Walk - Kingsand, Cawsand & Penlee Point

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.

Route Description

  1. From the entrance to Skinner's car park, off Fore Street, return to the road and bear right past the pub, following the fingerpost signed 'Coastal path'. Turn onto the narrow road beyond the pub (Garrett Street) and follow it gently uphill above the waterfront and on to The Square in Cawsand. Turn left onto Pier Lane, following the 'Coast Path' sign, and carry on along the South West Coast Path towards Penlee Point.

On the shoreline at Pier Cove is the Pier Cellars Brennan Station, a torpedo station built in 1888/9 as part of Plymouth's south western defences, constructed after new developments in armaments meant that they could engage the enemy long before it neared the channel to Plymouth. Designed primarily to protect Cawsand Bay, as well as the Plymouth Sound Breakwater, Pier Cellars was constructed of shuttered concrete and brick but camouflaged with earth, which also helped to protect it from shell-fire. The buildings and their underground chambers include an engine room, dynamo room, wire-winding store, and a torpedo room with associated slipway. The Brennan torpedo was propelled and steered by means of wires unwound from two drums within its body. A searchlight (Brennan Light) was added in 1896 and an iron pier two years later. The station was in use until 1903, and in the Second World War it was one of the Sound's Harbour Defence Stations. It is still used by the Royal Navy for its HMS Raleigh adventure training and there is no public access.

  1. Above Pier Cove carry on ahead as a path joins from the right, but fork right after the house to carry on along the Coast Path to the grotto on Penlee Point, with a detour left to Penlee Battery.

In the eighteenth century, the cave that today houses Queen Adelaide's Grotto, high above the sea at Penlee Point, was used as a watch house. The stone archways were constructed within its walls and dedicated to Princess Adelaide after she visited in 1827, four years before she was crowned Queen Consort.

Work also began on Penlee Battery in 1889, another part of the south western defences, and by 1894 it was armed with three 6-inch BL guns and two 13.5-inch. There were underground magazines and stores, and quarters for the Master Gunner and the gun crews. Over the next few years the guns were dismounted and replaced, and married quarters and workshops had been added by 1911. The battery was finally disarmed in 1956 and the site was filled in the 1970s.

The site of the battery is now a nature reserve. It achieved national fame in 1998 as the place for the first British sighting of the Green Darner dragonfly, brought across the Atlantic by hurricane conditions. A grand total of seven Green Darner dragonflies were counted in Cornwall and the Scilly Isles that September, but they have not been spotted in Britain since. Today Penlee Point is a fine place for wildflowers and the butterflies they attract. Above the battery the grass is bright with the tiny aromatic purple flowers of wild thyme, yellow-flowered creeping bird's-foot trefoil, the spiky blue and purple heads of sheep's bit scabious and the tiny daisies of wild chamomile. In summer lizards can be seen basking on the rocks, and in autumn the blossom on the brambles produces a fine crop of blackberries and the butterflies dancing in pairs along the path in the sun include the red admiral, painted lady and speckled wood.

After you have forked right above Pier Cove you join the Earls Drive for a short distance. This was originally a carriageway leading from the house at Mount Edgcumbe to its church at Maker (see the Hooe Lake Point Walk).

  1. From the grotto follow the Coast Path sharply to the right and carry on above the high cliffs on the southern coastline of the Penlee/Rame Head headland. Ignore the path to the car park shortly after the point but turn right at the junction about a mile ahead, signed to Rame Church.

In the waters below lie the two wreck sites of the Coronation, a 660-man warship which broke up offshore in 1691 after its captain decided to anchor off Penlee Point and wait for the storm to die away, rather than seeking shelter in Plymouth Sound. The ship capsized a mile and a half offshore, where it lost its deck armament, bell and fittings, before drifting to Lady Island and Cove and breaking up in the shallows. The two sites are designated wreck sites, managed by English Heritage under the 1973 Protection of Vessels Act. 

  1. Leaving the Coast Path, follow this small path uphill to the military road at the top of the field. Turn left on the road, forking right above Rame Church to walk to the village of Rame.

The military road was built in the 1890s and connects the various forts and batteries around the peninsula (see the Cawsand & Polhawn Forts Walk).

The Church of Saint Germanus in Rame was first consecrated in 1259, being built on the site of an earlier Norman church, possibly from around AD 981, when Earl Ordulf, owner of vast estates in the West Country and uncle of King Ethelred, gave Rame to Tavistock Abbey (which he had founded). The tower, spire and chancel date from the thirteenth century, but the nave and aisles were added later. The whole church was restored in 1848 and again in 1886. According to legend, St German was a fourth century saint sent to preach a message of free will and good works to the local population, who were convinced that original sin meant they were all doomed to a life of misery (see the Rame Head Chapel Walk). After the mob drove him from his church, he is said to have sat and sobbed on Rame Head, where the cliffs still weep for him.

There was another battery at Rame Church Battery, part of the same south western defences. It was a High Angle Battery, designed to fire its shells at an angle of 70 degrees, so that instead of hitting a ship's armoured sides they rained upon its more vulnerable decks from above (see the Portland Plateau Walk). In 1893 it was armed with four 9-inch guns and protected by an unclimbable fence, which was replaced with a pill box during the First World War, when the guns were upgraded. It was disarmed in 1929, and in the Second World War it was used as a radar station. It was demolished in the 1970s.

  1. Reaching the junction just after Rame, fork right to walk along Rame Lane, heading through the valley to Forder.
  2. Fork left onto Forder Hill, climbing steeply to where a footpath leaves on the right-hand side.

On Forder Hill there are more fortifications, including two musketry lines and a roadblock, this time built as part of the earlier ring of defences known as the Palmerston Follies. This was a chain of more than 20 forts and batteries ringing Plymouth Sound, built in response to Napoleon III's 1859 launch of the first armour-plated battleship (see the Tregantle Walk).

  1. Turn right onto this footpath, heading downhill through the field towards the coast, bearing slightly right to the gap in the far hedge. Ignoring the green lane on the right, take the path to the left of it and follow it through the field to another green lane ahead. Carry straight on along the footpath running past Cawsand Fort to the road, crossing the road to carry on down the steps to New Road below. Cross this road too, turning right to take the long flight of steps on the left, in front of the fort, down to Garrett Street. Turn left here to walk back to the car park.

Cawsand Fort was originally a Palmerston fort, and was remodelled as part of the late nineteenth-century defences that included the batteries at Pier Cellars and Penlee Point. Today it is a complex of luxury apartments (see the Cawsand & Polhawn Forts Walk).

The 97 granite steps connecting New Street and Garrett Street are known as 'Duck Steps', and from the top there are fine views over Kingsand, to the left, and Cawsand, to the right.

The area around the twin villages is designated an Area of Great Historic Value (apart from the beach, which from the Institute northward is a Local Nature Reserve), and there are no fewer than 85 listed buildings in this tiny valley.

The settlement of Cawsand was first recorded in 1404, when the area was known as The Square. Early spellings of the name Cawsand included Cawsham, Cousham and Causon, and it is thought to mean 'Cowsand'. By the end of the fifteenth century the Rame peninsula was dotted with farmsteads, although the primary livelihood was through pilchard fishing. Historians believe that Kingsand may have been named in 1483, after Henry VII landed here briefly during his abortive attempt to overthrow Richard III.

In 705 King Geraint of Cornwall granted 500 acres of land on the Rame peninsula to Sherbourne Abbey in Dorset. The border of the land in question followed a stream (now culverted) between the two villages, handing Kingsand over to Devon, while Cawsand remained in Cornwall. It was not until boundary changes in 1844 that Kingsand returned to Cornwall. A cottage opposite the 'Halfway House' pub still bears the 'Devon Corn' marker showing the border. The settlements expanded in Tudor times, when Plymouth merchants built fish cellars along the beach to cash in on the thriving pilchard industry. These cellars were built of the local red 'rhyolite', a volcanic rock found along the shoreline to the east of Cawsand (see the Hooe Lake Point Walk).

Boatbuilding was another local enterprise, as was smuggling. The twin villages were the headquarters of the West Country Free Trade movement, which flourished along this part of the coastline in the eighteenth century under the leadership of Zephaniah Job of Polperro.

Nearby refreshments

In Cawsand and Kingsand

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