Mawgan Porth to St Mawgan circular walk

Mawgan Porth to St Mawgan

A mostly circular walk from Mawgan Porth along the Vale of Lanherne, following the river Menalhyl to St Mawgan and returning past the 800-year-old cloistered Convent where the sanctuary light has been burning for hundreds of years.

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The walk starts from Mawgan Porth which was once a Saxon settlement. The route starts upriver towards Retorrick Mill, crosses into the Menalhyl valley and continues along woodland paths lined with wild garlic in spring to the curiously-named Windsor Mill. At St Mawgan, the route crosses the River Menalhyl to the mediaeval church. The return route to Mawgan Porth is via the meadows of the Vale of Lanherne, rich in wildflowers and wildlife.

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Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 106
  • Distance: 4.3 miles/6.9 km
  • Steepness grade: Easy
  • Recommended footwear: walking boots, or shoes in summer; wellies after prolonged wet weather

OS maps for this walk

OS Explorer 106 OS Explorer 106 (laminated version)

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


  • Sandy beach at Mawgan Porth
  • Tranquil riverside village of St Mawgan with a mediaeval church and convent
  • Pretty woodland and meadows along the Vale of Lanherne

Pubs on or near the route

  • Tha Falcon Inn
  • The Merrymoor Inn


  1. From the junction in Mawgan Porth, head along the small lane signposted to Mawgan. Follow it past the Magic Cove sign until you reach a public bridleway sign on the left.

    The car parks at Mawgan Porth are at the foot of some mediaeval hay meadows; some of the individual tenants' strips can still be made out when viewed from a distance.

    In mediaeval times, the Anglo-Saxon "stitch meal" technique was adopted in some parts of Cornwall. This involved dividing arable and meadow land into long strips called "stitches". Villagers would be allocated a (usually disconnected) set of strips so that the "best" fields were shared around as evenly as possible. The long, thin shape was ideal for ploughing with oxen. A typical stitch was one furlong in length and one acre in area, which could be ploughed by a team of oxen in a day.

    A similar, but not identical, system of strip fields known as "burgage" plots was also used in mediaeval times but these were associated with a row of houses along a road in a settlement. The burgage plots were effectively very long, thin back gardens that also contained about an acre of cultivatable land.

  2. Bear left onto the bridleway and follow this to reach a junction.

    Excavations at Mawgan Porth have revealed a settlement of the Late Saxon period, comprising three groups of buildings ("courtyard houses") and a burial ground, dating from around 850-1050. Finds included pottery and stone artefacts.

  3. Cross to the track opposite and follow it to the end of the buildings.
  4. After the buildings, keep following the track ahead until you reach a footpath sign where a path departs to the right.

    Blackthorn and hawthorn trees both grow in similar places but in each season there are different ways to tell them apart.

    In spring, blackthorn is one of the first trees to flower. The white blossom appears before the leaves in April. In warm weather, the leaves may quickly catch up and this is when it can get mistaken for hawthorn, which produces leaves before flowers. However, there are a few other ways to distinguish the flowers: blackthorn pollen is orange whereas hawthorn is pink, fading to black. Hawthorn petals overlap each other whereas blackthorn is more "gappy".

    In summer, the leaf shape can be used to tell them apart. Blackthorn leaves are a classic leaf shape with slightly serrated edges. Hawthorn leaves have deep notches dividing the leaf into several lobes a bit like oak.

    In autumn, pretty much all hawthorn trees have small red berries, even the windswept specimens on the coast. Blackthorn trees may have purple sloes, but not all the trees fruit each year. Some years seem to result in a lot more sloes than others.

    Hawthorn trees are often a little bigger than blackthorn, especially in harsh environments such as on the coast. Blackthorn tends to form thickets whereas hawthorn are typically distinct trees. Hawthorn bark is usually shiny whereas blackthorn is dull. The thorns on hawthorn tend to be shorter (less then 2cm) and point slightly forwards on the stem. Blackthorn has longer spikes that stick out at right angles.

  5. Turn right onto the footpath signposted to St Mawgan and follow this across the stream. Continue on the path until it eventually reaches a footbridge over the river.

    During the summer months, slow worms can sometimes be seen basking in the sunshine, particularly on pieces of stone which act as a sunbed. Being reptiles, they don't generate their own body heat so they need to get it from an external source. Despite their resemblance to snakes, slow worms are lizards that have evolved to lose their legs. They are a good example of convergent evolution, where quite unrelated groups of animals have evolved to fill a similar niche. Slow worms are surprisingly long lived, and may exceed 30 years of age in the wild and over 50 years in captivity.

    The orange tree trunks are due to lichen growing on the bark.

    One in five of all known fungi form lichens. Studies suggest that many species of fungi that form lichens started out from ancestors that lived on organic waste. Fossils have also revealed that the symbiosis between algae and fungi dates back more than 400 million years roughly to the time when plants first evolved from green algae.

  6. Cross the footbridge and follow the path a short distance to reach a lane.

    Hemp agrimony is a fairly tall plant that grows in damp places and produces large number of tiny pink flowers from July to September, hence an alternative common name of "raspberries and cream". The flowers are rich in nectar so bees and butterflies are often found on them. It's one of the later plants to be in flower in the hedgerows so it keeps bees and butterflies going during the early autumn.

    It is unrelated to hemp and also to plants in agrimony family. The reason for "hemp" in common name and "cannabinum" in the Latin name is because the leaves look a bit like cannabis. A name of "holy rope" has also been used for it which may be another reference to hemp.

    The two most common pigeon species are the wood pigeon and feral pigeon (domesticated rock dove). Wood pigeons are larger than rock doves. Rock doves have an iridescent green/purple patch on their necks whereas adult wood pigeons have a white patch on their neck (although this is not present in young birds).

  7. Bear right onto the lane and follow it uphill until you reach a junction opposite Menalhyl Yard.

    The River Menalhyl, which meets the sea at Mawgan Porth, is about 12 miles long and had a number of mills along its length. The name of the river comes from the Cornish words melyn, meaning mill, and heyl, meaning estuary.

  8. Enter Menalhyl Yard and cross the gravel to the path running between a pair of wooden fences. Follow the pathway along the edge of the meadow until you eventually reach a stile.

    Common knapweed (also known as black knapweed) is most easily recognised by its bright purple thistle-like flowers but without spiky leaves. It's actually a member of the daisy family and is often seen along paths and roadside verges. Other names for the plant include "hardhead" (used in Cornwall in Victorian times) and "loggerhead" due to the sturdy flower heads. "knap" is from the Middle English word for "knob" and consequently another name for the plant is "knobweed".

    It is an important plant for pollinating insects and was rated in the top 5 for most nectar production in a UK plants survey. In terms of plants that produce both nectar and pollen, it is rated as the top producer overall, producing a good amount of each.

    Watermills were first documented in the first century BC and the technology spread quickly across the Roman Empire with commercial mills being used in Roman Britain. By the time of the Domesday survey in the 11th Century, there were more than 6,000 watermills in England. During Norman times, the feudal system lead to a greater proliferation of mills with each manor being self-sufficient with its own mill.

  9. Cross the stile and follow the path through the trees until it eventually emerges onto a track beside a public footpath sign.

    In spring and early summer, the area beneath the trees is carpeted in wild garlic.

    All plants in the onion family are poisonous to dogs including wild garlic. This is one of the reasons that feeding dogs human foods (many of which contain onion such as gravy powder) is not good for them. Garlic is extremely toxic to dogs and cats and the consumption of even a small amount can lead to severe poisoning. Keep dogs away from wild garlic and wash their paws if they come into contact with it.

    Trees grow from a microscopically thin layer of cells that sits between the bark and the wood. On the outside it produces the inner bark (phloem) and on the inside it produces the outer section of wood (xylem).

  10. Follow the lane away from Windsor Mill until it eventually ends at a junction beside a public footpath sign.

    The settlement of Windsor dates back to the Middle Ages. It is first recorded in 1327 when it is spelt "Wyndesore". No-one is quite sure of the origin of the name.

  11. Turn right at the junction and follow the lane downhill and over a bridge to another junction.

    The settlement on this side of the river is known as Lanvean. Once you cross the river, you are in St Mawgan.

    The settlement on the opposite side of the river to St Mawgan is known as Lanvean. The name Lanvean may refer to a former chapel: Lan typically refers to a churchyard and Vean means "small" in Cornish and survived for a long time in the local dialect, even when English replaced Cornish as the spoken language (e.g. "E'm only a vean child").

    The settlement now known as St Mawgan, is first recorded in the Domesday survey of 1086. The village was then known as Lanherne, and the river valley is still known as "The Vale of Lanherne". The Lan part probably refers to the church; no-one is quite sure of the origin of the herne part. After the Norman Conquest, the village was "rebranded", being recorded as Villa Sancti Malgani in 1206, which evolved into the modern day St Mawgan.

  12. Turn left at the junction and follow the lane to the entrance to the churchyard, opposite the Falcon Inn.

    The Falcon Inn in St Mawgan dates back to, at least, the 16th Century. In 1780, the pub was known as the Gardeners Arms and was later renamed The Falcon due to its association with the Willyams family of the Carnanton estate whose coat of arms features a falcon.

    Records of an Inn in the village have been found as far back as 1758, and in 1779 there were records of a pub called "The New Inn". It is known that from the 14th century, the village had a number of breweries and cider houses which is presumably why it was seen as a "New Inn" in the 16th Century.

  13. Turn right through the archway into the churchyard and follow the path to the church door.

    The church in St Mawgan dates from the 13th Century and was enlarged in the 15th Century, which included raising the tower to 70ft in height. It is dedicated to the Celtic saint Mauganus who crops up elsewhere in Cornwall, Wales and Brittany. By the top of the steps near the porch is a mediaeval cross in the shape of a lantern which dates from 1420.

  14. At the church door, climb the steps and follow the path through a gate out of the churchyard, and a short distance further until you reach a lane.

    In St Mawgan churchyard, there is a memorial carved in the shape of a stern of a boat (replacing the original memorial which had decayed in 1992). This is to ten men who died of hypothermia in a boat which drifted ashore on 15th December 1846 at Beacon Cove at the northern end of Tregurrian Beach (now more commonly known as Watergate Bay).

    The reason they are here in the churchyard is that in 1808 the "Dead Bodies Interment Bill" was introduced which meant that a Christian burial was required for the shipwrecked (funded by the county where they came ashore) and a reward was paid to those who discovered the bodies.

  15. Turn left onto the lane and walk past the gate on the right into the farm to reach a second gate with "dogs must be kept on a lead" sign opposite the cottage. Go through the gate and follow the track through the field to reach a farm gate on the other side.

    As you reach the lane, the large walled area to your left above the church is Lanherne Convent.

    The building in St Mawgan that is now Lanherne Covent, which is over 800 years old, originally belonged to the Arundell family and was the servants' quarters for their Manor House. Lanherne is a cloistered Convent, which means the Sisters never leave the grounds unless they need to go to hospital. In between worship, they live a subsistence lifestyle: cooking, cleaning, sewing and tending the gardens, orchards, ducks and geese. The Sanctuary light, before the Blessed Sacrament, has remained alight for hundreds of years.

    For two centuries, it was home to The Carmelite Sisters, but numbers dwindled, and in 2001, the ageing nuns eventually handed it over for use by the current Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate. However, recently, the Carmelite order expressed their desire to sell the property, and the Friends of Lanherne charity has been set up to preserve the use of the building as a Convent (by Sisters of the Immaculate). One complication is that as Franciscans, the Sisters are not allowed to own any properties and nor do they have any money to purchase it. Hence they need a little help from their Friends. The campaign has even given rise to a spot of blogging and a YouTube video from the Sisters in between prayer, picking apples and tending geese.

  16. Go through the gate and continue along the track, to a gate in the far hedge.

    The track here is actually part of the road network and classified as a Public Highway!

    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.


    • 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).


    • 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.
  17. Go through the gate and follow the track to a final gate.

    RAF St Mawgan, on the hill to the south of St Mawgan, was originally a civilian airfield that was requisitioned in the Second World War as a satellite of the nearby St Eval airfield. After the war, it was reopened as a Coastal Command base for maritime reconnaissance which continued until the 1990s. It is also believed that the US Government built an underground bunker housing nuclear warheads during the Cold War. Since the 1990s, the airfield was mainly used for Search and Rescue. In 2008, the runway was handed to Newquay Airport, to resume its original civilian role. There is still an RAF base on the site and there is discussion about possibly relocating the Search and Rescue services here once more.

  18. Go through the gate onto a lane. Follow the lane past Polgreen Manor and the lakes. Continue beneath the trees until you reach a low wooden fence along the lane and then a track on the right immediately after this (with an "Unsuitable For Motor Vehicles" sign facing in the opposite direction).

    In folklore, the bluebell is a symbol of constancy, presumably based on the fact that they flower in the same place every year. It was said that anyone who wears a bluebell is compelled to tell the truth. This could be the origin of the "…something blue…" that a bride should wear on her wedding day.

    Sycamores like moist soil and the young trees need a lot of water (equivalent to an inch of rain per week) to get established. For this reason, sycamores are very often found along streams or in low-lying meadows that collect water. Once their roots grow deep enough, the mature trees can withstand drought by tapping into underground moisture.

  19. Turn right down the track and follow it (using the bridges to bypass the fords - left for the first ford, right for the second) until it ends at a lane.

    During late April, St Mark's flies occur in quite large numbers. They are recognisable by their shiny black colour, slow flight and dangly legs and have a habit of landing of anything in their path, walkers included. The larvae live in the soil feeding on roots and rotting vegetation and hatch around St Mark's Day (25th April), sometimes later into May in a cold year. The adults only live for about a week but they do feed on nectar, making them important pollinators. Each of the males eyes are divided into two parts by a groove and each part has a separate connection to their brains. This allows them to use one half to fly whilst using the other half to look for females.

    Hemlock (also known as water dropwort) is a member of the carrot family (related to cow parsley and alexanders) and is common in damp, shady places, particularly near streams. The stems are tubular and quite thick like alexanders and the leaves look quite like coriander (more toothed on the edges than alexanders). New leaves begin to shoot in early winter and by February these are starting to grow into quite noticeable small plants. It flowers in April and May with white flowers similar to cow parsley. It has a deceptively pleasant sweet smell but don't be tempted to try eating it: this is the most poisonous plant in UK. Just a handful of leaves can kill a human and a root contains enough poison to kill a cow.

    Damselflies are predators similar to dragonflies but are easily distinguishable by the way their wings fold back parallel to the body when at rest whereas the dragonflies' wings are fixed at a right angle to the body. The Damselfly has a much smaller body than a dragonfly which means it has less stamina for flight. Nevertheless, it can hover, in a stationary position, long enough to pluck spiders from their webs.

    Two different species of bindweed are found in Cornwall. Hedge bindweed has quite large pure white trumpet-shaped flowers and is also known as bellbind due to the shape of the flowers. Field bindweed (also known as creeping jenny) has smaller trumpet-shaped flowers with a striking pink-and-white-striped pattern which wouldn't look out of place in a sweet shop.

    Buzzards were once thought to be a threat to game birds and were actively shot. During the 1950s-60s, the combination of myxomatosis nearly wiping out one of their main food sources and use of pesticides such as DDT caused further decline in the buzzard population. Since then the population has gradually recovered and buzzards are now the commonest and most widespread bird of prey in the UK.

  20. Turn right onto the lane and follow it past Sun Haven holiday park to a junction on the left signposted Retorrick Mill (where you emerged earlier on the route).

    Red valerian is also known as kiss-me-quick, fox's brush and Devil's or Jupiter's beard and can be seen flowering in early summer in hedgerows near the coast. The plant is originally from the Mediterranean and is thought to have been introduced as a garden plant roughly around the Tudor period. It has since become naturalised and the brightly-coloured flowers provide nectar for bees, butterflies and moths. Over time the base of the stems can get as thick as a small tree trunk which can lever apart the walls in which it can often be seen growing.

    Red valerian occurs with three main flower colours: about 50% of plants are deep pink, 40% are red and around 10% have white flowers. Very pale pink also occurs to but is much rarer. These distinct forms are an example of flower colour polymorphism. The red pigment within the flowers is an anthrocyanin compound and the different colours are due to different amounts of the pigment.

  21. Turn left and follow the lane to the corner then bear left onto the public footpath and follow this over the bridge, along the line of trees and over the stream crossing to return to the junction of paths with a signpost (on the left).

    Garlic mustard is a member of the cabbage family. It is edible and the leaves tastes mildly of garlic but become more bitter as they mature.

    It is also known as hedge garlic or Jack-by-the-hedge as it likes shady places. The "Jack" is a reference to the devil (probably by someone not a fan of garlic).

    The young leaves look a bit like stinging nettles but are brighter green. As the leaves get larger, they get less toothed and are more heart-shaped. It has white flowers in April and early May with 4 small petals forming a cross.

    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.

  22. Turn left (signposted Mawgan Porth) and retrace the route back through the holiday park to the entrance road with "The Park" sign. Cross this to the paved path opposite and follow this to emerge onto the road. Turn right onto the road to return to Mawgan Porth.

    The name Mawgan Porth has arisen from the Cornish name - Porthmaugan, in use in the 18th Century. However, in mediaeval times, it was known by a completely different name - Porthglyvyan - which translates to something along the lines of "cove of the wooded valley stream".

    The beach at Mawgan Porth faces West into the Atlantic and has good surf, particularly when the wind is in an easterly direction. Opinions differ on whether the effect of the tide is significant on the quality of the surf; some say that it is best just after low tide.

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