Walk - Three Sides of The Lizard
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.
A walk around the rugged tip of The Lizard, passing the most southerly point on the mainland, following undulating high cliffs. This is a good walk at any time of year with migrating birds passing through in spring and autumn, wildflowers in spring and summer and potentially dramatic seas during the winter. The highlight for many will be a glimpse of a chough. After being absent from Cornwall and the rest of England for around 50 years a pair of this aerobatic red-legged crow has nested near Lizard Point since 2002, and their descendants are now spreading along to other parts of the coast - but this remains one of the best places to spot them.
- From the Lizard village green car park walk down the road signed to Church Cove, passing Ann’s famous Lizard pasty shop on your left.
On the way to the Church Cove you pass the pretty village of the same name with its thatched cottages. The boathouse at the top of the Church Cove slipway (since converted into accommodation) originally housed an auxiliary Lizard Lifeboat. As you can imagine launching it from the steep slipway was difficult, and in the 14 years it was in operation (1885-1899) it was only used twice.
- At the Cove turn right to join the Coast Path, and climb up to follow the cliff tops to the Kilcobben Cove Lifeboat Station.
This station was opened in 1961 to replace the one you will see later at Lizard Point, as the lifeboat can be launched safely from here in almost any sea conditions. The cliff railway is used to transport heavy supplies and fuel down to the boathouse, and the crew run down the steps to the boat. Between 9 am and 12 noon, Monday to Friday all year, the boathouse is open and you are welcome to walk down and look at the boat.
Looking eastwards you can see around the coast to Black Head and on a clear day, you may be lucky to see as far as Prawle Point, the most southerly point in Devon.
- Continuing onwards you pass Hot Point, before reaching Bass Point.
Here you'll see the white castle-like Lloyds Signal Station built in 1872 to enable ships entering and leaving the English Channel to semaphore messages to Lloyds that they would then telegraph onwards to the ship’s owners.
Close to the Lloyds building is the National Coastwatch Institute (NCI) lookout post. IThe NCI opened its first watch here in 1994, as a response to the drowning of two fishermen within sight of the recently closed Coastguard lookout. They now have 30 stations around the UK coast, equipped and manned by trained volunteers, with another 7 potential watch stations under active investigation. Most of these National Coastwatch stations keep watch over sea, beach and coastline users for over 2000 hours each year. Like the RNLI the service relies entirely on public donations to continue its life-saving work.
Just past Bass Point, the Hottentot fig makes its first appearance on the cliffs. This attractive, low growing succulent plant with its pink or yellow flowers is a native of South Africa, first introduced about 100 years ago. Unfortunately, it is an aggressive colonizer and is smothering the rare native coastal plants. The National Trust and Natural England are therefore working to restrict its spread – a time-consuming and tricky operation which involves carefully pulling it up and then taking it away to be mulched.
- Moving on, at Pen Olver you pass what appear to be two large garden sheds, just inland of the path.
These were used by Guglielmo Marconi, the radio pioneer for early experiments that paved the way for the first transatlantic radio transmission, broadcast from nearby Poldhu in 1901. The huts now house a small radio museum (for opening times see website or phone 01326 290384).
- Follow the Coast Path in front of the Housel Bay Hotel (refreshments available), ignoring paths back to the village on your right. You may choose to make a detour down to the beach at Housel Bay, a lovely sheltered sandy cove at low-tide. Continue along the Coast Path, up the flight of steps and around the bay.
As you turn the corner towards the lighthouse, look down to the left and you will see the Lion’s Den. Take care here, and heed the warning signs as this is a 35-metre deep hole created by the collapse of the roof of a sea cave. The collapse was in 1847 and it was originally only 15 metres deep, but has since been enlarged by the erosive action of the sea below, and the wind and rain above. In time the arch at the front will collapse, creating a small sheltered cove.
You will soon pass the Lizard Point lighthouse which has a great visitor centre and seasonally offers tours of the tower. Due to its position jutting out into the English Channel numerous ships have come to grief on the cliffs and reefs of the Lizard peninsula, and the Admiralty advises navigators to keep three or more miles off in any kind of rough weather. The first lighthouse was built here in 1619, but due to the reluctance of passing ship owners to contribute to its upkeep, by 1623 it had fallen into disrepair and was eventually demolished. By 1752 the frequency of loss of shipping on the nearby rocks prompted the building of the current lighthouse. It was automated in 1998, and it is estimated that a third of the world’s shipping passes it each year.
- Continuing on around the coast you will soon reach Lizard Point, with its range of gift shops and cafés. Cross over the road and follow the Coast Path onwards.
Looking down to Polpeor Cove you can see the steep zig-zag track descending to the old Lifeboat Station. Between 1859 and 1961 (when the Kilcobben Cove station replaced it), the lifeboat was launched from here 136 times and saved 562 lives.
This next section is a real wildlife hot spot. Seals are often seen in the shallows below, but the star attraction for many people is the choughs. Choughs are deeply rooted in Cornish culture and are depicted on the county’s coat of arms alongside a miner and fisherman. They are members of the crow family, have red beaks and legs, and make an excitable, high-pitched chi-ow call, from which they get their name. Choughs are extremely acrobatic and their tumbling display flight is an impressive and memorable sight. They became extinct in England in 1973, but following work by landowners and conservationists to re-create their habitat, in 2001 three wild choughs arrived raising hopes that they might stay to breed. To everyone’s delight, two of the birds began nesting in 2002. By mid-April, they had built a nest, tucked away out of sight in a sea cave, and the female laid a clutch of eggs that successfully hatched in May 2002. They were the first choughs to breed in Cornwall (and England) for 50 years. Three young birds fledged successfully in the summer of 2002. Numbers have since increased and the same pair continues to nest close to Lizard Point. Each spring a team of dedicated volunteers keep a round-the-clock watch over the birds, to ensure illegal egg-collectors do not raid the nest but also to help visitors see the birds without disturbing them.
- Moving onwards you cross the tranquil Pistol Ogo Meadows.
Under this little green meadow lie the 207 people drowned when the Royal Anne was wrecked on the Stag Rocks below in 1720. Legend has it that before they could be buried, the corpses were mauled by local wild dogs. Strange cries have been heard here at sunset, and modern dogs are said to whine and shiver as they reflect on the foul deeds of their ancestors.
As you rise up onto Old Lizard Head the view suddenly opens up across Mounts Bay across to the Land’s End peninsula. You are now entering the Caerthillian part of the Lizard Special Area of Conservation, a unique area of coastal grasslands and heaths managed by Natural England, the National Trust, Cornwall Wildlife Trust, tenants and farmers keen to promote wildlife. Light grazing and the absence of fertilizers maintains this rare coastal grassland and if you look at the ground closely you will be able to see how many different species of plants grow together in a small area.
About 100 metres past the Head you will see a tall, wooden post with steps on the side. This is a wreck post used to represent the mast of a wrecked ship when lifesaving crews practised rescues with a breeches buoy. This technique was used when the sea was too rough to launch a lifeboat and the lifesaving team had to stay on the beach or cliffs. Providing the shipwreck was near enough to shore the rescuers used a small cannon to fire a double line and pulley to the ship. The sailors on the ship tied their end of the line to the mast while the lifesavers attached the other end to a frame anchored in the ground and then sent the breeches buoy (a harness that could carry a person) along the rope to the ship. A sailor from the sinking ship climbed into the breeches buoy and could be pulled to shore. Then back the breeches buoy would go for the next rescue.
- From here follow the bridleway (marked with blue arrows) leading back inland into Lizard village via a farm track.
Lizard Village (pub, shops, and cafés), Housel Bay Hotel (teas/lunches), Polpeor Cove/Lizard Point (cafés).