Walk - Portmellon & Bodrugan's Leap
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 car park at Gorran Haven turn left onto Canton to walk down to the beach. As you reach the beach turn left onto Church Street and then take the second right along Cliff Road, following the Coast Path waymarkers.
The two sandy beaches at Gorran Haven are sheltered from the prevailing west winds by Dodman Point, making both safe for bathing, and dogs on leads are welcome. There is a very small headland dividing the two beaches, known as Little Perhaver Point, and the nineteenth-century house on its tip is believed to stand on the site of an ancient fort once used to defend the cove. With its freshwater streams and plentiful supply of shellfish, Gorran Haven would have been an ideal home for some of Britain's very earliest inhabitants, and microliths have been found here dating from Mesolithic (Middle Stone Age) times.
In the thirteenth century, it boasted the first recorded use of 'seining' in Cornwall, where pilchards were caught using long nets, and it was a more important fishing centre than the neighbouring village of Mevagissey until the eighteenth-century introduction of longer drift nets for fishing. For more about the village, see www.gorranhaven.org.uk.
- At the end of the road turn left onto the South West Coast Path, following it around Pabyer Point and then Colona Beach and Chapel Point, before it sweeps back to the cove at Portmellon.
Turbot Point is known as Bodrugan's Leap. Sir Henry Bodrugan, who lived in Bodrugan Barton a mile or so inland, was a notoriously brutal henchman of Richard III during his fifteenth-century struggle with Henry Tudor for the English throne. Bodrugan was sent to Cotehele, the seat of Tavistock MP Sir Richard Edgcumbe, to get rid of the Tudor supporter. Edgcumbe made his escape by throwing his hat into the river and hiding behind a tree, leading Bodrugan and his men to believe that he had drowned. They gave up the chase and went home. When Henry Tudor finally seized the throne, becoming Henry VII, Bodrugan was charged with treason and he became the one on the run. With Edgcumbe in hot pursuit, he fled to Turbot Point, where he leapt from the cliff-top to a boat waiting in the bay below to carry him across the Channel to France. Most of Bodrugan's estates, including St Gorran, were confiscated and given to Edgcumbe.
On the hill above you after you have passed Chapel Point are the well-preserved remains of a Royal Observer Corps monitoring post, now used as an animal shelter! The two-storey structure was built in 1940, during the Second World War, to monitor approaching aircraft, and it was the third such post to be opened in Cornwall.
In 1959 a Bronze Age cemetery was discovered near the summit of the steep hillside overlooking Portmellon, and archaeologists found two small cists believed to have contained ashes from prehistoric cremations some 4000 years ago. Along the valley at the bottom of the hill, the site of a newer Romano-British round settlement was also discovered, dating back to the first century or two AD, although nothhing remains of it today. The Edgcumbe Map of 1761 records the location as 'Round Moor'.
- The Coast Path drops onto the road past the first houses of Portmellon, and comes to a T-junction. Turn right here and follow the road around to the left, above the cove.
A submerged forest has been recorded in Portmellon Cove, indicating that it was once a forest on dry ground, before it was flooded by rising sea levels after the last Ice Age, about 10,000 years ago. Tree fossils have been found, including alder, birch, hazel and oak. Further samples of bogbean and white water-lily seeds show that there was also some open water here, maybe a pool or a lake.
The first recorded settlement in Portmellon was the mill of Portmelyn (from the Cornish, meaning 'cove mill'). The mill was still shown on an 1888 map, but by 1907 it had disappeared. A lifeboat house was built nearby in 1869, but the lifeboat was moved to Mevagissey in 1888.
There was also a large courtyard building here, thought to have been a fish cellar, but in 1848-9 it served a much more grisly function, as the cholera camp used for the quarantine of Mevagissey inhabitants who succumbed to the highly contagious disease. According to the West Briton newspaper in 1849: 'Ordnance tents have been brought down capable of holding four or five hundred persons, and have been erected at Port Mellon, on the side of a hill, where they make a picturesque appearance, and in these tents, on Wednesday last, about two hundred of the people of Mevagissey were located.'
- Take the first turning on the left, bearing right to pick up the footpath on your right, which heads along the valley and bears left into the trees.
At the start of this path you pass the site of Mitchell's Boatyard, established by Percy Mitchell, who took over his employer's boatbuilding business in Mevagissey in the 1920s and moved it to Portmellon, where it was easier to launch the boats. His first commission was 'The Ibis', one of the biggest fishing luggers to work from Mevagissey. The Ibis made the record books for the largest ever haul of pilchards: a monstrous 15,000 kg (2346 stone). His most famous ship was the 28-ton Windstar, whose passenger list frequently included King George V and the young Princess Elizabeth. The whole area has a long history of boat-building, and its output included warships for the Napoleonic wars, as well as smaller vessels fast enough for smugglers to outrun the revenue men!
- When you reach the lane on your left by the houses, turn onto it to climb steeply uphill to the Portmellon-Gorran Haven road.
- On the road turn right, turning left about 100 yards beyond, onto a footpath descending gently through the first field and then climbing back up to the road in the second.
- On the road turn left, forking left to continue in the same direction a moment later.
- At Trewollock, a short distance ahead, take the footpath on the left. It bears right almost immediately, descending along the lane and then through the field beyond, bearing right downhill once more to return to Cliff Road.
- Turn right on Cliff Road to return to Gorran Haven, from where you can retrace your steps to the car park.
Shops, pubs and cafés in Gorran Haven and Portmellon.