Walk - Marazion Marsh from Penzance Station

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.

Route Description

  1. From Penzance Railway Station pick up the South West Coast Path heading east. Follow it alongside the sea wall for about two miles.

On the hill behind the first part of the walk is the site of Lescudjack Castle, an Iron Age hillfort some 2000 years old, although there is little left to see. Although it was traditionally referred to as a castle, it was in fact a 'round', which was essentially an agricultural enclosure. Lescudjack was also known as 'The Giant's Round', and was said to be the palace of a Cornish Princess. There was supposedly a small lead-copper mine just outside ramparts, while Chyandour, just below, was the site of large tin smelting works.

Lelant-born author Rosamunde Pilcher set many of her novels in Cornwall, and they have been extensively adapted for stage and screen. The area around Penzance, Marazion and St Michael's Mount provided the breathtaking scenery for the filming of 'The Shell Seekers', the 1989 Central TV adaptation of the novel of the same name which established her as one of Britain's best-loved storytellers, selling over 5.5 million copies. Its sequel, 'Coming Home' was also filmed here, as well as a number of her other stories, including many episodes of the 89-part series screened in the 1990s by Frankfurter Filmproduktion and launching Pilcher as a favourite author in Germany too. She was awarded the OBE in 2002 for services to literature.

  1. When the path comes out on the far end of the beach, by the cafe, turn left through the car park and walk along Long Rock Road until the junction where a side road heads off to the left.

St Michael's Mount, ahead of you in the bay, was a busy maritime centre as long ago as 350 BC, when trading ships exported Cornish tin to other European countries. In 495, the Archangel St Michael is said to have appeared to some fishermen on the island, and within a few years it had become a thriving religious centre.

After the Norman invasion of 1066 it was granted to the French Benedictine abbey of Mont St Michel. The chapel on its summit was built in 1135 by the French abbot Bernard le Bec and was dedicated to St Michael, who was the patron saint of high places, as well as being a dragon slayer (the dragon in question being the old pagan religion).

In 1193 the island was seized by Henry le Pomeray on behalf of the Earl of Cornwall (later King John), who disguised his men as pilgrims. After four miracles allegedly took place on St Michael's Mount in 1262-3 it became a major pilgrimage destination, but throughout the next few centuries it saw its share of action of a less contemplative nature. In 1473 the Earl of Oxford held it under siege for six months during the War of the Roses, while in 1549 Cornish rebels in the Prayer Book Rebellion were more successful and managed to seize it after Henry VIII pensioned off its clergy as part of his Dissolution of the Monasteries.

In 1588 the first Armada beacon was lit here, warning of the presence of the Spanish fleet in the English Channel; and during the English Civil War it was a Royalist stronghold between 1642 and 1646. After it was surrendered to the Parliamentarians, Colonel John St Aubyn was appointed Governor of the island and shortly afterwards bought it from the Bassett family. The St Aubyn family continued to own it until Francis St Aubyn gave it to the National Trust in 1954.

According to local legend, a giant by the name of Cormoran once lived on St Michael's Mount and waded ashore periodically to steal cows and sheep. A local lad by the name of Jack rowed out to island one night and dug a deep pit while the giant slept. Stumbling downhill the next morning, Cormoran was blinded by the light of the rising sun and fell into the pit and perished.

  1. Cross the road and turn onto this side road, turning left onto the footpath a little way further on, to carry on along St Michael's Way across Marazion Marsh. The path crosses the railway line and travels through the trees around Bog Farm to cross the A394 road as well.

The RSPB Reserve at Marazion Marsh boasts Cornwall's largest reedbed, and more than 250 birds, 500 plants, 500 insects and 18 mammals have been recorded here.

Species to look out for on the reserve are Cetti's Warbler, Chiffchaff, Grey Heron and Little Egret, while in the summer damselflies and dragonflies flit around the yellow flag and green phragmites reeds. Bitterns are regular winter visitors and some years starlings roost here between October and December, their dazzling aerobatic displays attracting buzzards and sparrowhawks too. It is also a stop-off point for many migrating species, with birds heading south in search of warmth for the winter and other flocks arriving from the north.

The reserve is open all the time and entry is free, although donations are always welcomed by the RSPB. Dogs should be kept under control and should not be allowed into open water.

  1. Continue on the footpath beyond as it skirts the small wood and follows the right-hand boundary of two more fields before coming out on the A30.

To the west of the road here is Varfell Farm, the world's biggest producer of daffodil bulbs and the home of the National Collection of Dahlias.

Varfell was also the ancestral home of Humphry Davy, the chemist and inventor best known for the Davy lamp of 1815, which allowed miners to work safely in the presence of flammable gases. He was a pioneer of electrolysis and through this discovered the elements sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, boron and barium. 

  1. Cross the A30 with care and carry on ahead along the road opposite, heading towards Ludgvan, taking the footpath to the left opposite the workshop some 200 yards up the road. The path travels along the hedge to the road beyond, carrying on through the field opposite to come out on the B3309 through Ludgvan.
  2. Turn left here, and then left again opposite the church, staying with St Michael's Way as it heads down the road to Eglos. When the road turns to the left, carry on ahead along the lane to cross the lane beyond and head slightly to the left through the next field and then through the field beyond to Tregarthen.

St Michael's Way is a 12½-mile coast-to-coast walking route, starting in Lelant, outside St Ives. The only British footpath to be designated a European Cultural Route in modern times, the prehistoric route originally enabled sailors to avoid the treacherous waters around Land's End by travelling overland. It later became one of a European network of pilgrim routes leading to one of the three most important Christian places of pilgrimage in the world – the Cathedral of St James in Santiago de Compostela in north western Spain.

  1. Carrying on in the same direction, take the lane beyond the farm buildings, carrying on ahead through the next two fields to come out on the road.
  2. Turn left on the road and right at the next junction to follow the road all the way to the church.
  3. At the church bear left, turning left a moment later to follow Posses Lane down to Jelbert Way, where it comes out opposite the heliport.
  4. Cross the road to carry on ahead along Posses Lane, and cross the A30 to pick up the footbridge over the railway line and return to the South West Coast Path. Turn right here and retrace your steps back to the car park.
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