Cape Cornwall to Levant

The walk starts at Cape Cornwall and follows the coast to the Kenidjack Valley. After crossing the valley, the path climbs to the headland and passes through the remains of the mine workings and iconic engine houses on Botallack head featured heavily in the Poldark TV series. After reaching the Levant Mine museum, the route turns inland to the Higher Bal engine house and then follows footpaths to reach the Queens Arms in Botallack. From here, the walk follows footpaths past Wheal Owles to return to Cape Cornwall.

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 102 (scan QR code on right to order from Amazon)
  • Distance: 5.4 miles/8.6 km
  • Grade: Moderate
  • Start from: Cape Cornwall
  • Parking: Cape Cornwall National Trust car park. Follow the main road to the square in St Just, turn down Cape Cornwall Street and follow this to the NT car park. Satnav: TR197NN
  • Recommended footwear: Walking boots

Maps for this walk

(dark blue corner = laminated version)

Highlights

  • Heinz monument and St Helen's Oratory on Cape Cornwall
  • Rugged coastline with views to Pendeen Lighthouse
  • Engine houses perched on Botallack Head
  • Mining Interpretation Centre at Botallack Count House
  • Working beam engine at Levant Mine
  • Wildlife including choughs and peregrine falcons

Directions

  1. From the entrance to the car park, cross the road to the waymark in the driveway of The Forge opposite. Turn right and follow the path along the wall until you emerge onto a track.

    The small ruined building in the field next to The Forge is St Helen's Oratory.

    St Helen's Oratory is thought to be on the site of a 6th century church and the font in St Just church might have originally come from here. In the mid-19th Century, an ancient cross was discovered on the site with markings that were in use during the 4th and 5th centuries. A small stone basin was also found and this is now inside St Just church. The cross has since been lost; according to one account, it was thrown down the St Just vicarage well! The cross that is now on the chapel is another ancient one that was found nearby.

  2. Turn left onto the track and follow it until a path departs from the left at a granite waymark.

    Choughs nest in the area and are fairly regularly seen.

    The chough is a member of the crow family, with striking red legs and a red beak. It was known as the "Crow of Cornwall" and appears on the county coat of arms. The birds have a distinctive call which is perhaps best described as resembling a squeaky dog toy! They are also recognisable from feathers, spread like fingers, on their wings.

    In the 1800s, many choughs were killed by "sportsmen" and trophy hunters. Also around this time, grazing livestock were moved to inland pastures where they could be more easily managed. The result was that the cliff slopes became overgrown and choughs found it increasingly difficult to find suitable feeding areas. By 1973, the chough had become extinct in Cornwall.

    Since then, clifftops have been managed more actively which has included the reintroduction of grazing and choughs have returned to Cornwall by themselves from colonies in Wales or Ireland. The first pair settled in 2001 on the Lizard Peninsula. Since then, the birds have successfully bred and been joined by a few more incoming birds, and the population has slowly but steadily grown. Each chough is fitted with one leg ring in the colours of St Piran's flag and two other colours on the opposite leg to identify them.

  3. Turn left onto the Coast Path and follow this until you reach another granite waymark at a junction of paths.

    The name "chough" is from the bird's call which is more along the lines of "cheee-ow". Locally they were also known as chaws, however, the old Cornish name for the bird is Palores, meaning digger, which is thought to be an allusion to its rooting for invertebrates. The scientific name (Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax) means "fire crow" which is likely to be an allusion to its red bill and legs. This possibly also relates to the birds' mischievous reputation during the Tudor and Elizabethan periods for stealing lighted candles or embers and dropping these onto roofs, which were generally thatched in Cornwall at this time.

  4. Turn left at the waymark and follow the Coast Path down into the valley and over a footbridge to emerge onto a track at a granite waymark.

    From 1337-1837, the Cornish tin industry was double-taxed because Cornwall was deemed "foreign". The additional taxation (known as "coinage") rates levied on Cornish tin compared to that mined in Devon were paid to the Duchy of Cornwall.

    On May 15 2000, the Revived Cornish Stannary Parliament sent an invoice to the Duchy of Cornwall for an inflation-adjusted £20 billion for recovery of overcharged taxation on tin production by the Duchy of Cornwall. The invoice, which had terms of 120 days, has so far not been paid. Statutory interest on a late payment of that amount is over £1.5 billion per year.

  5. Turn left onto the track and follow it to a gateway where a path departs from the left. Bear left onto the path and follow this until you reach a sign for Kenidjack Valley.

    The stream in the Kenidjack Valley once powered around 50 waterwheels. The stone wheel pit that can be seen in the lower Kenidjack Valley was enlarged in around 1865 to accommodate a waterwheel of 52 feet and the 65 foot "Great Wheel" of Wheal Call, built in 1837, was the second largest in Britain. Even when five engine houses were installed in the lower part of the valley, only three of these worked full time and the other two were only used in times of drought. The tall chimney further up the valley is the remains of a furnace for the arsenic works. Most of the surrounding walled structures are the remains of waterwheel-driven ore crushing mills.

  6. At the sign, turn right and follow the path up the side of the valley until it emerges onto a track at a granite waymark.
  7. Turn left and follow the track a short distance until you reach some stone coast path markers.

    From here there is a good view over Cape Cornwall.

    Cape Cornwall is the only headland in England referred to as a "cape" and one of the only two in the UK (the other is Cape Wrath in Scotland). According to some sources, Cape Cornwall was once thought to be the most westerly point of the mainland, although most maps from the 16th Century onwards clearly show Lands End as protruding further west. The name Cape Cornwall first appeared on maritime charts in Tudor times though on some maps it was marked as "Chapel Just". The Cornish name for the headland is the topographically-inspired Kilgodh Ust which has been translated as "goose-back at St Just" and eloquently describes the view from the headland at the bottom of the Kenidjack Valley.

    There is a lookout on the seaward side of Cape Cornwall which is manned by volunteers from the National Coastwatch Institution and during Victorian times, there was a tin mine on the headland which operated intermittently between 1838 and 1883. The mine's chimney near the peak of the cape was retained as an aid to navigation, and during a period in the early 20th century, the former ore dressing floors were converted into greenhouses and wineries. In 1987, the headland was purchased by the Heinz corporation and gifted to the nation, to be managed by the National Trust. The chimney is marked with a commemorative plaque and is now known as the Heinz monument.

  8. Turn right and climb the path up the headland to reach a grassy area on the right of the derelict mine building.

    In 1889, the steamship Malta ran aground at full speed on the rocks offshore of the Kenidjack Valley, in dense fog. The crew and passengers were all rescued by the Sennen lifeboat. A court found the captain's navigation to be substandard and suspended his licence for three months. The cargo included copper, tin and iron and has been heavily salvaged but copper ingots still turn up occasionally.

  9. Bear right onto the grassy path and follow this until you reach an iron gate with a stile.

    The engine house on the left was an ore crushing ("stamping") engine house. The area around the engine house was originally a small mine known as Wheal Edward but was later combined into West Wheal Owles.

  10. Cross the stile and follow the path a short distance to a track. Bear left onto the track and follow this to a granite waymark for the Coast Path.

    The engine house ahead with the spoil heaps housed the pumping engine for West Wheal Owles.

    In 1783, the mine was known as Crackegodna. In the 19th Century, this was taken over as part of the Wheal Owles complex and renamed West Wheal Owles although the old name still survives as Cargodna shaft. The surviving engine house was for the pumping engine. The corner of a wall is all that remains of the winding engine house which was used to power a double track tramway leading down to a shaft on the cliffs.

    The West Wheal Owles pumping engine house is used for filming both Wheal Grace and Wheal Leisure in the BBC's Poldark series. There was a real mine called Wheal Leisure at Perranporth where Winston Graham lived.

  11. Turn left onto the Coast Path and follow this until you reach a waymark where a path departs to the left to the engine houses beside the sea.

    The Cornish name for Botallack Head is Lae Maen Veor, meaning great stone ledge. The two engine houses perched on the ledges were part of Crown mines, named after The Crowns rocks off the headland. The mine was built in 1815 and the workings extend for a quarter of a mile under the Atlantic ocean; the deepest shaft is 250 fathoms below sea level. In 1863 the chain which pulled the mine gig suddenly broke, causing eight men and a boy to plummet to their deaths down the shaft. The mine finally closed at the outbreak of the First World War.

  12. Keep right in the direction waymarked and follow the path until you reach a fork in the path at the bottom of some rough steps.

    The tall chimney to your right was part of an arsenic labyrinth. A path leads up to it via the building with the arched brick doorway. Once you have finished exploring, return to the path alongside the dressing floors and continue until it forks.

    The granules of ore were heated in a furnace to remove impurities such as sulphur and particularly arsenic. By heating the ore in air, the arsenic impurities could be driven off as a vapour. As the impurities escaped as gasses, the particles of ore melted into grey crystalline lumps of tin oxide known as "black tin".

    The exhaust gasses were cooled and condensed to form a white powder deposited in the flues or purpose-built condensers. The white powder - arsenic - was collected and sold. A few grains of pure arsenic are enough to be fatal but the majority of arsenic workers managed to protect themselves by stuffing cotton wool up their noses and painting their faces and any other exposed areas of skin white with fuller's earth to prevent arsenic being absorbed through the pores of their skin.

  13. Bear left at the fork to follow the path up the steps to a granite waymark. Turn left at the waymark and follow the track until you reach another granite waymark by a wooden gate.

    A short distance to the right along the track is the Botallack Count House - a large building with a lawn.

    The Count House at Botallack was built during the 1860s when the dressing floors were expanded on the cliff top, replacing a previous Count House on the track leading down to the engine houses on the headland. As the name suggests, it was where the miners collected their pay but it was also the hub of the day-to-day running of the mine. It was restored by the National Trust and is now open to the public with a café and an information centre about the history and wildlife of the area (no entry fee). The building is now heated geothermally, by bore holes in the ground below it to heat water using the same hot rocks that made the mines unpleasantly hot to work in.

  14. At the waymark, turn left down the coast path until you reach a fork just after passing over a stone wall.

    The conical structures in the old dressing floors are the remains of devices known as "buddles". These were used to separate the tin ore from the rock (known as gange) in the ore slurry created by the stamping mill. The slurry was trickled onto the centre of the dome and a rotating set of brushes, suspended from wooden spokes, smeared the slurry around the circular structure. The heavy tin would deposit near the central dome whereas unwanted rock fragments would travel further and end up in a pit around the outside.

  15. Take the right-hand path and follow it to the remains of a chimney then a little further to a waymark. Keep left at the waymark to join a path running across the tips from the mine. Continue until you reach a (concrete) trig. point.

    Peregrine falcons nest on the cliffs here so you may see one flying overhead or perched on a rocky outcrop as you walk along the coast to Levant.

    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).

  16. Bear right very slightly at the trig point to stay on the major path ahead. Follow this past some mineshafts until you reach a junction of paths.
  17. Keep right at the first junction beside the stone wall then, almost immediately, where path forks, take the path to the left towards the pair of chimneys on the skyline, and follow this to a gap in a stone wall.

    Under the sea, shafts to ventilate and cool the mines were not an option so most submarine mines were uncomfortably hot (30-40 Celcius) as the temperature of the rocks increases by 1 degree Celcius for each 15 fathoms that a mine is sunk. The large numbers of miners' candles in the relatively confined spaces also served to push up the temperature further. In some mines it was so warm that miners candles were liable to melt away unless surrounded in water. Chemical reactions between air, water and the ore could also increase temperature. In the Hot Lode in the United Mines at Gwennap, water was recorded at a temperature of 52 Celcius.

  18. Follow the path through the gap and down into the gulley to a crossing of paths. Take the path ahead and follow it to the small rock outcrop on the top of the headland where there is a junction of paths.

    The gulley is part of the inlet known as Whealcock Zawn.

    According to "The Z to Z of Great Britain", there are just over 40 place names in Britain that begin with the letter Z; over three-quarters of them are in Cornwall. One of the main reasons for this is that the Cornish word for "coastal inlet" is zawn, and coastline is something that Cornwall has rather a lot of.

    Zawn Brinny, near Levant mine is an example of one of these.

  19. Continue on the major path ahead and follow it to the remains of the chimney on the next headland. From the chimney, continue along the path until it ends in a turning area at the end of a track overlooking Levant Mine.

    Cornwall has the longest stretch of coastline of any county in the UK, stretching for roughly 400 miles around 80% of the county. Wherever you are in Cornwall, you are never more than 16 miles from the sea, and from the majority of hills you can see it on a clear day.

  20. Join the track and keep left to follow the track towards the large engine house. Continue until you reach the car park for Levant mine.

    As early as the 18th Century, mine workings in the Levant area tunnelled below sea level and went beneath the sea. In 1820 the operation known as Levant Mine was established and operated continuously for over 100 years until 1930, after which it was abandoned and slowly flooded. It got the nickname of "mine under the sea" because its network of tunnels over 60 miles long extends under the Atlantic Ocean, stretching 1.5 miles out from the coast. Within the tunnels, a blind miner helped others to navigate when their candles failed.

    The beam engine is still in-situ and was restored after 60 years of decay by a group of enthusiasts known as the "Greasy Gang". The working engine can be seen within a mining museum run by the National Trust.

  21. From the car park, turn right onto the lane and follow this away from the mine, past some buildings and the towering stone wall of Higher Bal to reach a waymark at a track on the right.

    Some of the Cornish mines were up to half a mile in depth and every day men needed to get from the surface to the bottom of the mine and back after doing a day of physically exhausting work. Having men climb a half-mile long ladder was not profitable for mine operators, so faster and less exhausting means to move men about were invented. Winding apparatus could be used to lower and raise men in a basket, and mechanisms along these lines were still in use in the granite quarries of Bodmin Moor during the 20th Century. However, the beam engine offered an alternative approach: the long rod of a pumping engine could have steps on which men could ride down, usually 12 feet, during one beam engine stroke and the sides of the shaft could have ledges, so the men could step off onto a ledge whilst the engine reversed direction, then step back on for the next stroke. Some of the larger mines had dedicated "man engines" which were tailored for this purpose: since miners generally started and finished at similar times, there would be a column of men, stacked one above the other riding down the shaft in the morning, and up in the evening.

  22. Turn right down the track and follow it to a waymark at a junction of tracks.

    Higher Bal was once part of the Spearne Consols mine and was incorporated into Levant in 1880. In the massive retaining wall, one archway has a flight of steps leading to the engine house and the other looks straight into the mineshaft. The V-shaped notches in the wall were chutes known as "ore-passes" which were used to fill carts with ore. The engine house was used both to pump out the mineshaft and for hoisting.

  23. Keep left at the waymark and continue on the track ahead. Follow this until a waymarked path departs from the left.

    One evening in 1919, the top bearing failed in the Levant Man Engine as the men were on their way out of the mine and what was described as "a living pillar of men" dropped down the shaft. The weight of the wooden pump rod and men on it was so great that the safety catches designed to stop it if it fell all failed. Since the stroke of the engine was only 12 feet, the drop would have been at most 12 feet before the beam hit the bottom of the shaft. However, the beam on which they were standing shattered which meant that the men dropped from just over 100 feet below the surface to the bottom of the 1800 foot (⅓ mile) shaft and many of those waiting on the steps to get onto the beam were crushed by the debris falling from above. In all, 31 miners were killed and many others were seriously injured.

  24. Turn left and follow the path parallel to the track for a short distance until you reach a stile on the right.
  25. Cross the stile, the track and the stile opposite. Then follow the left hedge of the field to reach a stile in the corner of the field.
  26. Cross the stile and follow the left hedge, past the cottage, to reach a waymarked gate.
  27. Go through the gate and turn right. Follow the path between the two hedges to emerge into a field. Follow the left hedge to reach a waymark roughly three-quarters of the way along the hedge.
  28. Cross the stile beside the waymark and follow the path ahead between the bushes to emerge further along the field then bear left to a gap in the far left corner.
  29. Go through the gap and turn left onto the track. Follow the track until you eventually reach a gate across the track where it passes between two hedges.

    In August, blackberries start to ripen on brambles. Blackberries are closely related to raspberries and technically neither is a berry but an aggregate of many individual tiny fruits, each containing a tiny stone like a miniature cherry. Blackberries are high in vitamin C, K and antioxidants. The seeds, despite being a bit crunchy, contain omega-3 and -6 fatty acids and further enhance blackberries' "superfood" status.

    According to folklore, you should not pick blackberries after Michealmas Day (11th October) as this is when the devil claims them. The basis for this is thought to be the potentially toxic moulds which can develop on the blackberries in the cooler, wetter weather.

  30. Go through the gate and follow the track to the entrance to a farm.
  31. At the entrance to the farm, keep left to go through the metal gate and follow the grassy track ahead to emerge onto the farm track.

    The idea of eating something that can sting you seems wrong until you realise that nettles lose their sting as soon as you cook them, and they taste like spinach. Wearing gloves, strip off the young tender leaves, discarding any large coarse leaves and stems. Use lightly boiled, steamed or wilted as if it were spinach (though not raw unless you want to live dangerously!). All the usual spinach flavour combinations apply (e.g. with ricotta). Nettles are extremely nutritious, containing high levels of vitamin A and C, large amounts of iron and a significant amount of protein.

  32. Bear left onto the track and left again onto the lane and follow it a short distance to a junction. Follow the lane ahead from the junction until, just past the pub, you reach a public bridleway on the right.

    The place name Botallack dates back to the Middle Ages and was recorded as Botalec in 1302. The first part of the name is from the Cornish word bod for "dwelling". It's possible that the rest is based on the Cornish word tal which be used to mean "brow", "front" or "end". The meaning isn't obvious and the name may even have come via a personal name itself based on the Cornish word i.e. Talek's dwelling.

  33. Take the path on the right marked with the bridleway sign and follow it until it emerges onto another path. Then turn right and follow the path until it emerges onto a track.

    In English we often add a -y ending to a noun to turn it into an adjective; for example "rock" becomes "rocky". For many of the nouns imported from French, we add -ic (acidic, magnetic, artistic...). The equivalent in Cornish is to add -ack or -ek to the end of the word. Thus meynek is "stony" (men is stone), stennack means "tinny" (sten is tin).

  34. Bear right onto the track and follow it until it meets another track.
  35. Turn right, in the direction of the engine house, then almost immediately bear left down a grassy path opposite the cottage to a stone stile. Cross this and continue on the path to reach a stile into a field.

    The engine house was part of Wheal Owles and the cottage was the Count House (mine office).

    Wheal Owles, pronounced "oals" and from the Cornish als for cliff, was a tin and copper mine worked during the 19th Century. The mine had twenty-five shafts, eleven steam engines, and over thirty miles of tunnels.

    In 1893, 20 miners were killed when a surveying error resulted in tunnelling into an area of old workings of Wheal Drea which was flooded. Water poured into Wheal Owles, rising up the shaft at an average rate of 1 foot every 2 seconds which completely overwhelmed the pumping equipment. As the water rushed into Wheal Owles it pushed the air before it, creating a great wind which blew out all the candles, leaving the terrified miners in absolute darkness. Those working on the upper levels narrowly escaped with their lives. Six miners managed to escape by using a tram wagon to navigate through the darkness to the shaft and climbed to safety before the water engulfed them. Within 20 minutes, 75% of the Wheal Owles mine was filled with water. The mine was closed and the 20 bodies were never recovered.

  36. Cross the stile and head across the field to a path opposite. Follow this over two stiles to emerge onto a driveway.
  37. Cross the driveway to a track ahead and follow this past a ruined building on your left. Continue a short distance to a bend where a path departs from the right.

    The settlement of Kenidjack was first recorded in 1324 spelt Kenygyek. The name is thought to be based on the Cornish word for firewood, kunys.

  38. When you reach the corner, keep left to stay on the track and follow this downhill to emerge onto a lane.
  39. Cross the lane to the track directly opposite, marked with a yellow waymark arrow, and follow this as it narrows to a path. Continue to emerge at a waymark at a junction of tracks.
  40. Turn left onto the track along the wall and follow this as it becomes a lane. Continue until you reach a public footpath sign beside a wooden gate on the right.
  41. Climb the rocky stile beneath the footpath sign and follow the path along the top of the hedge. Continue over another stile and between the hedges to reach a stile into a field.

    Boscean was recorded in 1302 as Bosseghan. The name is from the Cornish words bod (meaning dwelling and often appearing in the form bos) and sehgan meaning "dry place". The farm is on a northeast-facing slope, clear of the wet ground at the bottom of the valley.

  42. Climb down the stile into the field and follow the right hedge roughly 10 metres to a waymark. Cross over the wall beside the waymark then follow the left hedge to reach a waymarked stile.
  43. Cross the stile and continue ahead to a stile in the middle of the hedge on the right.

    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.
  44. Cross the stile and bear left slightly to a stile near the left corner of the far hedge.
  45. Cross the stile and follow the right hedge to another stile.
  46. Cross the stile and bear right to a stile in the right corner of the far hedge (ignore the waymarked stile directly ahead).
  47. Cross the stile and follow the left hedge to a wooden stile.
  48. Cross the stile and continue over the stone stile next to the gate and along a track to a crossing of tracks. Turn left and follow the track to reach a lane.

    Boswedden was recorded in 1302 as Boswen which comes directly from the Cornish for "white dwelling".

  49. Turn right onto the lane and follow it down the hill past Porthledden to the car park to complete the circular route.

    Porthledden was built by Francis Oats, a local man who was a mine captain by his early twenties and went on to make his fortune in the gold fields and diamond mines of South Africa, becoming the Chairman of De Beers within 3 years of joining the company as a mining engineer. Porthledden was completed in 1909, towards the end of his life, and was run as a hotel by his son after his death. As the family was heavily invested in Cornish mines and the hotel was not that successful, the family debts mounted and eventually they had to sell off the house. Towards the end of the 20th century it became derelict until it was bought in 2003 by a young couple who had built a successful company in the .com boom with a website about hotels, ironically. The restoration of the house took them 10 years and had to be approached as a maritime engineering project due to the salt-laden winds that blow over the Cape that would corrode any materials that are not marine grade.

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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