Mullion three coves

The walk descends to Poldhu Cove via the Marconi Centre on the site where the first transatlantic broadcast was made. The walk then follows the coast path past the Marconi monument to Polurrian Cove. The route continues along the coast to Mullion Cove via the cannon that was found in the bay during Victorian times. The walk then follows the valley back to Mullion via Ghost Hill, named after the Will-o-the-wisps in the marshes, and via the church and Old Inn.

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 103 (scan QR code on right to order from Amazon)
  • Distance: 4.5 miles/7.2 km
  • Grade: Moderate
  • Start from: Village Car Park
  • Parking: Village or Tremenhee car park. Follow the one way system and then turn right to pass the church and reach the car parks Satnav: TR127HW
  • Recommended footwear: Walking shoes, or boots in winter

Maps for this walk

(dark blue corner = laminated version)

Highlights

  • Sandy beaches at Polurrian and Poldhu Cove
  • Views across Mount's Bay to Penzance and St Michael's Mount
  • Pretty harbour at Mullion Cove
  • Marconi Centre at Poldhu Cove

Directions

  1. Turn right out of the car park and follow the road past Laflouder Fields on the left, and Woodlands on the right, to Laflouder Lane on the left.

    The name Mullion is likely to be from the Cornish Porth Melyn, meaning "mill cove". The name may also be connected with St Mellanus, to whom the church was dedicated, born in South Wales some time in the early sixth century. Like many Celtic saints, he later migrated to Brittany and the cathedral in the capital, Rennes, is dedicated to him. The names may be a coincidence or St Mellanus may have been retrospectively adopted, based on the similar-sounding name.

  2. Turn left down Laflouder Lane and keep left when you reach the junction with Meres Valley. Follow Laflouder Lane, which fades out into a track, until you reach a junction of tracks just after "Arcady" with a "Footpath" sign on the right.

    There are records of smuggling in Mullion up to 1840. Some of the old cottages still have cupboards with false backs or bottoms and spaces beneath the floor where contraband was stored.

  3. Turn right up the track in the direction indicated for "Footpath" and when you reach Meres, keep ahead along the path to pass beside Stable Cottage and reach a Public Footpath sign.
  4. Turn left after the granite gatepost to reach another footpath sign. Follow the waymarked path across the field to a stone stile over a hedge.
  5. Cross over the hedge and follow the path over another one to reach a gate into a field. Cross the field to a pedestrian gate in the opposite corner.

    John Wesley's visit to Mullion is commemorated on the stone near Angrouse Farm, engraved in 1762 which simply says "ST 1762". Wesley was invited to preach in Mullion by the wife of the farmer at Angrouse and "ST" is the initial either of the farmer or his wife (their surname was Triggs and the "S" is either "Samuel" or "Sue", short for Ursula). Wesley also recorded the event in his journal:

    I rode on to Mullion, near the Lizard Point. A man who was a sinner gladly received us, for he knew God had received him - having been deeply convinced of sin the last time I preached near Helston, and not long after filled with peace and joy in the Holy Ghost. A flame was kindled almost as soon as I began to speak, which increased more and more all the time I was preaching as well as during the meeting of the society. How tender are the hearts of this people! Such is the advantage of true Christian simplicity!
  6. Go through the gate and turn left onto the track. Follow it past Seven Pines to a corner with a pedestrian gate ahead; keep right to stay on the track and follow it as it peters out into a path to reach a gate.

    Angrouse Cottage is thought to date from the early 18th Century and was once the farmhouse for Angrouse Farm. It is said that the original roof beams included deck planks from wrecked ships. The name is Cornish for "The Cross", and may refer to a mediaeval wayside cross which was once nearby.

  7. Cross the cattlegrid-like stile next to the gate and follow the path to the Marconi Centre gate.

    After his successful preliminary tests near Lizard Point, Marconi set out to build a high-powered transmitter, one hundred times more powerful than any built previously. He selected the site near Mullion as it faced West, had a hotel to accommodate the workforce, and was away from the prying eyes of competitors and the press. Work began in October 1900 and a huge circular aerial was constructed supported by a ring of twenty masts each 200ft tall.

  8. Turn right onto the path alongside the drive and follow this to reach a tarmacked driveway.

    By September 1901, Marconi was close to being ready to make a long-range test transmission, but a gale in Mount's Bay destroyed the massive Poldhu aerial. A makeshift "fan" aerial was hastily constructed as a replacement.

    Marconi then travelled to Newfoundland by steamer and found a site where he could hoist aerials attached to kites and balloons. He then had to wait for a lull in the bad winter weather to get his kite aloft and finally on 12 December 1901, Marconi made history by detecting the Morse code for the letter "S" on his earphone.

    The wireless transmission from Poldhu's makeshift aerial had successfully propagated over 2,000 miles of open ocean by repeatedly bouncing off the electrically charged layer in the upper atmosphere and the reflective surface of the sea.

    Marconi later said that "the experiment had involved risking at least £50,000 to achieve a result which had been declared impossible by some of the principal mathematicians of the time".

    The Marconi Centre was erected in 2001 to mark the 100th anniversary of Marconi's transatlantic experiment and is the base for the Poldhu Amateur Radio Club, with displays on the history of the site.

  9. Turn right onto the driveway and follow this to where a path departs from the left, opposite the "Footpath to Marconi Centre" sign.

    In 1669, the San Salvador was en route from the Baltic to Le Havre with a cargo of timber when it was wrecked somewhere near Gunwalloe. For many years, it was thought that the San Salvador ended up in Dollar Cove, but it is now thought that it is likely to be the wreck found by divers driven into the cliffs of Poldhu Cove. The remains include a number of small iron cannon, and Spanish silver real coins (also known as "pieces-of-one") have been found on the rock ledges.

  10. Turn left onto the coast path and follow this to the Marconi Monument.

    From mediaeval times until Victorian times, the Spanish currency was based on silver coins known as real (meaning "royal"). A hefty one-ounce silver coin worth 8 silver reals was known as the dollar or piece of 8. Higher value gold coins were also issued including the escudo (worth 2 dollars or 16 reals) and the doubloon (worth 2 escudos or 32 reals). Due to its high uniformity, the Spanish Dollar was used as international currency for many centuries and is the coin upon which the US Dollar was based. The pieces of 8 coins featured the pillars of Hercules, depicted as columns with S-shaped scrolls wrapped around them, and this may be the origin of the dollar symbol.

  11. Continue ahead from the monument to where the path passes through a wall and forks at a waymark.

    After the success of his experiment, Marconi developed Poldhu into a wireless station to communicate with ships on transatlantic routes. It operated commercially until the 1920s, and played a key role during the First World War. It was closed and demolished in the 1930s, leaving only embankments in the field and concrete foundations as a reminder of what was once here.

  12. Keep right at the fork, in the direction waymarked. Follow the path to a cottage on the cliff edge.

    Just past the cottage, a path leads out onto the headland which ends in an area of slate bedrock. This is often quite sheltered from the wind by the headlands either side and rather a nice spot for a hevva bun overlooking the bay.

  13. After the cottage, keep left to follow the path alongside the wall. Pass through the wall and then keep right to reach a coast path signpost beside the footbridge.

    The beach at Polurrian Cove is mostly composed of fine golden sand. In winter, patches of fine shingle sometimes appear but these give way to golden sand as the tide goes out. The cove faces southwest which can result in some good winter surf and is sheltered from the wind by the headlands either side which also helps to keep the surf clean.

  14. Turn right at the signpost and follow the path across the footbridge. Then either climb the steps or follow the longer but less steep path to the left to a waymark, and keep right to the top of the cliff. Follow the path to a junction of the two paths at a waymark at the top of the hill.

    Polurrian is on the geological boundary between the Cornish slates of Mount's Bay and the volcanic rocks of the Lizard which were pushed out from the Earth's mantle during the collision of two ancient continents.

  15. Continue ahead from the waymark and follow the path until it ends at a junction of lanes and tracks at a coast path signpost.

    Part of the Earth's mantle, normally tens of miles below your feet, was once bulldozed onto Cornish mainland in front of the advancing continent. The mantle contains elements such as iron, magnesium and calcium which are less common in the Earth's crust as they are comparatively heavy and normally get chance to sink back into the mantle. The rocks rich in these minerals, such as Greenstone, are referred to as "mafic" whereas those containing relatively little (e.g. granite which is formed from magma which slowly works its way up through the Earth's crust) are referred to as "felsic".

  16. Turn right and follow the track until you reach a small path ahead marked with a Polurrian National Trust sign.
  17. Follow the path ahead with the Polurrian sign to reach a fork as you approach a building. Keep right at the fork and follow the path past the bench to reach a lane.

    Mullion Island is roughly half a mile offshore but was still part of the estate of Lower Predannack. It is an important nesting site for seabirds, particularly kittiwakes, and is now owned by the National Trust.

  18. Turn right onto the lane and follow it alongside a parking area opposite the hotel to reach a waymark near the cannon.

    The cannon was found in Mullion Harbour in the 1880s when the harbour walls were being built. The ship that it originally came from is unknown.

  19. Follow the path between the waymark and the cannon to descend to Mullion Cove. Stay on the main path to reach a waymark beside the buildings.

    The equipment for catching pilchards included multiple boats and large nets which were beyond the means of the majority of poor fishermen. Therefore many pilchard fisheries provided the equipment but paid the workers a relatively small wage. Mullion was an example of this, where the operation was run by seining companies based around Penzance and Newlyn. 75% of the catch went to the owners and the remaining 25% was allocated in shares to the crew, on top of a weekly wage. The clifftop lookouts were the most highly paid, followed by net shooters, the bowman and finally the rest of the crew. The payment system also included a cash bonus for the more senior members of the boat crew for each hogshead barrel of fish in the owner's share to prevent the crew from cheating the system.

  20. At the waymark, go down the steps to reach the harbour (which you may want to explore). The walk continues to the left, past the PorthMellin Café. Continue along the lane past the public toilets until you reach a junction on the right marked with a public footpath sign.

    Mullion Cove is naturally sheltered to some degree by Mullion Island and this was further improved by the construction of Mullion Harbour in 1895. The construction was financed by the Robartes family of Lanhydrock who also owned Predannick Woolas, after the local fishermen had endured several disastrous years of pilchard fishing in the early 1890s. The estate which included the harbour and island was given to the National Trust in 1945 who then had the unenviable task of maintaining the harbour walls which are of the problematic Victorian block design and to make matters worse are partially built from notoriously soft serpentine rocks. The breakwaters have been damaged by storms a number of times since the 1990s and repairs have already cost the National Trust well over £1 million. The Trust aim to patch up the breakwaters for as long as they can but concede that at some point over the next couple of decades, they are likely to be damaged beyond repair.

  21. Turn right onto the track and follow this uphill, keeping left at the fork and passing Polpeor House, until you reach a waymark.

    After nine shipwrecks over the course of six years along the coast around Mullion, with the loss of 69 lives, a lifeboat station brought into service in 1867. In the period until it closed in 1908, the lifeboat was replaced twice, one of which was the largest lifeboat in the country. The lifeboat house has since been demolished but its barometer was rescued and is set into an arch beneath a clock outside The Old Vicarage.

  22. Turn left down the small path marked with the hydrant sign. Follow the path over a cattlegrid-like stile into a field. Follow the right hedge of the field to reach a stone stile.
  23. Cross the stile and follow the right hedge to another stone stile.

    Be careful crossing the stone stiles in wet weather.

    Serpentine rocks are well-known for being slippery. The reason is that the serpentization process produces soft minerals such as talc. These minerals have a plate-like structure that have strong chemical bonds within a layer, but the bonds between layers are weak so that the layers glide over each other. Rocks composed almost entirely of talc are known as "soapstone" as they are so slippery. Also, because the minerals are quite soft, foot traffic causes the surface of the rocks to become polished.

  24. Cross the stile and follow the right hedge to reach a stile onto a lane.

    The serpentine stile has become polished by many decades of foot traffic to reveal its colours.

    The serpentization process results in rocks that are quite soft. The rock is often also very colourful and may contain veins of green, yellow and red, due to iron compounds within the rocks. Its softness and attractive colours were first noticed on stiles and cattle rubbing posts which had highly polished areas where walkers or cattle had rubbed against them. An industry grew up in the 19th Century making ornamental stone, initially for quite large architectural pieces but it was popularised by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert who ordered serpentine tables for their home. Over time, serpentine proved less suitable than marble for architectural purposes due to its tendency to crumble in heat and to absorb water and crack. Interior ornaments are still produced although the quarrying of serpentine is now very strictly regulated.

  25. Cross the stile and turn left onto the lane. Follow the lane a short distance past a gate to a public footpath sign on the right.

    The lane towards Predannack Woolas is known as Ghost Hill and the copper mine on the cliffs was also known as Ghost Mine.

    The name "Ghost Mine" is thought to originate from a well-documented phenomenon of glowing lights appearing in marshy areas known as "will 'o the wisp" or "jack 'o lantern". Travellers, mistaking these for lights of cottages, could be drawn into the marshes, which in Cornwall was known as being "pisky-led".

    A number of possible explanations for these lights have been put forward. The most well-known is that decomposing vegetation in the marshy ground releases flammable gasses such as methane, and this could be ignited by a small amount of phosphene, produced by microbes from dead animals. Other possibilities include bio-luminescence or chemical luminescence.

    So far, nobody has been able to reproduce the phenomenon under laboratory conditions and reports of sightings are now quite rare, thought to be due to the draining of marshland for agriculture and development, and light pollution.

  26. Bear right down the path and follow it over a bridge and stone stile into a field. Head straight up the field, just to the right of the house directly ahead, to reach a stile.
  27. Cross the stile and follow the path to reach a road. Turn right onto the road and follow it (crossing as necessary to walk on the pavement) past the Post Office and into the centre of the village to a junction on the right with no-entry signs. Keep left in the direction of the one-way arrows to pass the church and Old Inn, and return to the car park.

    The church in Mullion dates from the 13th century but most of the stonework that can be seen today dates from the 15th Century with some restoration in the 20th Century. The main south door dates from the 13th century and has a dog flap to allow restless sheepdogs to be released during a long service. The wooden-studded north door is thought to have been brought from another church and to be around 1,000 years old. The north door was known as The Devil's Door as it was opened during baptisms to allow evil spirits to escape. The carved bench ends are thought to date from Tudor times and the wood is reputed to be from an ancient oak forest that once covered part of the Goonhilly Downs.

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.

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