Category Archives: Holy wells

Sennen Cove to Porthcurno

The Longships

We first walked this route in the dying days of the last millennium, and in the opposite direction. A bright sunny day in late September was too much of temptation and so we set off to do it again, the other way around.

We will admit to any amount of bias but this surely the ‘best’ bit of the whole Cornish coast. The cliffs are rugged granite; the views are spectacular; and there is a real sense of progress as one starts by walking westward,  heads south and then ends up walking eastwards. The cliff and rock formations are therefore seen in different lights. On this day, the sea was flat calm and an astonishing array of different colours ranging from deep blue to a watery green.

Central to the view are the Longships rocks and lighthouse but utterly forgettable is the mess of buildings around the Land’s End hotel. The Wolf Rock lighthouse was also visible on the horizon but the haze prevented us seeing Scilly.

Striding towards Land’s End with Cape Cornwall in the distance

But enough of the summary, let’s start walking.

We parked at the top of Sennen Cove, admiring the wide sweep of Whitesand bay around to the lovely Cape Cornwall.

It is not hard to understand why Cape Cornwall was an ancient harbour. A Bronze Age coasting boat making its way northwards from Mount’s Bay  would have few options for landing along the south coast of Penwith but, rounding Land’s End, would be presented by the great sweep of soft sand and the promontory of Cape Cornwall to guide them: two options for a safe landing. Both would be protected from the prevailing south-westerlies.

The going was easy with numerous wide tracks, many of them paved with rough stones to reduce the wear and tear. ‘It is strange, there are no signs. I think this is the way,‘ said one passing traveller, heading towards Sennen Cove which was visible at the foot of the cliff directly below her.

The Land’s End muddle

The white bulk of the theme park is not attractive from any direction. Once there was simply a hotel but now there is a mess of buildings to extract money from wallets. Thankfully, the coastal path has right of way and we could walk past the First and Last house and the hotel without paying any dues, our eyes fixed firmly on the Longships.

It took Cornwall Council 50 minutes of debate recently to decide whether it was Land’s End or Lands End. Finally, they consulted Craig Weatherhill because, through some curious logic, they said ‘he is an expert in the Cornish language’.  Thankfully, he declared it to be ‘Land’s End’ and honour was satisfied.  Not wishing to deprive him of the credit and fame, they could simply have looked at the cover of the OS map.

The Armed Knight

We paused to admire the Armed Knight. He is surely positioned here to defend Cornwall against all comers from the west. Behind him, and on many promontories to the east, lay the dragons of Cornwall, their noses half under water, watching the northern and southern coasts. The Rumps and Cudden being perhaps the best examples.

Enys Dodman

We stopped again overlooking Enys Dodman to sip some coffee. By now the crowds of over-formally coach party tourists had thinned out. The usual inverse square law applied: the proportion of tourists at any point is inversely proportional to the square of the distance from the car park.

Nanjizal or Mill Bay

As we approached Carn Boel the selection of paths finally collapsed into the familiar 30-40cm wide coastal path with which we are so familiar. The bracken and gorse closed about our legs This was clearly beyond the area of heavy tourist use.

What a view they missed. Below us was the great sweep of Nanjizal or Mill bay, the gentle surf sparkling at the edge of the green water. Above the bay a single white house perched precariously, staring westwards to Lyonesse. Alongside us were some Iron Age fields, each with a stone cluster in their middle, no doubt placed there as rubbing posts for cattle.

Carn Les Boel headland. Note the single gate stone just visible on the headland

The southern headland of Nanjizal bay is Carn Les Boel, a small Iron Age cliff castle with a prominent gate stone protecting the neck of land.

This is famous as being the starting, or is it finishing, point of the Great Ley line. This, with its accompanying and wandering Michael and Mary lines, stretches from here, through places like St Michael’s Mount, Glastonbury, Avebury … onwards to the Norfolk coast at Hopton. A positive micro-industry has grown up around this but we cannot say that we felt any unusual energies as we passed across the line.

Lego boulders

The cliffs around here had a wonderful ruggedness. Seemingly constructed of large semi-rectangular boulders, they seemed placed there by giants playing with their Lego sets.

Below, sliced into the cliffs, were great caves and zawns: chasms open to the sea often with a skirt of boiling white foam. Sadly, neither ‘zawn’ nor ‘fogou’ is permitted by Scrabble,  no doubt regarded as being Cornish words despite being in common usage on OS maps.

Porth Chapel (not to be confused with Chapel Porth on the north coast)

The coastguard lookout on Gwennap Head beckoned us onwards. We passed it and the Runnelstone landmarks, the buoy itself moaning softly like a herd of cows in need of milking, and descended to the tiny cove of Porthgwarra  where we once again met visitors. It is still recovering from its recent inclusion in the Poldark series. Here we stopped for lunch.

A step further on and we were passing above Porth Chapel, where one of us mis-spent his youth, surfing and swimming. At the head of the beach stands the small overgrown chapel and holy well of St Levan, matching the well and chapel of St Agnes at its sister cove of Chapel Porth on the north coast.

Treryn Dinas, Pedn-vounder and the Minack rock

One headland and there before us was one of the most famous views in Cornwall: Treryn Dinas with its Logan rock. In front of us was the Minack rock. The sounds of Chicago the musical could just be heard on the breeze, emanating from the matinee performance at the theatre. This area is as familiar to us as the view from Cudden head or the sweep of Kenneggy bay.

As we passed Porth Chapel, we had met a couple heading slowly westwards who enquired the distance to Land’s End. ‘We are completing the coast path and thought we would go for the big finale: a sunset at Land’s End.’ What a wonderful way to end their walk. It looked very likely they would have a spectacular finale indeed. Where better?

We had covered the 5.8 miles in about 3.5 hours, our speed constantly slowed by the need to take photographs or simply breathe-in the views.

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Minions to St Neot

Cornwall Council does have a sense of humour after all!

A bright sunny day after a few days of heavy rain tempted us out to start the Copper Trail which had been on our agenda for some time. We decided to start at the beginning at Minions where we discovered that Cornwall Council does have a sense of humour after all.

On the roadside opposite the road sign stood the tall Long Tom wheel-headed wayside cross which may well be an original menhir.

This section of the trail was full of interest and variety, ranging from ancient monuments churches and holy wells, to C19 mining natural delights. 

The Hurlers

The real start of our walk was at the Hurlers and Pipers. The Hurlers consists of three Bronze Age stone circles close to each other: a rare formation but no help in understanding how and why stone circles were used.

The trail proper starts by following a disused railway/tramway south from Minions. Lumps of granite are marked with holes where the rails were originally connected. A short distance ahead, the track descends the former Gonamena incline, emerging eventually at Crow’s Nest. To the east, the remains of the South Caradon mine bespatter the side of Caradon Hill with its enormous television transmitter.

Trevethy Quoit

Our next monument was Scillonian portal tomb of Trevethy Quoit, possibly Cornwall’s oldest structure: an enormous neolithic dolmen. Sadly a row of houses rather encroaches on its setting but on a fine day, there can be few better sights.

The purpose of the hole in the capstone is unknown.

In the distance, the tower of St Cleer was visible above the trees and we took an overgrown bridleway which would never have accommodated a horse, down the hill to Trecarne (where the houses all seemed to have ‘Carne’ in their names). Here, we left the trail to take a detour to visit St Cleer with its holy well and church.

St Cleer holy well

The holy well, dedicated to St Clare of the order of Poor Clare’s – St Francis’ friend – is an elaborate structure which successive restorations has rather hemmed in with an inelegant wall. Its waters, we are reliably informed, will cure insanity but they are sadly inaccessible, which may explain a lot.

Alongside stands a C15 Latin cross.

We rejoined the main trail near South Trekeive. It would have been a short step to the C8 King Doniert’s Stone – or stones – with its inscription and lovely Celtic knotwork but we had already visited them on the way to Minions.

At South Trekeive we passed our third water treatment works of the day – always a delight – before crossing Bulland Downs and emerging at Draynes Bridge.

Golitha falls on the River Fowey

A short detour through some lovely woodland – a nature reserve – is highly recommended to view Golitha Falls. Here we found various people wandering around asking ‘are these the falls?‘ in the manner of someone expecting Victoria Falls on a charming Cornish river.

We can recommend the reserve for dog walking, adventures and picnics.

Back to the road and a steep climb up to the hamlet of Draynes  before an equally steep decline to the converted Methodist chapel at Lower Trenant. From here, the track took us into the lovely Periock Wood, following a stream up a muddy path towards Lower Bowden. Here the farmer had helpfully cut a track across an unharvested hay field to indicate the ‘right route’.

St Neot holy well

We emerged close to the almost invisible Berry Castle and cut across some open moorland before descending towards St Neot, hidden in the valley below. A quick detour to the hopelessly Victorian holy well brought us eventually to St Neot’s wonderful church with its incredible windows.

Here we ended the first stage of the Copper Trail. Our gps said we had walked over 12 miles in about 4.75 hours although Google Maps stubbornly suggests nearer 9 miles.

If the later sections of the trail are as full of interest as this section then we are in for a treat.