Walk - St Anthony 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 2022. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100022021.
- From the National Trust car park at Porth turn left and take the footpath on your right a few yards beyond, leading to Towan Beach. Turn right on the South West Coast Path above the beach and follow it around the headlands at Killigerran and then Porthmellin. From here it travels above the cliffs at the inaccessible Porthbear Beach and on around Zone Point. A number of paths snake over Drake's Downs, as you approach Zone Point, and a track leads up to the military road. Ignore these and stay on the Coast Path, following it around the viewpoint at St Anthony Head.
Look out for seals and their pups between Zone Point and St Anthony Head. Porpoises are often seen here. Various species of dolphins, including common and bottlenose dolphins, as well as rarer species such as Atlantic white-sided, striped, white-beaked and Risso's dolphins, have been sighted as well.
An estuary is also a good place for spotting birds. Look out for two species of diving duck, the Goldeneye and the Red-breasted Merganser. Great Northern and Red-Throated Divers are regular visitors and several different species of Grebe. Colonies of Fulmars nest on the cliffs at St Anthony Head, and can be seen from the bird hide as they glide stiff-winged above. Look out for parties of gannets feeding offshore, and rows of shags and cormorants congregating on the rocks near the lighthouse.
There is a rich world of wildlife underwater too. Beds of Britain's only marine flowering plant - eelgrass – are home to cuttlefish and seahorses, while the red algae of the maerl reefs shelters numerous different plants and animals, including sea anemones and sea slugs.
Europe's last commercial fleet working purely under sail also operates in the estuary, after laws were passed in 1868 prohibiting oyster-dredging by any mechanically-propelled craft. The Port of Truro Oyster Fishery's gaff cutters are designed to operate in shallow water, and their traditional method of harvesting the bivalve molluscs has been in use for 500 years.
- A detour to the left here will take you to the lighthouse, while the path uphill to your right a moment later will take you to the Second World War battery and camp, now restored and managed by the National Trust. Retrace your steps to the Coast Path if you take either detour and carry on around the headland past Carricknath Point, walking above St Mawes Harbour and on to Amsterdam Point.
The detour to the lighthouse leads to the lighthouse which was built in 1835 to guide vessels clear of the Manacles rocks, south of the Falmouth harbour entrance. Even in the seventeenth century, rudimentary navigational aids were employed. The Killigrew family flew a large red flag from an elm tree denoting wind direction. However, this was eventually taken down in 1779 to avoid it being used by invading fleets. Up to 1954, the lighthouse possessed a huge bell, as a fog signal, which hung outside the tower. It was replaced by a modern fog horn positioned 10.7 metres above high water level on a platform. In the same year, the lighthouse was connected to mains electricity. The tower itself is 19 metres high, 22 metres above the sea at high water. Its white and red lights occur every 15 seconds, the white can be seen for 16 nautical miles and the red for 14 miles. The fog signal gives a 3-second blast every 30 seconds.
If you took the detour to the lighthouse head back on the path uphill to the Second World War battery and camp.
There was a signal station at St Anthony Head 2000 years ago, in the Iron Age, described by archaeologists as a rectangular earthwork some 40 metres square. Throughout history, the estuary has been of enormous strategic importance with continuous fortifications on the site. The first recorded artillery here was in 1805 when there was a battery of 24-pounder guns near the lighthouse. At the end of the nineteenth century, new defences were built on the site where the wartime complex is situated now, and it was manned by the Stannary Regiment. The enormous ramparts to the south and west of the fort were built in 1885, and the iron fence above them was designed to be unclimbable.
At the turn of the twentieth century, a completely new battery was constructed, manned this time by the 105 Company Royal Garrison Artillery, based in Falmouth, although the Territorial Army took over in the First World War. After the war, the guns were removed from the battery and sent away to be preserved elsewhere. Regular sorties by maintenance parties from Pendennis Castle kept the battery in a serviceable condition.
At the start of the Second World War, the guns were placed in position again, with the Territorial Army once more responsible for the defence of Carrick Roads. When the gunners were stood down, at the end of the war, the battery was kept on standby until 1956. It was then closed, as coast artillery was declared obsolete, following advances in technology.
Three years later the National Trust acquired the site, demolishing the Nissen huts to make way for a car park. The Trust also converted the guard room into accommodation for the site warden, also transforming the officers' quarters and other workshops into holiday cottages. The gun emplacements were preserved as they were, with wheelchair access and a toposcope. The Battery Observation Post (BOP) was restored in 1997, with a modern reconstruction of the panorama painted on the walls in wartime to help the Gunners identify target positions.
St Mawes Castle is one of the best-preserved of the coastal fortresses built by Henry VIII in the middle of the sixteenth century to defend Southern England from a possible attack from the French and Spanish. It was partnered with Pendennis Castle, built on the other side of the estuary at the same time, and it was designed to mount heavy guns capable of sinking ships. It was taken by Parliamentarian ground troops during the English Civil War, in the seventeenth century. After that, it was neglected until the nineteenth century, when it was partially re-armed. The castle is open to the public from March to October, and a ferry runs regularly between St Mawes and Place, a little way ahead on the walk.
- Follow the Coast Path over the top of the headland at Amsterdam Point and descend to Cellars Beach. Carry on through the woodland to St Anthony Church and Place House.
Despite having been extensively restored in the nineteenth century, St Anthony's Church has kept its original medieval cruciform plan. It was built in 1150 when most of the district belonged to the Augustinian Priory at Plympton. The Norman doorway is thought to have been brought here from the priory. It is particularly noted for the tin carvings at the top of the walls, painted to look like wood.
Place House stands on the site of the original priory and is actually joined to the church, screening it from the creek. The Spry family built it in 1851 in the style of a French chateau, reusing beams and doorways from the Elizabethan house that stood here before it.
The cottages at the mouth of Place Creek were once pilchard cellars, where fish was processed after it was caught, before being exported across the Channel.
- From St Anthony Church continue along the footpath to the road. Turn left here, and just before reaching the stone quay, turn right to follow the shoreline above the Percuil River and into the woods, carrying on along the footpath ahead when the South West Coast Path stops at the ferry. Stay on the path as it rounds North Hill Point and turns east along Porth Creek
- Follow the path around to the right as it reaches the causeway at Froe, and head southwards through the trees and back to the car park at Porth.
In St Anthony Head