Discover Your Trail - Part 6: Wheal Virgin & The Poldice Valley
Written By: SportsShoes
Here at Sportsshoes we love to hear about and share the incredible hiking and running trails across the UK and beyond (you can check out our UK’s Best Walks & Hikes series to see for yourself). That’s why we’ve worked with The North Face to create the ‘Discover Your Trail’ komoot Collection and ask 7 different hikers across the country to share with us their personal stories and favourite hiking routes.
In part 6 of this series, our Sportsshoes Trail Running ambassador, Will Harper-Penrose, tells us all about Wheal Virgin and the Poldice Valley in Cornwall, as well as his inspirations for running and hiking.
You can check out Will’s hike here on komoot:
Hi! My name is Will and I'm a dad, ultra-trail runner and can usually be found outside with my son strapped to my back, on my shoulders or flying along in the running buggy. I grew up in Cornwall, did a 10-year stint in the big smoke and am lucky enough to be back here, raising my son in the landscape that shaped me.
I have a tendency to over-do things. I guess that’s how I’ve found myself running ultra-distance marathons, but before running was such a big part of my life, hiking was it for me. Living in London, I’d escape the city every weekend and jump on a train to the North Downs Way where I’d lose myself in nature and just hike for hours and hours. I was a teacher, living for the weekend. Not content with day hikes, I decided to use my school holiday to hike from London to Cornwall over the course of two weeks covering some three hundred miles. I slept wherever I could when I couldn’t walk any further. Box hill, campsites, farmers’ fields, pub gardens and one park bench made excellent accommodation. Although I did a lot of hiking, I didn’t know how hard multiple days and weeks would be on my feet. I wore horrendously heavy boots that gave me tired legs and the most awful blisters. I carried far too much stuff with me and had to move so slowly because of it. I made all the mistakes in the book and fell out of love with hiking completely. Upon finishing the journey, I bought a pair of trainers and started the whole overdoing it process again, the time with running. I’m still doing that.
The love I lost for hiking came back in spades after the birth of my son, Lowen. Sure, I take him running too, but you can’t put a baby in a running buggy until they’re six months old or their head will fall off (I’m not a medical professional!), so I embraced hiking and everything I used to love about it came back. The slower pace that hiking brings, allowing for more time spent in nature, looking, listening… just being. Lowen is, as babies are, in awe of everything and I’m willing to go with it. What’s more, I took everything I’ve learnt as an ultra-runner and applied it to hiking. Light, minimal and fast. Now I can share the trails with my son and enjoy every second knowing he’s getting as much out of it as I am. My body is getting a workout and so too is his brain. We walk, I talk, he listens (I think), we bond.
I hike every morning with Lowen. I used to take him to different stretches of coast every day and make a big thing about that, but what I’ve realised is that forming a bond with one place is more special that covering the whole coastline before the age of two. You don’t always need to over-do things. The Police Valley and the hundreds of miles of mining trails that connect to it and spread out over mid Cornwall are so overlooked.
This is some of the best hiking and running in the county yet Lowen and I rarely see a soul. Buzzards circle overhead. Gorse pops like the sun and fills the air with coconut. The disused settling pools shimmer a post-apocalyptic shade of burnt orange and the red, rocky trails cut through the heather like alveoli through a lung. It is the most stunning and unusual place. As a child I loved westerns and if you squint, the flora and fauna here could almost be the American desert. Every hike is special with Lowen, no matter where it is, but forming a connection to this place with him is something he’ll hopefully carry with him for life. Maybe he’ll run through the canyon-like valley with his friends one day like I do with mine. Maybe he’ll learn to ride a horse along the dried-up riverbed. Children will do their own thing and find their own way, that’s why we gave him the middle name of ‘River’, but I’m trying to give him the best start and expose him to as much natural beauty as I can right now.
This trail is close to my heart as it runs right down behind my Gran’s old cottage and something about it takes me back to that every time I walk there. Starting from Twelveheads village, the coast-to-coast trail leads you off down the Bissoe Valley before turning left through an old tunnel from the days of a booming mining industry.
Through the tunnel you reach a landscape that belongs in a science fiction film. Huge pools stained rusty red stretch out, separated by mammoth walls of crumbling rock. Wind around the pools and climb up into the ruins of Wheal Virgin and beyond until you reach the pines. This hike has a hit of everything and will leave you breathless, speechless and wondering why you’ve never been here before. It’s truly magic and to share it with my son, strapped onto my back, is a privilege I’m not going to squander.
Finally, let me talk about gear.
If I’d had these clothes when I hiked from London to Cornwall, I probably would have actually enjoyed myself and not gone on a 5-year hiking hiatus! I’ll go through everything from the ground up.
The North Face VECTIV Fastpack Futurelight Mid Hiking Boots are the complete opposite of my old heavy leather things. They feel like bouncy running shoes with more stability and support for your ankle. They’re so light that I was convinced they were a summer only shoe and wouldn’t be waterproof, but then I read the details and they actually are waterproof! I’m not sure how they’ve achieved that. I have them in the grey colourway with red laces and although they are very much a modern boot, that flash of red in the lace is definitely a throwback to a classic hiking look and I am down with that. I’m yet to find anything negative to say about them and that’s from someone who swore they’d only hike in trail shoes.
The North Face Athletic Outdoor trousers are great for this weather that seems to be summer one minute and mid-winter blizzard the next. They stretch, don’t bunch up around the ankle and have a phone pocket that actually fits your phone. Previously, I’ve always hiked in heavier, more traditional walking pants, but these thinner, lightweight trousers are the way forward, especially if you can’t get away with wearing shorts. To be honest, I’d still prefer to be in shorts every second of every day.
On top I had a three layer system of The North Face Athletic Outdoor Glacier T-Shirt, Athletic Outdoor Midlayer Hooded Top and the Athletic Outdoor Insulated Hooded Gillet. Again, this is the way to do it particularly at this time of year. Being able to quickly whip off a layer and stash it in your backpack in order to stay cool is great. The gilet has become my go-to jacket for every hike and even some chilly runs. I actually put so many miles in it before getting out for this hike, I was worried I’d have worn it out… but it still seems good as new. The hooded top is just the right weight and fit for long days on the trail. It feels athletic but cosy at the same time.
A surprising piece of kit was The North Face Basin 36L Backpack. I often carry Lowen on my shoulders instead of putting him in the carrier as it’s easier to let him get off and run around. The backpack actually allowed me to double the length of my hike comfortably as he was sat on it rather than my neck! He doesn’t like to hold onto my head and instead goes hands free (working on his core) so it can be hard work! More relevant to everyone else, the backpack was a great fit with hip pockets that could fit loads of stuff in, including two of Lowen’s mandatory apples. It’s a really nice bit of kit.
Overall, The North Face hiking gear surprised me and impressed me so much that I’ve changed the way I dress for hikes, giving more support to my ankles and generally being more comfortable for long days on the trail with or without baby on board. The quality is high as you’d expect.
Also, wearing all this kit gave Lowen his new mantra - You’re never too young to #neverstopexploring.
Photos: Will Harper-Penrose
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