Walk - St Levan
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.
- From the Porthgwarra car park turn left, bearing left at the gift shop, and turn right on the road beyond to pick up the South West Coast Path on the right, through an archway formed of the feathery fronds of the Mediterranean salt- and sand-loving tamarisk bushes. Carry on through the heathland, forking left to stay high when the path splits.
- When it forks again, bear left to visit St Levan's Church and then return to this spot to take the path downhill towards Porth Chapel.
St Levan was born near St Buryan in the sixth century and was one of numerous Celtic saints who established hermitages around the Cornish coast when Christianity was under siege by the Anglo-Saxon pagans who flooded into Britain after the Romans left. These tiny chapels were usually near a beach (many of the saints arrived by sea from Brittany, Ireland and Wales) and were always near a spring which provided the hermit's drinking water. St Levan's chapel was near the beach at Porth Chapel and linked by about 50 stone steps to the well on the hillside above. The name Levan is a corruption of St Selevan, the Celtic form of Solomon.
The St Levan Stone, on the south side of the church in the medieval churchyard, was considered to be a sacred monument by the pagans worshiping here before the saint arrived. They believed that it was a source of mystical power and used it for their fertility rites.
On the south side of the Parish Church is the St Levan Stone, considered in pagan times to be a source of mystical power, especially in fertility rites. Nowadays it is in two halves, which is said to have happened when St Levan struck the rock with his staff after resting on it following a day’s fishing. There is a local tradition that says that when a packhorse with panniers can ride between the two halves, then the world will end.
The tall cross beside the St Levan Stone is thought to have been erected in medieval times to sanctify the pagan site. There were at least five more Celtic crosses in the area around the church, marking the various paths to it. One still stands at the northeast corner of the churchyard, and another on the footpath towards Rospletha.
- Reaching the South West Coast Path on your way down to the beach, turn right to follow it back to Porthgwarra and the car park; but before you do, take time to visit the tiny hermit's cell a few steps down towards the beach, carrying on down this path if you want to visit the beach itself before returning to Porthgwarra.
The granite steps between the chapel and the well are very old and were restored in 2003, more than 60 years after they were rediscovered.