Circular walk from Pendeen to Portheras Cove

Pendeen to Portheras Cove

A circular walk from Pendeen via the Geevor and Levant mines to the lighthouse at Pendeen Watch returning via the white, sandy beach at Portheras Cove.

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The walk begins by passing through the mining relics of Geevor and Levant where many of the minerals used in artists' pigments paint the landscape in an altogether more strikingly literal way. The walk then follows the rugged coast around Pendeen Watch, passing the lighthouse, to reach the white sandy beach at Portheras Cove. The return route is up the river valley and then across the fields to join the lane along the leat from Pendeen.


  • Route includes paths close to unfenced cliff edges.

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Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 102
  • Distance: 4.0 miles/6.5 km
  • Steepness grade: Moderate
  • Recommended footwear: Walking boots; wellies in winter

OS maps for this walk

OS Explorer 102 OS Explorer 102 (laminated version)

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


  • Working beam engine at Levant Mine
  • Sandy beach at Portheras Cove
  • Geevor Mine

Pubs on or near the route

  • The North Inn
  • The Radjel Inn

Adjoining walks


  1. Turn left out of the car park and follow the road past the North Inn to the entrance to the Geevor tin mine.

    Pendeen was originally part of the parish of St Just and was known as North St Just. In a Parliamentary Act of 1843, districts were split off from large parishes and Pendeen was left without a parish church. A new vicar was appointed and in 1849 he approached the miners in the Town Platt, saying: "Come on, get your picks and shovels. We are going to build a church". A cartload of timber was delivered, and the slightly bemused miners built the wooden church in three weeks. This was used for just over two years, then the stone church was built and the wood from the temporary church was re-used for the floor. The church was completed in 1852 and dedicated to St John in 1854. In 1888, the tower was extended and the church clock was added.

  2. Turn right down the entrance road to Geevor tin mine and follow this past some buildings and through the gates across the road. If the gates are closed (e.g. on a Saturday) there is a small gap in the wall to the right of the gate for pedestrians. Continue along the road to where the road splits.

    On of the buildings that you pass on the road is for the gig racing club.

    The six-oared elm boats known as Pilot Gigs were general-purpose work boats, but one of their uses was to transport the pilot to and from a ship, which resulted in the name. The first boat to meet a ship gained the business of transporting the captain (and thus being paid) and thus a "race" came into being, with different boats competing for business. Today, Gig Racing is of a recreational nature, but the boats are still built to the exact well-documented specification of the originals. Elm wood is highly resistant to water, so much so, that town water mains were made of elm before the widespread availability of iron.

  3. Continue ahead in the direction signposted to Disabled Parking. Follow the road until it ends in a parking area in front of the entrance.

    Geevor tin mine was originally a small operation known as Wheal an Giver, meaning something like "goat mine" and perhaps referring to the other occupants of the workplace. In the 19th century, it was worked as East Levant Mine and later as North Levant, after which it closed. In the early 20th century, tin prices rose rapidly. An Australian Gold mining company bought this and a number of neighbouring mines and the mine re-opened in 1911 and worked throughout most of the 20th century, annexing some of the neighbouring workings. In 1985, the International Tin Council collapsed and there was a dramatic fall in the price of tin. The mine closed in 1990 and pumps were switched off in 1991, allowing the workings to flood. Whilst it was working, over a million gallons of water was pumped from the mine daily and during the 20th Century, it produced about 50,000 tons of "black tin" (concentrated tin ore). The mine is not geologically exhausted of tin, but the tin remaining is currently not recoverable economically. It is now a museum and heritage centre left as a living history of a working tin mine and is the largest preserved mining site in the United Kingdom.

  4. Head to the pedestrian gap on the right side of the large metal gate to the right of the Mine Shop and Count House Café.

    Tin is a semi-rare metal well-known for its corrosion resistance which is used extensively in electronics, engineering alloys and anti-corrosion coatings. Unlike many other "heavy" metals, it is not poisonous which has resulted in its use within food packaging - the ubiquitous "tin can" - and increasingly as a replacement for lead, which was used extensively before its toxicity was understood.

    Tin is found in Cornwall as the ore cassiterite (tin oxide) which occurs in small crystals amongst other rocks; even a "rich" tin ore only contains 5% tin. The name for the ore is thought either to come from the Greek kassiteros meaning "tin" or from the Phoenician name Cassiterid for Britain and Ireland.

  5. Pass through the gap and walk downhill on the tarmac track towards a wooden shed. Pass the shed to reach a wooden public footpath signpost on the left.

    The contraption on the right with a waterwheel is a tin stamping mill.

    In order to be processed, ore-bearing rock mined from mineral veins needed to be crushed to a powder. In earlier times, millstones were used to grind down lumps of ore but later it was done using a process known as "stamping" where the ore was crushed by dropping heavy granite or metal weights to pound it against another hard surface (often a piece of granite known as a mortar stone - as in "pestle and mortar"). The crushing was automated first with waterwheels and later with steam engines. The process was far from quiet and could often be heard from a number of miles away.

  6. Turn left (signposted for Levant) and follow the path a short distance to reach a junction of paths with a large granite boulder.

    Granite is the most common igneous rock found at Earth's surface and also the oldest - thought to be formed up to 300 million years ago.

  7. Continue ahead to pass the boulder and follow the path until the path forks in front of an area of red mud with three chimneys ahead.

    The leftmost chimney was part of the man engine.

    Some of the Cornish mines were up to half a mile in depth and every day men needed to get from the surface to the bottom of the mine and back after doing a day of physically exhausting work. Having men climb a half-mile long ladder was not efficient for mine operators, so faster and less exhausting means to move men about were invented. Winding apparatus could be used to lower and raise men in a basket, and mechanisms along these lines were still in use in the granite quarries of Bodmin Moor during the 20th Century.

    However, the beam engine offered an alternative approach: the long rod of a pumping engine could have steps on which men could ride down, usually 12 feet, during one beam engine stroke and the sides of the shaft could have ledges, so the men could step off onto a ledge whilst the engine reversed direction, then step back on for the next stroke. Some of the larger mines had dedicated "man engines" which were tailored for this purpose.

    The man engine was first invented in Germany in 1833. The Cornwall Polytechnic Society immediately realised its potential benefit to miners' well-being and sponsored a trial which took place in Tresavean mine at Lanner. Initially this was a small scale installation powered by a water wheel. It was then replaced by a full-scale model, more than ten times longer and powered by a steam engine. Although successful, the cost of building a dedicated man engine put off many mine owners who were much more interested in profit than the welfare of the workforce. It was not until the productivity improvements (resulting from miners not spending 3 hours climbing ladders) were costed-in that some other mines deployed them.

  8. Turn right and follow along the bank to reach a waymark at a junction of paths.

    A short diversion to your left is the Levant mine museum (entry fee).

    As early as the 18th Century, mine workings in the Levant area tunnelled below sea level and went beneath the sea. In 1820 the operation known as Levant Mine was established and operated continuously for over 100 years until 1930, after which it was abandoned and slowly flooded. It got the nickname of "mine under the sea" because its network of tunnels over 60 miles long extends under the Atlantic Ocean, stretching 1.5 miles out from the coast. Within the tunnels, a blind miner helped others to navigate when their candles failed.

    The beam engine is still in situ and was restored after 60 years of decay by a group of enthusiasts known as the "Greasy Gang". The working engine can be seen within a mining museum run by the National Trust.

    The stripey chimney with the remains of a building alongside was a compressor house. This contained an absolutely massive steam engine over 60ft long with a flywheel that weighed nearly 20 tonnes, The compressed air powered drills underground.

  9. Turn right at the waymark and follow the path downhill, past one waymark and the array of concrete pillars to reach a waymark just before the gateway leading to the chimney beside the lake.

    The remains of the building on the coast with brick arches was an arsenic works.

    During Victorian times, having a sun tan was seen as common, as peasants working in the fields were out in the sunshine. In order to make their faces paler, women of the higher social classes rubbed arsenic into their faces and arms. They also mixed arsenic oxide with vinegar and chalk and ate this! The Victorian notion that women were "frail creatures" would certainly have been helped along by eating arsenic.

    The rows of concrete pillars were supports for a roof covering the tin recovery floors, built in the 1920s (hence the concrete). These replaced the Victorian dressing floors which were walled with stone. The conical "buddles" (separation devices) can still be seen in these older areas.

  10. Turn left at the waymark and follow the path to reach another waymark then continue downhill to the footbridge.

    As you approach the footbridge, just after the pillars are remains of the older dressing floors.

    The conical structures in the old dressing floors are the remains of devices known as "buddles". These were used to separate the ore from the rock (known as gange) in the ore slurry created by the stamping mill. The slurry was trickled onto the centre of the dome and a rotating set of brushes, suspended from wooden spokes, smeared the slurry around the circular structure. The heavy ore fragments would deposit near the central dome whereas unwanted rock fragments would travel further and end up in a pit around the outside.

    The process was further optimised by the introduction of the rectangular "slime tanks" in which fine particles of tin were recovered along the channels of the settling tanks, similar to those used to separate out china clay from a slurry.

  11. Cross the footbridge and follow the path over the headland and down into the next valley to reach a gate.

    The Common Toadflax is recognisable from its pale yellow flowers which appear from June all the way though to October. The flowers are said to be shaped liked toads and are completely closed, only opening when a bee forces its way in to reach the nectar. Only larger species of bee, with long enough tongues, are able to reach to the bottom of the flower. In early summer the plant is regarded as resembling a flax plant, hence the name.

    The area of rock platform marked on the OS map as The Avarack (and known locally as "Avrock") contains a number of pools with the remains of steps and railings built by local miners. Each pool provided a different function: paddling with toddlers, learning to swim, and diving in the largest pool where competitions were sometimes held.

  12. Go through the gate and follow the path to a stream crossing.

    By the end of the 1950s, Geevor had exhausted the areas of the lodes it was working and needed some more ore reserves. The best options lay to the west in the direction of Levant. The flooded workings of Levant were examined with a view to draining the mine so it could be re-opened but it was found that the water level changed with the tide - the mine had been breached and flooded by the sea.

    Undeterred, divers were sent down to find of the breach and located it in a known weak spot called "40 backs" where the tunnels were close to the sea floor. In an engineering feat of its day, the mine was sealed from the outside using concrete and by 1962 was watertight. After that, 50 million gallons of water had to be pumped out of the mine.

    Once Levant mine was safe, a tunnel was bored from the Geevor mine to connect it and mining began. Sadly after all the effort, the mineral lodes that Levant had been working were found not to be very productive.

    New under-sea tunnels were then created from Geevor which located richer lodes. During the 20th Century, a total of 85 miles of tunnels were created within the Geevor mine.

  13. Cross the stream and follow the waymarked path inland until it emerges onto a lane.

    The northwest-facing coastline of Penwith was particularly treacherous for shipping. The high cliffs along the coast prevented ships from being able to see the lighthouses at Trevose Head or the Longships. From Cape Cornwall, the wall of granite runs towards the rocks of the Wra, or Three Stone Oar, off Pendeen, some of which are just below the surface. The cliffs continue all the way to St Ives, and part-way along is the protruding Gurnard's Head which was another major hazard for shipping.

  14. When you reach the lane, turn left and follow the lane to reach a small parking area in front of the lighthouse.

    As you approach the lighthouse there are some benches on the left, and a path leads down onto the headland from these. The views from the headland are spectacular and there is also a good view of the lighthouse over the wall.

  15. Follow the lane past the parking area to a junction, and bear right onto the rough track with boulders marked "Private Property" (there is a Public Right of Way) into a small car park. Cross the car park to reach a waymark to the left of the track.

    During the 19th century, Trinity House became increasingly concerned at the number of ships being lost along the West Penwith coast and in 1891 decided that both a lighthouse and foghorn was needed here. The construction was a large-scale engineering project that involved levelling the top of the headland by creating a huge retaining sea wall, and consequently took a number of years. Pendeen Lighthouse was finally lit in 1900 and was manned until 1995. As well as the 17 metre tower to support the lamp, residential accommodation was built for the lighthouse keepers which even included enclosed gardens, although in the harsh maritime climate these didn’t turn out to be a huge success. Drinking water was collected on the flat roof of the accommodation block and stored in an underground tank. The original oil-fired lamp is on display in the Trinity House National Lighthouse Centre in Penzance. Although the optic weighed 2.5 tonnes, it was floated on a bath of mercury so it could be set in motion by the slightest touch.

  16. Climb down the stones below the waymark and follow the path to the track. Merge onto the track and follow this down towards the cove to reach a waymarked path on the right.

    The car park has been created from the waste tips of the Pendeen Consols mine.

    Pendeen Consols was primarily a copper and tin mine which operated in the mid 19th Century, although some lead was also raised. It employed around 100 people and the shafts were 220 fathoms deep, with some extending beneath the sea. Many of the mine structures were cleared to build the lighthouse, however a Counting House (where miners were paid, and where mine operations were run from) remains opposite the lighthouse. There are also a number of waste tips below the small car park on the coast path. Specimens of a number of different minerals can still be found in these dumps.

  17. Turn right up the waymarked path and stay on the main path as it zig-zags up the headland. Follow it past one waymark to a second waymark (with multiple arrows) just below a kissing gate.

    In the 1960s, a miner from Geevor tin mine created a pool in the rocks at Boat Cove with the help of some other workers from Geevor, quite a lot of dynamite and permission from the police. His children all learned to swim in the pool but he never learned himself.

  18. Keep left along the coast path and follow it until you reach a gate across the path with a stone stile next to it.

    The Liberty was wrecked during a northwesterly gale off Pendeen, in 1963. Her engines were not powerful enough to make headway against the gale and she was driven ashore at Pendeen Watch where she caught fire. However, the 35 crew were all rescued, mostly using rocket apparatus. She was demolished for scrap, though parts of the wreck are still visible at low tide.

  19. Cross the stile next to the gate and follow the path until you reach a waymark at a junction of paths.

    Dolphins can sometimes be seen in the bay.

    Both Common Dolphins and Bottle-nosed Dolphins are quite frequently encountered off Cornwall. Bottle-nosed Dolphins are the species found in marine parks and are the saloon car of the dolphin world: quite large (adults are 7-12ft long), plain grey and tend to cruise at fairly low speeds though they can do short bursts of over 30km/h. Common Dolphins are their sports car cousins: a little smaller (adults are 6-8ft long) with a flashy hourglass-shaped "go faster" stripe of gold at the front and light grey at the back and can swim up to 60km/h. The considerable intelligence of dolphins includes the ability to learn new behaviours from each other and cooperate with other dolphins or even human fishermen to catch fish.

  20. Bear left, in the direction waymarked, and follow the path to reach a bend about 50 metres before another waymark (this time with two arrows) with a small path departing from the bend into the bracken on the right.

    In 1963 the Alacrity, carrying a cargo of anthracite, ran aground and was wrecked at Portheras Cove. As the wreck began to break up, the large pieces of rusting iron became hazardous for swimmers. In 1981, the military attempted to remove the wreck. However this took the form of "overenthusiastic demolition work with explosives" and the result was a beach covered in razor-sharp fragments of shrapnel that were even more dangerous to beach-goers. Until 2004, areas of the beach were out of bounds due to the metal fragments in the sand but these have now been cleaned up. When the sand is shifted during winter storms, the remains of the wreck are sometimes exposed which beach-goers need to be wary of. However, when sand levels are high, the wreck is safely buried.

  21. The walk continues inland on this side of the valley but first you may wish to visit the beach and return here. To continue the walk, follow the winding path to the right through the bracken to reach a gap in an electric fence (possibly with a string across - duck this if so). Continue on the path on the other side of the fence until, just after passing along the top of a wall in a marshy area, paths depart to the left over the stream and to the right, leading up a bank.

    Choughs nest in the area and if you are lucky you may see some 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.

  22. Follow the path leading up the bank to the right and continue following the path until you can see a gate with a stile beside it, then head for this.

    The male and female parts of a foxglove flower mature at different times to help avoid self-fertilisation. This also ties in with the flowers maturing at the bottom of the spike first as pollinators often start at the lowest flower and then work upwards. They land on the mature female flowers first with a cargo of pollen from another plant, and then leave via the mature male flowers with a new load of pollen.

    Foxgloves have a life cycle which spans two years. The seeds germinate in spring and during their first year they produce a "rosette" of large, velvety green leaves with toothed edges. These are particularly noticeable from October onwards once other vegetation has died back. The leafy foxglove plants remain dormant throughout the winter, ready for a quick start in the spring.

  23. Cross the stile next to the gate and follow the path to emerge in a stony area next to a cottage with "Footpath" painted on a metal tank on right.

    Silverweed is a creeping plant which is fairly easily recognised by its silver-green toothed leaves. The silver colour is caused by hairs on the leaves. Yellow flowers with 5 petals appear in late June. It is said that the Romans used it as insoles for their shoes on long marches.

    In Celtic times, fields were small and surrounded by banks or stone walls. The fields were used both for growing crops such as oats, wheat or rye, and for keeping livestock. The field shape was round or square, rather than rectangular, so that the stones didn't have to be carried further than necessary. The small size was because they needed to be weeded by hand, in many ways similar to a modern-day allotment.

  24. Bear left past the cottage and join the tarmacked lane leading away from the farm. Follow this until you reach a public footpath sign on the right.

    The name Portheras was documented in 1317 as Portheres. The "porth" is the Cornish for "cove" and the meaning of the "eras" is thought to be "plough land". During the Early Mediaeval period when the name was likely to have been coined, cultivated land would have been a little more useful as a landmark than it is today. Back then, much more of the land would have been uncultivated moorland so the cultivated fields near the cove would have stood out more as a recognisable feature.

  25. Cross the stile on the right and follow the wall on the left of the field to a stone stile in the corner.

    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.
  26. Cross the stile and follow along the wall on the right to reach another stone stile. Cross the stile and follow the wall on the right to a gateway.

    The farm across the fields to the right is Pendeen Manor Farm.

    Pendeen Fogou is a prehistoric man-made cave set into a hedge in the farmyard of Pendeen Manor Farm. The passage at Pendeen is around seventeen meters long and lined with stone blocks. After about seven metres, the main passage slopes steeply and the roof slabs are stepped, like the underside of a staircase. Two smaller passages branch off at the end of the main passage. The passage dates back around three thousand years, to the late Bronze Age, when it was possibly part of a larger settlement. Many historians think that there was a cliff castle where Pendeen lighthouse is today and that the fogou may have been used in conjunction with it as a place to perform ceremonies and rituals.

    William Borlase, one of the first scholars of Cornish prehistory, was born in the Manor in 1693. It's possible that the fogou may have sparked his interest in the subject.

  27. Go through the gate and follow the right hedge to a gate in the corner of the field, beside the building.

    A fogou is a drystone underground passage found in a few Iron Age settlements in West Cornwall. Their purpose is not known. One theory is that they were used for food storage whilst another is that they had a ceremonial use.

    The word derives from the Cornish word for cave (mogow which became vogou). This also gave rise to a dialect word for cave - "vug" - which has been assimilated into mining terminology to mean a natural cavity in rock.

  28. Go through the gate and cross the stile. Follow the path to emerge down some steps at a waymark on a track. At the waymark, turn left onto the track and follow it, keeping left at a junction of tracks, until it ends on a road.
  29. Cross the road to the small lane opposite and follow this towards the church until it ends on the main road in Pendeen opposite the car park.

    A project to analyse blackberries picked from busy urban roadsides vs quiet rural lanes found that there was a slightly elevated level of lead in the blackberries from busy roadsides which is thought to have accumulated in the soil when leaded fuel was in common use. Surprisingly, commercial blackberries from supermarkets also showed higher levels of lead than the wild blackberries from rural lanes.

    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.

    Due to their rapid growth, brambles are often one of the first plants to colonise brown-field sites but, unlike heather, brambles are not particularly tolerant of metal-contaminated soil. Heavy metals interfere with plant metabolisms (e.g. the magnesium in chlorophyll could get replaced by another metal instead) and this is noticeable as leaf discolorations such as paler green areas or red edges.

    Researchers have worked out that they can do image processing on the colours of bramble leaves from aerial images to measure the level of contamination and even the type of contamination by creating "fingerprints" of leaf colours associated with a particular metal. This seems to work fairly well with completely bare areas (likely to have metal levels so high that brambles can't actually grow) showing up immediately adjacent to those calculated as the most polluted bramble-covered areas.

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