Kennack Sands to Cadgwith

A circular walk from Kennack Sands to Cadgwith Cove via the Poltesco valley where during Victorian times waterwheels and steam engines powered an industry producing large decorative pieces of serpentine but has now been recolonised by nature

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The walk follows the cliffs from Kennack Sands to Carleon Cove where serpentine boulders cover the beach. The walk continues along the coast to the coastguard lookout perched overlooking Cadgwith Cove. The route then comes inland to Ruan Minor church and returns via Poltesco Mill, Kugger and a footpath across the fields to Gwendreath at the top of the valley above Kennack Sands. The circular route is completed by a woodland path down the valley to reach the Coast Path.


Done this a couple of times, great little walk

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 103
  • Distance: 4.5 miles/7.2 km
  • Grade: Easy-moderate
  • Start from: Kennack Sands (West)
  • Parking: Kennack Sands car park, or in 4 small parking areas beside the road in winter TR127LZ. Ignore satnav on this one and follow signs to Kuggar to reach the T-junction then follow the sign to Kennack Sands
  • Recommended footwear: Walking boots

OS maps for this walk

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


  • Sandy beach at Kennack Sands
  • Pretty fishing village and pebble beach at Cadgwith Cove
  • Serpentine boulders at Carleon Cove
  • Views across the bay to Bass Point and Black Head

Pubs on or near the route

  • Cadgwith Cove Inn


  1. From the park, follow the road uphill until you eventually reach a wooden coast path sign for Cadgwith.

    At high water, there are two separate beaches known as East and West Kennack Sands and are divided by the reef known as the Caerverracks. The path over the hill links the two. At low tide, it's possible to walk on the sand from one side to the other.

  2. Turn left onto the coast path, keeping left to stay on the main path where a path departs to the right. Continue to emerge onto a small golf course.

    Swallows have evolved a long slender body and pointed wings that makes their flight more than twice as efficient as other birds of a similar size. Swallows forage for insects on the wing, typically around 7-8 metres above the ground. They can sometimes be seen skimming the surface of water either to drink or to bathe which they also do in flight.

  3. When you reach the golf course, follow along the left side of the field to reach a path leading into the bushes near an information board.

    Golf developed in The Netherlands during the Middle Ages and was introduced into Scotland towards the end of this period where it evolved to its present form. The word golf is thought to be a Scots alteration of Dutch colf meaning "club". Golf is first documented in Scotland in a 1457 Act of the Scottish Parliament, prohibiting the playing of the games of gowf and futball as these were a distraction from archery practice.

  4. Follow the path through the bushes to re-emerge on the golf course and keep following along the edge to reach a gap in the corner.
  5. Go through the gap and follow the path to a junction.
  6. At the junction, take the path on the left and follow it to where the other path rejoins. Continue along the Coast Path until you reach a junction of paths with a sign for Discover Poltesco.

    Roughly 250 metres along the path to the right are the National Trust buildings at Poltesco Farm.

    The Poltesco valley has been under National Trust ownership since the 1970s and one of the barns at Poltesco Farm has been converted into the Discovery Centre where displays provide information about the heritage and wildlife in the valley.

  7. At the junction, keep left (signposted coast path) and follow the path a short distance to where a small path departs to the left.

    The path to the left leads to a greasy headland which provides a nice viewpoint overlooking the cove.

    The circular tower dates from the 1700s and housed a capstan used to haul fishing boats up the beach. There were originally fish cellars associated with this but these were removed and replaced by the Victorian buildings which form the other visible remains in the cove.

  8. Keep right to follow the main path downhill keeping right where paths depart to the left. Continue to reach a footbridge over the stream.

    The paths to the left lead to Carleon Cove.

    The buildings at Carleon Cove are remains of the Poltesco serpentine factory which was established in around 1855 and was used to manufacture relatively large items such as church fonts, shop fronts etc. Power for cutting, turning and polishing the stone was originally supplied by a large water wheel fed from higher up the stream. Steam power was introduced in 1866 and there are the remains of a boiler house, a demolished chimney stack and engine room on the site. The factory ceased operations in the early 1890s and was largely demolished in the 1930s.

  9. Cross the footbridge and climb the steps on the other side to reach a junction of paths. Turn left at the junction and follow the Coast Path until you reach a waymark beside a kissing gate.

    The path to the right also leads to the National Trust discovery centre. Orchids can sometimes be seen flowering along the path in spring.

    The Early Purple Orchid has a Latin name meaning "virile" which is in keeping with the word "orchid" coming from the Greek word for testicle (on account of the shape of the tuber).

    This particular species is the con-man of the plant kingdom, with brilliant purple flowers resembling those of other nectar-rich orchids. When the insects arrive and push through the pollen to investigate the promising flowers, they discover that the flowers contain no nectar.

  10. Go through the kissing gate on the left and follow the path to the top of the headland. Continue along the path between the headlands, passing over a wooden stile, and climb the rocky path to reach the top of the next headland where a small path departs to the left.
  11. Turn left to follow the small path out onto the headland and keep right along the path around the headland to reach a pedestrian gate into a field.
  12. Go through the gate and head across the field to a stile to the left of the gateway, close to the corner of the field.
  13. Cross the stile and turn left to follow along the hedge. Continue to reach a kissing gate.
  14. Go through the gate and follow the path out along the coast to reach a small building overlooking the bay.

    The large rectangular building on the headland in the distance is Lloyds Signalling Station.

    In April 1872, the signalling station opened to pass messages to ships arriving in the English Channel, which removed the necessity for ships to call at Falmouth. Messages were passed using flags, which was limited to fine weather and daytime. Initially, messages back from the ships were sent by horse rider to the nearest telegraph station at Helston. Two months later the telegraph cable was extended to the station which enabled near real-time messaging. As winter approached and daylight hours grew shorter, night-time signalling was tried using arrays of coloured lights, steam whistles, rockets and guns but was not that effective, particularly right next to a massive lighthouse and huge foghorn. Despite the limitations, the savings made by bypassing Falmouth meant the station was heavily used and a rival station soon opened up next door. The resulting confusion, arising from two rival stations both signalling from shore with flags, was fortunately short-lived when the companies merged and the second station was demolished. In the early 20th Century, the station was extended by adding two additional buildings known as "night boxes" to enable night-time lamp signalling without interference from the lighthouse and were used until the 1950s when they were taken over by the Coastguard.

  15. Follow either path (the left path passes around the outside of the lookout) and then follow the path down into the village to emerge onto a narrow lane and reach a T-junction with the road.

    The hut overlooking Cadgwith Cove was used as a Coastguard lookout and is now maintained by the National Trust. A stone near the hut inscribed with 1869 may possibly indicate its age. It is postulated the hut may have originally been built as a huer's hut to spot shoals of pilchards.

  16. At this point you can optionally take a short diversion to the left to see Cadgwith. The walk continues up the hill to the right to reach a stone stile on the left, a couple of hundred yards up the hill.

    Cadgwith Cove was originally called Porthcaswydh based on the Cornish words kas meaning a fight and wydh meaning wood, which were combined to mean "thicket", probably because the valley was densely wooded. In mediaeval times, there was little more than a collection of fish cellars around the cove used by local farmers for fishing. From the 16th Century, the cove became a permanent settlement with fishing as the main industry.

  17. Cross the stile and follow the path to emerge into a field. Follow the left hedge of the field to reach a waymarked stone stile.

    Cadgwith has an anthem which has been recorded with slightly different variations of words, sometimes under the title "The Robbers Retreat". It starts with:

    Come fill up your glasses and let us be merry, For to rob bags of plunder it is our intent.

    ...which sounds promisingly Cornish, but it then mentions mountains, valleys, lillies and roses and even "the beauty of Kashmir" which has everyone confused. In fact it makes no mention of Cadgwith, Cornwall or even the coast. Nobody is quite sure where it came from, or when, or what it refers to!

  18. Cross the stile and follow the track ahead until it ends on the road.

    Serpentine is not a single mineral but a broad group of minerals formed when minerals rich in iron and magnesium react with water in a series of chemical reactions known as serpentization. Rocks containing these minerals are known as Serpentinite. The name is due to the resemblance of the patterning in the rocks to the skin of reptiles.

  19. Cross the road to the gate into the playground. Cross the corner of this to the gate on the other side and go through this to emerge at a fork on a gravel track. Cross to the track forking to the left and follow this to reach the pasty shop. Pass to the right of the pasty shop and follow the narrow path to emerge onto the road.
  20. Turn right onto the road and follow it a short distance to a junction. Bear right at the junction to pass the playground on your left and go through the gateway into the churchyard. Follow the path to a junction of paths beside the church.
  21. Turn left and follow the path to a stile and gate out of the churchyard.

    Ruan Minor originated as a chapelry of Ruan Major but by the end of the middle ages, it had developed into a parish in its own right. The present church is mainly 15th Century but the earliest parts of the church may be from the 13th Century. The blocks of serpentine used in its construction are so large that there are only six courses from the ground to the roof. The font and piscina in the church are thought to date from the 12th or 13th Century when a previous building stood on the site. A wooden panel from 1677 painted with the ten commandments was found in a cottage near the church.

  22. Cross the stile and turn right onto the lane. Follow it until it eventually passes over a bridge and ends in a T-junction.

    The mill dates from the 14th century and was first recorded in 1396. It was in use until 1945 and restored in the 1980s.

    The simplest design for a waterwheel is known as an undershot wheel where the paddles are simply dipped into flowing water. This works well in large rivers where there is a strong current.

    However, in hilly areas with smaller streams (such as Cornwall), the overshot design is more common where the water is delivered via a man-made channel (leat) to the top of the wheel where it flows into buckets on the wheel, turning the wheel through the weight of the water. An overshot design also allowed the mill to be located slightly further away from the main river which had obvious advantages during floods.

  23. Turn left at the junction and follow the lane to a junction at Polstangey Praze.
  24. Keep right at the junction to reach a T-junction.
  25. Turn right and carefully follow the road, keeping right to continue ahead at the junction to Coverack. Continue past the Potters Bar to reach a Public Footpath sign.

    The settlement of Kugger dates from mediaeval times. It was recorded as Coger in 1324 but is now generally pronounced Koogar rather than to rhyme with "lugger". It is the Cornish name of the stream.

  26. Follow the Public Footpath on the left over the stile and into a field. Follow the left hedge of the field to reach a path into the bushes.
  27. Follow the path into the bushes and over a stone stile and stile/footbridge. Continue on the path through the woods to emerge into a field.
  28. In the field, turn right and follow along the right hedge to reach a path leaving from the field. Follow the path to join a track and follow the track ahead a short distance towards a campsite to reach a footpath signpost on the left.
  29. Turn left onto the footpath and follow this to a waymark. Keep right at the waymark to follow the path between the hedges and emerge on the driveway of a holiday park.

    The holiday parks are built around the settlement of Gwendreath which was first recorded in 1241. The name is Cornish for "white sand" hence Silver Sands.

  30. Continue ahead to follow the driveway until it ends at a T-junction with a lane. Turn left onto the lane and follow it a short distance downhill to a Public Footpath sign on the right.
  31. Turn right onto the signposted Public Footpath and follow this through the woods to reach a waymark at a junction of paths near the coast.

    In Old Cornish, both bluebells and marigolds where known as lesengoc which translates to "flower of the cuckoo". In Modern Cornish, the marigold has remained more-or-less the same but the bluebell has been changed to bleujenn an gog ("plant of the cuckoo"). The association between bluebells and cuckoos exists in Welsh ("bells of the cuckoo") and Gaelic ("cuckoo's shoe"), and in some English folk names such as Cuckoo's Boots and Cuckoo Stockings. It is thought that the association is due to the time that bluebells flower coinciding with the time that the call of the cuckoo is first heard.

  32. Turn right at the waymark and follow the coast path back to the car park.

    Somewhere beneath one of the beaches, runs one of the high-speed telecommunication cables linking London and New York. These are fibre-optic cables carrying laser signals for both telephone and internet traffic. The laser signal fades along the length of the cable so there are laser amplifiers every now and then along the length of the cable. As there is nowhere to plug these in on the sea bed, the cable contains its own 10,000 volt power supply. There is little risk of electrocution by digging sandcastles, though, as the cables are buried very deep under the beach.

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

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