Penwith is my favourite part of the Cornwall coast and I think Porthcurno is my favourite beach. White sands, a wonderful turquoise sea, completly unspoilt and with a lot of history to it too. Although I am walking south from Cape Cornwall to Porthcurno, I get a sneak preview as I start from near Porthcurno. For this walk I was staying at the Kelynack Campsite near to St Just although this was in fact my last day there, as I did not walk this part of the coast in order.
I therefore packed my things away first off and left the campsite for the short drive round to Porthcurno. I had allowed plenty of time, so decided to continue along the road from Porthcurno to St Levan, where there is an isolated church and a car park was marked. This turned out to be a good decision, as the car park was owned by the church and was much cheaper than the car parks in Porthcurno. It also allowed me to take do a bit of the walk first in the time I had to wait for the bus, as with a long journey home at the end of the walk I didn’t want to finish too late.
So I walk the first part of the coast path from St Levan to Porthcurno before taking the bus onto St Just to walk back. I get a good view west over Porth Chapel, another very fine beach. Sadly the weather today is overcast (as it stays all day), so I don’t see it quite at it’s best. It’s still stunning though.
Reaching the headland at Pedn-men-an-Mere I get my first view over Porthcurno beach. It is a stunning beach and there are just a couple of people on it. At low tide you can walk around to the next beach just around the rock you can see in the photo below (as I’ve done it before), although it looks like it’s not quite possible at this state of the tide.
Rounding the coast here there is also the wonderfum Minack theatre. This is an open air theatre in the most wonderful location, overlooking Porthcurno beach, which was a labour of love. Productions are still staged here. The theatre was the idea of Rowena Cade who moved to the area after the first world war. She originally offered her garden as a stage area and went on to construct this wonderful theatre. It is open to the public to look round when no productions are on. Sadly it was closed at this time in the morning and you can’t get any views of it really over the high wooden fence. You’ll have to make do with this old shot I took way back in 1991. I doubt it’s changed much.
Soon at Porthcurno, I head down the hill to the road to catch the bus to St Just. This time it’s direct, which makes a nice change and I soon reach the square at St Just. I follow the same route as before along the road out to Cape Cornwall, passing the golf course and soon arrive at the little collection of houses at the Cape.
Out to sea are the rocks of The Bristons, which I imagine have caused a number of shipwrecks over the years. Cape Cornwall, despite it’s small size seems to still have something of a fishing community, with lobster pots piled up beside the path.
The path climbs out of Cape Cornwall fairly gradually with the rocky cove of Priests Cove in front of the cape.
Stangely for no obvious reason, the coast path becomes a road briefly at Carn Gloose but soon returns to a path that descends through a landscape littered with mine remains to the rocky beach at Porth Nanven. The map shows it as sandy, but it’s all rocks, but maybe there is sand when the tide is out. The coast path heads gradually down the side of the valley, heading more inland, presumably to avoid a steep drop and you then have to follow the minor road back to the beach, where there is a small car park. From the car park the path crosses the stream that has cut this valley and begins to climb back up, giving me a view back over the beach.
The coast is stunning again, with square shaped blocks of granite making up the cliffs. At a place called Progo there is a dead-end path down to the beach but this time I don’t take it and keep to the main coast path along the cliffs to Gribba Point.
Once more out to sea I can see the Longships Lighthouse, which is just off Lands End. From Gribba Point I have a good view back around the rocky coast, with the tower at Cape Cornwall poking above the cliff tops.
Around Gribba Point I come to another rocky beach at Polpry Cove, although there is no access to this one. The coast path winds right around, part way down the cliffs here and is particularly spectacular.
The path is pretty easy going for a short while, but there is soon a descent to the valley at Maen Dower. There is access to the beach here, which is made up of large boulders.
The path south from here is fairly gentle running near the base of the cliffs to the very rugged headland of Aire Point. There was quite a wind picking up by now, too.
Rounding Aire Point I come to another beach, also one of boulders, although there is sand further south and this joins to the main Whitesand Bay at low tide. The view ahead is spectacular,with the glorious sandy beach of Whitesands Bay ahead, around Escalls Cliffs. This is the first place of any size along the coast since St Ives, as most of the villages have been set back slightly inland. I’m surprised to see the lifeguard has been around here to put up the flags, but they are red today (indicating you should not enter the water), I suspect because of the wind. I assume the prescence of the flags must mean the lifeguards patrol this part of the beach too, despite it being quite remote.
At low tide I suspect you could keep to the beach, but as the tide is up I need to return to the coast path which climbs a little and gives a good view back over the beach.
Soon I round the corner to the wonderful Whitesands Bay – not hard to see how it got it’s name. This is one of my favourite beaches (I seem to say that a lot in Cornwall), with around 1 mile of white sands and the lovely village of Sennen Cove at the south end. I drove round here a couple of times of an evening as I was staying nearby.
Soon I leave the coast path to head down onto the beach and stop for a bit of a rest and a paddle. Thankfully there are the red and yellow flags on this part of the beach, rather than red ones, so I can go in the sea without being told off by the lifeguards.
Heading to the south end of the beach I pick up the coast path and little promenade at Sennen Cove. There is a great view back over the beach and the weather has picked up a bit too. It is a classic view of Cornwall, with the breakers rolling in from the west. I wonder if this is the last time on this walk I will see this sight, as I am nearing Lands End, and once around that, I will be heading east and the coast is mostly not exposed to the west.
Whitesand Bay from Sennen Cove
As I walk around the promenade, I soon come to the little harbour at the south end of the beach with a few lovely wooden boats pulled up on the beach. There is also a fairly modern lifeboat station here, built out of local stones I presume. With all the rocks on this coast I can see why it’s needed, and hope they don’t have to go out too often.
The path goes through a car park, where some drivers are trying, without much success, to find a free space. The path climbs out of this car park and out onto a little headland, Pedn-men-Du. It gives me my last look back over Whitesands Bay. Rounding the bend, there is a wonerful view, with Lands End visible.
I have done the walk between Sennen Cove and Lands End before when I lived in Exeter and I know how good it is going to be. The path climbs up and I can soon see the cluster of buildings that mark Lands End. The rocks here are amazing, with vertical columns of stone, some of which have been cut through to leave little caves. Stunning.
As I continue the cliff tops have a covering of heather and gorse mixed in with the rocks. Soon I reach the theme park of sorts that makes up Lands End. I do feel this is a shame, and the crowds of tourists come as a bit of a shock after the peace and seclusion of the path so far. I pass the First and Last House, which is the last house on mainland Britain Beyond this, I come to the main buildings of the park, which are rather ugly. However I do stop to get a drink and use the facilities, so it’s not all bad!
The busy path heads south and is crowded as most of the visitors to Lands End seem to walk between the First and Last House and here. I soon come to the famous sign (there is another at John O’Groats although I’ve not seen that yet. Part of the attraction of Lands End is to have you photo taken under the sign with the name of your home town. But you have to pay for this so I don’t bother and instead, here is a photo with it showing Sam and Tom. I have no idea who they are though.
Standing here though it really does feel something of a milestone. Looking out to sea, the next bit of land is America, some 3000 miles away. Actually, that’s not quite true, as the sign also points out that the Isles of Scilly are in fact 28 miles away, so this is not quite the last bit of Britain. The most south westerly point is actually the Bishop Rock Lighthouse off Scilly, which fans of the shipping forecast will know well. Despite the crowds it is a wonderful spot.
It is also something of a milestone for me to, since from now on I’ll be heading east until I reach Kent. Very quickly after I leave Lands End, the path becomes quiet again – it always surprises me how short a distance most people are prepared to walk from their cars. At Carn Greeb there is a Cornish flag flying on the cliff tops and a few buildings, but then it is back to remote, wild and beautiful coast.
Looking out to sea I can see Longships Lighthouse too.
Once I’ve headed a little further south I look north over the rocks around Lands End and see that one has an arch under it, I think it is called Armed Knight, and it makes for an impressive view.
The coast path has more delights to offer up, with the rocky beach of Zawn Wells ahead, surrounded by the granite cliffs, it’s an amazing sight.
The path heads south to Pordenack Point passing another little beach, Lion’s Den and then reaches Carn Boel. Here I have a view around the next bay Nanjizal. I remeber being entranced by this beach before and it is just as good as I remember it, a remote little beach with shallow water and golden sands. A feature of this coast is that much of the sea is shallow, with white sand underneath, making so much of it have a wonderful turquoise colour.
Heading a little around this bay I can look back at the headland and see all the caves cut into the rock here. Despite the strong granite cliffs, you can see that the battering it takes from the Atlantic is powerful enough to cut caves out of this tought rock.
As I am walking the coast path a helicopter passes over and I recognise it as the helicopter to the Isles of Scilly passing overhead. I bet that it is a wonderful trip.
Soon I am at the beach at Nanjizal. It’s a special little place, a remote sandy beach with high cliffs either side. I head down onto the beach for a quick paddle, although I’m not the only one enjoying this stunning spot. In one case I get a bit too close and get my camera covered in spray, but thankfully it survives another day.
I’m glad of the rest, as there is quite a steep climb out of this beach to the headland at Boistow Island (which is not really an island at all). Once around this there is another grand bay, Pendower Coves. I remember this having the lovely turquoise sea too, but guess the tide must be in today as I can’t see it. It’s another spectacular location though, with the coloured cliffs showing hints of red in places (iron ore?). As I reach the next headland, Carn Barra, I can see both bays I have walked round.
The coast ahead is beautiful granite squares again with the white foam of the sea around the base of the cliffs.
There is another beach just around the corner, Porth Loe, although it is a pebble beach.
The path then climbs back up to Gwennap Head where there is a coastwatch station. Once round this I come round into another little bay, this time at the pretty village of Porthgwarra. I say village, it is more a hamlet really with only around half a dozen houses and a car park.
Heading back up onto the cliffs I can see it’s not far now and the coast path is once again excellent, right along the cliffs. It’s not far along the cliffs to St Levan and the glorious beach at Porth Chapel. As I’m doing so another helicopter on it’s way to Scilly passes over head . I stop at the beach for a while and then head up hill back to the church where I parked earlier.
I’d like to have spent a bit more time here, but time is getting on and I have a 5 hour drive ahead, unfortunately.
This is a brilliant walk though, and the coast path here is excellent too, following the coast all the way and with no diversions inland. Some of the best beaches to be found in the entire country are to be found on this walk too. It really is glorious. The walk also marks a change, from now I will be heading east again. The next time I will change direction will be Kent. Quite a prospect!
Here is details of the public transport needed for this walk.
There was a direct bus oeprated by Western Greyhound when I did this walk, but sadly it no longer runs and the buses are run by First now instead and you need to change. So if you are doing this walk now you will need to change buses, normally at either Penzance or Lands End.
First service 300 : Lands End – Sennen – Sennen Cove – Lands End Airport – St Just Bus Station – Botallack – Geevor – Morvah – Gurnards Head Hotel – Zennor Turn – St Ives. This bus runs 3 times a day seven days a week during the peak summer season (from 24th May to 31st August this year) and less often until the end of September.
First service 1 and 1A : Penzance – Newlyn – St Buryan – Sennen Cove – Porthcurno – Lands End. Note that buses typically serve either Sennen Cove or Porthcurno but not both on this route. This is a little less than hourly during summer seven days a week but is less frequent in winter. Not all buses serve Porthcurno, so check the times carefully.