Clifftop paths between resorts that once were mining villages
Tall chimneys of undressed stone, perched on cliffs or tucked away in sheltered valleys, are reminders of the days when tin and copper were among the mainstays of Cornwall’s economy. The cliffs between St Ives Bay and Perranporth are best seen from the long strip of National Trust land which links Godrevy Point and Portreath. The great walls of rock are punctuated by sandy, stream-washed coves reached by narrow lanes.
Low cliffs rise above the flat rocks, dappled with low-tide pools, which flank the dangerous channel between Godrevy Point and Godrevy Island. The island and its neighbouring rocks claimed many victims before the lighthouse was built in 1859. They included a ship which went down in 1649, laden with Charles I’s wardrobe and other personal possessions. Virginia Woolf knew this part of Cornwall well, and her novel To the Lighthouse refers to Godrevy.
The narrow road to Godrevy Point’s car park skirts the northern end of St Ives Bay where it is crossed by the Red River. As its name implies, this river is stained a deep red by waste from old tin mines. A short walk leads to Navax Point, where grey seals breed and caves reached only from the sea run far into the headland. Gannets, shearwaters, fulmars and other sea-birds may be seen in summer and autumn.
This rocky cove, nestling below a clifftop car park, is a main feature of the long strip of National Trust land which runs almost unbroken from Godrevy Point across Hud-der Down, Reskajeage Downs and Carvan-nel Downs to Portreath. The flat-topped cliffs are ideal for bracing walks, and a few steep paths zigzag down to secluded coves. The path skirts Ralph’s Cupboard, a deep, sunless cleft formed by the collapse of a sea-scoured cave. Its name recalls a smuggler who used the cave as a store for contraband. It is also said to have been the home of Wrath, one of Cornwall’s legendary giants who waded out to capture passing ships and devour their crews. From the cliffs there are fine views up the coast past St Agnes Head to the Bawden Rocks.
Francis Basset, a member of one of Cornwall’s wealthiest mining families, leased land for the building of a pier at Portreath in 1760. It evolved into a thriving little harbour, serving the local tin and copper mines, and in 1809 became the terminus of a horse-powered tramroad that was the county’s first railway. Ships laden with ore sailed to Swansea and returned with Welsh coal to fuel the engine-houses whose pumps fought a constant battle to prevent flooding in the mines. Coasters visited the harbour until the 1960s, but when trade ceased the nearby land was turned into an estate of cottages.
The sandy beach is popular with surfers, and surfboards can be hired. There are lifeguard patrols in summer, but swimmers should keep away from the old harbour, where a stream flows into the sea.
Extensive low-tide sands have encouraged Porthtowan’s development as a holiday village. Caravans, shops and chalets overlook the beach, and the tall, slim engine-house of a 19th-century copper mine has been turned into a cafe. Walkers who explore the beach at low water should keep an eye on the incoming tide, because the cliffs are too high and unstable to be climbed. There are lifeguard patrols in summer, and surfboards for hire.
The clifftop path between Porthtowan and Portreath crosses Nancekuke Common, where it skirts a large tract of fenced-off land used for many years by the Ministry of Defence.
Reached by a narrow lane from St Agnes, this delightful little cove takes its name from an ancient chapel which once stood in a secluded valley near the sea. The lane ends in a National Trust car park at the head of a sandy, shingle-backed beach flanked by rocks which provide many suntraps. Swimmers and surfers should beware of currents and undertows.
The beach runs southwards to Porthtowan at low water, but walkers should check tide times to avoid being trapped between the incoming sea and the lofty cliffs.
The Chapel Porth nature trail, which takes about 2 hours, blends natural history and industrial archaeology with splendid views. It passes the ruined Charlotte United mine, where copper workings extended out under the sea, and runs northwards as far as the Wheal Coates mine below St Agnes Beacon. Buzzards, jackdaws, ravens, wrens and many sea-birds are likely to be seen on the walk. There are lifeguard patrols in summer, surfboards for hire, and riding stables.
ST AGNES BEACON
Paths flanked by gorse and heather take walkers to the 629 ft summit of a hill from which beacon fires blazed to warn of the approach of the Spanish Armada in 1588 and, more recently, to celebrate the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977. Nearly 30 miles of coast can be seen on a clear day. The land belongs to the National Trust, which also owns the remains of the nearby Wheal
Coates mine where tin and copper were worked in the 19th century. The mine’s Towanroath shaft reached a depth of more than 600 ft before Wheal Coates closed in 1889. Fountains of spray rise from the mine shafts when gale-driven waves pour into the connecting tunnels at the foot of the cliff.
Grey seals can sometimes, be seen swimming off St Agnes Head. The cliffs are a breeding ground for kittiwakes, fulmars, guillemots and herring gulls.
Trevaunance Cove, where cliffs tower above a beach of shingle-backed sand, is one of Cornwall’s Tost’ ports. Generation after generation of men from St Agnes built harbours for the tin and copper trade, but the relentless sea invariably destroyed them. One, built in 1699, survived for only six years. Cargoes were unloaded by horse-powered windlasses, mounted on the cliffs, while ore went thundering down a series of chutes. Tumbled blocks of granite are all that remain of the last harbour, built early in the 19th century; it finally fell into decay in 1920. The cove is now a popular beach for surfers.
St Agnes, set on high ground to the south, was one of the mining industry’s most important centres. Its Polberro mine alone employed nearly 500 people in the 1830s and was at one time the county’s greatest producer of tin; it added ‘Royal’ to its name after being visited by Queen Victoria in 1846. Slate and granite houses, some dating from the early 18th century, line the main street, and old miners’ cottages stand in a stepped terrace known as ‘Stippy Stappy’.
Lifeguards patrol the beaches in summer, when there are surfboards for hire.
A steep lane, at one point only just wide enough for a car, runs from Trevellas village to this cliff-clasped cove of greyish sand, where strong currents make bathing unsafe. It lies at the mouth of Trevellas Coombe, a resort, Perranporth was originally a mining village where tin and copper were worked in the Middle Ages. Later ventures included driving a horizontal shaft from a cove on Cligga Head right into the heart of Perranporth. One of its three pumping engines stood near what are now the tennis courts off Perran Coombe Road. Old mine shafts still pit Cligga Head, sharing a viewpoint with ruined coastal defences and a gliding club.
There are lifeguard patrols along the beach in summer, and surfboards for hire. A carnival is held in July, and sand yachting takes place in winter. Riding stables are available, and there is fishing from the shore for bass.
PLACES TO SEE INLAND
Camborne Museum. In the public library. Local archaeological, mining and mineral interest.
Camborne School of Mines, Pool, near Redruth. Museum of minerals. Mon.-Fri.
Cornish Engines (NT), East Pool Mine. Beam engines of late 19th century. Daily in summer.
Foster’s Pottery Co., Redruth. Guided tours of pottery, Mon.-Fri. in summer; showroom, Mon.-Fri. all year. deep valley where two tall, stone-built chimneys and the shell of a derelict engine-house are all that remain of the old Blue Hills tin mine. It was opened in the 1830s and closed in 1897. The whole of the valley throbbed with mining activity in the 19th century, but gradually returned to nature.
Piran’s Port’ recalls the legend of St Piran, who is said to have sailed from Ireland on a millstone in the Celtic ‘Age of Saints’ about 1,300 years ago. Gear Sands, where he built his first church, is now a huge expanse of dunes which conceal extensive holiday camps.
Topped with turf in places, the dunes run down to a superb sandy beach which sweeps northwards for more than 2 miles to Ligger Point and is at least half a mile wide at low tide. Swimmers and surfers should avoid the southern end of the beach, where streams run into the sea by Chapel Rock and create dangerous currents.
Now a popular and compact little holiday