Bedruthan Steps to Porthcothan

The walk follows the coast alongside Bedruthan Steps, where the beach can be reached at low tide. The walk then crosses Park Head, the location for the elaborate fly-over horseriding shot featured in the BBC's Poldark series to reach the rocky cove of Porth Mear. The route then follows the coast past the lagoon of the Trescore Islands to reach the sheltered beach at Porthcothan. The walk follows the valley to Porthcothan Mill and footpaths and small lanes form the return route via Old Macdonald's Farm and Bedruthan.

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 106 (scan QR code on right to order from Amazon)
  • Distance: 6.2 miles/10 km
  • Grade: Moderate
  • Start from: Carnewas NT car park
  • Parking: Carnewas NT car park. Follow the B3276 from Porthcothan until you reach signs for NT Carnewas, opposite "The Inn". Satnav: PL277UW
  • 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

Adjoining walks

Directions

  1. Make your way across the car park to the gap in the wall beside the building signposted Shop and Information. Go through the gap and take the left-hand path. Keep left to follow the path along the fence until it eventually emerges through a gap in a wall onto the Coast Path.

    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.

  2. Turn right onto the Coast Path and follow it past some junctions to the right to where the path forks.

    Project Neptune was started by the National Trust in 1965 to purchase and protect large portions of the British coastline. By 1973 it had achieved its target of raising £2 million and 338 miles of coastline were looked-after. The project was so successful that it is still running although mainly focused on maintenance. There is still an occasional opportunity when privately-owned coastal land is sold. A particularly notable one was in 2016 when the land at Trevose Head was put up for sale and successfully purchased by the National Trust.

  3. Take the left-hand path along the fence to where the two paths rejoin just in front of a waymark.

    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).

  4. Turn left onto the cobbled path and follow it down the steps to where an unsurfaced path departs to the right.

    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.

  5. The path to the left leads down to the beach which you may want to visit before returning here. The walk continues to the right, waymarked for Porthcothan. Follow the path up the steps to reach a waymark and then alongside the wooden fence to reach a fenced-off mineshaft. Continue to where the path meets another at a waymark just after the mineshaft.
  6. Merge onto the path ahead and follow it to a fork in the path at a National Trust sign for Park Head.

    The low banks between the path and cliff 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.

  7. Follow either of the paths (the outer one has nicer views but passes close to the cliff edge) to where they rejoin in front of a stone wall.

    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.

  8. Follow the path between the wall and fence to reach 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.

  9. Go through the gate and head towards the wall opposite to reach a waymarked kissing gate on the corner of the wall.

    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.

  10. Keep left to stay on the coast and follow along the wall on your right in the direction waymarked for Porthcothan. When the wall ends, follow the path across the field to reach a bench at the end of another stone wall.
  11. Follow the waymarked path along the edge of the bushes to reach a slate waymark.

    At the slate waymark, a path to the left 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!

  12. Turn right at the waymark and follow the cliff-edge path to reach a stone wall.

    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.

  13. Continue ahead keeping the wall on your right then follow the waymarked path. At the last of the slate waymarks, head towards the small headland ahead then follow the path leading down from it to reach a gate.

    In April and May the headland is covered with (blue) squill and (purple) dog violet flowers.

    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.

  14. Go through the gate and follow the path to a fork at a waymark. Bear left over the footbridge and follow the path behind the cove to a waymark beside a flight of steps.

    Porth Mear has some excellent rockpools at low tide.

    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.
  15. Climb the steps and follow the path over one stile to a second stile.

    The reefs just under the surface of the water, parts of which protrude at low tide, provide an ideal habitat for barnacles.

    Barnacles are crustaceans, related to crabs and lobsters. After a planktonic stage, they settle on a rock and never move again. To facilitate genetic transfer between isolated individuals, barnacles have extraordinarily long penises⁠. It is thought barnacles probably have the largest penis to body size ratio of the animal kingdom.

  16. Cross the stile and follow the path around the headland to reach a stile now bypassed by the path.

    The islands overlooked by the path 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.

  17. Pass the stile and follow the path along the fence posts to reach a kissing gate in a gulley leading onto the beach.

    The large hole that you pass is a collapsed cave which is accessible from the beach. DO NOT DROP ANYTHING INTO IT as there may be children below as well as birds nesting on the rock ledges.

  18. Go through the gate and follow the path alongside the beach until it forks as you pass along a hedge on the left.

    The rock stack at the end of the right-hand headland at Porthcothan is known as Will's Rock. This is because smugglers left a man from the Revenue on the rock to drown in the rising tide, however the officer (presumably named Will) survived to tell the tale.

  19. Keep right at the fork and follow the winding path around a fence and past Porthcothan Bay Stores to emerge on the road.

    There is a beach at all states of the tide at Porthcothan, though the beach massively increases in size at low tide, and consequently the tide comes in very fast. At the top of the beach, in the sand dunes, is a store. There are also public toilets in the car park, on the opposite side of the road.

    On the left side of the beach there are some double rock stacks. Before 2014, one of these (known as Jan Leverton's Island) was one large rock with a pair of "windows" going through it, but the central section containing the windows was obliterated by storm waves leaving a stack on either side. To the far left of the beach is a collapsed cave that has openings both onto the beach and the end of the headland through which it's possible to clamber at low tide.

  20. Turn left and carefully follow the road until, just after the bridge, you reach a small path departing to the right between the second and third bollard.
  21. Turn right onto the small path and follow it to reach a rustic wooden pedestrian gate across the path.

    Ivy leaves come in two types. Those on creeping stems are the "classic" ivy leaf with 3-5 triangular lobes. However, more mature ivy plants grow aerial shoots with a completely different (teardrop) leaf shape. These are the shoots that bear the flowers and fruits and are typically located in a sunny spot such as on an upright ivy bush or top of a rock face. The larger, multi-lobed leaves are able to catch more light in shady areas whereas the smaller, stouter leaves are more resistant to drying out.

  22. Go through the gate and follow the path until it eventually ends on a track.
  23. Turn right onto the track and follow it downhill a short distance until you reach a slate stile on the right opposite Trescore. Cross the stile and follow the path into the valley to reach a stone footbridge.

    The sheltered spot by the river is ideal habitat for damselfies.

    Damselflies are predators similar to dragonflies but are easily distinguishable by the way their wings fold back parallel to the body when at rest whereas the dragonflies' wings are fixed at a right angle to the body. The Damselfly has a much smaller body than a dragonfly which means it has less stamina for flight. Nevertheless, it can hover, in a stationary position, long enough to pluck spiders from their webs.

  24. Cross the bridge and follow the path to reach a track.

    The stone bridge which is now part of the public footpath is thought to be a packhorse bridge dating from mediaeval times.

  25. Turn left onto the track and walk a few paces to reach a series of wooden steps leading up to a wooden rail on the right.Climb the steps and follow the path to a kissing gate into a field.
  26. Go through the gate and follow all the way along the right hedge of the field to reach a stone stile in the far hedge.

    Rev Hawker of Morwenstow described the use of a cave in the valley above Portcothan for smuggling:

    At Porth Cothan the cliffs fall away and form a lap of shore, into which flows a little stream....About a mile up the glen, is a tiny lateral combe. Rather more than halfway down the steep slope is a hole just large enough to admit a man entering in a stooping posture...

    From the description, it would appear that the cave was located in the small tributary valley near Old Macdonald's Farm

  27. Cross the stile and turn left onto the lane. Follow the lane until it ends in a T-junction.

    The nursery rhyme "Old Macdonald had a farm" is thought to have originated in its full form in the USA from some very similar songs recorded in the WW1 era. The E-I-E-I-O was first recorded as Ohio-i-o and a little later as the more cowboy version of he-hi-he-hi-ho. The songs were themselves based on English folk songs, particularly the line:

    With a moo moo here and a moo moo there

    and also one which was even recorded in an opera in the early 1700s as:

    Here a Boo, there a Boo, every where a Boo
  28. Turn left at the junction and follow the lane until you reach a gate on the right opposite a junction to the left.

    Red valerian is also known as kiss-me-quick, fox's brush and Devil's or Jupiter's beard and can be seen flowering in early summer in hedgerows near the coast. The plant is originally from the Mediterranean and is thought to have been introduced as a garden plant roughly around the Tudor period. It has since become naturalised and the brightly-coloured flowers provide nectar for bees, butterflies and moths. Over time the base of the stems can get as thick as a small tree trunk which can lever apart the walls in which it can often be seen growing.

  29. Go through the pedestrian gate beside the field gate and follow the left hedge of the field to a gate in the far hedge.
  30. Go through the gate, cross the stile and head into the left-hand of the two fields. Then follow all the way along the right hedge to a path leading from the far side of the field; follow this alongside the hedge, into the valley to reach a footbridge.

    In the middle of the field on the right 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).

  31. Cross the footbridge and wooden walkway and follow the path over a stile into a field. Continue ahead to meet the right hedge and follow along this to a wooden stile (resembling a fence) on the right.

    Gorse, also known as furze, is present as two species (Common Gorse and Western Gorse) along the Atlantic coast. Between the species, some gorse is almost always in flower, hence the old country phrases: "when gorse is out of blossom, kissing's out of fashion" (which is recorded from the mid-19th century) and "when the furze is in bloom, my love's in tune" (which dates from the mid-18th century).

  32. Cross the sequence of stiles and bear left slightly to cross the field diagonally to a metal gate located just to the left of the line of trees.
  33. Go through the gate to reach a lane and turn right. Follow the lane between the houses and past the old chapel until you reach a junction on the right.

    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.

  34. Turn right at the junction and follow the tiny lane through a sequence of gates until it eventually ends in a T-junction with the main road.

    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.

  35. Carefully cross the road and turn left. Follow the road (using the verge to allow any oncoming cars to pass) to reach a "To Coastpath" sign beside a stile on the right.
  36. Cross the stile and continue to the huts. Bear left onto the track here and follow it in front of the buildings and downhill to reach the lowest parking area. Cross this to where a path departs beside a picnic bench.
  37. Follow the path from the bottom of the car park to emerge on the Coast Path. Turn left to reach the steps and follow the cobbled path back to the car park.

    The "National Trust for Places of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty" was founded in 1895 when snappy names weren't in fashion. Their first coastal acquisition was Barras Nose at Tintagel in 1897. Five years later, Tintagel Old Post Office was their first house to be acquired in Cornwall. The National Trust now has over 4 million members and owns over 700 miles of British coastline.

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 very grateful if could you look out for the following:

  • Any stiles, gates or waymark posts referenced in the directions which are no longer there
  • Any stiles referenced in the directions that have been replaced with gates, or vice-versa

Take a photo and 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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