Circular walk from Lizard village to Kynance Cove (shorter version)

Lizard to Kynance Cove (shorter version)

A circular walk from Lizard village to Kynance Cove with spectacular views, wildflowers including Cornwall's county flower and wildlife including the Cornish Chough.

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The walk descends from Lizard village to reach the coast at Caerthillian Cove. The walk follows the coastline past Pentreath beach to Kynance Cove where the serpentine rocks have been sculpted by the sea into islands. The return route to Lizard is across the serpentine heathland where the stone stiles have been polished by the boots of many generations of walkers and Cornwall's county flower grows.


  • The route across the top of Kynance Cove is across some wobbly small boulders and large pebbles - a walking pole may help with balance. It's possible to bypass this using the high tide path - then a backtrack on the route down the track will be needed to visit the café overlooking the cove.
  • Route includes paths close to unfenced cliff edges.

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Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 103
  • Distance: 3.2 miles/5.1 km
  • Steepness grade: Moderate
  • Recommended footwear: Walking shoes, or trainers in summer

OS maps for this walk

OS Explorer 103 OS Explorer 103 (laminated version)

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


  • Sandy beach at Kynance Cove
  • Serpentine rocks polished by the sea
  • Wildflowers including Cornwall's county flower

Pubs on or near the route

  • The Top House Inn


  1. Make your way to the lane in front of the toilets and turn right onto this. Keep following it (signposted to Caerthillian Cove) to where it fades out into a track and continue until it eventually ends at the entrance to Porthvean House.
  2. Follow the path leading downhill from the end of the track to reach a fork with a gate on the left. Keep right to keep following the path downhill to reach a crossing over a stream and then up 3 steps to reach a junction of paths.

    Porthvean is Cornish for "small cove", referring to Caerthillian Cove where you'll meet the coast path. The Cornish word vean (meaning small) survived as a dialect word when English replaced Cornish as the spoken language (e.g. Vean Hole at Trebarwith Strand).

  3. Continue ahead on the main path through the gap in the wooden fence, ignoring any paths to the left and right. Follow the path towards the sea to where it joins the coast path at a waymark post.

    As you reach the coast, the headland on the left side of the bay is Old Lizard Head.

    In September 1886, the Suffolk - a 300ft long iron sail and steamship - was on her way back from Baltimore in the USA with a cargo of tobacco, wheat, flour, walnut logs and cattle. In thick fog she hit Old Lizard Head and was wrecked. All of her crew and passengers were saved but only 26 of the 161 cattle survived. The broken-up remains of the ship lie in 10 metres of water just north of the headland.

  4. At the waymark, continue ahead on the coast path and follow the path up some steps to the top of the headland and then up another flight of steps to a stone stile crossing the wall.

    Rock Samphire grows on the rocky cliffs within the valley.

    Rock samphire has been a popular wild food since Celtic times. It has a strong, characteristic, slightly lemony flavour and recently has become more well-known as a flavouring for gin. It was very popular as a pickle in 16th century Britain until it almost died out from over-picking in the 19th Century. Consequently, it's currently a protected plant but is now making a good comeback. In Shakespeare's time, a rope was tied to a child's ankles and he was dangled over the cliff to pick the rock samphire that grew in crevices and clefts in the rocks.

    The completely unrelated but similar-looking golden samphire also grows around the North Cornish coast. The leaves look almost identical, but the daisy-like yellow flowers in summer are a giveaway, as rock samphire has tiny green-white flowers that look more like budding cow parsley. Golden samphire is edible, but is inferior in flavour to rock samphire; it is also nationally quite rare in Britain.

    Also completely unrelated is marsh samphire (also known as glasswort) which looks more like micro-asparagus. This is what typically appears on restaurant menus or in supermarkets as "samphire".

  5. Climb the wall and turn left. Follow the path along the wall and up the steps to an impressively short waymark where the path crosses over another wall.

    The wreck of the SS Gairsoppa was discovered in 2011 in a three mile deep area of the Celtic sea. The ship was carrying 200 tonnes of silver when it sank, worth tens of millions of pounds today. By 2013, 61 tonnes of silver bullion had been recovered, and in 2014 the Royal Mint used a portion of the recovered silver to issue 20,000 commemorative 50p coins.

  6. Cross over the wall and continue along the coast path, over another wall and uphill to a gap through a wall with a fence along the top.

    The remnants of a wreck visible at low tide on Pentreath beach are from the steam-powered trawler, Maud, which was wrecked in 1912. The damaged trawler was on tow by a tug and the captain ordered the engines of the trawler to be run to reduce drag on the tug. The strain caused by the engines on the damaged boat caused it to leak. On finding water was coming into the cabin floor, the engineer bored holes in the watertight bulkhead, to allow the water to drain into the engine room bilges. Salvage pumps were taken onboard at Milford Haven but the vessel's bilges were not properly cleaned out. As they rounded the lizard in a gale, the pumps clogged and the trawler began to take on water. The holes drilled through the (no longer watertight) bulkhead allowed water to flood the engine room, extinguishing the boiler and thus permanently killing all the pumps except hand pumps which were inadequate. The tug tried to get the trawler ashore but could not move the waterlogged boat against the gale and its crew had to abandon it. The trawler washed ashore just before it sank. A formal investigation found the actions of the Captain and Engineer to be "wrongful" and suspended the Captain's licence.

  7. Go through the gap and continue on the coast path along the cliff top. Just as the hut in the car park comes into view, the path forks. Keep right at the fork to a gap in the wall.

    On 31st August 1924, the Bardic went aground on Maenheere at the Lizard. The Lizard lifeboat brought her 93 crew ashore but 44 returned to the ship to keep the refrigerators running as the ship's cargo was frozen rabbits. On 8th September the increasing winds meant it was no longer safe for the crew to remain aboard and they were taken ashore by the lifeboat. Without the crew to attend to the refrigerators, they stopped working and the rabbits began to decompose. Once the wind dropped, the ship was towed into Falmouth, the smell of which would not have delighted the residents. The rotting rabbits were dumped down a mineshaft at St Day.

  8. Go through the gap and head towards the rocky islands, then bear right and follow the path along the top of the rock outcrops on the edge of the coast. Continue until you reach a gravel track leading from the car park. Bear left onto the track and follow this until it ends at a bench constructed from boulders.

    Choughs nest in the area and, if you are lucky, you may see (or equally likely hear) some as you walk along the coast.

    The chough is a member of the crow family, with striking red legs and a red beak. They are also recognisable from feathers, spread like fingers, on their wing tips. It was known as the "Crow of Cornwall" and appears on the county coat of arms. The birds have a loud, distinctive "chee-ow" call which is perhaps best described as resembling a squeaky dog toy! Once you've heard it a couple of times, you'll be able to recognise them from the sound long before you can see them.

  9. Go down the steps and follow the path to reach another track.

    The shallow bed of white sand surrounding the spit of land forming the beach results in brilliant turquoise water surrounding the islands. Consequently, Kynance Cove is considered one of the most beautiful beaches in the world and attracts a quarter of a million visitors every year. The cove first became popular in the early Victorian era, with Queen Victoria and Alfred Tennyson being amongst the visitors.

  10. Turn left onto the track and follow this down to the beach.

    Due to its popularity in Victorian times, the caves at Kynance Cove have acquired suitably Victorian names such as The Parlour, The Drawing Room and Ladies Bathing Pool. The rock stacks also have colourful names including The Lion, The Bishop, Steeple Rock and Sugarloaf Rock, and no Cornish beach would be complete without a Gull Rock. Asparagus Island, accessible at low tide, is more functionally-named - it is one of the few remaining places in the UK where wild asparagus still grows.

  11. Cross the beach until you reach the first lifebuoy and then turn right up the path to the toilets which opens out into a track. Continue past the toilets, following the track around two sharp bends, until you reach a short waymark post with a blue arrow. If the tide is completely in, you'll need to backtrack a short distance to the high tide path and turn right at the top onto the track to reach the waymark with a blue arrow.

    There is a blowhole in Asparagus Island, known by the same name as the one at Boscastle - The Devil's Bellows. When there is a swell, at mid tide, it ejects water through what is termed The Devil's Letterbox. The blowhole is connected to a sixty metre long tunnel which passes all the way through Asparagus Island. On the southwest side, buckles and coins have been found in the sand which it is thought may be from a Dutch wreck in the early 1700s.

  12. At the waymark, bear right onto the small path and follow it across the heath until it rejoins the track.

    The open heathland provides an ideal habitat for a more literal serpent - the adder.

    The name "adder" arose through a mistake. In mediaeval English, a word for any generic snake was a nadder. Through a process of misunderstanding known as "wrong division", the correct form a nadder became the incorrect an adder. Eventually the usage became restricted from any snake to just the snake also known as the viper.

    Heathers and heaths are members of the Ericaceae family. The formal definition of a heather is a member of the Calluna genus within this family whereas heaths are members of the Erica genus. Bell heather is actually an Erica and therefore technically not a heather but a heath.

    Heather plants can live up to 40 years and over time they form woody stems. This provides them with a way of excreting heavy metals that they absorb by locking it up in the layers of dead wood (found by researchers as the areas in the plant with the highest concentrations). Their woody stems have also found many uses over the centuries including fuel, thatch and ropes. One other use has made it into the genus name for heather - kallune is Greek for "to brush".

  13. Bear right onto the track and follow it until you reach a small path leading into the Kynance car park.

    Serpentine rocks produce soils which are low in nutrients and sometimes contain metal compounds that are toxic to many plants. The areas above these rocks are consequently known as Serpentine Barrens. The flora that is found here is very specialised and often slow growing due to the limited nutrients. The resulting low growth means that it is a good habitat for lizards and snakes to "catch some rays" but this is a happy coincidence rather than anything to do with the name.

  14. Turn left onto the small path leading inland, away from the car park, and follow this until it ends on a lane at a waymark with six arrows! After prolonged wet weather the moor here can be muddy so during the winter you may instead wish to continue following the track alongside the car park and the lane away from the car park to reach the waymark with six arrows.

    The county flower of Cornwall is the Cornish Heath - a plant that most people (Cornish included) have never heard of let alone seen. The only place in England that the shrub grows is on the Lizard Peninsula and it looks fairly unremarkable until late summer when it produces the most beautiful tiny lilac-coloured flowers. It is easy to distinguish from other heather flowers by the dark ring around the ends of the pale flowers.

    In Rill Cove is a Spanish wreck which is possibly the wreck from 1616 known as the "great silver ship". More than 700 Spanish silver coins have been recovered. The wreck is now a protected site, with no diving allowed within 100 metres.

  15. Bear left onto the lane and follow it to a bend where a track and footpath marked with a green sign (leading over a stone stile) both depart from the right.

    In January 2004, a trawler from Brittany, the "Bugaled Breizh", sank off The Lizard with the loss of 5 lives. After raising the vessel, it was found to have sustained no impact but to have been crushed by water pressure. Accident investigators concluded that the vessel was most likely to have been pulled under by its nets snagging a submarine, which could take down a vessel of this size in just over a minute. There were several British, French and Dutch submarines in the approximate area at the time on a NATO exercise, but none of these were reported to be at the location where the boat sank. There was also an unidentified submarine in the area, observing the NATO exercise, and the conclusion of the Inquiry by the French authorities was that this "spy" submarine may well have been the cause of the sinking.

  16. Follow the footpath ahead over a stile and into a field. Cross the field to the stile opposite.

    The cattle breeds known as Devon were also the traditional breeds used in Cornwall until recent years. The South Devon breed, affectionately known as "Orange Elephant" or "Gentle Giant", is the largest of the British native breeds: the largest recorded bull weighed 2 tonnes. They are thought to have descended from the large red cattle of Normandy, which were imported during the Norman invasion of England. The other breed, known as "Devon Ruby" or "Red Ruby" (due to their less orange colouration), is one of the oldest breeds in existence, with origins thought to be from pre-Roman Celtic Britain.

  17. Cross the stile and the one at the other end of the gravel path, then follow the path down into an area with bushes to reach a stone stile ahead.

    Part of the Earth's mantle, normally tens of miles below your feet, was once bulldozed onto the Cornish mainland in front of the advancing continent. The mantle contains elements such as iron, magnesium and calcium which are less common in the Earth's crust as they are comparatively heavy and normally get chance to sink back into the mantle. The rocks rich in these minerals, such as Greenstone, are referred to as "mafic" whereas those containing relatively little (e.g. granite which is formed from magma which slowly works its way up through the Earth's crust) are referred to as "felsic".

    It is these mafic rocks, from the earth's mantle, that have reacted with water to form the Serpentinite that The Lizard is famous for. As you have been walking along the path, you may have noticed how Serpentinite rocks have been polished by the feet of generations of walkers, often resulting in some spectacularly colourful steps.

  18. Climb the stile and follow the path along the top of the wall until it descends some steps near a building.

    In nuclear reactors, high energy neutrons are produced. If these escape from the reactor, they are biologically harmful. Materials containing hydrogen atoms are the most effective at slowing the excited neutrons down so that they can be re-absorbed within the reactor. Because of its high level of bound water, serpentine makes a very good neutron-shield and Serpentinite gravel is therefore added to make the special concrete used in reactor shielding.

  19. Go down the steps and follow the path along the hedge on your left, passing the footpath sign and continuing along the hedge to join a track and merge onto the lane. Follow the lane back to the car park to complete the circular route.

    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.

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