Park Head and Pentire Steps circular walk

Park Head and Pentire Steps

A circular walk on Park Head, used as one of the filming locations in the Poldark BBC TV series and with spectacular views over Bedruthan Steps and the Trescore Islands.

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The walk descends to the coast at Porth Mear through a corridor of blackthorn bushes which are white with blossom in spring. The route then follows the Coast Path across Park Head to the cliffs overlooking Pentire Steps beach (where there is an optional diversion for views over Bedruthan steps) and returns across the fields.

Considerations

  • Route includes paths close to unfenced cliff edges.

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Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 106
  • Distance: 1.9 miles/3 km
  • Steepness grade: Easy
  • Recommended footwear: walking shoes, or trainers in summer

OS maps for this walk

OS Explorer 106 OS Explorer 106 (laminated version)

Click or tap on map for more info (blue=laminated)

Highlights

  • Spectacular coastal scenery
  • Rockpools at low tide at Porth Mear
  • Wildlife including kestrels, skylarks and seabirds
  • Spectacular coastal wildflowers in spring and early summer

Directions

  1. From the car park, follow the tarmacked track towards Porth Mear. Continue to reach a gate on the right with "Footpath to Porth Mear and Park Head".

    The National Trust is the largest owner of farms in the UK. It has around 2,000 tenants and over 600,000 acres of land. It has been calculated that 43% of all the rainwater in England and Wales drains through National Trust land.

  2. Go through the gate and once in the field, follow along the wall on your left. At the end of the wall, bear left to a gap in the left hedge.

    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 bleating, 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 a miscarriage. 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.

  3. Go through the gap and bear right slightly to cross the field in the direction of the sea to reach a kissing gate in the bottom corner of the far hedge.

    Given the right conditions, a blackthorn tree can live 100 years and grow to about 20ft in height. In harsher environments such as by the coast the bushes may be as little as 2ft tall.

  4. Go through the kissing gate and follow the path along the walkway. Continue along the path until it ends in a junction with the coast path at a waymark.

    On the path along the valley you pass what looks like a shipwreck. It warrants closer inspection as it is carved with a number of animals, some of which are inside.

  5. Continue ahead onto the coast path and follow it uphill to a kissing gate.

    The cove ahead is Porth Mear and can be reached via the footbridge to the right.

    The name Porth Mear is easily confused with Porth Meor beach at St Ives and Porthmeor Cove near Zennor because all of these are from the Cornish for "big cove". There is a shingle beach at high tide. At low tide, a large rock platform is exposed with lots of rockpools.

    Porth Mear has some excellent rockpools at low tide.

    Rockpool fishing is quite a popular childhood pass-time as a number of species can be lured out from hiding places by a limpet tied on a piece of cotton (leave a trailing end as if anything swallows the limpet, very gently pulling both ends of the cotton will cause it to release the cotton-tied limpet from its gullet). If you are intending to put the creatures into a bucket: ensure it is large, filled with fresh seawater and kept in the shade; ideally place in a couple of rocks for the creatures to hide under; do not leave them in there more than a couple of hours or they will exhaust their oxygen supply; ensure you release them into one of the rockpools from which you caught them, preferably a large one (carefully removing any rocks from your bucket first to avoid squashing them). Species you're likely to encounter are:

    • Blennies which are fish about 5-10cm long, often found hiding under rock ledges. They can change their colour from sandy to black within a couple of minutes in order to match their surroundings. They have strong, sharp teeth for crunching barnacles and will bite if provoked.
    • Shore crabs and sometimes edible crabs which can also sometimes be found hiding under rocks (carefully replace any rocks you lift up). Shore crabs have a fairly narrow shell which is almost as deep as it is wide. They vary in colour from green through brown to red (the redder individuals are apparently stronger and more aggressive). Edible crabs have a much wider shell which resembles a Cornish Pasty and are always a red-brown colour. Both have powerful claws so fingers should be kept well clear.
    • Shrimps and prawns - do you know the difference? Prawns are semi-transparent whereas shrimps are sandy coloured and generally bury themselves in sand.
  6. Go through the kissing gate and follow the path up to the headland. Continue on the path along the cliff edge until you can see a bench on your right and a slate waymark on your left. Keep left to reach the waymark.

    The islands overlooked by the bench are the Trescore Islands.

    The Trescore Islands lie off the headland between Porthcothan and Porth Mear. The rocky islets are surrounded by a sandy beach which is exposed at low tide, creating a lagoon between the islands and mainland. It is shallow enough to wade across from the mainland at low tide.

  7. From the waymark, continue on the path past another slate waymark and along the right side of a wall, past one more slate waymark, until the wall ends.

    The carpets of tiny blue flowers on the coast during April and May are the appropriately-named spring squill, which up close is a star-shaped pale blue flower with a dark blue stamen. They achieve their early flowering by storing energy over the winter in a bulb so they can be the first flowers out on the cliffs before they become overshadowed by larger plants. They thrive in locations which are beaten with wind and salt-laden spray which they are able to tolerate but other plants, which might otherwise out-compete them, cannot.

    During June and July, you might come across a plant on the coast with long and very bright yellow flowers, a bit like elongated gorse flowers. This is likely to Dyer's Broom (also known as Dyers Greenweed). As the name implies, the bright yellow flowers were used to dye clothing. As green was generally a more popular colour than yellow, the yellow fabric was often re-dyed with a blue dye such as woad or indigo to create green cloth. During Victorian times, there was so much demand for the dye that the plant was grown commercially. In West Cornwall, there is a variety of the plant that isn't found anywhere else in Britain.

    Oystercatchers are recognisable by their black-and-white bodies, their long, straight red beaks and loud, piercing call. In flight, the white markings form an image of a white bird towards the back of their otherwise black backs which may have evolved to confuse predators.

    The long beaks are adapted to open shellfish - mainly cockles and mussels - "cocklecatchers" would be a more accurate name. They can also use their bill to probe for worms.

  8. At the end of the wall, keep right on the path along the coast and follow it until you reach another slate waymark.

    The French fishing boat Le Sillon was at sea during the 2014 storms and was pounded by waves of over 30 feet. One of these smashed the glass in the wheelhouse and shorted the electrics, leaving the boat without power or steering. The RNLI lifeboat attempted to tow the boat to safety but struggled against the waves and eventually the tow rope snapped. The crew were forced to abandon ship and were all saved from the water by a Sea King helicopter from RNAS Culdrose. The remains of Le Sillon are on the rocks of Park Head.

  9. At the waymark, turn left and follow the path to a waymark at the end of a wall with a bench on the far side.

    At the slate waymark, a path to the right leads out onto Park Head where the remains of an Iron Age hillfort can be seen.

    The low plateau is surrounded by ramparts which are believed to date from the first century BC.

    The purpose of enclosures within ramparts varied quite considerably. Some were built as forts to defend from marauding invaders such as the seafaring Scandinavians. Others were defences built around small villages either as a status symbol/deterrent or for the more practical purpose of preventing domestic crimes such as theft of property by occupants of neighbouring villages. There were even some which were probably just a confined space used to stop livestock escaping!

  10. Continue ahead on the path along the coast to reach another stone wall. Follow along this to reach a wooden signpost (pointing ahead to Carnewas) beside a kissing gate.

    Wild thyme grows along the coast and flowers from June to September with tiny pink flowers. During mediaeval times, the plant was a symbol of bravery, possibly due to derivation from the Greek word thumos, meaning anger or spiritedness. An embroidered motif of a bee on a sprig of thyme is said to have been given by mediaeval ladies to their favoured knight.

    Coastal land management including removal of excess gorse and grazing to keep taller plants in trim has allowed wild thyme to become more widespread as well as the Cornish chough. Wild thyme is a nectar source for many bees and butterflies and the food plant for young caterpillars of the large blue butterfly.

    The Birdsfoot Trefoil has yellow flowers tinged with red that look like little slippers and appear in small clusters. They are followed by seed pods that look distinctly like bird's feet or claws. Common names referring to the flowers include "Butter and Eggs", "Eggs and Bacon" and "Hen and Chickens", and to the seed pods, the delightful "Granny's Toenails".

    It is a member of the pea family and is poisonous to humans (containing glycosides of cyanide) but not to grazing animals and can be grown as a fodder plant. It is the larval food plant of many butterflies and moths including the common blue and silver-studded blue, and an important nectar plant for many bumblebee species.

    The "herringbone" style of walling built with tightly packed alternating diagonal slate courses, is unique to Cornwall's heritage.

    Traditionally, hedges (stone boundary walls) were built with whatever was cleared out of the fields, whilst buildings were constructed from stone that was quarried and cut. On a long wall, the herringbone sections are often between "towers" of flat-laid slate (built from the larger and squarer stones) which helped to prevent the wall slumping sideways.

    There is a nice view over the Bedruthan Steps rock stacks from the bottom of the grassy area to the right of the path.

  11. Go through the gate beside the signpost (signposted in the direction for Pentire Farm and Car Park) and follow the right hedge of the field to join a stony track leading from the waymark on the far side through a gateway.

    The metal signs on stone walls with a maze with a map of Cornwall are from the Cornish Hedge Community Heritage Project - usually known by its more snappy Cornish name - Kerdroya. 11 sections of Cornish hedge have been restored and the project culminated in building the world's largest labyrinth at Colliford Lake incorporating a number of different styles of Cornish hedge.

  12. Follow the track through the gateway and continue on the track through the next gateway and a little further to where the track forks beside a wooden gate on the right with a waymark for the Car Park.

    There are over 30,000 miles (more than the distance around the earth) of hedges in Cornwall, many of which are based on distinctive local styles of stone walling. Consequently, often what a Cornish person calls a "hedge", most people from outside the county do not recognise as a hedge, resulting in some foreign translation needed for walk directions.

    Around 50% of the hedgerows in the UK have been lost since the Second World War. Although intentional removal has dramatically reduced, lack of maintenance and damage from mechanical cutting techniques such as flailing are still causing deterioration of the remaining hedgerows.

    Some Cornish hedges are thought to be more than 4,000 years old, making them some of the oldest human-built structures in the world that have been in continuous use for their original purpose. They act as vital miniature nature reserves and wildlife corridors that link together other green spaces. This supports hundreds of species of plants and tens of thousands of insect species, many of which are vital pollinators for arable crops.

  13. Go through the pedestrian gate next to the waymark post and follow the path through a final kissing gate into the car park to complete the circular walk.

    Tamarisks, also known as salt cedars, are able to withstand drought, soil salinity, and salt-water spray and therefore thrive in mild coastal areas such as the Cornish coastline. Their ability to accumulate salt and then excrete this through glands in their leaves prevents less salt-tolerant plants from growing around their base.

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