Walk - Cape Cornwall
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.
- From Market Square in St Just walk down Church Street, with the parish church on the left, to Venton East Square. Carry on along the surfaced path, bearing slightly left then right, to New Road, at the bottom.
St Just started life as a monastic settlement, based on the site of a medieval church. The present church dates from the fifteenth century and incorporates the chancel of a previous church, dating from 1334. This was itself built on the site of an earlier medieval chapel, of which nothing remains, and in 1355 it was given to Penryn's Glasney College, one of Cornwall's most important religious centres at the time. Inside today's church is the Selus Stone, a fifth or sixth century pillar commemorating St Levan, who was the brother of St Just (see the St Levan Walk). Originally built into the church wall, the stone has a Latin inscription and a chi-rho cross (see the Port Quin & Pine Haven Walk).
- Turn left to walk along the road, following it around to the B3306 at Nancherrow.
To the right, Tregeseal is the site of a number of important archaeological monuments, including a stone circle known as the Nine Maidens, a Neolithic chambered cairn, and a number of holed stones around the granite outcrop at Carn Kenidjack.
- Cross the main road to go along the lane opposite. Continue on the lane, which then becomes a track, keeping to the main track ahead at a fork then bear right at the next fork, slightly uphill.
- Continue ahead, ignoring any side paths, to reach the South West Coast Path.
- On the Coast Path turn left onto the the grassy lane and follow it to the ruins of Kenidjack Castle, on the promontory. From the left of the ruined building descend to a quarry track and turn left.
Running through the Kenidjack or Nancherrow Valley here, just north of St Just, the Tregeseal river powered the tin streams and other workings along the valley. In the middle of the nineteenth century this quiet valley was a hive of industry, with 50 working waterwheels, including the second biggest in the country. The pond at the bottom of the valley was once the reservoir for one of these. To the left of the path are the ruins of the Kenidjack Arsenic Works. These operated from the beginning of the nineteenth century until the 1890s and were recently restored by the St Just Regeneration Project.
The track still running alongside the stream passes the substantial remains of the wheelpit housing the 32-foot waterwheel of the Boswedden Mine. From here it flows into Porthledden Cove, where it tumbles over rocky boulders on the pebbly beach and into the sea. Porthleddenis a good place for seal spotting.
Castle Kenidjack was an Iron Age cliff castle, with triple-banked defences, built on a Bronze Age site. The ruined building beside it, along with the trench and walls, were the butts of a 19th century target range. A Roman coin is said to have been found here.
- Staying on the Coast Path, fork right to the valley bottom and turn left here to take the next path on the right. Cross the footbridge to climb the other side, turning right at the top and bearing right at the junction of paths, to follow the Coast Path towards the road.
- Immediately before the road, take the path to your right to go through the field, past the ruins of St Helen's Oratory. Cross the stile at the far end. Turn left after the stile then right at the next junction to climb to the top of the hill. Look for the path and stone steps which descend from just below the rear, seaward side of the chimney to the National Coastwatch Institution station.
The square building on the site of St Helen's Oratory today is an agricultural building, although it incorporates some of the medieval chapel that stood here before it, including its cross. This is not the original cross: a fifth-century chi-rho cross was found here in Victorian times, although it is said that the incumbent at the time threw it down a well! Eighteenth-century antiquarian William Borlase described the chapel as having a pretty eastern window over the altar, and within a circular yard to the west, the remains of a religious house. A 1916 archaeologist found a watercourse nearby, which he considered to have been the holy well associated with the chapel. St Helen was the mother of fourth-century Emperor Constantine, and is said to have been the daughter of Coel, King of the Britons.
Known as 'Kilgoodh Ust' in Cornish, meaning 'goose back of St Just', Cape Cornwall is one of only two capes in Britain. A cape is a place where two great bodies of water meet, and Cape Cornwall marks the point where the Atlantic currents divide. Some of the water flows north into the Bristol Channel and the Irish Sea, and the rest becomes the English Channel. (Britain's other cape is at Cape Wrath, in the far northwest of Scotland, where the Atlantic meets the North Sea).
Many ships have been wrecked here, thanks to the Brison Rocks, about a mile offshore, and the National Coastwatch Institution maintains a lookout here. The two rocks known as the Brisons are an important breeding ground for seabirds, and are said to have been used as a prison at one time.
The tower on the cape is the 1864 chimney stack of the former Cape Cornwall Mine, and the tower was retained as a navigation aid for sailors after the mine closed. The mine operated from 1836 until 1879, extracting tin and copper from beneath the sea, and the white building opposite was its Count House, serving the mine's boilers, and at the same time providing residence and offices for the mine captain and staff. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the mine's ore dressing floors were converted to greenhouses and wineries for a time. In 1987 site owners H J Heinz donated it to the nation, and today it is part of the Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape, a UNESCO World Heritage Site (see the Geevor Tin Mine Walk).
Pass the station (visitors always welcome) and go on down the concrete steps, turning left at the bottom. Follow this path, then track, past houses. Then, immediately after the gate, turn right on the track. Turn left at the bottom, then go sharp right and back, still climbing. Go ahead on the lane then fork right opposite the trig point to follow the Coast Path along the cliff and down onto the road in Cot Valley.
On the hillside below the trig point, Ballowall Barrow is one of the most dramatic and complex burial monuments along this coastline. Dating back to the Bronze Age or even the Late Stone Age (Neolithic) period before it, the barrow was discovered under mining debris in 1878 and excavated by Borlase's great-great-grandson, William Copeland Borlase. It was found to contain five stone-lined burial chambers, or cists, with a further two outside the stone platform. Other finds nearby, including a stone spindle whorl (or possibly a large bead), animal and a midden of seashells, provide evidence that there was also a prehistoric settlement here.
Like the Kenidjack Stream, the Cot Stream was a particularly important source of water power for centuries, for both agriculture and industry, and at one time there was a large number of tin stamping mills here. Tin mining was first recorded in the Ballowall and Bosorne area in 1584, though it is thought to have been active for at least a century before this. Small mines worked independently here through the eighteenth century, and by the early 1860s Bosorne and Ballowall United was formed. Mining continued intermittently here until the 1940s.
Once sited near today's YHA hostel, Rose Reen mine was first documented in 1696, and the 1699 Lanhydrock Atlas showed a tin stamping mill here; but a timber mine pump found in one of the adits at nearby Wheal Hermon dates the mining activity to the middle of the previous century or earlier. By the 1830s, Wheal Rose Stamps was powered by a water wheel working a set of flatrods running up the valley side to a shaft to the north-east, with an associated dressing floor.
Turn left then very shortly afterwards turn right, crossing the stream by the footbridge and passing the ruins of Wheal Rose. Continue on the path until it turns left and climbs steps to a cross path. Turn left here (note the space for where the water wheel used to be)and continue past a cottage onto a track. Just before this track becomes a tarmac drive turn right off the track onto a path next to an old mine building. Pass cottages and cross a footbridge to a junction of paths. Turn left here and climb to another junction. Turn right and at the top turn left along the lane and follow this ahead into St Just.
If you make the detour to the beach, look out for rocks falling from the unstable and heavily mined cliffs. Past cliff falls have piled the large round boulders on the beach today, giving it its nickname of 'Dinosaur Egg Beach' and making it an important geological site (see the Lamorna & St Loy Walk). It has protected status, meaning that it is illegal to remove any boulders from it.
Porth Nanven is popular with birdwatchers, who were rewarded in 1999 with a sighting of the very rare Yellow-billed Cuckoo, normally only found in North and South America.
Reaching the town turn right just before the school into Market Street past the car park and on to Market Square.
Just before you reach Market Square, a left turn takes you to a raised grassy area. This is a plein an gwarry, one of only two surviving in Cornwall (see the Holywell St Piran Walk). These medieval amphitheatres were used for miracle plays and prayer meetings, as well as general public gatherings.
St Just has cafes, pubs and shops; on the route of the walk there are seasonal refreshments (hot and cold drinks, cakes, pasties, etc) at Cape Cornwall (grid ref: SW 353 318).