Pentewan Valley and Black Head

The walk starts at Pentewan and follows the coast path to Hallane, with some nice views, and around Black Head to Trenarren. From here the route follows lanes and footpaths to Castle Gotha and then to Towan. From here, a footpath leads into the Pentewan valley and joins the network of paths in King's Wood. After passing through the woodland reserve, the route joins the Pentewan Valley trail and follows this down the St Austell river, switching to a footpath to stay alongside the river and follows this back to Pentewan.
The route passes through a farmyard so wellies may be required in winter and early spring when the cows are not out on the grass.

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 105 (scan QR code on right to order from Amazon)
  • Distance: 6.6 miles/10.6 km
  • Grade: Strenuous
  • Start from: Pentewan car park
  • Parking: Pentewan car park. Follow the B3273 from St Austell towards Mevagissey and turn left when you reach the sign for Pentewan (village only). The car park is on the right as you go around the bend just after the bridge. Satnav: PL266BX
  • Recommended footwear: Walking boots, or trainers in summer

Maps for this walk

(dark blue corner = laminated version)

Highlights

  • Panoramic views from Black Head of St Austell and Mevagissey Bays
  • Rocky cove at Hallane with a waterfall and natural arch
  • Wildflowers and damselfies along the St Austell River
  • Sandy beach at Pentewan

Directions

  1. Turn right out of the car park and follow the road along the wall and past the Ship Inn to the village square.

    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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.
  7. Cross the footbridge and turn right at the waymark. Follow the path towards the coast until you reach another waymark beside a cottage.
  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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.
  13. Turn right onto the track and follow it to a junction of tracks with a lane. Bear right onto the lane and follow it uphill past the sign for the coast path and onwards for about a quarter of a mile until you reach a sharp bend with a pedestrian gate on the right.

    As you walk along the lane, before you reach the bend, you pass a gateway on the right from which there is a spectacular view over St Austell Bay.

  14. Go through the pedestrian gate on the left of the farm gate on your right. Follow the right hedge of the field to the corner and continue following the right hedge for another 10 metres to reach an iron kissing gate in the hedge.
  15. Go through the gate and bear left across the field, heading towards the point where the two power lines converge on a post. As you approach, head to the post immediately to the right of the one with the junction box. As you approach more closely, you'll see a gate in the hedge beneath the post.
  16. Go through the gate and cross the field towards the farm gate opposite. As you approach, head for the pedestrian gate to the right of the farm gate.

    The hedge that you cross into the field is the remains of Castle Gotha.

    Castle Gotha was a small oval-shaped settlement with a bank and ditch around it. Most of this has been ploughed away but a small section of the bank remains as the hedge between fields. Excavations have shown that the site was occupied in the Iron Age from the Second Century BC to the Second Century AD, and timber huts were originally located against the ramparts. The name of the settlement is from the Cornish word gov, meaning "blacksmith" and during excavations within the sites of the huts, metalworking remains were found. These included pits, hearths, a stone mould for casting brooches and the remains of a larger mould embedded in the floor. The larger mould is thought either to be an ingot mould or possibly for casting sheet metal.

  17. Go through the gate and turn left onto the lane. Follow the lane to a crossroads.
  18. Turn right, signposted to Towan, and follow the road to reach Towan Barn.

    It is thought that the Sawle family of Penrice arrived initially with William the Conqueror and began with an estate based around a manor at Towan, recorded in the Domesday Book, where the two farms are now located. In one of the fields is a holy well, and a chapel once stood nearby. By the English Civil War, the Sawle Family were living in Penrice House and this continued into the 20th Century. The family lost their only male heir in the First World War, and Mrs Cobbold Sawle, the last in the line, died in 1971. In her will, she left Penrice House and much of the estate’s wealth to establish a rest home for the elderly.

  19. From Towan Barn, follow the lane along the fence and then continue ahead towards the farmyard. As you enter the farmyard, bear right to a track running along the right-hand side of all the buildings, and follow this to a gate beside the last barn.
  20. Go through the gate and follow the track ahead to reach a grassy track leading off to the right, just before the main track goes through a gate.
  21. Turn right down the track and follow it through the woods until you reach a Woodland Trust waymark on the left, just before the track bends.

    The Woodland Trust was founded in 1972 and is dedicated to providing a UK rich in native woods and trees. They summarise themselves as "the RSPCA of trees" and have set themselves the ambitious target of doubling native tree cover throughout the UK over the next 50 years. They now look after more than 1,100 woods and over 110 Sites of Special Scientific Interest and are committed to providing free public access wherever possible.

  22. At the bend, turn left up the waymarked path and follow it just a few paces to a wooden pole beside the steps, where it meets another path running downhill to the right. Turn right onto this and follow it until it ends on a gravel path.
  23. Turn left onto the path and then almost immediately bear right down a path leading down into the valley. Follow the path until it meets several other paths at the bottom of the valley.
  24. When you reach the bottom, take the last (and largest) of the paths on the right and follow this a short distance to a junction with another path with a wooden fence on the left. Turn right and follow the path to a junction of paths at a Woodland Trust waymark.
  25. At the junction, turn left and follow the path to reach a wooden barrier just before the car park.
  26. Bear left onto the cycle track and follow it along the fence beside the car park, then bear right onto the track alongside the river. Follow the track alongside the river until it departs from the river and turns into the woods.

    The Pentewan Valley Trail runs along the trackbed of an old railway. This was originally built as a horse-drawn tramway to transport china clay from St Austell to the new port at Pentewan which was completed in 1826. The line opened in 1829 and used gravity to transport the loaded wagons down the incline from St Austell and then horses to pull them along the flat section to Pentewan, and to return the empty wagons.

    In 1874, plans were made to upgrade the line to a railway with steam locomotives. Although the track strengthening had been implemented, shortly after this, a strategic decision was taken by Great Western Railway to direct its china clay traffic to Fowey. By 1877, the shipments were dwindling and by 1880 the operation became unprofitable. However a boom followed only two years later and the line continued until the First World War. The track was the same gauge as that used to service the trenches in France and both the track and locomotives were acquired by the War Department.

  27. Where the track turns left to go into the woods, keep right on the small path along the river and follow it over a stile. Follow the path alongside the river until you emerge in an area with picnic tables, just before a bridge.

    Habitat improvement work has been done on the St Austell River as part of the South Cornwall River Improvement Project.

    The South Cornwall River Improvement Project is a partnership programme lead by the Westcountry Rivers Trust, and is aimed at improving the river habitats around St Austell Bay. The project focuses on both reduction of river pollution and habitat improvement particularly on the lower sections of the St Austell and Par rivers which have been heavily modified and straightened. One of the major objectives of the project has been the reconnection of the St Austell River's major tributary, the Polgooth river, which was previously isolated through a series of culverts that fish such as trout and salmon would not swim through.

  28. Walk past the picnic tables and bear left between the buildings to reach a track. Bear right onto the track and follow this a short distance to the lane.
  29. Turn left onto the lane and follow it around the bend to return to the car park.

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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