Walk - Tamar Lake and Headland Chapel
Walk information provided with help from Natural England. Map reproduced by permission of Ordnance Survey on behalf of HMSO. © Crown copyright and database right 2022. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100022021.
If you are starting the walk at Rame Head, begin at 10, continuing from 1 when you reach Millbrook.
The walk is based on the large village of Millbrook. This is a pleasant village in the extreme south-east corner of Cornwall, on the peninsula between the coast and the River Tamar, the boundary between Cornwall and Devon. It is situated on the B3247, the road between Torpoint and Mount Edgcumbe Country Park.
The route of the walk crosses the peninsula to the prominent headland of Rame Head, follows the coast westward into the wide sweep of Whitsand Bay, then crosses the ridge behind the coast to return to Millbrook. Millbrook takes its name from the stream which flows down a valley across this south-eastern peninsula of Cornwall, though the exact whereabouts of the original mill is not certain. The village became established where the stream becomes a wide tidal course, known as Millbrook Lake, which itself flows into the Tamar Estuary. In earlier days this gave rise to a shipbuilding industry, as well as other industries like the manufacture of gunpowder and bricks, all now gone. In more recent times the top end of the tidal stream has been dammed to create a permanent area of water which is a landscape feature of the village.
- The walk starts outside the Devon and Cornwall inn, at the junction of West Street, King Street and Fore Street in the village centre. (If arriving by bus, walk back along New Road into the village centre; if parking at the main car park, pick the route up in West Street – turn left along the road at the car park exit.) From the Devon and Cornwall walk along West Street, passing the car park exit at Wells Court.
- Take care on reaching the narrow B3247, continuing ahead for just a few metres before forking left along Radford Lane.
- Turn left at the next lane, at the sign “Unsuitable for HGVs”, and cross the stream which gives the village its name. Follow the lane as it narrows and climbs quite steeply to arrive at a junction.
From this high point on the ridge separating the coast from the Tamar and its tributaries, there is a superb view over the tidal Millbrook Lake towards Plymouth. Devonport’s dockyard is clear and, further to the left, the outline of the Tamar road and rail bridges may be seen.
- At the junction of lanes turn left and continue to the road junction at Fourlanesend Community Primary School. At this junction turn right, towards Kingsand, Cawsand and Rame, and almost immediately branch off right along Hat Lane.
As this lane rises it gives splendid views over Cawsand Bay to the mouth of Plymouth Sound, with the famous breakwater seen end on and the Devon coast beyond. Ahead on the skyline is now the distinctive outline of the spire of Rame Church.
- Keep on Hat Lane as it descends steeply and then, at the bottom of the hill just before the road junction, follow the public footpath on the right. Go through the gate and follow the hedge on the left uphill.
- Follow the path through the gap in the hedge and continue ahead next to the hedge at the bottom of the steep field to come to a gate onto a road.
- Bear right on this road uphill, taking care on this short stretch, and at the bend at the top turn left, along the lane which is the highest of the lanes and paths here.
This point offers the first views over Whitsand Bay, and stunning they are too, stretching down past Downderry, Portwrinkle and Looe to Dodman Point, and possibly even beyond on a really clear day.
- At the junction at Rame Barton bear right and follow the lane uphill to the church.
Rame Church is said to have been built on an early Christian site, and it is certainly very atmospheric. Parts of the church, including probably the spire, date back to the 1200s, an early date for a Cornish church.
- From the church lych gate follow the little track to the lane by the Old Rectory and a little further along turn right through the gate on the public footpath towards the sea, soon arriving at the Coast Path. Go through the gate onto the Coast Path and turn right, towards the distinctive shape of Rame Head, topped by its chapel. This level and scenic length of the Coast Path soon comes to the headland.
Rame Head’s prominent position and distinctive shape make it a landmark both from the sea and from significant lengths of the South Devon and South Cornwall coasts. Its pointed shape is emphasised by the medieval St Michael’s Chapel, said to be on the site of an earlier Celtic hermitage. The current chapel dates from the late 1300s and was also used as an early lighthouse, the light being maintained by hermits. At one time it was whitewashed to be more visible to shipping. Earlier still, Rame Head was used in the Iron Age as a promontory fort, and the defensive bank on the landward side of the headland can still be made out.
On a clear day you should see the most famous lighthouse in the British Isles - the Eddystone. It is built on a small and very dangerous rock 13 miles south west of Plymouth. There have been four separate lighthouses built here. The original steel Winstanley’s tower, was completed in 1698, the first lighthouse to be built on a small rock in the open sea.
In June 1697, England was at war with France. Whilst building the tower a French privateer carried Winstanley off to France. When Louis XIV heard he ordered his immediately release saying that "France was at war with England not with humanity".
In 1709 the John Rudyerd replaced it with the wooden Rudyerd’s Tower. It burnt down in 1755 poisoning the 94 year old keeper who swallowed a lump of molten lead as it dripped from the roof.
John Smeaton, a Yorkshireman, built the next tower, out of granite, inventing quick drying cement in the process. 120 years later, in the 1870's, cracks appeared in the rock. The top half of the tower was dismantled and re-erected on Plymouth Hoe as a monument to the builder. The present tower built in 1882 used larger stones, dovetailed on all sides and to the courses above and below. In 1982 the lighthouse was the first to be converted to automatic operation. A helipad was built above the lantern to allow the work to be carried out.
The tower is 49 metres high, 41 metres above the sea at high water. Its white light flashes twice every 10 seconds and can be seen for 17 nautical miles. The fog signal blasts once every 30 seconds.
- The Coast Path itself turns abruptly short of the headland itself, but there is a good path up to the chapel which is well worth a detour. From here follow the Coast Path as it doubles back up the slope then bears left along the cliff top, heading for the great sweep of Whitsand Bay. After passing the old coastguard cottages at Polhawn Cove the Coast Path turns left through a gate off the access track.
Looking back from here it is possible to see the stone buildings of Polhawn Fort. Now private property, this was one of a large number of defensive fortifications built around the area during the 1860s to defend Plymouth from possible attack from the sea. Ahead, it may be possible to make out the outline of a much larger one on the cliff top of Whitsand Bay. That one, Tregantle, is still owned by the MoD and is used for gunnery practice. Having been built, they were never tested and became known as Palmerston’s Follies, after the Prime Minister of the time.
- The Coast Path continues ahead, then rises steadily to arrive just below a road.
This road, a scenic route along the cliffs of Whitsand Bay parallel to the sea, was built as part of the 19th century Palmerston defences, connecting the forts and signal stations along the coast. It is still named on the OS map as the Military Road.
- Follow the Coast Path as it doubles back to the left and then enters an area of informal huts and chalets on the cliff face. Be careful to follow the waymarking as the path undulates and twists through this area. The path then arrives at a seat just below the Military Road. Follow the Coast Path downhill from here through more chalets and then climb steadily again to arrive back at the Military Road.
Down a short path just to the left here is a year-round cafe, and there is another a few hundred metres along the Military Road to the right.
- Cross the Military Road and take the lane opposite, next to the lodges of Whitsand Bay Holiday Park.
The holiday park occupies the site of yet another Palmerston fort. As the coastal ridge is crossed impressive views over the Tamar and Plymouth open up ahead.
- The lane descends to a junction at Tregonhawke Farm. Turn right here along the lane, which follows the valley of the Millbrook stream, soon arriving at the village.
- Take care of traffic on the short stretch of the B3247 then fork left into West Street to return to the car park, the Devon and Cornwall and the bus stop.
Millbrook (pubs; shops for provisions); on the route of the walk at Whitsand Bay (cafes) (grid ref: SX 409 513 and SX 413 511).