Discover challenging and dramatic walking trails shaped by the footsteps of traders, smugglers, saints and pirates. Cornish walking trails will reveal ancient tin mines, clifftop castles, timeless fishing villages and wild moors as you travel through a landscape of huge cliffs and hidden coves that goes back to the depths of time itself. In between the coastal drama, iconic harbours such as St Ives and Padstow give walkers access to some of the UK‘s best restaurants and coastal hotels. A county encircled by the wild Atlantic ocean, there is over 330 miles of spectacular world class coast path here taking you around the farthest corners of England - put simply it feels like walking on the edge of the world.
Stretching from coast to coast across the southwest of England, Devon is a richly diverse county with rugged shores and cliffs in the north, and classic Victorian seaside resorts in the south. In between you'll find tranquil green pastures, wooded gorges and the two dramatic wild moors in the National Parks of Dartmoor and Exmoor. Choose Devon for its walking variety, and you'll find that the popular image of cream teas and thatched cottages is true - but that Devon is so much more once you explore it on two feet. Coast to coast routes like the Two Moors Way will offer a journey through it all from the wild northern shores that inspired the Romantic poets to the maritime ports of the south coast.
Free your soul and clear your mind! Walking on the wild moors of these National Parks is a wonderful antidote to modern living. England's last true wilderness, Dartmoor offers 365 square miles of virtually uninhabited freedom with high moors and twisted dramatic granite tors a land of myths, ghosts and legends. Exmoor, its smaller and more gentle neighour, is 250 Square miles of near perfect and unique beauty, with high uplands swathed in heather and steep, wooded gorges and rushing streams. See Dartmoor ponies and Exmoor stags in these wildlife rich areas, home to 30 species of mammals and over 240 types of bird. The moors offer a unique opportunity for more challenging walking where the only human sound you will hear is the rhythm of your own breath.
Avoid the crowds and discover “Secret Somerset” missed by so many rushing headlong for the far South West. The 'land of the summer people' was named in a time when this area could only be visited in the summer months as the sea receded. Today its a rich, fertile and 'for real' landscape crowned by the fine walking ridges of the Mendip and Quantock Hills both protected areas of outstanding natural beauty. Rising up over King Arthur‘s Vale of Avalon along with the magical Tor at Glastonbury, walkers will find hidden gorges, wooded combes and the best inland panoramas of the South West. Also boasting its own Jurassic Coast Path, providing a gateway into the wilds of Exmoor National Park, Somerset offers walking routes without the crowds for those who want to find..... what the rest miss.
Dorset has a comfortable old world “English” feel to it and its walking routes traverse a rather more green and agricultural land of thatched cottages, cream teas.... and fossils ! Walkers here will find the more gentle rolling farmland, pretty villages and chalk ridges beloved by Thomas Hardy that sweep down to end abruptly at the World Heritage Jurassic Coast. Here, alongside the sea, those after more challenging routes can take a walking holiday through time itself amongst the dramatic chalk stacks, cliffs and arches of the Dorsetshire fossil coast. An area that can be very busy in high season but often suits walkers looking for more gentle and less exposed walking than the far west of the region.
Wales offers some of the best walking and outdoor activities to be had anywhere in the world. The 870-mile Welsh Coast Path was only fully opened in 2012 and is the world's first walk along the entire coast of a nation. The terrain is on an equally grand scale with towering cliffs, vast stretches of unspoilt golden sands, imposing castles, offshore islands and to the north there is the backdrop of Snowdonia National Park with its stunning mountains. Wales in general offers walkers great value for money compared to more popular areas like Cornwall with walking options to suit everyone, from those who want the cosmopolitan restaurants and facilities of towns like Tenby and St Davids, through to isolated and remote forests and coastal hills that sit on the very cusp of the Snowdonian Peaks. Bursting with confidence and pride in its “Welshness”, its Celtic history, language and culture there has never been a better time for walkers to enter Wales.
The South West Coast Path is the UK's longest National Trail and one of the top ten walking routes in the world. It snakes, dips and rises continuously on its way through a staggering 1014km (630 miles) of pristine coastline, 450 miles of which is through nationally protected areas. It's a challenge too; walking the entire South West Coast Path is the equivalent to scaling Mount Everest four times! From towering cliffs to hidden coves, ghostly tin mines to lush subtropical wooded creeks. One minute a dramatic rock theatre hewn out of the cliffs, the next a prehistoric fossilized forest or a 20thC Art Deco Island Hotel. What sets The South West Coast Path apart from other trails is that around almost every corner is yet another surprise as you retrace the footsteps and histories of the tin miners, fisherman, smugglers, wreckers and the customs men who chased them.
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Arriving in Penzance for the South West Coast Path, walkers will find a bustling but relaxed atmosphere prevails with a mix of independent shops, galleries, restaurants and cafes. Alleys and narrow passages lead to the busy working harbour and the ancient buildings refer the visitor back constantly to previous centuries.
Named “Pen Sans” in the Cornish language, meaning Holy Headland, Penzance is sheltered within Mounts Bay, its microclimate giving lush subtropical gardens a chance to grow many exotic flowers and palm trees which cannot survive outside anywhere else in the UK. The headland on the western side of the harbour was the site of a chapel established by early Christians well over 1000 years ago, after the Vikings and Saxons had moved on, and before the Old Town was razed by the Spanish and then Turkish pirates in the sixteenth century.
One of the oldest standing buildings in the town is the Penzance Turks Head pub, dating from the 13th century with an underground tunnel leading from the harbour where smugglers secretly transported their bounty, before celebrating in the inn and a couple of doors away from the unusal inn, The Admiral Benbow, a famous 17thcentury character. Inside the building, converted from an old cottage with a smuggler on the roof, the walls are decorated with authentic figureheads and cannon, salvaged by divers from the many wrecks around the notorious Cornish coast.
Close by, the flamboyant Egyptian House in Chapel Street dating from 1835, is one of the most ornate examples of architecture built at that time - very surreal in the middle of Cornish Town. It was originally owned by a geologist, whose collection is now in the Oxford University Museum, and stands out among the stately Victorian and Edwardian villas built over the following century along the promenade for successful merchants who settled in the balmy temperature and extraordinary light, made accessible here by the arrival of the Great Western Railway.
The Art Deco Jubilee bathing pool is still a fabulous example of the glamorous lido and art galleries pay homage to the once prolific Newlyn School (especially the Penlee House Gallery Museum) , as well as exhibiting high quality modern art. Live music is easy and there is a diverse range of restaurants to choose from in the town.
From the harbour, which holds the berth for the Scillonian, the ferry to the Isles of Scilly, looking east you see the iconic image of St Michaels Mount rises out of the sea on the next leg of the Cornish Coastal Path. The shoreside village at the end of the cobbled causeway leading out to the island, is Marazion which provides another of our overnight locations.
Penzance has a great selection of accomodation from good value seafront B&B's to lavish Hotel options and the town is full of restaurants, art galleries and independent shops well worth a browse. The end of the Great Western Railway with fast trains arriving hourly from London this is the ideal arrival point for your Lizard adventure.
Dominating the Cornish Coastal Path for walkers arriving in Marazion is the castle on the mount.
Home to the St Aubyn family who live a 21st century existence and work hand in hand with the National Trust to preserve this beautiful and historical monument which has served as a Benedictine monastery, a tin and copper port and a fortress in both the Hundred Years War and the Civil War.
While climbing the ancient paths, look down on the beautiful subtropical gardens and up to the battlements, turrets and towers of a fairytale castle only accessible by foot at low tide from Marazion, derived from the Cornish “Marghas Byghan” meaning “little market” (the earliest recorded one being in 1070 when Robert, Count of Mortain was given the right to hold a market on each Thursday).
The village grew up around the isle of Ictis, St Michaels Mount being the legendary Isle named by the Romans. It was the safest landing point for many miles before the construction of nearby Penzance harbour, and is probably why it became the destination point of St Michael and his followers when they landed on the north coast and walked across the peninsula en route for Europe.
Present day walkers, approaching Marazion from the St Michaels Way Footpath are following in the footsteps of pilgrims over the past thousand years and will come into the village from Marazion Marsh, a large reed bed designated as a site of special scientific interest playing host to a vast number of animal, bird and plant life.
Its hard to tear yourself away from gazing at the spectacular seascape towards Lands End in the west and across Mounts Bay to the Lizard in the east. When you do however check out the Town Hall in the market place which houses Marazion Town Museum, once a local gaol, and a house where Charles II is reputed to have stayed when making his escape after being defeated at the Battle of Naseby.
The house is easily located from an inscription as well as the unusual feature of balls on the roof, placed there to deter witches from landing. The long, safe and sandy beach at Marazion is a playground for many activities, including windsurfing, kitesurfing and sailing.
Porth (harbour) and Leven (level or smooth) was so named because the harbour was once a flat marshland on the banks of a stream flowing into the sea at a small cove. Walking into Porthleven on the Cornish Coastal Path from the west today, the path leads down to the present harbour, which faces south west, directly into the prevailing winds. This makes for spectacular storms in winter with waves crashing over the defences and consequently the granite harbour and sea walls are massive.
Although the area has been inhabited for over 1000 years, the present village dates from the early 19th century when a fourteen year programme of harbour construction began. The tin mine at Rinsey just inland, its abandoned engine houses still visible from the cliffs, needed constant supplies and coal, whilst the tin ore had to be transported out of the port.
A safe refuge for the fleet of over 100 drifters used for fishing pilchards and mackerel was also necessary, and in order to satisfy these urgent demands, the local workforce had to be augmented by prisoners from the
Napoleonic Wars. It was opened in 1825 with a feast of roast beef and plum pudding for the whole village. The traditional boat building trade on the quayside is still in existence and small fishing boats land their daily catch for the award winning Quayside fishmongers, as well as the local restaurants and cafes.
At low tide, just west of the harbour entrance lies the Moonstone , or “Giants Quoit”, a 50-ton rock of a type not found anywhere in the UK, and believed to have floated down from northern Europe on an iceberg, and further to the west lies Loe Bar, a natural barrier or sand and flint built up by winter gales and fierce under-currents at the mouth of the River Cober. This in turn has made a lake behind it, the biggest natural stretch of fresh water in Cornwall and known as Loe Pool and home to rare plants. The pair of canons which stand on the harbour wall were salvaged from the Anson, one of the many wrecks around the treacherous coastline, which met its unfortunate end on Loe Bar in 1807.
As you climb the narrow streets from the harbour, past the shops and buildings which make this fishing village so unspoilt by progress, you can see Tregonning Hill, an extinct volcano where the first china clay in the country was discovered and shipped out of Porthleven harbour.
Porthleven is a good place for a rest day with boat trips from the harbour and there is an excellent cycle hire option. If you just want a day of rest and relaxation however there are a handful of excellent inns and restaurants around the harbour area including one of our favourites on the Lizard Coast Path, Kota Restaurant. Enjoy.
Some visitors, who are taking a more relaxed route, maybe exploring Loe Pool after staying in Porthleven, may spend a night in Mullion. Approached from the Cornish Coast Path through Poldhu Cove where the first transatlantic radio experiment was carried out by Marconi, Mullion Cove is a pretty working harbour set in spectacular granite cliffs with turquoise waters and sheltered by Lion Island, which prevents the worst of the weather from battering the two stout sea walls. Nevertheless, during the six years up to 1873 there were no less than nine wrecks under Mullion cliffs along a mile and a half stretch of coastline, making the lifeboat station which was operational between 1867 and 1909 a necessity. The coastguard outpost at the top of the cliff was in use until recently and stands beside an old canon. The harbour as it stands today was completed at the end of the nineteenth century after several disastrous pilchard seasons, the old pilchard cellar and net store still stands on the quay. Access to the cove itself is through a tunnel in the cliffs and has inevitably been the subject of many smuggling legends, not least in 1801 when a King’s Pardon was offered to any smuggler giving information on the Mullion musket men involved in a gunfight with the crew of HM Gun Vessel Hecate.
The village itself lies about a mile inland from the cove and is the largest on the Lizard peninsular. St Mellanus Church a 15th century building, is renowned for its richly carved pew ends including one of Jonah and the whale, and also has a dog flap in the south door for the shepherds’ dogs. Opposite the church is the Old Inn, a thatched pub with its walls festooned in old photographs and nautical memorabilia as well as real ale and good food. Other restaurants and cafes offer a great choice of food and the art galleries and craft shops are interesting to wander around.
The next place to stay in this sparsely populated and wild landscape is at the very end of the UK mainland.
At the southernmost tip lies Lizard Town, about a half a mile inland from the South West Coast Path and the famous rocks which give the area its reputation for being one of the most treacherous shipping lanes in the world. Lizard Town is in fact a village and a pretty small one at that, blown and buffeted by the winds and ocean currents as they batter the beautiful serpentine rock with its rich red and green veins.
Apart from the workshops where stonemasons fashion hunks of this rock into decorative artefacts, you feel that commercialism has not yet reached this outpost. The beauty of the natural world is allowed full rein, with seal spotting and bird watching being the main methods of relaxation.
A couple of cafes on the Lizard Point itself are well worth visiting, one making superlative crab sandwiches and the other selling highly calorific homemade doughnuts with jam and clotted cream.
The pasty shop here is reckoned to make the definitive Cornish pasty and has won accolades and awards throughout the nation and, apparently beyond.
Visitors have made the pilgrimage from all over the world to taste the national symbol of Cornwall, which, according to local superstition, “keep the devil out”. Unlike miners, the only indigenous workforce who will not take pasties with them are fishermen because it is unlucky to take a pasty on board a boat. The local custom of makers putting their initials on in pastry was born so that the fishermen could reclaim their own when they landed.
Take advantage of this untamed land with an early evening stroll to see the sunset over the ocean and maybe visit St Winwallow Church just outside the village on the way to Church Cove. The present building is 12th century and, not surprisingly, the last of the regular church services in the Cornish language, were delivered here.
The pulpit is an example of polished serpentine, incorporating memorial tablets to commanders of the Lloyds Signal Station.
An area of the graveyard is set aside for the grave of victims of the plague in 1645, and 19th century graves include those of lighthouse keepers and lifeboat coxswains, reminding us yet again that the sea here has claimed many lives one way or another.
Visiting The Top House pub is a good way to spend an evening in Lizard, eating and drinking in the windswept land of shipwrecks and dramatic rescues.
Once more offering accommodation after a major refurbishment, the inn has been a hostelry for those stranded out here for over 200 years. A little further towards the coast path is The Witchball - where you can enjoy an excellent meal and a pint in cozy surroundings in the UK's most southerly pub.
Those who walk through Lizard during the day will spend the night in Cadgwith, a tiny, very pretty village of cottages huddled around the cove. Crab and lobster fishing is the main occupation, and wandering through pots, nets, ropes and flags, as well as watching the boats being winched up the beach at the end of the day gives you an appetite for the catch of the day especially when eaten in the Cadgwith Cove Inn, where we have spent happy evenings with entertainment as diverse as the local Fishermen’s choir singing old songs of the sea, to heavy metal rock bands!
The old trade of pilchard fishing is still very much in evidence with the old cellars now housing a good restaurant. There was a lifeboat house here for a hundred years which saved 388 lives, and this is now the home of the Cadgwith Pilot Gig Club who are out practising most evenings during the summer. Have a look inside to get a taste of the history of the cove including a board listing all the operations of the old lifeboat.
Walking the Cornwall Coast Path from the Lizard, you arrive in Coverack for the night, a sheltered harbour built in 1724 with a beach beside it, suitable for all kinds of watersports, with one of the most successful windsurfing centres in the country.
The village and its surrounds have a wealth of evidence of its long history, with thriving plants which have grown since before the last Ice Age, flint tools, pottery shards, standing stones, burial mounds and hut circles from the Mezolithic to Iron Ages.
The Paris Hotel on the harbour was so named after a liner ran aground at nearby Lowland Point in 1899 and three years later another sailing ship bound for West Africa hit the rocks carrying 600 cases of whisky, 400 of brandy and a large consignment of treacle.
This is just one tale from many to give credence to the many hidey holes in local cottages. The local church was built in the 19th century, before that all wedding and funeral processions had to walk to St Keverne, and just across the road, the fossilised rocks have been found by geologists to be a dramatic junction between the earth’s mantle and the oceanic crust.
The Harbour Lights cafe is open for snacks until 8.30 pm and The Paris Hotel is a fabulous location on the harbour to eat and drink in a friendly atmosphere. Alternatively, a candlelit dinner in the restaurant of the Bay Hotel with its stunning uninterrupted views over the ocean, would be a romantic way to spend the evening whilst staying in this unforgettable place.
If you stay in St Keverne, one mile inland from the coastal path, you will find a much larger village with the buildings clustered around a central square with a couple of pubs, a handful of cottages and a few shops, all overlooked by the 15th century church of St Akervnus. Although the church is built in the typical Cornish style, it has a distinctive octagonal spire, thought to have been added as a daymark for ships as they saild past the treacherous “Manacles” (meaning Church Rocks from the Cornish Maen Eglos), a barely submerged reef just over a mile offshore and scene of as many as three thousand wrecks. Nowadays, it is a favourite diving site with a wealth of marine life living on a around the skeletons of past ships.
Two famous uprisings have had their roots in St Keverne.
The first and Cornwall's most famous historical event, was the 1497 Cornish Rebellion when Michael Joseph An Gof led a protest against King Henry VII over the raising of war taxes on impoverished tin miners. Cornwall at that time, was still very much an independent nation with most inhabitants being Cornish speaking, so a war with Scotland was completely irrelevant to them. Fifteen thousand Cornishmen marched to London where they were met and comprehensively beaten by the King’s men. The two leaders were hung, drawn and quartered, but their memory lives on in the recent bronze statue of the pair, as well as an earlier memorial tablet set into the church wall.
The Prayer Book Rebellion of 1547, also had a bloody end, with the village priest being executed and his head mounted on a spike on London Bridge!
Finding places to eat in St Keverne is easy. An organic restaurant, The Greenhouse, The White Hart Hotel and two pubs means that your main problem is which one to choose.
If you are staying slightly further around the coast, Porthallow (known locally as “Pralla”) is a small, totally unspoilt cove still used by fishermen, although nowhere near as busy as the days when there was a thriving pilchard industry. Its famous pub, The Five Pilchards, nestling beside the shingle beach is the obvious place for an evening meal whilst having a look at the many photographs of local history. Porthallow is the half way point of the South West Coastpath and you will find a marker on the the beach. The beach itself offers safe bathing and a good chance of spotting passing marine life, seals, doplhins and if you are lucky the fins of Basking Sharks. All in all a very laid back, quiet and undisturbed Lizard village for those who want a night away from the bustle of the modern world.
Arriving at the Helford River is a relaxing affair though accommodation in its pretty villages is hard to come by these days. Manaccan, at the head of Gillan Creek has a thatched pub, the New Inn, a popular and renowned haunt for smugglers who were able to continue doing business long after the Excise men had successfully eradicated it elsewhere, due to its hidden location.
It is hard to imagine that Helford village was once quite an important port. The village today is a haven for exclusive holiday homes and sleepy moorings for hobby sailors, but long ago trading ships brought French rum, tobacco and lace from the continent, and duty was paid at the old custom house.
During the Napoleonic wars, pirates and free traders were able to come and go from the steeply wooded river with its deep, sheltered creeks overhung with ancient oak forests with impunity. Standing by the river bank as the early morning
mist hangs over the still waters, you can visualise the romance of the beautiful Englishwoman and her French pirate created by Daphne du Maurier in “Frenchmans Creek” which lies just to the West of the village.
For a drink, The Shipwrights Arms in Helford is on the waters’ edge or once the ferry has been summoned in the age old way and you have crossed the river you will reach the Ferryboat Inn at Helford Passage with a reputation in the area for good food.
A climb inland from The Ferryboat Inn takes you you to Mawnan Smith, another photogenic village, with the lovely thatched Red Lion Inn its centrepiece. Here though, you have the option of Giuseppe's Ristorante Italiano which offers surprisingly authentic Italian food - given this is deepest Cornwall.
On your way out of Mawnan Smith tomorrow stop in at The Old Smithy and Craft Workshops - where you can see the blacksmith sweating away at his working forge. For those staying an extra day the big draw here is the superb jungle like gardens at Trebah and Glendurgan. Well worth visiting if you have time both are full of subtropical plants in beautiful landscapes sweeping down to the shores of the Helford waters and the hamlet of Durgan on the coast path.
The last overnight on this section is the busy port of Falmouth, and suddenly you are back in the real world, with its bustling harbour, busy shopping streets, wider roads and a plethora of things to see and do. The high street has all the usual stores and facilities as well as a good number of interesting specialist shops including galleries, antique stores and book shops.
Those needing rest and recreation after days on the South West Coast Path will find everything they need here with Falmouth providing a cosmopolitan and varied selection of restaurants, bars, accommodation and entertainment.
Falmouth also has a number of excellent beaches near the town including Castle Beach; Gyllyngvase; Swanpool and Maenporth back along the South West Coast Path. Passing away a few hours by ambling along the sands and out to the headland is very much part of the Falmouth leisure scene !
The excellent National Maritime Museum is housed here and well worth visiting. For those wanting to explore inland along the Fal river you can find ferries departing to many areas of the estuary including idyllic St Mawes. The harbour and Carrick Roads Waters form the third deepest harbour in the world and the deepest in Western Eurpoe and Falmouth is one of the ultimate destination points for sailors as proved by the record breaking round the world voyages of Sir Frances Chichester and Dame Ellen MacArther.
Out on the headland Henry VIII built Pendennis Castle to defend the nation against invaders and it is where the news of victory at the Battle of Trafalgar reached our shores first. The last centuries, with the building of the docks and railway made the port a destination for tourists, traders, the shipping industry and more recently of course for tired and dusty Cornwall Coast Path walkers indulging themselves happily after emerging from the remoter sections of the Lizard !
With easy train connections to the mainline at Truro and every type of accommodation Falmouth presents itself as a well placed, lively and enjoyable end to your walking adventure. Indeed many walkers choose to stay an extra night here to fully explore the town, estuary, nearby St Mawes or take a ferry trip up the stunning Fal river into Truro the Capital of Cornwall.
The place to start looking for information about the town and surrounding area is the Official Tourist Information site at www.falmouth.co.uk The best place to find out what is happening during your stay, what to see and where to eat and drink in the town along with a useful section on walking and some vital information on the various Ferry crossings and river options for walkers.
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