Chapel Porth to Trevaunance Cove circular walk

Chapel Porth to Trevaunance Cove

A circular walk along the coast between the golden sandy beaches of Chapel Porth and Trevaunance Cove at St Agnes via the iconic engine houses of Wheal Coates, perched above the breakers.

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The walk joins the Coast Path at Chapel Porth and passes the pumping engine house of Wheal Coates before reaching the coastguard lookout on St Agnes Head. The route follows the coast around the headland to Trevaunance Cove where there is a pub and a coffee shop as well as a sandy beach. The return route passes alongside a number of old mine workings, now overgrown with wildflowers, and along lanes and footpaths to the upper part of Wheal Coates before descending to Chapel Porth.


  • Route includes paths close to unfenced cliff edges.

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Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 104
  • Distance: 6.1 miles/9.8 km
  • Steepness grade: Moderate
  • Recommended footwear: walking boots, or trainers in summer

OS maps for this walk

OS Explorer 104 OS Explorer 104 (laminated version)

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


  • Sandy beaches with excellent surf at Chapel Porth and Trevaunance Cove
  • Rockpools at St Agnes and caves at Chapel Porth
  • Iconic engine houses and mining relics at Wheal Coates
  • Panoramic views from the Coast Path around St Agnes Head
  • Historic pub and local brewery at St Agnes
  • Vibrant art scene and traditions including Bolster Day and the World Bellyboarding Championship

Pubs on or near the route

  • The Driftwood Spars


  1. Follow the lane out of the car park, a short distance, until you reach the coast path on your left.

    The beach and surrounding coastal land at Chapel Porth is owned by the National Trust who run the café and toilets in the car park. The beach is a narrow gully at high tide that opens out to a mile long expanse of sand at low tide. Due to the shape of the beach, it is very easy to get cut off by the rising tide. There are are a number of caves along the length of the beach arising from a combination of mining and erosion by the sea of faults in the ore-bearing rocks.

  2. Turn left onto the coast path, in the direction of Wheal Coates, and follow the path until you reach a bench where another path joins from the right.

    The name Chapel Porth arises from a mediaeval chapel and Holy Well, situated just above the gully to the right of the beach, with an enclosure and holy well dedicated to St. Agnes. By 1780, the remains of the chapel had been removed and the stone re-used elsewhere; the holy well remained until 1820. There are still some remains of the mediaeval enclosure, in the form of earth banks, and a small building (probably a tool shed or powder store), built from the remains of the chapel.

  3. From the bench, continue ahead, keeping right along the main path, to reach another bench at the back of the valley.

    In 1928, the SS Eltham - a steam-powered cargo ship - was found on Chapel Porth beach with a hole in the hull and no crew, no log book and no cargo. It is thought the the crew's flares failed and they were lost at sea. A smashed lifeboat was washed ashore in another cove. The ship was known to be on its way from Swansea to France with a cargo of coal. How the ship came ashore with no cargo and a relatively small hole that looked like it had been made at the point where it ran around is still a mystery. A boiler from the ship is still visible at low tide on Chapel Porth.

  4. At the bench, follow the main path to the left until you reach a junction of paths with a waymark on the far side of the valley.

    An annual festival called "Bolster Day" is held at Chapel Porth, starting in April and culminating on 1st May. Giant puppets are used to re-enact the Cornish legend of the young girl, St Agnes, who slays Bolster - the fierce giant, who was rumoured to eat children and overcame the Knight, Sir Constantine and a procession of local dignitaries and heroes. Bolster's Blood has given its name to one the ales brewed by the Driftwood Spars pub and brewery.

  5. At the junction, take the waymarked path along the coast until you merge onto a larger path just before an engine house.

    Cornwall's iconic engine houses were built to house huge beam engines - a type of steam engine with a pivoting beam. This configuration was particularly suited to powering pumps to stop the quarry pits and mines from flooding as water trickled into them from above. Inside the engine house, steam from a boiler would push up a piston, causing the beam to tilt downwards, pushing the pump down into the shaft. The steam would then be shut off and cold water would be used to condense the steam within the piston back into water, creating a partial vacuum. Atmospheric pressure then pushed the piston back down into the vacuum, raising the beam and lifting water out of the shaft. The valves to apply the steam and cold water were mechanically automated, maintaining a steady rocking motion of the giant beam.

  6. Continue ahead, past the engine house and follow the path to a waymark.

    The engine house beside the coast path near Chapel Porth is known as the Towanroath Pumping Engine House and was built in 1872. It was used to pump water from the 600 ft deep Towanroath shaft adjacent to the engine house. The shaft was used to access a vein of tin just below sea level.

  7. Keep right at the waymark on the rocky path leading uphill to reach another waymark.
  8. Bear left at the waymark onto the coastal path. Follow this until it ends in a junction with another path at a waymark.

    The headland is known as Tubby's Head and there is a blowhole in the headland which emits a plume of spray during a large swell.

    An Iron-Age fortification is situated on Tubby's Head near Chapel Porth. The flat area on the top of the headland is separated from the mainland by a metre-high bank approximately 20 metres long. The exact function is uncertain: it could either have been a promontory fort or possibly a defended landing area as there is a flat rock by the waterline which could have served as a natural quay.

  9. Turn left and follow the path to a fork as you approach a mineshaft - take either path as they rejoin. Continue to reach a wooden bench at which the path forks.

    The pyramidal cages and coarse grilles covering mineshafts allow bats to be able to roost in the shafts. Shafts which are fenced and completely open are one of the favourite nesting places of the Cornish chough. Therefore resist the temptation to drop stones down the shafts otherwise you may unknowingly be stoning bats or chough chicks to death.

  10. Keep left past the bench and follow the path until you reach a National Trust St Agnes Head sign in a piece of granite just before a waymarked path departs to the left.

    Although Cornish choughs nest predominantly in the far west of Cornwall, they do sometimes venture up this way to feed.

    If you think you've seen a chough, take a photo if possible and email to report the sighting. This will help the "Chough Watch" team keep track of the growing population.

  11. At the fork, take the waymarked left path and follow the coast path to reach a waymark on the headland beside a quarried area.

    Heather can grow in soils which have concentrations of metals normally considered toxic to other plants and they are also tolerant of salty (high sodium) environments on the coast. Their symbiosis with fungi restricts metal uptake through their roots.

    During Victorian times, ravens were exterminated by farmers and gamekeepers throughout much of the UK but retained a stronghold in the southwest. Their nests, constructed of robust twigs, can be seen along the cliffs in Cornwall.

  12. From the waymark, keep left to follow the path along the edge of the coast and into a small quarry where the path forks.

    St Agnes Head is home to a large breeding colony of kittiwakes.

    Kittiwakes are a member of the gull family, recognisable by their black legs and black wing tips. During the spring and summer, the birds form colonies on cliffs or rock stacks. After August, they move offshore for the winter to feed. Unlike herring gulls, which have been able to adapt their shoreline scavenging to urban rubbish tips, kittiwakes feed solely on fish and have been declining in some areas, possibly due to overfishing.

  13. Keep left to follow the path out onto the coast and continue until you reach a rocky outcrop.

    In July 1885, the SS Cheerful left Falmouth for Liverpool with a cargo of two tonnes of Cornish tin ingots. On the way along the North Cornish coast, she collided with the HMS Hecla off St Agnes Head in a very dense fog. The Cheerful sank within four minutes. Thirty-six of the passengers were rescued by the Hecla, but nine went down with the ship, and three more perished shortly after being picked up. The wreck was salvaged in 1994 and a small piece of the cargo is now on display in the National Maritime Museum in Falmouth.

  14. At the outcrop, you can optionally take a diversion to the right to visit the NCI St Agnes Head lookout, making your way back down to the coast path to continue the walk. Follow the coast path until you eventually pass through a gap in a wall (with a National Trust "Newdowns Head" sign facing in the opposite direction) and reach a fork in the path.

    The coastal lookout on St Agnes Head was built by the National Trust in 2008, replacing an earlier lookout at the same location which was built in 1926 but had become unsafe. The lookout is run by volunteers from the National Coastwatch Institution who reopened it in 2007, 16 years after its closure as a Coastguard lookout. The volunteers on watch, unless engaged in an emergency, welcome walkers and non-muddy dogs to see inside the lookout.

  15. Keep left to follow along the coast at the first fork and then (almost immediately) at the next fork you can take either path as they rejoin further along. After they rejoin, continue on the coast path until you eventually reach another fork in the path.

    The National Coastwatch Institution was set up to restore visual watches along the UK coastline after two Cornish fishermen lost their lives within sight of an empty Coastguard lookout in 1994. The first station - at Bass Point on The Lizard, where the fishermen had died - opened in December 1994. The organisation, staffed by volunteers, now runs 50 lookout stations around England and Wales.

  16. At the fork, take the left path along the rocky coast, and follow it until the path reaches a waymark with four large boulders across the path.
  17. At the boulders, bear left on the path along the coast. Follow the cobbled path downhill, in the direction waymarked, until it ends by a final waymark at a gravel track overlooking Trevaunance Cove.

    Trevaunance Cove is a shingle beach at high tide and is popular with surfers as its north-facing position means that the prevailing southwesterly winds are offshore. As the tide goes out, the central area of the beach is sandy. To the right, large areas of rock are revealed with numerous rock pools, and at low tide it is possible to clamber over the rocks to reach Trevellas Cove. On the left side of Trevaunance Cove are the remains of the old harbour wall and beyond this there are caves, arches and rock stacks along the cliffs.

  18. Follow the path to the gate ahead. Pass this and follow the lane until you reach Watch House on your right, opposite a gap on the left leading to a flight of steps.

    The original name for the settlement of St Agnes was along the lines of Breanek or Bryanick, a Cornish name which may mean either "Agnes hill", or more mundanely "pointed hill". Either way, this is likely to refer to St Agnes Beacon. Since prehistoric times, the area was a centre for mining copper, tin and arsenic.

  19. Turn left and follow the path down the steps. Continue on the path until it emerges on the road.

    The large rectangular stones scattered along the left side of the beach are the remnants of the harbour wall, of which a small part is still standing at the far end.

    Since the 17th century, there have been many attempts to create a harbour for St Agnes - all with limited success. From 1632, the lords of the manor of Trevaunance made three separate attempts to build a harbour. Their third harbour was washed away in 1705 together with their family legacy. The harbour was rebuilt in 1710 by others and lasted 20 years before being levelled in 1730 by the Atlantic waves. In 1798, a new harbour was constructed which was to last for over 100 years. This supported a fishing industry and allowed for the export of copper ore and the import of coal from South Wales for the smelters at the mines. St Agnes remained a busy port until the collapse of the harbour wall in a storm in 1915/16, after which it was never rebuilt.

  20. At this point you can visit the beach by following the ramp on the left. The walk continues uphill on the road to reach the junction opposite the Driftwood Spars pub.

    In 1802, a pilchard fishing industry was established from the harbour at St Agnes, reaching its peak around 1830.

    Pilchards are from the same family of oily fish as herring and mackerel, and are also high in omega-3 fatty acids and provide a range of minerals and vitamins. Some historical texts rave on about how amazingly healthy and radiant the Cornish peasants were when pilchards were a main component of their diet.

  21. At the junction, turn right and follow the lane past the pub car park and up the hill until you reach Little Orchard Village.

    The Driftwood spars is located beside the road to the beach at St Agnes. The building was converted over the years from a number of buildings dating back to the 17th Century, including a tin mining warehouse, chandlery, sail making loft and fish cellar. The name is derived from the huge timber beams (spars) that are said to have come from ships wrecked along the coast. The pub started its own micro-brewery in 2000 and since then, the beer has won national awards. All the proceeds from their Red Mission beer go to the Cornwall Air Ambulance.

  22. At Little Orchard Village, turn right, in the direction signposted to Polberro. Go through the gap on the right of the gate and keep right to follow the path uphill to where it bends to the left at a memorial garden.

    During late winter or early spring, if you encounter a patch of plants with white bell-shaped flowers, smelling strongly of onions, and with long, narrow leaves then they are likely to be three-cornered leeks. Once you're familiar with their narrow, ridged leaves, you'll be able to spot these emerging from late October onwards.

    All parts of the plant are edible by humans and the flavour of the leaves is relatively mild so they can be used in recipes in place of spring onions or chives. They are at their best for culinary use from November to April. By mid-May, they have flowered and the leaves are starting to die back.

    The long leaves can be mistaken for bluebells or daffodils which are both poisonous but do not smell of onions. However, fingers that have previously picked 3-cornered leeks also smell of onions and so mistakes have been made this way.

    The area to the right of the path was once a small mine known as Wheal Primrose. As you reach the memorial garden, this area was another mine known as West Kitty. These were later amalgamated with Wheal Friendly on the opposite side of the road (Rocky Lane) to form a larger complex. A tin stamping (ore crushing) mill was situated near the road.

  23. At the memorial garden, keep left on the path and follow it a short distance until it emerges onto a track. Turn right onto the track and follow it around a bend to the left to reach a large chimney.

    The chimney was part of the Polberro Mine workings.

    Polberro Mine is situated on the hillside above St Agnes and was said to produce the finest tin ore in Cornwall. This included very pure tin (known locally as "diamond tin") that needed little processing. By 1750 the mine was operating as one of the largest in Cornwall, with so much tin ore produced that there were not enough packhorses in the St Agnes area available to carry it. By the early 1800s it employed around 450 people and produced 30 tonnes of tin ore per month. Its extensive operation was described by the local newspaper in 1843 as "...a surface of upwards of 200 acres, and contains 24 shafts, 9 of which are now in full working, with 3,000 fathoms of levels...".

  24. At the chimney, keep ahead on the track, ignoring the various paths that lead off either side. Keep left at the junction of tracks to pass the waymark post with red arrows and continue to where the track emerges onto a lane.

    Public byways are rights of way down which motor vehicles may be driven depending on how brave you are and how expensive your car is to fix. You are also permitted to use a horse-drawn carriage, should you own one. Byways tend to be surfaced in an ad-hoc manner either with gravel or occasionally with a smattering of tarmac, but still leaving plenty of room for a good crop of grass to grow down the centre. They are conventionally marked using red waymarks or a "Public Byway" sign. There are 130 miles of byways in Cornwall.

  25. Cross the road to the footpath directly opposite and follow the path to a junction with another path.

    The overgrown scrub either side of the path is a large area of mine workings which formed part of Polberro Mine. There are many old mineshafts here (some of which were considered "old" in the 1880s) so it is wise to stick to the paths.

  26. Keep right at the junction, and follow the path a short distance to another junction in an open grassy area.

    The bushes colonising the old mine tips include blackthorn and hawthorn.

    Blackthorn and hawthorn trees both grow in similar places but in each season there are different ways to tell them apart.

    In spring, blackthorn is one of the first trees to flower. The white blossom appears before the leaves in April. In warm weather, the leaves may quickly catch up and this is when it can get mistaken for hawthorn, which produces leaves before flowers. However, there are a few other ways to distinguish the flowers: blackthorn pollen is orange whereas hawthorn is pink, fading to black. Hawthorn petals overlap each other whereas blackthorn is more "gappy".

    In summer, the leaf shape can be used to tell them apart. Blackthorn leaves are a classic leaf shape with slightly serrated edges. Hawthorn leaves have deep notches dividing the leaf into several lobes a bit like oak.

    In autumn, pretty much all hawthorn trees have small red berries, even the windswept specimens on the coast. Blackthorn trees may have purple sloes, but not all the trees fruit each year. Some years seem to result in a lot more sloes than others.

    Hawthorn trees are often a little bigger than blackthorn, especially in harsh environments such as on the coast. Blackthorn tends to form thickets whereas hawthorn are typically distinct trees. Hawthorn bark is usually shiny whereas blackthorn is dull. The thorns on hawthorn tend to be shorter (less then 2cm) and point slightly forwards on the stem. Blackthorn has longer spikes that stick out at right angles.

  27. Turn left at the junction and follow the path to the end, where it emerges onto a track.

    Common gorse flowers have a coconut-like scent but rather than fresh coconut, it is reminiscent of desiccated coconut or the popular brand of surf wax, Mr Zoggs. However, not everyone experiences the smell in the same way: for some people it's very strong and for others it quite weak. One complicating factor is that Western Gorse flowers don't have any scent, so you need to be sniffing a tall gorse plant to test yourself.

    Flower scents are volatile organic compounds which drift though the air and has evolved as an advertisement to pollinating insects that nectar is available. Squeezing the flowers releases these compounds onto the surface where they can evaporate and therefore intensifies the smell. Similarly the warming effect of sunlight helps the compounds to evaporate faster and so the smell is more intense on sunny days.

    Plants such as gorse and heather which are able to grow in soils contaminated with heavy metals such as mine waste tips are known as metallophytes.

    There was a concern that if the plants accumulated the metals, whilst themselves being unharmed by them, these might still pass into the food chain e.g. via rabbits eating the plants and then onto buzzards eating rabbits etc.

    However, a study of plants from the Carnon Valley found that gorse and heather do not accumulate large quantities of trace metals or arsenic in their tissue. A separate study for a PhD thesis found that for some metals such as zinc, the amount in the plant's tissues (though far lower than in the soil) increased steadily with the levels in the soil. However for certain heavy metals such as lead and copper, the amount measured in gorse tissues appeared to barely increase at all with increasing levels in soil.

    Therefore it's thought that there are unlikely to be harmful effects of rabbits eating gorse and heather both directly to the rabbits themselves and indirectly to the food chain of other wildlife.

  28. At the end of the path, turn left onto the track and follow it to a fork where a private lane to Cowling Cottage departs to the right.

    The large chimney ahead is the remains of Trevaunance Mine.

    Wheal Trevaunance began as a copper mine and was already very productive at the start of the 19th Century. From the 1840s, the mine gradually switched over to tin and continued to operate throughout the 19th Century, eventually merging into Polberro Consols in the 1890s. The mine closed before the First World War. The large chimney was for a pumping engine.

  29. At the fork, keep left along the track, past several junctions to the right and the Old Chapel, to emerge onto Beacon Road.

    The house opposite is named Wheal Sparrow. There were several small mines dotted around St Agnes beacon.

    Many Cornish mines have names starting with Wheal, and it is a common misconception that Wheal meant "mine". In fact, Wheal simply meant "workplace". The word for "mine" was bal and the women who worked on the surface were known as Bal Maids.

  30. Turn right onto the road, and follow it to a junction where a granite stone on the left indicates a path for the Beacon and that the lane to the right leads to the coast path.

    During Georgian and Victorian times, many teenage girls were employed in Cornwall as "Bal Maidens" (sometimes shortened to "Bal Maids"). Whilst the period may conjure up images depicted in Jane Austen novels, young ladies were somewhat less sappy in Cornwall. The girls would break ore-bearing rocks with a heavy pointed hammer to separate the ore from the surrounding rock. The ore was then broken into granules (a process known as buckling) by bashing it with a lump hammer. It was recorded in 1851 that there were more than 6,000 women and girls working at Cornish mines.

  31. Turn right down the lane and follow it until you reach a gate on the left with a waymark.

    During the Second World War, the 10th Light Anti-Aircraft Practice Camp, Royal Artillery was built on St Agnes Head which included an anti-aircraft battery as well as an army camp. It was known locally by the more snappy name "Cameron Camp", from the name of the landowning estate. After the war, the camp was used for housing but this was all levelled in 1971 and has been reclaimed by the heather. Concrete foundations of the gun emplacements are present in the cliff-top car park.

  32. Turn left and pass to the right of the boulders and around the gate and follow the track until it ends at a stone stile.
  33. Cross the stile and follow the path along the fence to a junction of paths at the end of the fence.

    The vegetation here is sculpted by the winds coming off the sea.

    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.

    Due to the low vegetation on the headland here, even the tufts of grass point northeast.

  34. Turn left at the junction of paths and follow the path (ignoring any minor paths that lead off) to join the coast path at a bench.

    The land furthest in the distance is the Penwith coastline between St Ives and Zennor. In front of this is Godrevy Head and the lighthouse can be just about made out on the island offshore of this. Closer still are the islands off Portreath.

  35. Turn left onto the Coast Path and follow it past the mineshaft and along the wall until the path forks at a waymark.

    Wheal Cotes is an area of mine workings between Chapel Porth and St Agnes, now preserved and owned by the National Trust. Wheal Coates is reported as working from 1815-1914, although small-scale extraction of copper and tin has occurred in this area since prehistoric times. The surviving buildings date from the 1870s when deep underground mining began on the site. The complex consists of a cluster of buildings at the top of the cliff with another engine house mid-way down the cliff next to the Towanroath mine shaft. Both tin and copper were extracted here and it is said that in its heyday, Wheal Coates employed around 140 miners.

    More about Wheal Coates

  36. At the waymark, keep left along the wall to leave the coast path and follow the path to Wheal Coates, aiming for the large, isolated chimney to the left of the buildings as you approach.

    The building located downhill slightly from the two engine houses at Wheal Cotes was a calciner furnace used to roast the tin ore.

    The granules of ore were heated in a furnace to remove impurities such as sulphur and particularly arsenic. By heating the ore in air, the arsenic impurities could be driven off as a vapour. As the impurities escaped as gasses, the particles of ore melted into grey crystalline lumps of tin oxide known as "black tin".

    The exhaust gasses were cooled and condensed to form a white powder deposited in the flues or purpose-built condensers. The white powder - arsenic - was collected and sold. A few grains of pure arsenic are enough to be fatal but the majority of arsenic workers managed to protect themselves by stuffing cotton wool up their noses and painting their faces and any other exposed areas of skin white with fuller's earth to prevent arsenic being absorbed through the pores of their skin.

  37. Bear right at the chimney, between the engine houses, and follow the path parallel to the coast until you reach a fork in the path, just past a cairn.

    The two engine houses in the upper area of Wheal Coates, nearest the isolated chimney were used for hoisting the tin ore up from the mineshaft and for crushing it. These were the most modern of the engine houses. One was built in 1880 and the other in 1910 when there was a last attempt to work the mine. The isolated chimney was part of the boiler system for these.

    Hoisting devices were referred to as "whims" and before steam engines were available, these were powered by blindfolded donkeys turning capstans.

    In order to be processed, ore-bearing rock mined from mineral veins needed to be crushed to a powder. In earlier times, millstones were used to grind down lumps of ore but later it was done using a process known as "stamping" where the ore was crushed by dropping heavy granite or metal weights to pound it against another hard surface (often a piece of granite known as a mortar stone - as in "pestle and mortar"). The crushing was automated first with waterwheels and later with steam engines. The process was far from quiet and could often be heard from a number of miles away.

    Once rendered into a powder, the tin ore was separated from fragments of less useful rock, usually using water and taking advantage of the heavier tin ore sinking more quickly out of a suspension than the other minerals. The slurry was sometimes run slowly down an inclined wooden board: the heavier tin fragments would settle near the top and could be scraped off whereas the fragments of lighter rock could be discarded from the bottom, and the material in the middle could be recycled into the next batch. Conical structures (known as "buddles") with rotating brushes were also used. It's possible that the Cornish mining word for the waste sludge of rock fragments - gange - is the origin of the English slang word "gunge".

  38. At the fork, keep right and follow the path to a junction.

    The final stage of tin production was a process known as smelting which produced the pure shiny metal which was known as "white tin". The smelting process used charcoal or coal as a source of carbon to chemically reduce the tin from the oxide to its elemental form, similar to the blast furnaces used for producing iron.

    Particularly in the earlier years of mining, this was typically done in a specialised facility (known as a "blowing house") to which the concentrated tin oxide (known as "black tin") was transported from the mines. In Victorian times, reverberatory furnaces using powdered anthracite replaced the charcoal and forced-air furnaces powered by water wheels, and more smelting was done onsite at the mines.

  39. Continue downhill towards the rock outcrop, and turn left at the waymark to follow the Coast Path back to Chapel Porth car park.

    The World Belly Boarding Championship (WBBC) started in 2002 as a memorial contest to a regular visitor with his wooden board at Chapel Porth. There are now over 300 people who take part in this delightfully eccentric and quintessentially British contest involving surfing, tea and baking. Surfing is rigorously old-school with no wetsuits, fins or other modern nonsense allowed. Under-sixties must compete in the "juniors" category, and prizes are awarded for prettiest surfboard, as well as "best surfing trick" and "longest ride" (amongst many others); there's also a bake-off. The WBBC takes place on the first Sunday in September at Chapel Porth.

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