Caerhays Castle to Hemmick Beach circular walk

Caerhays Castle to Hemmick Beach

A circular walk along Roseland coast between two sandy beaches from Caerhays Castle where the gardens contain nationally-important collections from the expeditions of Victorian plant hunters

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The walk begins by climbing through the parkland of the Caerhays estate to reach the tiny settlements which have grown around mediaeval farmsteads located close to streams descending to the sea. The route crosses the hill to Boswinger then descends to Hemmick Beach which is quite large and sandy at low tide. The walk then follows the coast path along the cliffs of The Roseland to return to Porthluney.

Considerations

  • Note that most coastal walks in Cornwall have paths close to unfenced cliffs.

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Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 105
  • Distance: 3.8 miles/6.1 km
  • Steepness grade: Moderate-strenuous
  • Recommended footwear: Walking boots

OS maps for this walk

OS Explorer 105 OS Explorer 105 (laminated version)

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

Highlights

  • Caerhays castle and gardens
  • Views over Caerhays Castle from the footpaths
  • Views along the Roseland coastline
  • Sandy beaches at Porthluney and Hemmick

Directions

  1. Make your way out the car park and turn right onto the lane to pass the entrance to the castle and reach a kissing gate on the right marked with a Public Footpath sign.

    The "castle" at Caerhays is actually a castellated manor house. The manor belonged to the Arundell in the early middle ages and passed by marriage into the Trevanion family where it remained until 1854 when its owner fled to Paris when he was unable to pay his bills. The Williams family purchased it from the creditors in 1854 and are still the owners. The current castle was built between 1807-1810 before the Trevanion family hit hard times.

  2. Go through the gate and head up to the top of the hill, passing to the right of the central clump of trees and to the left of the next clump. Continue ahead towards the furthest section of the top hedge to reach a wooden gate and kissing gate to the left of the largest tree in this area of hedge.

    The pheasant is named after the Ancient town of Phasis (now in West Georgia) and the birds were naturalised in the UK by the 10th Century with introductions both from the Romano-British and the Normans. However, by the 17th Century they had become extinct in most of the British Isles.

    In the 1830s, the pheasant was rediscovered as a game bird and since then it has been reared extensively for shooting. The pheasant has a life expectancy of less than a year in the wild and it is only common because around 30 million pheasants are released each year on shooting estates.

  3. Go through the kissing gate on the right of the gate and follow the track to a lane. Turn left onto the lane and follow it past the houses and downhill until you reach a track on the right marked with a Public Footpath sign to Treveor.

    The bushes along the lane provide seeds and insects for birds such as the tit family.

    The name "tit" is thought to be from a Viking word for "small" and the tit family of birds were also known as the titmouse. This is nothing to do with mice but is from a Middle English word recorded in the 14th Century as titmose. This is thought to be based on Old English word for the tit family of birds - māse - which became mose in Middle English.

  4. Bear right onto the track and follow it past the cottages to a gate and stile.

    There are 2 sparrow species in the UK but only the house sparrow is common in Cornwall. Since the 1970s the UK house sparrow population has declined to less than half with an even greater loss in urban areas. Consequently the house sparrow is now red-listed as a species of high conservation concern. The exact causes for the decline are not known although a number of likely factors have been identified. In the countryside a reduction in aphid populations due to changes in farming practices is thought to be significant whereas in urban areas a loss of suitable nesting sites and a more intense level of predation by cats may be significant. Since 2008 the population seems to have stabilised but no-one is quite sure why.

  5. Cross the stile on the left of the gate and follow along the fence at the bottom of the field to reach a kissing gate.

    The number of cows in Cornwall has been estimated at around 75,000 (a lot of moo is needed for the cheese and clotted cream produced in Cornwall) so there's a good chance of encountering some in grassy fields, but also on open moorland and sometimes for conservation grazing on the coast path too.

    The Ramblers Association and National Farmers Union suggest some "dos and don'ts" for walkers which we've collated with some info from the local Countryside Access Team.

    Do

    • Stop, look and listen on entering a field. Look out for any animals and watch how they are behaving, particularly bulls or cows with calves
    • Be prepared for farm animals to react to your presence, especially if you have a dog with you.
    • Try to avoid getting between cows and their calves.
    • Move quickly and quietly, and if possible walk around the herd.
    • Keep your dog close and under effective control on a lead around cows and sheep.
    • Remember to close gates behind you when walking through fields containing livestock.
    • If you and your dog feel threatened, work your way to the field boundary and quietly make your way to safety.
    • Report any dangerous incidents to the Cornwall Council Countryside Access Team - phone 0300 1234 202 for emergencies or for non-emergencies use the iWalk Cornwall app to report a footpath issue (via the menu next to the direction on the directions screen).

    Don't

    • If you are threatened by cattle, don't hang onto your dog: let it go to allow the dog to run to safety.
    • Don't put yourself at risk. Find another way around the cattle and rejoin the footpath as soon as possible.
    • Don't panic or run. Most cattle will stop before they reach you. If they follow, just walk on quietly.
  6. Go through the gate and cross the stile to reach a footbridge. Cross this into the field and then follow the right hedge to the top of the field to reach a stone stile in the corner behind the water trough.

    Primrose flowers provide an important nectar source for pollinators that hibernate over winter and emerge quite early like brimstone and small tortoiseshell butterflies - these are some of the first butterflies to be seen in spring. Primrose is also the food plant for the caterpillars of the rare Duke of Burgundy butterfly.

    Buzzards are not quiet birds! Their long, loud "pieeuuu" call can be often be the first thing to give away their presence and is one of the easiest bird calls to remember. It is thought that the original Latin word for buzzard was probably an onomatopoeia (i.e. an imitation of the bird's call) within the constraints of what was deemed an acceptable Latin word (suggesting "pieeuuu" would probably have resulted in being fed to the lions!).

  7. Cross the stile and descend to the lane. Turn right and follow the lane until you reach a track departing to the right between a pair of semi-detached cottages and a black barn, marked with a Public Footpath sign.

    Navelwort is a member of the stonecrop family which are able to survive in barren locations by storing water in their fleshy leaves. In dry conditions, the plant takes emergency measures to conserve water, producing fewer green chloroplasts (so it goes red) and loses it succulent fleshiness. Leaves with red tinges are therefore not the ones to forage.

  8. Turn right and follow the track until it ends in a gate and stile into a field.

    The settlement is Treveor which is Cornish for "big farm". Place names in the Cornish language usually date from at least early mediaeval times ("The Dark Ages") before the Norman Conquest. The French-speaking Norman gentry then took control of the land and their language soon merged with the language of the Saxons to become mediaeval English.

  9. Go through the gate if open or cross the stile on the left. Then follow the left hedge to reach a stone stile topped with an iron bar roughly two-thirds of the way along the hedge.
  10. Cross the stile and turn right to follow along the right hedge. Continue to reach a similar stile in the far hedge.
  11. Cross the stile and turn left onto the lane. Follow the lane until you reach a junction to the right at the entrance to the Holiday Park.

    Sorrel grows in the sunnier areas along the hedgerows.

    Sorrel is common in fields and hedgerows and easily recognisable by its red seeds at the top of a tall stalk. The leaves resemble small, narrow dock leaves.

    Sorrel is used both in soups or as a salad vegetable. The leaves have a pleasant lemony flavour. The plant was known in Cornwall during Victorian times as "green sauce".

    In common with many vegetables, sorrel contains oxalic acid. Exactly how much is a bit unclear: many articles mention "high amounts" though some published studies report a lower percentage than in spinach, parsley or rhubarb, though don't specify how easily soluble the oxalic acid is in each case. Oxalic acid poisonous if enough is consumed and prolonged exposure can cause kidney stones. So use sorrel reasonably sparingly and don't eat it every day.

  12. Turn right and follow the lane downhill into Boswinger. Pass the Youth Hostel and blue "single track" sign and walk roughly half-way down the hill to reach a gateway on the left with a wooden kissing gate on the left of the field gate.

    The first record of Boswinger is from 1301 when it was spelt Boswengar. Bos is the Cornish word for "dwelling" and it is thought the remainder is likely to be the name of the family who lived there during the early mediaeval period.

  13. Go through the kissing gate and cross the field to the kissing gate in the middle of the hedge opposite.

    The English Channel is thought to have been formed by two catastrophic floods from lakes that built up behind a dam of ice. The first was about 425,000 years ago and broke through a range of chalk mountains between the Weald and Artois. Then about 225,000 years ago, a second ice-dammed lake at the end of the Rhine broke through another weak barrier and created another massive flood channel. The waterfalls during these floods are thought to have created plunge pools around 100 metres deep and several kilometres across.

  14. Go through the gate and continue ahead downhill. Head to the bottom-right corner of the field to reach a kissing gate.

    The name for the Roseland Peninsula derives from the Celtic word ros which can be used to mean a number of things including "moor", but the meaning most applicable in this case is "promontory".

  15. Go through the kissing gate and climb the steps to reach the lane. Turn left and follow the lane down to where a small path departs to the right just before the ford.

    The plants by the coast are adapted to the salty environment.

    Seawater is about 2.5% salt which is about one tenth of the strength of fully saturated brine solution. By the 17th Century, it was found that dissolving impure rock salt in seawater to increase the concentration and then recrystallising this in clean salt pans was a cheaper way of producing salt than evaporating ten times the amount of water from normal seawater.

  16. Turn right onto the small path and follow it towards the beach. After exploring the beach, follow the path climbing up the coast to the right. Climb the steps to reach a kissing gate at the top.

    The beach is mostly sand with some shingle near the high tide line and rocky ridges down either side. At low tide, an area of rock is exposed on the right-hand side which contains a number of rockpools. Due to its remote location and limited parking, there are usually not many people on the beach.

  17. Go through the gate and turn left to follow along the fence and reach a gap in the bank.

    Both the flowers and leaves of the common daisy are edible and are high in Vitamin C but the flavour is bitter and medicinal so they are unlikely to appear on the menu of many restaurants.

    The headland ahead is Nare Head and the one behind you is Dodman Point.

    Dodman Point is the highest headland on the south coast of Cornwall at around 400 feet high. It appears on maps as "Deadmans Pt" or "Deadman Pt" up to the mid 1800s, though the original name was Penare. The 20ft high granite cross was erected on top of the point in 1896 by the rector of St Michael Caerhays to act as a daymark for shipping. It was blown down by a storm in 1905 and had to be re-erected

    The small building in an area of metal railings just inland of the point was a watch house - part of a signal station built during the Napoleonic Wars. The whitewashed structure beside it was a lookout platform.

    More about Dodman Point

  18. Go through the gap and follow along the left side of the field to reach a gap in a bank.

    Meadow buttercups spread across a field relatively slowly as most seeds fall quite close to the parent and although it has a creeping root system capable of propagating new plants, this only extends a fairly short distance from each plant (unlike creeping buttercup which has a much more extensive root system). Because grazing animals avoid buttercups due to their acrid taste, this allows them to accumulate over time. The combination of these factors allows the number of meadow buttercups in a field to be used an indicator of how long it's been used for grazing.

    Amongst the species caught of the beach by anglers are flatfish such as flounder.

    Flatfish such a turbot and plaice are sand-coloured on their upper surface so they blend into the seabed and can both ambush passing prey and hide from predators.

    Flatfish begin life as a normal (non-flat) fish with one eye on each side of their head. As they mature, one eye gradually migrates over the top of their head to the other side. They then spend their whole adult life lying on their side.

  19. Go through the gap and turn right to keep the bank on your right and follow this to another gap.

    Barnacles and lichens can be used to gauge the position of the high-tide line on rocks and therefore a dry place to leave your possessions whilst you go swimming if the tide is coming in.

    Barnacles need to be covered with seawater each day so they grow below the high-water mark for neap tides.

    Black tar lichen occurs just above the barnacle zone. It is quite tolerant of spray and short periods of immersion in seawater so it typically grows in areas which are out of the water at neap tides but may get briefly immersed during spring tides.

    Orange marine lichen is less tolerant of immersion in seawater but can otherwise often out-compete black tar lichen so this usually grows just above the high water mark for spring tides where it may get an occasional splash.

  20. Go through the gap and then follow along the fence on the left to pass a redundant stile and reach a kissing gate.

    The coast here faces towards Brittany which is about 110 miles away.

    Due to the curvature of the earth, the distance you can see to the horizon depends on your height above sea level. This increases with the square root of height (i.e. with diminishing returns). An adult typically sees the horizon about 3 miles from the beach. From the top of a 100 foot lighthouse, it is about 12 miles away. At the top of the highest cliff in Cornwall it is roughly 33 miles out but if a 100ft tower were built all the way up here, it would only allow an extra 2 miles to be seen.

  21. When you reach the kissing gate, go through the sequence of 2 gates then follow the path parallel to the fence to reach a path departing from the far side of the field.

    Ravens nest along the coast here.

    Ravens are the largest member of the crow family and has a bigger wingspan than a buzzard. They are most easily distinguished from other members of the crow family by their very large black beak which has a hooked top. Other members of the crow family have straighter beaks. Their call is a deep croak.

  22. Follow along the fence to join the path departing from the field and follow this to reach a pedestrian gate.

    Researchers have found that ravens use gesture to communicate in a similar way to humans. Obviously ravens don't have hands so instead they point with their beaks to indicate an object to another bird, just as we do with our fingers. They also hold up an object in their beak to get another bird's attention.

  23. Go through the gate and follow the path over the headland to reach a kissing gate at the bottom of a steep descent.

    The salt-laden breeze coming off the sea dries out leaf buds and inhibits growth so the plants end up growing most vigorously in the lee of the wind. In the direction facing the prevailing wind, the growth is therefore more compact and stunted whereas in the lee of the wind, the branches are much more straggly. The result is that the trees appear to point away from the prevailing wind. Where there are no obstacles interfering with the wind direction, the shape of the trees can be used as a compass. Prevailing winds come from the southwest, so in general, trees in Cornwall point northeast.

  24. Go through the kissing gate and follow the path to reach a pedestrian gate leading into an area with wind-sculpted hawthorn trees.
  25. Go through the gate and follow the path to another gate with a footbridge on the other side.

    During March and April the field before the footbridge can have an impressive display of primroses providing grazing animals such as ponies haven't yet nibbled them.

    During Victorian times, the building of railways allowed primrose flowers picked in the Westcountry to be on sale in London the next day. Picking was done on a large scale but eventually became unfashionable, being seen as environmentally destructive. However all the evidence gathered suggests as long as the flowers were picked and the plants were not dug up, the practice was sustainable.

    The hawthorn tree is most often found in hedgerows where it was used to create a barrier for livestock, and in fact haw was the Old English word for "hedge".

  26. Go through the gate and cross the footbridge. Then follow the path to the right to a gap in the bank.

    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.

  27. Go through the gap and turn left. Follow along the hedge on the left to reach a kissing gate in the fence at the top of the field.

    It may be an urban myth that Eskimos have a large number of words for "snow" but it's cast iron fact that there are at least this many words for "hill" in Cornish:

    • Meneth was often used to refer to Cornwall's higher peaks, or (outside of Cornwall) to mountains.
    • Tor was used for hills with rock outcrops protruding (and for the rock outcrops themselves)
    • Brea was used to refer to the most prominent hill in a district.
    • Ryn refers to a "hill" in the sense of projecting ground, or a steep hill-side or slope.
    • Garth was used to refer to a long narrow hilltop.
    • Ambel refers to the side of a hill.
    • Mulvra refers to a round-topped hill.
    • Godolgh is a very small hill.
    • Bron means "breast" as well as hill.
  28. Go through the kissing gate and turn left. Follow along the left hedge to reach another gate in the hedge opposite.

    Studies have shown that crows are capable of self-discipline. If offered one piece of food now or two later, the crows will resist temptation and wait. However if the initial piece of food is a high value item such as sausage, they won't take the risk.

  29. Go through the kissing gate and follow the left hedge of the field to another kissing gate.

    In 1991, sloes were found in the stomach contents of a 5,300 human mummy in the Alps, indicating that they were part of the Neolithic diet. Alone they are extremely bitter but with enough sugar, they can be made into a range of preserves.

    Blackthorn wood is very tough and hard-wearing. In order to form its thorns, the tree allows the tips of the tiny stems that make up the thorns to die. The dead wood in the thorn tip is harder and therefore sharper than the living wood.

  30. Go through the gate and follow the path through the wooded area to reach a gate into an area of grassy parkland.

    The shade under the trees provides a perfect habitat for bluebells.

    According to folklore, it's unlucky to bring bluebells into a house and also unlucky to walk through bluebells as it was thought that the little bells would ring and summon fairies and goblins.

    Research suggests that sycamore was common in Britain up to Roman times but then died out due to the warming climate apart from some mountainous regions such as in Scotland. During the Tudor period it is thought to have been reintroduced from southern and central Europe by landowners looking for a rapid-growing tree for their estates and was found to be salt-tolerant - essential in Cornwall.

  31. Go through the gate and continue ahead towards the lake to reach a kissing gate in the corner of the fences in front of the tall trees, to the right of the lake.

    During the late 18th and early 19th century, the Williams family sponsored plant hunting expeditions to bring back exotic specimens for the gardens. The garden is now home to 600 varieties of plants, including trees and shrubs such as azaleas and camellias. By 1917, it had over 250 types of rhododendron. The garden now hosts the largest collection of magnolias in England.

  32. Go through the gate and follow along the fence on the left. Turn left at the end of the fence to return to the pedestrian gate by the stream and cross the bridge back to the car park.

    Caerhays was first recorded in 1259 as "Karihaes" and places in Brittany with the name Carhaix are thought likely to have the same origin (their earlier forms are also similar to the early forms of the Cornish one). In Cornish, ker means "fort" (often appearing at the start of place names as Caer or Car) but because all the early forms for Caerhays have an "i" sound after the "car", it casts doubt on whether the name was based on this.

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