Caerhays Castle to Hemmick Beach

A circular walk along Roseland coast between two sandy beaches from Caerhays Castle where the gardens contain nationally-important collections from the expeditions of Victorian plant hunters

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The walk begins by climbing through the parkland of the Caerhays estate to reach the tiny settlements which have grown around mediaeval farmsteads located close to streams descending to the sea. The route crosses the hill to Boswinger then descends to Hemmick Beach which is quite large and sandy at low tide. The walk then follows the coast path along the cliffs of The Roseland to return to Porthluney.

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 105 (scan QR code on right to order from Amazon)
  • Distance: 3.8 miles/6.1 km
  • Grade: Moderate-strenuous
  • Start from: Porthluney car park
  • Parking: Porthluney car park (gates locked at 8pm) PL266LX. Follow signs for Caerhays and when you reach Caerhays keep following the road for just under a mile until you reach the castle with the car park opposite.
  • Recommended footwear: Walking boots

OS maps for this walk

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Highlights

  • Caerhays castle and gardens
  • Views over Caerhays Castle from the footpaths
  • Views along the Roseland coastline
  • Sandy beaches at Porthluney and Hemmick

Directions

  1. Make your way out the car park and turn right onto the lane to pass the entrance to the castle and reach a kissing gate on the right marked with a Public Footpath sign.

    The "castle" at Caerhays is actually a castellated manor house. The manor belonged to the Arundell in the early middle ages and passed by marriage into the Trevanion family where it remained until 1854 when its owner fled to Paris when he was unable to pay his bills. The Williams family purchased it from the creditors in 1854 and are still the owners. The current castle was built between 1807-1810 before the Trevanion family hit hard times.

  2. Go through the gate and head up to the top of the hill, passing to the right of the central clump of trees and to the left of the next clump. Continue ahead towards the the furthest section of the top hedge to reach a wooden gate and kissing gate to the left of the largest tree in this area of hedge.

    The pheasant is named after the Ancient town of Phasis (now in West Georgia) and the birds were naturalised in the UK by the 10th Century with introductions both from the Romano-British and the Normans. However, by the 17th Century they had become extinct in most of the British Isles.

    In the 1830s, the pheasant was rediscovered as a gamebird and since then it has been reared extensively for shooting. The pheasant has a life expectancy of less than a year in the wild and it is only common because around 30 million pheasants are released each year on shooting estates.

  3. Go through the kissing gate on the right of the gate and follow the track to a lane. Turn left onto the lane and follow it past the houses and downhill until you reach a track on the right marked with a Public Footpath sign to Treveor.
  4. Bear right onto the track and follow it past the cottages to a gate and stile.
  5. Cross the stile on the left of the gate and follow along the fence at the bottom of the field to reach a kissing gate.

    The number of cows in Cornwall has been estimated at around 75,000 so there's a good chance of encountering some in grassy fields. If you are crossing fields in which there are cows:

    • Avoid splitting the herd as cows are more relaxed if they feel protected by the rest of the herd. Generally the best plan is to walk along the hedges.
    • Do not show any threatening behaviour towards calves (approaching them closely to take photos, making loud noises or walking between a calf and its mother) as you may provoke the mother to defend her young.
    • If cows approach you, they often do so out of curiosity and in the hope of food - it may seem an aggressive invasion of your space but that's mainly because cows don't have manners. Do not run away as this will encourage them to chase you. Stand your ground and stretch out your arms to increase your size. Usually if you calmly approach them, they will back off. It's also best to avoid making sudden movements that might cause them to panic.
    • Where possible, avoid taking dogs into fields with cows, particularly with calves. 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.
  6. Go through the gate and cross the stile to reach a footbridge. Cross this into the field and then follow the right hedge to the top of the field to reach a stone stile marked with a Public Footpath sign in the corner behind the water trough.

    Although most primroses tend to be pale yellow, in residential areas, extensive hybridisation occurs with pink and purple garden primulas to create all kinds of weird and wonderful mutants, with some even shaped like cowslips. However there is a pale pink variety of primrose (known as rhubarb and custard) that is thought to be a naturally-occurring variant of the pale yellow (rhubarb-free) version as it has been found miles away from any domestic plants.

  7. Cross the stile and descend to the lane. Turn right and follow the lane until you reach a track departing to the right between a pair of semi-detached cottages and a black barn, and marked with a Public Footpath sign to Boswinger.
  8. Turn right and follow the track until it ends in a gate and stile into a field.

    The settlement is Treveor which is Cornish for "big farm". Place names in the Cornish language usually date from at least early mediaeval times ("The Dark Ages") before the Norman Conquest. The French-speaking Norman gentry then took control of the land and their language soon merged with the language of the Saxons to become mediaeval English.

  9. Go through the gate if open or cross the stile on the left. Then follow the left hedge to reach a stone stile topped with an iron bar roughly two-thirds of the way along the hedge.
  10. Cross the stile and turn right to follow along the right hedge. Continue to reach a similar stile in the far hedge.
  11. Cross the stile and turn left onto the lane. Follow the lane until you reach a junction to the right at the entrance to the Holiday Park.
  12. Turn right and follow the lane downhill into Boswinger. Pass the Youth Hostel and blue "single track" sign and walk roughly half-way down the hill to reach a gateway on the left with a wooden kissing gate on the left of the field gate.

    The first record of Boswinger is from 1301 when it was spelt Boswengar. Bos is the Cornish word for "dwelling" and it is thought the remainder is likely to be the name of the family who lived there during the early mediaeval period.

  13. Go through the kissing gate and cross the field to the kissing gate in the middle of the hedge opposite.
  14. Go through the gate and continue ahead downhill. Head to the bottom-right corner of the field to reach a kissing gate.
  15. Go through the kissing gate and climb the steps to reach the lane. Turn left and follow the lane down to where a small path departs to the right just before the ford.
  16. Turn right onto the small path and follow it towards the beach. After exploring the beach, follow the path climbing up the coast to the right. Climb the steps to reach a kissing gate at the top.

    The beach is mostly sand with some shingle near the high tide line and rocky ridges down either side. At low tide, an area of rock is exposed on the right-hand side which contains a number of rockpools. Due to its remote location and limited parking, there are usually not many people on the beach.

  17. Go through the gate and turn left to follow along the fence and reach a gap in the bank.

    The name "daisy" is thought to be a corruption of "day's eye" (or "eye of the day", as Chaucer called it). The name comes about because the flower head closes at night and opens each morning. In mediaeval times, it was known as "Mary's Rose". The Romans used to soak bandages in daisy juice as an antiseptic for sword wounds.

  18. Go through the gap and follow along the left side of the field to reach a gap in a bank.

    The Latin name of the buttercup, Ranunculus, means "little frog" and said to be because the plants like wet conditions. It is thought it may have come via a derogatory name for people who lived near marshes!

  19. Go through the gap and turn right to keep the bank on your right and follow this to another gap.
  20. Go through the gap and then follow along the fence on the left to pass a redundant stile and reach a kissing gate.

    The coast here faces towards Brittany which is about 110 miles away.

    Due to the curvature of the earth, the distance you can see to the horizon depends on your height above sea level. This increases with the square root of height (i.e. with diminishing returns). An adult typically sees the horizon about 3 miles from the beach. From the top of a 100 foot lighthouse, it is about 12 miles away. At the top of the highest cliff in Cornwall it is roughly 33 miles out but if a 100ft tower were built all the way up here, it would only allow an extra 2 miles to be seen.

  21. When you reach the kissing gate, go through the sequence of 2 gates then follow the path parallel to the fence to reach a path departing from the far side of the field.

    Ravens nest along the coast here.

    Ravens are the largest member of the crow family and has a bigger wingspan than a buzzard. During Victorian times, they were exterminated by farmers and gamekeepers during much of the UK but retained a stronghold in the southwest. Their nests, constructed of robust twigs, can be seen along the cliffs of Cornwall.

  22. Follow along the fence to join the path departing from the field and follow this to reach a pedestrian gate.

    Researchers have found that ravens use gesture to communicate in a similar way to humans. Obviously ravens don't have hands so instead they point with their beaks to indicate an object to another bird, just as we do with our fingers. They also hold up an object in their beak to get another bird's attention.

  23. Go through the gate and follow the path over the headland to reach a kissing gate at the bottom of a steep descent.
  24. Go through the kissing gate and follow the path to reach a pedestrian gate leading into an area with wind-sculpted hawthorn trees.

    The hawthorn tree is most often found in hedgerows where it was used to create a barrier for livestock, and in fact haw was the Old English word for "hedge".

    The flowers of the hawthorn are known as "May Blossom" and were traditionally used as decorations in May Day celebrations. Now, however, the hawthorn generally doesn't flower until the middle of May. The reason for this is that May has moved! Until 1752, Britain used the Julian Calendar which had leap years every 4 years but no other corrections. This results in a length of day that is fractionally too long, so the first of May gradually slipped forwards over the centuries. By the 1700s, the first of May was 11 days ahead of where it is today.

    In Mediaeval times, bringing hawthorn blossom into the house was thought to bring death and it was described as smelling like the Great Plague. The explanation for this is thought to be that the hawthorn blossom contains trimethylamine which is one of the first chemicals formed when animal tissue decays. Young leaves of the plant can be used in salads as the chemical is not present in the leaves so these taste nutty rather than of death.

    Hawthorn berries have been used to make jellies as they contain pectin. However the seeds in hawthorn berries should be avoided as they contain a compound called amygdalin, which is cyanide bonded with sugar. In the gut this is converted to hydrogen cyanide. Apple pips contain the same thing but if you accidentally swallow a couple then don't panic: you'd need to chew and swallow around 200 apple pips to get a fatal dose of cyanide.

  25. Go through the gate and follow the path to another gate with a footbridge on the other side.

    During March and April the field before the footbridge can have an impressive display of primroses providing grazing animals such as ponies haven't yet nibbled them.

    During Victorian times, the building of railways allowed primrose flowers picked in the Westcountry to be on sale in London the next day. Picking was done on a large scale but eventually became unfashionable, being seen as environmentally destructive. However all the evidence gathered suggests as long as the flowers were picked and the plants were not dug up, the practice was sustainable.

  26. Go through the gate and cross the footbridge. Then follow the path to the right to a gap in the bank.

    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 bleating, 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.

  27. Go through the gap and turn left. Follow along the hedge on the left to reach a kissing gate in the fence at the top of the field.
  28. Go through the kissing gate and turn left. Follow along the left hedge to reach another gate in the hedge opposite.
  29. Go through the kissing gate and follow the left hedge of the field to another kissing gate.

    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.

  30. Go through the gate and follow the path through the wooded area to reach a gate into an area of grassy parkland.

    The shade under the trees provides a perfect habitat for bluebells which flower here during April and May.

    According to folklore, it's unlucky to bring bluebells into a house and also unlucky to walk through bluebells as it was thought that the little bells would ring and summon fairies and goblins.

  31. Go through the gate and continue ahead towards the lake to reach a kissing gate in the corner of the fences in front of the tall trees, to the right of the lake.

    During the late 18th and early 19th century, the Williams family sponsored plant hunting expeditions to bring back exotic specimens for the gardens. The garden is now home to 600 varieties of plants, including trees and shrubs such as azaleas and camellias. By 1917, it had over 250 types of rhododendron. The garden now hosts the largest collection of magnolias in England.

  32. Go through the gate and follow along the fence on the left. Turn left at the end of the fence to return to the pedestrian gate by the stream and cross the bridge back to the car park.

    Caerhays was first recorded in 1259 as "Karihaes" and places in Brittany with the name Carhaix are thought likely to have the same origin (their earlier forms are also similar to the early forms of the Cornish one). In Cornish, ker means "fort" (often appearing at the start of place names as Caer or Car) but because all the early forms for Caerhays have an "i" sound after the "car", it casts doubt on whether the name was based on this.

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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