Walk - Trevelgue Head & Whipsiderry
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.
- From the bus stop above Whipsiderry Beach drop downhill to Chapel Porth Beach. Carrying on past the beach, turn left on Alexandra Road and follow it around the bend and uphill, to turn left on Lewarne Road. Take the second turning on the left (Century Court) and pick up the footpath signed to the left a short distance beyond. In the field bear right to the gate towards the far end of the right-hand boundary, and carry on along the footpath beside the playing fields. Keep going along Parkenbutts, past the church.
St Columb Minor Church is thought to be built on the site of an ancient barrow where pagan rites were possibly held.
There was an early Christian church here which was replaced several times over the centuries before a Norman church was built in 1100. This was itself replaced twice, once in the same century and again in 1417. The porch, with its stone benches, dates from the fifteenth century, but further restorations were carried out in 1795 and 1884 and the only other part of the current church remaining from the fifteenth century is the tower. Built of Cornish granite, this is the second highest church tower in Cornwall and holds eight bells.
According to Arthurian legend, St Columba the Virgin was visited in a dream by a white dove representing the Holy Spirit and as a result she refused to accompany her parents to the pagan temple. They had her whipped and imprisoned, but she escaped, only to be captured by a local king who tried to marry her to his son. Rejecting the plan, she escaped to the coast and fled on a ship, which brought her to Trevelgue Head. The vengeful king caught up with her here and had her beheaded. She was buried in St Columb Major.
- Turn left through the St Columb Minor Institute car park to pick up the lane running downhill to the stream. Crossing this on the footbridge pull steeply uphill on the far side, walking past the footpaths to Trevelgue on the left and Rialton on the right to come out on a road.
This lane is very old and known as the Goat Track or Donkey Track.
- Cross the road to carry on along the lane ahead, dropping downhill to Tregustick Farm.
- Bear left at the bottom of the lane to come out on the road. Turn right here and walk to the right-hand bend. Take the footpath signed through the gate to Trebelsue Farm and follow the drive uphill to go between the farm buildings, coming out opposite the old airfield.
The present farmhouse at Trebelsue is on the site of a medieval manor house, and a settlement was first recorded here in 1302, when it was spelt 'Tregalsue'. There was also a chapel nearby, with an associated cemetery, where archaeologists found about six slate-lined graves and a small coffin.
In 1933 a 40-acre site known as 'Trebelsue Big Field' was the venue for a national aviation display. Six years later, Weston-super-Mare-based Western Airways used the field to run a twice-daily flight linking Newquay with St Just to the south and Barnstaple and Swansea to the north. With the outbreak of war in 1939 RAF Trebelsue was developed as a satellite airfield for nearby RAF St Eval, and was the target for several enemy bombing raids during 1941. Short runways and frequent crossways limited the airfield's usefulness, and RAF St Mawgan was constructed nearby in 1943.
- Turn left on the road and walk to the main road, bearing left here to carry on in the same direction.
- Cross the road to take the footpath through the field by the layby, dropping to the South West Coast Path at Tinner's Point.
Here you are above Watergate Beach, a two-mile stretch of golden sand. Warm and cold Atlantic currents converge here, giving rise to a wide range of marine plants and animals. Herring gulls and fulmars nest above the high water mark, and clumps of tufty pink thrift abound on the cliffs. The rock pools are home to many molluscs and algae, as well as the astonishing shanny fish, which can survive out of the water for brief spells. Look out for bottle-nosed dolphins and harmless basking sharks out in the bay.
- Turn left on the Coast Path and follow it back to Whipsiderry.
The island near the steps on Whipsiderry Beach is Black Humphrey's Rock, which is riddled with old iron mine workings. A couple of adits emerge near the steps, and some of the boulders on the beach contain iron ore.
There are some impressive caves this side of Trevelgue Head. White marble was once quarried in the pillared Cathedral Cavern, which has a number of tunnels leading away from it, and it is still possible to see a shaft in the roof and drill holes in the walls. Another large cave is Banqueting Hall, also known as Concert Cavern, where candlelight concerts have sometimes been held.
There is also a spectacular blowhole, just opposite the island. Around the time of half-tide the air in one of the caves is so violently compressed that it forces a jet of water through a blowhole in the cave with a thunderous roar that sounds like an old steam train suddenly emerging from a tunnel. All along this part of the Cornish coast there are caves that have been dramatically sculpted by the sea's erosion, and you can hear the hollow boom of the sea washing through the caves in the ground below your feet, where the pounding of the waves has exploited a weakness in the rock. The air pressure caused by the inrush of water weakens the roof of the cave, and where it is close to the surface part of the roof falls in, producing a blowhole.
Trevelgue Head and Porth Island have been inhabited for many thousands of years, and it was one of the south west's chief settlements in prehistoric times, when trade routes crossed Cornwall overland from north to south to avoid the dangerous waters around Land's End.
Flint tools have been found here from as far back as Mesolithic (Middle Stone Age) times, more than 6000 years ago. Later settlers in Bronze Age days buried their dead in barrows here, and archaeologists have found traces of their hut circles, and a bronze foundry. Later there were iron workings, using ore from Black Humphrey's Rock. In the Iron Age, too, earthworks were constructed for a promontory fort to defend Porth beach, with seven or eight ramparts enclosing a space as large as 700m x 200m containing a settlement and a field system. This is thought to have been in use from the 3rd century BC right through Roman times to the fifth or sixth century AD.
Much later there was a huer's hut here, where a lookout was posted to let fishermen know when pilchard shoals arrived in the bay (see the Twin Headlands Walk).