tea room, and in 1982 had a tea towel (which is more than it did in 2002 when I went back).

The tea towel is designed by David Parry who did a number of tea towels for the National Trust.  The picture exactly captures the view you get of the beach from the cliffs above, when the tide is out, on a sunny day.  There are five huge stacks (rocks) strewn across the beach, each with a name: Queen Bess, Samaritan Island (named after the ship that went aground), Redcove Island, Pendarves Island and Carnewas Island, “a rank of colossal, pointed stacks march out of the Atlantic waves”.  It is thought that the name Bedruthen Steps originally only referred to the steep staircase from the cliff top to the beach but with time it has become the name for the beach, and also the legend.  The legend says that Bedruthan, a giant, used the stacks as stepping stones; it seems to be a 19th Century invention for Victorian tourists, when Newquay was becoming a very popular resort.  The actual steps down the cliff side were probably built in 1870s when this area was being developed as a mining area for iron, copper and lead and the steps were needed to access the mine workings.  It wasn’t a particularly successful area for mining but the steps were maintained for the purposes of tourism.  At the top of the cliff, in the car park, are two old mine buildings from the Carnewas Mine: the Count House is now the National Trust shop, the second mine building is now the cafe.

I first went to Bedruthan Steps with John, in 1982, when I was staying in St Agnes.  We were driving along the coast road and saw a tiny sign to Bedruthan Steps.  Never heard of it so looked it up on the map, and it was marked, so thought we’d have a look.  There was a short dirt track which led to a field that was the car park; no Tarmac, no marked spaces, no charge.  We parked and got out. It still wasn’t very clear what exactly Bedruthan Steps were; there was no board explaining it but another tiny sign directed us along the cliff top, past the toilets, which was always handy to know.  We walked along a grassy path, no warning signs about cliff edges, and suddenly the bay came into view, a beautiful curve with the waves creating white foam.  We knew the tide was going out and then we found the steps.  Blimey, they looked steep, and rough, and uneven, with a wonky looking handrail.  Because the steps curved round you couldn’t see exactly how many steps there were.  I plodded down, somewhat thrown by the fact that they were of uneven depth and the last tier was incredibly deep.  There were a couple of ‘landings’ where you could stop and catch your breath (and this was only on the way down. I didn’t want to think about climbing back up again).  And then we reached the beach where the sand was so clean and fine; you just wanted to paddle, the sea was so inviting.  However, it was almost miraculous how, as the tide went out, the full scope of the beach was revealed; the stacks emerged as separate beings that you could circle, the bay became wider, an arch was revealed on one side which you could walk through at low tide, and the bay became much bigger, and a different shape, than we originally thought.  Must remember the tide comes in, I thought.  I don’t want to be stranded.  It was just a perfect beach, with virtually no one there.  A few people came with dogs but you had to be fit and mobile.  There was no other way of accessing the beach, other from from the steps.  This was one of those beaches where you kept wanting to take photographs because it did keep changing with the movement of the tide.

The walk back, up the steps, was lung-bursting and never have I been so grateful for the landings.  They could have done with having emergency oxygen there.  We completed the climb more quickly than I imagined but some people did struggle.  At the top was an ice cream kiosk and that ice cream was truly welcome.  There was a National Trust shop, and yes there was the tea towel.  There was no way in which I was going to pass that by.  It was in the early days of the National Trust developing its merchandising ‘arm’ so there wasn’t a lot in the shop. We went back again that holiday because it was so lovely but I have been back many times since and it has changed.  The National Trust renovated the steps themselves, which was a mammoth task; the cliffs were reseeded and a path was constructed so people didn’t wander all over the cliffs and disturb the birds and wild flowers; a cafe has been developed; the car park is properly laid out and the shop is bigger. However, there was never another tea towel.  When I last asked, the volunteer said that she remembered the tea towels and had always hoped there would be a new one (as I did); maybe there is now, since it is a while since I have been back.  However, there are many of my friends who were lucky enough to be bought a ‘National Trust Book of Napkin Folding’ which I bought in the Bedruthan Steps shop and which I am sure they treasure to this day!!!

I am not sure that I would manage the steps these days but the view is still magnificent.  When I contacted David Parry about his tea towel he said: “Yes, yes, yes… beautiful Bedruthan Steps….”  I certainly agree and while the tea towel is looking slightly faded, through wear and tear, it is still one of my favourites, with so many happy memories.

Click below to return to the Virtual Tea Towel Museum

https://virtualteatowelmuseum.com/2017/05/12/the-national-trust-collection/

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