Walk - Cadgwith and Poltesco

Walk information provided with help from Natural England. Map reproduced by permission of Ordnance Survey on behalf of HMSO. © Crown copyright and database right 2020. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100022021.

Route Description

  1. In the car park in St Ruan take the path beside the village hall, turning right on the road and then bearing left after the corner shop.

Very little is known about the man St Ruan, but it is thought that he was one of many Celtic missionaries who arrived in Devon and Cornwall to support Christianity, which was under threat from the aggressive Anglo Saxon pagans who invaded after the departure of the Romans in the fifth century AD. Also known as St Rumon, he came from either Ireland or Brittany and was principally associated with Tavistock Abbey, which had considerable land holdings in Cornwall.

  1. After the Spar shop carry on ahead beside the chapel to take the footpath dropping downhill, crossing the footbridge and continuing along the path to come out on the road beyond.

Note the unusual stiles, consisting of granite slabs laid horizontally across the path. These are known as 'coffen' stiles, from the Cornish word 'coffen' meaning 'man-made hole'. In some cases several slabs are arranged at different levels, like steps, and these are known as 'cattle stiles'.

  1. Turn left on the road and then take the footpath on the left a moment later, going through the gate to follow the path along the hedge and past the car park down to Cadgwith.

Cadgwith was the setting for Charles Dance's 2004 film 'Ladies in Lavender', starring Dame Judi Dench and Maggie Smith. In the picturesque cove with whitewashed cottages whose thatches are secured with chains against the gale-force winds that blow in off the sea, you can still see the old fish cellars which were once used for processing pilchards, and the capstan houses whose winches hauled the boats ashore. Even today about 20 fishermen work from Cadgwith, catching crabs, lobsters, monkfish and conger eels.

  1. Turn left to walk through Cadgwith and uphill to Corner House. Turn right here to follow the South West Coast Path. Go past the old lookout hut and along the path worn hollow by centuries of walkers, to the stile at the top. Crossing it, follow the right-hand hedge, taking another stile to carry on uphill to the headland above Kildown Cove.

Once a coastguard lookout and a signal station, it is thought likely that the lookout was also used as a huer's hut. Here someone would keep a lookout for shoals of pilchards and herrings, and when he spotted them he would 'raise a hue and cry'. The fishing fleet would then go out in their seine boats, with weighted seine nets stretched between pairs of boats, to bring the fish ashore. In 1904 a record 1,798,000 pilchards were landed here in the space of four days. On Gull Rock, or Terrick, below the lookout, gulls and cormorants gather in large numbers to keep a watch for their own fish suppers in the water below.

To the west of Kildown Point is the old Signal Staff serpentine quarry, opened in 1853. The Lizard was formed some 375 million years ago when enormous pressures within the Earth forced molten rocks some 10 kilometres through the Earth's crust. In its passage to the surface, the Lizard brought with it the full range of all the rocks it passed along the way, including the beautiful red and green serpentines for which the area is famous. Serpentine is fairly soft, making it easy to work, and after Queen Victoria visited Penzance in 1846 and ordered several serpentine ornaments for her house on the Isle of Wight, the local serpentine business became a boom industry. The rock was quarried in several locations around the Lizard, and there was an extensive serpentine factory at Poltesco, ahead.

From Enys Head there are wonderful coastal views, from Bass Point and the Lizard Lighthouse in the west, to Black Head, Carrack Luz and Kennack Sands to the east. Looking inland you can see Kuggar and Goonhilly Downs. On a plateau halfway down the slope of the headland there was once another coastal lookout.

  1. Carry on along the Coast Path past Enys Head, turning right after the kissing gate to drop gently downhill to Poltesco.

This track was used to transport serpentine from Signal Staff Quarry and it was known locally as Friar's Lane. This is a wonderful area of open heathland, maintained by the National Trust. It displays the abundant varieties of wildflowers for which the Lizard has been designated a Special Area of Conservation. Look out for cliff flowers such as sea campion, thrift and spring squill, as well as hardy coastal species such as three-cornered leek, veronica and tree mallow. Among the gorse bushes, sloe and St John's wort flourish, while the lower vegetation includes fragrant lady's bedstraw, betony, kidney vetch and the delicate pink flowers of lesser centaury.

  1. As the path descends to Poltesco turn right down the steps and cross the bridge to take the path on the right for a gentle tour of the remains of the serpentine works..

The trench in front of you is the wheel pit of the 25ft waterwheel which once powered the machinery in the serpentine works housed in the stone buildings by the beach. Made at Toy's foundry in Helston, the wheel was fed by a leat running from a dam by Poltesco Farm 150 yards inland. Established in 1855, the Lizard Serpentine Company employed 20 men and 3 boys, producing polished stone for decorative purposes such as church fonts, shop fronts, mantlepieces and vases. Flat-bottomed barges ferried these from the quay to schooners waiting offshore. The three-storey building still standing was used as a warehouse, and other buildings housed two machine shops, offices, stores, a forge and a showroom. In 1866 the factory was converted to steam power, with a boiler house and a chimney added, and an engine room in the centre of the factory. The water wheel powered the smaller tasks, while the steam was used for heavier jobs such as sawing and surfacing. When the factory closed in 1893 the water wheel was converted for chaffing (chopping up straw for animal feed), but it was scrapped in 1917, requiring a team of 24 horses to haul it up the cliff track.

  1. Follow the path through the remains of the serpentine works, past the building restored by the National Trust in the 1970s and on to the beach. Pick up the cliff path beyond the slipway and walk downhill, past the old forge and back to the bridge. Climb the steps and turn right up the path, past Carleon House (built 1861 for the manager), to follow the track to the wooden bridge, turning left through the gate beyond.
  2. Turn left again opposite Poltesco House and follow the lane (Poltesco Lane) over the bridge, past the mill and steeply uphill past Millstone Cottage. Turn right at the parish noticeboard and return to the car park.

Nearby refreshments

Cadgwith near Ruan Minor, pub.
Near to the start/end of the walk in Cadgwith the Cadgwith Cove Inn is recommended by users of www.doggiepubs.org.uk as serving good food and being dog-friendly.

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