Walk - Chapel Porth
Walk information provided with help from Natural England. Map reproduced by permission of Ordnance Survey on behalf of HMSO. © Crown copyright and database right 2019. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100022021.
- From the car park at Porthtowan walk down towards the beach to pick up the South West Coast Path on the right after the toilets and follow it steeply uphill. For a gentler climb take one of the smaller paths zigzagging up the hill.
- At the top, carry on along the official Coast Path as it hugs the cliffs for the best sea views and a chance to see the kittiwakes, skuas and gannets nesting below. Alternatively, take the path running parallel a short distance inland to visit the disused copper mine of Wheal Charlotte. When the paths merge on Mulgram Hill, carry on along the Coast Path, descending to the valley below.
- If you have timed your walk to catch low tide at Chapel Porth, detour left here to visit the beach. Otherwise turn right to leave the Coast Path before it crosses the stream.
Almost 300 million years ago, the collision of continental plates generated great heat and pressure, which melted the Earth's crust to form granite. The granite was forced upwards through the slate, with the separate masses of the rock merging to form Cornwall's granite backbone. The intense heat caused water to circulate through the cracks in the granite. This dissolved minerals from the surrounding rocks, and Cornwall's main tin, copper and tungsten deposits were formed. Further geological movements some 50 million years later resulted in the formation of lead, silver, iron and zinc.
The brightly coloured stains on the rocks at Chapel Porth are due to the minerals deposited in the rock. The folk in St Agnes have a different explanation, however, and every May the local legend of how St Agnes defeated the giant Bolster is re-enacted above Chapel Porth beach (see the St Agnes Head Walk).
Bolster fell in love with a local girl named Agnes, but this canny lass knew full well that the giant was an evil monster who was terrorising the neighbourhood. She demanded that he prove his love for her by cutting himself and filling a small hole at the edge of the cliff with his blood. Being a bit simple, Bolster readily agreed, not realising that the hole was, in fact, a sea cave. His blood drained out into the ocean until he was so weak that he fell over the edge of the cliff and was killed.
Chapel Porth beach is an excellent place for rockpooling. The picturesque red and green rocks are crusted with tiny barnacles amidst the blue-black colonies of mussels. The white pyramids of limpets are dotted among them, and the variously-coloured snailshells of a wide variety of whelks. In the dark corners where some seawater remains, red sea anemones shrink in on themselves, away from the heat of the sun.
- Heading upstream from Chapel Porth beach, without crossing the stream, follow the footpath up Chapel Combe. Carry on ahead through the trees, merging with the track joining from the left to come out on the road about a mile ahead.
In Chapel Coombe, the path along the valley is partly blocked by two banks of earth. During the Second World War, US troops were based in a camp near St Agnes Head, and these were the supports for a wooden bridge they used. Beside one of the banks, the circular area of raised bog by the bank is a buddle. This was a piece of equipment used to filter impurities from the valuable minerals after mined ore is crushed.
Ahead, Charlotte United engine house was part of a group of mines here which produced 23,000 tons of copper ore when they were active.
- On the road turn right. At the junction beyond bear right onto the main road, walking past the bridleway on the right to take the next turning on the right.
- Follow Towan Road downhill to the path above Porthtowan. At the bottom turn right and then left to return to the car park.
Porthtowan is named from the Cornish words 'porth', meaning cove, and 'towan', meaning dunes.