This walk takes you around the extreme south west coast of Britain, a wild and surf pummeled shoreline, taking in Lands End and a multitude of tiny coves, throbbing with the sound of breakers, the eerie call of birds and barks of seals. Human history here has been long and chequered, cliff top moors are dotted with cairns and unusual pierced rocks. There is an artistic and literary tradition that has bloomed from the romance of the land, the seascapes and the history of mining, lighthouses, smugglers and wreckers. It is a fact that much of the South West Coastal Path, of which this section is but a week of, was developed by the government to enable customs men to patrol the cliffs and coves.
Moderate, days are not particularly long but with some tough ascents and descents and walking on sand in places.
Make your own way to St Ives. This beautiful cobble lane fishing village dates back to AD460, when the missionary St. Ia, daughter of an Irish chieftain, landed here and gave her name to the settlement in a similar way to how St. Beda gave her name to St. Bees in Cumbria. Protected from Atlantic storms, St. Ives was once the most important fishing port in Cornwall, but like elsewhere on the surrounding coast, by the beginning of the 20th century, the fish stocks became depleted, and the fishing fleet largely disappeared. However as early as 1811 Turner visited to paint the seascapes and by the late 1880s there were several painters in residence and the town became famous for its vibrant artists' colony. This perhaps reached its heyday during the late 1940s and the 1950s. Today their work can be seen in the St Ives Tate Gallery, with its popular roof restaurant, the Barbara Hepworth Museum and the Beranard Leach Gallery. A great place for fish & chips and extra nights are recommended.
Accommodation: We use two guesthouses in this bustling town, one is the 4 star Old Vicarage and the other a boutique B&B called Villamorva. If these are full you may be booked into Carbis Bay 15 minutes walk away.
Enjoy a hearty breakfast as there are some tough up and down and occasionally boggy walking for the next two days, but fortunately the days are quite short in distance and the seascapes are beautiful! Around St. Ives Head, the walk passes St. Nicholas’s Chapel (patron saint to seafarers) and a hut that was used for spotting pilchards from the cliffs. As you leave St.Ives the number of walkers rapidly diminishes, as does your pace as the path roller-coasts through a series of steep dips. After the River Cove, you descend to rocks where you can sometimes see seals basking off the rocks. There is then a final steep climb, from where you have to take a path going inland half a mile to the village of Zennor, which has a quaint church, a small museum on Cornish life, a great old pub called The Tinner’s Arms.
*D.H Lawrence, arrived here in 1916 and wrote ‘Woman in Love,’ inviting Katherine Mansfield over, but she was frightened by the seagulls and had to leave! Lawrence who had failed to pass the army medical and was married to a German, raised local suspicions. They presumed that the pair were spies signaling German submarines and they were officially ordered to leave! You might want to look out for the standing stones, ringed ‘quoits’ and other prehistoric remains on the moors above the village.
Accommodation:The Tinners Arms is the only Inn in Zennor and was built in 1271 to accommodate the Masons who constructed St Senara’s church which is famous for its mermaid.
Returning to the coastal path, thread your way through beautiful coves to Gurnard’s Head. Being wary of tin mine shafts you can look around the prehistoric fort site at the head. Just before you reach Pendeen, there is Geevor tin mine which is open March to October for guided tours and at Pendeen Watch an afternoon visit to the lighthouse is possible.
Accommodation: Pendeen Watch, your accommodation dates back to 1860 and has been carefully restored to bring the old and new together.
The first part of the walk is quite easy, following the cliff tops around the old lead and tin mines, through the detritus of hundreds of years of activity. You pass Levant Mine that closed down in 1919 after an accident there killed 31 miners. However there is a restored beam engine which can be visited in the summer. Next is Crowns Mine at Botallack perched on the rocks. The path skirts inland beside Cape Cornwall, once thought to be England’s most westerly point, until they worked out that it was in fact Lands End. Continuing you pass Carn Gloose where a walled pit could be a Neolithic shrine. Then it is past the village of St.Just which has a square where ‘miracle plays’ were performed in Mediaeval times, then past the beach at Whitesand Bay to Sennan Cove, a pretty fishing and tourist port.
Accommodation: We stay at The Old Success Inn which dates back to the 17th century.
A shorter day, to enable you to visit the sights of Land’s End, the most westerly point in England. This is a highly developed commercial site, with various ‘attractions’ including a theme park! There can also be big crowds milling around the centre and car parks, however, there are some great seascapes with views as far as the Scilly Isles and towards Long Ships and Wolf Rock lighthouses. The walking greatly improves as you continue and you will pass the attractive hamlets of Porthgwarra and St. Levan reaching the open air theatre at Minack point, dramatically situated and built by Rowena Cade. Steep steps take you down from there to the beach and to the village of Porthcurno, which has a wonderful bay in a magnificent location.
Accommodation: Edwardian Cottage B&B offers afternoon cream teas, a private garden and is only 400 yards from the beach.
The South West Path follows the cliffs with an offshoot trail taking you to Logan Rock an 80 ton rock owned by the National Trust. Up until 1824 this could be rocked without much effort, but then one Lt. Goldsmith and 12 of his ship’s crew, levered it off with crowbars. This caused local outrage as it was a tourist attraction and the admiralty forced him to replace it which took 60 men, a series of block and tackle and the bill of £130 went to the Lieutenant. Although restored to its original place it will not rock so easily! There follows a more challenging walk towards Penberth Cove and Porthguaron which are lovely places to pause before you reach Lamorna, a tiny harbour village with a famous once illegal old pub the ‘Lamorna Wink.’
Accommodation: Stay tonight in a Granite farmhouse, where you can relax in the landscaped gardens watching the swallows.
Today the walk starts around Penzer Point and views over Mounts Bay and towards the island of St. Michael’s Mount. Next you arrive at Mousehole (pron’Mowzl’), another picture postcard village, with a history of pilchard fishing and now has a small artists community. The path from here to Newlyn is beside the road but you can go inland via the village of Paul to see the monument erected to Dolly Pentreath (died 1778) regarded as the last native Cornish speaker who spoke no English. Newlyn and Penzance are quite built up being ports as well has important vacation destinations. Although Newlyn has some nice galleries, you may wish to catch the bus into Penzance from here. The latter has more attractions including some Georgian and Regency housing, the exuberant Egyptian House, Maritime Museum and National Lighthouse Museum.
Accommodation: there are a number of guesthouses we use in the busy town of Penzance.
Depart Penzance after breakfast
Loved how the walking tour created a more intimate connection with the towns, people, area & community. High points, scenery of coastal Cornwall, The Tinners Arms - loved it!! Best food of the whole trip! We had very good weather, so that certainly enhanced the experience. Would have liked to have another day included at the end of the tour to get to St Michael's Mount.
R. Masters, Dodgeville, Wisconsin, USA, 19 Sep 2016
Per Person, Twin Share