Walk - Pendeen Watch & Portheras Cove

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.

Route Description

  1. Coming out of the car park at Pendeen Watch Lighthouse, turn left onto the South West Coast Path and follow it along above Pendeen Cliff and then Portheras Cliff, descending towards Portheras Cove.

Pendeen Watch lighthouse is the last shore station on West Cornwall's north coast before Land’s End. It was built at the turn of the nineteenth century, and the rocky outcrop it stands on had to be extensively reduced to make space for the squat white tower, as well as the keepers' cottages and the foghorn. The engine house is a listed building, and it is the only lighthouse in the country to have kept its 12-inch siren and all the machinery associated with it. It is sometimes open to the public, and there are visitor tours of the machinery as well as the tower. The lighthouse tower is 17 metres high, 59 metres above the sea at high water. Its white light flashes 4 times every 15 seconds and can be seen for 16 nautical miles. Its fog signal sounds once every 20 seconds.

  1. The footpath to your right on Pendeen Cliff leads past Pendeen House. Detour right for a glimpse of the house; otherwise carry on along the Coast Path.

Although it is not open to the public, Pendeen House is an interesting building with a fascinating history. It was built in 1589, and although parts of it were remodelled in 1670, much of what stands today is from the original manor house. It has an arched buttress with an ornamental parapet, and elaborately scrolled gables. It is considered to be a particularly fine example of Cornish architecture with unusual crenellated chimney stacks.

From 1623 the house belonged to the Borlase family. Eighteenth-century William Borlase was a noted antiquarian, whose works included 'The Natural History of Cornwall', published in 1754, and 'The Antiquities of Cornwall', published 15 years later. Borlase was Rector of Ludgvan, an area rich in minerals and metallic fossils, and his fascination with these led to a lifelong study of the geology, wildlife and archaeology of West Penwith. His great-great-grandson, William Copeland Borlase, visited many of the same ancient sites a century later and was a noted archaeologist in his own right.

The early interest of both Borlase archaeologists was probably inspired by Pendeen House itself. In the grounds there is the Pendeen vau, or fogou. A fogou is an ancient underground chamber, named from the Cornish word meaning 'cave'. The Pendeen fogou dates from the Iron Age or the Romano–British period that followed it (800 BC – AD 409), and the first William Borlase excavated it in 1769. According to local legend, a passageway connected the fogou to the cliffs and was said to be haunted by a dreadful hobgoblin. It was used by smugglers to hide their contraband, and no doubt the hobgoblin's reputation was designed to keep their goods from falling into the wrong hands!

  1. Reaching Portheras Cove, a detour left along the small steep path before the stream will take you to the beach. Otherwise leave the Coast Path to head inland on the path to the right before the stream. Carry on uphill when a path joins from the left, and take the path on the right at the end of the valley, heading uphill to Portheras Farm.

Flanked by sheer cliffs at the mouth of the shallow valley below Pendeen, the white sandy beach at Portheras Cove is owned by the Duchy of Cornwall. For many years, parts of the beach were out of bounds to the public because of dangerous fragments of a British cargo ship wrecked here in 1963. Built in 1940, the MV Alacrity was carrying a cargo of anthracite when it ran aground on the rocks and broke up. The beach was cleaned up in 2004.

  1. Follow the lane to the left through the farm, ignoring the footpath on the left beyond but taking the one on the right immediately after it, following the left-hand hedge of this field and then going through the far left-hand corner to cross the corner of the next field. Turn right along the right-hand hedge, passing to the left (south east) of Calartha Farm and forking right on the drive to walk to the road beyond.
  2. Cross the road to take the road opposite towards Lower Boscaswell.
  3. Turn right on the footpath before reaching the first houses and follow the track in the general direction of the mine chimney below.
  4. Before you reach the chimney, the path meets another at a T-junction. Turn left here and follow the footpath straight ahead and into the village.

There is another, smaller, fogou at Lower Boscaswell, dating from the same Iron Age period. Roman coins and pottery were found here. The thick drystone wall containing the fogou forms the west side of an oval enclosure, which is thought to be part of a courtyard house. There are also the remains of an oval courtyard.

At Trewellard there are two stone circles, with a medieval holy well nearby, believed to be associated with a chapel, although no trace remains of this. It was a very useful well for some centuries afterwards, serving as a rudimentary laundry for the locals, who brought their washing and a boiler here. It also provided a valuable supply of horse leeches, which were used medicinally for humans as well as their cattle.

  1. In the village turn right on the road, walking about 150 metres before bearing right to take the lane on the right. At the end of the lane follow the path along the right-hand hedge, continuing straight ahead across the next two fields and onto the open ground beyond. Turn right here to follow the path along the right-hand boundary, crossing the stream and rejoining the Coast Path above Pendeen Old Cliff.
  2. On the Coast Path turn right, turning left a moment later to follow the road back to the lighthouse.

Nearby refreshments

In Pendeen

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