Gorran Haven to Portmellon

The walk starts in Gorran Haven and winds through the narrow streets to reach the cliffs. The route along the coast passes around Turbot Point to Colona Beach and then crosses Chapel Point to Portmellon. At Portmellon, the walk follows the valley through the West Bodrugan Woods nature reserve to Gorran Church. From here, the return route is along footpaths back to Gorran Haven.
The car park is currently closed at Gorran Haven. It might be easier to park at Portmellon and start the walk from here.

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 105 (scan QR code on right to order from Amazon)
  • Distance: 5.9 miles/9.6 km
  • Grade: Moderate
  • Start from: Gorran Haven
  • Parking: Gorran Haven. Satnav: PL266JG
  • Recommended footwear: walking shoes or trainers in summer

Maps for this walk

(dark blue corner = laminated version)

Highlights

  • Coastal views from Bodrugan's Leap
  • Woodland nature reserves in the Portmellon Valley
  • Pretty fishing village of Gorran Haven

Directions

  1. Turn left out of the car park and follow the road to a sharp bend at the beach.

    Gorran Haven is a typical fishing village with narrow mediaeval streets and a sheltered place to launch boats: the beach faces East into a bay protected by headlands to the North and South. Prior to the 19th Century, the village was known as Portheast which is thought to be a corruption of Porth Just.

  2. Turn left up the hill and follow the lane to the top of the hill until you reach Cliff Road on the right.

    Gorran Haven's small chapel, located half-way up the hill, is still dedicated to St Just.

    The Chapel of St Just in Goran Haven was built in the 15th Century as a Chapel of Ease to save a long walk up the hill to the parish church in Gorran Churchtown. After the Reformation, it was closed as a place of worship, and was used instead as a fish cellar and net store. It was restored to religious worship in the 1860s.

  3. Turn right down Cliff Road and follow it until you reach a footpath sign.

    In mediaeval times, the village at Gorran Haven was the primary fishing village of the area, dwarfing Mevagissey, and the quay has been rebuilt a number of times throughout its history. The first recorded use of seining for pilchards in Cornwall was here, in the 13th Century. Once drift netting became popular in the late 18th century, Mevagissey took over as the primary fishery and the quay fell into ruin but was rebuilt in 1886 and a period of crab and lobster potting continued until the Second World War. After the war, crab and lobster potting resumed from the bigger harbour at Mevagissey.

  4. Turn right at the sign in the direction indicated for Portmellon and follow the track until you reach the blue gates of Penhaver House with a waymarked stile on the left.

    Roughly 70% of the edible crabs caught in the world are caught around the British Isles, most of which are sold to France and Spain. Around the UK, edible brown crabs are regarded as overfished, with the largest fishery based around Scotland. Devon and Cornwall have the most stringent regulations in the UK on the minimum acceptable size and the pots now have an escape hatch for undersized crabs. The crabs are not harmed by the pots which allows crabs carrying eggs to also be released to improve the sustainability of the fishery.

  5. Cross the stile on the left and follow the path over a stile into a field. Follow the right hedge of the field to reach a kissing gate.

    Crabs and lobsters can re-grow lost legs and claws, and will even cut off their own leg or claw if damaged so that a new one can regrow. This has lead to one method of fishing, which is intended to be sustainable, where just the claws are removed and the crab is returned to the water. However, it has been found that a significant proportion of crabs die when have been de-clawed, which makes the practice controversial. The survival rate is significantly improved if just one claw is removed, so it's possible that there may be a middle ground with improved sustainability.

  6. Go through the kissing gate, down some steps and through another kissing gate into a field. Follow the path along the coast to reach a fence on the far side of the field. As you reach the fence, the gate is a short distance to the left of the recess in the fence.
  7. Go through the gate and a second gate into the field and follow the path along the right hedge to reach a kissing gate leading onto a footbridge.

    The point ahead is called Turbot Point from the days when turbot were more common inshore.

    Turbot is a large flatfish and has been in culinary demand for at least two thousand years in Europe due to its firm white flesh. Commercial fishing over a long period means that they are now classed as Near Threatened by the IUCN and the recommendation is that they should only be eaten occasionally due to the decline in stocks and the fishing methods used to catch them - primarily beam trawling.

  8. Go through the gate and follow the path over the bridge and a stile. Follow the path all the way around the headland until you eventually pass a couple of benches and reach a kissing gate.

    The steep cliffs near the point are known as Bodrugan's Leap.

    During the War of the Roses at the end of the mediaeval period, the two men of greatest influence in Cornwall were Richard Edgcombe, allied with the Lancastrians, and Henry Bodrugan (from the manor of Bodrugan), allied with the Yorkists. Both fought at the Battle of Bosworth and when King Richard III was killed at the Battle, Edgcombe was knighted and Bodrugan escaped. After failed attempts to unseat King Henry VII, Edgcombe was sent to arrest Bodrugan who escaped to France by leaping over the cliff into the sea, and climbing aboard a waiting boat. The cliff has since become known as Bodrugan's Leap.

  9. Go through the gate and follow the path ahead to the gate at the bottom of the valley.
  10. Go through the gate and cross the stile next to the gate by the building. Then follow the track along the coast until you reach a waymark.

    The rocky platform forming the other side of the beach is known as Chapel Point.

    The three houses on Chapel Point were designed and built by the architect John Campbell during the late 1930s. He bought the land in 1932 and planned to build 20 houses, but war broke out after the first three and put a stop to building. After the war ended, he returned to Mevagissey to complete his project but the Planning Permission had lapsed so he was forced to resubmit the plans, which were then rejected. After months of updating and redrawing, he finally completed the plans in August 1947, and walked along the coast to deliver these by hand to the planning office. One the way home, he lost his footing, fell into the sea and drowned. The plans were approved, described by a government official as "the most beautifully presented and the most painstakingly put together of any that I have seen", but were never carried through. Had they been completed, the result would have been what has been described as "unique in terms of 20th-century architecture". One of the three houses that was completed, known as The Gatehouse, has been described as "a gleaming white house that seems like a castle in spite of its small size".

    After a storm, the residents here sometimes awake to find seaweed on their roof!

  11. Follow the path past the waymark and over the driveway. Follow the path across the field and through a more overgrown area to reach a gate.
  12. Go through the gate and follow the path uphill to a waymark.
  13. When you reach the waymark, turn right onto the surfaced path and follow this. Continue as it opens out into a lane until it eventually ends in a T-junction with the road.

    The first recorded settlement at Portmellon was the mill of Portmelyn which was still present on an 1888 map, but by 1907 it had disappeared. The name is from the Cornish Porthmelyn meaning "mill cove" and even in 1880s it was still known as Portmellin.

  14. Turn right onto the road and carefully follow it downhill to the sea wall. Follow along the sea wall until you reach an opening containing a set of tracks leading into the sea and a junction opposite.

    The RNLI stationed a lifeboat at Portmellon in 1869. Once the outer harbour was built at Mevagissey, the lifeboat was moved there. When the Mevagissey lifeboat was itself later decommissioned in favour of the longer range boat at Fowey, the lifeboat winch was acquired by Mitchell's boat yard and used to launch boats from Portmellon.

  15. Turn left at the junction to reach a public footpath sign and follow the track through the boat yard to reach a lane. Follow the lane until you reach a waymark.

    The remains of a prehistoric forest has been exposed beneath Portmellon beach a few times over the last couple of centuries with recordings in the 1880s, 1970s and 1980s when the trees were carbon dated at just over 2000 years old. The forest included Oak, Birch, Hazel and Alder.

  16. Bear right down a track to a gate. Cross the stile next to the gate and follow the right hedge of two fields to eventually reach a stile in the corner of the field.
  17. Climb the stile and follow the winding path through the bracken to reach a stile.

    Bracken releases toxins into the soil which inhibit the growth of other plants, and the shade created by its large leaves and its thick leaf litter also makes it hard for other plants to compete. It is both poisonous and carcinogenic to many grazing animals which therefore avoid it if at all possible. All these things make it quite difficult to control, particularly in steep areas where mechanised cutting or ploughing is difficult. Treading by livestock can reduce bracken's competitive advantage, particularly during winter when frost can attack the plants.

  18. When you reach the stile, cross it and follow the path through the woods until it ends at a gate.
  19. Go through the gate and cross the lane to the gate opposite. Go through the gate and follow the path signposted to St Gorran's Church to reach a stile.
  20. Cross the stile into a meadow and follow the path towards the line of trees, passing around them to reach a small opening in the hedge.
  21. Go through the opening and follow the path up the slope to reach a gate.
  22. Go through the gate and take the path on the left. When this itself splits, take the path on the right which is less steep. Follow this until it ends at a junction with another path.

    The area planted with trees is known as Sanctuary Wood.

    Sanctuary Wood was created as part of the Woodland Trust’s “Woods on your Doorstep” project in 2000. It occupies an area spanning both sides of the Portmellon valley that adjoins the West Bodrugan woodland reserve. Wide rides and open glades have been left between the planting to provide views and varied habitats as the woodland matures.

  23. Turn left at the junction and follow the path to reach a stile.
  24. Cross the stile and bear right slightly to cross the field diagonally to a stile in line with the church tower.
  25. Cross the stile and bear right slightly to reach a stile, also in line with the church tower.
  26. Cross the stile and cross the meadow to a waymark opposite, beside a track.
  27. At the waymark, bear right onto the track and follow a short distance to a junction. Turn left at the junction and follow the track to the churchyard.

    The church at Gorran is dedicated to St Goronus who is said to have come here from Bodmin at the time when St Petroc was also in Bodmin. The church building lies on a Norman foundation and was mostly rebuilt in the 15th Century, with the exception of the south aisle which is thought to date from the 14th century and North Door from the 13th. The tower was added later in the 15th century, replacing an earlier steeple which had fallen into disrepair. 53 of the carved mediaeval bench ends have been retained and the font is also thought to be from the late mediaeval period.

  28. Stay on the track to follow it along one side of the churchyard and then around a bend to the right and along another side of the churchyard, passing a white cottage until you reach a junction on the left.

    Six bells were cast for Gorran Church in 1772 but two of these were damaged and replaced in the 20th century. The remaining four and their original oak frame survived to the 21st Century but were in need of repair to continue in active use. Whilst the church was attempting to raise money to repair the bells, they were offered a set of free bells by a church in Kent which had been closed for nearly 40 years. The bells from the old Kent church are known as The Victoria Peal, consisting of eight bells cast in 1897 to commemorate the diamond jubilee, with the tenor bell weighing in at over one-and-a-quarter tonnes. This meant that Gorran's Georgian bells could be taken out of service and preserved and that Gorran Church now has one of the finest peals of bells in all of Cornwall.

  29. Turn left at the junction and keep right along the narrow lane until it ends on a junction with the main road.
  30. Cross the road to the pavement opposite and turn left. Follow the pavement, which departs from the road to become a path. Continue until this ends at a junction.
  31. Cross the lane to the driveway opposite, marked with a public footpath sign. Walk down the driveway towards the house then cross the garden to a stile.
  32. Cross the stile and follow the path through the market garden to reach another stile.

    During Victorian times as pilchard stocks declined, species such as mackerel were caught from Mevagissey.

    Mackerel come inshore during the summer and autumn to feed on prawns and small fish such as sandeels. They often occur in large shoals which at the surface can make the sea appear to "boil", often accompanied by excited seabirds. Although they cruise at a speed of around 2 knots, mackerel can reach 10 knots in short bursts.

    At high tide they can sometimes be caught on rod and line from the quays at Gorran Haven and Mevagissey.

  33. Cross the stile and cross the field to a stile opposite.

    Mackerel are excellent culinary fish, rich in essential oils, vitamins and minerals including omega-3 fatty acids. Throughout the 19th century, mackerel was fished commercially off Cornwall and by the end of the 19th century, there were hundreds of drift netters. These decimated the mackerel stocks and by the 1930s, mackerel were so scarce that the fishery had virtually closed. By the 1960s, the mackerel had recovered and were plentiful for the next couple of decades. More recently, they have noticably declined again which is thought to be due to intensive trawling in Scottish and Icelandic waters. The South West Handline Fisherman's Association operate a more sustainable fishing model, and readers are encouraged to buy line-caught fish.

  34. Cross the stile to emerge onto a gravel path. Turn left in the direction of Gorran Haven and follow the path until it ends on a road.

    Mackerel, being an oily fish like salmon, works well with hot flavours such as pepper, horseradish and mustard. You can make a yummy sauce to go over your pan-fried mackerel fillets using yoghurt, dijon mustard, fresh dill, chopped capers, salt (Cornish sea salt, naturally!) and black pepper. Warm this gently (ideally in the pan with any remaining juices from frying the fish) prior to serving but don't heat fiercely or the yoghurt will split.

  35. Turn right onto the road and follow the pavement until the pavement ends at Parc Vean.

    Parc Vean means "small field" in Cornish. Even after the Cornish language was no longer spoken, the word vean continued to be used as a dialect word for "small" within English in some communities. An example is the beach named "Vean Hole" on the Tintagel side of Trebarwith Strand.

  36. Cross the road to the pavement opposite and follow the pavement until it runs out. Then carefully follow along Cooks Level and continue onto Chute Lane and pass alongside the pub. Continue along Chute Lane and down Church Street to the beach and bear right to return to the car park.

    Gorran Haven has two sandy beaches, separated by a rocky promontory, facing east into a sheltered bay. The northern beach, known as Little Perhaver Beach, merges with the main beach at low tide but can be accessed at high tide via a steep flight of steps connecting to a footpath which departs from the road a short distance uphill from the chapel. For this reason it tends to be a fair bit quieter than the main beach.

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
  • 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 also useful.

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.

A free way to not kill penguins: discarded ink cartridges float in rainwater, can wash into rivers, be broken up by the sea into reflective shards eaten by dopey fish, and build up in the stomachs of seabbirds, causing them to starve to death. Google "stinkyink" and click on "free recycling" for a freepost label.
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