Land’s End, where granite cliffs meet the Atlantic breakers
The seas that wash the Penwith peninsula are so clear that basking sharks, huge but harmless, can sometimes be seen from the high granite cliffs. Land’s End attracts a throng of summer visitors, but short walks along the cliffs soon leave the crowds behind, and a few sandy coves can be reached only on foot. Salt-laden Atlantic gales explain the lack of trees on the western side of the peninsula, but woods flank lanes to the east.
A narrow, unsignposted lane with few passing places and limited parking twists down from St Just to this cove of sea-smoothed rocks and low-tide sand. The ½ mile walk northwards to Cape Cornwall climbs Cam Gloose, a lofty headland where the chimney of a 19th-century tin mine overlooks the impressive Ballowall Barrow, an elaborate burial chamber from the late Bronze Age. From the nearby clifftop there are excellent views of Cape Cornwall and Land’s End.
Steep slopes plunge down to this attractive little harbour with its huddle of thatched, whitewashed cottages. A plaque set into the harbour’s granite breakwater was given by Sennen’s fishermen to express thanks to Colonel H. W. Williams, who when MP for St Ives in 1908 raised funds for the building of the breakwater. In the lifeboat house a telegram from the Prime Minister pays tribute to the crew’s heroic work in August, 1979, when they were at sea for more than 9 hours, to help survivors of the ill-fated Fastnet yacht race. Competitors in the race ran into exceptionally bad weather off the Cornish coast, and several yachts and their crews were lost.
The harbour looks out across Whitesand Bay, a superb surfing beach. Swimming is safest at high water, because strong tidal streams run up and down the coast. Lifeguards patrol the beach during the summer months. Fishing trips are available.
Some 1 million people a year visit this great fist of wave-lashed granite which marks the south-western tip of the British mainland. Rocks mottled with lichen stud the clifftop whose turf has been scoured away by innumerable pairs of feet, and coin-operated telescopes look out over the Atlantic.
The ownership of Land’s End changed in 1982, and visitors now pay a charge to enter the area and visit craft workshops and maritime exhibitions. Walkers along the coastal path can by-pass the property.
Just over 1 mile offshore, waves pound the Longships reef and its lighthouse. The original tower was built at Sennen Cove at the end of the 18th century. Every stone was marked before the lighthouse was dismantled and taken block by block to the Longships. The present tower dales from 1873, and its helicopter pad was added 101 years later. It is said that one keeper was kidnapped by wreckers, but the light was kept shining by his young daughter. She was very small, but reached the lamps by standing on the family Bible.
Majestic cliffs rise on either side of this secluded little beach where smooth boulders lead to a small area of low-tide sand. The scanty remains of a mill survive by a stream near the shore. Mill Bay is reached from the B3315 by a toll road, signposted for Nanjizal, which deteriorates into a rough track beyond Bosistow Farm. Cars are parked in a field, and the walk down to the beach takes about 3 minutes.
A long, steep slipway up which small boats are winched runs down to Porthgwarra’s beach of huge, seaweed-draped boulders and low-tide sand. The cliff on the eastern side of the cove is pierced by a short tunnel. This enchanting spot, at the end of a valley with just a few scattered cottages, is reached by a narrow lane which wriggles between high, grassy banks bright with wild flowers in summer. A 10 minute walk from the car park leads to Gwennap Head and a coastguard lookout perched high above the sea. The sheer cliffs are a challenge for commandos and other expert climbers who tackle routes with such names as Seal Slab, Pendulum Chimney and Commando Crawl.
The medieval church next to the car park is dedicated to St Levan, who is said to have landed at the nearby beach in the 6th or 7th century, possibly after a voyage from Wales. The church is notable for a fine collection of carved pews, while outside, near the porch, is a tall Celtic cross considerably older than the church itself. There is also a cleft rock on which the saint is said to have rested after fishing trips. He split it with a blow from his staff, and prophesied that the world would come to an end when a pannier-laden packhorse could walk through the cleft.
Opposite the church, a half-mile path ending in a steep scramble leads to Porth Chapel, a beautiful, cliff-flanked cove with smooth rocks and a sandy beach. Swimmers are advised not to venture out in rough seas.
The high, granite cliffs which shelter Porth-curno’s sands from the west are the home of the remarkable and romantic Minack Theatre, where plays are staged in an open-air setting worthy of ancient Greece. The theatre was opened in 1932, when local actors performed The Tempest.
On the opposite side of the bay, reached by a 15 minute walk from Treen, is Treryn Dinas, a high, jagged headland fortified during the Iron Age and now owned by the National Trust. Also reached by a short walk from Treen is the Logan Rock, a huge boulder estimated to weigh 66 tons. It can be made to wobble by nothing more than a hefty push, and has been a well-known attraction since the 18th century.
In 1824 the rock was dislodged by a Lieutenant Goldsmith – a nephew of the playwright Oliver Goldsmith – aided by a party of sailors. There was such an outcry that the Admiralty ordered the young officer to replace the boulder. The task involved shipping special equipment in from Devon-port and nearly ruined the lieutenant financially. Logan is derived from the Cornish verb log, meaning to heave or move.
The National Trust has owned Penberth since 1957 and describes it as ‘the most perfect of Cornish fishing coves’. It is a beautiful and tranquil place, popular with artists, with a stream, a few cottages, and small fishing boats beached above the rocky shore. Larger craft used to be hauled from the sea by an unusual capstan that resembles a great cartwheel laid on its side.
Penberth never becomes crowded, because there is space for no more than about ten cars to park in the lane, a 2 minute walk from the sea.
A leafy lane runs down to Lamorna’s tiny harbour, where ships loaded granite in the 19th century. The steep, bracken-clad slopes above the bay are still studded with huge blocks of rock from the quarries. Low tide reveals a small, sandy beach inside the harbour. A walk westwards along the cliffs leads to Tater-du, Britain’s first fully automatic lighthouse, which became operational in 1965. Fishing trips are available.
The narrow streets and stone-built cottages of ‘Mouzel’, as it is pronounced, crowd right down to the village’s snug little harbour, where the ebbing tide reveals a sandy beach. it was Cornwall’s main fishing port for many years, but lost most of its trade when Newlyn was developed in the 19th century. The most dramatic event in Mousehole’s history happened in 1595 when the village was sacked by troops from three Spanish ships.
The road to Newlyn passes the Penlee Point lifeboat house from which the Solomon Browne set sail during a ferocious storm in December, 1981. She and her eight-man crew were lost trying to rescue eight others from the coaster Union Star. The boat’s coxswain was awarded a posthumous Gold Medal, the RNLI’s equivalent of the VC.
Mousehole has an art gallery, and fishing trips are available.
The fishing industry is little more than a memory in many Cornish ports, but New-lyn’s harbour is still packed with trawlers and overlooked by a busy fish market. A new fish quay was opened in 1981. The harbour’s oldest pier dates from the Middle Ages, but the main breakwaters were built between 1866 and 1888. In 1896 local fishermen rioted, because they objected to East Coast trawlers fishing on Sundays, and the militia had to be called in.
Beyond the harbour, public gardens overlook a beach where shingle leads to sand and scattered outcrops of low rock. There is an art gallery, and shark-fishing trips are available.
Though it has long ceased to be a major West Country port, Penzance still has a harbour for private craft, a small dry dock and a quay from which the Scillonia ferry plies between the mainland and the Isles of Scilly. A beach of fine shingle patchworked with low rock runs towards Newlyn, while on the other side of the harbour a huge crescent of sand sweeps eastwards to St Michael’s Mount, more than 3 miles away.
Penzance itself is full of interest, and a town trail passes its main features. Market Jew Street is dominated by the lofty Ionic columns of the Market House, completed in 1838. At their feet stands a statue of Penzance’s most famous son, Sir Humphry Davy, who was born near by in 1778 and invented the safety lamp for miners. The Morrab Gardens, near the seafront, contain a display of subtropical plants.
Trengwainton, just outside Penzance, was built in 1814 and is now owned by the National Trust. Its gardens include a series of walled enclosures containing fine magnolias and camellias, and rhododendrons from the east Himalayas, Assam and Burma. A scenic drive runs alongside a stream.
Seaside attractions include an aquarium, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, boat trips, fishing trips for ling, coalfish, conger eels and sharks, and diving trips. There are museums and an art gallery.