Walk - Land's End and Nanjizal
Walk information provided with help from Natural England. Map reproduced by permission of Ordnance Survey on behalf of HMSO. © Crown copyright and database right 2022. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100022021.
- From the Land’s End car park head past the visitors centre and the toilets, taking the path on the left beyond to pick up the South West Coast Path. Turn left to follow the Coast Path southwards, past the animal centre and craft workshops.
You join the Coast Path at a headland known as 'Dr Johnson's Head'. In 1755 Dr Samuel Johnson wrote the first Cornish Declaration of Independence, reasserting the county's rights to self-government first created by King John. In 1201 the Plantagenet king had granted a charter to the tin miners of Cornwall and Devon, acknowledging their 'just and ancient customs and liberties'. This later led to the establishment of the Cornish Stannary Parliament.
The headland to the north is named after a cartoon schoolmaster published in Rudolph Ackerman’s 'Poetical Magazine' between 1809 and 1820. The adventures of Dr Syntax as he went in search of 'the Tour', 'Consolation' and 'A Wife' were written in verse by Dr William Combe and illustrated by the famous caricaturist Thomas Rowlandson.
Nineteenth-century artist Joseph Mallord William Turner stood at Dr Johnson's Head to sketch the landscape looking north. The sketch formed the basis for Turner's 1813 watercolour, 'Land’s End, Cornwall: Approaching Thunderstorm'. He made an engraving of the view a year later, which featured in a series called 'Picturesque Views on the Southern Coast of England'. Today the sketch is in the Tate Gallery.
The Coast Path passes above a number of tiny coves carved out at the base of the cliffs by the pounding of the Atlantic breakers. These are known as 'zawns', from a Cornish word meaning 'chasm'. The first zawn you come to is Greeb Zawn. Turner made another sketch here, using it as the base for his 1835 watercolour 'Longships Lighthouse, Land’s End'.
The Longships Lighthouse guards the busy shipping lanes around Lands End (see the Lost Land of Lyonesse Walk). The tower is 35 metres above the sea at high water and stands on Carn Bras, the largest of the Longships Rocks. The tower that Turner sketched, built in 1795, was only 24 metres high and was so often underwater in stormy weather that in 1875 it was replaced by the present granite lighthouse.
The relentless battering of the waves has carved this rocky coastline into spectacular formations. The cliffs have been splintered into vertical pillars and buttresses, topped by granite blocks. Chunks have been separated off from the mainland, where the waves have driven their way through cracks in the cliffs. Some of these have themselves been demolished by the tremendous power of the sea's surges, leaving solitary stacks isolated from the rocks around them. Check out the rock arch at Enys Dodnan, just south of the islet known as the Armed Knight. This is King Arthur country, and for sure there will have been local legends about the role the islet might have played in Arthur's last battle, which is reputed to have been fought around Land's End.
At Pordenack Point, just beyond Enys Dodnan, archaeologists have identified a number of Bronze Age tumuli, or burial mounds. West Penwith was densely populated in prehistoric times, and on the high heathland the bracken cloaks many monuments raised by people who lived here more than 4000 years ago.
Beneath Pordenack Point, the next zawn is known as Lion's Den. A cave somewhere in the high cliffs probably inspired the name. In the nineteenth century the locals were devoutly religious and they would have been very familiar with the bible story, which saw Daniel banished to a cave full of lions for his faith.
The granite around Land's End was formed some 275 million years ago, when the movement of continental plates caused enormous pressure beneath the Earth's crust. This forced molten rock upward through the older rocks that were already in place. If you look closely at the boulders scattered around the path, you will see that they contain very large white feldspar crystals. This is a sign that the magma (molten rock) cooled down very slowly after it was intruded.
Turning briefly to the left and then the right above Zawn Reeth cove, the Coast Path descends towards the beach at Nanjizal, one of Cornwall's hidden gems. Our path heads inland before you start to descend; but the detour to the beach is well worth the climb back up to here afterwards.
Nanjizal Beach still shows the remnants of the watermill which gave Mill Bay its name. The stream that once turned the wheel flows onto the beach in front of a stunning rock arch dubbed "Song of the Sea" (though the locals always called it Zawn Pyg). Catch it late in the afternoon for a breathtaking view as the sun shines through the arch. On the northern side of the beach, another rock formation – known as the “Diamond Horse” – has quartz veins that sparkle in the sun.
- Turn left onto the path heading inland before you reach the beach at Nanjizal.
- After about a quarter of a mile (0.4km), you come to a T-junction with another path. Turn left, heading away from the valley, and follow the footpath straight across the field to the far corner. Continue along the right-hand hedge of the next field, to carry on ahead through the third. Turn right at the far side of this field to follow the hedge to the top left-hand corner. From here a path leads around the right-hand side of the first buildings at Trevilley.
- After the track in Trevilley curves sharply to the right, go through the farmyard on your left and into the left-hand field, to follow the path alongside the hedge, carrying straight on ahead in the next field to pass between the houses to the road at Trevescan.
Halfway through the first field is a medieval wayside cross, known as the 'Trevilley Cross'. Like other crosses nearby (see the Sennen, Nanjizal & Bosistow Walk), there is a Latin cross on one side and a crucifixion on the other. A short detour ahead along the road at 5, turning right on the main road beyond it, would take you to another wayside cross. The Trevescan Cross, at the side of the road, has a Latin cross on each face.
- Turn left on the road through Trevescan, turning left again on the A30 to walk back to the car park at Land's End. There is a pavement for much of the way, but take extra care when there is not. On the last stretch, the bridleway/cycle path on the opposite side of the road (the Cornish Way) is signed to Sennen Cove but a left fork from it heads back to the Visitor Centre.