Zennor to Gurnard's Head

The walk starts from Zennor and reach to the coast at Pendour Cove where it is said you can hear the lover of the mermaid of Zennor singing. The walk follows the coast path past Veor Cove and over Carnelloe Cliff and Boswednack Cliff to Treen Cove where there are remains of an engine house and a mediaeval chapel. At Gurnard's Head there is an optional diversion onto the headland and the walk then follows a footpath inland to the Gurnard's Head pub at Treen. The circular route is completed on the ancient paths of the Zennor Churchway.

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 102 (scan QR code on right to order from Amazon)
  • Distance: 4.2 miles/6.7 km
  • Grade: Moderate
  • Start from: Zennor Church
  • Parking: Zennor car park. Satnav: TR263BY
  • Recommended footwear: Walking boots

Maps for this walk

(dark blue corner = laminated version)

Highlights

  • Spectacular views of the rugged coastline
  • Sandy beach at Porthmeor at low tide
  • Wildflowers along the coast path in Spring and Summer

Directions

  1. From outside the church, follow the lane keeping Bos Cres on your left and turn left down the track marked "Coast Path". Follow this until it ends at a house, with a path leading ahead.

    The church building dates from Norman times, though the churchyard itself may date back further. The west tower is thought to be from the 13th century and the north aisle was added in a 15th Century rebuild. Only two of the 15th Century carved bench ends remain and these have been used to make the "mermaid chair", one end of which depicts the Mermaid of Zennor. It is thought that the octagonal font is mediaeval, and may date from the 13th century.

  2. Follow the path ahead until you reach a large stone with a sign for Zennor Head, where the path meets the coast path.

    In 1912, the author D H Lawrence eloped to Germany with his married lover Frieda and his book Lady Chatterly's Lover (for which, Penguin Books was prosecuted under the Obscene Publications Act) is thought to be based on their relationship. He was arrested and accused of being a British spy but released after intervention by Frieda's father.

    In 1914, after a divorce was obtained, the couple married and intended to move to the continent. However the outbreak of war kept them in England and they lived in Zennor until 1917. The couple endured harassment and official censorship because Frieda was German, and were accused of a number of ridiculous things including signalling to German submarines off the Cornish coast. Lawrence wrote Women in Love during this period, but its outlook was so bleak that nobody would publish it during wartime; it wasn't until 1920 that it was finally published.

  3. Turn left onto the coastpath, signposted to Pendeen Watch. Follow it down to the bottom of the valley to a footbridge.

    When you reach the coast path, the twin promontories of Zennor Head are a short distance along the coast path to your right. There is a nice view along the coast to Gurnard's Head from the nearer promontory.

  4. Cross the footbridge and keep left along the rocky path from the waymark. Continue until you pass a bench on your left, cross over a wall and reach a fork in the path.
  5. At the fork, keep left and follow the path along the coast until you eventually reach a waymark.
  6. Keep left at the waymark and follow the path to a waymark at a junction of paths on Boswednack Cliff.

    The name Boswednack may have been from the Cornish word gweder meaning "glass" (bos means "dwelling").

    In English we often add a -y ending to a noun to turn it into an adjective; for example "rock" becomes "rocky". For many of the nouns imported from French, we add -ic (acidic, magnetic, artistic...). The equivalent in Cornish is to add -ack or -ek to the end of the word. Thus meynek is "stony" (men is stone), stennack means "tinny" (sten is tin).

  7. When you reach the waymark, turn right in the direction indicated for Gurnard's Head. Follow the path to reach a footbridge.

    On a quiet day, you may encounter slow worms sunbathing on the path, which at a first glimpse might look like snakes, but are easily recognised by their golden colour.

    During the summer months, slow worms can sometimes be seen basking in the sunshine, particularly on pieces of stone which act as a sunbed. Being reptiles, they don't generate their own body heat so they need to get it from an external source. Despite their resemblance to snakes, slow worms are lizards that have evolved to lose their legs. They are a good example of convergent evolution, where quite unrelated groups of animals have evolved to fill a similar niche. Slow worms are surprisingly long lived, and may exceed 30 years of age in the wild and over 50 years in captivity.

  8. Cross the bridge and follow the path to another footbridge.

    In July 1916 a huge area of fog caused problems for shipping all along the North Cornish coast. The Neto - a 3000 ton steamship on its way to Cherbourg carrying hay and fodder for the British cavalry horses - ran aground on Gurnard's Head and was wrecked. As salvage work began, another large cargo ship - the Enrico Parodi - laden with coal, appeared from the fog and ran aground just 300 metres away on the Carracks Reef. The salvage crews immediately switched their attention to saving the Enrico Parodi as only the bow was grounded and there seemed a good chance of floating her off at high tide. However as they attempted to tow her off using a salvage ship, a minor leak in the bow split open and the ship began to sink rapidly. The ship was quickly abandoned and sank in the deep water off The Carracks.

  9. Cross the bridge and follow the path until it emerges on a driveway.

    In April 1912, the Mildred was sailing from Newport to London with a cargo of slag from the welsh furnaces. The ship ran into dense fog off West Penwith, hit the rocks at Gurnards Head at midnight and began to take on water. The captain and his five crew rowed for six hours to safety at St Ives. They returned later in the morning with a pilot gig to pull the Mildred free but it was too late - she was already breaking into pieces. The wreck was photographed with its set sails protruding above the water by the Gibson family from the Scilly Isles who have been photographing shipwrecks for 4 generations.

  10. Cross the driveway to the path opposite and follow it up the steps. Continue to reach another footbridge.

    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.

  11. Cross the bridge and follow the path until you reach a granite waymark.

    The rectangular pit that you pass on the right-hand side of the path contains the remains of a chapel.

    A chapel at Treen is mentioned in the Domesday book and is also mentioned in records from Tudor times as "Innyall Chappell" which from the Cornish word enyal meaning "wild". Since then, the name has been distorted into "Chapel Jane" - by which it is now known. The building was cut into a hollow in the cliff slope and in the mid 19th century it was reported as still having walls up to 7ft high. Much of the stone had disappeared by the time it was excavated in the 1960s, but the building was found to have been constructed in two phases, with an extension being added onto what was originally a simple rectangular structure. Mediaeval pottery was also found. Today, the remains of the stone walls are covered in grass, and the main indication of its existence is the rectangular hollow in which it sits.

  12. Turn left at the waymark, indicated for Treen, and follow the path until it joins another path at a junction.

    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.

  13. Bear left at the junction and follow the path to a stile.
  14. Cross the stile into the field and continue ahead to a gateway opposite.

    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.
  15. Go through the gateway and follow along the right hedge to reach a flight of granite steps in the corner of the field.
  16. Climb the steps and follow the right hedge to reach a pedestrian gate in the far hedge.
  17. Go through the gate and climb the stile then follow the path over another stile and onto a driveway. Bear right along the driveway to join a lane and follow this until you reach a public footpath sign on the left just before 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".

  18. Cross the stile below the footpath sign and follow the left hedge to a waymarked stile in the corner of the field.

    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.

  19. Cross the stile into the field on the left and then follow the hedge on the right for a short distance to another stile. Cross this stile and follow the left hedge of the field past a gateway to a footbridge and stile in the corner.
  20. Cross the stile and head directly across the field to a stile beside the gate opposite.

    The small field probably dates from the Celtic period.

    In Celtic times, fields were small and surrounded by banks or stone walls. The fields were used both for growing crops such as oats, wheat or rye, and for keeping livestock. The field shape was round or square, rather than rectangular, so that the stones didn't have to be carried further than necessary. The small size was because they needed to be weeded by hand, in many ways similar to a modern-day allotment.

  21. Cross the stile and turn left onto the road. Carefully follow the road until you pass Shangra-La on the left and reach a large wooden post with a waymark.
  22. Turn left down the track on the left of the waymark, and bear right on the track to pass the cottages on your left. Continue over a bridge until you reach a bend where there is a yellow arrow painted on a sign.
  23. At the bend, bear right off the track and cross the waymarked stile on the left of the gate. Follow the left hedge of the field to a stile to the left of the gate.

    Most of the stiles between the fields around Zennor resemble granite cattle grids and date from the 18th and 19th Centuries: granite was in ample supply here whereas building wood was not due to the feeble stunted trees on the moors here. Some of the stiles have impressively deep holes between the cross pieces so tread carefully. Some have cross pieces that are elevated to deter more adventurous livestock.

  24. Cross the stile and follow the left hedge, past a gateway, to a stile in the corner of the field marked with two wooden posts.
  25. Cross the stile and head across the field to the stile opposite marked with a white post.

    Depending on the time of year, you may notice some traditional farming practices in the fields here such as cereal crops collected into sheaves.

    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.

  26. Cross the stile and again cross the field to a stile opposite marked with a white post.
  27. Cross the stile and bear right slightly towards a white post in front of a gate.

    The path across the fields is known as the Zennor Churchway or Coffin Path and runs all the way from St Ives to Pendeen across the flat "bench" cut into the granite by waves when sea levels were higher during the Pliocene era. The path was marked by a number of round-headed wayside crosses which date back to early mediaeval times, although not many survive intact. Some are now only evident as cross-bases - a roughly trimmed boulder containing a square hole to take the cross shaft.

  28. Go down the steps beneath the post and head to a waymarked stile to the right of the gate ahead.
  29. Cross the stile on the right of the gate and follow the path until you reach an old iron gate.
  30. Cross the stile next to the gate and keep right along the path until it ends on a track outside a farmyard.
  31. Turn right onto the track and follow it away from the farm to a road.
  32. Turn left onto the road and follow it past the cottages to reach a lane to Zennor. Turn left down the lane to complete the circular route.

    The name Zennor comes from St Senara, to whom the church is dedicated. There were no roads to Zennor until the 1800s so goods were brought here on sledges pulled by animals.

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.

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.
If you found this page useful, please could you
our page on Facebook?