Walk - Porthgwarra and Porthcurno
Walk information provided with help from Natural England. Map reproduced by permission of Ordnance Survey on behalf of HMSO. © Crown copyright and database right 2022. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100022021.
A fairly easy walk from the tiny fishing cove of Porthgwarra to Porthcurno, one of the most spectacular beaches in Cornwall. Along the way, you pass the Holy Well of St Levan and the open air Minack Theatre and visitor centre. The valley at Porthgwarra is renowned for birdwatching, and in early summer the clifftops are covered in wildflowers.
The cove at Porthgwarra is the most southwesterly in England. Just around the corner from Land's End, it provided welcome shelter for the fishing community that grew up here. Equally, the valley behind the cove is a haven for migrating birds and in spring and autumn often shelters some unfortunate bird blown off-course and far from home – and the twitchers hoping to see it.
As you head east along the Coast Path, look out for the tunnels cut through the rocks near the top of the slipway. They were cut by miners from St Just who made the job easier by exploiting natural lines of weakness in the granite. The tunnels improved access for the horses and carts of fishermen, and local farmers who collected sand and seaweed to sweeten the acid soils.
After passing beside the old fishing cottages, a short scramble takes you up to the clifftops. You’ll see large white crystals in the granite boulders showing that the molten magma cooled slowly before it finally solidified. To enjoy the coastal wildflowers at their best, do this walk in May or June. Bluebells, white stitchwort, yellow kidney vetch, wild carrot and clumps of pink thrift (‘seapinks’) carpet the sides of the path. English stonecrop nestles in hollows in the boulders, most of which are smothered in grey lichens. Their intricate ‘shrubby’ structure shows the purity of the prevailing Atlantic airstream.
In rather less than a mile from the starting point, you will find yourself looking down on the sandy beach of Porth Chapel. Above the beach and immediately adjacent to the Coast Path is the holy well of St Levan.
St Selavan lived here as a hermit, one of a myriad Cornish holy men and women of the Dark Ages. The chapel that gives the beach its name is believed to date from the eighth century and was built on a ledge against the cliff. The hermit also gave his name to the church you’ll see inland – to visit it you can follow a short detour along the valley path before reaching the well.
Continuing along the Coast Path, you’ll soon reach the open-air Minack Theatre which must enjoy the most spectacular setting and views of any theatre in the country. It was the brainchild of Rowena Cade, a remarkable woman who laboured alongside her gardener and his mate to build it. The work began in 1931 when she was 38 and she continued to labour through the winter months until she was in her mid eighties. The theatre’s visitor centre tells the whole story and is open throughout the year except during performances, which are given from May to September.
The path continues - fairly steeply downhill – to the magnificent sands of Porthcurno where you can enjoy a well-earned rest after your walk. Return to Porthgwarra by the same route, or follow the minor road to St Levan’s Church and then take the link path back to the Coast Path above Porth Chapel.
Alternatively, a coastal bus services between Penzance and Land’s End would allow you to do the walk in the reverse direction, starting from either Porthcurno, or from the Minack Theatre to avoid the steep steps between it and the beach.
Porthgwarra (seasonal snack bar/shop), Porthcurno.