Mevagissey to Portmellon

A circular walk from the busy fishing port of Mevagissey into the Portmellon Valley and through the West Bodrugan Woods nature reserve to the beachside village of Portmellon where boats have been built for hundreds of years, and still are.

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The walk winds through the main streets of Mevagissey and then crosses Polkirt Hill via Penwarne Manor into the Portmellon Valley. The route then descends through the West Bodrugan Wood nature reserve and meadows to the cove at Portmellon. From here the route follows the coast back to Mevagissey, descending through the park to The Platt on Mevagissey's outer quays. The route then follows around the edge of Mevagissey harbour past the aquarium and completes the circular route through back streets to the church.

Considerations

  • Note that most coastal walks in Cornwall have paths close to unfenced cliffs.

Reviews

Fantastic walk.. beautiful views.

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 105
  • Distance: 3.4 miles/5.4 km
  • Grade: Moderate
  • Start from: Mevagissey car park
  • Parking: Mevagissey car park PL266SB
  • Recommended footwear: Walking shoes or trainers in summer

OS maps for this walk

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

Highlights

  • West Bodrugan Wood Nature Reserve
  • Views over Mevagissey harbour from Polkirt Hill
  • Historic fishing port of Mevagissey

Pubs on or near the route

  • The Fountain Inn
  • The Kings Arms
  • The Rising Sun Inn
  • The Sharksfin
  • The Ship Inn

Directions

  1. Turn left out of the car park and follow the pedestrian lane on the road to a junction. Continue ahead at the junction, signposted for the Parish Church, until you reach a junction by the Ship Inn.

    A fishing village on the northern side of the cove was first recorded in 1313 as Porthhilly from the Cornish words porth and hyly, meaning "salt water harbour", although it is likely a settlement existed here for a long time. Artefacts such as arrows and axe heads found in the village and on display in the museum date back to the Bronze Age. Nearby there was a small religious community of Lamorick, centred around what is now St Peter's Church. In 1259, the church was dedicated to two Irish Saints - St Meva and St Issey (who also crops up in St Issey near Wadebridge). During the 15th Century, the two settlements became known collectively by the saints to whom the church had been dedicated: "Meva-ag-Issey" (where hag is the Cornish word for "and"). During the 17th Century, Porthhilly expanded and merged with the neighbouring hamlet of Lamorick resulting in the single town of Mevagissey.

  2. Once you pass the Ship Inn, turn right and follow Fore Street past The Kings Arms. Continue up the hill until you reach a track on the right, just past Honeycombe House.

    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.

  3. Turn right up the track beside Honeycombe House and follow it to the gate of Polhaun. Follow the path to the left of the gate to emerge onto a lane.

    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.

  4. Turn right onto the lane and follow it a short distance to a public footpath sign on the left. Turn left up the path to reach a gate.

    Some kind of annual celebration has been held in Mevagissey for hundreds of years. This was originally held in December, and likely to be a remnant of the Celtic Winter Solstice festival, similar to Padstow's Mummers Day. However, this coincided with a busy fishing period, so in 1752, Mevagissey pragmatically adopted St Peter (Patron Saint of fishermen) and has instead held a festival to celebrate St. Peter's Day on 29th June ever since. In the 18th and 19th centuries, this was purely a religious festival where each denomination would have a "Feast Day" which included a procession with a band and hymn singing, with everyone wearing their Sunday Best. As there were a lot more churches and chapels then, this would have taken a whole week. As the number of chapels, and Christian worship generally, diminished during the 20th Century, the feast week began to fade. In the 1960s, the festival was rejuvenated as a week of family fun, music, and floral dances through the streets, with a carnival and fireworks display at the end of the week. This is probably closer in spirit to the original Celtic festival, and coincides with another Celtic celebration - Beltane - of the Summer solstice.

  5. Go through the kissing gate next to the gate and keep left along the track to reach a field. Follow the left hedge, past the houses, to a field gate on the left just after the second house.

    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.

  6. Go through the gate on the left and follow the track until it ends on a lane.
  7. Bear right onto the lane and follow it a short distance until you reach a track on the right marked with a Penwarne Manor and public footpath sign.
  8. Turn right down the track and follow it to a gate.

    Navelwort grows in the shaded areas on the walls along the track.

    The succulent leaves of navelwort can be eaten and used in a salad. Older leaves become more bitter so the younger leaves are recommended. Care should be taken not to pull roots out of wall when breaking off leaves.

  9. Go through the gate and follow the track between the buildings then bear right up a gravel track marked "parking" to reach a footpath sign.

    Penwarne Manor can be traced back to the 14th Century and was substantially restored during the early 1600s. In the late 20th century, the property fell into disrepair and hadn't been lived in for 10 years when it was purchased in 2007. A restoration programme followed, lasting several years, to repair the manor house and reconstruct the derelict barns as holiday accommodation whilst recreating the original state as much as possible, using original materials.

  10. Turn left onto the path opposite the footpath sign and follow it to a gate with a stile alongside. Go through this and continue on the path to reach a stile into a field.
  11. Cross the stile and continue ahead on the path staying on the same level. Follow the path as it bends around the hill to the right and then downwards, eventually reaching a gap in the middle of the hedge.

    Sorrel is common in fields and hedgerows and easily recognisable by its red seeds at the top of a tall stalk. The leaves resemble small, narrow dock leaves.

    Sorrel is used both in soups or as a salad vegetable. The leaves have a pleasant lemony flavour.

    In common with many vegetables, Sorrel contains oxalic acid. Exactly how much is a bit unclear: many articles mention "high amounts" though some published studies report a lower percentage than in spinach, parsley or rhubarb, though don't specify how easily soluble the Oxalic acid is in each case. Oxalic acid poisonous if enough is consumed and prolonged exposure can cause kidney stones. So use sorrel reasonably sparingly and don't eat it every day.

  12. Go through the gap in the hedge and cross the field to another gap in the hedge opposite.

    Ribwort plantain is a common weed on cultivated land with unmistakable black seed heads on the end of tall stalks often with a halo of white flowers. Generations of children have worked out that by knotting the stem, the seed head can be launched as a projectile at unsuspecting adults.

    A tea made from the leaves is a popular herbal remedy used as a cough medicine. Care should be taken where the plant is harvested as it is not only highly tolerant of high metal levels in the soil but also accumulates these. It will even tolerate and accumulate arsenic which is normally toxic to plants. It therefore has the potential to be used for cleansing soils contaminated with mine waste.

  13. Go through the gap in the hedge and follow the path down to the corner of the field. As you approach the corner, follow along the fence on the left to reach a kissing gate.

    Towards the top of the valley is an area of new woodland spanning both sides of the valley.

    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.

  14. Go through the gate in the corner and cross the footbridge to reach a gate. Go through the gate and follow the path until you emerge onto a lane.
  15. Turn left onto the lane and follow it uphill until you reach a pair of gates either side of the lane, each with a public footpath sign.

    The stream meandering across the floodplain creates a wildlife-rich wetland area along the bottom of the valley.

    You may remember from school geography lessons that the faster-flowing water around the outside of the bend causes a meander in a river to slowly grow as the outside edge is eroded and sediment is deposited on the inside by slower-moving water. At this point, your school geography teacher probably got excited about ox-bow lakes and never got around to explaining exactly why the water flows faster on the outside in the first place. So that you don't go to your grave feeling short-changed, an attempt at an explanation follows...

    Flowing water piles into the outside of the bend and creates a higher pressure there. Close to the riverbed, water is moving very slowly so the high pressure pushes water across the bottom from the outside to the inside. This drags the faster-moving water across the top of the river to the outside to take its place. This spiralling current both erodes the outside edge with faster-moving water and also transports the sediment back across the bottom to the inside

  16. Go through the gate on the left marked "West Bodrugan Wood Nature Reserve" and follow the path through the wood to reach a stile.

    Lesser celandines the common plants along woodland paths recognisable by their yellow star-shaped flowers. Despite their name, they are not closely related to the Greater Celandine. Lesser celandines are actually a member of the buttercup family and, like buttercups, they contain the poisonous chemical protoanemonin.

    During periods of cold weather, spring flowers, such as bluebells, have already started the process of growth by preparing leaves and flowers in underground bulbs during summer and autumn. They are then able to grow in the cold of winter, or early spring, by using these resources stored in their bulb. Once they have flowered, the leaves die off and the cycle begins again.

    Other species (such as cow parsley or dandelions) require warm weather before they are able to germinate and grow. With the warmer springs induced by climate change, bluebells lose their "early start" advantage, and can be out-competed.

    Red and Roe deer are the two truly native species of the six found in the UK and both have pointy, branching (rugose) antlers. The Red deer is the largest of the species and has a characteristic large white V on its backside whereas the Roe deer just has a small white patch.

    The fallow deer was introduced by the Normans and has flat, elk-like (palmate) antlers and an inverted black horseshoe surrounding a white patch on its rear end.

    In the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, three "exotic" Asian species (munjac, sika and Chinese water deer) were introduced. These all have quite rounded ears whereas the European species all have pointy "elf-like" ears.

    Roe deer, Fallow deer and Red deer are all present in Cornwall and the populations of all three species has increased substantially over the past decade, possibly by as much as a factor of ten. There are also a small number of munjac deer, but far fewer than in the rest of England.

  17. Cross the stile and follow the path through the bracken to reach a set of steps into the meadow.

    Bracken is a type of fern. Many ferns have a leaf with leaflets leading out from the main leaf stem. In bracken, these leaflets also have their own mini-leaflets which most other ferns do not (but a few do). Another characteristic feature of bracken is that the fronds emerge from the ground singly rather than grouped in tufts. Perhaps the easiest way to spot mature bracken plants is by their sturdy stem which acts a bit like the trunk of a tree with leaves going out horizontally from this. Other ferns leaves tend to grow directly out of the ground.

  18. Climb the steps and cross the meadow to the opening opposite.

    The field here seems to be a popular spot for moles who can easily escape any seasonal flooding by retreating to tunnels higher up the field.

    Moles are solitary except when breeding so a network of tunnels is occupied by a single mole. Moles typically live for around 3 years and when a mole dies, its tunnel network is often inherited by one of its offspring. Thus the expanding estate can be passed down through several generations. In wetland areas where there is no gradient available to retreat uphill from rising water, moles construct a large mound protruding around half a metre above the ground to act as an emergency flood shelter.

  19. Go through the opening and continue to follow the left hedge to reach a gate.

    Grasses have evolved to grow new leaves from the base of the stem which makes them able to withstand grazing (and mowing). However too much grazing, particularly when grasses are in the process of producing seed, or too much trampling can damage the grass. In the wild, predator species play an important role by chasing herbivores to a new location which gives the grass a chance to recover.

  20. Go through the gate (unhook the chain if present and re-attach after going through) and bear left onto the lane to reach a gravel track leading ahead through the boatyard. Continue through the boatyard and bear left onto the lane after this to reach 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.

  21. Turn left onto the road and carefully follow it past the beach and pub. Continue following it uphill until it ends in a junction beside a Mevagissey sign.

    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.

  22. Turn right at the junction and follow the lane until you reach a gate on the right next to the "10T" sign with a Coast Path signpost.

    The Cornish palm is neither originally from Cornwall nor a palm! It is from New Zealand where it is known as the cabbage tree, being neither related to or tasting anything like cabbage. The top of the stem from which the leaves shoot was harvested by the Maori, resulting in something resembling an artichoke. It is bitter so it was traditionally eaten with fatty meats such as eel to make it palatable. The largest specimen of the plant is thought to be around 500 years old and has a circumference of nine metres at the base! It was introduced to Britain after being collected on Captain Cook's first voyage to the Pacific on the Endeavour.

  23. Go through the gate on the right and turn right at the viewpoint to zig-zag down the path and reach a flight of steps leading to the wharf. Follow the steps down to the wharf.

    There was a quay at Mevagissey in mediaeval times, situated in the vicinity of the current East Quay and there is a record of its construction in 1470. This provided protection from the prevailing southwesterlies, but when a gale occasionally blew from the East, the harbour was exposed. In 1774, an Act of Parliament was passed for Mevagissey to be developed as a port, and the current East and West Quays of the inner harbour were constructed at this time. The outer harbour was added just over a century later, initially built in 1888 but only 3 years later it was badly damaged in a winter storm. By the end of the 19th Century, the outer walls had been rebuilt and have changed little since then.

  24. Follow the wharf towards the town, past the aquarium and continue until you pass the Shark's Fin and reach the corner where a fairly wide cobbled passageway leads into the town.

    Following the construction of the outer harbour in 1888, the lifeboat was moved to Mevagissey from Portmellon, and it was moored in the harbour for a few years until the lifeboat house was built in 1896. The station operated until 1930 when Fowey was equipped with a motorised lifeboat which could also cover the coast around Mevagissey. The lifeboat station is now an aquarium containing some fine specimens of local fish.

  25. Turn left and follow the passageway to reach the memorial. Then turn right and follow the road until you reach a narrow alley on the left opposite "Mackerel Sky".

    Further up the road on the right is Mevagissey's church which was once in a separate settlement from the harbour.

    The church is thought to date from the 12th Century and in 1259 it was rededicated to St Peter. It was reworked in the 14th and 15th centuries and amongst other additions, the tower was added. By the 17th Century the upper tower was in a state of collapse. When the church was restored in the 1880s, two pinnacles from the ruined tower were found under the porch and these are now on the upper churchyard gate. The churchyard itself contains a number of sea-worn boulders which were used as grave markers in the 18th Century. Within the church are two piscinae from the early 14th century.

  26. Turn left down the alley and turn right when you reach a corner. Follow the alleyway until it ends beside the church.

    In 1895, Mevagissey was illuminated with what is thought to be the first large-scale electric street lighting in Cornwall, though a small arcade in Redruth had been electrically lit since 1892. In Mevagissey, the power was generated by burning pilchard oil, and the electricity was also used for the lighthouse, which was the first lighthouse in Britain to be electrically-powered.

  27. Turn left onto the road and follow it until it meets the main road, then right (signposted "Coach Park") to reach the car park and complete the circular route.

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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