Porthcothan, Bedruthan Steps and Mawgan Porth

Starting with a bus journey to Porthcothan, this walk follows the Coast Path from Porthcothan Bay past the Trescore Islands to Porth Mear. The route then climbs over Park Head to overlook the sandy beach at Pentire Steps. From here, the route passes the iconic islets at Bedruthan Steps to reach Carnewas near the National Trust tearoom. The final section of the walk descends to Mawgan Porth with spectacular views of the beach.

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 106 (scan QR code on right to order from Amazon)
  • Distance: 4.4 miles/7.1 km
  • Grade: Easy-moderate
  • Bus: 56 from Mawgan Porth to Porthcothan
  • Start from: the bus stop in Porthcothan
  • 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

  • Golden, sandy beaches at Porthcothan and Mawgan Porth
  • Spectacular coastal scenery at Bedruthan Steps
  • Rich bird life including kestrels, skylarks and seabirds
  • Beautiful displays of thrift flowers in late spring

Alternative walks in same location

Directions

  1. Follow the path signposted to Porthcothan Bay stores. Pass the stores and keep left along the top of the dunes to follow the path out onto the headland. Continue along the path to reach a kissing gate in a narrow inlet.

    There is a beach at all states of the tide at Porthcothan, though the beach massively increases in size at low tide, and consequently the tide comes in very fast. At the top of the beach, in the sand dunes, is a store. There are also public toilets in the car park, on the opposite side of the road.

    On the left side of the beach there are some double rock stacks. Before 2014, one of these (known as Jan Leverton's Island) was one large rock with a pair of "windows" going through it, but the central section containing the windows was obliterated by storm waves leaving a stack on either side. To the far left of the beach is a collapsed cave that has openings both onto the beach and the end of the headland through which it's possible to clamber at low tide.

  2. Go through the kissing gate and follow the path around the headland and down into the next cove, to reach a track just before a footbridge.

    At the kissing gate, the path to the right leads to the beach, where there are a number of caves. Beware of slippery rocks as a small brook drains into the sea over the path.

  3. Cross the footbridge and follow the path to a kissing gate overlooking Porth Mear.

    Porth Mear has some excellent rockpools at low tide.

    Rockpool fishing is quite a popular childhood pass-time as a number of species can be lured out from hiding places by a limpet tied on a piece of cotton (leave a trailing end as if anything swallows the limpet, very gently pulling both ends of the cotton will cause it to release the cotton-tied limpet from its gullet). If you are intending to put the creatures into a bucket: ensure it is large, filled with fresh seawater and kept in the shade; ideally place in a couple of rocks for the creatures to hide under; do not leave them in there more than a couple of hours or they will exhaust their oxygen supply; ensure you release them into one of the rockpools from which you caught them, preferably a large one (carefully removing any rocks from your bucket first to avoid squashing them). Species you're likely to encounter are:

    • Blennies which are fish about 5-10cm long, often found hiding under rock ledges. They can change their colour from sandy to black within a couple of minutes in order to match their surroundings. They have strong, sharp teeth for crunching barnacles and will bite if provoked.
    • Shore crabs and sometimes edible crabs which can also sometimes be found hiding under rocks (carefully replace any rocks you lift up). Shore crabs have a fairly narrow shell which is almost as deep as it is wide. They vary in colour from green through brown to red (the redder individuals are apparently stronger and more aggressive). Edible crabs have a much wider shell which resembles a Cornish Pasty and are always a red-brown colour. Both have powerful claws so fingers should be kept well clear.
    • Shrimps and prawns - do you know the difference? Prawns are semi-transparent whereas shrimps are sandy coloured and generally bury themselves in sand.
  4. Go through the kissing gate and follow the path in the direction waymarked to Mawgan Porth to meet another path. Turn right and follow the path to another kissing gate.
  5. Go through the kissing gate and follow the path up to the headland. Continue on the path along the cliff edge until you can see a bench on your right and a slate waymark on your left. Keep left to reach the waymark.

    The islands overlooked by the bench are the Trescore Islands.

    The Trescore Islands lie off the headland between Porthcothan and Porth Mear. The rocky islets are surrounded by a sandy beach which is exposed at low tide, creating a lagoon between the islands and mainland. It is shallow enough to wade across from the mainland at low tide.

  6. From the waymark, continue on the path past another slate waymark and along the right side of a wall, past one more slate waymark, until the wall ends.

    The carpets of tiny blue flowers on the coast during April and May are the appropriately-named spring squill, which up close is a star-shaped pale blue flower with a dark blue stamen. They achieve their early flowering by storing energy over the winter in a bulb so they can be the first flowers out on the cliffs before they become overshadowed by larger plants. They thrive in locations which are beaten with wind and salt-laden spray which they are able to tolerate but other plants, which might otherwise out-compete them, cannot.

  7. At the end of the wall, keep right on the path along the coast and follow it until you reach another slate waymark.
  8. At the waymark, turn left and follow the path to a waymark at the end of a wall with a bench on the far side.

    At the slate waymark, a path to the right leads out onto Park Head where the remains of an Iron Age hillfort can be seen.

    The low plateau is surrounded by ramparts which are believed to date from the first century BC.

    The purpose of enclosures within ramparts varied quite considerably. Some were built as forts to defend from marauding invaders such as the seafaring Scandanavians. Others were defences built around small villages either as a status symbol/deterrent or for the more practical purpose of preventing domestic crimes such as theft of property by occupants of neighbouring villages. There were even some which were probably just a confined space used to stop livestock escaping!

  9. Continue ahead on the path along the coast to reach another stone wall. Follow along this and reach a wooden waymark to Mawgan Porth beside a kissing gate.

    The "herringbone" style of walling built with tightly packed alternating diagonal slate courses, is unique to Cornwall's heritage. It is known locally as "Jack and Jill", "Curzy Way" or "Kersey Wave". The latter two names are based on the Cornish word kersy which means "reeds", perhaps referring to a square weave pattern. On a long wall, the herringbone sections are often between "towers" of flat-laid slate (built from the larger and squarer stones) which helped to prevent the wall slumping sideways. Traditionally, hedges (stone boundary walls) were built with whatever was cleared out of the fields, whilst buildings were constructed from stone that was quarried and cut.

  10. From the waymark, continue on the coast path to reach a kissing gate.
  11. Go through the kissing gate and follow the path until you reach a fork, just as you emerge from the walled area.

    In late spring and summer, listen out for the characteristic song of skylarks hovering high above the coast. The coastal heath is a particularly good habitat for them, being mild but with fairly short vegetation in which they can hunt for insects.

  12. At the fork, you can follow either path as they rejoin (the outer path has better views but passes close to the cliff edge). Continue until the paths rejoin at a waymark.
  13. From the waymark, continue along the path until you reach a fork in the path at another waymark.

    On the headland, ahead, are the remains of a prehistoric cliff castle, known as Redcliff Castle. Most of the headland has since fallen into the sea, but there are still remains of a pair of circular ramparts which have been cut into the bedrock.

  14. Take the path to the right, along the coast, and follow the waymarks until you eventually join a cobbled path, at the base of a flight of slate steps.

    The name Bedruthan Steps is commonly used to refer to either this stretch of coastline, the beach or the series of offshore rocks.

    Bedruthan Steps is the name of a stretch of rocky coastline between Padstow and Newquay. The area lies in the parish of St Eval, just to the west of the hamlet of Bedruthan. There is no record of the name "Bedruthan Steps" before 1847, but it is thought to have originally referred to one of the two cliff staircases to access Carnewas mine (presumably the one nearer to the village of Bedruthan). The name later also became used for the name of the beach itself. The legend of Bedruthan Steps was invented for Victorian tourism, said to be taken from a mythological giant (Bedruthan) who used the rocks as stepping stones. These were formed after the last Ice Age, when rising sea levels eroded the surrounding soft shales to leave the harder rocks as islands. Each of the 5 rock stacks has a name (Queen Bess, Samaritan Island, Redcove Island, Pendarves Island and Carnewas Island).

  15. Bear left and climb the steps, then follow the cobbled path to a waymark.

    If the tide is out, you may want to take a short diversion down the cobbled path to your right to reach the beach.

    The beach at Bedruthan Steps is only exposed as the tide starts to go out. Initially several small coves are revealed as the tide falls and towards low tide these join into a large beach.

    The beach is accessed by a long flight of steps which lead from a gate just below the viewing area. Note that the gates are closed during the winter when the National Trust café is not open.

    Since only one of these coves has a set of steps, care should be taken not to get cut off by the incoming tide (tide times are displayed on a board beside the gate on the way down). Due to the channels between rocky islets across the beach, there are strong tidal currents and swimming is therefore not advisable. It is also a good idea to avoid choosing an area to sit that is directly below the cliffs as these are crumbling in many places: as well as occasional landslips, loose stones may be disturbed by birds.

  16. Bear right at the waymark. Follow the path until it cuts through a bank, and meets another path at a crossing.

    At this point, you may want to stop at the National Trust tearoom, on your left, for refreshments. There is also a shop and toilets. To reach it, follow the surfaced path, ahead from the waymark. To rejoin the walk route from the tearoom, take the leftmost (unsurfaced) path which will bring you to the next direction.

  17. At the crossing, keep ahead (or if you are coming from the tea room, turn left), and follow the coast path, until you reach a fork in the path, just before a waymark.

    The buildings which now house the National Trust shop and café at Bedruthan Steps were once the offices and outbuildings of Carnewas mine. This operated for just over 20 years from the mid 19th century. Initially it extracted lead, antimony and silver but later much larger amounts of iron ore. The ladders and steps to the beach were probably originally built to access the mine workings.

  18. Take the path on the right, as indicated by the waymark. Follow the path until you reach another waymark, just before a junction in the path.

    The slates at Bedruthan Steps are from the middle of the Devonian period when Cornwall lay at the bottom of the ocean. Fossils are quite rare in Cornish slate as most have been subsequently destroyed by the heat and pressure created by colliding continents. A few fossils of fish, corals, trilobites have been recorded at Bedruthan Steps. Although few and far between, they are important as they include some of the last remains of a once-abundant family of fish that became extinct.

  19. Keep right along the coast path and follow it to a waymark for Trenance.
  20. Bear right, in the direction waymarked to Trenance. Follow the path until it ends in a T-junction with another path.

    In 1908 the schooner known as the Hodbarrow Miner was carrying coal from Runcorn in Cheshire to Truro, when she was caught in a strong gale off the Cornish coast. As the ship rounded Lands End, 20 miles off the Longships lighthouse, the captain was lost overboard. The remaining crew attempted to run from the storm but were driven aground at Mawgan Porth. They launched a small boat but this capsized in the huge swell. The one surviving crew member swam ashore with the ship's boy, but the boy drowned in the breakers. The man was swept under as he reached the shore but he was dragged to safety by two coastguards.

  21. If the tide is out, you can turn right and walk along the top of the beach, keeping the dunes on your left, until you reach the road. Otherwise, turn left to reach a waymark and follow the path over the footbridge, to emerge on the beach above the high tide line.

    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.

  22. Cross the beach, keeping the dunes on your left, and follow the path from the pile of rocks, to reach the road.

    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.

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.

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