Circular walk to Church Cove and Lizard Point

Church Cove and Lizard Point

A circular walk on The Lizard to the most southerly point from Church Cove where the Lizard lifeboat is now launched to the old lifeboat station at Polpeor Cove.

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The walk starts from Lizard village and passes the church to reach the coast at Church Cove. The route then follows the coast path past a number of landmarks including the Lifeboat station, Coastguard lookout, Lloyd's signal station, Marconi's wireless station and the Lizard Lighthouse before reaching the most southerly point. The return route is mostly across the fields.

Considerations

  • Route includes paths close to unfenced cliff edges.

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Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 103
  • Distance: 3.8 miles/6.1 km
  • Steepness grade: Moderate
  • Recommended footwear: Walking shoes during a dry summer, walking boots otherwise. Wellies after prolonged wet weather.

OS maps for this walk

OS Explorer 103 OS Explorer 103 (laminated version)

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

Highlights

  • Historic wireless and signalling stations
  • The Lizard's iconic lighthouse
  • Lizard Point - the most southerly point in Britain

Pubs on or near the route

  • The Top House Inn

Adjoining walks

Directions

  1. Make your way to the signpost beside the bus shelter on the small triangular green beside the car park. Cross the road to follow the lane signposted to Church Cove. Continue until you reach a junction with a wayside cross signposted for Church Cove and the Lifeboat Station.

    The name Lizard comes from the Cornish lysardh which literally means "high court" but could also be interpreted as "fortress". It is possibly a reference to the high cliffs along the coast and maybe also that it is a peninsula. Much of the rock making up the peninsula is known as "serpentine" but this is thought to be a coincidence; the name is thought to be based on the appearance of the rock and not a reference to the place name.

  2. Turn right onto the lane to Church Cove. Follow the lane to the end where a footpath departs to the right onto the coast.

    The church was founded in the late 6th or early 7th century and is dedicated to St Winwaloe, the son of a Cornish prince who was an Abbot in Brittany. The current building dates from the 12th century, from which the Norman doorway remains. The church was rebuilt in the thirteenth century when the porch was added and in the fifteenth century with a new window in the tower.

  3. Take the path on the right and follow it up the steps. Continue on the path to reach a flight of steps in front of the lifeboat station.

    There has been a lifeboat at The Lizard since 1859. It was originally launched from the boathouse at Polpeor (the most southerly point) which was on the cliff, making launching difficult. A second station was built in 1885 that was further down the cove and in 1914, a third station was built with a slipway. The exposed location on Lizard Point needed a lot of maintenance and made launching dangerous in rough seas, so in 1961 the lifeboat was moved to Church Cove.

    In 2010, the Church Cove lifeboat station that was built at the end of the 1950s was demolished and, in 2012, was replaced with the current one which features a funicular railway line to transport lifeboat crews from the boathouse to the clifftop car park.

  4. Bear right and climb one flight of steps then, at the top, stop short of the second flight of steps and instead bear left past the building and down the steps on the other side to a kissing gate. Go through the gate and follow the coast path until it ends at a gate onto a track.

    The RNLI was founded in 1824 under the original name of the National Institution for Preservation of Life from Shipwreck. It was renamed to the RNLI in 1854. Until 1890 all the lifeboats were rowed with oars until some steam-powered boats were introduced. By 1905, petrol-powered boats were being trialled and fairly quickly replaced the bulky steam-powered predecessors. Today a fleet of over 340 lifeboats provide a 24/7 search and rescue service around the UK. The charity has saved over 140,000 lives since it was set up.

  5. Go through the kissing gate and turn left onto the track. Follow it to where it ends at a pair of gateposts with coast path signs just before the coastguard lookout.

    The National Coastwatch Institution was set up to restore visual watches along the UK coastline after two Cornish fishermen lost their lives within sight of an empty Coastguard lookout in 1994. The first station - at Bass Point on The Lizard, where the fishermen had died - opened in December 1994. The organisation, staffed by volunteers, now runs 50 lookout stations around England and Wales.

    The red wall below the coastguard lookout is another marker for The Vrogue rock which lines up with red and white marks on Lloyds signal station.

  6. Turn left onto the coast path and follow it past Lloyd's Signal Station to where the path forks just before joining a track.

    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.

  7. Take the left path and follow this to merge onto the track. Follow the track until it ends at a gate into the Lizard Wireless Station.

    In 1900, Guglielmo Marconi stayed in the Housel Bay Hotel in his search for a suitable site for marine communications using wireless technology, and given the already established telegraph links to semaphore signalling station here and lack of anything tall to interfere with radio transmission, he leased a plot of land on The Lizard, at Pen Olver, close to the lighthouse. Here he built the Lizard Wireless Telegraph Station which was primarily intended for ship-to-shore communication as ships were being fitted with new Marconi radio sets.

    He also used the station for some tests. At the time, most scientists thought that radio waves would not propagate beyond the horizon. Marconi proved this not to be the case: on 23 January 1901, Marconi received a wireless signal here that was sent from the Isle of Wight, 186 miles away, thus proving that radio signals could be bent around the surface of the Earth and paving the way for modern telecommunications. After this, Marconi went on to build a larger transmitter at Poldhu which he used to send the first transatlantic signal.

    In its capacity as a marine signalling station, the wireless hut was also the first to receive an SOS signal, in 1910, from a ship called the Minnehaha which had run aground further along the Cornish coast. Based on period photographs, the station has been restored by the National Trust to almost exactly how it was in 1901.

  8. Bear left off the track onto the path along the outside of the wall. Follow the path to a bench on the surfaced path just before the Housel Bay Hotel.

    The steel-hulled Queen Margaret was considered by many to be one of the fastest and most beautiful sailing ships built in the 1890s. Whilst steamships didn't rely on the wind, over a long distance they could not compete with sailing ships which did not require coal or freshwater and were much faster than steamers. The Queen Margaret had a cargo of 4,500 tons of wheat from Australia and approached the signal station at the Lizard to receive orders for where to land the cargo. The ship signalled that it needed tugs to pull it against the strong headwind but could not read the answer so the captain manoeuvred closer to the shore to be able to read the flags. In doing so, the vessel grounded on Maenheere Rock. Water entering the hold caused the grain to swell which split the ship open and it became a total loss. The ship was salvaged for scrap and some of the remainder still lies on the seabed in 12 metres of water beside Maenheere Rock.

  9. Bear left after the bench onto the path along the front of the hotel and follow this to a T-junction with a waymark.

    The SS Ilston was a merchant steamship armed with a deck gun during the First World War. In 1917 it was on its way from Swansea to France with a cargo of railway rolling stock. It was torpedoed by a German U-boat and sank off the Lizard with the loss of 6 crew members.

  10. Turn left at the junction and follow the path over the small bridge. Continue on the path to reach a waymark for Lizard Point where a smaller path departs to the right.

    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.

  11. Keep left to stay on the coast path and follow the path past the Lizard Lighthouse and reach the Most Southerly Café on Lizard Point.

    The current lighthouse building was completed in 1751, which Trinity House describes as consisting of "two towers, with a cottage built between them, in which an overlooker lay on a sort of couch, with a window on either side commanding a view of the lanterns. When the bellows-blowers relaxed their efforts and the fires dimmed, he would remind them of their duties by a blast from a cow horn." The twin towers were described by Tennyson as "the southern eyes of England". However, since 1903, only one of the two towers has been used and the lantern has been removed from the other tower. The lighthouse is the most powerful in the British Isles: the light has a range of 21 miles and its reflection can be seen 70 miles away.

  12. After having a look at Lizard Point, follow the lane uphill, past the gift shop. Continue up the lane until you reach a sign for the toilets on the right.

    The most southerly point of the British mainland - Lizard Point - protrudes far into The Channel and it is surrounded by shallow reefs which extend for roughly half a mile south of the Lizard. The individual rocks each have names: Ennach, Maenheere (furthest south) and Carligga, Carnvel, Man o' War and Mulvin (furthest west).

    Also, even without any wind, the tidal race around the headland can reach 5-6 knots. The combination of these factors makes it the single greatest hazard for shipping in British waters. The Admiralty still advises navigators to stay at least three miles away from the Lizard in rough weather.

  13. Turn right and follow the path signposted to the toilets to reach a junction of paths on the edge a grassy area in front of the toilets.

    The "National Trust for Places of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty" was founded in 1895 when snappy names weren't in fashion. Their first coastal acquisition was Barras Nose at Tintagel in 1897. Five years later, Tintagel Old Post Office was their first house to be acquired in Cornwall. The National Trust now owns over 700 miles of British coastline.

  14. Follow the path past the toilets to the car park entrance (marked No Exit).

    Project Neptune was started by the National Trust in 1965 to purchase and protect large portions of the British coastline. By 1973 it had achieved its target of raising £2 million and 338 miles of coastline were looked-after. The project was so successful that it is still running although mainly focused on maintenance. There is still an occasional opportunity when privately-owned coastal land is sold. A particularly notable one was in 2016 when the land at Trevose Head was put up for sale and successfully purchased by the National Trust.

  15. Bear left across the lane from the car park to a pedestrian gate to the left of the lighthouse entrance. Go through this and turn left, following the left hedge parallel to the lane to reach another pedestrian gate.

    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.
  16. Go through the gate and turn right to continue along the lane. Follow it a short distance to a bend where a path departs ahead.

    Jackdaws are able to recognise eye gestures from humans (e.g. if someone looks at where a food item is hidden). It has been suggested that jackdaws may use this with other birds too and this may be the reason that they have a striking blue eye colour that is easily seen from a distance.

  17. At the bend, bear right onto the path and follow this until it ends on a concrete-surfaced track in front of a gate.

    Alexanders are a member of the carrot family and grow along roadsides in places similar to cow parsley. The leaves are more solid than the lacy cow parsley leaves and the flowers are yellow rather than white. The name arises because the plant was introduced to the UK by the Romans and was known as the "pot herb of Alexandria". It is also sometimes known as horse parsley.

    The name "Kissing Gate" is based on the way that the gate touches either side of the enclosure. Romantics may however wish to interpret the name as part of the walk instructions.

  18. Turn left on the track and then almost immediately right onto a path waymarked for the wireless station. Follow the path downhill to where the stream passes beneath it with a step to the left leading to a gate.
  19. Turn left up the step and go through the kissing gate. Follow the left hedge to the gateway.

    If there are sheep in the field and you have a dog, make sure it's securely on its lead (sheep are prone to panic and injuring themselves even if a dog is just being inquisitive). If the sheep start bleating, this means they are scared and they are liable to panic.

    If there are pregnant sheep in the field, be particularly sensitive as a scare can cause a miscarriage. If there are sheep in the field with lambs, avoid approaching them closely, making loud noises or walking between a lamb and its mother, as you may provoke the mother to defend her young.

    Sheep may look cute but if provoked they can cause serious injury (hence the verb "to ram"). Generally, the best plan is to walk quietly along the hedges and they will move away or ignore you.

  20. Go through the gateway and bear right up the hill and cross the field diagonally towards the protruding corner of the hedge near the white house. Follow the hedge around the corner to reach a gate.

    The village of Lizard dates from early mediaeval times. It was recorded in the Domesday survey of 1086 and at the time was held by a landowner named Richard who had 1 hide, 4 wild mares, 3 cattle, 20 pigs and 60 sheep. The relatively small amount of beef available in mediaeval times is notable. It would have been eaten mainly by the wealthy landowners and the peasants would have kept a pig. At this point in time, a pasty, based on the meat of the gentry and on potatoes from undiscovered South America, would have been a decadent and futuristic fantasy.

  21. Go through the gate and follow the left hedge to another gate.

    The settlement of Tregaminion was first recorded in 1302. Other than the obvious tre, meaning farmstead and implying an early mediaeval origin, the origin of the name is not known. There is another small settlement with the same name on Gribbin Head near Fowey, very close to where Daphne Du Maurier lived.

  22. Go through the gate and turn left onto the lane. Follow this until it ends at a junction.

    The chapel is thought to have been built in the 1860s by the Wesleyan methodists.

    By the time John Wesley died, the majority of Methodists were not attending Anglican church regularly, and following his death a Methodist church was formed, separate from the Anglican church. In the first half of the 19th Century, the Methodist movement fragmented into several different factions, often each with its own chapel in the same town. The Bible Christian movement was one of these, founded in North Cornwall in 1815 by William O'Bryan from Luxulyan. His followers are also known as the Bryonites, although after falling out with most of his ministers, O'Bryan emigrated to America. In 1907, the Bible Christian movement amalgamated with other Methodist groups to form the United Methodist Church.

  23. Turn left and follow the road back to Lizard green to complete the walk.

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