Porthleven to Rinsey Head

The route follows the edge of Porthleven Harbour and joins the coast path in The Wrestling Fields. The walk then follows the coast past the Giant's Rock and beaches of Porth Sulinces and Breage to the granite dykes of the Megiliggar Rocks. The walk continues on the coast path to the huge balanced block of granite on Trewavas Head and then follows a permissive path through the middle of one engine house and past the others before rejoining the coast path to Wheal Prosper on Rinsey Head. The return route is relatively quick and easy, across the fields and along a small lane.

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 102,103 (scan QR code on right to order from Amazon)
  • Distance: 6.8 miles/10.9 km
  • Grade: Moderate-strenuous
  • Start from: Slipway
  • Parking: Kittos Field, Porthleven. Follow the B3304 to Porthleven Harbour and then follow signs to the car park. Satnav: TR139HW
  • Recommended footwear: Walking shoes, or trainers in summer

Maps for this walk

(dark blue corner = laminated version)

Highlights

  • Historic harbour of Porthleven
  • Sandy beach at Porthcew
  • Engine houses at Trewavas and Rinsey Head

Directions

  1. Make your way out of the car park to the street and turn right. Follow the lane along the back of the harbour to the Porthleven Harbour Market sign.

    Until the 19th Century, Porthleven was a small fishing village with a modest harbour. In 1811, permission was granted for a development project to create a new mineral port, importing coal and timber and exporting ore. The building work was completed in 1818, but just four years later the new harbour was destroyed by a storm and was rebuilt in 1825. In 1855, the harbour was improved with the addition of a breakwater and balks to protect boats in the inner harbour during storms. The mineral port proved financially unsuccessful despite several companies attempting to make it a viable enterprise, however, the development of the harbour greatly improved the fishing trade.

  2. Turn left down the small lane with the market sign and follow this alongside the harbour. After the Ship Inn, keep right to follow the lane alongside the wall and uphill to a junction opposite a Claremont Terrace sign.

    The cannons either side of the harbour are from the HMS Anson.

    In December 1807, the Navy frigate HMS Anson hit bad weather off Mount's Bay. They attempted to head into Falmouth harbour but realised they were trapped by the wind on the wrong side of the Lizard. The captain anchored the ship but the anchor rope snapped. A second anchor was deployed and held fast but this also snapped. As a last resort, the captain attempted to sail the ship onto the beach at the centre of the Loe Bar, but hit an uncharted reef just 100 metres off the beach. The force of the collision caused the main mast to topple onto the beach. Some of the crew were able to escape across it but around 100 drowned in the huge breakers. One of the witnesses was Henry Trengrouse who was so moved by the helplessness of the onlookers that he spent much of his life and personal savings developing the rocket lifesaving apparatus which went on to save many thousands of lives. A canon salvaged from the wreck in 1964 is on display outside the Helston museum and a cross overlooks the beach, commemorating both the disaster and the life work of Henry Trengrouse. Gold coins are occasionally found which are thought to be from pockets of the officers aboard.

  3. At the junction, keep left along the track signposted to Rinsey on the wooden Coast Path sign. Follow the track to a gate marked "Wrestling Fields".

    In January 1884, the Austrian sailing vessel Cviet was on the way to Falmouth from the Carribean with a cargo of wood used to produce dyes for textiles. On the approach to Cornwall, a strong gale swept away the cargo from the deck and left the ship unmanageable. The captain made a run for the shore before the ship sank, and nearly made it to Porthleven harbour but was driven ashore on the rocks to the east of the pier. The captain, bowswain and a seaman drowned attempting to reach the shore and are buried at Porthleven church.

  4. Follow the path around the gate and continue until you reach a waymark just before a memorial.

    The Giant's Rock, also known as Giant's Quiot or The Moonstone, is a large boulder on the rocky foreshore. It is composed of a type of gneiss containing the semi-precious mineral garnet not found anywhere else in the UK. A theory for how it got here is that during the last Ice Age, the boulder was once picked up by a glacier in Northern Europe which eventually flowed into the sea, where the glacier crumbled into icebergs. The rock was trapped in one of these icebergs, which floated here and became stranded on the high tide line. The ice melted away to free the imprisoned rock, leaving it on the shoreline where it is today. The boulder weighs in excess of 50 tons. From a back-of-envelope density calculation, the iceberg would likely have been in excess of 1500 tons in order to float with the heavy rock inside it.

  5. At the waymark, turn left down the steps and pass the memorial. Follow the path to reach another waymark at a gap in the hedge.

    The monument is to the many seamen who died in wrecks along this stretch of coast and many of whom are buried on the cliffs. Following the wreck of the HMS Anson, Thomas Grylls, the MP for Helston, put forward an Act of Parliament that bodies washed ashore should be buried in consecrated ground, and the Act was passed into law in 1808.

  6. Go through the gap and follow the path to another waymark at a gap through a wall.

    The narrow inlet, directly below the gap in the wall is named "Zawn Shaggy".

    According to "The Z to Z of Great Britain", there are just over 40 place names in Britain that begin with the letter Z; over three-quarters of them are in Cornwall. One of the main reasons for this is that the Cornish word for "coastal inlet" is zawn, and coastline is something that Cornwall has rather a lot of.

  7. Go through the gap and follow the path along the fence and ignore the path crossing the wall on the left which passes along the edge of an undercut cliff edge. Follow the path to a waymark where the two paths rejoin.

    From geography lessons at secondary school, you'll probably know that wave-cut platforms form where waves hit the cliff face and create a wave-cut notch into which the cliffs above eventually collapse. The reason the cliffs are eroded faster than the platform below them is more in the realms of physics:

    • The energy from a wave is concentrated when it breaks against the cliffs; when waves are breaking onto the gently-sloping platform, their energy is more diffuse.
    • On the platform, the force from the waves is spread along the breadth of platform as the tide recedes. However, the cliff face usually takes a beating not just at the very highest point of the tide, but also for some of the time either side.
    • The tide rises and falls sinusoidally with time, in other words, it changes at its most slowly at high tide where it can spend a bit more time bashing the bejesus out of the cliff face.

    Nevertheless, the platform does slowly erode. At Porthleven it is estimated that the platform is eroding at a rate of 1mm every 5 years.

  8. Follow the path ahead from the waymark to reach a waymarked stone stile over a wall.
  9. Cross the stile and follow the path to reach a kissing gate.
  10. Go through the gate and follow the path to another kissing gate at the bottom of the valley.
  11. Go through the gate and follow the path over a stream and stile to reach a stile with a waymark on the opposite side of the path.

    The path along the wall leads down to the rocky shore of Breage beach which has a large number of rockpools at low tide. Reefs extend from the beach all the way along the coast to Rinsey Head, which makes for interesting snorkelling, but care must be taken of strong currents around the headland, particularly at mid-tide. Snorkelling without fins is therefore definitely not recommended.

    From Breage beach, it's possible to swim around the corner on the left to the sandy beach of Porth Sulinces. At high tide the beach is almost entirely sand, but as the tide goes out, a rock platform is exposed. Depending on the seasonal movement of sand in Mount's Bay, sometimes the rock platform is mostly covered in sand and others times it is exposed rock (and therefore less ideal for getting in and out of the water to swim).

  12. From the waymark, continue ahead on the coast path to reach a waymarked stone stile.
  13. Cross the stile and follow the coast path to a gate.
  14. Go through the gate and follow the path down to the bottom of the valley and up the steps on the other side to reach a kissing gate.

    The engine houses at Trewavas and Rinsey head are on a body of granite known as the Tregonning outcrop. This is thought to be an offshoot of a much larger body of granite which also surfaces at Carn Brea near Camborne. The Tregonning outcrop ends in the area around Megiliggar Rocks, and along the coast you can see the sills and dykes where the molten magma forced its way hundreds of metres into the existing slate rocks. The light-coloured stripes in the cliffs are some of the granite sills.

  15. Go through the gate and follow the path to a gap in a wall with a sign for Trewavas Cliff.

    Choughs sometimes nest along this stretch of coast.

    The chough is a member of the crow family, with striking red legs and a red beak. It was known as the "Crow of Cornwall" and appears on the county coat of arms. The birds have a distinctive call which is perhaps best described as resembling a squeaky dog toy! They are also recognisable from feathers, spread like fingers, on their wings.

    In the 1800s, many choughs were killed by "sportsmen" and trophy hunters. Also around this time, grazing livestock were moved to inland pastures where they could be more easily managed. The result was that the cliff slopes became overgrown and choughs found it increasingly difficult to find suitable feeding areas. By 1973, the chough had become extinct in Cornwall.

    Since then, clifftops have been managed more actively which has included the reintroduction of grazing and choughs have returned to Cornwall by themselves from colonies in Wales or Ireland. The first pair settled in 2001 on the Lizard Peninsula. Since then, the birds have successfully bred and been joined by a few more incoming birds, and the population has slowly but steadily grown. Each chough is fitted with one leg ring in the colours of St Piran's flag and two other colours on the opposite leg to identify them.

  16. Continue on the path ahead to reach a fork in the path.

    The path to the left leads out onto the headland overlooking Trequean Zawn. There are spectacular views but if you go to have a look, be very careful, as the path between the two parts of the headland is along the very edge of the cliff.

  17. At the fork, bear left down the slope to the engine house. Follow the path through the engine house to where the path meets the one descending the hill on your right at a granite rock.

    Just after you emerge from the engine house, a rough path leads down to the lower engine house out on the cliffs, although this may be fenced off in spring if choughs are breeding here.

    The Wheal Trewavas mine opened in 1834 and worked four copper lodes which ran under the seabed. Wheal Trewavas produced over £100,000 worth of copper ore, which in today's money would be over £10 million. By the 1840s, the lodes were beginning to peter out or were too close to the seabed to be mined safely without causing flooding. Mining became uneconomical and it closed in 1846 with allegations that the last dividends had been paid from bank overdrafts.

    The large, circular area next to the lowest engine house was known as a "capstan platt", where a capstan powered by horses would be used for winching ore up from the mine. The flat, round area has proved irresistible to helicopter pilots from Culdrose who are reported to sometimes use it for landing practice.

  18. When you reach the granite rock, follow the main path ahead to reach a waymark on the left.

    A story of when the mine flooded was published in 1961. One of the mining traditions was a "Tributer's Dinner" where tables would be set out within the mine for an annual meal. According to the account, the tables had been laid with food and two miners were just putting the finishing touches to the tables, when they noticed water dripping onto one of the tables from the under-sea tunnel. The miners made a hasty exit and shortly after, the sea broke through and flooded the mine, washing away their dinner and employment, but no lives were lost.

  19. Follow the path indicated by the waymark (also marked Hendra circular walk) to reach another waymark.

    The paths to the left from the two waymarks lead to an isolated chimney stack and there is also a platform at the edge of the cliff with good views over all three engine houses.

  20. Continue ahead at the waymark, signposted Hendra circular walk, and follow the path until you eventually reach the engine house of Wheal Prosper.

    As you round the headland, there is a rock stack that looks a bit like a compressed camel. It is consequently known locally as Camel Rock, but is labelled as The Bishop on OS maps. It was recorded as Bishop Rock in 1865 and described as "a colossal figure with its back to the sea, with clasped hands resting on a lectern, whilst the robe trails down to the sea".

  21. Follow the path from the engine house to reach a gate into the car park.

    Wheal Prosper was opened in 1860 and produced mainly tin but definitely did not live up to its name and closed in 1866. The engine house is constructed of slate from quarries on the clifftops nearby and was used for pumping water out of the mine. Due to the crumbly nature of slate, the engine house is strengthened with granite blocks along the edges (known as quoins) which act as pillars to hold the weight of the tall structure.

  22. Go through the kissing gate to the left of the gate into the car park. Walk through the car park to reach the lane leading to the car park. Follow the lane away from the car park until it ends at a junction with a triangular island.

    Just before the gate into the car park, a path to the left leads to Porthcew beach.

    The beach of Porthcew, also known as Rinsey Cove, is owned by the National Trust. There is little or no beach at high tide, but as the tide goes out, a fairly large beach is revealed, with rockpools either side. In calm conditions, typically during the summer, the beach is composed of fine white sand. Winter storms can move the sand offshore, exposing smooth granite boulders. Due to very strong currents around Rinsey Head, swimming is not recommended, particularly at low water.

  23. Turn right at the junction (ignore any footpath signs) and follow the lane to the end of the tarmac. Then keep left to reach a public footpath sign beside a farm gate.

    The settlement of Rinsey dates back to the Dark Ages and the name is from the Cornish words rynn and chy, meaning something along the lines of "Cottage on the point". By Norman Times, there was a manor at Rinsey which is documented in the 1086 Domesday survey as "Renti" and was sub-let from the Royal Manor of Winnaton. It is recorded as having "land for 12 ploughs, pasture ½ league long and as wide". The unit of a league was based on the distance that one person could walk in an hour, which was standardised at 3 miles.

  24. Cross the stone stile next to the gate and follow the left hedge of the field to reach a short overgrown track in the corner of the field, leading to a gate and stone stile.
  25. Cross the stile to the right of the gate and turn left at the bottom. Continue following the left hedge to a gateway in the hedge opposite.
  26. Go through the gateway and bear right slightly across the field to the gateway in the middle of the hedge ahead.

    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.
  27. Go through the gateway and cross the field to a stone stile marked with a post on the top of the wall, between the two nearest telegraph poles ahead.
  28. Cross the stile and follow the left hedge to reach a stone stile beneath a footpath sign.
  29. Cross the stile and bear left across the lane to the stile opposite. Cross the stile and follow along the fence in front of the barn on the right, then bear left to the stone stile beneath the post in the top corner.

    The first record of the settlement of Trewavas is from 1289 when it was spelled "Trewaevos". The name is from the Cornish word gwavos (pronounced more like "hwavos") which means "Winter dwelling". That itself is from the Cornish word gwav for "Winter", stuck onto bos which means "dwelling". In case you're wondering where the "b" went, one of the features of Cornish is that the first letter of a word can mutate depending where it appears in a sentence. The hard "b" sound becomes a softer "v" sound, hence vos.

  30. Cross the stile and bear left slightly across the field to the old wooden gate in the middle of the top hedge, to the right of the line of telegraph poles crossing the field.
  31. Cross the stile beside the gate and follow the left hedge to the gate opposite. Go through this and follow the left hedge to a gate onto a track, in front of the houses.

    At certain times of the year when livestock are in the field, it's possible you may encounter an electric fence here.

    Electric fences are powered with a car battery which charges a capacitor to release a periodic pulse of electricity; this is often audible as a quiet "crack" which is a good indicator that a fence is powered. The power is not high enough to cause serious injury but touching an electric fence is nevertheless unpleasant in a similar way to stinging nettles. If you are answering the call of nature in the vicinity of an electric fence, be mindful of the conductivity of electrolyte solutions!

  32. Go through the gate and follow the track to a waymark on the bend; turn right to stay on the track and follow it past the buildings to a gate across the track. Go through this and follow the track across the field to reach another gate across the track on the far side of the field.
  33. Go through the gate and follow the track until it ends on a lane.
  34. Turn right onto the lane and follow it into Porthleven to reach the junction at the Claremont Terrace sign.
  35. Keep left to follow Claremont Terrace down to the harbour.
  36. Turn right at the bottom to complete the circular route.

    You're quite likely to see swans in Porthleven harbour. Although swans are normally found on freshwater, these don't seem too bothered by the saltwater in the harbour.

    Swans usually mate for life, although "divorce" can sometimes occur if there is a nesting failure. The birds can live for over 20 years but in the 20th Century many swans were found to be suffering from lead poisoning. This was tracked down to the tiny "lead shot" weights used for fishing that swans would hoover up with weed and roots from the bottom of rivers and lakes. Since the introduction of non-toxic metals for making fishing weights, incidents of poisoning have disappeared and the swan population is now even growing very slightly.

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.

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