Walk - Treyarnon YHA - Bedruthan Steps
Walk information provided with help from Natural England. Map reproduced by permission of Ordnance Survey on behalf of HMSO. © Crown copyright and database right 2021. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100022021.
- From the entrance to Treyarnon Youth Hostel turn left on the South West Coast Path and follow it back towards Treyarnon, to where it drops onto the beach. Cross the beach and pick up the Coast Path on the other side, climbing gently up to round the point by Trethias Island and carry on between farmland and the dramatic cliffs.
Treyarnon Bay is popular with surfers but the rip currents can make swimming hazardous. After crossing the beach at Treyarnon Bay, the Coast Path climbs onto the cliff tops.
At low tide a wonderful rock reef appears at the far end of Treyarnon Beach, riddled with rock pools, one of them large enough for swimming and all of them worth exploring. Trethias Island is separated from the mainland by a deep gully, and hides a huge cave which extends under the headland, emerging in the small cove beyond. Please take care as the tide comes in very rapidly, cutting this area off from the main beach in minutes and flooding the cave.
On the headlands immediately above Trethias Island are three prehistory promontory forts, dating back to the Iron Age, sometime between 800 BC and AD 43 . These primitive cliff castles took advantage of the cliffs to protect their communities on the seaward side, building earthwork ramparts on the landward side to give some protection from possible attacks. The remains of these ramparts can be seen under the grass along this part of the Coast Path.
Due to the active erosion of the cliffs on this walk, it is advisable to stay away from their edges, as they may be undercut. At Fox Cove, the remains of a tanker are visible , 'Helmsley I', wrecked on its way to a breakers yard in 1969.
Here and further along this coastline you may see seals hunting for fish. This section of coast is unusually indented with narrow coves formed as the sea has eroded the weaker bands of rock, leaving the harder rocks as headlands.
- The Coast Path continues straight ahead past the series of headlands, but detouring on the smaller paths hugging the coastline gives an interesting view of the dramatic formations caused by the pounding of the waves.
The landowners here are working with the RSPB to protect the corn bunting, which features on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species as a bird in danger of global extinction. Intensive farming operations in the past destroyed vital habitats and food sources. Traditional methods of land management are being used in many places along the Cornish coastline to restore the corn bunting population. It is a stout, dumpy brown bird which flies off with a fluttering flight and with its legs characteristically 'dangling'. Look out for them in the fields on your left, foraging for food or singing from the fence posts.
There is a network of paths through the heathland here, but the Coast Path continues around the coastline, with more examples of spectacular coastal erosion.
Please keep dogs on a lead along this part of the walk. There are often sheep grazing here as part of a conservation strategy employed by the National Trust to control the aggressive rank grasses and scrub that would otherwise smother the important maritime grasslands.
- Passing more small islands and coves, the Coast Path descends into Porthcothan, goes along the road for a short distance to cross the stream, and then returns back onto the cliff tops. After about a mile you reach Porth Mear, owned by the National Trust.
Close to the path between here and Park Head are six Bronze Age burial mounds that probably date from 1200 BC and 2500 BC. Across the neck of Park Head is a cliff castle, with its two defensive banks separated by a ditch.
Note the traditional 'curzyway', or 'Jack and Jane', stone walls along the way, where the slates have been stacked in a herringbone pattern before being populated by delicate lichens and stoneworts. Clumps of the pink-headed thrift grow from their tops like thatch, and in places the hedge consists of tamarisk, a feathery-leaved Mediterranean plant which loves dry sandy soil.
Most perennial, slow-growing maritime species occur on sea cliffs. This is not because they need any specific characteristic in this habitat, such as salt, but because further inland they are easily smothered by more vigorous, faster-growing species. The high salt content of the air this close to the sea discourages or kills the terrestrial plants, giving the competitively inferior maritime species a better chance of flourishing.
Unusual plant species occurring along this section of the coast path include the tree mallow, with its massive pink flowers, and the golden samphire an edible plant looking a little like a handful of dwarf beans dotted with tiny yellow flowers. Rock sea lavender also thrives here, resembling heather with its lilac flowers, as does betony, whose purple heads are often humming with insects.
- As you head south from Park Head you get your first view of the rock stacks known as Bedruthan Steps.
These take their name from a giant called Bedruthan who used the stacks as stepping stones forming a short-cut across the bay. However it is claimed by some, that this is just a story made up in the late 19th century when it first became a tourist attraction, and 'the steps' actually take their name from the cliff staircase used to access the beach (swimming here is also hazardous).
- Just before Carnewas Island take the path inland to the National Trust carpark. Stop for refreshments or walk along the lane leading to the main road ( the B3276)
At the end of the lane is the bus stop (by the Bedruthan House Hotel). From here catch the Western Greyhound 556 Padstow bus back to Porthcothan.
- Get off the bus at Porthcothan Bay Stores. Walk gently uphill to the road leading off to the left, towards Treyarnon.
- Turn left onto this road and follow it past Carnevas on the right and Trethias Farm on the left.
Under your feet at the top of the hill above Carnevas, although you won't see it, the bedrock contains rocks formed from mobile magma, a fluid lava brought to the surface by the eruption of volcanoes at the time that the slate beds were forming. Around Padstow, parts of the coast consist of pillow lava associated with this volcanic activity.
- Just after Trethias Farm, turn left onto the footpath cutting across the field and follow it up to the road, turning left here.
- Fork left at Treyarnon Farm and walk into Treyarnon, picking up the track above the beach to return to the Youth Hostel.