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.

Reviews

Walked Constantine Bay to Porthcothan today. Stunning!
@iwalkc Great little app, just done Constantine Bay to Porthcothan. Beautiful coastal scenery #Cornwall
One of our favorite walks, stunning ❤

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 106 (scan QR code on right to order from Amazon)
  • Distance: 4.9 miles/7.9 km
  • Grade: Easy-moderate
  • Start from: Constantine Bay beach car park
  • Parking: Beach car park (limited space) PL288JL. From the B3276, follow signs to Constantine Bay, keeping left at the golf club and turning right beside Constantine Bay stores.
  • Recommended footwear: walking boots, or trainers in summer

OS maps for this walk

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

Highlights

  • 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

Directions

  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 faces west and the gently-shelving sand produces some good surf. However, there are a number of reefs and hidden rocks that make it only suitable for experienced surfers. At either end of the beach, numerous rockpools are uncovered as the tide goes out.

  2. Cross the stile next to the gate. Follow the path along the coast and into Treyarnon Bay until the coast path emerges on a track.

    Sea beet is also known as "wild spinach" and can be eaten raw or cooked. It is the ancestor of sugar beet, beetroot and swiss chard. It has been cross-bred with domesticated crops to re-introduce some of the disease resistance from the tougher wild plant that were lost in the domesticated plants. It is also able to withstand quite high sodium levels in the soil which allows it to grow in salty conditions on the coast.

  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.
  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 the 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.

    The plant is non-native and forms 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. The plant is so invasive that it is illegal to plant it in the wild.

  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 gulley 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, as indicated by the waymark, and follow the path past Wine Cove until it passes between a pair of fences, behind Pepper Cove.

    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.

  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.

    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.

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

    Corn buntings 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 hovvering. Its call is equally unglamourous, 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. At the waymark by the bench, bear left and follow the path along the fence around Fox Cove to a kissing gate on the other side.

    In late spring and summer, listen out for the characteristic song of skylarks hovering high above the coast. The coastal heath is a particularly good habitat for them, being mild but with fairly short vegetation in which they can hunt for insects.

  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 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 scavanged the rubbish tips in the Middle Ages.

  16. At the waymark, continue along the fence to the remains of a kissing gate.
  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 "Jack and Jill", "Curzy Way" or "Kersey Wave". The latter two names are based on the Cornish word kersy which means "reeds", perhaps referring to a square weave pattern. 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. 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.

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

    Gorse flowers have a coconut-like scent and 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. 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. Gorse flowers are edible and can be used in salads and to make a tea, beer or wine.

  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. From the waymark, continue ahead on 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.
  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 Portcothan 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.
  25. Cross the stile on your left and head down the middle of the field to a stile in the centre of the bottom hedge.
  26. Cross the stile and footbridge and continue straight ahead up the hill, towards the gate.
  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.
  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.

Help us with this walk

You can help us to keep this walk as accurate as it possibly can be for others by spotting and feeding back any changes affecting the directions. We'd be very grateful if could you look out for the following:

  • Any stiles, gates or waymark posts referenced in the directions which are no longer there
  • Any stiles referenced in the directions that have been replaced with gates, or vice-versa
  • If you have a large dog, let us know if you find problems with the stiles on this walk (e.g. require the dog to be lifted over).

Take a photo and email contact@iwalkcornwall.co.uk, or message either IWalkCornwall on facebook or @iwalkc on twitter. If you have any tips for other walkers please let us know, or if you want to tell us that you enjoyed the walk, we'd love to hear that too.

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