Walk - Church Cove and Cadgwith
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.
- From the front of the Lizard Point car park pick up the South West Coast Path to your left, heading east towards Church Cove and Cadgwith. Follow it past the Lizard Lighthouse and carry on towards Housel Bay.
The Lizard Lighthouse, with its distinctive twin towers, marks mainland Britain's most southerly point. The first lighthouse was built here in 1619, at his own expense, by philanthropist Sir John Killigrew, but the cost of maintaining it brought him close to bankruptcy. James I set passing vessels a fee of a halfpenny per ton, to be put towards the upkeep of the lighthouse, but there was such an outcry from shipowners that Killigrew's patent was withdrawn and the tower was demolished. The continuing hazards of the Lizard Point prompted a number of applications to construct a replacement, but it was 1751 before one was built. Trinity House took responsibility for it 20 years later.
As you continue towards Housel Bay, below you to the right is the Lion’s Den: a 35-metre deep hole created by the collapse of the roof of a sea cave in 1847.
After leaving Housel Bay ignore the path heading inland to Lizard village and turn right to continue along the coastline, rounding Pen Olver to come to Bass Point, with its Lookout Station.
At Pen Olver you pass two sheds used by Guglielmo Marconi for his early radio experiments in 1900, in conjunction with a much larger station at Poldhu. He set a new record for wireless communication the following year, with a signal transmitted 186 miles, from the Lizard to the Isle of Wight. Following further experimental work, in 1902 he was able to send the first ever transatlantic signals from Poldhu.
The white-painted building on Bass Point, beyond, is the Lloyds Building, established in 1872 to monitor passing shipping. Nearby is a lookout post manned by the volunteers from the National Coastwatch Institute, opened in 1994 after two fishermen drowned within sight of the former Coastguard lookout, which had just been closed.
- Keep following the Coast Path as it rounds Hot Point before dropping to the Lifeboat Station at Kilcobben Cove.
Although three of them are now disused, there are no fewer than four lifeboat stations between Lizard Point and Cadgwith, so hazardous are the waters around The Lizard. On 17 March 1907 the 12,000-ton liner SS Suevic triggered the biggest rescue in the history of the RNLI when she struck the Maenheere Reef, off Lizard Point. Despite gale-force winds and thick fog, volunteer lifeboat crews from the Lizard, Cadgwith, Coverack and Porthleven rowed out repeatedly, and in 16 hours they rescued all 456 passengers, including 70 babies.
In 1885 the boathouse at Church Cove housed an auxiliary Lizard Lifeboat, but launching it from the steep slipway was difficult, and in the 14 years it was in operation it was only used twice. In contrast, between 1859 and 1961 the lifeboat at Polpeor Cove was launched 136 times and saved a total of 562 lives. Cadgwith had a lifeboat from 1867 to 1963; but the Kilcobben Cove Lifeboat Station station is the station used today, because the lifeboat can be launched safely from here in virtually all sea conditions.
- Ignoring the path running inland above the Lifeboat Station carry on along the Coast Path, ignoring the next path inland, too, and descending into Church Cove.
For a shorter walk, leave the Coast Path here and take the lane uphill, carrying on along the road to Lizard village at point 10. Otherwise, pass through the kissing-gate to carry on along the Coast Path from Church Cove towards Cadgwith. After nearly a mile the Coast Path arrives at a footpath heading inland, above Polgwidden.
The large red-and-white wooden diamond, mounted at the top of the cliffs at Church Cove, is the Balk Beacon, a daytime navigation aid.
There is a major geological boundary on the headland at The Balk, where the bedrock changes from schist to serpentinite. Around the Lizard Point the rocks are schists – rock structures characterised by the parallel arrangements of the materials which go to make them up. From The Balk to the Lizard lighthouse the rock is hornblende schist, with a high content of green and black crystals.
As you approach Cadgwith, you pass a 200-feet-deep chasm above an archway in the cliff. This is known as the Devil's Frying Pan ('Hugga Dridgee' in Cornish), because the sea crashes so violently around the cave that its central boulder is said to resemble an egg frying in a pan. It was formed by the sea eroding a fault in the rock and enlarging it into a cave. The roof was weakened by the compression of the air inside the cave as the waves surged around it, and eventually it fell in. Eventually the archway will collapse and a new cove will start to form.
(This footpath forms a useful short cut if needed to point 9. For this short cut follow the footpath inland to the road and turn left. Look out for “Gwavas Vean” on the right, where the full route arrives at point 9.) For the full walk carry on along the Coast Path to Cadgwith.
Cadgwith once had a thriving fishing fleet. In 1908 it had a record catch, when 1,347,000 pilchards were landed in two days.
Approaching Cadgwith, follow either the road or the footpath on the right to the village. On either route, at the junction with the road turn left uphill (signed to the car park). Continue climbing out of the village, past the car park and straight ahead at a road junction. A little beyond the junction public footpaths leave the road on both sides.
Take the footpath on the left (but before turning onto it, pause for a moment to check out St Ruan’s Well, beside the footpath on your right – see details below). To continue on the walk, cross the stile on the left of the road and head diagonally right across the field. Cross the stile on the far side of the field and continue diagonally across the next field in the same direction. (The footpath alongside the hedge on the right leads to Grade church – worth a detour.) Aim for the gate but do not pass through but continue alongside the hedge ahead. Follow the hedge round to the left to a stile to a gravelled track.
St Ruan's Well, or Grade Well, was built of granite and serpentine in the fourteenth century but over the centuries it has been elaborately refurbished. There was once a small granite cross in its niche.
On the right-hand side of this last field is The Church of The Holy Cross and St Grade, the Lizard Point's most prominent landmark. Built of serpentine, it dates from around the twelfth century but was extensively rebuilt in 1862.
On the road turn right and pick up the footpath continuing in the same direction at the right-hand bend just a few yards beyond. Go into the field and alongside the fence to a stile. Cross this to reach a stone stile to a path elevated above the fields, heading towards Trethvas Farm. At the farm the path descends to a track. Go ahead then turn left on the track opposite the farm entrance, crossing the stile a little way along on the right. Continue alongside the hedge, over another stone stile in the far corner and alongside the next hedge. Passing into the next field, keep to the left-hand hedge to come out on the corner of Cross Common Road. Go ahead on the road.
At the first junction fork right then bear right on Beacon Terrace as far as the school. At the right-hand bend by the school turn left, opposite the school, to take Housel Bay Road. (If you want to use the shops, cafes, toilets, pubs, etc of Lizard village just continue along the road past the school. To return to Lizard Point car park from the village take the road signposted to the Most Southerly Point and follow this out of the village. Then follow the footpath signed tom Lizard Point which runs parallel to the road.) To continue on this walk, take the footpath on the right just after the last house on Housel Bay Road and follow the hedge ahead through the gate then alongside the left-hand hedge until it turns left. Turn with the hedge, then aim for the far right corner once you have done so, heading for the lighthouse and the obvious green lane leading towards it. Go through a gap into a narrow strip of field then through the gate at the bottom and bear right to a gravelled track. Turn right and at the junction follow the green lane ahead to the road, turning left to follow the footpath beside it back to Lizard Point car park.
Lizard Village (pub, shops and cafe).