Cubert to St Pirans Round

A circular walk from Cubert's Celtic churchyard through the cowslip meadows of the Penhale Sands nature reserve and on paths lined with wildflowers along the river valley to reach St Pirans Round - the remains of the mediaeval amphitheatre.

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The walk starts at Cubert church and descends into the valley to reach dunes of Penhale Sands. The route then follows small lanes, tracks and footpaths up the Treamble Valley to St Piran's Round. From here the route turns back into the valley and follows footpaths and lanes to reach the Smuggler's Den Inn before a final footpath to return to Cubert.

After prolonged periods of heavy rain, the lane to The Smugglers is prone to flooding.


Another wonderful adventurous walk. Fantastic Scenery, flora and fauna. Surprises around every corner. Will do this walk again and highly recommend it!

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 104
  • Distance: 6.3 miles/10.1 km
  • Grade: Moderate-strenuous
  • Start from: Cubert Churchtown car park
  • Parking: Cubert Churchtown car park TR85EZ. From the A3075, turn at the staggered crossroads signposted to Holywell Bay and Cubert. Keep left at the roundabout and the church and car park are almost immediately on your left.
  • Recommended footwear: Walking boots; wellies after prolonged rain

OS maps for this walk

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  • Penhale sands SSSI - carpeted in cowslips in May
  • St Piran's Round - a mediaeval amphitheatre
  • Wildflowers along the footpaths in Spring
  • Plenty of wildlife including birds and butterflies


  1. Go through the gate into the churchyard and follow the path to the junction of paths near the church door.

    The village of Cubert was once known as St Cubert who is thought might have been a Welsh missionary and a companion of St Carantoc (of Crantock). Half way between the village and the coast is the mediaeval Holy Well dedicated to St Cubert. Whether Holywell Bay is named after this one, or the colourful freshwater spring in the cave on the beach, is still being debated.

  2. At the junction of paths, bear right, around the church, to reach a gate out of the churchyard.

    The churchyard in Cubert is thought to date from Saxon times. The present church was built in the 13th Century and the tower was added around 1300; the spire was added somewhat later. The church was enlarged in the 15th Century by the addition of a south aisle. In the mid 1800s, the church was restored after lightning struck the tower and spire.

  3. Go through the gate and turn left. Follow the path to emerge onto a lane.
  4. Bear right across the lane to a small path to the right of concrete wall ahead, marked with a footpath sign. Follow the path until it joins another path at a wall.
  5. Turn right and follow the path to some wooden steps into the field. Climb these and follow the right hedge of the field, passing a gateway, to reach an area of bushes extending from the right hedge. Follow the path along the hedge, beneath the bushes to a kissing gate.

    The moonscape of dunes stretching towards the sea is Penhale Sands.

    Penhale Sands, located between Holywell Bay and Perranporth, is the largest dune system in Cornwall and the highest in Britain, rising to 90 metres. In places, the sand is nearly 50 metres deep. The area has been designated an Important Plant Area by Plantlife due to the rare plant species and lichens. The soil here is, unusually for Cornwall, alkaline which is why rare plants can thrive here. This is due to the high density of shell fragments in the sand, which are composed of calcium carbonate (limestone). The area has also been designated a Special Area of Conservation due to the range of butterfly and moth species which live on the plants here.

  6. Go through the kissing gate and follow the path downhill to emerge on a track beside a wooden gate.
  7. Cross over the track to the small path opposite and follow this down to a lane. Bear right onto the lane and follow it towards a pair of gates where a grassy track departs from the left next Old Peartree Barn.
  8. Bear left onto the grassy track and follow it to the second gate on the left which is waymarked. Go through the gate and follow the path to the bottom of the valley to reach a footbridge.
  9. Cross the footbridge and follow the path to a gate.

    The sandy stream bed seems to provide a good habitat for trout which can often be seen in the stream here.

    Trout are members of Salmon family who all have an extra tiny (adipose) fin on their back towards their tail, that most other fish don't have. No-one is quite sure what the purpose is of this fin but a neural network in the fin indicates that it has some kind of sensory function.

    The native trout in the UK is not the trout that supermarkets and trout farms stock (the Rainbow Trout, which has red flush along its side and is native to North America), but the Brown Trout which has well-defined dark red spots along its sides. You can often make out the spots when you see them lying in pools. Rainbow Trout are often stocked in fishing lakes so do sometimes escape into the wild.

    Small trout typically feed on invertebrates whereas larger trout generally feed on other fish but have been known to eat anything of a suitable size unlucky enough to fall into a river. In fact in New Zealand, mouse-shaped lures are sold for trout fishing!

  10. Go through the gate and turn left to follow the path out of the bushes then continue on the path through the vegetation to emerge in the meadow. Stay on the leftmost path within the meadow. Keep following this alongside the vegetation and bushes on the left to eventually reach a field gate.

    The calcium-rich soils provide the perfect habitat for cowslips which usually thrive on chalk downs. In May there is a spectacular display of cowslips in this field.

  11. Go through the gate and follow the path a few paces to a lay-by around an island of vegetation. Keep right and pass the island on your left to reach a lane. Turn right and follow the lane uphill. When the lane levels-out, continue past Mount Pleasant Farm and Mount Farm to reach a forked junction on the left after Mount Farm.

    The calcium carbonate from seashells has been a key factor in Cornwall's natural and industrial history due to the shortage of lime-rich rocks. The golden colour of the sand on the beaches is due to the small fragments of shell and in the past this was transported around Cornwall using horses, donkeys, canals and even by railway. You may be wondering where the shellfish themselves got the calcium carbonate from in the first place, since it was so scarce. As well as the "salt" (sodium chloride) that you can taste, sea water contains a range of other dissolved salts and around 1% of the dissolved material is calcium. Molluscs are able to extract the calcium ions from the seawater which they use to construct their shells.

  12. Turn left onto the track and follow this downhill until it passes over a stream and enters a yard in front of a cottage, where there is a signpost.

    Arum lilies grow along the track.

    The Wild Arum (Arum Maculatum) is known by over 90 colourful folk names including "Lords and ladies", "Priest in the pulpit", "Devils and angels", "Cows and bulls" etc. Most of these have sexual connotations as the inflorescence (known as the "spadix") is obviously phallic, and is sheathed suggestively by the encircling, leaf-like spathe. Another name "Cuckoo Pint" alludes to the time of the flower's appearance being with the first cuckoos; "pint" stays on theme, being the Old English slang for penis (a contraction of "pintle").

    In order to attract pollinating insects, the plant heats the flower spike up to 15 degrees C above that of the surroundings. The plant exudes a smell of decaying flesh which attracts flies and the flower is designed to trap these. Within the flower, the female organs mature first and insects carrying pollen from other plants (together with any unlucky enough not to be) are imprisoned behind a row a spines within the flower. Once the plant is pollenated, the male organs quickly mature and the plant's own pollen is dusted over the trapped flies. The spines then wither away enough for the flies to escape.

    Once pollinated, in late summer, the plant produces clusters of bright orange berries on stalks. Despite being very pretty, these are poisonous and cause skin irritation so children should be warned not to pick them.

  13. Bear right across the yard to a concrete path leaving from the back right corner. Follow the path past an opening to the right to reach a path departing from the right between two granite posts.

    Tawny owls live in the valley here and can sometimes be heard hooting at night.

    The tawny owl is largely nocturnal so you're less likely to see one than to hear it, but if you do it's brown speckled and about the size of a pigeon. However, they make the well-known twit-twoo sound. The "twit" (which is more like ke-wick) is their version of "hello?" and the "twoo" (or hoo-hoo-oooo) is a male territorial call. The two calls together are likely to be to a male responding "you'm on my land!" to another owl.

  14. Bear right onto the path between the granite posts and follow this to a waymark, marked "Rose".

    The name "Rose" or prefix "Ros" crops up quite a lot in Cornish place names. The reason is that ros is a Celtic word meaning either "moor" or "spur of a hill". Both of these occurred fairly frequently in the Cornish landscape, particularly before much of the lower-lying heathland was drained and cleared for pasture.

  15. Turn right at the waymark and follow the path until it ends beside a cottage.

    Yellow lesser celandines line the path in spring and early summer.

    Celandine roots have numerous knobbly tubers and when these break off, a new plant can regrow from the tuber. Digging animals such as rabbits and squirrels can therefore help to spread celandines. In some parts of the world they have become an invasive problem where their dense mat of leaves chokes out native species which have not evolved to compete with them.

  16. Bear left on the path uphill from the cottage and when you reach a gravel parking area, continue uphill on the concrete to a waymark on a track. Turn left onto the track and follow it, passing around a hairpin bend to the right, to eventually reach a junction of tracks at a wooden signpost.

    Cottage gardens such as this one and the wildflowers in the hedges along the tracks provide a several months supply of nectar for insects such as butterflies. Their elaborate lifecycles are based around the lack of this in the autumn and winter.

    When a caterpillar is still developing, it grows a small group of cells known as an imaginal disc for each of the adult body parts it will need as a mature butterfly. When a caterpillar pupates, it digests itself, releasing enzymes which dissolve all of its tissues into a soup leaving only the imaginal discs. These then act as seeds from which the adult butterfly is resurrected.

  17. Turn left in the direction of Lower Rose. Follow the track until it ends at a junction with a lane.

    The fields here are quite often planted with arable crops. The shell fragments in the soil both improve drainage and raise the pH of soils which would otherwise be heavy, acidic clays. The reason that pH matters is that many plants are inefficient at absorbing nitrogen in acidic conditions. If there is something to neutralise the acid, such as the calcium carbonate in seashells, plants are able to put on leaf growth much more efficiently. This is why many lime kilns were built on Cornish beaches as further from the coast the soils are generally quite acidic, so coal and limestone were imported to create lime.

  18. Cross the lane to the track opposite and follow this to a bend where a narrow footpath continues ahead, alongside the house.

    The house name "Perran Glaze" is based on the Cornish word for colours of the sea.

    A few different factors all combine to vary the colour of the sea:

    A glass in your hand might lure you into thinking otherwise, but pure water is faintly blue. The main wavelengths that the chemical bonds in water absorb are either in the infra-red or ultra-violet, and not in the visible spectrum, which is why a glass of pure water does not look coloured. However one fairly obscure harmonic of the vibrations in the water molecule corresponds to the wavelength of red light and so water very weakly absorbs the red from white light, giving it a very slightly blue tinge. If there is enough water, both the blue tinge and reflection of blue light by any suspended particles make it look blue.

    Another factor is that the surface of the ocean acts as a mirror and reflects the colour of the sky and this is why it may appear grey under a cloudy sky. Under a blue sky, this intensifies the blueness.

    In shallow water, the sand which is golden in Cornwall due to fragments of seashell, reflects yellow light and this combines with the blue from seawater to generate colours from green to turquoise. The ocean also sometimes appears green due to the presence of planktonic plant life.

    The Cornish language has a word glas (often appearing in place names as "glaze") which is the Swiss Army Knife of sea colour descriptions. It means blue, or green, or grey.

  19. Follow the path ahead, to the left of the house, until it passes a gate on the right and emerges onto a track, next to a gate on the left.

    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 flavour of three-cornered leeks 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 December to April. By mid May, they have flowered and the leaves are starting to die back.

  20. Turn right to follow the track away from the gate and continue until it ends at a road, next to Perran Round.

    Perran Round is the best-preserved example of a mediaeval amphitheatre known as a plen-an-gwarry (Playing Place) where "miracle plays" were performed, re-enacting miracles performed by the Saints. These were described as "often noisy, bawdy and entertaining". The depression in the middle (which was known as The Devil's Spoon) was the place from where the Devil sprang from during the performances. It is possible that the circular enclosure may have originally been constructed in the Iron Age as a fortified farmstead and repurposed during mediaeval times.

  21. Turn left and very carefully follow the road, using the verge to avoid cars, to reach a track on your left (the next junction with a mirror opposite) with a public footpath sign.
  22. Turn left and follow the track until, just after the house with a telephone box outside, you reach a waymarked gate on the left.

    Note how the small trees along the track have been sculpted by the salt-laden winds coming off the sea to your left. In the direction facing the prevailing wind the growth is compact and stunted whereas in the lee of the wind, the branches are much more straggly. Based on this you can use the tree shape as a crude compass based on the prevailing winds being southwesterly so, in general, trees in Cornwall point northeast.

  23. Go through the gate on the left and then turn right in the field to follow the right hedge to an opening in the bushes at the bottom-right corner of the field with a waymarked stile.
  24. Go through the opening in the bushes to pass the stile and follow the path along the fence along the bottom of the garden and into the trees on the far side. When you reach a gap in the fence on the left with a faded waymark and an old footbridge, ignore this and continue to join the wooden walkway ahead. Follow the path over the stream and along the fence in the field to reach a stone stile in the hedge.

    The stream is the same one that you crossed earlier in the walk near Stampas farm, but upstream of where the tributary stream from Hendra Farm joins. The stream rises from the Carn Moor area on the far side of the Newquay road from Goonhavern where the Wheal Albert lead and silver mine was once based.

  25. Cross the stile and bear right to follow the path leading up into a field. In the field, bear left to follow the left hedge and reach an opening into another small field.

    Extracts from ivy were used in herbal remedies and still form the basis of some modern-day cough medicines. It is said to have both antibacterial and antiviral properties. A study for English Heritage also found that roadside ivy absorbed particulates from the atmosphere which may lead to its use in improving air quality.

  26. Cross the small field towards the cottages to reach a gate leading onto a path past the cottages.
  27. Go through the gate and follow the path alongside the cottages to reach a tarmac drive. Continue ahead on the drive to reach a track.

    The cottages are on the site of Wheal Hope which was a mine extracting lead ore. Three engine houses were located roughly where the cottages are now.

    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.

  28. Bear left onto the track and follow it downhill to a left hand bend, where a path departs ahead.
  29. Take the narrow path ahead and follow this until it ends on a lane.

    Sycamore is a member of the maple family which is why the leaves look a bit like the Canadian flag. Although sycamore doesn't have the striking red autumn colour of other maples, the young leaves and developing seeds are a vivid red colour which is caused by similar red anthrocyanin compounds.

  30. Turn right onto the lane and follow it to a metal gate with a public footpath sign on the left, just past a junction to the right.
  31. Go through the gate on the left and follow the track past the house to a waymarked gateway. Go through this and bear right to a track leading into a field beside some staddle (mushroom) stones.

    Hendra is a common Cornish place name meaning "home farm" (from the Cornish word hendre which itself is based on the words hen meaning old, and dre is equivalent to tre). Hendra was also used as a boy's first name with the meaning literally "from the family farm".

  32. Enter the field via the waymarked gateway and follow along the left hedge of the field to a gateway in the top-left corner.

    Staddle Stones (also known as Mushroom Stones) were originally used to raise granary barns off the ground. These had two purposes: the first was that the elevation above the ground kept out the damp which would spoil the grain. The second was that the overhanging stone cap made it an extreme rock-climbing expedition for any mice and rats wishing to enter the barn.

  33. Go through the gateway and cross the field to the gate ahead.

    Robins are one of the more common birds seen in the bushes in areas of farmland.

    Robins are also able to see magnetic fields. Receptors in their make magnetic fields appear as patterns of light or colour which allows them to use the Earth's magnetic field for navigation.

  34. Go through the pedestrian gate to the left of the field gate and continue ahead to a gateway.

    The number of cows in Cornwall has been estimated at around 75,000 so there's a good chance of encountering some in grassy fields. If you are crossing fields in which there are cows:

    • Avoid splitting the herd as cows are more relaxed if they feel protected by the rest of the herd. Generally the best plan is to walk along the hedges.
    • Do not show any threatening behaviour towards calves (approaching them closely to take photos, making loud noises or walking between a calf and its mother) as you may provoke the mother to defend her young.
    • If cows approach you, they often do so out of curiosity and in the hope of food - it may seem an aggressive invasion of your space but that's mainly because cows don't have manners. Do not run away as this will encourage them to chase you. Stand your ground and stretch out your arms to increase your size. Usually if you calmly approach them, they will back off. It's also best to avoid making sudden movements that might cause them to panic.
    • Where possible, avoid taking dogs into fields with cows, particularly with calves. If cows charge, release the dog from its lead as the dog will outrun the cows and the cows will generally chase the dog rather than you.
  35. Go through the gateway and follow the left hedge to reach a kissing gate at the bottom of the field.

    Crows have a vocabulary of different calls with specific meanings and these can be varied to convey emotion like a human tone of voice.

    The sounds that crows make have also been found to vary with location rather like regional accents in humans. When a crow moves into a new area, it mimics the calls of the most dominant flock members to fit in with its peer group.

  36. Go through the kissing gate and follow the path to emerge in a campsite. Follow along the right hedge to join a footpath and follow this over some steps to emerge in a circular tarmac area.

    During the winter months when the campsite is quiet, rabbits mow the grass.

    If a rabbit is placed on its back and its legs are stroked, it appears to go into a relaxed trance and many owners of pet rabbits thought this was a cute thing to do. It's now understood that this reaction, known as "tonic immobility", occurs when the rabbit is under stress and thinks it is about to be eaten by a predator! It is effectively a "playing dead" reaction to lull a predatator into a false sense of security so the rabbit can make a speedy escape when the predator isn't paying attention.

  37. Walk ahead a few paces to reach the track with 5mph circles. Turn left and follow this downhill to a junction with a path leading to the playground.

    The caravan park lies on the site of the Treamble mine. This was an iron mine on the Perran Iron Lode, started in the middle of the 19th century and worked intermittently until the Second World War. The lode runs all the way to Perran Sands where there is a mine in the cliff at the northern end of the beach. It was originally worked at Treamble from two open pits. When the western pit was excavated, a lead lode was also exposed. Where this intersected the Perran Iron Lode, it contained silver ores and even some silver in metallic form.

  38. Turn right, keeping right (not the playground) to reach a waymarked kissing gate. Go through this and follow the path into a car parking area. Head up the ramp to reach a lane.

    Underground, the iron is in the form of sulphide compounds known as pyrites. When these come into contact with water and air in the mine, chemical reactions occur to form iron hydroxide compounds and sulphuric acid. The oxidation of the pyrites depleted the oxygen levels in the mine and increased the temperatures. At Duchy Mine in Treamble, just 20 fathoms from the surface, the air temperature was recorded in 1881 at 51 celcius and it was impossible to keep a candle alight due to the lack of oxygen.

  39. Follow the byway ahead towards Holywell until it ends on 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.

  40. Turn left onto the lane and follow it downhill to a junction signposted to the Smugglers Den, just past the river crossing.

    In the late 18th and early 19th Century there were two mines in the valley either side of the bridge, known as Wheal Mexico and Wheal Peru. Both started as lead mines and the one to the left of the bridge dates back to Tudor times, working the lode of lead ore that was also mined at Treamble. In 1785, rich silver ores were discovered here and at was at this point the mine reopened under the name Wheal Mexico. The quantity of ore within the lode was not that great but the high concentration of silver more than made up for this. There are even reports of lumps of pure silver being raised from the mine.

  41. Turn right at the junction and follow the lane for half a mile to the Smugglers Den. Continue uphill a few more paces to some steps on the left with a Public Footpath sign.

    The Smuggler's Den was originally a farmhouse, built in the 17th Century and consisting of 3 rooms, the middle of which was unheated. At the end of the 17th Century, an additional room was added to create the large U-shaped building that fronts onto the road. The rear buildings were added much more recently. Prince Harry has been known to take part in the pub quiz here.

  42. Climb the steps and cross the stile into a field. In the field, follow the left hedge uphill to reach a stone stile just before the top corner of the field.
  43. Cross the stile and bear right in the direction of the church spire to a stile in the corner of the field.

    Looking down into the valley, there is a chimney that was part of Mount Mine - another iron mine on the Perran Iron Lode. The tarmac track running out onto the dunes was originally at tramway that connected this to the iron mine at the back of the beach. The cottages on the hill were also present at the time the mine was being worked and could well have originally been miners' cottages.

  44. Cross the stile and bear left, following the path along the left hedge to reach a gate. Go through the gate to emerge in the square outside the churchyard and complete the circular route.

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

Take a photo and email, 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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