Mawgan Porth to St Mawgan

The walk starts from Mawgan Porth which was once a Saxon settlement. The route starts upriver towards Retorrick Mill, crosses into the Menalhyl valley and continues along woodland paths lined with wild garlic in spring to the curiously-named Windsor Mill. At St Mawgan, the route crosses the River Menalhyl to the mediaeval church. The return route to Mawgan Porth is via the meadows of the Vale of Lanherne, rich in wildflowers and wildlife.

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 106 (scan QR code on right to order from Amazon)
  • Distance: 4 miles/6.4 km
  • Grade: Easy-moderate
  • Start from: the junction near the car parks in Mawgan Porth
  • Parking: Mawgan Porth car parks. Satnav: TR84BA
  • Recommended footwear: walking boots, or shoes in summer

Maps for this walk

(dark blue corner = laminated version)

Highlights

  • Sandy beach at Mawgan Porth
  • Tranquil riverside village of St Mawgan with a mediaeval church and convent
  • Pretty woodland and meadows along the Vale of Lanherne

Directions

  1. From the junction in Mawgan Porth, head along the small lane, signposted to Mawgan. Follow it past the Magic Cove sign until you reach a public bridleway sign on the left.

    Excavations at Mawgan Porth have revealed a settlement of the Late Saxon period, comprising three groups of buildings ('courtyard houses') and a burial ground, dating from around 850-1050. Finds included pottery and stone artefacts.

  2. Bear left down the bridleway to reach a junction in the campsite.
  3. Cross to the track opposite, marked "Bridleway to Eco Terrace". Follow it to the end of the buildings.
  4. After the buildings, follow the track ahead, until you reach a waymark and footpath sign.
  5. Turn right down the footpath, signposted to St Mawgan, and cross the stream. Follow the path until it eventually reaches a footbridge over the river.

    The settlement now known as St Mawgan, is first recorded in the Domesday survey of 1086. The village was then known as Lanherne, and the river valley is still known as "The Vale of Lanherne". The Lan part probably refers to the church; no-one is quite sure of the origin of the herne part. After the Norman Conquest, the village was "rebranded", being recorded as Villa Sancti Malgani in 1206, which evolved into the modern day St Mawgan.

  6. Cross the footbridge and follow the path a short distance to reach a lane.
  7. Bear right onto the lane and follow it uphill, until you reach a junction opposite Menalhyl Yard.

    The River Menalhyl, which meets the sea at Mawgan Porth, is about 12 miles long and had a number of mills along its length. The name of the river comes from the Cornish words melyn, meaning mill, and heyl, meaning estuary.

  8. Go through the pedestrian gate into Menalhyl Yard, towards the gate ahead. Follow the pathway, to the left of the gate, across the meadow until you eventually reach a stile.

    Watermills were first documented in the first century BC and the technology spread quickly across the Roman Empire with commercial mills being used in Roman Britain. By the time of the Domesday survey in the 11th Century, there were more than 6,000 watermills in England. During Norman times, the feudal system lead to a greater proliferation of mills with each manor being self-sufficient with its own mill.

  9. Cross the stile and follow the path, through the trees, until it eventually emerges, beside a public footpath sign, onto a track.

    In spring and early summer, the area beneath the trees is carpeted in Wild Garlic.

    Wild garlic is best harvested in early spring before it flowers and the leaves start to die off. Unlike domestic garlic, the leaves are the useful bit rather than the bulb, so cut/pull off the leaves (don't pull up the plants). The leaves are quite delicate, so you can use quite large quantities in cooking; therefore, harvest it in the kind of quantities that you'd buy salad leaves from the supermarket. There are some lillies that look fairly similar (and some are poisonous) but the smell is the giveaway: if it doesn't smell of garlic/onions, then it's not wild garlic.

  10. Follow the lane away from Windsor Mill until it eventually ends at a crossroads beside a public footpath sign.

    The settlement of Windsor dates back to the Middle Ages. It is first recorded in 1327 when it is spelt "Wyndesore". No-one is quite sure of the origin of the name.

  11. Turn right at the crossroads and follow the lane downhill, and over a bridge, to a junction.

    The settlement on this side of the river is known as Lanvean, once you cross the river, you are in St Mawgan.

    The settlement on the opposite side of the river to St Mawgan is known as Lanvean. The name Lanvean may refer to a former chapel: Lan typically refers to a churchyard and Vean means "small" in Cornish and survived for a long time in the local dialect, even when English replaced Cornish as the spoken language (e.g. "E'm only a vean child").

  12. Turn left at the junction and follow the lane to the entrance to the churchyard, opposite the Falcon Inn.

    The Falcon Inn in St Mawgan dates back to, at least, the 16th Century. In 1780, the pub was known as the Gardeners Arms and was later renamed The Falcon due to its association with the Willyams family of the Carnanton estate whose coat of arms features a falcon.

    Records of an Inn in the village have been found as far back as 1758, and in 1779 there were records of a pub called "The New Inn". It is known that from the 14th century, the village had a number of breweries and cider houses which is presumably why it was seen as a "New Inn" in the 16th Century.

  13. Turn right, through the archway, into the churchyard and follow the path to the church door.

    The church in St Mawgan dates from the 13th Century and was enlarged in the 15th Century, which included raising the tower to 70ft in height. It is dedicated to the Celtic saint Mauganus who crops up elsewhere in Cornwall, Wales and Brittany. By the top of the steps near the porch is a mediaeval cross in the shape of a lantern which dates from 1420.

  14. At the church door, climb the steps and follow the path through a gate out of the churchyard, and a short distance further until you reach a lane.

    In St Mawgan churchyard, there is a memorial carved in the shape of a stern of a boat (replacing the original memorial which had decayed in 1992). This is to ten men who died of hyperthermia in a boat which drifted ashore on 15th December 1846 at Beacon Cove at the northern end of Tregurrian Beach (now more commonly known as Watergate Bay).

    The reason they are here in the churchyard is that in 1808 the "Dead Bodies Interment Bill" was introduced which meant that a Christian burial was required for the shipwrecked (funded by the county where they came ashore) and a reward was paid to those who discovered the bodies.

  15. Turn left onto the lane, then almost immediately right, through a farm gate opposite the cottage. Follow the track through the field, to reach a farm gate on the other side.

    As you reach the lane, the large walled area to your left, above the church, is Lanherne Convent.

    The building in St Mawgan that is now Lanherne Covent, which is over 800 years old, originally belonged to the Arundell family and was the servants' quarters for their Manor House. Lanherne is a cloistered Convent, which means the Sisters never leave the grounds unless they need to go to hospital. In between worship, they live a subsistence lifestyle: cooking, cleaning, sewing and tending the gardens, orchards, ducks and geese. The Sanctuary light, before the Blessed Sacrament, has remained alight for hundreds of years.

    For two centuries, it was home to The Carmelite Sisters, but numbers dwindled, and in 2001, the ageing nuns eventually handed it over for use by the current Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate. However, recently, the Carmelite order expressed their desire to sell the property, and the Friends of Lanherne charity has been set up to preserve the use of the building as a Convent (by Sisters of the Immaculate). One complication is that as Franciscans, the Sisters are not allowed to own any properties and nor do they have any money to purchase it. Hence they need a little help from their Friends. The campaign has even given rise to a spot of blogging and a Youtube video from the Sisters in between prayer, picking apples and tending geese.

  16. Go through the gate and continue along the track, to a gate in the far hedge.

    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 must: 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.
  17. Go through the gate and follow the track to a final gate.

    RAF St Mawgan, on the hill to the south of St Mawgan, was originally a civilian airfield that was requisitioned in the Second World War as a satellite of the nearby St Eval airfield. After the war, it was reopened as a Coastal Command base for maritime reconnaissance which continued until the 1990s. It is also believed that the US Government built an underground bunker housing nuclear warheads during the Cold War. Since the 1990s, the airfield was mainly used for Search and Rescue. In 2008, the runway was handed to Newquay Airport, to resume its original civilian role. There is still an RAF base on the site and there is discussion about possibly relocating the Search and Rescue services here once more.

  18. Go through the gate onto a lane. Follow the lane past Polgreen Manor and the lakes. Continue, beneath the trees, until you reach a track on the right marked "Unsuitable For Motor Vehicles".
  19. Turn right down the track and follow it until it ends at a lane.

    The car parks at Mawgan Porth are at the foot of some mediaeval hay meadows; some of the individual tenants' strips can still be made out, when viewed from a distance.

    In mediaeval times, the Anglo-Saxon "stitch meal" technique was adopted in some parts of Cornwall. This involved dividing arable and meadow land into long strips called "stitches". Villagers would be allocated a (usually disconnected) set of strips so that the "best" fields were shared around, as evenly as possible. The long, thin shape was ideal for ploughing with oxen. A typical stitch was one furlong in length and one acre in area, which could be ploughed by a team of oxen in a day.

  20. Turn left on the lane and follow it back to Mawgan Porth.

    The name Mawgan Porth has arisen from the Cornish name - Porthmaugan, in use in the 18th Century. However, in mediaeval times, it was known by a completely different name - Porthglyvyan - which translates to something along the lines of "cove of the wooded valley stream".

    The beach at Mawgan Porth faces West into the Atlantic and has good surf, particularly when the wind is in an easterly direction. Opinions differ on whether the effect of the tide is significant on the quality of the surf; some say that it is best just after low tide.

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