Coverack to St Keverne

The route follows the boulder-strewn coastline from Coverack to Lowland Point where ships still anchor awaiting a dock in Falmouth. The route passes the quarry on Dean Point overlooking The Manacles reef to reach Godrevy Cove where the wreckage of countless ships has washed ashore and fragments can still be seen. The route turns inland to reach St Keverne which has a history dating back to Celtic monks and the church interior is thought to be built from stone traded by the Breton Celts. Then return to Coverack is across the fields passing close to Roskilly's Open Farm (where the ice cream is made).
The coast path from Dean Quarry to Godrevy Cove is closed. While the Coast Path is closed: turn left at the white sign to follow a steep footpath that eventually becomes a lane. Follow this to a crossroads and ahead to St Keverne to rejoin the route.

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 103 (scan QR code on right to order from Amazon)
  • Distance: 5.7 miles/9.2 km
  • Grade: Moderate
  • Start from: Coverack car park
  • Parking: Coverack. Satnav: TR126TF
  • Recommended footwear: walking boots

Maps for this walk

(dark blue corner = laminated version)

Highlights

  • Sandy beach with unusual geology at Coverack
  • Shipwreck coast around The Manacles
  • Historic churchyard at St Keverne
  • Roskilly's Open Farm with award-winning Ice Cream

Directions

  1. Make your way to the Coast Path sign below the car park. Follow the lane in the direction signposted to Porthoustock to reach a Coast Path sign just after the tarmac ends at the top of the hill.

    The name Coverack is from the Cornish word gover for "stream".

    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).

  2. Continue ahead on the track in the direction signposted to Lowland Point until you reach a waymark where a path departs from the right, just before a gate blocks the track.

    In September 1840, Customs Officers seized nearly 130 kegs of French brandy at Coverack and impounded these in the Customs House in Helford. However, the smugglers had customers that they were keen not to disappoint and therefore one night a large band of men broke the locks off the doors and raided the Customs House, seizing the majority of contraband, apart from 3 kegs which were left behind in recompense for the damage caused.

  3. Turn right down the waymarked path and follow it to a stone footbridge and a wooden stile.
  4. Cross the stile and follow the path to reach a couple of stone steps leading over a wall.
  5. Follow the steps over the wall (they descend much further on the other side) and continue along the path to reach a cobbled path leading to a stile over a wall.
  6. Cross the stile and follow the path to a gate and stile.
  7. Go through the gate or cross the stile and follow the path to a waymark post at a junction of paths.

    Whilst ships were returning to England, often on a voyage of several months, merchants would explore the markets to find the best port to land the goods. They had no means of communicating with the ships whilst at sea, so ships were often told to sail for "Falmouth for Orders". Falmouth, being the first large port on The Channel, provided a "holding pen" for ships with incoming cargoes whilst their final destination was being decided and communicated. The ships were often badly in need of repair and supplies from their journey across the Atlantic so during the wait they could be restocked and patched up. It is thought the practice and possibly also the phrase originated in the late 17th century, soon after the Royal Mail Packet Station was established at Falmouth which involved relatively fast communications with London. Falmouth is still a major refuelling port. Ships are required to use low-sulphur oil in the English Channel to reduce emissions.

  8. At the waymark, take the right-hand path and follow the path along the edge of the coast to reach a cobbled path leading to some steps over a wall.

    Tidal range is mainly determined by 15 fixed points around the world’s oceans, known as amphidromes, around which water rotates. The further a coastline is from the nearest amphidrome, the larger the tidal range. This is a fair way in the case of Cornwall so difference between low and high tide is around 7 metres on average. Consequently offshore rocks that are 20ft below the surface at high tide can lie just under the surface as the tide falls.

  9. Cross into the field and head for the waymarked opening ahead. Follow the path behind the beach to a set of stone steps over the wall at the wooden railings.

    Just above the beach are the remains of a saltworks which has been dated to the second century AD. The site consisted of a building which contained two ovens with stone-lined flues. These were used to boil seawater, which was held in earthenware troughs made from local clay. Fragments of the earthenware can be seen in the eroding cliff. A few of the fragments are from domestic pots but most are from the vessels used in salt production.

    Inland from the salt factory are hut circles - the remains of prehistoric round houses, and remnants of field systems from the same era. Finds of pottery around these indicate that the area had also been occupied in both the Iron Age and Bronze Age, and some finds of stone tools suggest that occupation may go back as far as Mesolithic times.

  10. Cross over the railing and follow the path to a stile.

    The offshore rocks in the distance are part of The Manacles reef.

    The Manacles reef stretches for a mile and a half out to sea and has numerous submerged rocks just below the surface which are all covered at high tide apart from one. The reef has been named "the grave of 1000 ships"; over 100 have certainly been lost here, which is more wrecks than any other comparable reef on the south coast of England. The name "Manacles" is thought to be a garbling of Meyn Eglos meaning "church stones" and may either refer to St Keverne church or the gravestones of over 1000 people who have drowned here.

    The proverbial silver lining is that the shipwrecks and surrounding reefs provide a good habitat for marine life and consequently the reef has some of the best diving in Britain. In 2013, The Manacles was designated a Marine Conservation Zone as the wide range of habitats it provides support species such as spiny lobsters and sea fan anemones.

  11. Cross the stile and follow the path along the top of the beach to reach a gap in a wall crossing the field.

    The Mohegan was a 7,000 ton luxury liner and was on her second voyage from London to New York in October 1898. As she passed along The Channel, she accelerated up to full speed and kept close to the coast of Cornwall but took the wrong bearing. Some of the crew were suspicious as they noticed that the Eddystone Lighthouse seemed too far away and the coast was too close. The Coverack coastguard also noticed and attempted to alert the captain by firing warning rockets. However, the Mohegan maintained her course.

    Just after the guests had sat down to dinner, there was a horrible grinding sound as the ship hit Vase Rock at full speed, ripping off the rudder and tearing open the hull. She continued, out of control, and ploughed into the Maen Vose where she began to sink rapidly. Within minutes, only the funnel and tops of the masts were visible. Out of the 157 aboard, 107 perished and are buried in a mass grave in St Keverne churchyard. The majority of the survivors were rescued by the Porthoustock lifeboat.

    A magnificent staircase was salvaged from the wreck and is now in the Coverack Youth Hostel.

  12. Go through the gap and follow along the edge of the coast to another gap in a wall.

    In May 1899, The American ocean liner SS Paris was offcourse and would have hit the Manacles if a pilot boat had not been nearby and warned the ship to take evasive action. Instead, the Paris ran aground at Lowland Point. The collision was described by an off-duty captain amongst the passengers: "I heard a tremendous crash, and, as a steamboat man, I knew we were on the bottom and that if she slipped from the rock we would be in Queer street."

    Fortunately, the sea was calm and no-one aboard was hurt. After the call for "All hands on deck", a passenger recalled: "Many came on deck in their night clothing. One man wore his drawers and his wife's fur cape, but his appearance caused so much smiling that his wife sent him down to dress, which he did in the music room, to the equal amusement of all."

    The passengers were all safely rescued from the ship which was lodged upright on the flat rocks. If it weren't for the warning from the pilot boat and the ship had hit the offshore rocks of The Manacles, it is likely that she would have sunk with great loss of life.

    Attempts were made to refloat the liner, using six powerful tugs to pull the ship off the rocks, but these were unsuccessful. Finally, a German firm successfully refloated the ship for a fee of a quarter of a million pounds, which would be in excess of £25 million in today's money.

  13. Go through the gap and head to the nearer corner in the hedge ahead. Bear left at the corner and head towards the white sign to reach the end of the hedge at the top of the beach.

    The Glenbervie was a British-owned iron sailing ship which in January 1902 was carrying a consignment of pianos and high quality spirits including 600 barrels of whisky, 400 barrels of brandy and barrels of rum. The sailing ship lost her way in bad weather and ran aground at Lowland Point. All 16 crewmen were saved by lifeboat. Much of the alcoholic cargo was also rescued. The grounded ship was photographed by the Gibson family from the Scilly Isles.

  14. From the end of the hedge, follow along the top of the beach towards the white sign to reach a stone stile.

    In March 1932, the coaster Ocklinge set off from Falmouth to Port Talbot with a cargo of iron ore. Shortly after leaving the harbour, the captain mistook the Manacles light for the Lizard lighthouse and mistakenly altered his course. The result was that the vessel hit the rocks at Lowland Point at full speed. Attempts were made to refloat the ship by jettisoning some of the iron ore cargo and towing with a tug. However, in the increasingly strong wind and swell, the ship had to be abandoned. The captain attempted to conceal his mistake by destroying the navigation log and making false statements in a formal investigation by the Board of Trade but was found out and his licence was suspended for his negligence. Lumps of iron ore are still evident amongst the pebbles along the beach.

  15. Cross the stile and follow the path in the direction signposted to Porthoustock at the wooden signpost. Follow the path until you reach a Public Footpath sign beside a pair of metal gates.

    The path passes a fenced viewing area overlooking Dean Quarry.

    Dean Quarry first opened in 1890 to extract Gabbro - a hard volcanic rock. This is crushed into a gravel of varying grades for use in aggregates for road building and sea defences. The gabbro was loaded onto ships docked alongside the purpose-built quay. The quarry operated until 2005 and then the buildings fell into decay. At the time of writing, there is a plan to re-open the quarry in order to build the sea defences for a large offshore windfarm in Swansea Bay.

  16. Bear right along the path and follow the path along the railings to reach another Public Footpath sign at a pair of gates with a concrete tower ahead.

    In 1903, the Andola was on her way home with 2,000 tons of wheat from Seattle. She stopped in Falmouth to take on food and water but as she left Falmouth for Hull, there were strong winds from the East - in the direction she was attempting to sail. The captain tacked the ship against the wind from one side of The Channel to the other. Despite this, they could not make headway and realised from the Lizard lighthouse nearby that they were actually going backwards. Then it began to snow, which reduced visibility to just a few feet. The crew heard the bell on the Manacles buoy tolling and the captain ordered the sails be furled, but the evasive manoeuvre was not in time and the ship struck the Shark's Fin rock. The crew attempted to launch distress flares but these did not burn properly so the captain ordered the Ship's Boy to fetch some rockets. Whilst attempting to get the rockets, the boy dropped one of the smouldering flares into the locker containing the rockets! He panicked and shut the locker which exploded, injuring him and setting the ship ablaze. Fortunately, the ship had been spotted through the snow as it was running aground and the Porthoustock lifeboat was soon alongside and was able to save all the crew including the boy.

  17. Bear right onto the track and then follow the path along a channel as indicated by the footpath signs to reach a waymark.

    During a storm one night in 1809, two navy ships - the transport ship Dispatch and HMS Primrose - were wrecked on The Manacles. On the Dispatch, only 7 of the 75 men aboard survived, whilst on the HMS Primrose, the only survivor from the 125 men aboard was the drummer boy. 110 bodies were washed ashore and are buried in St Keverne churchyard. The remaining bodies were never recovered.

  18. Keep ahead at the waymark to follow the path further along the channel. When this emerges onto a track, follow the track uphill to a bend with a metal flagpole.

    In May 1855, the barque John was carrying 263 emigrants to Canada and sank on the Maen Land; only 86 survived. The Exeter Evening Post reported that the ship "encountered a heavy gale of wind from the northeast to the westward of the Eddystone, and got closer in towards the land than the captain was aware of, for in making for the Blackhead-headland, he ran the ship upon a dangerous reef of rocks called the Manacles, situated a short distance from the coast, and between Deanna and Chunkall's Point (the extreme eastern part of Cornwall). It occurred between ten and eleven o'clock on Friday night, the wind blowing heavily at the time, and a tremendous sea lashing the coast. In a few minutes she was got off, but the captain found she was fast filling, evidently having stove in her bottom, and as the only chance of saving life, he ran her ashore, where she went down within 200 feet from the coast. The water was shallow, and the deck was above water, but the tide, which was about two-thirds flood, was fast running in, and would soon cover her up to nearly her main-top. A great number with the crew took to the rigging, but the bulk of the unfortunate passengers were swept off the wreck by the fearful seas that rolled over her, and in this way, it is understood that nearly 200 met with a watery grave."

  19. At the bend, bear right down the path to the beach to reach a waymark.

    An account in the West Briton from November 1895 describes the wrecking of the Anne Elizabeth in Godrevy Cove near Lowland Point:

    ...an increasingly strong east wind prevented much headway being made, coming on to blow with hurricane force. The vessel commenced to drift and all day Monday was tossed about the Channel at the mercy of wind and waves. When daylight began to break on Tuesday morning the Manacles were discerned and additional sail was put on with a view to avoiding the land. But the velocity of the wind and the swirl of the tide prevented the barque from answering her helm, and just before seven she struck with a tremendous force against ... the iron bound coast, between the Manacles and the Lowlands about five miles from Coverack. Entertaining fears for their safety, the steward, carpenter and four seamen embarked in a small boat, and together with the vessel were hurled towards the coast. Getting between the wreck and the surf beaten shore, the boat was swamped and lives of its occupants were drowned. A seaman named Hatman Hansen was rescued. By this time the Coverack Rocket apparatus ... placed on a waggon, drawn by three horses ... five miles over the roughest roads possible to imagine, steep, zigzag paths, strewn with huge boulders, having to be traversed at high speed ... was on the scene, and with commendable alacrity a line was thrown over the vessel and by means of a breeches buoy, the survivors, who were huddled together in the forecastle, were saved. So heavy was the sea that in each instance it was feared that the men would be washed out of the buoy. Soon after the rescue, one of the dead bodies was washed ashore. Attempts to restore animation by Dr. Leverton-Spry and others proved ineffective.
  20. Follow the path along the top of the beach to cross the stream then keep left to reach a junction with another path near a waymark.
  21. Turn left towards the waymark and follow the path over the footbridge to a kissing gate. Go through the gate and follow the path along the right side of the fields until you reach a stone stile.

    A little further along the coast, in a disused quarry at Porthkerris, is the Cornish Sea Salt Factory.

    The Iron Age saltworks on The Lizard inspired the idea for the Cornish Sea Salt Company in 2004 which, after three years of development work, began trading in Jan 2008. The salt is harvested from the sea in a purpose-built building on the Lizard coast. Only a fraction of the salt is extracted from the seawater, which is then allowed to trickle back into the sea through a fault in the rocks, ensuring that the local salinity levels are not greatly disturbed. Roughly 90-95% of the sea salt is sodium chloride; the remaining fraction contains a range of other minerals which are generally thought to make it more healthy than the more pure sodium chloride and anti-caking agents present in standard table salt.

  22. Cross the stile and follow the path through a kissing gate. Continue on the path to reach another kissing gate onto a lane.
  23. Go through the kissing gate and turn right onto the lane, then follow this to a junction.
  24. Turn left at the junction and follow the lane to a junction signposted to Trythance.
  25. At the junction, keep right to stay on the lane and follow it until it ends at a T-junction.

    St Keverne was the site of a mediaeval monastery from around 600AD, which would originally have been built of wood. The settlement of St Keverne was first recorded in the 1086 Domesday survey as Lannachebran. The manor included 20 acres of pasture and land for 7 ploughs and was owned by the canons of St Achebran's monastery.

  26. Turn left at the junction and follow the lane to the village square in St Keverne.

    The church is dedicated to St Akevernus (also known as St Kieran) who is said to have founded the monastery. The current church mostly dates from the 15th Century but some of the stonework from a previous church was re-used in its construction. The columns within the nave are constructed from a number of different colours of stone which is thought to have been imported from Brittany. The church was restored in the 1830s and a mural of St Christopher was discovered beneath whitewash.

  27. Keep left across the square towards the phone box and then turn left down Trelyn Road. Follow this to a sharp bend with a gate and stile ahead.

    The Three Tuns Hotel dates back to at least the mid 1400's, although the physical structure has been replaced since the first building. It is said to take its name from an incident in 1467 where the local vicar was found in the building with three huge casks (tuns) of wine or brandy, "obtained" from a French wreck. Each tun held around 250 gallons, so in total this would have been the equivalent of four and a half thousand bottles.

  28. Cross the stile and follow the path along the left hedge to another stile.

    The West Briton records in 1891 how the news of the wreck of the "Bay of Panama" was brought to Falmouth by the St Keverne Butcher:

    He left St. Keverne about one o'clock Tuesday on a pony for Helston, intending to wire to Falmouth. At Helston he found the wires down and no communication. Finding it impossible to proceed on horseback he left his pony and made for Falmouth on foot. On the way he encountered enormous difficulties. For a mile and a half or two miles he had to crawl along on his hands and knees through the snow. His face became coated with ice and several times he had to break ice from his eyes, whilst icicles hung from his ears. More dead than alive he came across a cottage in the occupation of a mason, named Combellack. Here, he rested until daylight on Wednesday morning, when he pursued his journey and arrived at Falmouth about nine o'clock and gave notice of the disaster
  29. Cross the stile and follow the path along the left hedge to a stile.

    The St Keverne parish has one of the densest distribution of place names beginning with tre- anywhere in Cornwall, indicating heavy settlement during the Dark Ages. Around St Keverne itself, these places are thought to be part of a monastic estate. During this period, there were strong links with the Celtic people of Brittany and this may explain the unusual stone within St Keverne church which is thought to have been imported from Brittany.

  30. Cross the stile and continue straight ahead to a stile near the opposite corner of the field.
  31. Cross the stile onto the the lane. The walk continues over the stile beneath the public footpath sign opposite. A short distance to the left along the lane is Roskilly's Open Farm. To resume the walk, cross the stile beneath the footpath sign and follow the path in the direction signposted to Coverack to reach a stile in the corner of the hedge.

    The Roskilly family have a long heritage in the St Keverne area. After the wreck of the Anne Elizabeth in November 1895, an article in West Briton noted that "Mr. Roskilly, at once rode to Coverack and prepared warm bedding, food and clothing for the shipwrecked men, who spoke in thankful terms of his kindness and good nature."

    The family inherited their farm in 1950 from a childless godmother and have worked hard to pay back this good luck. Milk from their herd of Jersey cattle and local eggs are used to make their award-wining organic ice cream, whilst water from their spring is used for the sorbet. Their farm is free to visit, where you can see the ice cream being made.

  32. Cross the stile and follow the path over a stile into a field. Follow along the left hedge and keep left as you approach the gate to reach a stile in the corner of the field.

    Hokey Pokey is a traditional Cornish name for cinder toffee/honeycomb, popularised by Roskilly's ice cream and Nigella Lawson. The term is more widely known in New Zealand, particularly in areas such as New Plymouth where many Cornish emigrated in the 18th and 19th Centuries. An investigation for a trademark dispute was unable to establish that it was a Cornish traditional name but this is more-than-likely due to a lack of widely-available documentation of many historical dialect terms. We found that a number of the relatively senior members of Cornish Dialect facebook group knew the term from childhood and one has a handwritten recipe entitled Hokey Pokey from her grandmother born at the start of the 20th Century.

  33. Cross the stile and head straight across the field to the protruding hedge. Continue ahead, keeping the hedge on your left, to reach a gate.

    To make Hokey Pokey, combine 100 grams of caster or light brown sugar (according to taste) with 4 tablespoons of golden syrup (or Cornish honey) in a pan and stir over a low heat until sugar is dissolved. Bring to the boil and immediately remove from heat. Add 1½ teaspoons of bicarbonate of soda to create a froth. Stir quickly to mix evenly and then pour out onto a greased tray to cool.

  34. Cross the stile on the left of the gate and cross the field to the telegraph pole on the corner of the hedge. Continue along the left hedge towards the gate then bear left to a waymarked stile in the corner of the field.
  35. Cross the stile and turn right down the path to reach the cottages. Bear right onto the lane and follow this past the cottages and down the hill until you reach a sharp bend with a path leading ahead.

    During February, there is a nice display of snowdrops along the wall opposite the stile.

    Snowdrops are a member of the onion family, and one of the earliest plants to flower. They use energy stored in their bulbs to generate leaves and flowers during winter, whilst other plants without an energy reserve cannot compete. The downside to flowering so early is that pollinating insects are more scarce, so rather than relying exclusively on seeds, they also spread through bulb division. Although it is often thought of as a native British wild flower, the snowdrop was probably introduced in Tudor times, around the early sixteenth century.

    The bulbs are poisonous but contain a chemical compound which is used in the treatment of early Alzheimer's, vascular dementia and brain damage. The plant produces another substance in its leaves which inhibits the feeding of insect pests. This is being researched to see if this substance can be introduced into other plants.

  36. Bear left onto the path and follow it ahead, over a footbridge and two stone stiles, to reach a yard in front of a house.
  37. Bear left through the yard to join a track leading away from the buildings. Follow the track until you reach a sharp bend with a waymarked stile ahead, beside a gate.
  38. Cross the stile and bear left slightly across the field to the gap in the hedge opposite.
  39. Go through the gap and cross the field to the gateway opposite.
  40. Go through the gateway and cross the field to meet the protruding hedge on the right. Follow along this on your right to reach a gateway.
  41. Go through the gateway onto the track and follow this a short distance to a waymarked path on the left.
  42. Turn left down the waymarked path and follow it through a kissing gate. Follow the path between the walls and bear right when the path opens out to reach a waymarked kissing gate.
  43. Go through the gate and follow the left hedge to where the path passes through a gap in the wall.
  44. Go through the gap and turn right. Keep the hedge on your right and follow the path through the bushes and across a small field to reach a stile.
  45. Cross the stile and follow the path downhill to meet the hedge on the left. Follow the path through the bushes to reach a stile.
  46. Cross the stile and follow the path to reach the Public Footpath sign that you passed near the start of the walk.

    One of Coverack's most famous smugglers was John Carlyon who made regular three day round trips to Roscoff in his small boat when the weather was fine. On the third day, his wife would hang a red shirt on the washing line to indicate that the coast was clear, which would signal both to the boat and his customers that delivery could take place. The enterprise was so successful that the small boat was replaced with a large lugger which could also trade with Spanish ports.

  47. Turn right and follow the lane back to Coverack.

    375 million years ago, the rocks on Coverack beach were a molten state around 10 kilometres below the seabed; they were pushed to the surface by the huge pressure created by two colliding continents. The rocks on the beach include the actual junction between the Earth's crust and mantle, known as the "Moho discontinuity". To the left of this, in the direction of Lowland Point, the rocks are gabbro, formed in the oceanic crust. To the right, towards the harbour, the darker rocks are serpentine and originated in the earth's mantle. At the junction between the two, there are boulders with bands of one rock type forced through the other.

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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