Walk - Prussia Cove

2.6 miles (4.2 km)

Prussia Cove car park - TR20 9BA Prussia Cove car park

Easy - Stony paths with some optional rocky scrambling, and inland footpaths and lanes. There is no substantial ascent or descent.

An easy stroll around a smugglers' paradise of tiny coves hidden from the customs officers by handy headlands. There are steps cut into the rocks, and ruts worn up the hillside by the donkey carts carrying goods ashore. Abandoned fishermen's huts still stand on the cliff-tops, below the house whose cellar is said to have had a secret passage to the beach. A couple of centuries after the notorious 'King of Prussia' stored his contraband in the caves on the shoreline, Dame Judy Dench was here, filming 'Ladies in Lavender'.

Interactive Elevation

Route Description

  1. From the car park at Prussia Cove take the track to the right of the entrance, following the footpath downhill to the South West Coast Path.

The listed building of Porth-en-Alls House was built in the Romantic Arts and Crafts style to a design by Philip Tilden in 1911, but it was never fully completed owing to the outbreak of war in 1914. The main entrance is via the top floor, past the bedrooms, descending to the living rooms on the middle floor, with further rooms below.

The annual International Musicians Seminar (IMS) Prussia Cove is held at Porth-en-Alls. The series of masterclasses was founded in 1972 by the Hungarian violinist Sándor Végh, with Hilary Tunstall-Behrens. Former students and participants of the seminars include many of the world's leading soloists and orchestral players.

Originally named Porth Legh ('Slab Cove'), Prussia Cove was later named after its infamous smuggler, eighteenth-century John Carter, who called himself the King of Prussia.

With his two brothers, Harry and Charles, John Carter ran a highly-efficient contraband business. Cornwall's strong links with Brittany resulted in a lively exchange of goods between the two areas when the British government imposed punitive taxes on goods such as wine, spirits and tobacco, and the Carter family was ideally placed to take advantage of the illicit trade. The numerous tiny coves hiding in the shelter of the rocky headlands provided sandy beaches for safe landings and caves for the storage of the contraband. The Carter brothers possessed two fine vessels, as well as an intimate knowledge of the shoreline on both sides of the Channel, and their house on the clifftop was well-equipped with sizeable cellars, lofts, and salt houses to store their wares.

Despite the illegal nature of their trade, the Carters were considered fine upstanding pillars of the community. Both John and Harry were devout Methodists, and Harry is said to have preached to smugglers when he was exiled in Brittany. Swearing was forbidden on both ships; and John had a reputation for fair play that landed him in trouble on one occasion after customs men had seized a cargo of contraband. Breaking into Penzance Customs House to reclaim his goods, John was careful only to take the property he considered to be his. 'John Carter was here,' said one of the customs men. 'We know it, because he has taken nothing away that was not his own.'

In 1803 the Carters' house was auctioned and a copper mine opened on the cliffs. Down in the cove, coal for the mine was landed instead of wares smuggled across the Channel. The rusting winch and sheds still in place at Prussia Cove were used by the fishing fleet after the smugglers had gone.

  1. On the Coast Path turn right to follow it above the tiny beach at Bessy’s Cove. Carrying on around the small point beyond it you come to another sheltered inlet at Piskies Cove. Ignore the path uphill through heathland at Little Cudden and continue along the Coast Path above to the rocky headland at Cudden Point.

Cudden Point is another of the Coast Path's rugged headlands with a rocky spine. The small building above the headland was a lookout built by the Government in the First World War for coastal observation. The wooden pole with holes and chains is one of the moorings for HMS Warspite, a Queen Elizabeth class battleship constructed in Devonport docks in 1912. After many campaigns, including the Battle of Jutland and extensive service during the Second World War, she was finally sold for scrap in 1947. En route to the breakers she broke away from the tug and ran aground in Prussia Cove. When she was refloated she was towed into Mounts Bay to be broken up for scrap.

  1. Again ignoring the path uphill, carry on along the Coast Path for about a mile, walking above tiny coves at Arch Zawn and Porth Sampson, to a third rocky cove at Stackhouse. From here the path drops to the stream at Long Zawn, climbing the other side of the valley to round the small hill, coming out above the much larger cove at Trevean. From here the village of Perranuthnoe is visible on the next headland, with St Michael's Mount in the bay beyond it.

The warm waters of the west Cornwall coastline make it a particularly good place for seaweed, and Stackhouse Cove contains the widest range of seaweed species ever recorded in Britain. Eighteenth-century marine biologist John Stackhouse built Acton Castle above the cove for his wife Susannah, a wealthy Shropshire lass who suffered from poor health. He believed that the sea air would be good for her health. He had a bath cut into the rocks in the cove for her to bathe, in the belief that the seaweed itself also had special health-giving properties.

  1. At Trevean Cove take the path to the right, heading uphill along the lane to Trevean Farm.
  2. Staying to the left of the buildings at Trevean Farm, turn right beyond them to walk to the junction beyond. Turn right in front of Acton House, onto Trevean Lane, and walk to the gap in the hedge on the left-hand side, a short distance down the lane. Going through into the field, follow the path beside the right-hand hedge in this field and the next. Reaching the far hedge in this second field, just before the buildings at Acton Castle Hotel, turn left along this hedge to go into the field to the east. Cross the field to the road.
  3. On the road turn right to walk back to the Prussia Cove car park.

Public transport

Regular buses travel from Penzance to Perranuthnoe and Rosudgeon. For timetable information, zoom in on the interactive map and click on the bus stops, visit Traveline or phone 0871 200 22 33.

Parking

In Prussia Cove, at the start of the walk; but arrive early, because space is limited.

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