Walk - Kennack Sands & Kuggar
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.
- Go through the main car park at Kennack Sands to pick up the South West Coast Path behind the beach shop, heading towards Coverack.
Before you join the Coast Path, turn right onto the beach to have a look at some of its astonishing geological gems. Kennack Sands is a very good place to see some of the many different rock types on the Lizard peninsula, including some which do not occur anywhere else in Cornwall. They were formed on the floor of an ancient ocean, the Rheic Coean, a long way south of here, and about 375 million years ago great sheets of these rocks were pushed northwards. As the seabed crumpled, it was thrust upwards by part of the Earth's mantle beneath it, taking a complete slice of all the rocks it passed on its way up, and it finally settled on the rest of Cornwall, creating the Lizard peninsula.
The most famous rock type on the Lizard, and the most common rock on Kennack Sands, is serpentine, brightly coloured and thickly veined. Most of the pebbles are of serpentine, in red, black, green, yellow and white. The rock is fairly soft, making it easy to work, and after Queen Victoria visited Penzance in 1846 and ordered several serpentine ornaments for her house on the Isle of Wight, the local serpentine business became a boom industry. The rock was quarried in several locations around the Lizard, and there was an extensive serpentine factory at Poltesco (see the Cadgwith & Poltesco Walk).
Look out for Kennack gneiss, consisting of bands of pale pink granite and dark grey basalt swirling together. The large outcrop between the car park and the sea is Kennack gniess. As the ancient continent of Gondwana stacked up all the different rocks during the enormous upheavals, the ones known as mica and hornblende schist started to melt, forming dark and pale bands of granite and basalt. As the Lizard was thrust northwards so the melted rocks were fused together and forced between the other rock slices.
Beneath the western cliffs, to the right as you come down to the beach from the car park, there is a dyke of pinkish-brown Kennack gneiss, and all over the beach there are many dykes of basalt and gabbro, both rocks from deep within the Earth's crust. In their molten state, known as magma, they were forced upwards and into the cracks in the serpentine. As they began to cool they solidified to fill the fractures in the rock, forming these dykes. There are also pods of serpentine, picked up by the gneiss as it was forming and embedded in it as everything began to cool. These foreign bodies in a different rock are known as 'xenoliths'.
Heading in the other direction along the beach, towards Coverack, there is a large headland separating this beach from the next. This is made of serpentine and is known as 'Caerverracks' (pronounced 'gavrocks'). The seaward foot of this is criss-crossed with spidery veins of many different coloured minerals, injected into the many fine cracks due to localised faulting in the rock, and this was a favourite location for stone-workers sourcing bastite serpentine.
During the last Ice Age, Kennack was part of a vast plain stretching from here to France, with no sea between them, and when the tide is particularly low and storms have shifted the sand from the far end of the beach, it is possible to see the remains of a fossilised forest from these days. As the ice started to melt and water began to fill the channel between England and France, Kennack was an enormous lagoon, separated from the sea by a shingle bar and backed by dunes which were pushed inland as sea levels rose.
- Carry on along the Coast Path until you come to a footpath on the left, a short while later.
Kennack Sands is part of the Lizard National Nature Reserve, the largest NNR in lowland Britain. Because it is so far south, the marine life here is especially rich and has many animals and plants normally resident in warmer areas. Check out the rock pools for their shellfish and anemones, and the Towans, or dunes, for their brilliantly-coloured wildflowers, such as the blue spring autumn squills, and the kidney vetch, vivid in its yellow, pink and orange livery. The rich variety of plants provides a good habitat for butterflies and other insects, as well as lizards and slow worms. The heathland above, too, is unusual, with an abundance of creamy pink and white Cornish heather.
- Turn left onto this path and follow it uphill above the stream, through the woods, to the road at the top.
This is Gwendreath Valley, It was once intensively grazed by cattle, which prevented the growth of trees and shrubs and kept it an open landscape; but as the grazing decreased so these were able to get a foothold and grow into the lush vegetation which borders the stream today. It was previously dominated by elms until Dutch Elm disease eradicated these in the 1970s. Today a new generation of elms is flourishing, and the dead trees left behind provide an abundance of food for grubs and insects. Listen out for the drilling of woodpeckers as they feast on these.
- On the road turn right and follow the footpath signs towards the holiday park, bearing left to pick up the waymarked footpath around the edge of the park.
Notice the low stone stiles across the path at regular intervals. Some of them consist of slabs of rock laid horizontally on the ground, rather like a cattle grid. These are known as 'coffen' stiles, from a Cornish word meaning 'man-made hole'. Other stiles have some of the slabs raised above the others to form steps, and these are known as 'cattle' stiles.
The path drops downhill, crossing a footbridge, to come out in a field. Following the path up along the hedge, when the field opens out keep to the right, to come out on the road.
- On the road turn left and drop downhill to return to the car park at the start of the walk.
Kennack Sands and Kuggar