Walk - Penzance YHA - 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 2020. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100022021.
Before starting this walk check the bus timetables if you are intending to travel back from Porthcurno by bus.
- From Penzance Youth Hostel walk along Castle Horneck Road, cross over the A30 and continue on Castle Horneck Road.Keep left at the junction and follow Alverton Road past the YMCA.
- At the roundabout, turn right down tree lined Alexandra Road until you reach the sea. Turn right onto the South West Coast Path and carry on along Cornwall's only promenade,through Wherry Town.
- At the end of the promenade bear to the left to carry on along the lane ahead. Then turn left on to Jack Lane. Bear left once more here, crossing the stream by the Fishermans Mission. Carry on around the harbour and past the South Pier. At the end of the Strand keep left as it turns into Fore Street, carrying on ahead until you come to the layby on the left hand side of the road.
Newlyn was home to a post-Impressionist art movement, the Newlyn School. When the Great Western Railway was extended to West Cornwall in 1877, a number of artists settled here. The Tate Gallery recalls that they were, 'drawn by the beauty of the scenery, quality of light, simplicity of life and drama of the sea'. Led by artists Stanhope Forbes and Frank Bramley, who both moved here in the 1880s, the Newlyn School adopted the Impressionist style of working directly from the subject, to depict scenes from rural life, often that of fishermen.
- Fork left at the layby, onto the cycleway/South West Coast Path, and follow it along between the rocks and the trees until the cycleway pulls back up onto the Cliff Road at the end of the quarry. Carry on ahead, following the footpath past the memorial and Penlee Point, until you come to Mousehole.
Although the lifeboat for this area. is now in Newlyn, the old lifeboat house in Penlee was kept as a memorial to the crew lost in a tragedy in 1981. On 19 December of that year, the cargo-carrying coaster the Union Star got into difficulty on its maiden voyage between Holland and Ireland. With a total of eight on board, the ship reported engine failure eight miles east of the Wolf Rock. With the wind gusting at speeds of up to 100 mph, the Sea King helicopter sent to the ship's aid from RNAS Culdrose was unable to winch anyone to safety. Despite the appalling conditions the Penlee Lifeboat, the Solomon Browne, was launched. As was the custom in operations that were particularly risky, just one crew member per family was selected for the rescue.
All eight of the men aboard were lost in the rescue attempt, as were all those on the Union Star.
- Reaching the car park in Mousehole, carry on ahead on Quay Street and around the harbour, bearing left at the end onto Portland Place. Turn left on Chapel Street at the T-junction and fork right past St Clements Terrace and then left beyond to walk up Raginnis Hill. When the road swings right towards Raginnis, carry straight on ahead on the lane heading south.
Mousehole (pronounced 'mowzel') is named after a small cave of that name. It is famous for its narrow granite streets and tiny harbour, the landing place for the Knights of St John on their return from the Holy Land. , Mousehole is also renowned for its 'starry gazy' fish pie and its Christmas lights. Poet Dylan Thomas called it the prettiest village in England, and there is speculation that it was the inspiration for Llaregub, the village at the centre of his 'Under Milk Wood'.
St Clement's Isle, just off the coast, was once a hermit's home.
Point Spaniard, just beyond, is where Carlos de Amesquita landed with 400 men in 1595 during the Anglo-Spanish War (1585–1604). Despite outnumbering the Spanish, the English militias posted here to resist any invasion attempt turned tail and fled. This left just 12 men under the leadership of Francis Godolphin, the Deputy Lord Lieutenant of Cornwall. There was nothing left for him to do but withdraw.
Penzance was bombarded by the Spanish fleet and 400 houses were destroyed and three ships sunk. The settlements at Newlyn, Mousehole and Paul were burnt down, and the Spanish seized the cannon from Henry VIII's forts along the coastline and mounted them on their own ships.
- After Penzer Point the path drops to carry on above the rocks, staying low as it heads around Kemyel Point and Carn-du to drop into Lamorna Cove.
The conifer plantation sloping down to the sea is the Kemyel Crease Nature Reserve, managed by the Cornwall Wildlife Trust. Although not a native species, Monterey pine was planted to provide shelter on this exposed part of the coast, thanks to its rapid growth and salt tolerance. Another fast-growing evergreen, Monterey cypress, was also introduced as a windbreak.
In the late nineteenth century, fuchsia hedges were planted around the edge of small flower and potato gardens, which flourished in the south-facing, well-drained cliffs. At one time Kemyel Crease had over a hundred of these gardens, or 'quillets' as they were known, using donkeys to work the land and carry up seaweed as a fertiliser. Early potatoes and flowers were taken to London by train, and the gardens were still being cultivated in the 1930s.
Lamorna Cove was popular with artists of the Newlyn School, being particularly associated with S. J. "Lamorna" Birch who lived here, as well as Alfred Munnings, and Laura and Harold Knight. There is still an active association of artists and craftspeople living and working in Lamorna today, and an Arts Festival is held here every Autumn.
Lamorna has long been a source of granite for construction work, and buildings using the stone include the docks at Dover and Devonport, lighthouses at Bishop Rock and Wolf Rock, and breakwaters at Alderney and Portland. In London, Lloyds Bank, the New Zealand Bank, New Scotland Yard, steps to the National Gallery, the Embankment and the obelisk for the Great Exhibition were all built using Lamorna granite.
- Continuing around the quay at Lamorna and bearing left at the end, the path carries on around the bottom of Tregurnow Cliff. It then climbs Rosemodress Cliff above Carn Barges and passes the lighthouse on Tater-du.As you head towards Boscawen Point, you pass above Zawn Gamper and Chough Zawn, bearing right to stay high as the path starts to round Boscawen Point and then dropping into the trees on Boskenna Cliff above Paynter's Cove and St Loy's Cove.
Boskenna Cliff was the home of author Derek Tangye, who wrote a number of books about Cornwall, including 'The Minack Chronicles'. His land here has been turned into a nature reserve.
- At St Loy’s Cove the path heads inland towards St Loy. The path forks left at the top to continue through the trees and around Merthen Point. It then climbs high above Trevedran Cliff and Coffin Rock. At Porthguarnon it drops steeply down to the stream and ascends the other side, to pass the Gazells and carry on around Le Scathe Cove.
Fork left and left again to stay close to the cliffs as the path descends to Penberth.
At one time the tiny hamlet of Penberth had a fleet of some fifteen fishing boats, and it is still functioning as a fishing cove, but only a handful of boats fish from here now. An electric winch is used to draw the boats up the granite slipway, instead of the massive man-powered capstan which still has pride of place above the water.
In 1957 Penberth was transferred to the National Trust through the National Heritage Fund, in memory of those who died in the Second World War.
On the far side of Penberth the path climbs steeply around Cribba Head and carries on around the back of Logan Rock and Treryn Dinas.
People have occupied the impressive rocky promontory at Treryn Dinas since early prehistoric times. Flint tools have been found dating back to the Mesolithic (or Middle Stone Age) period. The local eighteenth-century antiquarian William Borlase mentioned a Neolithic stone circle, although there is little to be seen of it now.
The ramparts and ditches of the Iron Age promontory fort are visible, however, defending the landward part of the headland, as are the remains of stone houses within. Coins and a copper brooch from Roman times have also been found here.
At the end of the promontory is the famous Logan Rock, or rocking stone. Logan (pronounced 'loggan') is derived from an English dialect word meaning 'to rock'. It is thought that the original word was the Norse name for 'wagging the tail'. Weighing some 80 tons, the Logan Rock was dislodged in 1824 by a group of high-spirited British seamen, led by the nephew of poet Oliver Goldsmith. It had become a popular tourist feature, and local residents insisted that the Admiralty should make the men restore the stone. This they did, with the help of 60 men using 13 capstans with blocks and chains from the dock yard at Plymouth, at a cost of £130 8s 6d.
Local legend says that a giant and his wife once lived here. There is a smaller Logan Rock nearby known as the Lady Logan Rock. This is supposedly the form of the giantess after she was turned to rock by the curses of the husband she had just murdered.
- From Treryn Dinas the path carries on above sandy beaches to Porthcurno. If you are travelling back to Penzance by bus then turn right to head up the path through the car park. You will find the bus stop at the car park entrance.
Porthcurno has a remote and beautiful beach with turquoise waters and white sand made of crushed seashells. It is internationally famous for its role in the history of telegraphy, dating back to the nineteenth century. Then it was the British end of submarine cables reaching from here to India. It is also famous for the Minack theatre, an outdoor amphitheatre carved into the cliffs with spectacular views across the bay.
Penzance, Newlyn, Mousehole, Lamorna