Walk - Rinsey Head - Butterflies and a Bishop

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. From the bottom of Praa Sands car park, pick up the South West Coast Path and follow it through the dunes and up to the drive at Sea Meads.
  2. Carry on along the Sea Meads drive to the end, where it meets the road.
  3. Turn right on the road and pick up the South West Coast Path on your left a moment later, to follow it along above Hendra Beach and Lesceave Rocks, to Rinsey Cliff.
  4. When the path forks, take the right-hand path which runs below the South West Coast Path and follow it as it makes it's way around Rinsey Head.
  5. At the other side of Rinsey Head the path forks again. Keep to the South West Coast Path on the right and head towards Trewavas Cliff or turn left to walk to the engine house at Wheal Prosper.

To your left as you head up this path is what's known as a bat castle: a structure built on the pile of spoil at the top of an old mine shaft, and designed to prevent people from falling in. The shaft here was Michell's Shaft, said to plunge 420 feet below the surface, and bats roost in the underground workings. If you visit at twilight you will see them flying around the building.

The engine house with its elegant chimney stack was built from slate (or 'killas') from the quarry a little further up the hillside, and it was strengthened with granite quoins, or cornerstones, with a 30-inch cylinder engine pumping the workings to adit level.

A path near the engine house leads down to Rinsey Cove. If you have time to spare and are feeling adventurous, and at low tide, the mine's adit portal can be approached via a cave near the steps at the bottom; but if you do this, exercise a lot of caution. The path down is steep, with loose rocks making it hazardous, and there is a danger of being cut off by the tide.

Despite its name, the mine was never particularly prosperous and only traded for six years, closing in 1866. After the building was stabilised by the National Trust it became a popular location for filming, and a television company subsequently reconstructed the mine site to shoot a sequel to Poldark.

Just below Wheal Prosper take the path that was on your right as you arrived at the engine house, to carry on along the Coast Path.

Just before you reach the Cornish hedge, there is a marshy area that attracts birds and butterflies. The mild springs and warm summers in this area allow many wildlife species to flourish, with some unusual visitors often blown off-course by gale force winds.

The maritime heathland on Rinsey Head consists mostly of Gorse, Ling, Bell Heather and Tomentil. In late summer, the red stems of the parasitic Dodder thread their way through the gorse. Wildflowers found here include rare species like Bird's-Foot Trefoil, and Subterranean Clover. Wild Thyme, Sea and Musk Stork's-Bill, Yellow and Blue Forget-Me-Nots and Common Violet also thrive.

The abundance of flowers draws many species of butterflies. Look out for the Silver-Studded Blue, the Small Pearl-Bordered Fritillary, the Green Hairstreak, the Clouded Yellow and the Grayling. Butterflies are not the only insects making their home in the cliff vegetation: there are crickets and grasshoppers too, including the Great Green Bush-Cricket.

In their turn, the insects attract birds to the heath. Black Redstarts live here, as well as Wheatears, Skylarks and Song Thrushes. Rinsey Head is also home to one of Cornwall's largest breeding colonies of Kittiwakes.

Go over the stile and through a gap in the next Cornish hedge, to continue around Trewavas Head.

The large sea-stack ahead is known as The Bishop (or sometimes Camel Rock, as from some angles it resembles a camel).

Where the path forks beyond Camel Rock bear left.

Ahead of you, perched perilously on the edge of a cliff are the engine houses of Wheal Trewavas. These once housed pumping engines for extracting copper from the lodes which extended under the sea here. This is an area of mineralogical importance, and the mine spoil at Trewavas contains sulphides, as well as arsenopyrite, chlorite, mica, pyrite, tristramite, and other minerals.

Recently a project led and funded by The National Trust to restore the mine buildings was completed.

Trewaves Mine makes up part of the World Heritage Site of the Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape which was inaugurated in 2007.

  1. Just before the first chimney of Trewavas Mine go left, to head inland towards Trewavas Farm doubling back on yourself, ignoring the track uphill on your right. With the farm on your right, go left over a stile and straight ahead along the path, going through the left-hand gate beyond. Crossing the stile at the end of the field, and walk along the wall above the Coast Path on your way back to Rinsey.
  2. Passing Wheal Prosper again, the path turns abruptly right around the last field and then makes its way between the buildings at Rinsey, coming out on Rinsey Lane. Passing the track to the car park on your left, carry on along the road past Rinsey Farm, until you come to the two footpaths on the left immediately beyond it.
  3. Take the lower of these two paths, on the left, and follow the waymarkers through fields to the road from Hendra.
  4. Turn left on the road and walk about two hundred yards, forking first right and then left, to take the track leading along the hillside above the Coast Path, in front of Lasceave Hotel.
  5. Continue along this track until a footpath heads back downhill on your left.
  6. Pick up this footpath and turn right at the bottom to return to the Sea Mead drive at 3. Turn right here and follow the Coast Path back to the Praa Sands Car Park.

Nearby refreshments

In Praa Sands and in various places throughout the surrounding area.

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