Walk - Porthgwarra and Gwenapp Head

Walk information provided with help from Natural England. Map reproduced by permission of Ordnance Survey on behalf of HMSO. © Crown copyright and database right 2021. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100022021.

Route Description

  1. Leaving the car park near to Porthgwarra Cove, turn right back onto the road (no vehicles past this point, please), and follow it as it steadily climbs up the side of the valley. After passing through a gate, the track climbs more steeply through an area of open heathland to the lookout station on the headland.
  2. For a short walk, turn left at the lookout and follow the Coast Path back to the cove. Alternatively, turn right and it is about a 1½ hour walk each way to Land’s End.

The heath between here and Land’s End is crossed by a myriad of small paths, and as it is almost all ‘Open Access’ land you are free to take your pick, and so long as the sea is on your left hand side you shouldn’t get lost. One word of caution though, the cliffs are unfenced and some are crumbling and so you are advised not to get too close to the edge, and keep a close eye on children and dogs who may not be aware of the danger.

This is a very spectacular section of coast and there is plenty to see. The heathland and valley at Porthgwarra is a very popular spot for birdwatching, and in summer skylarks, stonechats, linnets and wheatears are commonly seen, and often rare migrants turn up. The headland is a great spot for seeing cetaceans with dolphins often passing, and basking sharks are frequent summer visitors. As you approach the headland, and the seas are rough you may hear an eerie moaning sound coming from off-shore.

This noise is created as a warning to shipping by water rising and falling through a tube in the buoy that marks the hazardous offshore reefs known as the Runnel Stone, on which many ships have been wrecked. Additional warnings are given by a bell and flashing light on the buoy, and the 2 cone shaped navigation markers (Day marks) on the headland. If the view from a boat of the inland (black and white) marker is completely obscured by the more seaward (red) marker, then the boat would be bang on top of the Runnel Stone, and so obviously skippers aim to keep them well apart.

The buildings on the headland were originally a Coastguard lookout, but cut-backs in the service led to their closure in 1994. In 1996, the charity, The National Coastwatch Institute took over the building and their dedicated band of volunteers continue the vital work of watching out for seafarers, climbers and walkers. A room beneath the station is open to the public and has displays on shipping, wildlife and the history of the area.

The treacherous nature of the waters around here is illustrated by the number of lighthouses that can be seen. 7½ miles off-shore in a south westerly direction is the Wolf Rock, mounted on an isolated outcrop of rock. Off Land’s End is the Longships Lighthouse, and roughly due west, and midway to the Isles of Scilly is the Seven Stones lightship, marking the Seven Stones Reef, which is infamous for causing the wreck of the oil tanker Torrey Canyon in 1967.

Porthgwarra was once a busy fishing cove, but now only one boat regularly fishes from here. There are two ways onto the beach – either down the very steep slipway, or if you continue along the road and take the next track on the right it leads to a tunnel cut through the rock to the beach. Whether the tunnel was cut by miners to enable farmers with their horse and carts to collect seaweed from the beach to use as a fertiliser on their fields or by smugglers, is something I’ll let you decide. Either way it’s a magical spot, and the shop at the top of the beach sells great pasties.

Nearby refreshments

Shop and cafe in Porthgwarra.

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