Walk - Driftwood Spars - St Agnes Head
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.
- Coming out of Driftwood Spars, turn right to head down the road towards the beach, bearing left at the car park on the road towards the Watch House, climbing with it past the Watch House and on around the headland to carry on along above the cliffs.
Almost 300 million years ago, the collision of continents caused great heat and pressure, melting the Earth's crust and forming granite, which was then forced upwards through Cornwall's slate bedrock. The separate masses of granite merged and formed a long 'batholith', the granite backbone which runs through the county now. The intense heat also caused water to circulate through the fissures in the granite, dissolving minerals from the rocks around them and creating Cornwall's tin, copper and tungsten deposits. About 50 million years later, further earth movements created lead, silver, iron and zinc, leading to the great mineral wealth which made Cornwall a world leader in metal mining right up to the end of the nineteenth century.
Looking along the coastline in either direction, you can see that the cliffs are a vivid red as a result of their mineral content. Local legend, however, puts the colour down to a completely different cause (see below).
- There are a number of small paths heading away across the open access land, but stay with the Coast Path as it continues ahead, carrying on alongside a few fields at Newdowns Head before making its way across another section of open heathland to St Agnes Head. Carry on as it turns to the left around the headland and walk about half a mile, to where a number of paths converge and a track heads inland to a parking area.
Much of the walk is through areas of open heathland, a feast of colour and aroma throughout most of the year. In spring the thorn bushes are bedecked with tumbling white scented blossom and sharp green leaf buds, while beneath them bluebells and primroses are a riot of colour in the fresh bracken unfurling between them. In summer the coconut scent of the flaming yellow gorse flowers wafts through the warm air, and the flowers beneath are now the spotted white of the sea campions, the tufty pink of the thrift and the bright yellow of the bird's-foot trefoil winding among them. In autumn the ling and bell heather form purple carpets beneath the black pods of the gorse cracking open in the sun.
Coastal heathland is a scarce and declining habitat as a result of intensive agricultural practices. Throughout the South West, bodies such as Natural England and the National Trust are working with local landowners to reintroduce traditional methods of land management such as allowing grazing animals to reduce scrub, enabling more delicate species to thrive.
- Make your way to the car park. Leave the Coast Path as it continues to the right,. Take the footpath heading across the open ground. Carry on to the left of the hedge ahead and bear left to follow the path to the lane. Turn right here, to come out on the road at the foot of St Agnes Beacon (Beacon Drive).
- Walk a few metres to the left and cross the road to head towards the beacon, bearing left almost immediately to contour around the bottom of the hill; or if you detour to the top of the beacon for the far-reaching panoramic views over coast and countryside return to this spot and turn right to follow this path around the foot of the hill.
If you stand on the top of St Agnes Beacon and look eastwards, towards St Agnes town, and then turn just a little to the right, you can just make out the remains of a massive earthen bank, in the fields below you, around Bolster Farm. These are believed to date from around the fifth or sixth century, when the Romans had left Britain and waves of Anglo-Saxons were pushing Celtic overlords further south into Cornwall. The bank, in places as high as ten feet above its ditch, once enclosed the whole of this district by extending as far as Chapel Porth at one end and Trevaunance Cove at the other.
One theory suggests that the bank's name comes from the description of a remnant of the bank shaped like a boat: 'both lester' (shortened to 'bolster') is Cornish for 'boat-shaped hump'; but the locals know better!
According to the legend celebrated every spring in the St Agnes Bolster Pageant, Bolster was a wicked giant who ate children and passed the time by building his bank and throwing rocks. He forced his unfortunate wife to carry these rocks to the top of the beacon for him, and she became old and stooped before her time, causing him to go off in search of a better wife. He fell in love with young Agnes, singing as she worked in the fields, and demanded that she marry him. She agreed to do so, if he proved his love by filling a small crack in the rock above Chapel Porth with his blood.
Unbeknownst to him, it was a sea cave, and his blood flowed endlessly out to sea, staining everything red, until finally he collapsed and fell over the cliffs and was killed.
- The path drops to the left, passing on the right-hand side of the houses. Cross the road and carry on along the footpath as it heads towards the top right-hand corner of this field, carrying on ahead through the next, and then follows the left-hand hedge to pick up the lane beyond. Carry on ahead when another lane joins from the left.
- The lane bears right and comes out on a road. Cross the road and carry on ahead along the footpath to the main road beyond.
- Turn left on the main road, following it around to the right past the church, turning left just afterwards onto Stippy-Stappy Lane. Bear left towards the bottom, turning left onto Quay Road to return to Driftwood Spars.
The steep terrace of picturesque houses in Stippy Stappy Lane was built for ships' captains in the eighteenth century, when St Agnes was a major port, and the whole row of houses, complete with their communal garden wall, is a listed building.
Text by Ruth Luckhurst and the SWCP team
Driftwood Spars and in St Agnes