Porthcurno, Gwennap Head and Porthgwarra Circular Walk

Cornwall Information & Accommodation Guide

Porthcurno, Gwennap Head and Porthgwarra Circular Walk

Approx. 4.9 miles (7.8 km)

You can start this circular walk at any point. We suggest starting at Porthcurno where there is a large car park in the valley just above the beach.

1. Walk inland towards the back of the car park.

You soon reach the Porthcurno Telegraph Museum.
Porthcurno was once the heart of international telecommunications with the largest telegraph station in the world.

2. Continue onto Old Cable Lane until you reach The Valley road opposite Sea View House. Cross the road and turn left to join a public footpath which takes you between some buildings.

3. At Rospletha the path turns to the left and then continues in a straight line towards St Levan Parish Church

St Levan is believed to be named after his great-uncle St Soloman, in Cornish, St Selevan, which has become corrupted to St Levan. Born in the sixth century at Boslevan near St Buryan.

The current church of St Levan is medieval with 15th century extensions and more recently restored by J. D. Sedding.

There are two stone crosses in St Levan churchyard and the interesting split stone, the subject of an end of the world prophecy.

4. The path passes behind the church between it and a house called Underhill.

After a while, the path meets the road to Porthgwarra. Turn right and walk up the road towards Ardensawah In front of the buildings turn left onto a lane which leads towards the coast. The lane becomes a footpath. Ignore the forks to the left and the righthand fork further on and follow the path to the coast path at Black Carn. Turn left onto the coast path.

Black Carn is popular with experienced rock climbers. 

5. The path continues towards Tol-Pedn-Penwith

You pass Blocks Promontory also of interest to rock climbers, a chasm known as Dutchmans ZawnPellow Zawn, another chasm with spectacular rock scenery, Tol Plous, 'tol' is Cornish for a 'hole'. 

6. The path passes Pellitras Point, with more stunning rock scenery and over 20 climbs including ‘Cold War’ and ‘Red Snapper’. At this point you are about 15 minutes from Porthgwarra

7. As the path approaches Porth Loe there are more climbs of interest including one called ‘The Beak’. 

Porth Loe Cove is a large rocky cove at low water. In 1905 the Khyber carrying grain from Australia was wrecked here and was broken up within fifteen minutes of being washed into the cove. Three of the crew were saved using ladders but twenty three perished and are buried in a mass grave in St Levan churchyard. 

The cliffs here are called Roskestal. This is Cornish and probably means 'Heathland of the Castle'. This is probably a reference to the Iron Age Cliff Castle, which is believed to have been constructed across the headland. 

Just inland from the cove is a lake popular with birds. The Cornish word for a lake, pool or pond is 'loe' so the cove probably gets its name from this lake. 

8. The path is now nearing the NCI Lookout Station

The cliffs at Carn Guthenbras, meaning 'the great cairn' offer many challenges to rock climbers. 

Zawn Rinny, a rocky chasm is below the National Coastwatch Institution lookout post known as NCI Gwennap Head. This former Coastguard Lookout was constructed between 1905 and 1910. Initially, it had only one storey but a second was added after the Vert Prairial, a French trawler, was wrecked on Wireless Point, Porthcurno on the on 14th March 1956. The trawler could not be seen from the one storey structure. Seventeen crew lost their lives. The coastguard station was closed in 1994, and re-opened on 21 October 1996 as NCI Gwennap Head. 

It is likely that a signal station existed on Tol Pedn in the nineteenth century. 

Below NCI Gwennap Head is a section of cliff known as the Chair Ladder. This mass of granite is believed to be the best in Cornwall. Not only of geological interest for its porphyritic granite (granite containing a mixture of large and small crystals) , pinite and red feldspar but famous across the world with rock climbers for its stunning climbs. 

The Land's End Cliff Rescue Team train here. 

The headland was formerly known by its original Cornish name, 'Tol Pedn Penwith', meaning ' the holed headland in Penwith'. This name is likely due to the huge chasm in the cliff. The Funnel Hole is a vertical blowhole created by the collapse of a cave. It measures about 20 foot in diameter. At its base, over 120 foot (36.5 metres) below, it leads out through a cave into Funnel Zawn 

JT Blight described the Funnel as a great yawning chasm. "It is but six or seven feet from the verge of the cliff and descends perpendicularly. At the bottom a cavern from the face of the cliff face meets it, the two cavities making a letter L; the opening on the surface was formed by the falling in of the roof of a cavern. When the tide recedes the cavern can be entered". 

By climbing down the cliff, Blight reported how the entrance to the cave is strewn with huge boulders and was 150 ft (46 metres) deep with a rising floor so that at its extremity its floor is 50 ft (15 metres) higher than at the mouth. it was possible to look up the funnel & see the blue sky. 

Two men were trapped here during Blight’s time. Cut off by the tide one was able to swim and ran for help and brought fishermen with ropes and hauled him up to the surface 

The headland is now known as Gwennap Head but local people still refer to it as Tol Pedn. 

Tol Pedn used to be known as Land's End and in the early nineteenth century, to avoid confusion with today's Land's End, it was called St Levan's Land's End. 

In the 1840s H McLauchlan recorded noticing ?faint traces of a Bronze Age tumulus at the top? of Tol-pedn-Penwith. Today there are no signs of this and the highest point is now occupied by the NCI Coastwatch station. 

9. A short distance further you encounter two strange looking cones. 

These are daymarks to warn shipping of the location of the Runnel Stone. The red cone is on the seaward side and the black and white one lies slightly inland of it. They are about 12 foot (3.6 metres) tall. 

From the sea vessels should always keep the black and white cone in sight to avoid the submerged rocks. 

A plaque on the black and white marker cone states. "This beacon was erected by the Corporation of Trinity House of Deptford, in Stroud 1821". 

The navigation markers feature as "The Cones of Runnel" in Hammond Innes's 1940 thriller "The Trojan Horse". 

Between 1880 and 1923 over thirty steamships were stranded, wrecked, or sunk in the area. 

10. Below you is Polostoc Zawn and Polostoc Point. There is another Logan Rock between the daymarks and the cliffs. 

11. The area is of great interest to naturalists. 

Gwennap Head is part of the Pordenack Point to Porthgwarra Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) designated for its vegetation of waved maritime heath, and for being of considerable ornithological interest; especially for passage migrants. 

Offshore, is the Runnel Stone Marine Conservation Zone, designated on 29 January 2016, It includes most of the coast from Gwennap Head to the east side of Treryn Dinas. 

Heather (Calluna vulgaris), bell heather (Erica cinerea) and western gorse (Ulex gallii) are the dominant plants of the maritime heath. The red data species, perennial centaury (Centaurium scilloides) was refound here in 2010. 

In the spring and early summer, thrift, spring squill, sea campion and kidney vetch are abundant. 

Many marine bird species pass Gwennap Head including large numbers of common species such as northern gannet (Morus bassanus), Manx shearwater (Puffinus puffinus), common guillemot, (Uria aalge), razorbill (Alca torda), northern fulmar (Fulmarus glacialis), shag (Phalacrocorax aristotelis) and cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo). 

Other species include many waders, ducks, larks and finches especially during the peak times in May and October. 

Birdwatchers frequent the headland from across the UK in search of rare seabirds such as the Great Shearwater and Cory's Shearwater, who can sometimes be seen here during July and August. 

Other rare wildlife that has been observed here include chough (Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax), great shearwater (Puffinus gravis), cetaceans including dolphins, basking shark (Cetorhinus maximus) ocean sunfish (Mola mola), Soft-plumaged Petrel (Pterodroma mollis) and Black-browed Albatross (Thalassarche melanophris). 

Choughs were common on this coastline in the 1800s and nested here because it was secure but by 1876 there was a noticeable decline in their numbers because of egg collectors and for many years afterwards numbers declined until the chough disappeared from Cornwall. Thankfully, choughs are slowly returning and breeding once again in Cornwall.

Resident butterflies include large white (Pieris brassicae), small copper (Lycaena phlaeas), common blue (Polyommatus icarus), small tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae), peacock (Aglais io), comma (Polygonia c-album), small pearl-bordered fritillary (Boloria selene), speckled wood (Pararge aegeria), grayling (Hipparchia semele) and wall (Lasiommata megera). 

Some migratory butterflies often seen include clouded yellow (Colias croceus), red admiral (Vanessa atalanta) and painted lady (Vanessa cardui). Migrant moths include rush veneer (Nomophila noctuella), rusty-dot pearl (Udea ferrugalis), hummingbird hawk-moth (Macroglossum stellatarum) and silver Y (Autographa gamma). 

12. Look out to sea and you will notice several islets. 

These are the Gannel Rock and the Three Brothers

13. Continue down the coast path. 

Offshore are the rocks known as the Gothalls

14. The path passes Gothalls Carns
Hella Point and Clidga

Regular public sea watches have been held at Hella Point with basking sharks spotted frequently. In June 2010, 546 basking sharks were recorded. Sharks were sighted on most days. They are normally seen when they are feeding on plankton. 

In his ‘A Week at the Land’s End', JT Blight refers to Hella Point as ‘Fairies’ Point'

Hella Rock lies offshore from Hella Point. 

15. The path descends and you are now in Porthgwarra

Porthgwarra is a picturesque, secluded cove. Its name is believed to mean higher cove or cove by the wooded slopes. Porthgwarra is well known to birdwatchers as one of the UK's best sites for sighting rare birds. Red-eyed Vireo (Vireo olivaceus), Dusky Warbler (Phylloscopus fuscatus) and Yellow-browed Warbler (Phylloscopus inornatus) have been spotted here. 

From the slipway there is a tunnel through the cliff created by St Just miners to make it easier for farmers to gather seaweed from the beach which they used to fertilise their fields. 

Forty-five breeding species have been recorded in the area around Porthgwarra including choughs (Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax), Eurasian teal (Anas crecca), European stonechat (Saxicola rubicola) and common whitethroat (Sylvia communis). 

16. Starting near the shop in the centre of Porthgwarra turn left to walk towards the coast then turn right. After a short distance bear left and follow the coast path uphill. 

As you walk up the gently climbing path you can look to your right to view Porthgwarra Beach and the tunnels which were cut into the rock by miners from St Just.  Porthgwarra was used as a filming location for the recent adaptation of Poldark.

The path leads you between granite boulders. Keep an eye open for seabirds such as divers on the rocks with fulmars and gannets. If you are walking in the spring or autumn there is a chance that you might see one of the rare migrants that often get blown onto the coast here. 

The first point you reach, where you can look back at Porthgwarra, is Carn Scathe. On the cliff here is a huge, almost round granite boulder. 

17. When you reach a fork in the path keep right to follow the coast path. 

Just ahead of you the rocks pushing out into the sea are known as the Vessacks. There are some good sites for rock climbing here. 

18. A fairly level stretch of path brings you to Carn Barges

Translated from Cornish this means 'buzzards' tor' and is a name found several times along the Cornish coast path. 

In spring hundreds of colourful wildflowers - sea pinks, bluebells, stitchwort - line the path, while in summertime the air is filled with the sound of birdsong from wheatears and linnets to stonechats and skylarks. 

19. The coast path descends gently into the valley of Porth Chapel

Below you is Porth Chapel beach but before exploring the beach or continuing along the cliffs, you can see the ancient Holy Well of St Selevan. The Well was believed to be in use in pre-Christian times. St Selevan (St Levan) was a Celtic saint who travelled from Ireland in the 6th century. The church dedicated to him is at St Levan at the head of the valley. 

20. The path continues across a new wooden bridge. You can choose to make a detour onto the beach. The beach path is quite steep and requires some scrambling over rocks close to the beach. 

21. Having crossed the valley and reached the top of the cliff you now proceed towards Porthcurno

A group of rocks called the Carracks lie off the headland of Pedn-men-an-mere

22. The path opens out onto the car park of the Minack Theatre

This unique outdoor theatre is perched on the cliffs above Porthcurno carved into the granite. The Minack Visitor Centre is open all year round. During the performance season from April to September there are a huge variety of shows. 

24. The coast path now descends down a steep cliff onto Porthcurno Beach. 

25 After enjoying the beach follow the footpath inland to return to the car park.

Public Transport

If you wish to travel to the start of the walk by bus there are buses to Porthcurno from Penzance and Land's End . Please see timetables for full details.

Bus Service The Atlantic Coaster (A1) operated by First Kernow stops near the car park.

Visit Cornwall Public Transport for latest timetable

OS Explorer Map for this walk - 102

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