Walk - Lizard YH - Lizard Point
Walk information provided with help from Natural England. Map reproduced by permission of Ordnance Survey on behalf of HMSO. © Crown copyright and database right 2019. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100022021.
- Start at the Lizard Youth Hostel and make the short journey to the Lizard Lighthouse.
The lighthouse, one of the largest in the world, was automated in 1998 and its engine rooms are now open to the public during the summer months.
The Lizard Point lighthouse has a great visitor centre and seasonally offers tours of the tower. Due to its position jutting out into the English Channel numerous ships have come to grief on the cliffs and reefs of the Lizard peninsula, and the Admiralty advises navigators to keep three or more miles off in any kind of rough weather. The first lighthouse was built here in 1619, but due to the reluctance of passing ship owners to contribute to its upkeep, by 1623 it had fallen into disrepair and was eventually demolished. By 1751 the frequent loss of shipping on the nearby rocks prompted the building of the current lighthouse. It was altered in 1903. It was automated in 1998.
The electric lantern has 150,000 candlepower and casts its beam for more than 20 miles (30km). It also has one of the world's loudest fog horns which you'll definitely hear on a foggy day. The construction of the first lighthouse was fiercely opposed by the locals who gained an income from wrecking. Their attitude is best summed up in the prayer of Parson Troutbeck in Scilly; 'Dear God, we pray not that wrecks should happen, but if it be Thy will that they do, we pray Thee let them be to the benefit of Thy poor people of Scilly.'
It is estimated that a third of the world's shipping passes Lizard point each year.
- From the lighthouse car park walk down to Lizard Point, following signs to the most southerly point.
The succulent plant growing here is the Hottentot fig, an import from South Africa which has been steadily encroaching in areas, smothering some of the rare plants that grow on these cliffs, like the prostrate asparagus.
- At the Point car park bear right and join the South West Coast Path in front of the Wave Crest café.
Looking down to Polpeor Cove you can see the steep zig-zag track descending to the old Lifeboat Station. Between 1859 and 1961 (when the Kilcobben Cove station replaced it), the lifeboat was launched from here 136 times and saved 562 lives. Look out for seals in the cove.
Walk along the coast path and look out for some Cornish choughs on the way.
Choughs are deeply rooted in Cornish culture and are depicted on the county's coat of arms alongside a miner and fisherman. They are members of the crow family, have red beaks and legs, and make an excitable, high-pitched chi-ow call, from which they get their name. Choughs are extremely acrobatic and their tumbling display flight is an impressive and memorable sight. Formerly widespread around the UK coast, the chough became extinct in England when the last Cornish bird died in the 1973.
The reintroduction of grazing to coastal grasslands and heaths has greatly improved the availability of the short, open vegetation, rich in insect life, which the coughs rely on for feeding. Following work by landowners and conservationists to re-create this habitat, in 2001 three wild choughs arrived raising hopes that they might stay to breed.
To everyone's delight, two of the birds began nesting in 2002. By mid-April they had built a nest, tucked away out of sight in a sea cave, and the female laid a clutch of eggs that successfully hatched in May 2002. They were the first choughs to breed in Cornwall (and England) for 50 years. Three young birds fledged successfully in the summer of 2002. Numbers have since increased and the same pair continue to nest close to Lizard Point. Each spring a team of dedicated volunteers keep a round-the-clock watch over the birds, to ensure illegal egg-collectors do not raid the nest but also to help visitors see the birds without disturbing them.
- Take the steps down to Pistol Meadow
Moving onwards you cross the tranquil Pistol Ogo Meadows. Under this little green meadow lie the 207 people drowned when the Royal Anne troop ship was wrecked on the off lying reefs of Stag Rocks below in 1720. In keeping with the tradition of the day, the troops were denied a Christian burial and put into a mass grave at the valley bottom. Legend has it that before they could be buried, the corpses were mauled by local wild dogs. Strange cries have been heard here at sunset, and modern dogs are said to whine and shiver as they reflect on the foul deeds of their ancestors.
Climb out of the valley on the coast path up the slope towards Lizard Head.
As you rise up onto Old Lizard Head the view suddenly opens up across Mounts Bay across to the Land's End peninsula. You are now entering the Caerthillian part of the Lizard Special Area of Conservation, a unique area of coastal grasslands and heaths managed by Natural England, the National Trust, Cornwall Wildlife Trust, tenants and farmers keen to promote wildlife. Light grazing and the absence of fertilizers maintains this rare coastal grassland and if you look at the ground closely you will be able to see how many different species of plants grow together in a small area.
- From the top of Old Lizard Head, looking west, you can see out towards Kynance Cove and beyond.
- Take the footpath inland over the stile built into the dry stone wall and walk across the field back towards Pistol Meadow.
Carry on over another stile into Pistol Meadow field and rejoin the coast path to return to Lizard Point.
To avoid the stiles, retrace your steps from route point 5 along the coast path.
Polpeor Cove/Lizard Point (cafés).