Bedruthan Steps

The walk descends to the coast at Porth Mear though a corridor of blackthorn bushes which are white with blossom in spring. The route then follows the Coast Path across Park Head with views over the Trescore Islands. The walk continues above Pentire Steps beach to the iconic stacks at Bedruthan Steps - one of the most photographed stretches of the Cornish coast - to reach the National Trust café. From here, there is an optional diversion to the beach at Mawgan Porth with fantastic views as the path descends to the beach. The return route is relatively quick, via the small lane through Bedruthan and footpaths passing a megalith.

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 106 (scan QR code on right to order from Amazon)
  • Distance: 4.5 miles/7.3 km
  • Grade: Moderate
  • Start from: Track to Pentire Farm
  • Parking: Pentire Farm car park. From the B3276 from Porthcothan, pass the turning to Old Macdonald's Farm and turn down the narrow lane with the Park Head National Trust sign. The car park is at the top of the hill on the right. Satnav: PL277UU
  • Recommended footwear: walking shoes, or trainers in summer

Maps for this walk

(dark blue corner = laminated version)

Highlights

  • Spectacular coastal scenery
  • Rockpools at low tide at Porthmear
  • Sandy beaches at Pentire Steps and Bedruthan Steps
  • Large sandy beaches of Porthcothan and Mawgan Porth can be optionally included in the route
  • Wildlife including kestrels, skylarks and seabirds
  • Spectacular coastal wildflowers in spring and early summer

Alternative walks in same location

Adjoining walks

Directions

  1. From the car park, follow the track marked "Footpath to Porth Mear". Continue to reach a public footpath sign on the right beside a gate.
  2. Go through the gate on the right and in the field, follow along the wall on your left. At the end of the wall, bear left to a gateway in the left hedge.

    If you are crossing fields in which there are cows:

    • Do not show any threatening behaviour towards calves (approaching them closely, making loud noises or walking between a calf and its mother) as you may provoke the mother to defend her young. Generally the best plan is to walk along the hedges.
    • If cows approach you, do not run away as this will encourage them to chase you. Stand your ground and stretch out your arms to increase your size.
    • Avoid taking dogs into fields with cows, particularly with calves. If you can't avoid it: if cows charge, release the dog from its lead as the dog will outrun the cows and the cows will generally chase the dog rather than you.
  3. Go through the gateway and bear right slightly to cross the field in the direction of the sea to reach a kissing gate in the bottom corner of the far hedge.

    Blackthorn trees were planted as hedges to keep out cattle and they are still common in Cornish hedgerows today. In Celtic tree lore, blackthorn was associated with evil and in the Celtic language of Ogham was known as Straif. This is thought to be the origin of the English word "strife" and a bad winter is sometimes known as a Blackthorn Winter.

  4. Go through the kissing gate and follow the path along the walkway. Continue along the path until it ends in a junction with the coast path at a waymark.

    On the path along the valley you pass what looks like a shipwreck. It warrants closer inspection as it is carved with a number of animals, some of which are inside.

  5. Continue ahead onto the coast path and follow it uphill to a kissing gate.

    The cove ahead is Porth Mear and can be reached via the footbridge to the right. At low tide, a number of rockpools are exposed.

    Rockpool fishing is quite a popular childhood pass-time as a number of species can be lured out from hiding places by a limpet tied on a piece of cotton (leave a trailing end as if anything swallows the limpet, very gently pulling both ends of the cotton will cause it to release the cotton-tied limpet from its gullet). If you are intending to put the creatures into a bucket: ensure it is large, filled with fresh seawater and kept in the shade; ideally place in a couple of rocks for the creatures to hide under; do not leave them in there more than a couple of hours or they will exhaust their oxygen supply; ensure you release them into one of the rockpools from which you caught them, preferably a large one (carefully removing any rocks from your bucket first to avoid squashing them). Species you're likely to encounter are:

    • Blennies which are fish about 5-10cm long, often found hiding under rock ledges. They can change their colour from sandy to black within a couple of minutes in order to match their surroundings. They have strong, sharp teeth for crunching barnacles and will bite if provoked.
    • Shore crabs and sometimes edible crabs which can also sometimes be found hiding under rocks (carefully replace any rocks you lift up). Shore crabs have a fairly narrow shell which is almost as deep as it is wide. They vary in colour from green through brown to red (the redder individuals are apparently stronger and more aggressive). Edible crabs have a much wider shell which resembles a Cornish Pasty and are always a red-brown colour. Both have powerful claws so fingers should be kept well clear.
    • Shrimps and prawns - do you know the difference? Prawns are semi-transparent whereas shrimps are sandy coloured and generally bury themselves in sand.
  6. Go through the kissing gate and follow the path up to the headland. Continue on the path along the cliff edge until you can see a bench on your right and a slate waymark on your left. Keep left to reach the waymark.

    The islands overlooked by the bench are the Trescore Islands.

    The Trescore Islands lie off the headland between Porthcothan and Porth Mear. The rocky islets are surrounded by a sandy beach which is exposed at low tide, creating a lagoon between the islands and mainland. It is shallow enough to wade across from the mainland at low tide.

  7. From the waymark, continue on the path past another slate waymark and along the right side of a wall, past one more slate waymark, until the wall ends.

    The carpets of tiny blue flowers on the coast during April and May are the appropriately-named spring squill, which up close is a star-shaped pale blue flower with a dark blue stamen. They achieve their early flowering by storing energy over the winter in a bulb so they can be the first flowers out on the cliffs before they become overshadowed by larger plants. They thrive in locations which are beaten with wind and salt-laden spray which they are able to tolerate but other plants, which might otherwise out-compete them, cannot.

  8. At the end of the wall, keep right on the path along the coast and follow it until you reach another slate waymark.
  9. At the waymark, turn left and follow the path to a waymark at the end of a wall with a bench on the far side.

    At the slate waymark, a path to the right leads out onto Park Head where the remains of an Iron Age hillfort can be seen.

    The low plateau is surrounded by ramparts which are believed to date from the first century BC.

    The purpose of enclosures within ramparts varied quite considerably. Some were built as forts to defend from marauding invaders such as the seafaring Scandanavians. Others were defences built around small villages either as a status symbol/deterrent or for the more practical purpose of preventing domestic crimes such as theft of property by occupants of neighbouring villages. There were even some which were probably just a confined space used to stop livestock escaping!

  10. Continue ahead on the path along the coast to reach another stone wall. Follow along this and reach a wooden waymark to Mawgan Porth beside a kissing gate.

    The "herringbone" style of walling built with tightly packed alternating diagonal slate courses, is unique to Cornwall's heritage. It is known locally as "Jack and Jill", "Curzy Way" or "Kersey Wave". The latter two names are based on the Cornish word kersy which means "reeds", perhaps referring to a square weave pattern. On a long wall, the herringbone sections are often between "towers" of flat-laid slate (built from the larger and squarer stones) which helped to prevent the wall slumping sideways. Traditionally, hedges (stone boundary walls) were built with whatever was cleared out of the fields, whilst buildings were constructed from stone that was quarried and cut.

  11. At the Mawgan Porth waymark, continue along the coast to reach a kissing gate.

    The corn bunting is a small brown bird and as its name suggests, it has a preference for cereals. Consequently it has been living alongside humans since Neolithic times when our ancestors started to domesticate cereal crops. Its common name "fat bird of the barley" gives away its appearance, resembling a very portly skylark that looks like it would have trouble getting off the ground, let alone hovvering. Its call is equally unglamourous, described as the shaking of a bunch of keys. Sadly, the once common and familiar bird has vanished from many areas and is now endangered. The rapid decline is thought to be due to industrialisation of arable farming methods. In Cornwall, the coastal land management provides an important habitat in which the birds thrive.

  12. Go through the kissing gate and follow the path until you reach a fork, just as you emerge from the walled area.

    In late spring and summer, listen out for the characteristic song of skylarks hovering high above the coast. The coastal heath is a particularly good habitat for them, being mild but with fairly short vegetation in which they can hunt for insects.

  13. At the fork, you can follow either path as they rejoin (the outer path has better views but passes close to the cliff edge). Continue until the paths rejoin at a waymark.
  14. From the waymark, continue along the path until you reach a fork in the path at another waymark.

    On the headland, ahead, are the remains of a prehistoric cliff castle, known as Redcliff Castle. Most of the headland has since fallen into the sea, but there are still remains of a pair of circular ramparts which have been cut into the bedrock.

  15. Take the path to the right, along the coast, and follow the waymarks until you eventually join a cobbled path, at the base of a flight of slate steps.

    The name Bedruthan Steps is commonly used to refer to either this stretch of coastline, the beach or the series of offshore rocks.

    Bedruthan Steps is the name of a stretch of rocky coastline between Padstow and Newquay. The area lies in the parish of St Eval, just to the west of the hamlet of Bedruthan. There is no record of the name "Bedruthan Steps" before 1847, but it is thought to have originally referred to one of the two cliff staircases to access Carnewas mine (presumably the one nearer to the village of Bedruthan). The name later also became used for the name of the beach itself. The legend of Bedruthan Steps was invented for Victorian tourism, said to be taken from a mythological giant (Bedruthan) who used the rocks as stepping stones. These were formed after the last Ice Age, when rising sea levels eroded the surrounding soft shales to leave the harder rocks as islands. Each of the 5 rock stacks has a name (Queen Bess, Samaritan Island, Redcove Island, Pendarves Island and Carnewas Island).

  16. Bear left and climb the steps, then follow the cobbled path to a waymark.

    If the tide is out, you may want to take a short diversion down the cobbled path to your right to reach the beach.

    The beach at Bedruthan Steps is only exposed as the tide starts to go out. Initially several small coves are revealed as the tide falls and towards low tide these join into a large beach.

    The beach is accessed by a long flight of steps which lead from a gate just below the viewing area. Note that the gates are closed during the winter when the National Trust café is not open.

    Since only one of these coves has a set of steps, care should be taken not to get cut off by the incoming tide (tide times are displayed on a board beside the gate on the way down). Due to the channels between rocky islets across the beach, there are strong tidal currents and swimming is therefore not advisable. It is also a good idea to avoid choosing an area to sit that is directly below the cliffs as these are crumbling in many places: as well as occasional landslips, loose stones may be disturbed by birds.

  17. Follow the cobbled path to the National Trust shop, tea room, toilets and car park (via the diversion if still in place).

    The buildings which now house the National Trust shop and café at Bedruthan Steps were once the offices and outbuildings of Carnewas mine. This operated for just over 20 years from the mid 19th century. Initially it extracted lead, antimony and silver but later much larger amounts of iron ore. The ladders and steps to the beach were probably originally built to access the mine workings.

  18. At the car park, double back but take the left-hand path at the first fork. Keep left at any junctions to follow the path along the fence and emerge onto the coast path through a gap in the wall.
  19. Turn right onto the Coast Path and follow it past some junctions to the right to where it forks.

    To the left, the Coast Path runs for about half a mile to Mawgan Porth beach so you can optionally extend the walk at this point, returning here to continue on the main route.

  20. Take the left-hand path along the fence to where the two paths rejoin just in front of a waymark, then turn left onto the cobbled path and retrace your steps to where the unsurfaced path departs to the right at the bottom of the steps.

    Thrift is a tough plant, able to withstand salt-laden winds and high levels of copper in the soil from mining. The name "thrift" has been suggested to arise from the plant's tufted leaves being economical with water in the windy locations where it is found. It's common all along the Cornish coast and in April-June produces pale pink flowers, hence its other common name: "Sea Pink". The plant grows in dense circular mats which together with its covering of pink flowers gives rise to another less common name: "Ladies' Cushions".

  21. Follow the path up the steps to reach a waymark then continue a short distance further past one gap in the wall on the right to a second gap in the wall on the right opposite the wooden fence on the left.

    Birds of prey, particularly kestrels and sometimes peregrine falcons, can be seen hunting along the coastline.

    The peregrine falcon can reach over 322 km/h (200 mph) during its hunting stoop (high speed dive) making it the fastest member of the animal kingdom. In 2005, a peregrine was measured at a top speed of 389 km/h (242 mph). The air pressure at this speed could damage a bird's lungs. However small bony tubercles on a falcon's nostrils guide the powerful airflow away, enabling the bird to breathe more easily while diving. In Cornish dialect, these falcons are known as "winnards" and local expressions include "shrammed as a winnard" (meaning chilled) and "rumped up like a winnard" (meaning huddled).

  22. Turn right and follow the path through the gap in the wall into the parking area. Follow the track leading from it to the huts just before the road. After the last of the huts, bear left onto the grass and follow it to a stile.

    Kestrels are the most common bird of prey in Europe, although in Britain, numbers have declined in recent years. They are easily spotted when hovering, watching their prey. Whilst hovering, they have the extraordinary ability to keep their head totally still, even in strong winds. They feed mostly on mice, voles and shrews, but will also take birds as large as starlings, and will feed on insects if larger prey are not available.

  23. Cross the stile and turn left onto the road. Carefully follow it (using the verge to allow cars to pass) until you reach a small lane on the right with a gate for Bedruthan Farm.
  24. Turn right down the lane to Bedruthan Farm and follow it through a sequence of gates until it eventually ends in a T-junction.

    The name "Bedruthan" was first recorded in 1335 and is thought to be a corruption of the Cornish Bodrudhen (meaning something along the lines of "red dwelling"). It is thought this may refer to the iron ore deposits which were extracted at Carnewas mine. Red Cove, Red Cliff and Redcliff Castle are all likely to have similar origins.

  25. At the junction, turn left and follow the lane between the houses until you reach a gate with a public footpath sign on the left, just past Tregona Cottage.

    The settlement now known as Tregona was first recorded in 1327 as Tregonou. The name is thought to be from the Cornish word goon which is roughly equivalent to the English "downs" (low moorland) so the gist would have been along the lines of "farm on the downs". The surrounding land has all since been cultivated but the name reflects how the landscape would have appeared in early mediaeval times.

  26. Go through the gateway on the left, marked as a public footpath, and head downhill to a stile behind a pile of rocks, just past the gateway in the middle of the left hedge.

    In the middle of the field there is a standing stone, known as Treburrick menhir. It is formed from white quartz and is over 6ft tall.

    Large upright standing stones are known as menhirs due to the celtic words men meaning stone and hir meaning long. The reason for their construction is unknown; currently the most popular theories are ceremonial or calendrical. Until recently, menhirs were associated with the Beaker people who inhabited Europe during the late Neolithic and early Bronze age (4-5 thousand years ago) but recent research suggests an older origin (perhaps 6-7 thousand years ago, at the very start of the Neolithic period in Britain).

  27. Cross the stile and bear right, across the field, to the bottom corner with the far hedge, where there is another stile.

    If there are sheep in the field and you have a dog, make sure it's securely on its lead (sheep are prone to panic and injuring themselves even if a dog is just being inquisitive). If the sheep start bleeting, this means they are scared and they are liable to panic. If there are pregnant sheep in the field, be particularly sensitive as a scare can cause the lambs to be stillborn. If there are sheep in the field with lambs, avoid approaching them closely, making loud noises or walking between a lamb and its mother, as you may provoke the mother to defend her young. Sheep may look cute but if provoked they can cause serious injury (hence the verb "to ram"). Generally, the best plan is to walk quietly along the hedges and they will move away or ignore you.

  28. Cross the stile and footbridge into a riverside meadow. Bear right, along the meadow, to a stile in the far left corner.

    Electric fences are powered with a car battery which charges a capacitor to release a periodic pulse of electricity; this is often audible as a quiet "crack" which is a good indicator that a fence is powered. The power is not high enough to cause serious injury but touching an electric fence is nevertheless unpleasant in a similar way to stinging nettles. If you are answering the call of nature in the vicinity of an electric fence, be mindful of the conductivity of electrolyte solutions!

  29. Cross the stile to reach the road. Turn left and carefully walk a short distance along the road until you reach a junction to the right with a sign for Park Head.
  30. Turn right onto the lane to Park Head and follow it back to the car park.

    The donation box for the car park is located where the track leads towards Porth Mear.

Help us with this walk

You can help us to keep this walk as accurate as it possibly can be for others by spotting and feeding back any changes affecting the directions. We'd be also very grateful if could you look out for the following:

  • If you have a large dog, let us know if you find problems with the stiles on this walk (e.g. require the dog to be lifted over). A rough idea of how many problematic stiles there are is useful as some single women can just about manage one or two but not a dozen.

email contact@iwalkcornwall.co.uk, or message either IWalkCornwall on facebook or @iwalkc on twitter. If you have any tips for other walkers please let us know, or if you want to tell us that you enjoyed the walk, we'd love to hear that too.

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