Walk - Penzance to St Ives - Day 3
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.
If you are travelling to St Just from Penzance then catch either the First in Devon & Cornwall bus 10 (a 30 minute journey) or 10A (a 45 minute journey). Both leave from Penzance Bus Station.
- Taking Cape Cornwall Road out of St Just, turn left onto Carn Gloose Road and follow it down the hill to the coast. Carry on as it curves to the north, with the South West Coast Path joining from the left. Follow it around to where it starts to drop towards Priest's Cove at the foot of Cape Cornwall.
Ballowall Barrow, on the hillside below the trig point at Carn Gloose, is one of the most dramatic and complex of the many funerary or burial monuments along this coastline. Dating back to the Bronze Age, or possibly earlier to the Late Stone Age, in the centre of the barrow were five stone-lined burial chambers, known as cists, with a further two outside the stone platform enclosing the central mound.
Cape Cornwall marks the point where the Atlantic currents divide, some heading into the English Channel and others going north into the Bristol Channel and the Irish Sea. For many years it was thought to be England's most westerly point. Brison Rocks, just off the Cape, wrecked a number of ships and were said to be used at one time as a prison. The Rocks are important breeding grounds for seabirds.
The landmark tower on the cape is the chimney stack of the former Cape Cornwall Mine, which extracted tin and copper from beneath the sea from 1836 to 1879. The white building opposite is the mine's count house, built in 1861-2 as the residence and offices for the Captain and staff of Botallack Mine, as well as to serve the mine's boilers.
There was a burial site here in Bronze Age times, some 4000 years ago, and later an Iron Age promontory fort. There are also the remains of an old chapel in the field below, St Helen's Oratory. The site has been in use since some time around the fourth century. The building is more recent, and an ancient cross was found here with the “chi rho” christogram on it. A christogram is a combination of letters forming an abbreviation for the name of Jesus Christ, traditionally used as a Christian symbol. The finder, a nineteenth-century vicar of St Just, took it back to the vicarage for safekeeping; but his successor is said to have thrown it down a well.
- When the road forks at Cape Cornwall, turn right, bearing right again on the road inland from the car park and then forking left a moment later to pass in front of the Count House. When the road veers right, take the path to your left to carry on around the edge of the hill before descending steeply into the valley below.
The Tregeseal river running through the Kenidjack or Nancherrow Valley was a valuable power source for the tin streams and other workings along the valley. Many waterwheels were in use over the centuries. A track still runs alongside the stream, while upstream an old reservoir is still visible, as well as the remains of the Kenidjack arsenic works. Downstream the river runs into Porthledden Cove: a pebbly beach with excellent views and a good place for seal-spotting.
The river tumbles over rocky boulders into the sea passing the substantial remains of what used to be the wheelpit housing a 32 foot waterwheel of the Wheal Call or Boswedden Mine. This valley is often overlooked by the more casual visitors who tend to focus more on the attractions of Cape Cornwall or the nearby Crowns engine houses at Botallack.
Crossing the stream, carry on ahead and then turn left on the path beyond, forking right a moment later. Then go left towards the top, turning sharply right shortly afterwards to follow the Coast Path as it starts to head inland.
Note the wonderfully named gully along here, the Zawn Buzz and Gen ('gully of food and song'). Castle Kenidjack, up above, is another Iron Age promontory fort, with triple-banked defences.
Above Wheal Edward Zawn, as you reach fields on your right, the path forks. Bear left here, staying left a moment later and then carrying on ahead to Botallack Mine.
The St Just Mining District is one of the oldest hard-rock tin and copper mining areas in Cornwall. Botallack is just one of many mines lying in the narrow belt of land which is no more than 3½ miles long and 1¼ miles wide.
Both the granite of Land's End, and the older slate to the north of Cape Cornwall, are seamed with nearly vertical lodes of tin and copper, formed at right-angles to the cliffs. These minerals veins continue under the sea. Many of the mines in this district had tunnels bored many fathoms below the seabed. There the miners toiled to break the ore with hammer and picker, hand drilling holes which they then packed with gunpowder for blasting.
Botallack and Levant, a little further north, were the most successful of these mines and won the Cornish miner a worldwide reputation for their skills.
The lower of Botallack's two engine houses was used to pump water from the mine. The higher engine house, built a few years later, provided winding power for the Boscawen Diagonal Shaft, which ran out under the sea.
- Coming out on the path beyond Botallack Mine, bear left again at the junction and continue along the South West Coast Path. Bear left again when the Coast Path drops away from the track skirting the fields and follow it around above the Crowns and Botallack Head.
Ahead are two more prominent engine houses: the engine house of West Wheal Owles, and the stamps engine house of Wheal Edward. Both structures were restored in 1995 by the National Trust as part of its Centenary Year celebrations. Wheal Edward was the scene of a tragic disaster in January 1893 when a surveying error led to miners accidentally blasting through into the abandoned flooded workings of Wheal Drea. The sudden inrush of water flooded the mine and drowned nineteen men and a boy. Their bodies were never recovered.
When the Coast Path joins the track above it, turn left to the junction with the Levant Road. Turn left again here and carry on to the Levant Mine. Unless you want to visit the mine, carry on ahead along the Coast Path to Trewellard Bottoms.
The famous Levant engine is housed in the small engine house perched on the edge of the cliffs. Restored after 60 idle years by a group of volunteers known as the 'Greasy Gang', this is the only Cornish beam engine anywhere in the world that still works on steam on its original mine site.
The Cornish Beam Engine of 1834 was originally developed to pump out floodwater from these deep mines. A pivoted overhead beam applied the force from a vertical piston to a vertical connecting rod, with the engine directly driving a pump. This was first used in Cornish mines in 1705 by Thomas Newcomen. It was fairly inefficient and used a lot of fuel. Scottish engineer James Watt refined and patented the design. The engine was considerably enlarged to drain these very deep mines. Cornish beam engines remain the most massive beam engines ever constructed.
The Geevor mine was operational between 1911 and 1990. During that time it produced about 50,000 tons of black tin. Originally a small enterprise known as Wheal an Giver, 'a piece of ground occupied by goats', the mine operated as the East Levant Mine until 1840, and then as the North Levant from 1851 until it closed in 1891.
At the turn of the twentieth century the Second Boer War forced the return of a group of St Just miners who had emigrated to South Africa, and they set up the Levant North (Wheal Geevor) in 1901. By the 1970s Geevor's sett covered an area of about three square miles and included Boscaswell Downs mine, Pendeen Consols and Levant mine. In 1985 there was a dramatic fall in the price of tin and Geevor closed.
- From Trewellard Bottoms the Coast Path continues past Carn Ros and climbs above Pendeen Old Cliff to the road leading to Pendeen Watch lighthouse. Turn left on the road and walk past the lighthouse to carry on along the path ahead, dropping down Pendeen Cliff and then turning right to climb steeply upwards. Fork left to traverse the hillside above Portheras Cove and the Kenidjacks, bearing left above the beach to ascend the hill beyond.
Pendeen was the birthplace of the Cornish prehistory scholar William Borlase. It has its share of prehistoric features, including the Pendeen fogou. Dating from the Iron Age, Cornish fogous (caves) were underground chambers and passages. Their purpose is unknown, but it is thought that they may have been places of either storage or refuge.
Pendeen Lighthouse was built by Trinity House in 1900 to warn shipping of the dangers of rocks around Pendeen Watch. In 1995 an automatic fog signal was installed. The lighthouse is monitored and controlled via a telemetry link from the Trinity House Operational Control Centre in Harwich.
- Fork left as the path heads inland towards Wheal Rose, and follow the Coast Path along the wall around the fields to the path leading inland to Morvah.
- Carry on ahead along the Coast Path as it makes its way through a landscape of granite outcrops and disused mines. Ignoring the network of paths around the patchwork of fields inland, follow the Coast Path along the top of Trevean Cliff. The path than descends into the valley below the towering headland at Bosigran.
This is another important site, with many layers of history sitting on top of one another. Flints have been found from the Late Stone Age, and there are the remains of cairns and a cliff castle from the Bronze Age. There are clearance cairns and hut circles. There are settlements and field systems, from the Iron Age and the Romano British culture which followed it, as well as medieval fields and settlements.
- Passing the remnants of these past communities, the path pulls up through the rocks around Bosigran Castle and carries on around the seaward edge of the fields beyond. Above Porthmeor Cove it drops to the stream in the valley below, climbing the other side and heading out towards Porthmeor Point.
Continuing along the front of the fields, the paths pulls out towards the sea once more. It passes above Treen Cliff before meeting the path which heads inland from Gurnard's Head.
Beside Gurnard's Head is another Iron Age promontory fort, Trereen Dinas, thought to date from the second century BC. In front of the headland is a ruined chapel, partly fallen into the sea, named Jane Chapel (from the Cornish word 'yein', meaning 'bleak'. As with all these ancient chapels there is a well attached.
- Turn right onto this path and follow it inland through fields to Treen. Carry on up the road to the Gurnard's Head Hotel, from where you can catch the bus back to Penzance.
There are a number of bus stops in Church road. The main one is at the Geevor Tin Mine entrance which is to be found at the western end of Church Road. The First in Devon and Cornwall 1A bus goes to Penzance in a journey taking about 35 minutes.