Circular walk from Constantine Bay to Porthcothan

Constantine Bay to Porthcothan

A circular walk between Constantine Bay to Porthcothan via nature's swimming pool at Treyarnon beach and a spectacular series of islands, headlands and tiny coves named after wine and pepper smuggled there, and the rock where a customs officer was left by smugglers to drown.

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The route follows the coast from Constantine Bay to Treyarnon beach, then past a series of deep inlets to the sheltered, sandy beach at Porthcothan. The return route is fairly quick, via some lanes, so you can linger on the coastal stretch and explore the headlands between the inlets, or the beaches at low tide.


  • Route includes paths close to unfenced cliff edges.

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Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 106
  • Distance: 4.9 miles/7.9 km
  • Steepness grade: Easy-moderate
  • Recommended footwear: walking boots, 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)


  • Golden, sandy surf beaches at Constantine Bay, Treyarnon and Porthcothan
  • Rockpools at Constantine Bay and Treyarnon
  • Alternating headlands and narrow coves used for smuggling, offering panoramic views
  • Rugged coastline with rock stacks, arches, blowholes and caves
  • Bird life including skylarks, corn buntings and birds of prey


  1. From the Constantine car park, walk down towards the beach and keep left along the track past Constantine Cottage, to a gate.

    The beach at Constantine Bay is backed with sand dunes so there is a thin ribbon of sand even at high tide. At low tide, the beach joins with Booby's Bay to form a continuous stretch of sand. The large rock platform to the left of the beach is also uncovered, forming rockpools.

    The beach faces west and the gently-shelving sand produces some good surf. However, the reefs and hidden rocks make it only suitable for experienced surfers.

    Constantine Bay is both the name of the beach and the neighbouring settlement so referring specifically to the beach now results in slightly cumbersome terms like "Constantine Bay Beach".

  2. Go through the pedestrian gate next to the main gate. Follow the path along the coast and into Treyarnon Bay until the coast path emerges onto a track.

    Sea beet is also known as "wild spinach" and is the ancestor of sugar beet, beetroot and Swiss chard. It can be eaten raw or cooked. The leaves are at their best during March and April and become tougher as the year goes on.

  3. Bear right onto the track, and walk past the lifeguard hut until you reach the road signs. Then turn right down the path onto the beach.

    There is a beach at Treyarnon at all states of the tide, backed by sand dunes. On the right side of the beach is a very large rockpool that acts as a natural swimming pool when the tide goes out. On the left side of the beach is Trethias Island. Towards the back of the beach on the right side, next to the car park, is a café and public toilets.

  4. Cross the beach (which involves walking through the stream) to the steps on the opposite side.

    The buoy barnacle is a strange-looking blue creature that sometimes washes up on the shore in groups of a few at a time. It is a kind of goose barnacle but it excretes a substance which resembles expanding foam to create its own float. Several barnacles may latch on to the same float, each adding a bit of extra foam to it if they weigh it down too much.

  5. Climb the steps and follow the path until you reach a fork in the path at the top of a second flight of steps.

    The rocks off Trevose Head have been the cause of many shipwrecks, and are the main reason that the lighthouse was built. The single large rock, a couple of hundred metres off Dinas Head, is known as The Bull. The group of rocks just over a kilometre offshore are known as The Quies, though were recorded as the "Cow and Calf" on maps of 1720, continuing the bovine herd further out to sea.

  6. Bear right to a path on the left of the cottage and follow this until you pass through a gap in a wall and reach a wooden fence above the cliff edge.

    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.

    The plant spreads to form dense colonies, crowding-out native species. The onion-flavoured seeds are very attractive to ants who carry them quite large distances and forget some of them, allowing the plant to colonise new areas. In fact three-cornered leeks are so invasive that they are illegal to plant in the wild.

    Stonechats are robin-sized birds with a black head and orange breast that are common along the Cornish coast all year round.

    The name "stonechat" comes from the sound of their call which resembles stones being knocked together.

  7. Continue past the fence along the coast then stay on the main path as it bends left, passing the benches on your right, until the path forks just before a waymark.

    The cliffs overlook Trethias Island.

    Trethias Island is situated on the left side of Treyarnon beach. The island is separated from the headland by a deep gully which is filled with water except at low tide. At the seaward end of the gully there is an opening on the left-hand side which leads into a large cave which passes through the headland and emerges in the cove adjacent to Treyarnon.

  8. Keep right at the fork, past the waymark, and follow the path past Wine Cove until it passes between a pair of wooden fences, behind Pepper Cove.

    The 3 headlands either side of Wine and Pepper cove were fortified with ramparts during the Iron Age to create a cliff castle. Initially it was thought it may have been a single cliff castle sliced into 3 by coastal erosion but there's also a distinct possibility it was specifically engineered as a triple cliff fort with each headland separately fortified. A spindle for weaving found in a cave and the remains of a hearth in a cliff face suggest that it was occupied.

  9. Follow the path between the fences and along the fence on the left to reach the back of Warren Cove. Continue on the path along the edge of the coast, past a waymark, until you reach a fork in the path.

    Pepper Cove is one of the narrow inlets between Treyarnon Bay and Porthcothan. When pepper was taxed heavily, smugglers would land boatloads of the spice in this inlet, which gave rise to the name. Once inside the inlet, the boat was hidden from the sea and could be safely landed as the beach is sandy and of a gentle gradient allowing relatively large boats to be beached safely. The neighbouring Wine Cove presumably has a similar origin for the name.

    In mediaeval times pepper was worth the same weight-for-weight as gold due to the relatively small quantities that were being moved across land and all the middlemen along the spice route adding their commission. In the 1600s, the East India Company was set up to import spices directly and its cargo ships began to bring huge quantities ashore. Consequently pepper became affordable to the general population and started to appear in recipes, eventually becoming one of the main flavours in the "traditional" Cornish pasty.

    Black pepper is formed from whole unripe (green) peppercorns dried in the sun. White pepper is made from ripe peppercorns which are soaked, fermented and skinned. Consequently white pepper is more expensive due to more involved processing and some crops failing whilst waiting for them to fully ripen. However, black pepper has a more aromatic flavour due to the skin containing essential oils.

  10. At the fork in the path, keep right. At the next fork, take either of the paths to reach a final bench, where the paths rejoin.

    Corn buntings and skylarks nest along this stretch of coast.

    The corn bunting is a small brown bird and as its name suggests, it has a preference for cereals. Consequently it has been living alongside humans since Neolithic times when our ancestors started to domesticate cereal crops. Its common name "fat bird of the barley" gives away its appearance, resembling a very portly skylark that looks like it would have trouble getting off the ground, let alone hovering. Its call is equally unglamorous, described as the shaking of a bunch of keys. Sadly, the once common and familiar bird has vanished from many areas and is now endangered. The rapid decline is thought to be due to industrialisation of arable farming methods. In Cornwall, the coastal land management provides an important habitat in which the birds thrive.

  11. From the last bench, follow the path along the fence around Fox Cove to a kissing gate on the other side of the inlet.

    Skylarks are the most common member of the lark family in Britain and are often known simply as "larks".

    Lark shooting was a popular sport in Victorian times. Revolving mirrors were used to attract the migrating birds, which would hover over the mirror. There are records of over 1,000 birds being shot at a single mirror in a day. Despite being flagged as high conservation concern on the the IUCN Red List, at the time of writing in 2020, skylarks can still be legally shot in France and still are in large numbers.

  12. Go through the kissing gate and follow the path until it forks, just before a waymark.

    In 1969, the Helmsley, a tanker of over 1000 tonnes, foundered on the rocks off the Cornish coast. The ship sent a distress signal, reporting they had foundered off Lizard Point in the English Channel. The emergency services, despite ever widening their search, could find no sign of a massive sinking tanker anywhere in the English Channel. The mist was so thick that the crew had completely lost track of the ship's location: the ship was actually in the North Atlantic, off Trevose Head. The sinking ship finally ran aground at Fox Hole. Miraculously, all members of the crew managed to climb the 100ft cliff to safety, before the ship broke up on the rocks. The wreckage was cut up and removed, so there are no visible traces of the wreck today.

  13. Take the path on the right, as indicated by the waymark, and follow it into a small gully, and then to the bottom of a second, deeper, gully.

    Hanging valleys are common on the North Cornish coast and are created due to erosion of the relatively hard cliffs by the Atlantic waves being faster than erosion of the valley by a small river. In many cases, this results in a waterfall where the small river meets the sea cliff, though many of these are little more than a trickle in dry weather. When there is a strong onshore gale, the waterfalls sometimes run backwards!

  14. Cross the stream (if in full flow, via the stepping stones) and climb the steps to the waymark. Follow the path along the edge of the coast and round the back of the inlet to reach a kissing gate.

    The sea cave acts as a blowhole at high tide if there is a big swell.

    Blowholes form when waves enter a cave, and the air they compress weakens the roof of the cave and enlarges the chamber. Often the blowhole eventually breaks through to the surface, forming a collapsed cave which can ultimately result in a rock stack being severed from the land.

  15. Go through the kissing gate and follow the path along the fence to reach a waymark on the point.

    The Herring Gull is the gull most commonly encountered in Cornwall and is an example of a "Ring Species". In Europe, the Lesser Black-backed Gull and Herring Gull are distinct species, yet as you circumnavigate the globe, the populations become more similar until they merge in the middle as a single species.

    Despite a growth of urban populations inland, particularly around rubbish tips, the Herring Gull population has dropped to half its size in 25 years. It has been driven inland in search of food and roosting sites due to declining fish populations and lack of undisturbed coastal nesting sites. In urban areas, streetlights allow gulls to forage by night and there is no longer competition from Red Kites, which scavenged the rubbish tips in the Middle Ages.

  16. At the waymark, continue along the fence to the remains of a kissing gate.

    The name "thrift" has been suggested to arise from the plant's tufted leaves being economical with water in the windy locations where it is found. It's common all along the Cornish coast and in April-June produces pale pink flowers, hence its other common name: "Sea Pink". The plant grows in dense circular mats which together with its covering of pink flowers gives rise to another less common name: "Ladies' Cushions".

    The white flowers along the coast in July and August which resemble a more compact version of Cow Parsley are the delightfully-named Sea Carrot. Unlike Cow Parsley, the flowers start off pink and become white as they open and sometimes have a single dark red flower in the centre. The Sea Carrot is technically the same species as a wild carrot, from which the carrot was domesticated, but is shorter, stouter and more splayed out than a wild carrot. The two converge the further north and east that you go in Britain: West Cornwall is therefore the pinnacle of Sea Carrot evolution. You should avoid touching the leaves of the Sea Carrot as they can make skin hypersensitive to ultraviolet light which can result in blistering caused by extreme sunburn.

    Sand martins are migratory birds related to swallows and housemartins but are smaller and browner. They get their name from the nesting tunnels that they bore into cliff-edge turf which can be up to a metre deep. They usually nest in colonies.

    The Minnows Islands are located in the cove, also known as Minnows, just north of Rowan Cove near Porthcothan. The islands are outcrops of hard volcanic rock which the sea has eroded the softer rocks around, leaving these protruding from the water. Gulls nest on the islands as they are protected from predators which can't fly.

    The headland to the north of the islands has a blowhole on either side. At mid-tide, the one facing south towards the islands blows a jet horizontally; the one facing north near the stream blows a jet vertically.

  17. Go through the gap where the gate was and follow the path along the wall to the remains of another kissing gate.

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

    It is known locally as "Curzy Way" or "Kersey Wave", based on the Cornish word kersy which means "reeds", perhaps referring to a square weave pattern. It is also sometimes known as "Jack and Jill" which is likely to be based on the falling down part of the nursery rhyme.

  18. Pass around the remains of the gate and follow the waymarked path to a kissing gate.

    Like other members of the pea family, gorse produces its seeds in pods. The seeds are ejected with a popping sound when pods split open in hot weather. This can catapult the seeds up to five metres. The plants are able to live 30 years and survive sub-zero temperatures, the seeds can withstand fire and remain viable in the soil for 30 years.

  19. Go through the gate and continue ahead on the main path. Follow the path around a bend to the left and continue to a junction with another path.

    The rock stack at the end of the right-hand headland at Porthcothan is known as Will's Rock. This is because smugglers left a man from the Revenue on the rock to drown in the rising tide, however the officer (presumably named Will) survived to tell the tale.

  20. Bear left at the junction to head towards the beach and keep following the main path, ignoring any paths to the left, to reach a waymark.

    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.

  21. At the waymark, keep right and follow the path to a gate. Go through the gate and continue until you reach a fork in the path just before the beach.

    There is a beach at all states of the tide at Porthcothan, though the beach massively increases in size at low tide, and consequently the tide comes in very fast. At the top of the beach, in the sand dunes, is a store. There are also public toilets in the car park, on the opposite side of the road.

    On the left side of the beach there are some double rock stacks. Before 2014, one of these (known as Jan Leverton's Island) was one large rock with a pair of "windows" going through it, but the central section containing the windows was obliterated by storm waves leaving a stack on either side. To the far left of the beach is a collapsed cave that has openings both onto the beach and the end of the headland through which it's possible to clamber at low tide.

  22. When the path forks, keep left to join a track. Turn left onto the track and follow it to the road.

    The domestic radish has been cultivated from one of the subspecies of wild radish - a member of the cabbage family. Another of its subspecies is found on the coast and appropriately known as sea radish.

    Sea radish is a biennial plant (2 year lifecycle) and during its first year it creates a rosette of leaves that are dormant over the winter. These are quite noticeable during January and February when there is not much other vegetation. The leaves are dull grey-green, slightly furry and each leaf consists of pairs of fairly long thin leaflets along the length of the stem plus a final bigger one at the end. Alexanders grows in similar places at similar times but its leaves are glossy green and each leaf is made up of 3 leaflets.

    By the late spring, sea radish is a reasonably tall plant, recognisable by its yellow flowers that have 4 narrow petals. The flowers go on to form tapering seed pods later in the year with 2 or 3 large seeds in each pod with a spike at the end.

    The plant is edible and probably at its best in the autumn and winter when the leaf rosettes are present. The leaves have a mild cabbage flavour but the leaf stems and ribs taste like a milder version of radish.

    You may be curious how distance from a route on a map differs from the actual distance on the ground. Although a route line is very slightly simplified in terms of twists and turns vs the actual paths, for the iWalk Cornwall walks the route line is pretty fine-grained so the extra distance is pretty negligible (around 1%). Elevation is typically more significant.

  23. Bear left and follow the road up the hill until you reach a junction to the left opposite the Tredrea Inn, on your right.

    Rev Hawker of Morwenstow described the use of a cave in the valley above Porthcothan for smuggling:

    At Porth Cothan the cliffs fall away and form a lap of shore, into which flows a little stream....About a mile up the glen, is a tiny lateral combe. Rather more than halfway down the steep slope is a hole just large enough to admit a man entering in a stooping posture...

    From the description, it would appear that the cave was located in the small tributary valley near Old Macdonald's Farm

  24. Turn left at the junction, signposted to Treyarnon. Follow the lane for 1 mile until, eventually, you reach a public footpath sign on the left, just past Trethias Farm.

    In the 1780s, Britain was in financial crisis after losing the American War of Independence. High levels of duty were imposed on luxury goods in order to recoup the national debt and this included the curing salt vital to the pilchard industry which was taxed at around 4000%! Consequently many Cornish fishermen that were previously legally employed by the trade were driven into illegal smuggling. Towards the end of the 18th Century, nearly half a million gallons of brandy and more than a quarter of a million pounds of tea were being smuggled into Cornwall each year. This continued until the 1840s, when Britain adopted a free-trade policy that slashed import duties. Within ten years, large-scale smuggling was just a memory.

  25. Go through the gap next to the footpath sign and the gate immediately after this. Follow the path between the fences and through one more gate to reach the final gate in the bottom hedge.

    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.

    Jackdaws have been found to share food and will share more of a preferred food than an unpleasant one. Although the sharing often takes place in courtship and parenting, the behaviour has also been observed in unrelated birds. It is thought that this pro-social behaviour might be a sign of reciprocity ("do unto others...") and possibly empathy.

  26. Go through the gate and cross the stile (don't try to bypass it - there is barbed wire) and stone footbridge. From the other side, continue straight ahead up the hill, towards the gate.

    All members of the carrot family have the potential to cause a blistering rash if touched. This caused by chemicals in the plant's sap which are made more reactive by sunlight. Cow parsnip seems to be worse for this than the other common ones such as cow parsley but nowhere near as bad as giant hogweed.

    Giant hogweed is regarded by some as the most dangerous plant in the UK (although hemlock is also a good contender). If you encounter giant hogweed, avoid touching it and children and dogs should be kept away from it as the sap contains a chemical which is extremely phototoxic. When activated by sunlight, this binds to the DNA in skin cells and kills them. Skin reaction starts as an itchy rash and can develop into third degree burns and scarring. It also makes the affected areas susceptible to severe sunburn for several years.

    The plant gets its name as it can grow more than 10 feet tall, topped with white umbrella-shaped flowers. Due to the similar style of flowers, is also known as giant cow parsley although the giant hogweed leaves are much more solid with a toothed edge, more similar to cow parsnip (normal hogweed). It is typically found near water or on waste ground.

    The plant was introduced to Britain by Victorian botanists in the 19th century as an ornamental plant and has escaped from gardens into the wild. It has been spreading across the UK (as one plant produces 50,000 seeds) but is still very rare in Cornwall. A project to eradicate it along the Tamar River system is helping to stop further spread into Cornwall.

    If you find giant hogweed in Cornwall (and are sure it's not normal hogweed), take a photo and report it to

  27. Go through the gate and turn left onto the lane. Follow the lane, keeping right at the junction to Treyarnon, until you reach the village store in Constantine.

    Red valerian is also known as kiss-me-quick, fox's brush and Devil's or Jupiter's beard and can be seen flowering in early summer in hedgerows near the coast. The plant is originally from the Mediterranean and is thought to have been introduced as a garden plant roughly around the Tudor period. It has since become naturalised and the brightly-coloured flowers provide nectar for bees, butterflies and moths. Over time the base of the stems can get as thick as a small tree trunk which can lever apart the walls in which it can often be seen growing.

    Red valerian occurs with three main flower colours: about 50% of plants are deep pink, 40% are red and around 10% have white flowers. Very pale pink also occurs to but is much rarer. These distinct forms are an example of flower colour polymorphism. The red pigment within the flowers is an anthrocyanin compound and the different colours are due to different amounts of the pigment.

  28. At the store, take the junction to the left, signposted to Constantine Bay, which takes you back to the car park.

    The area around Trevose Head and Constantine Bay is designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) for both geological and biological reasons. Wild asparagus grows on the cliffs of Dinas Head, and Shore Dock at the base of the cliffs. The cliffs are also important breeding grounds for fulmar, razorbill and guillemot.

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