Mevagissey to Charlestown

After a bus journey from Charlestown to Mevagissey, the walk meanders through the town to the quay and then follows the coast path to the beach at Pentewan. After passing through the village, the route continues along the coast past the rocky cove at Hallane and around Black Head to reach Porthpean beach. The final stretch passes Duporth beach before returning to Charlestown.

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 105 (scan QR code on right to order from Amazon)
  • Distance: 7.6 miles/12.3 km
  • Grade: Moderate-strenuous
  • Bus: 24 from Charlestown Church to Mevagissey
  • Start from: Bus stop in Mevagissey
  • Parking: Charlestown Harbour car park. Satnav: PL253NH
  • Recommended footwear: Walking boots or trainers in summer

Maps for this walk

(dark blue corner = laminated version)

Highlights

  • Historic fishing port of Mevagissey
  • Sandy beach at Pentewan
  • Panoramic views from Black Head of St Austell and Mevagissey Bays
  • Rocky cove at Hallane with a waterfall and natural arch
  • Sheltered, sandy beaches at Porthpean and Duporth
  • Historic harbour at Charlestown

Directions

  1. Start by catching the bus from Charlestown church which can be reached by walking along the main road away from the harbour and turning right down Church Road. Once at the bus stop in Mevagissey, follow the road into Mevagissey past the car park and join the pedestrian lane. Follow this to a junction and continue ahead, signposted for the Parish Church, until you reach a junction by the Ship Inn.

    A fishing village on the northern side of the cove was first recorded in 1313 as Porthhilly from the Cornish words porth and hyly, meaning "salt water harbour", although it is likely a settlement existed here for a long time. Artefacts such as arrows and axe heads found in the village and on display in the museum date back to the Bronze Age. Nearby there was a small religious community of Lamorick, centred around what is now St Peter's Church. In 1259, the church was dedicated to two Irish Saints - St Meva and St Issey (who also crops up in St Issey near Wadebridge). During the 15th Century, the two settlements became known collectively by the saints to whom the church had been dedicated: "Meva-ag-Issey" (where hag is the Cornish word for "and"). During the 17th Century, Porthhilly expanded and merged with the neighbouring hamlet of Lamorick resulting in the single town of Mevagissey.

  2. Once you pass the Ship Inn, turn left to reach the memorial and take the first right, signposted to the harbour. Follow along the left side of the harbour to reach the museum.

    There was a quay at Mevagissey in mediaeval times, situated in the vicinity of the current East Quay and there is a record of its construction in 1470. This provided protection from the prevailing southwesterlies, but when a gale occasionally blew from the East, the harbour was exposed. In 1774, an Act of Parliament was passed for Megavissey to be developed as a port, and the current East and West Quays of the inner harbour were constructed at this time. The outer harbour was added just over a century later, initially built in 1888 but only 3 years later it was badly damaged in a winter storm. By the end of the 19th Century, the outer walls had been rebuilt and have changed little since then.

  3. At the museum, double-back up the steep path on the left and follow this to a junction with a path at the top.

    Following the construction of the outer harbour in 1888, the lifeboat was moved to Mevagissey from Portmellon, and it was moored in the harbour for a few years until the lifeboat house was built in 1896. The station operated until 1930 when Fowey was equipped with a motorised lifeboat which could also cover the coast around Mevagissey. The lifeboat station is now an aquarium containing some fine specimens of local fish.

  4. Turn right onto the upper path and keep right along this up various flights of steps until you eventually emerge into a large grassy area via a gap in the wall below a public 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.

  5. Walk straight ahead across the grass and, once you cross the brow of the hill, aim for the yellow hydrant sign in front of the rightmost house at the far side.
  6. Bear right onto the Coast Path and follow this a short distance to where a flight of steps descend to the right.

    Polstreath is a shingle beach facing east into Mevagissey Bay. The orientation of the beach means that it gets the morning sun and is sheltered from the prevailing westerly winds by high cliffs. The path to the beach is steep with just over 150 steps which has the effect of limiting the number of beachgoers.

  7. Keep left along the tarmac path and follow the coast path to a footbridge at the bottom of the valley.

    The names of many coastal features are derived from words in the Cornish language:

    • Pen - Headland (Cornish for "top" or "head")
    • Pol - often used to mean Harbour (literally "Pool")
    • Porth - Port but often used to mean Cove
    • Zawn - sea inlet (from the Cornish "sawan" meaning chasm)

    Note that Haven has Saxon origins (hæfen in Old English) which is why it tends to occur more in North East Cornwall (Millook, Crackington, Bude etc).

  8. Cross the bridge and follow the steps up the other side of the valley to a kissing gate at the top.
  9. Go through the gate and follow the path parallel to the right hedge to reach a stile.
  10. Cross the stile and follow the path to reach another stile.

    The point ahead is called Penare, from the Cornish word penn-ardh (pronounced "penarth") meaning promontory. Many of the headlands in the area such as Black Head and Dodman Point were also formerly known as Penare.

  11. Cross the stile and follow the path down the steps to reach a kissing gate. Go through the gate and follow the path alongside the fence on the right to reach another kissing gate in the far hedge.

    From the headland, there are views over Pentewan Bay to the headlands along the south coast: the large headlands closest are Black Head and Gribbin (with the daymark tower). On a clear day, Rame Head is visible at the far eastern end of Cornwall.

  12. Go through the gate and follow the right hedge of the field to reach a gate.
  13. Go through the gate and down the steps; then follow the right hedge to a gap in the wall.

    The derelict buildings at Portgiskey include cottages and fish cellars. Their exact age is not known, but they appear on a tithe map from 1840 and so were built some time before this. This was in the period when pilchards were plentiful, so the cellars were probably used to process these.

  14. Go through the gap and follow the right hedge to a kissing gate.
  15. Go through the sequence of gates and cross the footbridge to reach another gate.
  16. Go through the gate and turn right. Follow the path along the right hedge to reach a kissing gate at the top of the field.
  17. Go through the kissing gate and turn right. Follow the path until it emerges on the entrance road to Pentewan Sands Holiday Park.
  18. Cross the entrance road to the pavement opposite and follow this along the main road to the junction signposted to Pentewan Village.

    Pentewan dates back to mediaeval times when it was mainly a fishing village with a harbour. The harbour was rebuilt in the 1820s both for the pilchard fishery and to create a china clay port. At its peak, a third of Cornwall's china clay was shipped from Pentewan. However the harbour had continual silting problems which meant that it was eventually overtaken by Charlestown and Par. As well as longshore drift carrying sand east across Mevagissey Bay, there was also silt being washed down the river from china clay works and tin streaming. Consequently, the harbour gradually silted up with the last trading ship leaving in 1940 and World War II literally sealing its fate. By the 1960s, the harbour was only accessible to small boats and today the harbour basin is entirely cut off from the sea.

  19. Turn right at the junction to Pentewan Village and follow the road over the bridge and past the Ship Inn to the village square.
  20. From the square, follow the lane ahead, past the telephone box and up Pentewan Hill until you reach a track on the right with a footpath signpost.

    Pentewan is famous for its stone which is a type of elvan.

    Elvan is very hard volcanic rock formed where magma intruded into other rocks to form a (vertical) dyke or (horizontal) sill that cooled fairly quickly, resulting in fairly small crystals. Chemically it is very similar to granite, but in the case of granite, slower cooling resulted in large crystals. Elvans can be seen in many of the churches across Cornwall where it is often used for intricate parts of buildings, such as doorways, so they can be finely carved.

    The term "greenstone" is used by quarrymen to describe igneous rocks that, unlike granite, are rich in iron and magnesium and these give it a blue-green colour. When greenstone is formed as a sill or dyke it is sometimes called "blue elvan". This is also quite common in Cornwall and has been quarried for a long time: in the Neolithic period, stone axes made from blue elvan were exported from Cornwall to various parts of Britain.

  21. Turn right onto the track and follow it past the church and through a gateway with granite posts to reach a public footpath signpost.

    All Saints Church was completed in 1821 as part of a plan for a terrace in which it was envisaged as the centrepiece, but only the northern half was ever built. It is built from the famous Pentewan Stone and the terrace incorporates tracery from the Elizabethan Polrudden House which was destroyed by French pirates. The church fell into disuse within a few decades and was used as a carpenters shop until it was restored and reinstated as a church in 1878. There was also a Methodist church in the village but this was destroyed when Pentewan was bombed during the Second World War.

  22. From the footpath sign, follow the footpath a short distance to a small wooden signpost by a flight of steps. Turn left up the steps and follow the coast path until you eventually reach a wooden stile.

    As you climb up the steps towards the stile, the rocky cove on your right is known as Polrudden, which means "Red Cove" in Cornish. There is a sandy beach at low tide where ships used to land to collect stone from the Pentewan quarries.

    The golden yellow elvan known as Pentewan Stone was used in many mediaeval churches as its fine grain allowed stone masons to carve it into intricate shapes without it crumbling. The earliest use found is an inscribed stone at St Cuby, Tregony which dates from the Dark Ages. In mediaeval times, the stone was obtained from where the volcanic dyke met the cliffs of Polrudden Cove. Later, quarries were opened up inland along the course of the dyke and these can be traced for nearly a kilometre to a large overgrown quarry behind the village. In 1985, when the church at St Austell was restored, blocks of Pentewan Stone were recovered from Polrudden beach for the work.

  23. Cross the stile and follow the footpath around the headland, down the valley and up the other side, and around the next headland to reach a footbridge.

    Just before you reach the footbridge, the sand/shingle beach at the bottom of the cliff is known as Polgwyn. This means "White Cove" in Cornish and is probably a reference to the white shingle beach.

  24. Cross the footbridge and follow the path along the coast and eventually down some steps into a wooded valley to reach a footbridge at the bottom.
  25. Cross the footbridge and turn right at the waymark. Follow the path towards the coast until you reach another waymark beside a cottage.
  26. Bear left at the waymark and follow the path uphill a short distance to reach a another waymark.

    At the cottage, the path to the right leads to Hallane Beach.

    Hallane is a south-facing shingle beach with submerged rocks a short way offshore which surface as the tide goes out, and at low tide, a rocky platform is exposed along the shoreline. It is very sheltered which makes it suitable for swimming, and the offshore rocks provide a suitable spot for a rest and warm-up although care must be taken of the sharp barnacles. On the right-hand side of the beach, a waterfall cascades over a natural arch. At low tide, it is possible to walk around the arch to get behind the waterfall; slippery algae grows on the rocks beneath the waterfall so climbing through it is not recommended.

  27. Turn right at the (blue) waymark and follow the path to another (yellow) waymark in the field. Continue ahead along the fence and follow the coast path until you eventually reach a junction of paths beside a huge granite memorial.

    The granite memorial on Black Head, engraved with "This was the land of my content", was erected in the memory of Arthur Leslie Rowse, a Cornish writer and historian. Rowse was born in 1903, the son of an uneducated china clay worker, and was the first Cornishman to win a university scholarship, reading English at Christchurch College, Oxford.

  28. Turn left at the memorial and follow the path inland to reach a waymark before a flight of steps.

    At the memorial, the path to the left leads out onto the headland.

    The name "Black Head" dates back to at least Tudor times. A map from 1576 records it as The Blak heade poynt. From the North side there are views across St Austell Bay and to the South, across Mevagissey Bay to Chapel Point.

    Black Head was the site of an Iron Age fort which is thought to date from around the 3rd Century BC. Two large banks and ditches are clearly visible across the narrowest part of the headland. There were originally three ramparts but the outermost has almost vanished.

  29. Keep right at the waymark and follow the path up the steps and along the coast to the Ropehaven Cliffs Nature Reserve sign and continue along the path to a junction with another path at the top of a flight of steps.

    A 49 acre area of the cliffs above Ropehaven was purchased by the Cornwall Wildlife Trust in 1986 to create a nature reserve. The reserve consists of mature broadleaf woodland and cliffs below which are formed from some of the oldest sedimentary rocks exposed in the South West of England. The inaccessible cliffs provide nesting sites for seabirds such as fulmars and gulls, and sea caves in the bay provide haul-out sites for grey seals. Near the exposed clifftop, the woodland consists of salt-tolerant blackthorn and hawthorn. On the lower slopes, in the lee of Black Head, it is mostly comprised of Sycamore and Ash with some Ivy and Holly growing beneath the canopy.

  30. Bear right down the steps and follow the path until you reach a bench with a waymark opposite. Turn left in the direction waymarked and stay on the main path until it emerges onto a track.
  31. Turn right onto the track and follow it to a junction of tracks with a lane. Continue past the car park until you reach a flight of steps on the right with a waymark for the coast path.
  32. Turn right up the steps and follow the path to reach a footbridge at the bottom of a steep valley.
  33. Cross the footbridge and follow the path up the valley to reach a gate at the top.
  34. Go through the gate and follow the path to reach a bridge at the bottom of the next valley.
  35. Cross the stile and bridge and follow the path up the steps and down into the next valley to eventually reach a stile.
  36. Pass the stile and follow the path to emerge outside Porthpean sailing club.
  37. Follow the path to the road and follow the ramp down to the sea wall. Walk along the top of the sea wall 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!

  38. 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.

  39. Turn right and follow the path around the lookout tower. As you approach some benches, keep right on the outer path to reach a grassy area at the end of the headland with a picnic bench.
  40. Bear left to pass the picnic bench and join the path leading back inland along the other side of the headland. Follow this to a crossing of paths at a waymark.
  41. 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.

    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.

  42. 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.

  43. 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.
  44. Follow the steps downhill, passing through a kissing gate, to reach Charlestown Harbour.

    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. The protected harbour is now used for sailing ships; the combination of the tall ships and undeveloped location has made it a popular filming location which features in Poldark, Pirates of the Carribean and many others.

  45. 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 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.

If you found this page useful, please could you
our page on Facebook?