Charlestown to Porthpean

A circular walk between the sheltered cove at Porthpean and the historic port of Charlestown, originally built to export copper, then China Clay, and now used for filming by Hollywood and Poldark.

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The route begins by following lanes from Charlestown along the edge of the woods and then to Porthpean Beach Road to reach a bridleway leading through a tree tunnel spanning the golf course. The walk follows this to reach the church at Higher Porthpean. The walk then follows a footpath across the fields with panoramic views of the bay to reach the coast. The return route is along the Coast Path via Porthpean beach, Duporth Beach and with a spectacular birds-eye view of Charlestown Harbour after passing the cliff battery.

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 105 (scan QR code on right to order from Amazon)
  • Distance: 2.9 miles/4.7 km
  • Grade: Moderate
  • Start from: Charlestown car park
  • Parking: Charlestown Harbour car park PL253NH. Follow signs to Charlestown and follow the road until you reach the roundabout overlooking Charlestown harbour. The car park is immediately on the right of this.
  • Recommended footwear: Walking boots; trainers in summer

OS maps for this walk

Click or tap on map for more info (blue=laminated)

Highlights

  • Sheltered, sandy beaches at Porthpean and Duporth
  • Historic harbour at Charlestown
  • Shipwreck museum at Charlestown

Adjoining walks

Directions

  1. Turn right out of the car park and follow the road in the direction of the harbour to reach Barkhouse Lane on the right.

    The port of Charlestown was an enterprise of Charles Rashleigh, initially to export copper ore from the mines from around St Austell to the smelters in South Wales. The harbour was designed by the marine architect John Smeaton whose other achievements included the Eddystone Lighthouse now on Plymouth Hoe and the pier at St Ives. Later on, Charlestown became important for the export of China Clay and the remains of a loading chute is still present along one side of the dock.

  2. Turn right onto Barkhouse Lane and follow this to reach a wooden fence at the far end.

    After the Eddystone Lighthouse burnt down, the engineer John Smeaton designed its replacement - this time in stone - consisting of granite blocks held together with a quick-drying lime mortar of his own invention and modelled on the shape of an oak tree. The lighthouse took 3 years to build and was finally lit in 1759. The design was so effective that the lighthouse outlasted the rock on which is was built, and became the standard method of construction for lighthouses worldwide. After 127 years, the rock began to crack from the action of the waves and the lighthouse would sway when hit by large waves. After a new lighthouse was constructed on a different rock, the people of Plymouth raised money to have Smeaton's lighthouse dismantled and reassembled on the Hoe, where it still stands today. However the lighthouse base was so sturdy that it could not be dismantled and still stands on Eddystone Reef next to the new lighthouse.

  3. Go through the pedestrian gap and bear left onto the pavement with railings. Follow this the length of the road (crossing over any roads leading to housing estates on the left) until it ends in a staggered crossroads.

    Smeaton's design for Charlestown included another engineering masterpiece - a mindbogglingly long leat, the far end of which can still be seen on the west side of the Luxulyan Valley beyond the Eden Project.

    The leat was constructed in the late 1790s to supply water to Charlestown Harbour, 10km away. The water supply was used to keep ships afloat within the gated dock at low tide and to periodically flush out the harbour. Its source is at the Cam Bridges on the River Par.

  4. Turn left and follow the pavement to Ridgewood Close.
  5. Cross over the road to continue on the pavement and follow this to a junction for Porthpean beach.

    Porthpean is from the Cornish for "small cove". The Cornish word for "little" features in many place names ending -vean (or sometimes -bean as mutation of the initial consonant between a softer and harder form occurs quite a lot in Celtic languages).

  6. Turn left and follow the pavement until you reach a Public Bridleway sign on the right indicating a small path, opposite Caislin.
  7. Turn right onto the bridleway and cross over the gravel track to follow the path between the trees. Continue until the path ends on another gravel track and bear right to reach a lane.

    Celandines flower along the track in spring.

    Celandine flowers close each night and open each morning. This is controlled by a circadian rhythm, so they really are 'going to sleep' at night and 'waking up in the morning'. It is likely that this has arisen to protect the internals of the flowers from any frost during the night as they begin flowering in March when frosts are still common.

  8. Bear left onto the lane and follow it to a bend beside Porthpean church.

    Golf developed in The Netherlands during the Middle Ages and was introduced into Scotland towards the end of this period where it evolved to its present form. The word golf is thought to be a Scots alteration of Dutch colf meaning "club". Golf is first documented in Scotland in a 1457 Act of the Scottish Parliament, prohibiting the playing of the games of gowf and futball as these were a distraction from archery practice.

  9. Bear right off the lane onto the track beside Ivy Cottage (directly opposite the churchyard entrance) and follow this down the driveway of Trelowen. Go through the gate into the turning area and bear right towards the garage until a kissing gate to the left of the garage comes into view, then make for this.

    The whole village of Porthpean once formed part of the Penrice estate owned by the Sawle family. The church was built as a private chapel in 1884-5 out of local stone and slate. After the death in 1971 of Mrs Cobbold Sawle, the last in the line, the church was given by the estate’s Trustees to St Austell Parish. The church is dedicated to St Levan, the Cornish patron saint of fishermen.

  10. Go through the gate and follow the right-hand side of the field uphill to reach a gap in the corner leading into the next field.

    In the mid-1980s, engineers identified ancient underwater channels criss-crossing the seabed in St Austell bay which had become filled with tin-rich sediment. However, no further exploration was done after the price of tin dropped. In recent years, the price of tin has been steadily increasing as the relatively rare metal is used in the production of electronic devices. These reserves are now being re-examined, with possible exploratory work to follow.

  11. Go through the gap into the (left) field ahead then follow along the hedge on the right to reach a granite post standing upright in the field beside a waymark.
  12. At the granite post, turn left to head downhill to the kissing gate below. Go through this and turn left onto the coast path. Follow this until you reach a stile.

    The lines of buoys out from Ropehaven are England's first offshore mussel farms. A line runs between two weights on the bottom and this is lifted to a couple of metres below the surface by the floats. The mussels are grown on ropes suspended from this which don't touch the seabed, ensuring they don't pick up grit and as many barnacles. They are naturally-occurring blue mussels which at their planktonic stage look for any suitable attachment to grow on, and attach themselves to the ropes. The ropes are initially coiled to suspend them in the top couple of metres of water where the mussel plankton (known as "spat") are most prevalent. Once the mussels begin to grow, the ropes are uncoiled to give them more space and to protect them from seabirds and other surface predation.

  13. Pass the stile and go down the steps. Then follow the path to emerge outside Porthpean sailing club.
  14. Follow the path to the road and bear right to follow this down to the beach. Walk along the top of the sea wall at the back of the beach to reach a flight of steps on the far side.

    In the years after the Second World War, once the defences had been cleared from the beach and Porthpean was once again used as a pleasure beach, a sea mine washed up one morning. As it was a hot summer's day, the local coastguard carried it into the Watch House as he knew many people would be coming to the beach. He informed the Coastguard service and that evening, the bomb squad arrived from Plymouth and cleared the beach. The mine was carried back to the beach where it was detonated and the resulting explosion went higher than the tall cliffs around the bay.

    Most of the mines used during the Second World War were triggered by sensors which detonated if a metallic object disturbed the electromagnetic field surrounding them. When the coastguard had initially carried the mine off the beach, he had been wearing his coastguard hat which had a large metal badge!

  15. Climb the steps and follow the path from the top. Continue until you climb a short flight of steps and then reach an opening on the right with a lookout tower.

    The observation tower at Carrickowel Point overlooking Porthpean beach was part of the St Austell Bay practice bombing range used by Coastal Command during WW2. The range included two floating wooden targets a couple of miles out to sea. A moving target was also towed across the bay from Fowey.

  16. Turn right and follow the path around the lookout tower. When the path forks, keep right on the outer path to reach a grassy area at the end of the headland with a picnic bench.
  17. Bear left to pass the picnic bench and join the path leading back inland. Follow this to a crossing of paths at a waymark.
  18. Turn right at the waymark and follow the path down the valley until you reach a path on the right just before the path ahead crosses a small bridge.

    Along the path to the left from the waymark, there is a substantial amount of wild garlic in the spring.

    Despite the pungent smell, the leaves of wild garlic are quite delicate in flavour so can be used quite large quantities in cooking or more sparingly within salads. They are at their most fiery early in the season.

  19. Continue ahead across the bridge and follow the path until you pass through an iron kissing gate and reach a gate on the right into Crinnis Cliff Battery.

    The small path to the right at the bottom of the valley leads to Duporth beach.

    Duporth is a development on the site of an old Butlins holiday village which itself was built on the old estate owned by Charles Rashleigh, who developed Charlestown. Duporth beach is privately-owned but the public are allowed access subject to a few restrictions (e.g. no fires) indicated on the information board. There is very little beach at high tide, but as the tide recedes, a sandy beach is revealed with areas of rock along the edges containing rockpools.

  20. Continue ahead on the coast path, or walk through the cliff battery, to reach a gap in the battery wall where the coast path descends a flight of steps.
  21. Follow the steps downhill, passing through a kissing gate, to reach Charlestown Harbour.

    The protected harbour at Charlestown is now used for sailing ships. The combination of the tall ships and undeveloped location has made it a popular Hollywood filming location which features in Pirates of the Caribbean and many others.

  22. Follow the lane uphill from The Pier House Hotel and Harbourside Inn to the roundabout to complete the circular route.

    Charlestown harbour is used for the filming of Truro and Falmouth harbours in the BBC's Poldark series starring Aidan Turner as Ross Poldark.

    Winston Graham published the first series of 7 Poldark novels from 1945-53 and these were set in the 18th century. A series of 5 more novels were written between 1973 and 2002 which are set in the early 19th century and follow the lives of the descendants of the characters from the previous novels.

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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