Rosemergy to Gurnard's Head

The walk follows the Porthmoina valley to the coast and then joins the Coast Path to Bosigran Castle - a fortified headland. The route continues along the coast to Porthmeor Cove where the mass of Lands End granite meets the older slate rocks in some geological fireworks. The walk continues around the coast to Gurnard's Head, where it turns inland through Treen to the Gurnard's Head pub. From here, the route follows the Zennor Churchway, passing the tin dressing floors of Porthmeor mine and Bosigran Farm on the way back to Rosemergy.

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 102 (scan QR code on right to order from Amazon)
  • Distance: 4.2 miles/6.8 km
  • Grade: Moderate
  • Start from: Carngalver mine car park
  • Parking: Carngalver mine car park. On the B3306 between Zennor and Pendeen, the car park is beside two engine houses about 200 metres in the direction of Zennor from Rosemergy Satnav: TR208YX
  • Recommended footwear: Walking boots

Maps for this walk

(dark blue corner = laminated version)

Highlights

  • Panoramic coastal views from Bosigran Castle
  • Sandy beach at Porthmeor Cove at low tide
  • Geological SSSI at Porthmeor Cove and some pretty boulders and pebbles for the less geologically-inclined

Adjoining walks

Directions

  1. Facing the coast, take the path to the right of the engine houses. Follow it to reach a gate.

    Carn Galver Mine operated until the late 19th Century extracting tin ore. The mine was very wet and was drained by an adit running down to Porthmoina Cove and from below this level, the engine house on which a chimney still remains was used to pump water from the mine. The other engine house was used for hauling up the ore and crushing it. The cottage beside the engine houses was formerly the Count House where miners would be paid. The mine didn't turn out to be very productive and became uneconomical, partly due to the cost of draining it.

  2. Cross the stile next to the gate and follow the path alongside the bracken to reach an iron gate at the bottom of the far hedge.

    During the 19th century, Trinity House became increasingly concerned at the number of ships being lost along the West Penwith coast and in 1891 decided that both a lighthouse and foghorn was needed here. The construction was a large-scale engineering project that involved levelling the top of the headland by creating a huge retaining sea wall, and consequently took a number of years. Pendeen Lighthouse was finally lit in 1900 and was manned until 1995. As well as the 17 metre tower to support the lamp, residential accommodation was built for the lighthouse keepers which even included enclosed gardens, although in the harsh maritime climate these didn’t turn out to be a huge success. Drinking water was collected on the flat roof of the accommodation block and stored in an underground tank. The original oil-fired lamp is on display in the Trinity House National Lighthouse Centre in Penzance. Although the optic weighed 2.5 tonnes, it was floated on a bath of mercury so it could be set in motion by the slightest touch.

  3. Cross the stile next to the gate and keep right to reach a rocky path leading up between a National Trust sign and granite bench to the headland on the right. Follow the rocky path to reach a junction of paths at the top of the headland.

    The buildings in the valley were associated with the mine and included a tin mill with a wheelpit. As you climb up to the headland you can also see a tunnel at the back of the cove which is a drainage adit for the mine.

    An adit is a roughly horizontal tunnel going into a mine. In Cornwall these were important for drainage as many of the ore-bearing veins are close to vertical, through which water can easily seep. Drainage adits were sloped slightly upwards to meet the main shaft, so water trickling into the main shaft from above could be diverted out of the adit. Below the adit, steam engines were needed to pump the water up to the level of the adit where it could then drain away.

    The rusty colour below the tunnel is from iron dissolved into the water from the lodes in the mine.

  4. Follow the path up onto the rock outcrop, crossing over a line of boulders forming a wall. From here you can explore the headland which has excellent views, then (facing inland) bear left to follow the path through another gap in the boulders. Follow the path alongside the wall until you reach a gap in the corner of the wall.

    An Iron Age fort was situated on the headland of Bosigran. A wall roughly 100 metres in length has been built across the promontory, linking the cliffs, to enclose it. The size and the way it is constructed varies along its length from simple large stones in a line to drystone wall backfilled with rubble, indicating it has been repaired or modified since it was originally built. It's possible that it was later used to contain livestock to separate the two grazing areas either side of the wall running inland.

  5. Cross over the wall on the left and follow the coast path down into the dip between the headlands. At the bottom, keep right to find the path that climbs up the next headland. Continue until you reach a line of boundary stones at the top.
  6. Follow the coast path to reach a stile overlooking Porthmeor Cove.

    Porthmeor Cove is a Site of Special Scientific Interest due to its geology. In fact it is cited as one of the most important geological locations in Southwest England. It lies on the boundary of the West Penwith granite and the effects of the molten granite intruding into the surrounding rocks can be seen quite clearly here as the granite is a light colour and the surrounding slate is much darker. Along one side of the cove, a round area of granite can be seen, completely surrounded by darker rock. This is known as a cupola, where the blob of granite rose up from below rather like in a lava lamp. Leading from this are thin bands where the molten granite forced its way along cracks in the bedrock.

  7. Cross the stile and follow one of the rocky paths through the patch of boulders then make for the stone crossings over the streams. Continue over 3 crossings to reach a junction of paths immediately after the third crossing.
  8. After the crossing bear left, then at another junction of paths, keep right to follow the path in the direction of the steps leading up the coast. Follow the path over a stile and through a gate to reach a granite footbridge.

    At the junction of paths, the path leading to the left leads onto a small promontory between the two streams and there is a steep path leading down the beach from the very end.

  9. Cross the footbridge and follow the path upstream to a bend. Keep left around the bend then follow the steps up the headland. Continue to reach a stile across the path.
  10. Cross the stile and follow the path up the field towards the gate then bear left to keep the wall on your right and follow it to reach a stile.

    Gurnard's Head is the site of an Iron Age promontory fort known as Trereen Dinas, the meaning of which is along the lines of "fort at the farm on the point". The narrowest part of the promontory was fortified to create a defended enclosure, protected on 3 sides by the cliffs. The remnants of the fortifications are still visible as a ditch and a bank with some drystone walling.

  11. Cross the stile and follow the path along the coast to Gurnard's Head where the path crosses a wall beside a post. Continue from the wall a short distance to reach a crossing of paths.

    The engine house ahead was part of Gurnard's Head mine.

    A copper mine on Gurnard's Head was in operation before 1821 initially under the name of Wheal Treen and was later worked under the name of Gurnard's Head Mine. By 1877 it had fallen into disuse. The ruined engine house and mine buildings are now all that remains.

  12. Turn right at the crossing and follow the path inland to reach a stile.

    A huer's hut was located on Gurnard's Head to look out for pilchards. A small pilchard processing house was also located nearby. Little remains as all the stone from the buildings has been "re-purposed". On the end of the low promontory jutting out into Treen cove, the remains of a Victorian pilchard cellar can also be seen.

  13. Cross the stile into the field and continue ahead to a gateway opposite.

    Cornish pilchard fisheries existed in mediaeval times, and in this period, the fish were smoked to preserve them before export to Spain and Italy. From Tudor times until the early 20th Century, Cornwall's pilchard fisheries were of national importance, with the bulk of the catch being exported almost exclusively to Italian Catholics for religious fasting (Cornish pilchards were a staple ingredient of spaghetti alla puttanesca). The pilchards were salted and then pressed to extract the oil which was sold as somewhat aromatic lamp oil. The fish were then packed with more salt into hogshead barrels which could fit up to 3000 fish per barrel. Huers (cliff top lookouts) helped locate shoals of fish. The huer would shout 'Hevva!, Hevva!' (the Cornish word for "shoal") to alert the boats to the location of the pilchard shoals. The name "huer" is from the old French verb meaning "to shout".

  14. Go through the gateway and follow along the right hedge to reach a flight of granite steps in the corner of the field.

    During the late 1950s, the Penzance Chamber of Trade and Town Council discussed building an "Atomic Research Station" near Gurnard's Head. Fortunately this didn't come to fruition as an ageing nuclear reactor would not have enhanced the views or the enthusiasm for local produce.

  15. Climb the steps and follow the right hedge to reach a pedestrian gate in the far hedge.
  16. Go through the gate and climb the stile then follow the path over another stile and onto a driveway. Follow the driveway to join a lane and follow this until it ends next to the Gurnard's Head pub.

    The settlement and manor of Treen is first recorded in 1304 as Tredyn, based on the Cornish words tre (farmstead) and dinas (fort). This refers to the hillfort on Gurnard's Head, known as Trereen Dinas which also includes the word rynn meaning "point". The hamlet appeared on Victorian maps as "Trereen" and has subsequently become shortened to "Treen".

    Since farms and headlands with cliff castles are not uncommon in Cornwall, there is another Treryn Dinas near Porthcurno and a corresponding village also now called "Treen".

  17. Turn right at the Gurnard's Head and carefully follow the road until you reach a waymarked stile on the right leading into a field with a standing stone, just before the road reaches some houses.

    The Gurnard's Head is reported as being built in 1812, and from the roof you can tell it was originally known as The Gurnards Head Hotel. It was refurbished in 2000 and is still a hotel but now owned by EatDrinkSleep who also operate it as one of their small number of award-winning gastro pubs.

  18. Cross the stile on the right and walk directly ahead across the field to another stile in front of the farmyard.

    Note the standing stone in the centre of the field. It is thought that this might have been an ancient route marker for the path.

    Large upright standing stones are known as menhirs due to the celtic words men meaning stone and hir meaning long. The reason for their construction is unknown; currently the most popular theories are ceremonial or calendrical. Until recently, menhirs were associated with the Beaker people who inhabited Europe during the late Neolithic and early Bronze age (4-5 thousand years ago) but recent research suggests an older origin (perhaps 6-7 thousand years ago, at the very start of the Neolithic period in Britain).

  19. Cross the stile into the farmyard and pass the barns on your right to reach a field. Continue straight ahead across the field to a waymarked stile between two buildings.

    Porthmeor has been farmed by the Berryman family since the 17th Century and still is at the time of writing. Annie Berryman was born in Porthmeor in 1899 and her great grandson recalled that she used to address him with an old dialect term of endearment, as "my gold", which has now almost died out. A couple of other people from West Cornwall also recall their grandmothers using it. We think it's rather charming and suggest addressing your fellow walkers accordingly.

  20. Cross the stile and follow the path over two stone stiles between the buildings. Continue across the field in the line of the stone stiles you can see up the hill ahead to reach a gap in the hedge.

    The route across the fields from Treen to Rosemergy is part of the Zennor Churchway - an ancient route running all the way from St Ives to Pendeen and possibly onwards to St Just.

  21. Go through the gap and follow the path to a river crossing. Go up the steps and through a silver metal gate reach a stone stile next to a black metal gate.

    The chimney and surrounding structures were to process the tin ore extracted at Porthmeor mine. The ore brought up from underground was in the form of tiny crystals within large lumps of otherwise useless rock.

    One of the information boards describes how a sledgehammer was used followed by "stamps" (mechanical crushing devices) to break the ore down into a powder from which the heavy tin particles could be separated from the lighter rock fragments using gravity.

    The conical structures in the old dressing floors are the remains of devices known as "buddles". These were used to separate the tin ore from the rock (known as gange) in the ore slurry created by the stamping mill. The slurry was trickled onto the centre of the dome and a rotating set of brushes, suspended from wooden spokes, smeared the slurry around the circular structure. The heavy tin would deposit near the central dome whereas unwanted rock fragments would travel further and end up in a pit around the outside.

  22. Cross the stile and follow the path over another stile. Continue on the path until it emerges in a small field where you can see some farm buildings. Head to the gate and stile in front of the buildings.

    The granules of ore were heated in a furnace to remove impurities such as sulphur and particularly arsenic. By heating the ore in air, the arsenic impurities could be driven off as a vapour. As the impurities escaped as gasses, the particles of ore melted into grey crystalline lumps of tin oxide known as "black tin".

    The exhaust gasses were cooled and condensed to form a white powder deposited in the flues or purpose-built condensers. The white powder - arsenic - was collected and sold. A few grains of pure arsenic are enough to be fatal but the majority of arsenic workers managed to protect themselves by stuffing cotton wool up their noses and painting their faces and any other exposed areas of skin white with fuller's earth to prevent arsenic being absorbed through the pores of their skin.

  23. Cross the stile and bear left to pass the buildings then bear right to reach a waymarked gate on the right of the large barn.

    Near the farm is the base of a wayside cross, now little more than a granite block with a hole in it.

    There are said to be 360 wayside crosses in Cornwall. In the mediaeval period, stone crosses were sometimes placed by the road or path. There have been various reasons for erecting these: markers placed along routes used by Christian pilgrims, or as a shrine in reverence, perhaps to a saint who has some connection to the locality. Others mark burial sites, a disaster, a miracle, or some other event that should be remembered. In some cases, they were erected to mark meeting places for Christian worship and later churches were built adjacent to the cross, resulting in the cross being within the churchyard or close by.

  24. Go through the gate and the one after it. Then follow the track away from the barn to a pair of gateways with a stile on the left.
  25. Cross the stile and head across the small field to either the gateway or stone stile about 5 metres to the left. Cross the stile or go through the gateway, then cross the larger field either to the gateway or stone stile about 2 metres to the left.

    If there are sheep in the field and you have a dog, make sure it's securely on its lead (sheep are prone to panic and injuring themselves even if a dog is just being inquisitive). If the sheep start bleeting, this means they are scared and they are liable to panic. If there are pregnant sheep in the field, be particularly sensitive as a scare can cause the lambs to be stillborn. If there are sheep in the field with lambs, avoid approaching them closely, making loud noises or walking between a lamb and its mother, as you may provoke the mother to defend her young. Sheep may look cute but if provoked they can cause serious injury (hence the verb "to ram"). Generally, the best plan is to walk quietly along the hedges and they will move away or ignore you.

  26. Cross the stile or go through the gateway, and follow the left hedge to a line of boulders beside the gateway.
  27. Bear left through the gap in the boulders and cross the field either to the gateway on the right or a stone stile roughly half-way between the gateway and the trough in the far right corner of the field.

    The ancient field boundaries of West Penwith are thought to be older than the Pyramids. The Environmental Stewardship Scheme has allowed traditional farming methods to be sustained, preserving the network of hedgerows in the tiny Celtic fields that would otherwise be uneconomical to farm with industrial-scale machinery. The scheme has also facilitated coastal grazing which helps prevent the coast becoming overgrown with gorse and bracken, allowing species such as the chough and potentially the large blue butterfly to recolonise.

  28. Cross the stile or go through the gateway, and turn left. Follow the left hedge to the gateway.
  29. Go through the gateway and cross the field to the pedestrian gate opposite.
  30. Go through the gate and then bear right slightly to follow a broken path running parallel to the coast to reach a gateway.

    In late summer the marshy grassland is covered in tiny yellow moorland flowers.

    The little yellow flowers with four petals all over the moor in July are tormentil (potentilla erecta). Its common names include Bloodroot and Flesh and Blood because roots yield a red dye which is still used as an ingredient for artists’ colours (tormentil red). The roots also have very a high tannin content and have even been used to tan leather. Extracts from the plant have been widely used in folk medicine and is it still used as a remedy for diarrhoea and as a lotion for skin sores.

  31. Go through the gateway and walk parallel to the wall on the right until you can see a gateway in the wall, then head for this.

    The hill to the left with the rock outcrops is Carn Galver.

    The name Carn Galver (sometimes written Carn Galva) is from the Cornish words karn (rock pile or tor) and gwelva (view-point), referring to the rocky crags at the top of the moor that overlook the coast.

    If you still have energy left after the walk, a path leads up to the top from the small lay-by on the opposite side of the road from the engine houses. As the name implies, the view is truly excellent. It's roughly a 10-15 minute walk to the top.

  32. Go through the gateway then bear left to the two gaps in the wall. Go through the one on the left and cross the field diagonally to reach the path on which you started out. Turn left onto this and follow it uphill to reach the gate and stile.

    The hill beyond Carn Galver is Watch Croft, the highest point in Penwith at 252 metres (827 feet).

  33. Cross the stile and continue a short distance to a fork. Keep right and follow the path until you reach another fork just before the engine houses.
  34. Keep left at the fork to return to the car park.

    The settlement of Rosemergy was recorded in 1327 when it was possibly also known as "Tremergy". The name Rosemergy is likely to be from the Cornish words ros which can either mean "moorland" or "promontory" and merghik, meaning "pony". The latter might have been used in a compound word such as mergh-jy, meaning "stable".

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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