St Anthony Head

The walk starts along the Roseland coast from Towan Beach to Zone Point. The route then passes around St Anthony Head - the tip of the Roseland peninsula, passing the fort and lighthouse featured in Fraggle Rock. The route follows the coast into Carrick Roads past the sandy beaches of Molunan to Carricknath Point. The walk then follows the creeks of the Percuil River opposite St Mawes to complete the circular route.

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 105 (scan QR code on right to order from Amazon)
  • Distance: 5.9 miles/9.5 km
  • Grade: Easy-moderate
  • Start from: Porth Farm car park
  • Parking: Porth Farm. From the A3078, follow signs to St Anthony. After you pass a creek on your right, and then through some woods, the car park is on your right beside the National Trust Porth Farm sign. Satnav: TR25EX
  • Recommended footwear: Walking shoes or trainers in summer

Maps for this walk

(dark blue corner = laminated version)

Highlights

  • Views across Veryan Bay to Nare Head
  • Views across Carrick Roads to Falmouth and Pendennis Castle
  • Views across The Percuil River to St Mawes Castle and St Mawes
  • Fort on St Anthony Head
  • St Anthony (aka Fraggle Rock) lighthouse
  • Sandy beaches at Towan and Molunan

Adjoining walks

Directions

  1. Bear left across the road from the car park to a wooden gate into a courtyard, opposite the Porth Farm sign. Go through the gate into the yard and bear left beneath the arch. Keep left along the path until it merges onto the path to the beach.

    In December 1963, the oil tanker Allegrity ran around on Greeb Point between Portscatho and Towan Beach on St Anthony Head. As the tide rose, the ship re-floated and drifted along the Roseland, finally running aground on Veryan Beach. Just over a week later, it capsized and was declared a total loss. Her 14 crew were saved by the Falmouth lifeboat. The ship was scrapped on the beach with material being brought ashore using metal cables. 800 tonnes of crude oil were spilled in the incident.

  2. Bear right onto the beach path and follow towards the beach, stopping short when you reach the coast path crossing the path.

    Towan beach faces southeast into Gerrans Bay so it is exposed in easterly winds which also cause seaweed to be thrown up onto the beach. When the wind is coming from the west or north, it is nicely sheltered. At high tide, the beach is sand and shingle but as the tide goes out, areas of rocks are revealed with some rockpools.

  3. When you reach the crossing, turn right up the step and follow the path until you reach a gate.

    The post that you pass on the left is a wreck post.

    Wreck posts, resembling a telegraph pole with wooden steps, were used for Coastguard practice exercises. The post emulated the mast of a sinking ship. A "shore" team would fire a rocket carrying a light line known as a whip to a man on the post. Once he caught this, it was secured to the post and a heavier line known as a hawser was pulled out using the light line and secured to the post. This was then used to haul out the Breeches Buoy (a lifebelt with an attached pair of shorts) that the crew member could be rescued with.

  4. Go through the gate and follow the path to a bench and a National Trust sign for Killigerran Head. Just past this, keep right along the main path and follow this until you reach a gate.

    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.

  5. Go through the gate and follow the path along the bottom of the field to reach a gate on the far side.

    Look (and listen) out for choughs which are being sighted increasingly frequently around the Roseland peninsula. The birds can range over a long distance within a day and the headland here is well within range of their stronghold around The Lizard.

    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.

  6. Go through the gate and follow the path along the bottom of the field to a gap on the far side. Go through this and follow along the bottom of the field to reach a bench beside a Coast Path signpost.

    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 can't avoid it: 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.
  7. From the bench, continue following the path along the edge of the field to reach a stile.

    The beach is called Porthbeor - Cornish for "large cove". Mutation of the initial consonant happened a lot in Cornish words and the word for "large" consequently crops up in names as "meor", "veor" and "beor". Thus Porthmeor at St Ives means the same thing. A landslide occurred in 2014 and the collapsed cliff has continued slipping which has made the path to Porthbeor beach unsafe.

  8. Cross the stile and continue along the coast to reach another stile at the far end of the field.

    The headland that you can see in the distance is Manacle Point on The Lizard beside Porthoustock.

    The Manacles reef stretches for a mile and a half out to sea and has numerous submerged rocks just below the surface which are all covered at high tide apart from one. The reef has been named "the grave of 1000 ships"; over 100 have certainly been lost here, which is more wrecks than any other comparable reef on the south coast of England. The name "Manacles" is thought to be a garbling of Meyn Eglos meaning "church stones" and may either refer to St Keverne church or the gravestones of over 1000 people who have drowned here.

    The proverbial silver lining is that the shipwrecks and surrounding reefs provide a good habitat for marine life and consequently the reef has some of the best diving in Britain. In 2013, The Manacles was designated a Marine Conservation Zone as the wide range of habitats it provides support species such as spiny lobsters and sea fan anemones.

  9. Cross the stile and follow the path up the other side of the valley, keeping right where the path forks to go into the bushes on the left. Continue up the slope to reach a wooden post (which may have a metal gate across if there is livestock grazing) at the start of a field. Follow the path all the way along the side of the large field until you reach a gate in the far hedge.

    In October 1940, the coaster Jersey Queen suffered an aerial attack with machine gun, cannon fire and incendiary bombs on its way though the Irish Sea. Two of the crew were injured but the incendiary bombs slipped off the hull into the sea preventing any major damage. Two days later, she struck an accoustic mine in Cornish waters and sank in Falmouth Bay with the loss of two crew. When the mine detonated, the captain was knocked unconscious but was pulled from the water before he drowned by one of the crew. Despite suffering attacks on two subsequent ships he captained, he survived the war and was awarded an MBE for his service.

  10. Go through the gate and follow the path around the headland until you pass a bench on your left and then, about 50 metres further on, reach a fork in the path.
  11. Keep left at the fork and follow the path until you pass a bench on your right, pass through a wall and reach a junction of paths.

    St Anthony Head forms the southernmost tip of Roseland peninsula and entrance to Falmouth harbour. It was purchased by the National Trust in 1959.

  12. Keep left at the junction of paths and also keep left as you approach the fort (the route to the left has nicer views and at the next direction point you can also visit the fort). Continue around the gun emplacements until the path meets the one that leads to the fort.

    The battery on St Anthony Head was constructed in 1885 and was armed throughout both World Wars and finally retired in 1952. During the Second World War, the guns were fitted with overhead covers to act as protection against strafing by enemy aircraft. These were removed when the National Trust bought the site in 1959, bringing it more closely to its original form. It is now possibly the best surviving early breech-loading artillery fortress in the United Kingdom.

    Below the guns were storage magazines for the shells, and separate cartridges which contained the gunpowder propellant. These were stored in different locations and passed through separate lifts to the gun, only being combined at the last minute. The cartridge store required the use of special shoes and clothes, and a search before entering, to reduce the risk of a spark causing an explosion. The battery was protected against invasion by a ditch surrounding the seaward side with an unclimbed fence inside of this.

  13. Turn left onto the path and follow it a short distance to reach a footpath signpost beside an information board, just before the car park.

    Falmouth harbour is one of the largest natural harbours in the world and the deepest in Western Europe. The large waterway of Carrick Roads, forming the junction of seven estuaries, was created after the Ice Age from an ancient valley which flooded with the rising sea levels as the ice caps melted.

  14. Turn left at the footpath sign, keeping left down the steps, signposted "Coast Path". Continue until the path splits to go to the Ramparts and Battery.
  15. At the railing, a short distance from the bottom of the steps, keep right on the coast path and follow it downhill to reach a waymark.

    St Anthony's Lighthouse was built out of granite in 1835 on the eastern entrance to Falmouth Harbour to guide vessels clear of the Manacles rocks. In most directions, the light is white but a sector close to The Manacles rocks is coloured red, warning vessels to steer offshore. The lighthouse was featured in the UK version of the TV series "Fraggle Rock" as "Fraggle Rock Lighthouse". Until 1954, the lighthouse possessed a huge bell which hung outside the tower and was used as a fog signal. This was later replaced with a foghorn.

  16. Turn right at the waymark and follow the path until you reach a gate across the path.
  17. Climb the steps to pass the gate and follow the path to reach a Coast Path sign at a junction with another path.

    Just before the footbridge, it's possible to climb down the rocks onto the small beach of Little Molunan. At high tide the beach almost disappears but on a low Spring tide it joins with Great Molunan beach. The beaches are sheltered so are ideal for swimming and there is good snorkelling along the rocks. However if you venture into the water, keep a look out for boats as the beaches are very popular places to sail to.

  18. Turn left and cross the footbridge to a gate. Go through the gate and follow the path parallel to the coast to reach a kissing gate.

    The paths to the left lead to the beach of Great Molunan. At the bottom of the path there is a knotted rope to assist with the climb down the rocks. Rock Samphire grows along the cliff at the back of the beach.

    Rock Samphire has been a popular wild food since Celtic times. It was very popular as a pickle in 16th century Britain until it almost died out from over-picking in the 19th Century. Consequently, it's currently a protected plant but is now making a good comeback. In Shakespeare's time, a rope was tied to a child's ankles and he was dangled over the cliff to pick the rock samphire that grew in crevices and clefts in the rocks.

    The completely unrelated but similar-looking Golden Samphire also grows around the North Cornish coast. The leaves look almost identical, but the daisy-like yellow flowers in summer are a giveaway, as Rock Samphire has tiny green-white flowers that look more like budding cow parsley. Golden Samphire is edible, but is inferior in flavour to Rock Samphire; it is also nationally quite rare in Britain.

  19. Go through the kissing gate and continue along the path to reach a kissing gate into a field.

    The castle on the headland opposite is St Mawes Castle.

    St Mawes Castle is part of the chain of coastal defences built during the reign of King Henry VIII to protect against an invasion threat from Catholic France and Spain after establishing the Church of England. St Mawes' clover-leaf shape was designed so that heavy "ship-sinking" guns could be mounted to face in three directions and together with Pendennis Castle could protect the important anchorage of Carrick Roads. Whereas Pendennis was further developed after Tudor times, St Mawes was not. Thus it is one of the best preserved of these fortresses and is also the most elaborately decorated of them all.

  20. Go through the kissing gate and follow along the left hedge of the field and then as you approach the far side, follow the path up the bank to a kissing gate between the field gate and a bench.

    Along the coast, in the late summer and autumn, you can sometimes find parasol mushrooms, obvious from their huge size and umbrella shape. They are one of the best eating mushrooms and have firm white flesh.

  21. Go through the kissing gate and follow the left hedge to reach a gateway in the bottom corner of the field.
  22. Bear right through the gateway onto a track and follow this until you reach a coast path signpost pointing towards a path to the right.
  23. Bear right up the path and follow this until you reach a waymark.

    Due to their spectacular flowers, Rhododendrons have been popular ornamental plants for over two centuries and the species that we now call the Common Rhododendron was introduced in 1763. The plants thrive in the UK climate and were once native but were wiped out by the last Ice Age.

    Rhododendrons are so successful in Britain that they have become an invasive species, crowding out other flora in the Atlantic oak woodlands. They are able to spread very quickly both through suckering along the ground and by abundant seed production. Conservation organisations now classify the Rhododendron explosion as a severe problem and various strategies have been explored to attempt to stop the spread. So far, the most effective method seems to be injecting herbicide into individual plants which is both more precise and effective than blanket cutting or spraying.

  24. Turn left at the waymark and keep left at the gateway in the direction signposted to the church and ferry. Follow the path until it emerges beside the church.
  25. Bear right to pass the church on your left and follow the path out of the churchyard to a gate and stile.

    The parish church of St Anthony was established by the Augustinian Priory of Plympton and was built in 1150 and included a priory alongside, where Place house is now located. After the dissolution of the monasteries in 1538, part of the priory was used as a residence and other parts were pulled down and the stone was used to build St Mawes Castle. Despite being extensively restored in the 19th century, the church still retains its original mediaeval plan.

  26. Cross the stile, or go through the gate if open, onto the lane. Turn left and follow the lane towards Place Quay until the fence ends in front of a slipway and there is a footpath signpost on the right.
  27. Go through the gate beneath the signpost and turn left onto the path on the other side. Follow this to a kissing gate.
  28. Go through the gate and keep right to follow the path into Drawler's Plantation. Continue on the path through the woods to reach a pedestrian gate.

    A possible diversion from the ferry pontoon is to take the ferry across to St Mawes, walk roughly a half-mile round-trip to see the castle, then catch the ferry back and continue the walk.

  29. Go through the gate and follow the left hedge of the field to reach another pedestrian gate in the far hedge.

    The stile in the left hedge leads onto the foreshore.

  30. Go through the gate and follow the path through the woods to a signpost to Bohortha. Keep left to follow the path parallel to the coast to reach a pedestrian gate into a field.

    Anyone who has sat on a holly leaf will know how prickly they can be but the leaves particularly on larger holly bushes often vary considerably with less spiky leaves nearer the top. Holly is able to vary its leaf shape in response to its environment through a chemical process known as DNA methylation which can be used to switch genes on and off. If its leaves are eaten by grazing animals or trampled by walkers, the holly will crank up the methylation level to produce really spiky leaves on these stems. Conversely on the stems where the leaves are able to grow old in peace, the holly will produce versions that are flatter and therefore more efficient at catching the light.

  31. Go through the gate and follow along the left hedge of the field to an opening into the next field.

    In August, blackberries start to ripen on brambles. Blackberries are closely related to raspberries and technically neither is a berry but an aggregate of many individual tiny fruits, each containing a tiny stone like a miniature cherry. Blackberries are high in vitamin C, K and antioxidants. The seeds, despite being a bit crunchy, contain omega-3 and -6 fatty acids and further enhance blackberries' "superfood" status.

    According to folklore, you should not pick blackberries after Michealmas Day (11th October) as this is when the devil claims them. The basis for this is thought to be the potentially toxic moulds which can develop on the blackberries in the cooler, wetter weather.

  32. Go through the opening and follow along the side of the creek to reach a footbridge. Cross this and, on the other side, turn right and follow the path alongside the lane until you reach a car park.

    The grey heron is an unmistakably massive bird with a 6ft wingspan and is most commonly seen in or near freshwater. The call of the heron is equally unsubtle - it is more like grating metal than the sound of birdsong. Although herons primarily eat fish, they will eat frogs, rodents, moles, ducklings and even baby rabbits! In Tudor and Elizabethan times, hunting herons with peregrine falcons was considered a royal sport which resulted in the birds being protected from peasants who might otherwise have caught and roasted them.

  33. Bear right to follow the path beneath the trees along the edge of the car park until you reach a lane.
  34. Bear left onto the lane and follow it uphill to complete the circular route.

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
  • Please let us know if there are nice autumn colours on this walk
  • 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.

A free way to not kill penguins: discarded ink cartridges float in rainwater, can wash into rivers, be broken up by the sea into reflective shards eaten by dopey fish, and build up in the stomachs of seabbirds, causing them to starve to death. Google "stinkyink" and click on "free recycling" for a freepost label.
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