Circular walk from Gorran Haven to Portmellon

Gorran Haven to Portmellon

A circular walk from Gorran Haven to Portmellon via the sheer cliffs from which Henry Bodrugan leapt to escape execution and sheltered Colona Beach, returning through West Bodrugan Woods Nature Reserve and via Gorran church which now has some of the finest bells in the country.

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The walk starts in Gorran Haven and winds through the narrow streets to reach the cliffs. The route along the coast passes around Turbot Point to Colona Beach and then crosses Chapel Point to Portmellon. At Portmellon, the walk follows the valley through the West Bodrugan Woods nature reserve to Gorran Church. From here, the return route is along footpaths back to Gorran Haven.

Considerations

  • Route includes paths close to unfenced cliff edges.

Reviews

This walk has everything. Coast and woodlands, gorgeous views and of course the great app with directions which mean you never get lost!
Lovely walk. A bit of everything with some stunning views.
Great walk.

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Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 105
  • Distance: 5.9 miles/9.6 km
  • Steepness grade: Moderate
  • Recommended footwear: walking shoes or trainers in summer

OS maps for this walk

OS Explorer 105 OS Explorer 105 (laminated version)

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

Highlights

  • Coastal views from Bodrugan's Leap
  • Woodland nature reserves in the Portmellon Valley
  • Pretty fishing village of Gorran Haven
  • Sandy beaches at Gorran Haven and Colona Beach

Pubs on or near the route

  • The Barley Sheaf
  • The Rising Sun Inn

Directions

  1. Turn left out of the car park and follow the road to a sharp bend at the beach.

    Gorran Haven is a typical fishing village with narrow mediaeval streets and a sheltered place to launch boats: the beach faces East into a bay protected by headlands to the North and South. Prior to the 19th Century, the village was known as Portheast which is thought to be a corruption of Porth Just.

  2. Turn left up the hill and follow the lane to the top of the hill until you reach Cliff Road on the right.

    Gorran Haven's small chapel, located half-way up the hill, is still dedicated to St Just.

    The Chapel of St Just in Goran Haven was built in the 15th Century as a Chapel of Ease to save a long walk up the hill to the parish church in Gorran Churchtown. After the Reformation, it was closed as a place of worship, and was used instead as a fish cellar and net store. It was restored to religious worship in the 1860s.

  3. Turn right onto Cliff Road and follow it uphill until you reach a junction to the right with a footpath sign on the left.

    In mediaeval times, the village at Gorran Haven was the primary fishing village of the area, dwarfing Mevagissey, and the quay has been rebuilt a number of times throughout its history. The first recorded use of seining for pilchards in Cornwall was here, in the 13th Century. Once drift netting became popular in the late 18th century, Mevagissey took over as the primary fishery and the quay fell into ruin but was rebuilt in 1886 and a period of crab and lobster potting continued until the Second World War. After the war, crab and lobster potting resumed from the bigger harbour at Mevagissey.

  4. Turn right at the sign in the direction indicated for Portmellon and follow the tarmac until you reach the blue gates of Penhaver House with a waymarked stile on the left.

    Roughly 70% of the edible crabs caught in the world are caught around the British Isles, most of which are sold to France and Spain. Around the UK, edible brown crabs are regarded as overfished, with the largest fishery based around Scotland. Devon and Cornwall have the most stringent regulations in the UK on the minimum acceptable size and the pots now have an escape hatch for undersized crabs. The crabs are not harmed by the pots which allows crabs carrying eggs to also be released to improve the sustainability of the fishery.

  5. Climb the stone steps on the left and cross the bridge. Follow the path to a stile into a field. Cross the stile and follow along the fence on the right of the field - past a pedestrian gate - and continue all the way to the end to reach a kissing gate in the hedge at the corner of the field.

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

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

    Do

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

    Don't

    • If you are threatened by cattle, don't hang onto your dog: let it go to allow the dog to run to safety.
    • Don't put yourself at risk. Find another way around the cattle and rejoin the footpath as soon as possible.
    • Don't panic or run. Most cattle will stop before they reach you. If they follow, just walk on quietly.
  6. Go through the kissing gate, down some steps and through another kissing gate into a field. Follow the path along the coast to reach a fence on the far side of the field. As you reach the fence, the gate is a short distance to the left of the recess in the fence.

    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.

    Traditionally fishing nets were woven by hand from flax thread, and in Victorian times these were gradually replaced by cotton nets which lasted a little longer and, as the Industrial Revolution gathered momentum, were increasingly machine-woven. Since the nets were made of plant matter, during storage over the winter the fishy nets would rot away unless treated. They were therefore boiled in vats containing oak bark in a process similar to that used for tanning leather, and then laid out on the beach to dry in the sun. The tannins in the oak acted as a preservative, preventing bacterial and fungal decay. By using this process, cotton nets could be made to last up to 10 years.

  7. Go through the gate and a second gate into the field and follow the path along the right hedge to reach a kissing gate leading onto a footbridge.

    The point ahead is called Turbot Point from the days when turbot were more common inshore.

    Turbot is a large flatfish and has been in culinary demand for at least two thousand years in Europe due to its firm white flesh. Commercial fishing over a long period means that they are now classed as Near Threatened by the IUCN and the recommendation is that they should only be eaten occasionally due to the decline in stocks and the fishing methods used to catch them - primarily beam trawling.

    Like many other flatfish, turbot can change the pattern and colour of blotches on their upper surface to blend in with their surroundings. They are at the slower end of the scale, taking several days to complete the change. It's possible that their larger size makes a quicker change less vital both in terms of the need to avoid predators and also having more reserves to survive the period until they are ready to ambush prey.

  8. Go through the gate and follow the path over the bridge and a stile. Follow the path all the way around the headland until you eventually pass a couple of benches and reach a kissing gate.

    The steep cliffs near the point are known as Bodrugan's Leap.

    During the War of the Roses at the end of the mediaeval period, the two men of greatest influence in Cornwall were Richard Edgcombe, allied with the Lancastrians, and Henry Bodrugan (from the manor of Bodrugan), allied with the Yorkists. Both fought at the Battle of Bosworth and when King Richard III was killed at the Battle, Edgcombe was knighted and Bodrugan escaped. After failed attempts to unseat King Henry VII, Edgcombe was sent to arrest Bodrugan who escaped to France by leaping over the cliff into the sea, and climbing aboard a waiting boat. The cliff has since become known as Bodrugan's Leap.

  9. Go through the gate and follow the path ahead to the gate at the bottom of the valley.

    Colona Beach is an east-facing inlet between two reefs and is therefore sheltered from the prevailing winds. The beach is shingly at high tide and finer sand is revealed as the tide goes out. The rock platforms either side of the beach have rockpools at low tide and the reefs that extend underwater from these are covered in kelp. The kelp beds provide places to hide for fish such as wrasse.

  10. Go through the gate and through the wooden pedestrian gate to the right of the metal gate beside the building. Then follow the gravel track along the fence until you reach a driveway.

    The rocky platform forming the other side of the beach is known as Chapel Point.

    The three houses on Chapel Point were designed and built by the architect John Campbell during the late 1930s. He bought the land in 1932 and planned to build 20 houses, but war broke out after the first three and put a stop to building. After the war ended, he returned to Mevagissey to complete his project but the Planning Permission had lapsed so he was forced to resubmit the plans, which were then rejected. After months of updating and redrawing, he finally completed the plans in August 1947, and walked along the coast to deliver these by hand to the planning office. One the way home, he lost his footing, fell into the sea and drowned. The plans were approved, described by a government official as "the most beautifully presented and the most painstakingly put together of any that I have seen", but were never carried through. Had they been completed, the result would have been what has been described as "unique in terms of 20th-century architecture". One of the three houses that was completed, known as The Gatehouse, has been described as "a gleaming white house that seems like a castle in spite of its small size".

    After a storm, the residents here sometimes awake to find seaweed on their roof!

  11. Cross over the driveway and follow the path along the fence to the end then along a line of waymarks. Continue on the most well-worn path through the more overgrown area to reach a gate.

    As you cross the field, the lighthouse on the quay at Mevagissey comes into view. During Victorian times as pilchard stocks declined, species such as mackerel were caught from Mevagissey.

    Mackerel come inshore during the summer and autumn to feed on prawns and small fish such as sandeels. They often occur in large shoals which at the surface can make the sea appear to "boil", often accompanied by excited seabirds. Although they cruise at a speed of around 2 knots, mackerel can reach 10 knots in short bursts.

    At high tide they can sometimes be caught on rod and line from the quays at Gorran Haven and Mevagissey.

  12. Go through the gate and follow the path uphill until it ends on a surfaced track.

    Throughout the 19th century, mackerel was fished commercially off Cornwall and by the end of the 19th century, there were hundreds of drift netters. These decimated the mackerel stocks and by the 1930s, mackerel were so scarce that the fishery had virtually closed. By the 1960s, the mackerel had recovered and were plentiful for the next couple of decades. More recently, they have noticeably declined again which is thought to be due to intensive trawling in Scottish and Icelandic waters. The South West Handline Fisherman's Association operate a more sustainable fishing model, and readers are encouraged to buy line-caught fish.

  13. Turn right onto the track and follow this downhill. Continue as it opens out into a lane until it eventually ends in a T-junction with the road.

    The name "Portmellon" is from the Cornish Porthmelyn meaning "mill cove". In 1880s it was still known as Portmellin but by the 1920s this had changed to Portmellon. The first recorded settlement was the mill of Portmelyn which was still present on an 1888 map, but by 1907 it had disappeared.

  14. Turn right onto the road and carefully follow it downhill to the sea wall. Follow along the sea wall until you reach an opening containing a set of tracks leading into the sea and a junction opposite.

    The RNLI stationed a lifeboat at Portmellon in 1869. Once the outer harbour was built at Mevagissey, the lifeboat was moved there. When the Mevagissey lifeboat was itself later decommissioned in favour of the longer range boat at Fowey, the lifeboat winch was acquired by Mitchell's boat yard and used to launch boats from Portmellon.

  15. Turn left at the junction and almost immediately bear right onto the track through the boat yard. Follow this to reach a lane and continue on the lane until you reach a track on the right with a Public Footpath sign leading to a gate.

    The remains of a prehistoric forest has been exposed beneath Portmellon beach a few times over the last couple of centuries with recordings in the 1880s, 1970s and 1980s when the trees were carbon dated at just over 2000 years old. The forest included Oak, Birch, Hazel and Alder.

  16. Bear right to the gate and go through the kissing gate on the right. Follow the right hedge of two fields to eventually reach a gate in the corner of the far hedge.

    Whilst moles look a little like mice, they are not rodents and are highly adapted to digging and living in tunnels. Using their curved claws, they can dig 15 feet of tunnel in an hour and typically extend their network by around 60 ft per day. Moles also have twice as much blood as mammals of a similar size and a special form of haemoglobin that allow them to tolerate high levels of carbon dioxide in the low-oxygen environment within their tunnels.

  17. Go through the gate and climb the steps over the wall. Follow the winding path to reach an upright stone where the path enters the woods.

    The genus name for campions - Silene from the often-drunk Greek woodland god Silenus whose name derives from the Greek word for saliva. The name is thought to be based on the froth on the female flowers to trap pollen although its habitat preference including semi-shade within woodland also fits fairly well.

    Bracken is both poisonous and carcinogenic to many grazing animals which will avoid it if at all possible. Eating bracken is not recommended as it is thought that the carcinogenic properties may also apply to humans based on the circumstantial evidence that Japan, where young bracken fronds are a delicacy, has the highest levels of stomach cancer in the world.

  18. Continue on the path through the woods until it ends at a gate.

    Bluebells are also known by folk names based on their shape including Lady’s Nightcap and Witches’ Thimbles.

    Other common names for the bluebell include "wild hyacinth" and "wood hyacinth" as they are related to the hyacinth family. Their Genus name Hyacinthoides also means "hyacinth-like".

    Black fungi that resemble lumps of coal are known as coal fungus but also King Alfred cakes due to a legendary baking disaster by the regent. The dried fungus can be used with a flint as a fire starter - a spark will ignite the inside which glows like a piece of charcoal and can be used to light dry grass. There is evidence that prehistoric nomadic tribes used glowing pieces of fungus to transport fire to a new camp.

  19. Go through the gate and cross the lane to the gate opposite. Go through the gate and follow the path signposted to St Gorran's Church to reach a stile.

    By using their tail as a parachute, squirrels are able to survive falls from high trees. This allows them to attempt risky jumps between treetops that don't always work out. They are one of the few mammals that can (but not always) survive an impact at their terminal velocity i.e. if a squirrel jumped out of an aeroplane, it may well survive.

  20. Cross (or bypass) the stile and follow the path through the meadow to reach a gateway on the far side.

    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.

  21. Go through the gateway and follow the path up the slope to reach a pedestrian gate.

    Catkins begin to form on hazel trees from November onwards and in February these reach full size and flower before the leaves appear. The word is from the Dutch katteken (meaning "kitten") as the catkins resemble small cats' tails.

    From April to June, white flowers of Greater Stitchwort can be seen along hedgerows and paths. The petals are quite distinctive as each one is split almost all the way to create pairs - most of the flowers typically have 5 pairs. The name comes from alleged powers to cure an exercise-induced stitch. Other common names include Star-of-Bethlehem (due to the shape and perhaps Easter flowering time) and Poor Man's Buttonhole for budget weddings. It is also known as Wedding Cakes but that may be more due to the colour than anticipation of what a buttonhole might lead to. The seed capsules can sometimes be heard bursting open in the late spring sunshine which gives rise to another name: Popguns.

    Hazel has evolved to be pollinated by the wind. The catkins give the wind access to the pollen and the pollen grains themselves repel each other so they do not clump together and are individually carried on air currents. Insect-pollinated plants have instead involved sticky pollen that bees can collect more easily.

  22. Go through the gate and bear left uphill to where two paths lead upwards. Take the uphill path on the right which is slightly less steep. Follow this until it ends in a clearing near the top of the hill.

    The area planted with trees is known as Sanctuary Wood.

    Sanctuary Wood was created as part of the Woodland Trust’s "Woods on your Doorstep" project in 2000. It occupies an area spanning both sides of the Portmellon valley that adjoins the West Bodrugan woodland reserve. Wide rides and open glades have been left between the planting to provide views and varied habitats as the woodland matures.

  23. In the clearing, bear left to meet the path running along the top. Turn left onto this and follow the path alongside the wall to reach a stile.

    Cow parsnip (also known as hogweed) is a member of the carrot family has more solid leaves than cow parsley or alexanders which it often grows alongside. It also flowers later.

    It can be mistaken for giant hogweed as the leaves are similar in shape and flowers look similar. The most obvious way to tell them apart is size. Cow parsnip reaches a maximum of 6-7 feet tall whereas even by the end of May, giant hogweed is massive and can reach 15ft tall by July. Another distinguishing feature is that cow parsnip (normal hogweed) has a groove in the top of the stem holding each leaf but you should not touch the leaves to examine them as all members of the carrot family can cause a blistering rash caused by the plant's sap coming into contact with skin when in sunlight. Cow parsnip is worse for this than cultivated carrots or parsnips but nowhere near as bad as giant hogweed which can cause third degree burns.

  24. Cross the stile and bear right slightly to cross the field diagonally to a stile in line with the church tower.

    The name "buttercup" is thought to have come from a mediaeval belief that cows eating the flowers gave butter its yellow colour. In fact this couldn't be further from the truth as the plant contains toxins which make it taste acrid and is therefore avoided by grazing animals.

  25. Cross the stile and bear right slightly to reach a stile, also in line with the church tower.

    Six bells were cast for Gorran Church in 1772 but two of these were damaged and replaced in the 20th century. The remaining four and their original oak frame survived to the 21st Century but were in need of repair to continue in active use. Whilst the church was attempting to raise money to repair the bells, they were offered a set of free bells by a church in Kent which had been closed for nearly 40 years. The bells from the old Kent church are known as The Victoria Peal, consisting of eight bells cast in 1897 to commemorate the diamond jubilee, with the tenor bell weighing in at over one-and-a-quarter tonnes. This meant that Gorran's Georgian bells could be taken out of service and preserved and that Gorran Church now has one of the finest peals of bells in all of Cornwall.

  26. Cross the stile and cross the meadow to a waymark opposite, beside a track.

    Rabbits were originally from the Iberian peninsula and were brought to Britain by the Normans and kept in captivity as a source of meat and fur. Rabbits are able to survive on virtually any vegetable matter and with relatively few predators, those that escaped multiplied into a sizeable wild population. Rabbits provide food for foxes, stoats and birds of prey.

  27. At the waymark, bear right onto the track and follow a short distance to a junction. Turn left at the junction and follow the track to the churchyard.

    All parts of the alexanders plant can be eaten and it is a good source of iron and vitamins A and C. The flavour has been described as somewhere between parsley and angelica. However, foraging alexanders is not recommended unless you are experienced at identifying it because novices can confuse it with hemlock (the most poisonous plant in the UK - just a few leaves from this can kill you).

    Christianity in Roman Britain began in the 4th or 5th century AD. However there were no known cities west of Exeter, so the spread into Cornwall is likely to have been very limited. The majority of Cornwall is likely to have remained Pagan until "The Age of Saints" - the late 5th or early 6th century - when the Irish missionaries including St Piran and St Petroc settled in Cornwall.

  28. Go up the steps and through the gate into the churchyard and follow the path past the church to emerge in a paved area with a memorial.

    The church at Gorran is dedicated to St Goronus who is said to have come here from Bodmin at the time when St Petroc was also in Bodmin. The church building lies on a Norman foundation and was mostly rebuilt in the 15th Century, with the exception of the south aisle which is thought to date from the 14th century and North Door from the 13th. The tower was added later in the 15th century, replacing an earlier steeple which had fallen into disrepair. 53 of the carved mediaeval bench ends have been retained and the font is also thought to be from the late mediaeval period.

  29. Bear left past the memorial and down the steps to the road. Turn left and keep left for a few paces to follow the small lane away from the road until you reach a fork where a very narrow lane leads downhill to the right between the cottages.
  30. Bear right at the junction to follow the narrow lane leading downhill. Follow this around a bend to the right until it ends in a T-junction with the main road.

    Comfreys are a genus of flowering plants in the borage family. Common comfrey is native to the UK and has cream, pink, purple or blue flowers. Also now even more common than common comfrey is Russian comfrey, formed when common comfrey hybridises with prickly comfrey - an introduced Asian plant. This tends to have bluer flowers than common comfrey but the colour is still quite variable.

    Although the plant's medicinal use in classical and mediaeval times gave rise to common names such as "knitbone", it has been found to contain compounds which are toxic to humans with the potential to cause liver damage and cancer. Being hit by another axe was probably of more immediate concern in mediaeval times.

    For bumblebees, it's an excellent source of nectar.

  31. Cross the road to the pavement opposite and turn left. Follow the pavement, which departs from the road to become a path. Continue until this ends at a junction.
  32. Cross the lane to the driveway opposite, marked with a public footpath sign. Go through the gate and walk along the driveway towards the house then cross the grass to a waymarked stile.
  33. Cross the stile and follow the path across the small field to reach another stile.
  34. Cross the stile and cross the small field to another stile opposite.
  35. Cross the stile to emerge onto a surfaced path. Turn left in the direction of Gorran Haven and follow the path until it ends on a road.

    National Cycle Route 3 runs 338 miles from Bristol to Land's End. The route is a mixture of lanes, byways and some tracks not open to road traffic including the upper section of the Camel Trail from Wenfordbridge to Dunmere.

  36. Turn right onto the road and follow the tarmac path. Cross over the junction to Wansford Meadows and continue on the path on the right-hand side of the main road until the path ends at Seascape.

    Parc Vean means "small field" in Cornish. Even after the Cornish language was no longer spoken, the word vean continued to be used as a dialect word for "small" within English in some communities. An example is the beach named "Vean Hole" on the Tintagel side of Trebarwith Strand.

  37. Cross the road to the pavement opposite and follow the pavement until it runs out. Then carefully follow along Cooks Level and continue onto Chute Lane and pass alongside the pub. Continue along Chute Lane and down Church Street to the beach and bear right to return to the car park.

    Gorran Haven has two sandy beaches, separated by a rocky promontory, facing east into a sheltered bay. The northern beach, known as Little Perhaver Beach, merges with the main beach at low tide but can be accessed at high tide via a steep flight of steps connecting to a footpath which departs from the road a short distance uphill from the chapel. For this reason it tends to be a fair bit quieter than the main beach.

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