Walk - Driftwood Spars - Perranporth
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.
- Coming out of Driftwood Spars turn right and pick up the South West Coast Path just beyond the building. Follow it uphill and around the cliffs above the beach.
From the sixteenth century until the 1920s, St Agnes ('Breanek' in Cornish) was one of Cornwall's busiest mining areas, employing up to 1000 men miners underground while their wives and children worked on the surface. Much of the World Heritage Site, the Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape, is in the parish.
The ore was shipped from St Agnes harbour, once on the west side of Trevaunance Cove. It was dropped down a chute from the ore bins, which are still visible on the cliffs above. The imported coal was raised to the clifftop mines by means of a horse whim - a round platform where a horse would be led around a winch.
There were many attempts to build a harbour at Trevaunance Cove, four of which, between 1632 and 1709, left the local lords of the manor deeply in debt. Another built in 1710 was washed away in 1730. It was not until 1798 that a harbour was finally constructed which withstood the rigours of the sea. As well as the trade linked with mining, a pilchard fishing industry was established early in the nineteenth century, although it started to decline after only 30 years.
In 1915, however, an unrepaired gap in the harbour wall led to its being demolished during a great storm, and now only the granite blocks around the cove remain of what was a busy port.
- The path drops steeply to the road at Blue Hills. Turn left here and pick up the Coast Path again as it travels seawards, climbing gently above the stream and then turning to climb steeply to the top of the hill.
This area is known as Jericho Valley, and for over a hundred years the steep roads by the Blue Hills tin works have been host to the Land's End Classic Trial, a motor race held every Easter, running from London to Land's End.
Blue Hills is Cornwall's last tin stream works and still produces small quantities of tin today.
The tin produced at Blue Hills is gathered along the coastline, having been mined by the sea and washed by the waves. This alluvial tin mining is a process that was exploited as long ago as 2000 BC, during the Bronze Age. It led to links with traders from the Mediterranean as well as with communities across the English Channel.
When the price of tin was high and the mines were producing large quantities, the prosperity would be celebrated with bunting and brass bands; but when the price slumped and the mines started to close, many of the miners emigrated in search of work, leading to the adage, 'Wherever there's a hole in the ground, you'll find a Cornish miner!'
Mining was a dangerous occupation, and it led to strong community bonds. A Cornish miner working in South Africa in the last century told of one of his most moving memories of his early days in the Wheal Kitty mine at St Agnes.
As the miners gathered at the shaft at the end of their shift, waiting to be raised to the surface, someone began to sing. The others around him joined in, and then the song was taken up by miners waiting at stations higher up the shaft, so that the whole mine echoed with the sound of the singing.
Cornish male voice choirs were as powerful as their Welsh equivalent, and both were an expression of the miners' ability to enjoy the good things in life despite its hardships.
- Ignoring the path to the right, continue ahead on the Coast Path above rocky coves dotted with tiny islets, passing Green Island and heading to the seaward side of an old airfield.
This was a WWII airfield and the wartime shelters can be seen above the cliffs. The airfield is still in use by light aircraft, including gliders, whose pilots' clubhouse is in the buildings of the Old British and Colonial Explosives factory, at Cligga Head.
- Passing the headland at Pen a Grader, carry on above the spectacular red cliffs above Hanover Cove.
Many of the cliffs along this part of the coastline are dramatically stained by the minerals in the rock.
Hanover Cove is named after the Falmouth packet ship which was wrecked here in 1763, driven onshore with a cargo of gold coins worth £60,000.
- Ignoring the network of paths heading inland, continue ahead as the Coast Path travels around the old mine workings at Cligga Head.
As well as tin, the mines at Cligga Head produced tungsten, used in World War II for armour-plating and armour-piercing shells.
The conical mesh caps over the mine workings here are known as 'bat castles'. They are designed to prevent people from falling into the old shafts while still allowing access for the colonies of bats living here, including the rare greater horseshoe bat.
- After Cligga Head the path begins to descend, past Shag Rock and Droskyn Point, coming out on Cliff Road in Perranporth. From here turn right to go into Perranporth.
To return to St Agnes take the bus. The First Bus 985 travels to Threemilestone, Truro College, stopping at the Church on Churchtown in St Agnes. The Western Greyhound 547 to St Ives and the Travel Cornwall 403 to Truro both stop at Vicarage Road in St Agnes. From the bus stop in St Agnes walk down Vicarage Road, turning right onto Town Hill and then left down Stippy Stappy Lane to Quay Road. Driftwood Spars is to be found on the right near the end of Quay Road before you reach Rocky Lane.
The picturesque terrace of houses in Stippy Stappy Lane was built in the eighteenth century for ships' captains, and the whole terrace, as well as its garden walls, is a listed building.
Text by Ruth Luckhurst and the SWCP team
Driftwood Spars, Perranporth and in St Agnes