Sennen Cove to Nanquidno

The route runs along the length of Whitesand Bay from Sennen Cove to Gwynver and at low tide can be done all the way along the white sand. The walk then follows the rugged granite coast around Aire Point to Nanquidno where granite boulders polished over millions of years by a prehistoric ocean were buried when sea levels fell and have since been unveiled by the eroding cliffs. The return route is along footpaths, tracks and small lanes via the medieaval farmsteads of Nanquidno, Gurland and Escalls.

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 102 (scan QR code on right to order from Amazon)
  • Distance: 5.2 miles/8.3 km
  • Grade: Moderate-strenuous
  • Start from: Sennen Cove main car park
  • Parking: main car park. Satnav: TR197DG
  • Recommended footwear: walking shoes, or trainers in Summer

Maps for this walk

(dark blue corner = laminated version)

Highlights

  • Spectacular white sandy beaches
  • Coastal wildflowers

Directions

  1. Make your way onto the beach and turn right to continue along the top of the beach until you reach the steps below the two black huts on the cliff ahead.

    Netting for mullet has been an important fishery at Sennen Cove for hundreds of years. In Edwardian times, up to 12,000 fish were caught at one time using seine nets hauled in from the beach. This traditional practice still continues and ten tonnes of mullet were caught in a single haul in 2015. However, the fishery has recently come under criticism as the fish aggregate in large shoals prior to spawning, and are caught before they are able to produce the next generation. It is, however, possible that the percentage of spawning fish caught by this method are sufficiently low that it is a sustainable practice. It is also possible that in the future, approaches similar to the National Lobster Hatchery in Padstow might be possible to achieve the "best of both worlds" where the captured adults are allowed to spawn in controlled conditions before being harvested for food, and the young are released after the benefit of completing the most vulnerable stages of their growth in a safe environment, boosting stocks beyond the levels of "natural" spawning.

  2. At the bottom of the steps, turn left to follow the path leading ahead along the coast until you reach a sign for Gwynver beach, just before the lifeguard hut.

    Sennen Cove beach merges with Gwynver beach at low tide to form a mile of continuous white sand - hence the name Whitesand Bay (not to be confused with Whitsand Bay which is in southeast Cornwall, near Plymouth). In Cornish, the bay is known simply as Porth Senan (Sennen Cove). The bay is backed by nearly 100 acres of sand dunes, trapped between the headlands of Pedn-mên-du and Aire Point which form an important habitat for rare insect species.

  3. Continue ahead from the sign, then keep left below the lifeguard hut, onto the beach. Follow along the top of the beach until you reach the steps.

    Gwynver beach is the northern part of Whitesand Bay which is isolated as a separate beach as the tide comes in. It is also the area of the bay most exposed to prevailing southwesterly swells and consequently the gently-sloping sand is one of the best surfing spots in West Cornwall. The name Gwynver is said to be derived from "Gwynevere" from the Arthurian legend, but could equally be from the Cornish words gwynn (meaning "white") and berr (mutated to verr, and meaning "short").

  4. Bear right up the sandy area just past the steps to join a path leading towards the headland. Follow the waymarked path, which forks and rejoins between two waymarks as you approach the point, until you pass around a rock outcrop to reach another waymark.

    Beside the cliffs at the top of Gwynver beach, members of the public noticed human bones in the sand and the Police were called. The bones were that of a large male and are thought to be from the grave of a drowned mariner who was buried here in the 18th or early 19th Century. Two buttons made from bone were also found which are thought to be from the sailor's clothing. Before a law was passed in 1808, requiring sailors to have a Christian burial in a churchyard, drowned sailors were typically buried on the cliffs near where they had washed ashore.

  5. When you reach the waymark after the rock outcrop, you can optionally keep left (not right in the direction waymarked) to follow the path (with nicer views) around the edge of the headland and then rejoin the Coast Path. Then continue along the coast path until the path reaches a rugged, rocky point.

    The Hottentot Fig (carpabrotus edulis), was once classified as a Mesembryanthemum but as plant genetics were better understood, was found to be a close relative but in a different sub-family of the larger ice-plant family. They are called ice plants due to hairs on the leaves which refract sunlight and make them sparkle. The plant is native to South Africa and was originally grown ornamentally in gardens but has subsequently gone feral and settled on the coastline where it thrives in sandy soils, helped by its resistance to wind. It forms a dense mat which crowds out other species and is therefore considered invasive.

  6. As you approach the rocky point, the path splits. Follow the rightmost path and then climb over the boulders ahead on the top, then continue following the waymarked coast path until you reach a waymark opposite a National Trust sign for Nanjulian.

    Red-and-black-spotted Burnet moths can often be seen feeding on nectar-bearing flowers alongside the coast path. The red colour is a warning that they contain hydrogen cyanide. The larvae normally create it by breaking down more complex cyanide compounds from the birdsfoot trefoil on which they feed. However they are also able to synthesise it themselves in environments where it isn't readily available from food plants.

  7. Turn right at the waymark and follow the path up the valley to merge onto another path. Continue following the path until it ends on a track.

    The beach is known either as Nanquidno or Nanjulian beach. There are some grassy areas just above the rocky beach which make good picnic spots. According to some sources, the beach is reported as being sometimes popular with naturists. Given that the beach consists entirely of granite boulders, this seems unlikely to be comfortable, especially in strong sunshine when the rocks can get rather hot.

  8. Turn right onto the track and follow it until it joins a lane at Nanjulian Farm.

    The settlement of Nanjulian was recorded in 1428 as Nanshelen and is thought to be from the Cornish word elin meaning "elbow", as well as the word for "valley". The name perhaps refers to the bend in the course of the river and its associated valley near Nanjulian Mill where it turns to meet the sea.

  9. Follow the lane ahead until you reach a public footpath sign at the driveway to Gurland Farm.

    The settlement of Nanquidno was first recorded in 1327 as Nansgwynyou. The name is based on the Cornish words nans (valley) and gwynn (white).

  10. Turn right down the driveway and follow this until you reach a waymarked stile on the left.

    The settlement of Gurland was recorded in 1314 as Gorlan. The original name is from the Cornish word cor-lann which means "fold" or "enclosure" which has undergone a consonant mutation from the soft "C" sound to the hard "G" sound.

  11. Cross the stile and head straight across the field to a stone stile in a gap in the wall opposite.
  12. Cross the stile and continue ahead across the field to a waymarked stile on the skyline.
  13. Cross the stile and turn right. Follow along the right hand hedge to a waymark in the corner of the field.
  14. When you reach the waymark in the corner, turn left to stay in the field and continue following along the right hedge to reach a track.
  15. Join the track and follow it ahead until it meets a lane at a waymark.

    On a calm day you may be able to see the wreck of the SS Beaumaris.

    The SS Beaumaris was torpedoed 2.5 miles northwest of The Longships in February 1918 by a German U-boat. All the crew apart from the captain and a radio operator left the ship in lifeboats and were guided into shore by the Sennen lifeboat. The captain managed to run the ship onshore in Whitesand Bay and the top of the wreck now breaks the surface at low tide.

  16. Join the lane and follow it ahead until you eventually reach a junction with the word "BEACH" painted on the road.

    A number of prehistoric implements were found during the 20th Century in the fields alongside the road including a stone axe head and a barbed arrowhead.

  17. Turn right and follow the lane signposted to Escalls. Continue on the lane until you reach a waymark on the left.

    The Longships Lighthouse is located just over a mile off Land's End on the highest of the islets known as Carn Bras. The original tower built in 1795 was 40ft high, perched on the 39ft high rock but despite the lantern being nearly 80ft above the sea, it was sometimes obscured by the huge waves off Lands End. A new taller tower was therefore constructed starting in 1869 and completed in 1873 and was manned until 1988. The current lantern emits a white flash seaward, but red-tinted glass colours the light for any vessel straying to the headlands to the north or south.

  18. Cross the stile beside the waymark and follow the path between the fences then bear right to pass in front of the house and reach a gate.

    The settlement of Escalls was recorded in the 13th Century as Eschall. It is thought to be based on the Cornish word als, meaning "cliff".

  19. Go through the gate and bear right to follow the track leading behind the house on the right, passing the gate of Manor Farm. Follow it past one waymark on the left beside a gate to reach a second waymark on the left beside a stile.

    The common name "foxglove" dates back many hundreds of years but the origin is unknown. The "gloves" almost certainly refers to the shape of the flowers, and the latin name Digitalis (fingerlike) is along similar lines. The curious part is the "fox" and many different suggestions have been made as to where it came from. It is likely that it is a corruption of another word; possibly "folks" which was once used to mean "fairies".

    Foxgloves are reliant on bumblebees for pollination and bumblebees are much more active when the weather is good. As an insurance policy against bad weather, foxgloves have evolved to stagger their flowering over several weeks, starting with the flowers at the base of the stalk and working up to the top, where the higher flowers protrude over other vegetation that has grown up in that time.

  20. Cross the stile and head across the field to the stile next to the gate opposite.
  21. Cross the stile and follow the left hedge to reach a stile next to the gate in the fence opposite.
  22. Cross the stile and follow the driveway downhill to reach a lane.
  23. Turn right onto the lane and then left down the track opposite Winchester Cottage, with two public footpath signs. Keep right to follow the track to a gate.
  24. Go through the gate with the rock on the right marked "To Beach". Follow the track until you reach a sign advising use of the footpath where the track is slippery. Follow the footpath and turn right to follow the path downhill to a fork.

    In March 1967, the oil tanker Torrey Canyon tanker was on its way from Kuwait to Milford Haven with a full cargo of 120,000 tons of crude oil. The ship took a short-cut passing close to Land's End and struck the Pollard Rock on the Seven Stones reef. Attempts to refloat the tanker were unsuccessful and as it began to break up, the cargo of crude oil was released which at the time was the most serious oil spill and costliest shipping disaster that there had ever been. Despite efforts of the military to burn off the oil by dropping aviation fuel and forty-two 1000lb bombs (25% of which missed) onto the wreck, and incendiaries similar to napalm onto the slick, the oil contaminated 120 miles of Cornish coastline. Large amounts of dispersents were used to break up the oil which were themselves quite toxic. The environmental disaster resulted in the death of 15,000 seabirds, and tar from the spill could still be found on Cornish beaches during the 1970s and 80s. Ironically, the remains of ship in 30 metres of water have created an artificial reef which is now covered in kelp and is a haven for marine life.

  25. When you reach the fork, keep left and follow the main path to where a rough track crosses it. Continue ahead across the track to the path opposite and follow it past the cottages to re-emerge onto the main track, opposite a sign for Sheldrake.
  26. Turn left and follow the track downhill to a sign for Sennen Cove, then bear left and follow the path between the houses and over a footbridge to reach a fork in the path.

    Thrift is a tough plant, able to withstand salt-laden winds and high levels of copper in the soil from mining. The name "thrift" has been suggested to arise from the plant's tufted leaves being economical with water in the windy locations where it is found. It's common all along the Cornish coast and in April-June produces pale pink flowers, hence its other common name: "Sea Pink". The plant grows in dense circular mats which together with its covering of pink flowers gives rise to another less common name: "Ladies' Cushions".

  27. After the footbridge, keep right at the fork, signposted Sennen Cove, and follow the path to return to the car park and complete the circular route.

    The main Sennen Coastguard Station was built in 1812 and initially consisted of a row of eight houses, a fuel house and a store which housed the rocket cart and rescue equipment, close to the steps where the coastpath climbs the headland. The Sennen station was closed after a reorganisation of the coastguard service in the early 1980s, and the Lands End coastguard service now operates out of Polgigga, on the main road to both Sennen and Gwennap Head.

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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