Walk - Porthcothan to Mawgan 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.
- Coming out of the car park in Porthcothan, head down the road towards the coast, turning right at the bottom of the road to take the path almost opposite to the beach. Pick up the South West Coast Path on your left and follow it up onto the cliffs. Ignoring small paths heading off to the left, carry on around the small headland above the beach to descend to the stream in Porth Mear ('Great Cove').
There are some fine caves on the beach at Porthcothan, stained many colours by the minerals they contain. Until January 2014 there was also a doughnut-shaped rock arch at the western end, but after 70-mph winds drove 30-foot waves into the cove in a winter storm the arch collapsed, leaving a new stack on the edge of the beach.
- At Porth Mear cross the stream, climbing out of the valley to cross the high ground beyond it to Park Head.
In the Iron Age, around 2000 years ago, the tip of Park Head was a promontory fort, or cliff castle. Earthwork ramparts and ditches were constructed across the neck of the headland, while the sheer cliffs made it easy to defend the fort on the seaward sides.
Note the herringbone arrangement of slates in the tumbledown walls, characteristic of North Cornwall and known as 'Jack and Jane' or 'curzeyway' hedging.
- Turn left across the back of Park Head and follow the Coast Path around the edge of fields, past Pentire Steps and Diggory's Island.
There was another Iron Age fort at Redcliff Castle, above Bedruthan beach, although nothing remains to be seen of it today. The 'red cliff' of its name, like nearby Red Cove, was stained red by the haematite that was mined here in the nineteenth century. The National Trust car park is on the site of the former Carnewas Mine, which extracted 940 tons of haematite between 1871 and 1874. The shop was the mine's count house, and the tea room was another mine building.
- Follow the Coast Path above the spectacular stacks and islands at Bedruthan Steps, passing the island at Pendarves Point to come to Whitestone Cove.
Although Bedruthan Steps is particularly famous for the spectacular islands, stacks and rock arches dominating the sandy beach, it is a geology SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) for the fossils in its rock strata. These date from the Eifelian Age, almost 400 million years ago, and the most noteworthy is Pteroconus mirus, a large planktonic creature thought to have had bladders to help it float. Other fossils found here were of a primitive jawless fish, known as a pteraspis, as well as some bivalves, some underwater scavengers rather like trilobites and a kind of sea lily known as a crinoid.
It is also a SSSI for its plant population. One unusual species that grows freely on this part of the coastline is the tree mallow, a tall coarse-stemmed plant with delicately-veined pinky-purple flowers shaped rather like hollyhock flowers. Another is golden samphire, with flowers like dandelions sprouting from clusters of leaves that resemble dwarf beans. These rubbery leaves are edible, and they are often either boiled and served with butter like asparagus, or served raw with salad.
At Carnewas Point, at the end of Whitestone beach, the island is still attached to the mainland by a narrow causeway of rock, visible at low tide. At the time that the mine was operating, there was a natural rock arch joining them, although this, too, has been washed away by the sea.
- Ignore the paths heading inland to Carnewas, and carry on above Trerathick Point.
To your left along here is a round barrow from the Bronze Age, up to 4000 years ago. Trerathick was also the site of a VHF Fixer Station, one of a network of 57 stations established around England by the RAF. Built by 1951, it was part of the Rotor programme modernising the UK's radar defences. It provided directional finding equipment, which enabled the crews of fighter aircraft to receive positional data by transmitting a signal. By 1969, the station had been dismantled and the site given over to agricultural use.
- Carry on around Trenance Point, where the path pulls out around the cliffs before heading momentarily uphill and then descending gently towards the beach at Mawgan Porth.
- Follow the Coast Path downhill into Mawgan Porth, crossing the beach to come out on the road beside the bridge. Turn left for the bus stop.
On the hillside above as you approach the beach at Mawgan Porth are the remains of a Saxon settlement, dating from around AD 850-1050. When the site was excavated in the middle of the last century, archaeologists uncovered three courtyard house complexes, two of which are still visible. The walls were built of soft slate and earth but faced with stone, and each building had a courtyard otherwise enclosed by several small rooms and one longer one. The longer room provided living accommodation in one half, with a hearth and wall cupboards, with a partition separating the residents from their livestock in the other half.
In Porthcothan and Mawgan Porth